Friday, May 18, 2018

Quite Daunted. Actually

Though I have a great Jeep, this is not a planned part of my upcoming vacation.

Several years ago, I read Undaunted Courage by Steven Ambrose. It is a good history of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I am currently reading The Undaunted, by Gerald Lund, a historical fiction novel about a Group of Mormon pioneers settling one of the most geographically hostile parts of Utah.

My mom loaned me the book after we heard a stirring account of bringing wagons down the Hole in the Rock at a Daughters of the Utah Pioneers meeting. The link will bring you to a brief history of the experience.

Because it is a weighty book and a novel, I hadn't started it until a couple days ago. So far, I have learned a lot about coal mining in Cardiff, England in the 1800's as well as the equally dangerous work in match factories (phosphorous poisoning.)

The reason I finally started is that next week I will be visiting Capitol Reef National Park, which happens to include one of the last Mormon settlements in Utah because central southern Utah is wild, rocky, arid country.

My ancestors and my husband's ancestors were involved in settling some of the small towns in the desert, but I am having a hard time channelling ancestral strength right now. I suspect my biologic drug is failing me and RA's yell is no longer muted.

 Knitting has been hurting me lately. I'm not sure what overdoing knitting is defined as, but my arms and shoulders are unusually weak and painful. Of course, adventures have more than their usual effect. A couple hours at the aviary yesterday have left me pretty wiped today.

I left my heart in Orderville, Utah
I'm excited to go back to redrock country. I grew up visiting grandparents living in Orderville, between Zions and Bryce. The Colorado Plateau holds a huge place in my heart. But I'm afraid that the excitement of travel will encourage me to overdo it and I'm afraid of the consequences in terms of pain and exhaustion.

A lot of that fear is just travel anxiety. I always get emotionally keyed-up over a trip, worrying more than necessary about leaving home (in the hands of two very capable adults).

Packing and planning seems nerve-racking, even though I am mostly mooching. My oldest son and I are traveling with my parents. We need to bring our breakfasts, lunches, clothes and toiletries. My son is also bringing a fancy car charger for our electronics and I am bringing enough books and knitting to last a month or two.

How early settlers packed everything they thought they might need (until they could make or grow more) into small wagons and set out into the wilderness--especially more than once--is beyond me.

Next week, probably a few days late, I will report on the lovely time I had in the shady Fruita campground and hiking a few short trails carefully chosen by my parents. This week I will overpack and stress.

THE PODCAST is short and sweet. Emily Dickinson imagines looking at keepsakes in old age. I love the poem I found, and the button that mutes background noise, but am sorry to say that wearing the mic around my neck instead of over my ears results in a lot of fidgeting noise. I hope my listener can overlook the bumps.

is mostly someone else's knitting. I was delighted to see yarn-bombing in person for the first time. Knitters like to create public art installations by covering everything in sight with knitting. In this case, the Salt Lake Knitting Guild, an organization I should probably learn more about, has covered the trees, fences, and lampposts of the entry of Tracy Aviary.

Apparently, when the work is taken down, it will be sewn into blankets for homeless pets (at a shelter, presumably.)

I have enough scrap yarn of sturdy acrylic nature to participate in such things. Maybe if I finish a few of the projects I have on needles, and my arms recover, I can do some yarn bombing of my own.

For knitting while driving (riding) next week, I will be bringing the last of the mermaid tail blankets, which keeps getting set aside because I've made five of them already and it's not due until Christmas.

Though I am attempting to knit while reading, so if it is finished, or nearly finished by the time I leave, there is also a ten-pack of weird boucle yarn I bought on clearance. It knits into an interesting furry, stretchy fabric and will probably be turned into a poncho.

For knitting while thinking, like when the fitter members of the expedition go on longer hikes, I am bringing yarn for two different shawls of the same pattern. The yarns are both blue and very pretty. I'm not sure if the shawls will be for me or a family member or will eventually end up in my shop.

My family members with summer birthdays should really look at my shop, ignore the prices, and chose gifts before I chose them for you.
Since I haven't started the blue shawls yet, all I have to show is a picture from the pattern. I haven't packed a toothbrush yet, but I have printed the pattern and put all the yarn and accessories I'll need together in a bag.

My readiness is a little different than that of my pioneer ancestors, to be sure.

Friday, May 11, 2018

I Appreciate Not Teaching

This week is a time I used to dread, the convergence of Teacher Appreciation Week and Mothers Day. These events celebrate women (and men teaching-wise) more appreciated in nostalgia and soft-focus than in the day-to -day gritty labor that constitutes reality.

They also obligate already overly busy women to find personal, heart-felt gifts and cards for each other.

 (I'm darkly delighted by the fact that the woman who tirelessly campaigned for Mothers Day to be recognized as a holiday was single and childless. Her mother was already dead.)

Now that I'm retired and only have to deal with Mothers Day, It's not nearly as difficult. If my sons harbor any bitterness over what I may have done or not done, they haven't told me yet. I will leave my shortcomings between the boys and their therapists.

Teaching was much more difficult. Even before I got sick, I felt sure my job was slowly killing me.

Though I am disappointed (aka bitter) about not being able to leave on my own terms and at the top of my game, I have never wanted to go back, even if my health miraculously returned.

If I could go back in time to counsel my younger self, I would tell me to get over the math issues and become a research scientist.

The good part of teaching was the people. I met a wider, more diverse range of mostly good people--educators, students, and parents--who enriched my life in countless ways.

The bad parts I will explain in four categories-- stage fright, expectations, guilt, and exhaustion.

Stage Fright

Teaching is performance art. A teacher spends the whole day in performance, demanding that the audience pay attention.

And the audience is a tough one. Many, sometimes most, of the students are not attending voluntarily. As expert teacher watchers, kids are expert critics. If you are unprepared, boring, or scared, they will call you out. You will be told  your clothes or your hair is ugly. Parents will complain to the office if your clothes are sexy. Kids will draw and imitate you.

And the performance does not stop after hours. Students, former students, and parents work in stores and offices where you go. I once ran into a former student on a trail at a national park five hours away. Communities judge teachers for their behavior outside of the classroom. Depending on community opinions, teachers are fired for being gay or for holding a beer on social media.
Let's pretend this is my hair

And administrators walk into your classroom any time on any day to do evaluations that can cost you your job.

I don't miss the nausea every Sunday night as I tried to reassure myself that everything was ready. I don't miss waking up in a panic.

I don't miss wondering if my back to school night or parent teacher conference outfits looked competent and reassuring.

Dyeing my hair blue and green is rebellion against my own self-censorship for so many years. I'd like to look good. I don't care if I look safe.


Although I am all in favor of teachers being held accountable, the expectations piled on by society and legislatures reach a level of impossible. 

Every grade has a list of skills students will be tested on. Teachers get no leeway when their kids come in missing important skills from former grades. We get no time and little help to give individual tutoring to kids who missed things while ill or moving from one school to another. Help for kids just learning English or struggling with learning disabilities is limited and overwhelmed.

And that's only academics. We are also responsible for hygiene, health screenings, and annual photographs. In our spare time, teachers try to spot and encourage hidden talents and provide love, safety, and mentorship, all while providing character education in a religiously neutral manner designed not to offend parents who include every possible level of society. (In our working class school, cops and prison guards were fairly common, so were con artists and drug dealers.)


Failure is inevitable, especially when we deal with so many students at a time. Many years I had over 200 adolescents to nurture, educate, and watch for mental health issues.

Many wonderful kids passed through my classroom on their way to successful lives. If I can take any credit for them, it is split in so many ways with other teachers. Most of their success comes from their families and themselves.

But one of those wonderful kids, a quiet, bright boy who wrote about how much he loved his family and enjoyed spending time with them,  killed himself. No one saw bullying. No one knows what we could have done to stop him. Chase will always be with me.

The  other kids I remember most are the ones I may have hurt,  the ones I didn't like.

There are eighth-grade voices and faces from my most difficult final year that I can't shake. Four of them ended up in a special behavior problem school. It takes years of paperwork to send kids there and I was one teacher out of eight for part of one year.

But the books, the movies, the myths that formed my decision to teach make me responsible for these budding criminals. Someone should have found a way to reach them. As a teacher I believe I should have been that someone.


There is little wonder that even healthy young teachers spend weekends napping. There is always more to be done. You can always give more, prepare more, love more.

Except you can't. Every teacher eventually has to either self-define good enough or get out.

The jaded or cynical air of many experienced teachers is a method of self-defense against unattainable expectations.

It is understandable that so many people only teach for a few years.

I hope I can eventually see a more balanced view of my life as a teacher.

I hope America will eventually create teaching environments that are healthier for all the idealistic, hopeful people who want to help the children in their care.

Salamanders don't act sassy.
In the meantime, I will live in my imaginary happy place where I study the regeneration powers of salamanders and figure out where those genes reside in humans.

THE PODCAST is about pain and Dickinson's idea that we are somehow transformed and improved by it. I don't agree with her, but the poems are still powerful. It's also very noisy. We're working on creating a better recording area.


Is cheerier and finished--my favorite blue-sky color in a light summer cotton. It took a long time because I had to read the directions so carefully. I still made a major mistake, but am hoping I'm the only one who notices.

I have dish cloths and a niece purse on needles, but really don't know what I'll do next. I'm going camping with my parents in a little more than a week, so I should pick something good for work on the road.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Ditch Runs Through It

My blog is late this week because I have been swinging between excitement and exhaustion. The excitement has been great--an art exhibit, HAMILTON (!!!!!), dinner with friends, the symphony tonight. But as I pointed out in last week's blog, there is a cost, so when I wasn't partying, I was in bed.

This week's focus is on an art exhibit by my friend and neighbor Heidi Moller Somsen. I've been a fangirl of her sculpture for a couple decades now, so every time she has an exhibit I'm there trying to figure out how I could possibly accommodate one of her pieces in my small, cat-infested house.

I haven't answered that question yet, so I continue to dream and to enjoy her art in galleries.

The current exhibit is at the main Salt Lake City Library on the 4th floor until June 15. Locals should really get out there because I photograph art badly and it needs to be seen in person.

Sculpture by Heidi Moller Somsen and Paintings by Downy Doxey-Marshall
Sat, Apr 21, 2018 to Fri, Jun 15, 2018 - All Day
There is a desperate beauty in the shaggy unkempt wild places, existing just beyond our manicured yards. The ditchbank contains equal portions of death and life. It nurtures itself by way of its decay. It is a gyre of activity, held in suspense, waiting for water (or waiting to drain). Back in the studio, the effort begins - translating the ditchbank into form, color, texture; the expressions of our meanderings.

I grew up on a ditch bank. 

Years ago, my neighborhood was laced with irrigation canals and ditches. Most families had large gardens and orchards or pasture for livestock or both. Irrigation was done by hand. My dad and grandparents pumped water up to another series of ditches around the garden whenever it was our turn. Irrigation turns could come on any day and at any time of day or night.

Sometime while I was in high school or college, ditches were replaced by pipes. Irrigation waters our large garden and larger lawns with almost the same convenience as city water. There is rationing at the end of summer, but otherwise it is yard watering on-demand and easy. 

The ditches are gone. That makes a safer world for small children, but led to a loss of many of our ditch bank plants--potawatomi plums, wild roses, asparagus, river birch, and milkweed.

My parents didn't want me to be on the ditch bank, for safety reasons. Our ditch was never more than a couple inches deep--no threat to an elementary age kid, but it was as far from the house as you could get, right next to the road, and out of view. 

The hidden and forbidden nature of my hang-out added to its attraction. 

I had plenty of dolls lying neglected in the house, but when outdoors I made my own. Inch-long pieces of straw were dressed in leaves or wilted flower petals. Their lives were very dramatic and affected by the part of the yard in which I played.

For example, a character could start in the arid dessert of the sand box. After tragically losing her family to a dust storm, she somehow finds her way to either a royal court or fashion center near a flower garden. 

She makes her fortune as a model or dressmaker, but has to flee a forced marriage or regime change or some other evil and flees to the wild lands of the river.

The ditch was the equivalent of the Wild West where fortunes were made by ranching livestock represented by plum pits. 

Disaster and tragedy often occurred due to the fluctuation of water depth. Houses and corrals were built from rocks in the water, so a rise could wash away whole families and start the story again with all new characters. 

I played these games in the mud and in my head through elementary and middle school, but by middle school I started to feel like I should have outgrown them. 

I remember deciding in the summer before ninth grade that I was too old and wouldn't play my game any more. Sometimes when I passed a flower garden with the perfect wilted petals for a dress, I would briefly give way to temptation, but I was too strict with myself to carry a story through to the end. 

What did I learn from years of self-scripted soap operas? I'm not sure. My characters did have to be resilient and start again multiple times. Maybe they were models of creativity and courage, maybe they were just shady moments of escape from younger siblings.

Like Heidi's sculptures, perhaps I experienced strange changes and growth from this wild environment that I would have missed by behaving myself and staying in view of the kitchen window.

I personified pieces of straw. Emily Dickinson personified her flowers. There are two pretty flower poems in THIS WEEK'S PODCAST.

THE KNITTING proceeds very slowly in this week of fluctuating energy. I'm really not feeling up to both photographing knits and visiting the grocery store. We're out of both Coke and Dr. Pepper, so I'd better choose groceries.

I'll leave you with a few more pieces of art. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Diagnosed by Poetry

It is all too tempting to diagnose people, real and fictional, from afar based on incomplete and sketchy data. Marfan syndrome can explain Abraham Lincoln's hight and appearance. Sherlock Holmes may have been bipolar or autistic.

Every week someone offers up a new medical explanation for our current president.
This may be Emily Dickinson (left).

Poor Emily Dickinson has already been posthumously diagnosed with epilepsy, tuberculosis, and agoraphobia. I'm going to add to her ghostly burdens by suggesting she might have had an autoimmune disease.

That she and I are both vaguely unwell on a regular basis is probably not good enough evidence. Emily lived at a time of extreme propriety when talking graphically about health problems was not done.

But this poem sounds a lot like my life:

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years--
Bitter contested farthings--
And Coffers heaped with Tears!
--Emily Dickinson

Whenever I get overly energetic, physically or mentally, there is a disproportionate price to pay in tiredness and pain. 

Last week illustrates this. My step counter looks really good. The goal for most days is 5000 steps, about 2 miles. Monday, despite horrible wind storms, I walked over 7000 steps, so Tuesday I was good and rested.Wednesday, after resting, I felt good and went to the aquarium and the store and ended up with over 9000 steps. That was not smart. My body reacted with pain, nausea, hot flashes, itching and sleeplessness.

But I had planned a trip to the zoo with a friend on Thursday. I didn't want to cancel, so I persuaded myself that if I wore my hat for the sun and used a walking stick, I'd be fine.

I wasn't. Even though it was a pleasant, uncrowded day at the zoo, I couldn't enjoy myself.

 I was peevish. Everything bothered me and everything hurt. Smells hurt. Sounds hurt. I would have been miserable at home that day too, but I would have been resting instead of walking another three miles

I was violently ill afterwards, projectile vomiting all over myself and the inside of my car.

 Too overwhelmed to deal with it anywhere but home, I kept driving so I could get to my shower and my bed. 

(My reaction at the zoo and after is classic fibromyalgia. Here is a good article about fibromyalgia pain.)

I've been tiptoeing around myself ever since. Symphony tickets Friday night meant spending that day in bed. I skipped church on Sunday because the chairs there really hurt. Today (Wednesday) I'd like to go to the aquarium, but I'm walking the mall with my friend tomorrow and I've been writing all morning, so I think I'd better take my dog out to run around in the yard and then maybe lie down and listen to podcasts for a few hours. We may be bicycling on Friday or Saturday and I need to save up for my next ecstatic instant.

Speaking of ecstasy, this week's PODCAST is about Emily Dickinson's sex life.

Actually, we don't
really know if she had one, but she did write about desire and the double standard, all with pretty metaphors and omitted details, so there is no danger of me getting in trouble for explicit language yet. 


My bright blue cotton vest is coming along quickly. I am about 1/5 finished and hope I am about 1/5 through the yarn. It is always a little nerve-racking watching yarn being used up and worrying if there will be enough.

I look at the pattern for every stitch of my vest, so this is only a project for when I can concentrate. For social knitting, I am making a purse for one of my nieces.

And even though it is far too hot today for heavy wool, I had to wear the new skirt at least once before bagging it up with the winter sweaters.

Notice that my old dog and I are staying in the shade. Spring this year is jumping right into summer.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Slush and Slant Rhymes

Early Tuesday morning we got six wet, heavy inches of snow.

This is not unusual. My parents have dozens of slides taken during my childhood that feature bright
red tulips blooming out of the snow. Descendants of those tulips are just getting warmed up, plenty of more weeks with possible snow, but somehow it seems more like a personal affront this year.

So, I must be a good girl and count my blessings (or at least my blossoms).

My favorite exotic wildflowers are starting to bloom.

So is my birthday-present peach tree,

and the pears,

and Grandpa's cherry tree.

Of course that means if it doesn't warm up soon and stay that way, we may not have fruit this year.

Oops--supposed to be counting blessings.

Aquarium flowers count as mine, since I'm a member, right? The South American rain forest there is amazing. I see something new blooming every visit.

A huge blessing for me this spring has been the constant presence of daffodils outside my window for nearly two months. I had no idea what I was doing when I planted them, but I have managed to get five different varieties that bloom at different times.

Although unstable weather has kept us from riding bikes very often, I am trying to get my beast outside, which results in cold toes and sloppy shoes, but a happy mutt. 

And, once again, I am feeling the urge to write poetry and feeling stymied by my foggy brain. But I am reading about writing poetry and trying to dip my toe back in the water.

I have managed to write a short piece this week. It is a poem about writing poetry, which, as a genre, I find as annoying as those plays with plays in them. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Bill.) But here it goes--

I carved 
rare, juicy 
across the grain

hearty, roasted 

in a light

Now I lean over the sink
spoon in hand

eat cold alphabet soup
from a can

I wouldn't actually eat cold alphabet soup--but poetry isn't entirely non-fiction. Maybe if I keep doing these warm up exercises, the frozen part of my brain will actually warm up a bit.

THE PODCAST was enlightened by an episode of another podcast, Ben Franklin's World had an interview about the Great Awakening, which helped me understand Emily Dickinson's religious background and with it some of her struggle with faith. Emily and I confront big questions about the nature of God in this week's episode.

THE KNITTING comes along slowly. The skirt is monotonous and heavy. I have broken one needle on it so far and my arms feel like I have been lifting weights. When I finish, I will reward myself by knitting a lightweight, lacy cotton vest. I bought the pattern and yarn  years ago. Mine will be in bright turquoise. By the time it is finished, I should be able to find a place I can model it in knee-deep flowers.