Saturday, April 18, 2015

My First Protest

A T-shirt from the rally gives Richmond legislators a piece of this teacher's mind

Earlier this year I spoke before Chesapeake's school board about the negative effects of budget cuts on teaching and learning in my Latin classroom. But the problem lies not with our superintendent nor school board, but with Virginia, itself, which has drastically cut its per-pupil spending in recent years. The local school system is just doing the best it can with the lousy cards it's been dealt by the state legislature. Virginia's economy has improved since the Great Recession, but our schools are struggling more than ever.

So I spent most of the day at my first-ever political protest, the "Put Kids First" rally in Richmond, our state capitol. The Virginia Education Association (VEA) and the state Parent and Teachers' Association (PTA) sponsored the event.

Chesapeake Educators head to Richmond to "put kids first"

I felt a little spoiled. The event was well organized. We each got water bottles, snacks, and a T-shirt for participating. Helpers were everywhere dressed in yellow. Those who wanted it got free bus transportation to and from Richmond, which I was happy to accept. Music entertained us at the Richmond Convention Center as we waited for the march to start. Those who had special needs were welcomed and included, and there was a shuttle bus for those who were not capable of walking the six blocks to the capitol and back, although I saw a few people in wheelchairs travel the route with us.

"Big Momma Shakes" was one band that entertained us. Here's a clip:

The Richmond Boys' Choir was another great music group:

The Richmond Boys' Choir has a nineteen-year tradition of excellence

 Here's a brief clip of their performance:

But, beyond food and entertainment, why were we there? What do we educators, students, and parents want enough that we are willing to give up most of a sunny Saturday in April? The list is reasonable and much needed:
  1. Increased funding for schools and an equitable funding system.
  2. Smaller class sizes.
  3. A reduction in state-mandated tests to free up time and money for what really matters: classroom instruction.
Marching towards the capitol to "put kids first" in Virginia

 I loved the speeches and the signs. We heard from everyone from the VEA and PTA presidents to superintendents to teachers to parents to students to people who maintain school buildings or drive buses. Especially touching were speeches by an 11-year-old named Elijah Coles Brown, whose personality and confidence fired up the crowd like an old-fashioned tent-revival preacher. Elijah confessed he doesn't score well on state mandated assessments due to testing anxiety. Just his usage of vocabulary in his speeches displayed his obvious talent and intelligence.

Elijah Coles Brown attends a Blue-Ribbon School but seeks equity for all, and can he ever fire up a crowd!

Listen to Elijah working his audience:

A teacher (whose name I didn't catch) at Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School in Richmond talked about the "different worlds" of the legislators at our capitol and his middle school located only a mile away. His school is mostly Black and Hispanic and has over a 90% free and reduced-price lunch rate, which means a crushing level of poverty. The school has successes despite its challenges, and many of these successes cannot be measured by test scores.

This teacher is a passionate advocate for Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School in Richmond

One young woman in the audience held a sign, "I am a student, not a test score," and I couldn't help but agree. Here are some other of the many signs that caught my fancy:

Why are we funding prisons over education?
"Lack of Funding, High Stakes Tests, Grade: F
Many new teachers work two or three jobs to make ends meet

Near the end of the rally, Reverend Ben Campbell of Richmond put the schools' struggles in the historical context of non-violent protest against racial segregation and inequality. He says there has been "passivity" in recent years to the point where "injustice is normal in Virginia." Politicians bash education and cut support, but we need a "march on ballot boxes" after our rally due to the need to "educate every child in Virginia."

Reverend Ben Campbell of Richmond: the struggle for educational equality is ongoing
Teachers are more demoralized than I've seen them in my 20-plus years of teaching, but I'm convinced the pendulum of public opinion will swing in our favor. Our politicians need to quit handing millions of dollars over to the major testing companies--which lobby them hard, by the way--and trust teachers and educators again. On the bright side we got good news coverage on 8 News and WTVR.
Easy political question, "Do you support more funding for public education, yes or no?"
Her shirt reads "Put Me First." Adorable!

Those of us who work in education are not the enemy. We have childrens' needs at heart and will put kids first. We just want the resources to continue to do our jobs.

Showing off the T-Shirt I got for participating in the Put Kids First rally

On the other hand, this T-shirt says it all for those of us who put kids first

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mother Earth News Fair, Asheville, 2015

My husband, Don, and I spent Saturday, April 11, at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. Mother Earth News, affectionately known as "the Mother" to its readers, has gotten Don and me into all kinds of trouble--er, I mean--projects.

What kind of projects? Let's see: raised bed gardening, helping our pollinators, local foods with a CSA subscription (currently Farm Chicks Produce), backyard laying hens, vermicomposting, and home cooking and food preservation for a healthier diet.

Whew! And I suspect that list is not at all comprehensive.

Just some of the hundreds of indoor and outdoor displays at the Mother Earth News Fair
Handcrafted baskets at the Mother Earth News Fair

We visited all the booths, sometimes twice. I attended a good presentation on chickens and gardens;  no, they are not mutually exclusive.

A dog lover, I also attended a workshop on livestock guardian dogs, just out of curiosity. Don attended every workshop he could find on how to help our bees and other pollinators.

I was fascinated by the Egg Cart'n chicken tractor on display at the fair.

We made a few purchases. I bought honey, a T-shirt, and a pair of vegan Fair-Trade sandals made from recycled materials. They are pretty and comfortable; I hope they are sturdy and long-lasting, too. Don purchased a system for making inexpensive soil blocks for seed starting purposes. He wants to use them to plant all kinds of annual and perennial flowers on our property as bee food.

Solar Oven on display at the Mother Earth News Fair
Several kinds of lumber mills and log splitters were on display. Don was curious about one of the larger mills.

We saw carding, spinning, and weaving natural fibers at several different booths
A homemade brick oven built on the spot to bake delicious rolls (I tasted a sample)
Many of the above pictures were taken at a "folk school," which to me seems like a great idea. If it were closer I'd enroll in classes, at least in the summer.

Several booths displayed products made from hemp; products of all kinds were often made in the U.S.A.

The food at the fair was great, even if some of the lines were long at lunch time. We also sampled some ice cream and a similar product made from coconut oil. Yum!

Natural remedies came in all shapes sizes, and price points. I suspect this one was expensive

The Livestock Conservancy and heritage breeds were a strong part of the livestock display

These alpacas were unusual looking and truly beautiful

Animals love Don; he knows how to scratch them in all the right places

Baby camel with its mom

According to a sign, "Milking Devon" oxen can be used for milk, meat, and as draft animals

The "Mountain Cedar Garden Hive" looks like a bird house and might make a nice stealth hive

Various types of horses also attended the fair

Cute little spotted sheep; not sure of the breed. If you know, please tell me!

Our presenter from Banks Mountain Farm on livestock guardian dogs spoke from the heart and knew a lot

This livestock guardian dog, a Kangal, is well socialized and friendly yet protects his flock from coyotes and other predators

Everyone we met at the fair was super-nice. The zeal of the various entrepreneurs who hawked their wares or displayed their livestock or their hard-earned wisdom was thrilling.

My cousin, Lise, and her family were visiting Asheville, and we got together at her friend's house in the evening. It was great to see her husband, Keith, and two daughters, Kaiya and Wrenna, again.

Cousin Lise

Wrenna, Lise's daughter

I see the family resemblance in Kaiya, Lise's other daughter, as she visits with Don
We were so tired, we almost fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow Saturday night. We had wrist bands good for both days of the fair, but we decided to schedule our long drive home for Sunday, instead. A wise decision.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Second Day in Nashville

On Thursday, April 9th, my husband, Don, and I had another busy day in Nashville. We started our day with a visit to the Grand Ole Opry House at Opry Land. This is the place where the Grand Ole Opry moved after it left the Ryman Theater. We paid extra money for a backstage guided tour of Studio A, the backstage areas, plus the main stage.

Handsome Hubby outside the Grand Ole Opry
Grand Ole Opry House
Exterior of the Grand Ole Opry House
Grand Ole Opry Post Office, where stars who are members pick up their fan mail
On stage at the Grand Ole Opry
View of the auditorium from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry
We each had a chance to stand on the circle from the stage at the Ryman and get our picture taken there
Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry; Do you see Minnie Pearl?
The Friends and Family Room backstage at the Grand Ole Opry
Lockers for the stars at the Grand Ole Opry
Roy Acuff's dressing room will always be #1 at the Grand Ole Opry

Next we went to the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum. Willie had some financial problems with the IRS back in 1991, and farmers and farm groups helped him all they could. According to an article in People Magazine, the farmers were grateful to Willie for all the "Farm Aid" concerts he had given over the years, and they knew what it was like to lose land due to financial hardship. I found that touching.

I saw a familiar theme both here and at the Country Music Hall of Fame we visited yesterday: lots of outfits designed by Nudie Cohn. I think Nudie deserves his own museum or exhibit. It would certainly be flamboyant.

When will Nudie Cohn get his own museum or special exhibit?

While we were there, we visited the Dukes of Hazard Museum and Gift Shop, which was in the same building. I also saw a funny-looking hearse type car in the parking lot. I'd love to know the story behind it.

Ambulance or hearse? Either way, country music is alive and well

The afternoon was spent at the Nashville Zoo, which is relatively young but growing fast. I'm guessing based on all the construction going on. Most of the new exhibits are slated to open in Spring of 2016.

What impressed me about this zoo was how family-friendly and interactive it was while protecting the animals at the same time. We could walk around an enclosure where kangaroos were loose, for example, but there were rules posted and staff there to make sure visitors followed them. The Lorikeet Landing exhibit gave visitors a chance to interact with these beautiful, bright, and curious birds. Many of the animals I saw, such as the red pandas, were much more active than I've seen at other zoos. We also saw a kind of black and white river ray that I've never seen at any other zoo or aquarium.

A Galapagos Tortoise enjoys a meal. A nearby sign warns they will bite

Red Panda at the Nashville Zoo
A rare clouded leopard sleeps on a tree branch
A cockatoo greets visitors to the Nashville Zoo
Don made a friend at Lorikeet Landing. Apparently he makes a nice perch

I also liked the children's play area, which made me want to play, myself.

The Nashville Zoo takes the term, "Jungle Gym," seriously!
Siamang at the Nashville Zoo

Don's favorite bird was the double-wattled cassowary
This alpaca seems to take his dinner pretty seriously!

We had dinner at Mirko Pasta, where Don ate spinach noodles alfredo with shrimp, and I had a special: smoked-gouda stuffed ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes in alfredo sauce. Sinfully rich, but good. I was so tired after walking and sight-seeing all day I could hardly walk up the stairs to our hotel room. I actually looked forward to resting on our drive to Asheville, NC, on Friday. When we arrived there we visited the Biltmore Estate, which was overpriced, in our opinion. We also were not allowed to take any pictures inside the main building, unlike in Nashville where fans could take pictures almost everywhere they went.