Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Unwelcome noises from machines

When I taught fourth grade, I was in a pilot program for a Community Music in the Curriculum project. We taught our children how to interview. They learned by interviewing each other and then writing a news article type of product. We even sent tape recorders home with them to talk with their grandparents' generation about music.

At the same time I began collecting stories of people in our community through recording our conversations and then transcribing them. The history committee in my little town is hoping to have a museum and these conversations will become a part of the collection. Now I'm onto a new project, collecting stories for a book about a schoolhouse in what the locals call the South Mountains. Same method. Same machine. It has served me well.

But tragedy. Last night, I plugged this trusty tape recorder into the socket and heard a strange bzzzz. I changed sockets. Same bzzzz. Several sockets later, I realized my recorder was on the verge of death. Now what? Should I change over to newer technology that would save me time by transcribing directly by voice recognition like so many people have suggested?

Alas! What will I do with the hundreds of casettes and their valuable contents? I did four interviews for the project yesterday alone and haven't transcribed one. I must have the recorder for that.

But more than that, I must hear the voice of the mountain people in my ear. I must capture their cadence and lilt and weariness and joys that only listening to the voices will allow. Modern conveniences have drawbacks and I'm not ready to relinquish my hours with these voices. Some things are worth spending time on.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Yesterday I was a judge in our local elementary version of Battle of the Books, or EBOB, as we call it. What fun to watch the children, those fourth and fifth graders so full of confidence, energy and school pride. They fretted. (So did their parents.) They cheered. (So did our whole room when we completed one unanticipated rare perfect round.) Imagine. Cheering with the children about books. Wish you were there to witness it.

Just four days ago I was on Capitol Hill sidestepping another kind of battle going on in our country. It was a glorious time to watch democracy at work, yet that wasn't my purpose of being in Washington. I was at a conference that celebrated Global Families and on a visit to my senator's office to talk about funding for students in cultural exchange programs. That was my battle, keeping a global emphasis in government spending during tough economic times. I have the same conficence, energy (well, maybe just a tenth of it) and pride as those EBOB's from yesterday. I cheered the many global families I met at the conference. I fretted over losing funding for programs that bring our world back from the brink of physical battles.

When I was in the midst of raising teenagers, my mantra was, "Pick your own battles." I'm clinging to that wisdom now as I watch others battle with their words. Sometimes I agree. Other times I disagree. I lurk. But there comes a time when I must step up and pick my battle. I came to that time this weekend. Maybe I didn't accomplish much, but I did leave behind a seed in someone's mind.

The next time I face a battle, whether it's about books or about cultural exchange, I'll be on the front lines. You can count on me.


Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Just a Matter of Time

The Mondays after the grand Daylight Savings switch always are a bit disconcerting to me. Sundays are like free passes with the afternoons to sleep off the difference. But on Mondays, the reality hits. I'm at my computer, BIC and HOK at the usual time. It's still dark outside and it's just a tad bit after seven in the morning. The birds are just now starting their tweets, yet I've already tweeted and checked emails and facebook, too. I love it.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Granny Gretchen Goes to Washington

I do have a life beyond children's books. I am the AFS exchange student sending coordinator for the western half of North and South Carolina. That means I assist US students who want to go abroad. It's a passion of mine, ever since I lived abroad on an exchange in Peru and hosted a girl from Chile during my senior year in high school, and my daughter lived abroad in Australia, and we hosted a girl from Venezuela. So I'm pretty invested in this whole concept of peace through cultural exchange.

I'm headed to Washington, DC this week for a conference on government sponsored programs. We're to meet and train on Thursday. Then on Friday we're suppposed to go to Capitol Hill and advocate for programs that send our students abroad. The news last night, though, reports that President Obama has asked all legislators to clear their schedules until the health bill vote. Does that mean me? Does that mean that I can not talk to my representatives about the importance of raising a child to think globally? Our timing couldn't be worse, but think of this. I'm going to Washington to see democracy at work. What an exciting time to be on Capitol Hill.

The conference I'm attending will aim high, even without a visit to the hill. We will work toward world peace and we'll make a difference, one child at a time.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Mentor. That's a short title for an awesome job. That would be me. Mentor.
But wait, isn't everyone a mentor? Walking out the door we teach whether we know it or not. Mentor just labels the reality and ups the responsibility from example to a more personal interaction.
Today I'm headed to the next county over to sign the paperwork to mentor two high school seniors as they finish their senior projects. I've worked with these students over a year preparing them to go abroad with the exchange student orgainzation I'm involved with. I maintained contact with them during their semesters abroad and since they've returned in January. Now they want to give back and volunteer for me as a part of their graduation requirements. Developing a future volunteer base, that's what I'll get out of this process. What will they get out of it? That probably depends a lot on me, so I'll be serious about this.
But first, I must do one pesky chore. Sign the papers so the county can do the required background check on me. This is the real world, after all.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Battle of the Books

I got the call. Just now.
The librarian at the local elementary school asked me to be a judge again this year at the county Battle of the Books. Of course I said yes. It's exciting being in the midst of a hundred avid readers, and I don't use that word avid lightly. These children thrive on reading. They know the details, the characters, the locations, the plots, any trivia imaginable from the list of books they have studied for months. They dress in team t-shirts with school names and book themed cartoon pictures. They do pep talks and team cheers. All over books! Wow, what is this world coming to?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Different Views

It's Saturday morning, a bit later than I had planned, but I'm at the computer, BIC and HOK, my favorite day for writing. Maybe I'm just more relaxed on Saturday mornings. Maybe the routine of the week gets a jolt and I can see things from a different viewpoint. I'm here. I'm ready. I'm writing. I'll keep this short.

Yesterday my husband and I were driving to meet friends for lunch in a nearby town. In the distance I could see the mountain chain we locals call the South Mountains. They drew my attention first because they were snow covered, not so unusual a sight for this 2010 winter. But the sun reflected the snow and made the mountains aflame with whiteness. Off to the side, though, was a loner mountain, Pilot Mountain, the object of my latest writing project. I never imagined I could see it from this particular road and this point of view. What a jolt. All my concentrating on Pilot Mountain and there it was before my very eyes from an angle I had never seen. Wait.Yes, I had seen it thousands of times through the years, I'm sure. But I had never realized and connected that distant hump with the stories of the schoolhouse called Pilot Mountain. I'm going back today at the exact time as yesterday and take a picture. Then I'm going to look at my writings about the mountain and its school and insert this new awareness.

There's nothing quite like looking at the usual and seeing the surprising.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Mountain voice

I'm now reading Ralph Stanley's Man of Constant Sorrows  and I've figured out what I like so much about it, beyond the actual book itself. It's the voice. It's as if he were sitting next to me telling his life story and I'm right there tape recording for the record.

That's what I'm doing in my schoolhouse project. I'm recording the stories connected to Pilot Mountain Elementary, an old school in Burke County, NC. The voices I hear speaking back to me as I listen to the interviews and type are identical to the voice I am reading in this book. Rural. Mountain. Solid. Honest. The beauty is in the telling, not just in the story itself. The Appalachian Mountain voice has a strength and depth that speaks of survival against the elements and I want that, more than anything else, to come out in my finished product.

Must end this for now. It's time for my phone call interview with a third grade teacher from the 1940's. I can't wait to time travel with her through her voice.