Sunday, July 7, 2024

A Dog On a Walk...

Chester on a Walk

A dog on a walk

Is like a person in love

You can't tell them

It is the same old world.

             — as seen on a sidewalk in St. Paul, Minnesota, author anonymous

Although Chester and I went on a long, long trip, his dog walks were in the same old, same old world. Every location had interesting dog smells. Every location had dogs. Every location had people. With my six million olfactory receptors compared to Chester's maybe three-hundred million receptors, I experienced the world on the trip differently than him. How could I convey the difference in a human way?   

After some thought, I decided to make every trip photo of him in a different phone-app style. Every photo (as it was taken) shifted to something radically-different than what I had seen and photographed. Each picture became not my view, but a view with three-million tiny differences distant from the original.

In Chester's "words":

I was game on walks even with the wind blowing my ears askew.

No smell. How wierd.

I hate wet feet, but Kathy had to come into this freshly washed restroom with water pooling on the floor. Is that my reflection? Good look'in dog.

Darn frustrating when Kathy's scent disappears into some place I'm not allowed.

I love following Art into the woods. He led me to those odd-smelling mushrooms.

If I were off leash, I'd be sprinting down that path. Who invented leashes? Bugger 'em.
Too hot to walk any further.

New dog to me. Adorable. He comes to the name of Opal.

We're best buds already. Couch-surfing together.

No, we weren't watching T.V.

I got a new dog toy for the journey back home. Quite fishy, hardly any smell.

Done walking where I haven't been before. Home is same old, same old.

Photos Not to Miss from an Adventure to the Midwest and Back Across Canada, 2024

Alley View of Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City, South Dakota

I have a new phone with a great camera, a Samsung 21. Every morning, I slid it into my back pocket for the roadtrip of 4,500 miles, looping across America to the Midwest and returning via Canada. These photos aren't ordered in the sequence of the trip, but are organized to best display the diversity and beauty of what I saw. First off is the photo above taken of the graffiti in the alley behind the Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City, Sioux Falls. Rapid City was the surprise of the journey: creative purpose for graffiti (an entire alley's worth), great bookstore (Mitzi's), best book (Birding While Indian by Thomas C. Gannon), hiking close to downtown on Piss Hill (read the above book for the reason for its name), and a great outdoor store (Roam'n Around).

Below is my favorite photo from Hot Springs, South Dakota. I wasn't there long because I got a flat time and had to go up to Rapid City to wait three days for a replacement.

Building in Hot Springs, South Dakota

Jackalope in Walls, South Dakota

Who can't stop to snap photos of a distracted-looking jackalope?

Waterfall and Rainbow at Lundbreck Falls in Alberta, Canada

Provincial campgrounds in Canada are at stunning locations.

Cloud about to Grab the Road East of Winnepeg, Canada

A Wall Cloud Dragging Blue Rain

My campsite for one night was at the Stephenfield Provincial Park in Manitoba, Canada—just on the other side of these clouds. While I was on the gravel road leading to the campground, I drove into dense rain. The storm was moving so fast  though that it was sunny by the time I had eaten dinner.

How about a few museum photos?

Of Its Time. Notice the Coca Cola Ad at the Foot of This School-Crossing Police Officer. 

Popeye Says, "Eat Your Spinach!"

Irresistably Charming Zuni Pottery Bird

The Carnegie Historical Museum in Fairfield, Iowa (Jefferson County Carnegie Heritage Museum), has been collecting artifacts since 1876 and is an amazing museum. Recently relocated to a former Carnegie library building near the town square, it showcases local history and its collection of Native American pottery and baskets. Worth a visit to Iowa.

More reasons to visit Iowa:

An Eyelash Mushroom

Find the Speck of Orange above my shoe. It is the eyelash mushroom above!

An Artist's Mushroom. My drawing.

The Top Side of that Artist's Mushroom Above.

My friend, Art McBreen, led a mushroom walk in Brinton Timbers Park in Washington County, Iowa. The tiny orange eyelash mushroom and the artist's mushroom were my favorite of the many we saw. That rough-looking mushroom can be drawn on its underside with a sharp tool, and the image will remain. Here is a link to photos of the other mushrooms we saw that day:

For those of you who are foodies:

A Latte and an Horchata Waffle at La Luna Café, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The Cabrese Avocado Toast at La Luna Café again, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Cat-faced Sandwich at the Cattitude Cafe, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls wins the title of "Best Food on the Trip." The food at La Luna was as delicious as it was beautiful, and I could have hung out with the adoptable cats at the Cattitude Cafe. Quite fun. I missed getting a photo of the cardamon latte at The Breaks Coffee Roasting Company. I'd move to Sioux Falls on the basis of that latte alone! Their latte will at least entice me to return. It is only a twenty-and-a-half-hour drive. 

More simply fun or artistic sightings:

Kiss me on the Balcony? Minneapolis, Minnesota.

More Rapid City Art. Sky Imitating Sky.

As Good as Graffiti, a Butte, Montana Wall.

What a pleasing trip. You might have noticed I have not included any photos of Chester, my canine companion on the trip (He'll get his turn next.) or people. So, here is a finale photo with people. This delightfully-engaged couple were taking a self-portrait in the Badlands. They did get a copy of this one too. 

Get on the road! See what you can see! Travel safe.

When You Set Off on an Adventure...

…you know not what you will find. Places abandoned, but once lively like in this photo taken through the window of Iona Cafe in Butte, Montana. How long has it been since a waitress (it was always a waitress) poured a cup of coffee from a glass carafe and drew those drapes against the late afternoon western sun?
What tragedy closed its door? 

Recently, I returned from an adventure, circling from Washington state out to South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and back across Canada. I had partitioned the trip into four episodes—the Going, the Purpose, the Returning, and the Welcoming back. The Purpose was to do some genealogy work, see old friends, and meet Swedish-descendant family members. Usually for longer trips, I forget the Welcoming home part, but it seems as essential as the journey itself, like the capstone on an arch. After all, if I have forgotten to insert the Welcoming back episode, I may forget to anticipate the adventure to be found on my home’s own stoop. Forget that leaving it didn’t mean I was tired of it or loath of it. The Welcoming back is an adventure in itself—the adventure of rifling through the trip’s experiences, images, and its tests while coming to a better understanding of what I didn’t know about myself before I set off. Back to Iona Cafe.
Butte, Montana was in the Going part of the journey. I stood across the street from Iona’s— derelict (even with an historic designation)—and considered what work the dear old cafe would need to be expertly renovated, coffee warming on the holding burners again. When I bought my cabin, it was in quite a derelict state—not as bad as Iona Cafe, but I was undaunted by the work it needed. I like that sort of thing. Throughout my journey as I walked city streets or drove through little towns sidestepped by highways both in the Going and the Returning, I saw lots of buildings, some of which like Iona’s set me again to speculating on how they might be rejuvenated, reimagined, or brought back to a condition conducive to the lively sound of footsteps.
Sometimes one element of a structure like this tile outside a building on the town square in Fairfield, Iowa would set me to thinking. My foot is reflected in a plate glass window, an unfortunate remodel to the front of an early 1900s building—currently empty. The wall with the plate glass window had been set on top of the older entrance tile, interrupting its inviting path. I could see the tile continuing inside on the other side of the plate glass window. 

 Even old commercial buildings with their advertising (fading but intact) appealed to my sense of possibilities. Ever optimistic, I considered options for their reinvention.
Butte, Montana
Bow Island, Alberta, Canada
Hot Springs, South Dakota
As I walked away from the Iona Cafe, I contemplated my limitations. I would never, never have the capacity to renovate her. By the third or fourth building I eyed with a contractor’s eye, I felt the sweep of impossibilities, followed by a small disappointment with my own financial or physical capacities, and then a chuckle. I am an optimist; an adventurer for whom some of the adventure is spotting old structures and speculating on their reconstruction into something useful. I saw buildings that needed work most days of my travels. Being a derelict-building spotter is as entertaining to me as birding or fishing or bar-hopping might be to others. This I know about myself. And for the first time, I considered that others, possibly many others, don’t engage in this form of entertainment. Their adventures—Going and Returning— will be different than mine.
The one project I know I could manage was this house in Fairfield, Iowa. As charmed as I was by the house’s dismantled expression, I could see the bricked-in doorway being cleared and a porch remounted. Then it would be a house which would be worthy of a Welcoming home after a long adventure.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Canned Curriculum, Underfunded Childcare


In the mid-1970s, I graduated with a degree in education and a minor in history from a university in Arizona and could have taught high schoolers, but when my partner and I moved to a neighborhood near his work in his family’s business in north St. Louis, Missouri, the only jobs open in my field were in inner city schools in neighborhoods where there had been race riots over the previous summer. I was leery of my immaturity and my limited knowledge of Black history, so improvising, I walked down our hill and applied for a job-opening advertised at a childcare center. In a neighborhood confused between being residential or commercial, the former doctor’s office in an old brick house was squeezed between a service station and a commercial building, but faced modest brick homes across a busy arterial road. The house, now a daycare center, had a front door and second entrance door off to the side into the doctor’s former waiting room. 

I was hired on Christmas Eve day as the fourth teacher in barely a four-months’ time for the same group of now wherried children, exhausted from being a recycled class thrice over.  Turnover of teachers in the field of childcare has often been bested only by that in the field of garbage collection. A fact I did not know at the time.

I taught in three different classrooms at the center over a little more than a year. My first class of three-year-olds shared the living room/dining room with a group of four-year-olds. The first day I entered the classroom, I was confused to see the fours sitting in little wooden chairs backed against a wall facing their teacher who scowled at my interruption. I soon understood that the teacher had few materials and kept the children occupied and riveted with litanies of “Repeat after me.” The job site could have been the focus of a brilliant case study revealing the status of for-profit daycare in America of the time. After that first trial teaching the unhappy three-year-olds, but before my stint in the surgical suite, I was reassigned to teach the two-year olds in a former 10-foot-by-10-foot bedroom. 

On my very first sighting of that classroom, it reminded me of those sad advertisements for grim unfurnished rooms. Supposedly the furniture was stored every evening for ease of vacuuming, but it was difficult to tell if the dark brown wall-to-wall carpeting had been cleaned or not. I’d gingerly cross the rug and raise the blinds on the far windows to brighten the space, but even the industrial-smudged light of north St. Louis seemed reluctant to enter into that foreboding nook. The light lit upon the sills and ventured no further.

I’d slide one of the closet doors open and tussle a table out clanking and banging, followed by seven little chairs drug and bumped across the nubby carpeting. The classroom was ready. Two small shelves in the closet held a pitiable cache of toys for the seven twos who would shortly arrive, be unbundled by their mothers (always mothers), and left to toddle about upsetting the chairs and sometimes me.

Once, I skipped uncloseting the table and chairs and we roustabouted unhindered by any furnishings. It was better. One of the un-tabled days I recall quite fondly. We were doing some kind of physics lessons with Campbell soup cans and ramps. Canned curriculum. I don’t know what the parents thought we did all day in those empty rooms.

The former doctor’s surgery suite was the opposite of the two’s room. It was sterile with low hanging florescent lighting blinging off the high, white-tiled walls—perfect for operating. I’d set my tools on the table. The Crayola’s colors seemed extra riveting under the fluorescents, particularly the blood red and vein blue. Jumbled in an old and quite unsanitary cigar box, the crayons were mere nubs with their paper slipcovers mostly missing. Next to them I laid a pile of Xerox pages. These were the only tools provided me for the delicate operation of teaching ten three-year-olds every morning for many months.

My skill of delighting the two-year-olds, earned me the childcare center’s position of morning supervisor, a lovely title seeming to convey that I would be responsible for the sun rising over the city or the dawn breezes wafting off the nearby Mississippi River beyond the railyards. I was naïve to accept the position.

Every state has licensing regulations. Some in the 70s were so minimal that the only requirement to become a preschool-aged teacher was if you thought you might like to become one. The field is better regulated now and the licensors have more discretion to shut down centers providing inadequate care. That is if they can catch them.

The morning I became aware of the childcare center’s cheating and hence the morning my administrative duplicity began, I was teaching in surgery. The owner swished behind me hurrying through my classroom to the little hall just beyond where there was a doorway to an attic classroom of four-year-olds. Moments later children flowed down the stairs, their momentum momentarily frozen when the first child saw me, uncertain for a nano second if I was the one they were all to avoid. Their hastily donned coats were askew, flapping open as each in turn pivoted at the bottom of the stair while they glanced back at me with their silenced stiff faces. Their teacher hustled them through the former doctor’s waiting room—itself another classroom— and out into the chill air to walk aimlessly about until the unannounced visiting licensor had taken her authority elsewhere. Late for lunch, the children returned and jostled noisily back up the stairs to their unlicensed garret.  

A half a century on, there is more funding for early childhood programs, licensors, and tax credits for parents so they can afford to pay higher fees at better stocked centers. Still, the funds are often not enough. If you Google a former doctor’s office turned childcare center in an old brick house in north St. Louis, it is still a childcare center, looking forlorn between the now boarded-up service station and plywood-windowed commercial building. Fortunately the air is cleaner due to such things as the Clean Air Act, so possibly the back bedroom gets better light. Some things change. 

I wonder what the attic is used for. State filings indicate the center is now licensed for twenty-four children. (In my day there must have been closer to fifty-four children.) But the current tuition for a preschooler at the center is $500 per month. A modest amount. Luckily for the teachers, Campbell soup cans are still available and cheap. 

Postscript: I moved on to teach in a better-funded preschool the next year and then enrolled in a master’s degree in early childhood education. When I eventually became the director of newly-founded childcare facility on a college campus and stayed twenty-seven years, I leaned on what I had learned at that first center. Retaining staff, better funding, and having environments “dense with potential” were my goals. I had learned my lessons early on.