Hey, Tootsie…

Yellows are lemon, pinks are cherry, greens are lime (yum!), oranges are, of course, orange, and browns are chocolate . . . but blues? Well, they’re vanilla, of course!

In any case, these are the colors of the panther I petted in my dream last night, the panther who will influence the plot in the first book of Waterwight. Perhaps one of his cubs will be named Tootsie!

OPT OUT!

Stop Outsourcing our Children

I’m not proud of what I’m about to share with you, but here goes. Many of you know me as “Leadville Laurel,” one of your local authors. I have taught, and continue to teach, English to many of your children. So when I started hearing about the new test—PARCC—which replaces CSAP this year, I started asking questions. My questions were answered with grumbles. “Take the 5th grade practice test,” someone suggested, “and see for yourself.”

Never one to walk away from a respectable challenge, and feeling quite confident that I am smarter than most 5th graders, I visited the web site and started the 5th grade English test. An hour later and with shaking hands (pretty sure my blood pressure was up several points), I got my score: 30/40, a solid 75%, perfectly “average” for a 5th grader. Granted, I didn’t go back to check my answers, so I might have reconsidered some of my responses. And I suppose I might have earned an extra four points for two essays I wrote, one having to compile and compare information from three separate essays and one having to rewrite a narrative from a different character’s point-of-view, but those portions would have to be evaluated by a faceless person and scored. When? Who knows!

Developed by Pearson, the same company that earns its fortunes through the sale of textbooks to our schools, the test—in addition to being stressful—is vague, complicated, and confusing. So why am I sharing this with you? Why am I confessing that despite my MA in English, I did not even score in the “Good” range on a 5th grade test? Because I’m asking you to do what I did. Pick one of the practice tests and see how you do. Then scream out loud. Then, if you have a grade 3-10 student, hug them. Then write a letter to their school saying, “I am opting my child out of taking the PARCC test this year.”

Schools across the country are already protesting the increasing insanity of the testing we’ve imposed on our children since the inception of NCLB. Proponents of these springtime tests (with results coming months later, never in time to alter instruction) say that testing is a part of life, and use the SAT college exam as a reason to pre-pre-pre-test. I say hogwash. If teachers were allowed to teach their students core material (teach, not test, because there is no instruction or learning happening during a test) like my teachers could back in the olden days, their students would do just fine on the SAT. Or not. Not everyone needs to attend a four-year college anymore.

Most parents won’t take my suggestion. Most will continue to grumble, but will not want to “rock the boat.” And without a dissenting majority, our schools will continue to buy the latest “testing success” materials and our children will learn less and less each year. And perhaps our parents don’t feel qualified to be vocal about what’s happening in our classrooms, so here’s my suggestion to those of you who don’t like what’s happening, but are unsure of what to suggest as an alternative to having your child sit through days of meaningless assessments.

Our school district is still in the process of implementing Expeditionary Learning. Why not use testing week(s) to have our students complete a project that is both meaningful and manageable to evaluate internally using the core standards at each grade level for English, math, and science? At least have that as an “opt out option” rather than sending students wherever administrators decide to send those who are bold enough to “just say no” this year.

Here’s the thing. Our teachers are “highly qualified” in their subject areas and in evaluation strategies. They know what their students should learn and where they are weak. They’ve endured countless hours of professional development on the same topics every year (from money-making companies who package old ideas with new names), and they’ve been forced to outsource the evaluation of their students to corporations that don’t give two hoots about them or their classrooms. Why?

We can’t afford to be complacent anymore. Whether we have children in the public school system or not, we pay for the schools in our district, and all of our graduates will impact the communities in which they live. We all should feel empowered to demand more: More learning, less testing. Opt out, Leadville, and work with your elected officials and school board members to take back the education and evaluation of our students from careless corporations.

Waterwight (end of chapter 2)

A single beam of intense light streamed through a crack in the door and struck Celeste’s closed eyes, startling her awake. Instantly alert, she slapped herself hard on the cheek and feeling pain, realized this was no dream and she had, in fact, run away. She surveyed her surroundings. The odor of urine still lingered, but there was no sign of the furry animals who had kept her warm. She did not know how long she had slept, but by the angle of the sun, knew it must be close to mid-day.

Across the room she could see the contents of her gray sack scattered. Hungry now, she hoped the animals had not eaten the few items she had managed to scrounge before her hasty departure. Celeste shook her head as she moved to gather her belongings.

“Talking cats, yeah, right,” she murmured to herself, chuckling at the thought. Then she noticed her diary lying open on the floor. Feeling for the key around her neck—still there!—she reached for the leather-bound book.

“No . . . way,” she said when she saw something scrawled on one of the pages. Panic returned at the thought of someone invading her space and her property while she slept. She tiptoed to the door to see if she could see anyone outside. All was as barren as it had been when she first arrived. She looked back at the page and read aloud:

“You can’t stay here, you can’t go back,

A tool please find within your sack.

South is where you’ll find your home,

Though for a time you’ll be alone.

Head for where there are no things,

Follow your nose to find the springs.

Danger’s near, it’s time to go,

Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Mo.”

Celeste wondered who would play such a childish joke on a defenseless girl and was angry at herself for not waking when someone must have taken and replaced the key around her neck. She grabbed her sack and opened it to find an old metal object at the bottom. A compass.

The spinning needle brought back a fleeting memory of camping with her parents. Celeste’s father had given her a toy compass and planned a short adventure around the campground.

“The red arrow always wants to go north,” he had told her. She could almost hear his patient voice now. “So if you turn until it lines up on the ‘N,’ you’ll know where east, south and west are. Now, take ten steps west!”

That was all she remembered from a lesson meant for fun, but now she was anxious to leave this filthy place. At least they hadn’t taken her food. She devoured one mushy apple while reading the bizarre poem again. Not knowing whether to take it seriously or not, she gathered her things and stepped outside. If only the cats were there, then she might know if she was losing her mind. Talking cats were things for fairytales, and the world outside looked like no fairyland she had ever read about.

Holding the compass in her hand, she turned until the red arrow pointed north and realized that was the direction of the children’s home. She turned around to face the south. She knew her home was gone. Why would someone tell her to head south, and where was the danger? She had no idea what springs had to do with anything, or why her nose would be involved in finding them. As for “Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Mo,” she could make no sense of that whatsoever.

Although the sun shone brightly, the hairs on the back of Celeste’s neck prickled. A surge of energy motivated her to move away from the house and she instinctively headed south, her pace quickening with her growing feeling that she was not safe.

Her brisk walk became a jog and then an all-out run when she looked over her shoulder and saw in the distance a pack of what looked like wild dogs fighting.

Celeste heard one faint, gruff voice from the direction of the pack. The animals stopped their commotion and turned in her direction.

“Food!” it said, and Celeste ran like she never had before.

Waterwight (chap 2 beginning)

Chapter 2

The heavy old door complained at being pulled open in the midst of a gloomy night. Already filled with nervous energy, Celeste felt her senses tingle as she ran into the chilling darkness. She ran until she was breathless, stopping under a street light near an abandoned house over two miles from the creaky old door. Startled by the easy speed of her escape, she took a moment to look around and realized she had no idea where she was.

“What now, genius?” she asked herself, pretending not to feel the fear rising in her chest. Without a hint of daylight to be seen, she knew she would soon be shivering. She dashed to the back of the dilapidated structure and looked through a small window. All was dark. The back door was open, and cautiously, she stepped inside.

Frozen in place, her heart beating loudly in her ears, Celeste dropped her bag by the door and waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the small room. Soon she could see the shapes of a kitchen and discovered she was not alone. She also discovered the source of the powerful odor of urine that assaulted her senses.

Eight glowing eyes from four furry creatures stared at her from the opposite corner of the room. Cats, she hoped, though the huddled mass could have been a mutant creature. She did not move a muscle. Then, voices broke the silence.

“Of course we’re cats,” said the first voice.

“Mutant creature!” said the next.

“Silly Celeste,” said another, its eyes focused on her bag.

“Come, curl with us, sleep,” said the final voice, and Celeste thought she must still be dreaming. Perhaps she hadn’t yet left the frightening ledge of her nightmare, hadn’t yet run away. She knew her dreams could jump from scene to scene without making any sense. And how could they know her name?

The furry mass did not move, but the sound of a rumbling “purrrrrr” drew her, trancelike, toward the animals. They parted to let her kneel among them. Unafraid now and believing she was still dreaming, Celeste stroked the warm fur of her strange new friends and felt a pang in her heart when she realized there had been no animals at the children’s home.

There had been no talk of animals just as there had been no talk of anything before her rescue. How was it that she had forgotten about holding the plump puppy her father brought home shortly before the event? She had forgotten about many things, and now her mind raced to remember.

Memories of shaking and shouting and deafening noise came to her then, overpowering her. She began to cry. The cats rubbed against her, coaxing her to curl up in their midst. She crumbled to the floor, her cry turning to a soft whimper, and soon she was warm and fast asleep.

(tbc)

Waterwight (end of chapter 1)

She was barely alive when they rescued her from the rubble of what was once her cozy home and brought her to the stark building where now she merely survived. They were not bad people; they were just cold, like everything around her. The other children in the home had evolved as she had into submissive little robots, doing what they were told and mindlessly following the endless list of rules.

Wide awake now in the dark room, Celeste took a deep breath, looked around and shivered. Thirty metal-framed bunk beds lined the bare white walls of the room in which she slept. The cracked linoleum floor had lost its shine years ago, and the curtainless windows, thick with grime on the outside and a wet layer of condensation on the inside from the breath of so many sleeping children, hadn’t let light through in decades. Chips in the white porcelain sinks in the communal bathroom at the end of the narrow hallway trapped used toothpaste and hair, and even though she knew the toilets and showers were scrubbed daily—one of the chores all the girls were scheduled to complete—nothing in the overused bathroom could ever be truly clean.

The other girls, still restless in their own unsettled dreams, would not waken until the clang of the dawn bell hours from now. After years of living with these girls—had it been three years? Maybe four?—she had not made any close friends, despite her efforts at coaxing them to share their past lives. No one within the cheerless walls would talk about the event that left so many children alone. They simply called it “the event,” and after a while, the children stopped questioning. She had grown to hate her life in the hollow building with its repetitive days and its people with their blank faces. She had often daydreamed of running away.

Celeste glanced toward the small nightstand where she knew her meager possessions lay: blue jeans, a few baggy shirts left by older girls when they moved away—Where did they go?—the green scarf, a diary with a lock, the key to which she wore around her neck, the gray sack stamped in orange with the single word “HOME” which they gave to all newcomers, and a worn leather jacket with her initials, “C.A.N.,” embroidered on the warm inside lining.

A wave of guilt washed over her when she thought of how excited her parents were when they gave her the expensive gift to mark her first decade of life. It had been far too big for her at the time and she refused to wear the baggy garment. Today she wished they could see how much she treasured the now perfect gift. But they were gone, and she didn’t even know why.

Her heart raced again when she thought about the voice in her dream and its message of an easier way. Was it time to listen to the voice? Was it time to turn her daydreams into reality? How she wished for someone to trust, someone to make her believe that everything would be okay, someone to make her feel safe and loved again.

Resolved now that she would leave this place of nightmares, Celeste rose, dressed, stuffed her belongings into the gray bag, removed her name card from the foot of the bed and slid it into the clear outside pocket. Holding her shoes, she moved noiselessly to the kitchen, hoping to find some food. With four bruised apples, the only unprocessed food the children ever ate, and half a bag of stale crackers—everything else was locked behind steel cabinets—she made her way to the imposing front door and put on her shoes, zipped her jacket and tucked her hair beneath her scarf.

Remembering a trick her parents taught her as a child when she was frightened, she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply with her face upturned. She believed now as she had believed as a child that this would help to make her courageous. She reached for the door latch. It was time for Celeste Araia Nolan to leave this wearisome place that would never be home. It was time for her to take a leap into the unknown, even if it might hurt.

Waterwight (Book 1)

Chapter 1

Celeste dreaded going to sleep. Every night she struggled to stay awake, but exhaustion always triumphed. The nightmares triumphed as well, and on this cold night she drifted into one of her most stressful dreams.

Perched on a ledge outside a 40-foot building, Celeste could feel her panic grow. Wind whipped around her and she knew that if she did not jump to the ground, something horrible would happen. She did not know why she was on the ledge or what might be worse than leaping from this height, but she felt she had no choice. The idea of landing on the ground so far down made her tremble, but she also believed that she had made this leap before and survived. She was tired of feeling afraid, tired of everything in her life being difficult and disturbing. Stalling, she removed the emerald green silk scarf that matched her eyes and held back her mass of tangled black curls, let it drop and watched its swirling, dizzying decent. Perhaps it would soften her fall this time.

But this dream was different.

Lightheaded from peering over the edge to watch as her scarf danced in the wind, she pulled back and caught her breath. Then, she heard a mysterious voice whisper, “There’s an easier way down! Come, come inside!”

Turning toward the voice, she saw an open window where none existed before. She could not see the whisperer with the foreign accent. Standing on shaky legs, she moved to the window to step inside, leaving the dangerous ledge behind her. This time, she would not have to jump.

Just as she stepped through the dream window, Celeste woke up, her heart racing, and she knew she would never have that dream again. Someone had whispered a message to her and had broken the painful pattern of a nightmare she suffered repeatedly since the people at the children’s home found her years earlier.

(to be continued)

It Started with a Dream!

I don’t believe I’ve ever been as excited as I am today about writing! After sharing a crazy dream yesterday with a friend, she told me I needed to turn it into a children’s story, and I barely slept last night.

All I’ll say right now is that Orville, a flying–and probably French–frog will play a major role. It begins today…a new genre for a new year!

Hunting: Day 9 Epilogue

Here’s my epilogue
They were somewhere, I was naught
Never heard a herd

Although I never pulled the trigger, no one can say I didn’t give it my best shot. I ended this hunting season as I began it—elkless—but richer, still, for the experience.

Mike and I watched another magical morning bloom across the sky as we moved through our last hunting area of the season. Knowing that this was our last day, my last chance to do something I’ve lost sleep over these past several weeks, we walked more slowly than ever. Even so, the “scrunch” of dry snow and ice under our boots was too loud.

Day 9 morn

We agreed that if we saw nothing this morning, we’d call it quits for the day. We whispered little. When we did, it was the usual, “This would be a great place for them to hide,” followed by, “Yeah, I know, they should be here,” followed by, “They’re probably peeing on our car right now,” followed by muffled chuckles. It really was comical, or sad, depending on your perspective. I’ll go with comical.

Day after day of prodding poop piles (a band name, perhaps?) made me recall a story my dad used to enjoy telling, the one about two little boys sent to play in a room filled with horse shit for a day. When they got home, the mom asked about their day. One boy cried and complained about all the poop. The other boy gleefully exclaimed his willingness to return the next day because “with all that horse poo, there must be a pony in there somewhere”!

The only real “signs” we saw today, however, were signs of disrespectful hunters, and Day 9 morn 4that made us both angry. I’ll never understand why anyone would think it’s okay to leave beer cans and bottles littering the outdoors. I hoped they went home elkless as well.

When we reached the farthest point in our search, it was time to head back home. We both decided there was no need for stealth, and had we been the hunted, we would have made easy targets. It was a bizarre thought, I know, but it did cross my mind as we hustled back noisily to the 4-Runner. Too many “Hunger Games” movies, I suppose.

By the time we returned home, I decided I would return to a close-in site for the last few hours of the day.

“I’ll go by myself,” I told Mike, not wanting him to feel obligated to watch the ball drop, so to speak, on my first hunting season.

“Why would you do that?” he asked. “Of course I’m going with you,” he continued, looking at me as if I had grown an extra nose.

So without going into the step by step details, the most exciting moment of the evening was when I caught movement in the trees behind us. I spun around and put my scope on the biggest rabbit I have ever seen.

Day 9 end2“Don’t shoot the rabbit with the .308,” said Mike matter-of-factly.

“Oh, but…,” I protested. The sun was disappearing over the mountains and I was hungry. And did I say it was the biggest rabbit I had ever seen? It wasn’t elk-size, of course, but it would have made quite a stew.

I sure did want to end my hunting blog with a thrilling conclusion and photos of me elbows deep in the guts of my first kill. But it just wasn’t meant to be.

I did, however, confirm what we have known all along…that those wily beasts have been following us…and laughing.

Day 9 end

Day 9 end3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting: Day 8 Evening

Running out of ways
To say we’re elkless again
But still having fun

Or are we? Sure we are. And honestly, I can’t believe the weather we’ve had this week. Sadly, it’s weather that doesn’t motivate herds of elk to come out of the mountains for warmth.

Ranger holding on

Ranger did his best to prevent me from leaving this evening, and the text message I received from one of my four sisters—“Why don’t you just drink wine like the rest of us…wtf?”—almost made me reconsider our evening hunt.

 

But I can’t end this week saying, “I’ll bet we would have bagged one if we had gone out that 8th night.” And so off we went to a location near the death-by-hills area. I drove the trusty 4-Runner up inclines I wasn’t sure it could handle, white-knuckled the whole way up.

“If you have a long shot,” Mike whispered to me when we were close to the top of the world, “I’ll bend over and you can brace yourself on my back.”

I swear, the man really must love me.

“Um, yeah, no. Don’t think I’ll be doing that,” I whispered back as gratefully as I could. willowsAlthough we saw many perfect places for elk to hang out at the end of the day, like this swath of willows, we never saw a sign of habitation. Not even by a long shot.

Driving back down at the end of the evening made me realized just how far we had climbed on our previous hunts, and once I could release my death-grip on the steering wheel, I was able to bask in the glory of my physical accomplishments.

And now we’re down to one more day. So tell me, honestly,

Shadow selfie lastdoes this pack make my ass look fat? Oh, and thanks for enduring the endless chronicles of my hunting season.

 

Hunting: Day 8 Morning

Running out of time
One more hunting day remains
Elk laugh knowingly

Ranger looked up at me this morning with an expression that said, “Who are you and what have you done with my mom?” He has not been pleased with these days of pre-sunup excitement, and this morning’s 04:50 alarm was just too much. He skulked back to bed.

day 8 morning4

Mike and I were on site and I was ready to shoot even before the moment it would be legal.day 8 morning The moon was still high over the mountains, and it was bitter cold even though I was day 8 morning2dressed like an Eskimo. We thought we might stake out a place we had identified last night, but after standing motionless for almost 15 minutes, our toes started to freeze and even I agreed I’d rather be hiking.

We moved at a noiseless pace, and I finally felt like a “real” hunter. Having to control each foot placement helped to generate body heat. Moment by moment our surroundings unfolded with the nearly imperceptible brightening of the sky right before sunrise.

Two glorious mule deer sprang across an opening to our front, about 50 meters away, and my heart raced. I wondered if mule deer hung out with elk, but I hadn’t come across that in any of my pre-hunting-season research. Still, I took it as a good sign.

For two hours we scoured the forest and poked at poop-piles, “me and my shadow,” until we had completed a sizeable circuit ending back at the vehicle.

day 8 morning3

“I’d say we go home, get some breakfast, and maybe come back later,” said my shadow. It was unlike Mike to call it quits so quickly, but then he moved past the vehicle. “Maybe one more traverse down that way,” he said, and I felt like he had read my mind.

“Sounds good,” I said, still in a whisper.

“We don’t have to move as stealthily this time,” he whispered back.

Roger that, I thought. “Okay,” came out of my mouth.

We spent another half-hour hiking and hoping the herds of sleepy elk would somehow find their way to us and sacrifice one of their own to our cause, but I guess that’s just not how it happens.

Stay tuned for tonight’s episode of “Looking for Luck in All the Wrong Places”!