Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind

 “The mother of a child with disabilities is a powerful person. She doesn’t know what she is until it’s what she becomes.”

Sharon Draper, author of Out of My Mind

Sharon Draper

Sharon Draper’s latest book for middle graders, Out of My Mind, has remained on the New York Times Best Sellers List for more than a year because it’s one of those books that forces us to feel our world in new ways. Our heroine, Medody, is a brilliant 11 years old who’s trapped in a body that won’t allow her to talk or move independently.

“Melody represents all of us and any child who has no voice–who is different and isn’t heard,” says the author. Melody is “the voice for the voiceless.”

Born with Cerebral Palsy, her world opens when she gets a computer with a voice program that allows her to speak and share her wit with the world–for the first time.

Although Dr. Hughly advised her mother to consider sending her “away”, Melody’s caring parents make sure she enrolled in the local elementary school. However, she was always kept in “special” classes–as if she wasn’t the smartest kid in school–like she is!

With the help of ever-caring mom who “becomes more powerful than she ever knew she could be,” according to the author, Melody has been able to learn lots. Another miracle-maker of the story is neighbor and retired teacher, Violet.

“Violet Vallencia is a big hero, the example of Tough Love that pushes Melody to the max–and helps her to become what she can,” says Sharon Draper–who doesn’t Continue reading “Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind”

Carolyn Norred: Poetry, Seeing & Being

 “We are each other’s harvest;

we are each other’s business;

we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

Gwendolyn Brooks


Carolyn Norred, Poet

Poet Carolyn Norred notices details. Whether a journey to the Everglades, a week with her family in Hawaii to celebrate their 50th anniversary, or a birding venture in nearby Sacajawea Park, I can often visualize the places and people she’s met along her wanders. She tells me about them or reads to me a poem she’s written.

We first met as colleagues, teaching in the Department of Language and Literature at Lower Columbia College. Soon after, she invited me to travel to Baja and kayak around the Sea of Cortez. Once fall quarter ended we flew out of Portland.

I always thought she was crazy for extending such an invite to an almost-stranger, the new hire. We’d hardly talked up until then but would take off together–both kayak-rookies: That’s how our friendship began–losing luggage, losing tickets, stranded on an island for several days because December’s not the best time to kayak in the Sea of Cortez (unless you like big waves and don’t mind taking it slow and waiting when the sea says so.)

Such ventures and her willingness to take a chance makes Carolyn the special person and poet she is.

Over the years Carolyn would tell stories about the trips we shared Continue reading “Carolyn Norred: Poetry, Seeing & Being”

Celebrating Education for All–and Tomato Starts

 “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.”

Plutarch (from Ian Kidd’s translation of Essays)

Oregon Food Bank Learning Garden

A couple of Saturdays ago I spent three hours potting tomato starts in the greenhouse at the Oregon Food Bank’s Learning Garden. That’s when David, one of the volunteers, talked about a Modern Poetry class he’d taken through Coursera. Everyone else potting tomatoes that morning seemed to know about this online platform where anyone can “Take the world’s best courses online for free!” — says their motto.

Coursera–not the first in the MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) movement–started in 2012 with Stanford University, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania as partners. Today Coursera partners with 108 institutions in 641 countries–and has 7.1 million users worldwide (Wikipedia).

A couple of professors from Stanford University, Daphne Koller  and Andrew Ng, started Coursera: They hoped to offer high-quality learning communities where students could pursue life-long learning from top-notch instructors.
After my morning in the OFB greenhouse, I decided to catch up with the world and see what I might like to learn. Though I wasn’t looking to start immediately, I found a course I couldn’t resist: “Understanding the Brain: The Neurology of Everyday Life.” courseraindexForever I’ve wanted to learn more about how the brain works.

Recent discoveries of brain plasticity fascinate me, and I’ve been intrigued by the work of Jon Kabit-Zinn and Rick Hanson, and have wanted to learn more about pain and the nervous system. Since I survived a brain tumor as a kid, I’ve always wondered what goes wrong–and how the brain recovers.

I decided to jump in. Continue reading “Celebrating Education for All–and Tomato Starts”