Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where I'm From--Version 2

I MISS….by Cathie English August 2005

I miss the purple lilacs in the front yard,
The scent’s strength permeating the house on a May afternoon,
Adorning the table at eleven high school graduations.

I miss the wood floors in the dining and living room,
The polkas and waltzes, standing on Daddy’s shoes,
The Big Joe Polka show playing on the scratchy stereo.

I miss Dad’s breathy laugh and how he laughed at his own jokes, and the
stories he told of fishing on the Loup Canal and dunk hunting on the Platte,
the town whistle blowing because his parents thought he’d drowned in the canal.

I miss working side by side with Mom in the kitchen,
peeling potatoes, snapping beans, frying chicken, adding cornstarch
to make gravy, washing dishes, and having a cool one after a hot
day of cooking.

I miss racing across road and down the alley to Babka’s house,
Her front porch, sun drenched, on winter days, reading magazines,
Pulling weeds and picking strawberries in the summer, paring apples in the fall,
Staying overnight and having bacon and eggs and coffee boiled with egg shells
On the white wood burning stove.

I miss climbing out onto the roof from our bedroom with my sister Chris,
Talking the night away about our future plans, boyfriends, girl friends, and people
We couldn’t stand.

I miss watching the basketball games and screaming at the top of my lungs when
My older brothers played a good game, screaming for three, Mike, Kava and Scott, proud
Of their three point shooting ability long before the three pointers counted.

I miss our family trips to Beatrice to see our brother Mark—the laughter he created with his funny ways—his love of grapes and magazines and chocolate—and the sadness of leaving him behind.

I miss making breakfast for the little ones before school—Cocoa Wheats, pancakes, and fried eggs or lunches during the summer of fried baloney sandwiches, grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese or hot dog gravy.

I miss watching my younger siblings grow up—Paco, Lisa, Julie, Denise, Charlie and Vicki—the other half of the family growing up while I was married.
I miss all the days of constant commotion, daily strife, tears, laughter, good times, and love, a communion like no other I’ve ever experienced before or ever will again, the tight-knit, stick together family we were and still are.

* * *

I wrote the poem above in 2005, or six years ago. It was the second version of the "Where I'm From" parodied after George Ella Lyon's poem. I have always loved Ms. Lyon’s poem because it is a poetry form that many of us can use well. It isn’t always easy to copy her form. She says so much in a few lines! It takes me forever to say what I want to say but that is because I have so memories. A person has a lot of memories when they have a large family. It would take me a life time to write everything about my family. The sense of place I had was very strong because we rarely went beyond a 50-mile radius of my hometown, Silver Creek. Large families simply don’t have the income to accommodate much travel. It was a highlight for us to travel the 100 miles to Beatrice to visit our brother. It was also necessary to recruit a family friend to help transport our entire family.

So, because we never traveled far, I became intimately acquainted with every gravel street, every flower on my two-block walk to school. I could walk to Kula’s store “downtown” with my eyes closed. I knew not to go barefoot across the Union Pacific railroad during the summer because there were too many stickers protruding from the sidewalk on the approach to the tracks. I could also tell you that the north side of the Platte River right under the bridge is where you’d sink to hip deep before you could reach the sand bars in the middle of the river. I also knew that on the south side of the river about a mile west, there were some pretty good swimming holes where the water was even deeper. Every kid in town also knew that come Halloween, you went to Mrs. Clara Bryant’s house because she always gave out a small white sack of candy to every single child in town. It helped that she had owned the grocery store that her son now owned and she was an incredibly generous woman. She lived right across the street from the school, so she was familiar to all of us.

Living in small town America is the best of times. I remember when I first read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; I felt like I personally knew Scout Finch. She could have been my neighbor. I imagine Scout and I could sit down and talk about the intricacies and people of our little towns.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Lifetime of Learning

Acquiring knowledge is a lifetime endeavor. And it seems like I have spent a greater part of my existence in a formal academic setting. You could say I’m a perpetual student. I really didn’t plan on doing this, but truth be told, I love learning. Thirty years of my life have been spent in the classroom--60 percent of my life has been dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. It’s not that I want to be a know-it-all. I just find that there are so many wonderful opportunities to explore the world and meet new and fascinating people.

Growing up, I was the student who always sat in the front row, eager to hear what the teacher had to say. I was the student who took meticulous notes in every single class. I studied voraciously (well, except maybe for science class at least until I was privileged to take biology) and took my exams with glee. I wasn’t necessarily competitive with anyone else but rather with myself. I constantly appraised my own performance and tried to improve my scores, and if I didn’t improve, I’d chide myself for being stupid. I do not berate myself anymore but I still strive to continue learning because without learning, my life would be utterly boring. One of the biggest disappointments of my life was when I could not attend college after I graduated high school. My parents simply did not have the money to support me. Ultimately, it was a good thing that I waited ten more years before returning to college. I had grown up quite a bit and truly appreciated the opportunity to earn a post-secondary education. Because I had some life experience I became the mentor to some of the younger students who were struggling or homesick. Along with two other non-traditional students, we became the Moms-on-Campus.

Teachers are expected to update their teaching certificates through professional development and continuing education. I certainly could have been happy to do that, but like many teachers at Aurora Public Schools, I decided to attain an advanced degree. Seven years after receiving my bachelor of arts degree in education and English, I commenced work toward a master of arts degree in English. Once again, I was in familiar territory as the non-traditional student surrounded by twenty-something graduate students. The biggest difference between undergraduate and graduate students is that some of the graduate students were know-it-alls! I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to experience some of the best teachers on campus. As an older student it was easy for me to befriend my professors. It was such a joy to collaborate and speak to them as peers. Graduate school was challenging but by far my favorite stage of the learning process. I have learned more than I could have ever imagined and have been encouraged and inspired to become the best teacher I can possibly be. I have been surrounded by fellow educators who are passionate about teaching and just being around them makes me smile. Being around them gives me hope for the future of education.

Now, I am almost to what most serious lifetime students consider the pinnacle of education: a doctoral degree in composition and rhetoric. I have been reading and writing for the past four years in order to write a dissertation about a subject I’m passionate about, place conscious education. My goal in writing my dissertation titled “Living Well: The Value of Teaching Place” is to convince other educators that teaching place will instill in their students five senses: living well in community and living well spiritually, economically, politically, and ecologically. I believe that teaching students to know their own places well will enable them to know their future communities well, too. Throughout the dissertation process, there have been times I have been completely depleted of energy and felt somewhat hopeless. When I once asked a relative who had both his M.D. and Ph.D. degree about how intelligent he had to be to get those degrees, he replied, “It’s not about how smart you are but whether or not you have perseverance.” I now know that he was completely right about that. If you have the stamina to continue studying, reading and writing, you can complete the most advanced degree. Herein lies the message of Khalil Gibran: “A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” I may not be Albert Einstein when it comes to brain power, but I do have a bit of knowledge about writing and rhetoric. And I do know how to act upon that knowledge--using it to empower others in this life. Knowledge that acts elicits learning in others, leading others to the “thresholds of their own minds.”

Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own by U2

The one song I chose to emphasize from my Life Soundtrack is "Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own" by U2. The song is important to me because it reminds me of my dad who passed away in 2003.


I love U2. It is the band of my generation. From the first time I heard them, I was mesmerized. I think the first cassette tape (yes, it was a tape not an album) was The Joshua Tree. I was enamored with the songs “One” and “With or Without You.” Over the years, their music has sustained me in ways that are hard to describe. It really is hard to choose just one song that exemplifies my life, so I am going to focus on one that reminds me of my father, because he had a life-giving impact upon who I have become.

My dad died on January 2, 2003. Two days after his funeral, I came up to the high school very early in the morning, about 5:00 a.m., trying to pull myself together in order to teach. Sandy Pfiefer was our custodian at the time, and she always played country music. Well, my dad was a huge fan of country music, especially Hank Williams. My dad had the most beautiful singing voice in the world. If he had not had twelve children, he could have been a music star. Anyway, when I walked into the building, I heard “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” on the radio. This was a song my dad could sing better than anyone (besides Willie Nelson). So, on a bitterly cold day in January, I had myself a good cry in the hallways of Aurora High School.

Since that experience, I read a book about how our loved ones still communicate with us after they have passed away. One of the mediums they use is the radio. I know it may sound superstitious, which I am not, but I do know there have been moments when I’m troubled or sad, and I will hear a song on the radio, and I know my dad is trying to reassure me or make me smile. It’s not a creepy thing; it’s a comforting thing.

This brings me to this song, “Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own.” I had not paid too much attention to this particular U2 song over the years until I received the DVD set from my daughter for Christmas a few years ago. I distinctly remember the day I finally sat down and watched and listened to it. When the video began, I read the words about Bono’s father—someone who was a working man and who “sang” on the side—I felt a lump rise in my throat. I thought about how much we were alike—how we both had fathers who gave us the gift of a voice and the love of singing. But it was the lyrics that really got to me.

Bono’s first word is “tough.” There is no other word to better describe my dad than “tough.” He wasn’t a big man; he was only 5’6” and probably never weighed more than 150 pounds. He was proud all of his life that he was the captain of the football team his senior year. I’ve seen photos of him, too, and he looked like a mad dog. Growing up, he told countless football stories about hanging on to a “Big Swede,” being drug half way across a football field until someone finally assisted. Of course, when he told this story, there were a lot of colorful metaphors used. My dad was tough, but sometimes, like me, he needed to know that you can’t make it on your own.

Bono’s lyrics continue, “You think you've got the stuff / You're telling me and anyone / You're hard enough / You don't have to put up a fight / You don't have to always be right.” Those lyrics and the haunting melody came across the airwaves and the television screen as if my dad were present in the very room, because this would be something he would actually say. He constantly challenged us all, saying, “Oh, you think you are so tough, but do you really have what it takes to make it in this life? Are you hard enough, like me?” The last two lines would be something I would say to my dad, because I often tired of fighting with him, and I just wanted him to know that he wasn’t always right. I often deferred to him, out of respect, because he did believe he was right—about everything!

My dad and I were so alike in our personalities that I can certainly understand those lines about how we “fight all the time,” and it’s because we were so alike that we saw our flaws in each other, and hated having that mirror put up to us. I can’t remember a day that went by that we didn’t have a difference of opinion on something, or didn’t argue about it. We were both relentlessly stubborn. And like Bono heard his own father say, I heard it, too: “That if we weren't so alike / You'd like me a whole lot more.” At the time I watched the video, I was feeling ever so much the absence of my dad, despite our differences. I didn’t know how much I’d miss him and miss the time together, fighting it out. It was good for me to hear Bono sing that it was “alright [sic] [because] / We're the same soul.”

I think we are the same soul because we both love to sing. I have been singing since I was just a little girl. I sang in the choir and girls glee club in high school, church choirs, and just to myself driving down the road. There is something about singing that just makes the world a better place. There is something about singing that lifts the soul to a higher place. Dad understood that. That’s why our home was graced with its beauty, and its presence made the ugliness of the world a little more bearable. So, I feel Bono’s gratitude to his father when he sings, “Can - you - hear - me - when - I - / Sing, you're the reason I sing / You're the reason why the opera is in me.” I, too, know that it is because of all the countless hours my dad sang, that the “opera” is within me, too.

Dad’s gift of music is a final reminder to me that I need to “Listen to [him] now,” because through the medium of music, he’s telling me something so vitally important: “I need to let you know / You don't have to go it alone.” Knowing that I am not alone is a very comforting thought. Knowing that although he is physically absent, his “same soul” is right here beside me, taking me by the hand, walking and singing me through the rest of my life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Autumn poems

After School Special
The sugar maple in Pastor Karl and Tina's yard
blazes in its brightest yellow jacket
these eighteen years on West L Street,
the dwarf burning bush I planted two years ago
on the northeast corner of the house is a
hot red, like living flames of love,
warming my soul in this damp,
misty air.
The tea kettle whistles,
the steam rises to wet my nose,
Earl Gray steeps
in its tea-pot shaped infuser,
the warm cup
in my hands,
a fleece blanket around
my shoulders; I sit in my
wicker chair and
open a book.

Garden Plot

Clods and chunks of Earth
bits of withered tomato vines,
cold and fruitless,
stick out of this ground,
too cold to produce,
ready for winter sleep;
marigolds, once smiling yellow
and happy orange,
fade into brown,

Walk--5:00 a.m.

Like clock work, I awake before the alarm,
the weight of my body, heavy,
I stumble to the bathroom to pee.
In the dark,
I grapple with my jeans and sweater,
make the bed, and head downstairs
to don my running shoes and sweatshirt.
I open the door
to a sky filled with stars,
cool air that's easy to breathe,
walk the neighborhood three times,
step up onto the curb when two oncoming cars
don't see me.
My joints feel better.
My muscles have moved.
My mind has walked miles.
It's quiet.
I'm awake.

Writing Marathon Odes

Bleachers Ode

O Northwest wind,
sweeping away
the last remnants of autumn,
preparing us for
the coming season
with your chilling fingers
creeping into crannies
of this thick black coat,
reminding us that Old Man Winter
welcomes us with Blindingly
Cold blasts of Arctic air.

Ode to Autumn

Autumn Sun is a blessing,
staving off the turn
in the temperature,
its last desperate days
to warm the Earth before Arctic
air descends upon us as
the Earth orbits around it,
this cycle of rotation,
a circle, unending,
unbroken, a pattern,
a habit, a permanence,
that sustains us.

Ode to the Law Library

Volumes of brown and red
law books envelop me
with a sense of security,
knowing that generations of citizens
invested their wisdom and insight
into creating laws for the
benefit of me--
the benefit of you--
the benefit of ordinary
citizens who go about their
unaware that book after book,
volume after volume has
been written for them.

Popcorn and Pistachios: A Poem

A greasy bag of popcorn
scutters in the brisk breeze,
spewing its two-day old
contents across the bleachers.

Kernels popped,
coated in bright yellow seasoning salt,
mingling with the dirt left behind
by boots, sneakers,
and shoes,

I look down at my feet,
pale pistachio shells,
scattered here and there,
emptied by a nervous parent
watching eleven players
on a field of intensity.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Deep Maps

Here are several deep maps created in College Composition and English 12 classes at the beginning of the school year. Following this post are postings of several students' deep maps and accompanying legends or essays. After the student essays, you will find my deep map and legend.

Brad's Deep Map

Baseball and Brad

If you were to look at my "Deep Map" most people would notice one thing above all the other objects. That thing would be the baseball. To many people baseball maybe be just a boring game or a place to go waste a couple hours, but to me baseball has, and still is, a major part of my life.

Any kid could tell you that moving can be really tough. You want to be yourself, yet you want to be accepted and have friends. When I first came to Aurora, I knew no-one and had no friends. My first few months of school were difficult because I really didn't belong to a certain group. However, that all changed when baseball practice began. During t-ball practice, I learned the names of many kids and made many new friends. It was an awesome feeling to know that you and 10 others had something truly in common and to work together towards a similar goal. While playing t-ball that summer, I believe I both made a lot of new friends, but also stuck to being myself.

The game of baseball is not only important to me, but it is also important to my family. Summer after summer, I have spent hours in our batting cage with my dad and brothers hitting buckets of balls. During that time we spent together playing baseball, I have built a strong relationship with my family. My love for the game pushes me to attend all of my brothers' games, and they both go to all of my games. They always are encouraging me and pointing out things I can do better, and I return the favor.

Another activity that my family takes part in that pertains to baseball is our yearly trip to Kansas City to watch the Minnesota Twins play the Kansas City Royals at the end of July. For the entire weekend my family and I go to the baseball games and just enjoy the last part of summer. It is a way to celebrate the summer and a time to rest before the school year begins.
As you can tell, baseball to me isn't just a game. Whether we are watching a game at Mitchell Field, sitting on the couch watching the Little League World Series, or playing home-run derby in the backyard with my brothers, baseball is a major part of my life and I will continue to love the game the rest of my life.

Caitlin's Deep Map

I created my deep map in a style that's a bit different than a traditional map. Because I am not the most gifted artist in the world, I decided to answer the questions: "Who am I?", "Where am I?", and "What is my purpose?" with words rather than an actual drawing. My map is supposed to resemble a facebook flair page. My facebook flair page to be exact. Because I regually use facebook to keep in touch with faraway friends, as well as the ones I see everyday, I thought it would be appropriate to include the theme since my friends are a part of who I am.
All of my flair are spread out across a blue background (the only reason for this is to contrast the white buttons) and range from different sizes, colors, and levels of seriousness. Most of them are hand-written, while a few designs were printed off my computer because the were too complicated for my feeble drawing skills.
I tried to arrange my flair randomly to make sure that colors, themes, and sizes were all spread out. On the other hand, I also tried to put the most important flair to me in the center of my poster. The button that reads,"GOD. Because not all things can be answered by Google.", took this position because faith is a BIG part of who I am, and why do the things I do.
If there's one question that got the short end of the stick on my map, it would have to be the "Where am I?" question. This however, I suppose is to be expected when I didn't draw a traditional map with places on it to begin with . . .I would definetly say my map is lacking a Nebraska button and/or a corn button.
Some of my buttons remind me of other groups of people or locations like my "I quote OIDS" button that I associate with my speech team, the "It's marching band season". "I heart my family", and "my sister has the best sister" are pretty self explanitory. As for places . . . Honestly, any of the previously mentioned buttons remind me of Aurora, because that's where the memories of the people I associate them with are. Other buttons that were sent to me as gifts however, such as the "I speak Spanish" button was from a friend who lives in Washington, so that's who and where that piece of flair reminds me of.
If I had to give my map a title, it would be called "flair". Not too terribly creative of a title, but I thought the idea itself was creative. The fact that no one else did a flair page for their map is what I like the most about mine; it makes it unique. I dislike the fact that I mainly focused on two questions, and neglected the third.
On some the verymost edges of the map we find some of the less serious buttons, such as the "Office" button, "I used to be cool. Now I drive a Minivan." button, and one of my personal favorites, the "Rawr. I'm a sparkly vampire. Fear my glitter." button. While these are definetly a part of my now, they may change in the future. That's part of the beauty of humanity though; our ability to change. So while my deep map consists of button that reflect the three questions now, I'm curious about what it would look like if I made another one in fifty years . . .