home renovation

I wrote too soon of the beautiful dining room with its green walls and creme woodwork … the baseboards still need painting and the furniture is still under plastic in the middle of the floor.

The newly plastered kitchen ceiling is a joy even without primer, but this afternoon my husband and father-in-law decided to have a go at the pee-green linoleum tiles that are probably original to the house – the ones that never look clean – the ones we’ve needed to get rid of for years. Guess what – getting them up isn’t as tough as everyone anticipated … which means they’re taking them all up … right now … which means no kitchen again.

Wonder what we’ll eat for dinner tonight? And where?

Wonder when I’ll turn my attention back to the play revision and the oral history project?


on appraisers and old houses

I thought I would spend the month of May working on my oral history project – but have instead spent the month taking care of household business. Our dining room is now a beautiful shade of green – with creme woodwork. We hired an acquaintance who is skilled with plaster work to repair some walls and ceilings in our vintage 1930’s house. The kitchen is now a joy.

The appraiser who came to determine the house’s market value repeated a couple of times “this house is in its original state – and that’s a matter of personal taste. I have friends who would come in here and gut it” … I translate that to mean that people with money who move into old houses want those houses to feel new?

Well – we’re not moving and we may decide against the refinance, so his opinion is largely irrelevant. He also has no idea of the house’s “original state.” I know because I hired someone to strip ugly wallpaper off the walls when I bought the house and had to undo some ugly 1970’s renovation projects to return this house to its “original state.” These pretty plaster walls are a testament to how beautiful the house can be.

My anger continues to simmer, however, at banks and markets and especially executives and loan officers and appraisers who make more in an hour than a teacher makes in a week. Foxes in the henhouse – that’s what Jim Hightower calls the finance executives who keep finding their way into “public service” to create the policies we’re living with. Hightower stokes my populist furor – gives it voice. Anger, unfortunately, makes me inarticulate.

Here’s a good Hightower piece called Death by Pie about the unsafety of food from corporate conglomerates. I don’t think I’ll be buying Banquet pot pies anytime soon.

on limits and happiness

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor, studies happiness.

What he’s found is that our frontal lobes give us the ability to “manufacture happiness” … so – what makes someone unhappy is how they think about their circumstances, NOT the circumstances they finds themselves in. Hmmm – so that saying, attitude is everything, from that hokey motivational poster on the high school classroom wall is on to something. I’m still not convinced … but his talk on TED Talks is persuasive.


Here’s the New York Times piece I found first:
“What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous”

next year finally in focus

I’ve accepted a graduate teaching assistantship in the dean’s office for next year, one that takes me out of the classroom. Since I won’t be teaching, I’ll have time to concentrate on the development of my dissertation proposal and bibliography, to prepare for comps, and to finish my coursework for the PhD. By next year this time, I’ll have the dissertation to do – with an oral defense of a substantial proposal and two additional comp exams to pass – but I’ll be closing in on ABD status. Not bad for someone who in May 2008 was just saying “yes” to this PhD journey.

The income from a GTA is less than half of what I make as a full-time teacher … not nearly enough. Now that I know I’m not teaching next year, I’m more serious about marketing and building my tutoring business, PirateMom Tutoring.

Here’s an excerpt from my PirateMom Manifesto: I careen around town in my aging Saturn station wagon and teach reading, writing, academic survival skills, and standardized-test-taking strategies for a fee. I hope, through working one-on-one with students, to earn some booty and to re-ignite my students’ inborn love of learning. I’d like to set them free to love reading and writing and thinking for its own sake and not for where it will take them. I’d like them to figure out who they were born to be and how reading and writing can help them get there.

Okay – probably not appropriate or relevant marketing material – but true to my values. I love reading and writing and that’s what I share with students. Doesn’t matter whether I’m in a classroom or working one-on-one with someone. I don’t really care if their SAT’s go up … but I do care if they can pursue their dreams. If getting a good score is necessary to get there, then that’s why it matters. It’s about having choices and pursuing dreams.

film on water

I finished a video called Film on Water Thursday, just in time to priority mail it to Vermont for a submissions call at Great River Arts.

film still from Film on Water

I haven’t worked much with shooting and editing video since my days as video producer at Cox Cable Tidewater and Virginia Power in the late ’80’s. I used to study television and films then – a friend used to say, “you watch television the way most men watch football.” I even spent a year in VCU’s film / photography MFA program making super-8 films that have since been lost in the great basement flood of Tropical Storm Gaston.

As I edited, I noticed that I was picking up smaller details as I went. For example – how the patterns on the back of the girl’s sweater dissolved into the grasses in the marsh in the following shot. I started the project with linear ideas – the stuff of essay or documentary – but as I went along I became more fascinated with imagery and sound. The ideas about baptism and amphibious theories of human evolution are still floating around in the piece, but not in an overt way.

I decided to make the only sound in Film on Water wild sound I picked up while shooting. It includes a child’s unplanned humming and singing – some slight dialogue, but mostly there’s the sound of water and waves.

I will eventually post the video on my website and put a link on this blog, but I don’t want to hurt my chances for gallery exhibition by showing it here first. As soon as I know I can post it – I will. Stay tuned!

does "let them eat cake" ring a bell?

Coming up for air from the semester tidal pool has meant looking at our household financial reality … and beyond our depressing microcosm economy to what’s going on in the US. I think corporate greed and the loss of a sense of civic responsibility are two big reasons why so many people in the US are in trouble.

Some actions and attitudes are just wrong. From a Buddhist perspective: they are karmically wrong – and, from a Christian perspective: sinful. Our grandparents knew better – they knew it was good for everyone to take care of one’s neighbors. They used to say “a rising tide lifts all boats” … did the Reagan and Bush disciples repeat that one while they laughed all the way to the bank? Let’s redistribute wealth to our wealthiest friends and who cares about the losers we leave behind?

Dante would say there’s a circle in hell for the folks who think it’s okay to make $30 million a year while 18 percent of US children grow up in poverty (according to the National Poverty Center at U Michigan). The numbers are actually worse than that. Children make up 25 percent of US population, but 35 percent of those kids are growing up poor. If you’re a Black or Latino child – the numbers get worse. With poverty comes hunger and lack of basic education or job training skills and possibly despair.

Here’s what Jim Hightower had to say today about corporate compensation packages: “Finding Ways to Perk Up CEO Pay”

This is funnier – but even darker – a mock reality TV show from The Onion: “Autoworkers Compete to Keep Jobs”

I can understand why CEOs feel they need bodyguards now … the gates in gated communities may not be high enough. History has lessons for this … does “let them eat cake” ring a bell?

post-semester malaise

I have a hard time doing anything constructive once school deadlines are met and a semester is “officially” over. Elation gives way to malaise of a sort … feels a lot like a post-sugar crash … which I may be feeling today since we celebrated Mother’s Day with a cookout at my mother-in-law’s, complete with grilled hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chips, soft drinks, and very rich peanut butter pie.

Next year this time, I’ll be taking comps. That semester will end with a weekend long written test – two huge papers on questions that are revealed at the beginning of the weekend with papers due on Monday. Glad that’s not on my plate today.

My big tasks today are – get the video from the Sony onto my hard drive (harder than it sounds since I have a Mac and this Sony wants to interface with a PC) – work on the video – also find my 2007 taxes and other missing paperwork for our refinance – and … laundry? clean the house? nap? market PirateMom tutoring?

It’s an overcast, gloomy day – even the dog is feeling the malaise. She’s been sleeping all morning – perhaps I should join her – life always looks better after a nap.