Growing a School Garden

Happy Saturday, friends! I’ve been keeping myself busy these last few days with school garden business! It’s been such a great time for me out in the community talking to our city leaders and school principals making plans for outdoor classrooms and food gardens. What I’ve found most exciting is that people are very receptive to these types of initiatives if someone is eager, ready, and willing to take the lead and do the heavy lifting. All of which I’m like, BRING IT.

That’s all to say that we have a long road ahead of us. I’m currently creating a website for the organization that I’m in the process of forming called The Norfolk School Garden Collective. This organization will work to build and maintain gardens and outdoor classrooms at the public schools in our city. Right now, however, I’m just focusing on helping one school, Granby Elementary, to build a school wide food garden, habitat gardens, an outdoor classroom, and picnic area. But it takes money, materials, resources, volunteers, and a community of people dedicated to its success. And I’m just a meager gardner with a big vision. Building this idea from scratch and some timber feels pretty out of my league, but that’s half of the fun. Watching something grow from something small.

Do you all mind if I leave you with the school garden’s GoFundMe page? This weekend I am getting 10 bags of top soil and nectar plants to help the school become recognized by the Monarch WayStation Project. The teachers and the students are committed to helping grow a butterfly and bee habitat on their property and I’d like to help them make that a reality. Please consider donating to their garden to buy the materials that they need to make that a reality! Here is the link to the Granby Elementary School GoFundMe Page! I’ll be sharing pictures of the butterfly garden’s progress with you all! Thank you for putting up with my shameless fundraising attempt and for considering to donate. I appreciate this little community that reads my blog. You all are awesome.

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Beyond the Body: A Feminist Book Series

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Made by Moonrise Whims

Since I’ve had a lot of time for personal reading, writing, and gardening these last few weeks, I’ve decided to expand my own intellectual journey beyond myself and invite you all to join me! And since I’m just going to assume that you’ve already agreed, I have some fun things planned for you all this summer! Starting June 1st, I will be starting a summer reading series focusing on feminism and gender issues.  I would like to take you all on an intellectual (and intersectional!) journey through womanhood, race, class, violence, work, and our physical bodies that expands our understanding of feminism as an identity and move us toward understanding feminism as a politic. The desire to castigate women and men who declare themselves as feminists, to me, points to an anti-intellectualism that does not understand the basic theoretical principals of feminism, which will be the foundation for what I will be exploring with you over the summer: the bread and butter theoretical principals of feminism and their reach into our physical lives.

The name of my summer book series will be called Beyond the Body.  I’m curating my reading list now, however the first book will be “Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics” by bell hooks. I’d like to encourage you to read along with me! I will spend one month on each book with weekly discussions here in my blog that flesh out the reading in quarters. I will start reading on June 1st, next Wednesday, will post a introduction discussion to get our juices going. Sound good? I’m so excited!

Also, I’ll just throw this out there, but if you life in Norfolk, I’d LOVE to have you read along with me and join me for an in person discussion group (women and men alike)! I’ll continue our conversations here on the blog to expand our discussions and to include more voices. I’m really looking forward to reading, discussing and discovering feminism in a way that empowers and convicts us all.

Feminist Politics

It wasn’t too long ago that I was a supporter of Hillary Clinton but as my own personal values have shifted over the years, so too have my politics. Being that I have grown most in my values on capitalism, feminism and anti-racism over the past few years, most specifically the past few months, I have come to disagree with and diverge away from many of Clinton’s politics. That’s a very normal, natural, and healthy thing to do. A growth process that I believe more people should embrace and work towards: confronting your own beliefs and values and working to sharpen them, question them and grow in or away from them. From my perspective, which I often consider to be unique as a feminist in an evangelical Presbyterian church, this growth is all important in the female democratic process. There is no one issue that defines women or any candidate and we must actively work against constructing and actively believing binaries that work to order us into invisible lines of demarcation. What one woman cares about is not the same as another, and this also includes our body politics. Assuming that our bodies are what connect our minds and our politics is not only foolish but oppressive. That is why it is important for us to engage with politicians based on their world views, policies, critical issues, and values that we believe to be most important, not simply their personalities, bodies, or talking points. As we get closer to the election I have lost quite a bit of the Bern and have not grown in enthusiasm for Hillary, but I remain engaged with the conversation and am keeping mindful of the ways that politics attempts to drag me by my vagina towards any given candidate. That hurts and isn’t really nice.

Confession

A warm blossom breeze passes through my tomato rows, spreading thick nature’s pollen, coating flower’s ovaries, choking my throat, a violent cough ejecting spring’s sex. Pulling weeds from their roots, my labor becomes heat, dripping sweat edging my back, panting chest, aching thighs – body feeling the earth,  a vigil deep, the work of a lover’s hands – thousands of years of hard trees, thin sprouts, streams, water breaking through river’s dams, filling the valley with sky. This, as my grandmother was, is who I am, mother earth, an inherited breath, sighing at dawn with the blue-necked heron, a rookery in pine, watching the shore where children play.
Gathering my seeds and pressing them into the dirt, dust clinging to my hands, upturned, praying for rain, a blossom breeze, I celebrate my story.


I’ve been working on this poem for a few days as I am wrestling through a very strange new shame that has emerged inside of me: I have been feeling a lot of shame about being a mother and not pursuing anything else. Now that I’m not pursuing a doctorate and have begun to shift my focus away from academia, I am feeling quite a bit of shame that my focus is now on my children, my family, my garden. I’m sure that this is a result of my own pressures that I put on myself. I’m not sure if academia has done a bit of harm to my psyche as a human – the practical needs of my body and mind – or if I have been cynical of myself as a woman for far too long. But this poem serves as a confession of who I am despite my shame.

A School Board Report: We Didn’t Fall Asleep, But A Board Member Almost Did

Elections always rile people up. They start good conversations, they expose our city leaders, they bring important issues to the surface, and they get regular old citizens’ attentions. Well, at least for a few hours. Maybe less. If we’re lucky. I decided that since I got a bit involved in our city’s election this year that I didn’t want to lose that momentum. There are a lot of things that I care and complain about between elections and I decided that voting just isn’t enough. So, I gathered a few people from around our city and we all went to a school board meeting last night. Afterwards, we met at Streats, an amazing local pub, and discussed what we heard– some of our concerns and some of our solutions. It might sound boring on paper, but we sat for 2 hours after the meeting and energetically dialogued about all that we had learned and witnessed. And we’re ready to go back next time.

The Meeting
Since none of us had ever been to a school board meeting before, we had no idea what to expect. I half expected to be grilled about my attendance and the board members to be sitting on pillars of smoke. But really, it was a small room, the board sat up front, the smattering of attendees sat facing them just feet away, and board member Brad Robinson snacked on chips, browsed on his phone, and appeared to almost nod off a few times. It wasn’t bad at all.

Superintendent Report: The superintendent Dr. Boone gave her report, which was just a pretty lengthy video that displayed a few amazing programs that some of our students throughout the district have participated in and enjoyed over the last several weeks, from pre-k to high school. Programs such as Young Scholars, the Learning Barge, Military Child assemblies, and ODU Little Feet. It was very encouraging to see children learning in such diverse ways that enabled them to practice and apply learning standards and not just sit and memorize them. Dr. Boone ended the video, I mean her report, by saying that these programs are “wonderful hidden secrets in Norfolk Public Schools.” Her closing words stopped me in my tracks. Why in the world would such amazing programs be touted as “hidden secrets”? They should be front and center!  Every parent, child, teacher, and administrator should be made aware of these programs! They need to be plastered on posters, sent home in backpacks, hung on school walls, placed on the front of the website, and put on the lips of teachers who encourage every student to participate. Maybe these “hidden secrets” would attract more parents and students to our schools and help to support the students that we have.

Public Comment: The most interesting part of the meeting is definitely the public comment portion. Anyone can speak. You just have to sign up and stand at the podium. The various cares, concerns, and personalities of the parents and children in our schools were on full display. A couple citizens spoke about the recent increase on budget travel for professional development seminars in response to a story that was recently covered by The Virginian Pilot and stirred up a bit of a furor. A woman gave a gripping testimony about her 1st grade son being bullied by both students and staff at his elementary school and how his case has been brushed off by administrators and members of the board alike. He has not been to school since April 15th because his torment at school is so bad and she called on the school board to act and investigate. Many people shook their heads and were obviously disgusted by the board’s lack of action in the interest of her son. Maybe a Pilot article will need to be written for her to get their attention.

Monthly Financial Report: Finally, when Dr. Thornton, the district’s chief operations and finance officer, gave his monthly financial report to the board, that’s when some of the most contentious moments arose. Board member Dr. Gabrielle drew his attention to the year to date expenditure on daily substitutes. The board budgeted this year for $846,874 to be spent on daily substitutes for teachers. As of May, there is $309,272.73 available for schools to use for substitute teachers. This is extremely important to point out and to understand. During the election, many teachers attended the candidate forums and raised their concerns that their morale was low and that substitute teachers were virtually impossible to get because there is no money for them. Teachers complained that they could not go to professional development workshops, which the board is spending around $100,000 on for themselves, because there is no money for substitutes to watch their classes for them to go. Well, as we see in the budget, that just is not the case.

Dr. Gabrielle pressed Dr. Thornton on this issue. He explained that money is allocated to each school based on need. If they use all of their funds for substitutes, then they may request more with proper vetting from him and the superintendent. Did you catch that? Dr. Boone jumped in to defend this disparity between funds budgeted and funds expended by suggesting that schools need to be vetted for accountability that teachers just aren’t abusing their time off from school instead of doing their jobs. Our superintendent said that. I’m sorry, but when was the last time that you ever heard of a school teacher taking super fun days off of school at the city’s expense? Right now, teachers can barely get sick days, and if they do, their students are divided up into other classrooms, loading more students into other teacher’s classes. All with $300,000 of available funds for substitutes. Dr. Gabrielle pressed further and asked if principals or schools are being penalized if they request more money for substitutes. He insisted that this is not true. But I’m not quite sure I believe him. Dr. Gabrielle is correct. This needs to be clarified and corrected. The money is there. It just does not seem to be handled correctly by our superintendent, officers, and administrators.

Board Travel Funds: As for the increased travel funds for school board members, I am hesitant to be so critical. I can see the need for practical and quality training for our board members. However, let’s be honest. $100,000 for a few board members to travel to Denver, Miami, and Boston, to name a few, is out of this world expensive. Do you know what kind of vacation you could go on for $100,000? Like, you all better come back with a tan having spent that much money. But, if they insist that this is necessary for the betterment of our public schools, I’m going to request the following:

  1. A written report from each attending board member.
  2. This report needs to explain in detail the sessions and talks that they attended.
  3. Give a description of the new research and skills that they plan on implementing in our schools.
  4. How this information and training will directly impact our division, our schools, and our children.
  5. Any new areas of growth that needs to be focused on in our school district that have been brought to their attention.

These reports should be given during board meetings and put on their website for the public to read.

Conclusion: All of us that attended the meeting together learned a whole heck of a lot. My husband looked at me during the meeting and said, unsarcastically, that this was really exciting! We got to see our city leaders run our schools. We witnessed their personalities and their decisions and their questions and have a much better understanding of our schools. And we plan to do this every month. I do hope that you will come with us next time! This is how we can better support our city and our schools.

Days Folded Like Linens

I recently read a very inspiring and thought provoking piece over at Buffalo Schnitzel that explores living a life of delayed gratification. (And she talks a lot about asparagus, one of my favorite veggies!) You should definitely go check it out. Her post got my motor running and, of course, it got me thinking about my grandmother…

 

Days with my grandma folded up like closet linens. Making beds, doing laundry, dusting, cooking meals, a preserving housework that was simple and slow, crisp and clean. Bent on a purpose to keep her house tidy and full, she would drag her wooden stool into the front room, climb its steps and pull down her sheer lace curtains to be washed and air dried in the backyard. Her knobby knuckles dipped them up and down in the warm soapy water, gently wrung them out and clipped them to the clothes line out back where I sat and picked onion grass to season my mud cakes. They billowed up in the breeze as a royal canopy, coronating her hard work. As she clipped and I plucked, the open windows of the little brick house perfumed the air with her poached chicken that was inside simmering on the stove. Sitting in a folding chair with a bowl in her lap, she picked a couple of pounds of green beans to go with dinner and a butter cake cooled on the table. No one was coming over. Grandad sat inside watching football in the den waiting for her to call him in to dinner when it was time. The day was beautiful because that’s what she made it–and she gave it to us. When we ate at the table on floral plates and served ourselves her chicken and gravy, beans and butter cake, next to her clean white curtains, we absorbed her. We felt important and loved. Her simple work decorated us. Her fussing filled us. Her tiredness gave us energy. And it gratified her. Every day was the same. The same little house. The same beds to be made. The same linens to fold. The same child to wash.  A life lived for others.

My Journey Through Diseases And Anxiety

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I wear a lot of myself on my sleeve. Probably more than most and definitely more than what makes people comfortable. If you’re thinking that it’s some type of ethos that I’ve created for my blogging self, I hate to break it to you. It’s always who I’ve been. I remember standing with my grandad out on his front porch as he smoked a few Marlboro’s and I would go on and on about my classes in school and my violin lessons and tell him made up stories about how cool I was to the popular girls in the 5th grade. The levels of torture I put him through were probably immense. Actually, I don’t even have to reach back that far. I’m sure some of my friends and acquaintances can tell you how I’ve put them in an awkward situation after I blurted out how my new anti-depressant has made me gain 15 pounds in last 12 weeks. Okay, see. There I go.

But since I brought up my anti-depressant, I guess I should just stay on that subject. You know, for the sake of awkwardness. This is my first go round on this type of medication and it’s been quite a road to get me to this point where I needed it. Probably since birth. No, even farther than that. Probably all the way back to my grandmother, or her dad, or even his mom. Who knows, really. All that matters is that somewhere along the way evolution played a dirty joke on some of my family’s genes and created one that has become affectionately known to us as the “BooBoo Gene.” At a really young age, before words were my thing, I nicknamed my maternal grandma “BooBoo.” There’s really no reason or story to it. I looked at her, bestowed her new name upon her and it stuck. Even today in her coffin there is a heart shaped pillow with the name BooBoo embroidered across the front of it. Just like a heart tattoo that you’d see with “mom” written on it. BooBoo had a lovely but also a very difficult, and in many ways, tragic life. Some of her life’s details aren’t for me to tell. They aren’t for anyone to tell. They’re her’s and her husband’s and her children’s. But as for me and my inherited BooBoo Gene, what should be told is that she had many mental struggles and disorders. The type that hurt her and her family and left a few scars and genes. And as the stories go, she inherited some of them from her father, who had his own demons, and a few of her siblings have struggled with them in many manifest ways. I’ll skip a generation or two and just cut to me in 2011. Me and my journey with my BooBoo Gene.

Multiple Sclerosis
In 2011, I was 26 and I had a 2 year old and a 1 year old. I was also finishing up my left behind bachelor’s degree. It was what I would like to call “the dark time.” Chaotic really. But all of my life, up until that point, I had been a mentally stable and very healthy person. That is until my back and left arm went all tingly and numb every time I tilted my head down. Reading, doing dishes, changing diapers, anything that made me bow my head gave me electric tingles down my arm. So, naturally, I went to the doctor. It took a few months, but I finally was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My mom and my aunt both have the disease so I was very familiar with it. But familiarity didn’t stop me from crying in the shower for a few weeks. The sweetest memory I have from “the dark time,” is of my husband, Jason. He had never been a coffee drinker. He hated its bitter taste and often would give me a hard time for drinking it. But when I was diagnosed with MS and the possibility that I could one day walk with a cane or need a wheelchair before I was old enough for it to be cool, he started drinking it with me. He heaped the sugar and cream in it and he looked at me and said that he was going to drink it with me in our kitchen together when we’re too old to walk. All because he wanted to do something with me that I love forever. So, we drank coffee together and we moved forward.

Autoimmune Hepatitis
This story is more difficult to tell. A few months after I was diagnosed with MS it was the beginning of 2012. We bought our very first house, my grandfather passed away, my oldest son turned 3, we got a dog, and I began to turn yellow. Well, actually, before I turned yellow, I lost my appetite, I couldn’t keep food down, I could hardly stand, I graduated college, and then I turned yellow. That’s when I decided to go to the emergency room. My memories of this time are far more sporadic and broken. I know that when I wasn’t dragging myself to classes, I was laying on my couch in that space between awake and asleep while my 3 year old and 1 1/2 year old climbed all over me while they ate Cheerios and watched Curious George. I remember waking up in the mornings, walking down stairs, pouring the boys their cereal and leaning over the kitchen counter almost unable to stand, all with my back and arm tingling. The day I went to the emergency room because my eyes were yellow, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the diagnosis was for a yellow person. I don’t think I really even cared. What they told me was that my liver enzymes were over 2,000 when they were supposed to be under 40. So, I had severe acute hepatitis. (Not the Pamela Anderson kind. Click the link to get educated about it). But no one knew why. For a year and a half, no one knew. My GI doctor left me to my own devices and I got a bit better on my own, until in the spring of 2013 when I began to lose my appetite again, I couldn’t keep food down, I was severely exhausted, and lo and behold, I was turning yellow. By that time, I was in graduate school with a 4 year old and a 2 1/2 year old. Still chaotic. Still dark. After a couple of liver biopsies, I got a phone call from my GI doctor telling me that I had autoimmune hepatitis. It’s a fairly rare chronic disease that can lead to liver failure and death if left untreated. They explained that I had moderate scarring on my liver, but with treatment and time, it would heal. I sat hunched over on the concrete stairs to the porch of our house with the phone to my hear and tingles running down my arm. This diagnosis was the the one that sent me crying in the shower for a few months. I was so scared. It left me with so many questions and fears. Mostly with the fear that my treatment wouldn’t work and I would need a liver transplant or would die of cirrhosis. It took me to a place mentally that I had never gone before. And I think since that diagnosis, I have never been the same.

Post Partum Pre-Eclampsia 
You guys, I totally got better. I responded to the treatment so quickly and so well. I was on it for a year and I felt great. It was the spring of 2014. I was eating. I wasn’t yellow.  But, you know, sometimes, my husband and I are crazy. Like, the kind of crazy where we say, hey, I know we’ve been through a lot and I’m still in graduate school, but, let’s have one last baby. You know, for shits and giggles. With the blessing from my doctors, we had sex, probably great sex, and made a baby. The pregnancy went so well. I had some high blood pressure, but they put me on medication to help keep it down and no one was worried. Not until the end. I graduated with my master’s degree and I was soon put on bedrest at 34 weeks pregnant and stayed there for 3 excruciating weeks. It was now 2015 and my doctor said, okay, enough is enough. Your blood pressure is just too high. Let’s get ‘er done. And she came. Our daughter came to us. And my god were we all so happy. After such a long, painful few years, we were all just so happy. They sent us both home and the weight of having 3 children sat on my chest and wouldn’t move. I was laying upstairs in my bed with my newborn baby and napped for a few hours to get rid of a bad headache and some chest pain. When I woke, it was worse. I asked Jason to check my blood pressure just to see if maybe that’s what was wrong. He put the cuff around my arm and pumped the rubber ball. He let go and his eyes grew big. Furrowing his brows together, he pumped again. He let go. His eyes were now scared. I told him to tell me. He wouldn’t. My heart beat faster and I demanded that he tell me. 210/190. I told him not to move. Nobody move. Don’t panic. Take the kids to the neighbor’s house and drive me to the emergency room at the hospital where I delivered Ruby. He ran and got the boys dressed. I remember kneeling downstairs in the foyer with my crying baby. Tears streamed down my face. My hands were trembling. I was trying to concentrate on not getting overworked, trying to prevent a seizure. And I nursed my baby. I closed my eyes and I sang my favorite hymn all the way to the hospital. The nurses at the ER didn’t believe me when I told them how high my blood pressure was. I sure shocked them. I was immediately wheeled away and injected with emergency medicine to bring my blood pressure down. And then they wheeled me back up to the maternity ward. I cried because I was back and this time I might not leave. I was put on magnesium, something invented by satan, but what surely saved my life. I was on it for 24 hours. It is meant to slow down your organs and body, opening up your blood vessels to help ease the pressure and prevent a seizure. But it slowed down everything. By the end of the 24 hours my eyes could not focus. I could not follow movement. I could not lift Ruby to my breast to nurse her. I could barely lift my head and arms. Once I was taken off the magnesium and given a recovery room, I stayed for a week while doctors tried to get my stubborn blood pressure down. It kept creeping back up to the 200’s/150’s. And they kept trying different combinations of medications to help. My chest was still aching. My head was still pounding. I was still sure that death was imminent. Visibly noticing my distress, the nurse intervened and gave me Xanax. All of a sudden I was Snow White. With a smile and a song, the windows flew open, a breeze drifted in, and birds perched and chirped on my fingers. It was around the same time that my blood pressure began to lower and after a few more days, I was sent home.

The BooBoo Gene: 2016
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with the BooBoo Gene.  It’s been well over a year since I was in the hospital but I’m still on a good amount of blood pressure medication, and probably always will be. I struggled with quite a bit of post traumatic stress after I had Ruby. Every time my chest ached or a pain shot through my head, I was racked with fear. I was sure that I was a breath away from death. I distracted myself with work and applying for doctoral school, but it was always there. And I was driving myself crazy. On Christmas Eve, I very randomly found something about a dark stripe that had been on my thumb nail since I was pregnant with Ruby. And, as the internet usually does, all signs pointed to doom, gloom, and melanoma.  That was it. I started panicking. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t work. I was obsessed. I was filled with so much fear that I couldn’t think of or care about anything else. I went to a dermatologist who assured me it was benign. I didn’t believe him. I went to my primary doctor who also assured me that it was fine. I didn’t believe her. The moment that I yelled and screamed at Jason for not loading the dishwasher right and pushed him in our dinning room, I knew that I wasn’t okay. I went back to my doctor and sobbed in her office, spilling my last 5 years out onto the examination table. I was paralyzed with a fear of my body. It has betrayed me so many times. So many times I guessed the diagnosis and so many times I was right. So many times I distrusted a doctor and proved them wrong. And this time I was sure it was the same. But what I hadn’t guessed this time was that I was actually depressed and anxious. And rightfully so. She suggested that instead of a biopsy, what I needed was an anti-depressant. Something to help me see things clearly and to stop suffering. And it has. I could finally work. I could finally hug my kids. I could finally stop yelling at Jason.

After all of this, this whole long sad story, I keep thinking about BooBoo. About the poor mental health of my family and how I may have inherited some of it. How all of the trauma regarding my health in the past 5 years has unearthed parts of myself that span back generations. Hell, my diseases probably go back that far, too. I’m not embarrassed for needing medication to help my mind. I feel more free than I’ve felt in a very, very long time. (What’s funny is that I may be 15 pounds heavier because of it, but I could care less! Thanks anti-depressant! ) What’s important is that I’m alive. That I can take care of myself and my kids. I can look at my husband with love. I can work. It helped me get through my doctoral rejections. I’m not sure how I would have coped otherwise. So, more than being heavier, I’m thankful. I’m so thankful. I don’t know if this will be something that I struggle with for only a short time, or a lifetime. I’m planning on taking therapy to help me learn how to cope and learn strategies that will help to de-escalate my anxiety when it’s triggered. I also plan on watching. The pain and cycles of my family’s mental health has now caused me to be so much more aware of my own. I don’t want to repeat their cycles and I want to be proactive about getting myself help when I notice the BooBoo gene creeping in and making camp in my mind. I owe it to myself and to my family because I have years to deal with two chronic diseases and threats to my body.

And now it’s awkward between us, isn’t it?


In case you’re worried, I’m still watching the stripe on my thumb. I’m taking pictures of it every few months to compare. To make sure it doesn’t grow or change. I had a friend that said, “Are they just going to medicate you and not do a biopsy?!” I’m trusting that they know what they’re doing. But I’m also being my own advocate and being watchful. Thanks for caring. 🙂