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We've Been Married 18 Years

If that doesn't make one feel old, well...

Here are two of our engagement photos. Dang we were cute. At ISU in 1996.

I promise I'm not pinching his nipple. 

Here we are on our wedding day in 1996 with two of my adorable cousins. (It tears me up to look at this. Both girls look like their fathers. I adored their fathers, both of whom died young.)

We wore boots to the wedding. Because we're awesome.

Here we are about a year later. We're still adorable 1997.

And, here we are at year five, in 2001. Poor baby Benjamin was sobbing just before the picture--look at his puffy face and red eyes. 

I honesty can't remember if we took photos at years 10 and 15. Sometimes we forget to do simple things like that.

An Open Letter: The Red Thread

Anopen letter to visionary and master teacher, Thomas Determan:

Itwas with great pleasure that I learned about (and contributed to) the Global Perspectives Endowment. Way cool!

And,it was with ridiculous sadness that I learned how soon you’ll blow this figurativepopsicle stand. Dude, what a serious bummer!

(I’msure you’re getting lots of sad-ass emails and cards about now, so I’ll skipthat whole part. Hopefully, you know how well-loved you are. I wished I livedcloser, too, as Thomfest looked like a blast.)

I’vebeen meaning to write a letter like this for years, and the creation of the Global Perspectives Endowment has given me such incentive.

Iwas one of those many students whose global vision changed on entering yourclassroom. The first day of 9th grade (1988)—when I entered 10thgrade social studies with Sarah K. and a few others (and we had you all toourselves for one whole class)—well that day and the rest leading up toFebruary (when you deserted us for administration—no wonder I have abandonmentissues!) were transformative. Please do not underestimate my meaning:  Thomas Determan’s class was life changing forme in all the best ways.

Beforewalking into that class, which an older friend, Zachary Wilson, had insisted Iabsolutely must take as a freshman, I was just a working class Iowa girl from aworking class Iowa family who thought she might one day teach at a preschool,or something. I didn’t think I was smart. I didn’t aspire to anything. Ifigured I’d give college a try, and I would likely get married and have kids. That’sit. It wasn’t a terrible plan, but there wasn’t much visions in it. My worldwas what I saw around me in Dubuque, and that world was neither hopeful norinclusive. It certainly wasn’t global.

Andthen came my first assignment in your class. Each student was orally given aunique research task. All you said to me was: Steve Biko. Research and report back to the class.

Thistask was over my head in so many ways. I lacked the skills and the general knowledgeI needed to even attack the problem: I didn’t know about apartheid; I didn’tknow about the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature; I’d not yet been to theschool library; I’d never had an open-ended prompt like that before, one whereI was expected to create my own parameters as I went; and, I’d never been heldaccountable to the entire class to report what I knew, as if what I knew abouta topic was in some way meaningful.

Ishared some of this with you and you directed me to the library and to the Reader’sGuide, and I managed on my own from there.

Thatday alone might have been enough to change the course of my future, butfortunately I had many more of those days with you. I got to know you betterthrough various clubs—Model UN and the global realities trip to Taos—and Ivalued that time. I was lucky to get a seat next to you at dinner in CedarFalls at my first Model UN conference. (It was my first time eating Chinese foodand you encouraged me to try the chopsticks.) I felt proud every time you askedme what I thought about something, as if what I had to think and say about asubject mattered.

Theseare big, life changing things, Chinese food and mattering. Please know, thatfor me and thousands of my Hempstead peers over the years, you were vision alteringin all the best ways, including chopsticks.

Afew years ago I joined Facebook and reconnected with many Hempsteaders I hadn’theard from since graduation. One of the things that surprised me was how manyof us not only earned advanced degrees, but how many of us teach. I don’t thinkthis is a fluke; it speaks directly to the quality of education we received atHempstead and the quality of the teachers we encountered throughout  Dubuque. It’s a hot spot for good teachers,for sure.

Ido not believe all teachers need to be extraordinary or that there is reallyany measure for that. We put too much onus for the deficits in our educationsystem on the backs of hardworking teachers, who are mostly in survival mode, andthis needs to stop. All the problems of general society are in the classroomtoo, and teachers have so much to do it’s nearly impossible to succeed atteaching subject matter and mentoring informed young people, and yet they do. Everyday.

Extraordinaryteachers change lives. Everyday. I am blessed beyond reason that as a student I’vehad more extraordinary teachers than I can name, and I’ve taken this forgranted for way too long.

Whathas become clear to me as a teacher is that many of my students don’t sharethis blessing, and that lack matters. Some of them can’t name a singleextraordinary teacher in their past. Some can name one. This is sad to me formany reasons, but mostly because we all deserve someone in our lives to thinkour ideas matter and to introduce us to Chinese food and to challenge our visionsof reality.

Iteach developmental and college-transfer level English in California’s enormouscommunity college system. My students are diverse, yes, and just as diverse fromeach other as they are similar. Some are recent immigrants, or the children ofimmigrants. Some are rural. Some are urban and suburban. Most are poor orworking class. Many are technologically poor in that their only access to acomputer is their phone. Nearly all are working one or more jobs, and have, attimes, significant family responsibilities. There are obstacles in their way togetting an education left and right. Their physical, emotional, and learningabilities and disabilities are too numerous to discuss. Many enter thecommunity college system after drug rehab, or a work injury, or a layoff, ortime in the military. Community colleges are microcosms of society in waysother colleges are not; we’ve got it all.

Althoughthere are a handful of students using the community college system as anaffordable path to the university, many more of my students are meanderingwithout a vision through a rigged system. These students won’t graduate. Theywon’t advance in their programs. They will get stuck in the cogs of themachine, repeating remedial English and Math until their enthusiasm for moreand better is beaten out of them by the gates the academy keeps. Certainlythese students are underprepared to succeed in college in all kinds of ways thathave been discussed ad nauseam by teachers and administrators and legislators. Theyare many and varied, but notably a recurring theme I see among these studentsis there is not a list of extraordinary teachers in their past. Teachers arethe fabric of schools, and what teachers can do that an institution cannot is expanda students’ vision of the world. We must foster a culture that supports andencourages teachers to care about and engage with their students. There is noother way to improve education.

Ofcourse that isn’t what most schools are doing on most days. At least not whereI live. And it’s a shame.

Ihave been lucky to have so many excellent teachers as mentors, and I am alwaysgrowing and learning my trade anew. I spend a lot of time discussing lifeskills and cultural values with students—much more time than we actually spendon essays and paragraph construction (which, let’s face it, is dull stuff). Ofcourse, they need to construct a strong essay to do well in school, but theyalso need to write about something, and that something is the stuff of theirlives and their cultures—these are the best starting places for fledgingacademics. These topics offer us a relevant context for thinking and writing. Studentsdo not go to school in a void, and should not write and learn in one either. Weteach and learn in a world rife with conflict and despair and generosity andheartbreak—and this matters. These stories of despair and hope and realitymatter to all of us. I see part of my job as validating my students version ofreality enough to suggest other possible realities, about shifting theirvisions of possible futures.

Learningalways should be grounded in the real and the possible. Ultimately, this is akind of visionary shift we need—learning without context is just a bunch ofwords, and a bunch of words isn’t gonna change the direction of this movingtrain.

Mystudents are finishing up their semester this week. They’ve been givingpresentations of their final projects and turning in their reflective self-evaluations.It’s my favorite time of the semester because I can bear witness to the fruitsof our collective labors. And this is true: for most, my teaching has mattered. For most, their experience in myclassroom has mattered to who they are as people as much as it’s mattered totheir subject matter acquisition. I have read their words, and responded totheir ideas, and have cared about their work in ways some of them are just nowexperiencing for the first time. I’ve asked them to think about their futures innew ways. All of this matters. I need to keep reminding myself of this.

Thatred thread connecting all of their work this semester leads through me and backto you.

Youare in my heart.

CherriDonath Porter

First Kiss Blog Hop:Spring Cleaning

If you're here, reading this post, you likely already know it's part of the First Kiss Blog Hop. If you want to read the other stories in the Hop--and they are all so worth the read--check out the full schedule at Audra North's website.

You are about to read my very first short story ever *crosses fingers.*

Spring Cleaning

"Ava,dear. Over here." 


Thefirst rule of this reality T.V. set is: look busy when Her Lady of theImmaculate Clacking Clipboard comes a calling, or she’ll find a less-than-desirabletask for you. Testing the dozens of broken bathroom scales I uncoveredyesterday, one-by-one, instead of tossing them, clearly isn’t busy enough forher.

Thesecond rule, which I heard the crew joking about is: it’s not a wrap until someonefalls in love or gets their heart broken.

Myschool brain thinks this is gossip spread by someone who should find something moreproductive to do than testing her weight on broken scales.

Lizardbrain—my brains almost never agree—has her money on the busty sorority girlworking off community service hours for crimes unstated, who has been flirtingwith the PA since orientation. Heartbreak is in her future. For sure.

Isidle around the growing pyramid of ancient Keds and cross trainers—whokeeps worn through shoes, anyway?—to reach Her Lady, wondering what tortureawaits me.

ThenI see him, behind her, half shaded under the admin tent: Thor, or some versionof a Greek God.

Nitwit,school brain chides. Thor is Norse, whichyou’d know if you hadn’t napped through Mythologies of the World last year.  Lizard brain’s only input is Thor pretty. I’m with her on this one.

Noddingfrom Thor to me as introduction, Her lady says, "Conner just signed on—showhim the ropes,” and then she disappears back into the tent.

Ishove my hand at him like a groupie demanding an autograph. School brain isdisgusted by my eagerness, but his hand takes mine before mine reaches his, sothe eager is mutual. I think. I hope.

“Hey,”I say. “Welcome.”

Welcome? That’s all you got? Try again.

Itug his hand to make his head bend toward me, and scan the lot, overrun with 47years of hoarded something-or-others, pulling his eyes with me. In my best fakeTV announcer voice I say: “This week, on ‘Our Parents Were Hoarders,’ underpaidspring break cast offs shovel shit into a dumpster. People grow. Cry.Everyone’s inspired. Stay tuned.”

Framinghis answering smile are gleeful divots. A girl could get lost in one or theother of those.

"So,we’re the shit shovelers, I take it." His sunny syllables loosens thestays of my balance. Holding his hand becomes necessary.

School brain is sure he smiles like that for allthe girls, but my internal hearing hasgone as soft as my center of gravity. I’m not quite listening.

Whenwe unlock hands, I step back take in the rest of him. The blunt, grunge ends ofhis dark blond hair brush a smooth jaw. His eyes are kind and open. He’s tallerthan me, but not so tall I strain my neck to see him. Closer inspection revealsthis boy is no Thor.

AllThor has is that dumb hammer. Conner’s superpower, school chimes in, is navigating the vestibularlabyrinth. Lizard brain simplifies this to messing with physics.

Conner,my two brains, and my slightly wobbly self spend the rest of morning hauling shitto the dumpster. Broken toys older than both of us combined. Every copy ever ofReader’s Digest. Twisted blinds. Mildewedsofa cushions, sans sofa. The pièce de résistance in this morbid museum ofdetritus: thousands of empty bread bags Russian-dolled into seventeen trashbags and legions of ants calling them home.

When we clear all that away, there are four decadesof flattened boxes stacked floor to ceiling, kinda like the walls of the GrandCanyon, if the Grand Canyon smelled a bit like the alley behind the postoffice.

“It’dbe quicker to burn the joint down,” he says.

“HerLady of the Immaculate Clacking Clipboard says lighter fluid isn’t in thebudget. I asked.”

Hislaughter is orange poppies.

“Isthat what everyone calls her?”

“Justme. But she is kind of imperious with the clacking.”

Iwalk along the boxes to see around it, but it’s a solid sedimentary wall ofcardboard, chipboard, and dust. For a hoarder, this guy was pretty orderly, butit still left the question: for what?

“Ava dear,” Conner mocks Her Lady’s chirp, “why onearth are you frowning?”

I am frowning. I’ve fallen into the dumpster of myown brains again, which is a frowny place.

“Isn’t it dreary? How a whole life adds up to no morethan a few dumpsters full of crap no one wants, but this widower can’t seem topart with.”

“It’skind of cool though,” he offers, closing the distance between us. Closer isnicer. “This is only the stuff of someone’s life. We get to help take the lifeout of the stuff or something, and give the good parts back to the guy who liveshere.”

Schoolbrain knows an optimist when she hears one. But she’s got a soft spot for rosythinkers, and I can’t say I blame her.

We get back to work. He lifts the boxes off the top of a stack, and setting themon the floor, makes a second stack I can reach. AsI watch, gravity wobbles again. School brain notes, with uncharacteristiclonging, the full curve of his brachioradalismuscles when he reaches above his head. 

Good griddle—Lizardbrain sounds like an old-timey hair dresser when she’s worked up—School, this isn’t an anatomy quiz. Can’t you just admire the boy’s arms. Or putyour smarts to use and fanaticize how a sudden spring storm might send rivelsof rain down them

Rivulets, school corrects.

You’re alwayskilling the moment. Now, imagine licking the crease of the curve, all the wayfrom wrist to elbow, twisting it round to taste the flex, swallowing thoserivels of rain...

I sure hope rain is in the forecast.

* * *

“Was this job in your spring break plans?” I askConner during a disappointingly clear-skied lunch.

“I went up to Yosemite with buddies. I thought we’dhike and climb. Adventure stuff.”

“But no adventure?”

“They started drinking the minute we got there. I dida few short hikes, but I’m not stupid enough to climb alone. Or with drunks.”

“This is kind of an adventure. Think of it as anolfactory safari of the suburbs.”

“Yeah, not quite the same.”

Through the afternoon, though, Conner conjures adifferent sort of adventure. If this one-hundred-dollar-a-day job is my sacklunch, it’s his buffet. Shortly he knows the names of all the fulltime crew, and the majors and hometowns of thecollege kids. He tugs the matted tangle of my life and pulls clean my storylike yarn on a map, moving town-to-town with my migrant farm family, through myschool years, and on to my favorite professors and whether or not I underlineor highlight in my textbooks.

Mybrains and I are in agreement about his company.

“So,is this what you’d planned to do for spring break?” he asks.

“Iwork every break. The university is a stickler about getting paid, so money.Even though we’re filthy and that crate of skunky Louis L’Amour’s will off-gasfrom our pores well into finals week, this isn’t my worst spring break job ever,if you can believe it.”


“Lastyear I deep-cleaned the dorm cafeteria for a month’s free board. Considering Imostly lost my appetite for dorm food after that, they got a deal. But that wasstill better than the year before.”


“Yeah.I went scrap metal junkin’ with my uncle Luis.”

“Ihave no idea what that is.”

“Yougo round to businesses and farms and pay to take away their old junk metal. Butyou can’t sell the metal until you remove all the plastic and whatnot, so youburn it off and breathe in the fumes and think you’re going to die. For days.”

“Soundssuper fun.”

“Imight have committed felonies. Luis gave me 200 bucks and told me to keep mymouth shut.”

“Luissounds like a winner.”

“Yeah,but he can bullshit the bark off a tree. Don’t let him corner you.”

“I’llkeep that in mind for when I meet him,” he says. Like maybe he means to.

* * *

Aswe work deeper into the garage, school wants to learn the lesson here. Lizard’spolicy is: keep only what you can carry. Such was my childhood. I still ownonly as much as I can haul on my bike in a few trips. (I don’t tell eitherbrain that I sometimes fantasize about a wardrobe of shimmery pajamas, a closetfull of knee high leather boots, and palates of coffee table books. It wouldjust start a fight and we’re all getting along so nicely today.)

WhenHer Lady of the Clacking Clipboard reappears, she warns us of the impending camera.“Perk up and smile pretty” is her command, before conferring with the lightingguys.

“Toobad I don’t smile pretty,” I grumble to myself as soon as she’s gone.

Butthen Conner’s behind me, and he tugs me into him so I am flat to his chest andholds me there with a broad hand on my stomach. I’ve been sweating sincemorning, but my skin erupts into a parade of goose bumps at the insistence ofhis touch.

Theshifty gravity is back. If he lets go I might perk right down into a lump onthe floor.

He’snot letting go. His words “you do too smile pretty,” brush wisps of my hairover my ears and neck.

Schoolbarely restrains my urge to rub back against him like a cat might a door jamb.

Lizardis breathing too shallow and quick for words.

Thenhe takes my opposite hand and twists me until I am facing him. His other handsteadies me at the waist. His curious, earnest face closes in, becoming mywhole view.

Mybrains are useless to this vista.

Histhumb teases my jaw line, earlobe to chin. “You’re smiling now.”

Iam not, actually, smiling.

Butby the time I think the thought, I am, actually, smiling. I smile because hesees me smiling.

ThenI kiss him.

BecauseI see myself kissing him.

Fora while, it’s light lips on light lips.

Thenit’s not so light lips and urgent bodies and no space between them.

Whena voice yells, “roll camera,” my arms are around his neck, my hands in hishair, demanding his face be in my face.

Ourkiss tastes like our work day and of spring to come.

Andit is not enough.

Iget an inkling of it now, this hoarding.

Iwant to hoard all the seasons of these kisses, and the kisses still to come. Togather them at our lips. To lick the pans of the feast clean. To eat the crumbsfrom the floor. To collect them all and hoard them in my cells for always.

P.S. Here is how I imagine Ava and Conner.

Original fiction. Copyright © 2014 Cherri Porter. Please do not reprint without permission.

Oh Harken Young Maidens

A few weeks ago I posted some American Sentences I wrote a couple of years ago, most of which are related to the processes of aging.

               New plan: pluck my sinewy goat hairs for saving in specimen jars.

I read a few to my students during our poetry unit--who knows why I do the things I do?--and mostly got odd looks in response.

The next day I got a delightful email from a student in that class who, inspired by the goat hair sentence, wrote a poem. A whole poem. I LOVE it, and she gave me permission to publish it here.

The Goat
Gayle Love

Hello old foe
I see that you’re back.
That again you’ve survived
The tweezing attack.

Coward you are
In the war that you wage.
Your only assault
Is upon women of age.

Once you were black
But now wiry grey,
From the moment we met
I have since rued that day

Oh harken young maidens
For my word it is true.
There is no escape
The goat’s coming for you.


"Googled You in Quotes / Got No Results"

Favorite Mix Tapes from my Stash

I made a playlist! *pats self on back* It's such a simple pleasure, the playlist, and I've just been reminded that it's so much more fun to make a playlist for someone else than it is to do it for one's self. Now that I'm old and not courting and everything is digital, it's a rare pleasure to sit down and choose music for someone you love.

This one is for the lovely Shari Slade, purveyor of gooey angst, pusher of naughty gifs, and ducky word-smith. (I have no idea what ducky word-smith means; it just sounds right.) It's named after one of the most haunting lines on Pete Yorn's album Back & Forth.

Googled You in Quotes / Got No Results

  1. 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten, Lucinda Williams
  2. My First Lover, Gillian Welch
  3. Broken Things, Lucy Kaplansky (Cover of Julie Miller)
  4. Blossom, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
  5. Kiss Catastrophe, The Nadas (cover The Damnwells)
  6. Social Development Dance, Pete Yorn
  7. Jealous Girl, Ben Kweller
  8. Down On The River By The Sugar Plant, Mike Doughty
  9. Magick, Ryan Adams
  10. Lonely Boy, The Black Keys (The video is awesome!)
  11. Real Live Bleeding Fingers And Broken Guitar Strings, Lucinda Williams
  12. Down Home Girl, Old Crow Medicine Show
  13. Wolf Like Me, Lera Lynn
  14. Don't Mind Me, Lucy Kaplansky
  15. Are You Happy Now? Richard Shindell
  16. Hard Out Here, Garrett Hedlund

Stocking Stuffers & Gifts for Tween Boys

In My Etsy Store

This lists has been months in the making. Right before Christmas, I was struggling to find stocking stuffers and small gifts appropriate for my twelve year-old son, who is both all-boy and a bit geeky. I did not want to buy him any more video games nor junk that would end up in the closet in a matter of days, so I scoured the internet and quizzed my mom friends for gift ideas for tween boys. There are not many ideas out there, and much of what is there is lame. So, I made my own list and it grew and grew.

This list is the result of hours of brainstorming. I've included hyper-links to unusual items. Most of the gifts on this list are inexpensive ($1-$15 price points), although there are a couple of items that fall above $30.

The list includes ideas for tween boys that would work for stocking stuffers, easter baskets, birthday parties, party favors, and Christmas and birthday gifts.

I've divided the list into somewhat arbitrary categories, but the categories do let you in a bit on my thinking process. There are more than 125 distinct items listed, and I bet you haven't thought of most of them. There are a few old standards here as well.

This list is now free. Click here for the free download.
Gift list appropriate for boys ages 9-14. 
Stocking stuffers. Easter Baskets. Birthday Gifts. Party Favors. Christmas Gifts.

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