May 29, 2009

Two Roads Diverged into a Green Wood

Two roads diverged in a green wood, on a trail above my parents house. Why? Because they are installing a water main and have ripped up the main trail, so the new one is marked with construction orange pieces of plastic to guide the walker.

I followed this trail, all apologies to Robert Frost, to where it disappeared into the undergrowth, then looped down onto the gold course cart path for a few paces, and made it the landmark all of us children walk to when we visit Mom and Dad: the stream. The spring run-off has amplified this creek into a noisy, babbling stream which I could have heard from some distance away except that Sheryl Crow was singing All I Want to Do Is Have Some Fun in my earbuds.

My parents are on a different schedule than I: up whenever, nice breakfast, my mother will make/answer phone calls (yesterday there were many since it was her birthday) while my Dad goes down to his art studio to paint, then a walk mid-morning along the Ogden River. Big, late lunch, then working on various tasks, reading--perhaps a nap--until evening, when the blinds are raised because the sun has gone down and we have a snack. I think when I'm not here, they watch a movie, then maybe the news, then bed. Pretty dang active folks for 81 and 83.

But my rhythm is off, as rhythms always are when visiting or being visited. People, relatives, friends interrupt our optimum routine and while there are times we can reclaim it for a while (like this morning's walk) basically it's time to let others disrupt, interrupt and intrude our boring, static schedules.

Mom always said a change is as good as a rest, and maybe she was on to something. After the visit/visiting, there's a deliciousness in reclaiming the routine, a safety and sameness that click-clocks along our day. We know what to do, what time to do it, and the structure strengthens our doing, helps us cross of our To Do List tasks.

Thank heavens for disruptions, or we'd miss a singing stream high up on Ogden's mountain, a forested way marked with fluttering pieces of plastic, Sheryl reminding me that all I want to do is not have just fun until the sun goes down, but instead, work with my father on his memoir, celebrate a Happy Eighty-first, see my mother's blue eyes, jump in line with my father's energy, see the newest painting, laugh over lunch with some aunties, in other words to matter to someone, to connect, to love.

May 27, 2009

Crisis du Jour

I spackled, my husband sanded, I primed, I painted and that was last night. This morning, before heading out to a neighboring state to see my parents, I spackled again, and painted again, all trying to remove the hard edge where the old tile was as the new tile would be about a half-inch lower. I was ready for this day's project to be done: tile, sink installation, clean-up.

While the tile guy's working on the tile, the plumber arrived to make us $300 poorer, no wait--that wasn't it. He arrived to put in our new sink and faucet. (And make us poorer.)

Testing one-two-three in Plumber Land means fill the sink with water. As I'm walking down the jetway to board the plane, my phone rings with the news from my husband that the sink leaks.

Leaks? It's brand new--out of the box brand new.

Yep. When the plumber was testing the sink, it started leaking. There's a crack on the underside and several stress cracks in the enamel. But on balance, all the faucet and sprayer look nice and they made it all fit. So Call A to Call B to Call C and he calls me back later that afternoon with the news that the new sink will be here tomorrow and can they put it in Monday?

Oh, sure. We're doing the windows that day too--the more the merrier. I was happy about that news actually because the guy in the airplane seat near me told me about his cousin's woes of redoing their floors and it took nearly a year with this crisis and that crisis. I had visions of washing the dishes in the bathroom for months while they hassled and figured out my sink issues. But Monday? Monday's fine.

May 26, 2009

Vision vs. Reality

I have an older house--not the kind that people drool over when they drive down the street--but the ubiquitous California ranch house, one of many in this 33-year old neighborhood. It's update time, and we finally saved enough to redo the countertops and the windows. Yes, one week apart, but all in one swoop--chaos.

The vision: a smooth sweep of countertop, dying into the window, just like it was before: all one level everywhere.

But after tear-out, they discovered that the Ceasarstone would not be as thick and therefore I could not have one-level countertop. The guy (who speaks pretty good English) and his helper (who speaks only Spanish) say "You gotta problem." I say, "No. You have the problem." They call for back-ups and reinforcements.

I would call the Mr. but he's teaching a class. But he has about as much experience as I do, as we've never done this and have lived in this house nearly twenty years. So I call the Girlfriend, who is an expert on this. "I don't think it would be a problem to have a little ledge, she says. "Really?" I ask. "It will be fine," she says. Okay.

While I was on the phone with Girlfriend she tells me about the latest (weird) wedding invitation she'd received in the mail. (We vie with each other to see who gets the weirder invitations.) It was housed a slender box which opened to reveal a scroll, with a sort of Princess and Prince Charming theme complete with castle. I said, "You've got to feel sorry for the guy, right off." She agreed.

So I'm amiable when Kurt, the co-owner of the company came over, as well as the Tile Guy. (I'm doing a subway tile backsplash for those of you who know what that means. I didn't, before I started all of this.) He explains it to me, and we talk heights and window ledges and touch-up painting. It's then that we discover that Tile Guy thought the tile was going only behind the stove, when I thought it was going all along that wall. Okey, dokey. We try to solve this one out, and Kurt raises his hand and says calmly (I was calm too. I promise.) "We'll work it out."

I remember once a long time ago in another marriage when I was working with the architect on designing a dream house. She told me, as we worked out a precise little plan for the sewing room, laundry chute, cupboards, etc., that "It would never be built like it is on paper. There's always a difference between Vision and Reality." I was experiencing this today.

Okay, so Visions have to modified to work in Reality: I'll have a teensy ledge, instead of smooth sweep into the window. But that groom will be stuck with his Precious Princess forever. I'll take the windowsill dilemma.

May 21, 2009

Three Days in Peru

I've spent the last three days in Peru. Not literally, but the Peru of my youth, when my father took a leap of faith and a deanship position for a business school in Lima. And the Peru I just spent time in was filtered through his eyes, his journals and his concerns and successes.

I went through the 100-plus page section twice in a row, first straightening out the cupboards, then restocking them with previously cut sections to add back more of the flavor. This experience of editing his memoir has been a real gift to me from my father, as I am beginning to understand--in a sliver of a way--some of what he went through (and helps me understand why the children and family aren't at the center of the writing--that will be in Mother's journals and letters. Heads Up, Mom. You're next.).

The family is there, but at the core. The great peripheral is ESAN, the business school run by Stanford University, swirling in a great stew of faculty and staff issues, the constant conundrum of financial support, the incredible trips, the conferences and meeting of a wide range of all different types of people from government, missionary, academia, and local. What a leap it was for our family--for all seven of us--to follow our parents into a different land and culture for two years.

We are richer for it.

May 19, 2009

Tested Test Questions

In an article that made me crazy, published a couple of days ago in the New York Times, it talks about online websites that allow students to find copies of class notes, keys to textbook questions and answers to test questions for popular classes. This tidbit really tweaked me:
But defenders of the Web sites — including some professors — say that teachers should not be recycling exams and that students who simply copy homework solutions hurt themselves at exam time.
Okay, yeah, we know about the "hurt themselves at exam time" stuff. But the first--that teachers shouldn't be recycling exams?

I haven't given the same test yet in any of my classes. Sometimes I emphasize one aspect of writing, or move on to something else. But many of the best questions for tests only come about because they themselves have been "tested." That is, they have proven to elicit from the student the information you want them to link to the question, the question isn't vague or ambiguous.

When I took the GRE, way back in caveman time when we used pencil, paper and test booklets, we were told that one section of the test was a "test" portion, to see if the questions were viable and reliable predictors of knowledge and thinking. (And they wouldn't tell us which one it was.) I'm sure that's why I think I failed the GRE when I came out of there. I did okay on the first test section, but the second! I couldn't make heads or tails out of some of the questions, the answers were elusive and nightmarishly difficult. I had to keep going and take the other sections, but I've often wondered about Section II.

My friend Bryan had spent years perfecting his test questions for his Business Management classes, carefully numbered and coding the tests (he used the A, B, C method of three different tests to prevent cheating). One semester, his last before he died of a heart attack, two students distracted him while their buddy made off with a test. It haunted him, frustrated him that he had to redo an entire class final because of someone's dishonesty. I still remember him telling me the story. I get it now.

So I do what Bryan, my husband (also a prof) do: I never give back the finals. Those questions are golden.

May 15, 2009

Hanging Out in 1984, Bored Stiff

For the final in English 101, I included a portion of an article printed in the New York Times contrasting reading in a book and reading on the web. The article didn't discuss blogs, but instead the distractions posed by web reading, and the non-linear way it pulls a reader through material. Since I'm a teacher, I ended where it champions book reading.

The students had to first annotate the excerpt for the argument, then in a written answer discuss the argument and support.

The answers were all over the map, as about half of them couldn't discern the argument in this short (1 page) piece. {Note to self: lead with annotation in the next term, and with a discussion of argument.}

I was intrigued with one young man's rationale for why his age group (discussed in the article) doesn't read, as opposed to the older, wrinkled, and nearly dead folks who do (that would be people like me, you see):
"In this article they state that a fifth of 17-year-olds said they read for fun and in 1984 more 17-year-olds read for fun. Most people in 1984 really didn't have much to do back then, so of course more people are going to read for fun. Now that we have better technology people read on-line. Time has changed and more and more people rely on technology more then books. Although books could help on certain subjects."
There you have it, misspellings, errors and all. Take it from the authority: if you were hanging around in 1984, you weren't having much fun.

May 13, 2009

Aging is Not for the Faint of Heart

I have been quite jealous of all my fellow slicers, writing away--committed and fluent, while I felt like I should be committed to the Loony Bin.

I know it all started with the glasses. I got my first pair somewhere around 35 or 36--just reading glasses, optional really. Then I had to have them to read, and then to work on the computer, and although I should probably be wearing them round the waking clock, I don't, keeping a pair everywhere I really need to see (kitchen, laundry room, bedroom, computer, and in the purse).

I discovered that glasses aren't like eyes that can see. There's a thing called focal depth or length or something and the machines that grind the glass in some factory over in China or maybe downtown LA, predetermine what I'll see and how magnified it is. I kept taking in my hand stitchery to my eye doctor, showing him that I couldn't see to thread the needle. But if I make it for that, he said, you won't be able to read. I persisted on this, bringing in rulers to show him reading depth vs. sewing depth. I think I gave up and now do the Old Lady thing of moving the hands in and out, finding bright lights to sit under while I sew, and tilting my head back to get the more powerful lower half of the bifocals engaged.

So when another body system seemingly went out of whack this spring, they prescribed statins and assured me that most people tolerate them very well. I won't catalogue the ways I didn't tolerate them very well, but that crushing fatigue I felt? How I fell asleep at lunch more than I cared to do? How I was in bed, exhausted but not sleepy at 8:30 p.m.? How I started throwing things out of my life to be able to continue teaching? One side effect of many.

So I went dark. One side effect leads to another, and when another vital body system went haywire, I called a halt to the statins. Within days, I didn't have to nap every day. I'm still dealing with a few lingering side effects, but they've dwindled.

I've realized that every year from now until the end of my life, Mother Nature will throw another thing at me. "Oh," she'll say, "looks like you got your balance on that one. Good. Sending another one right over," and I'll wobble around, making adjustments, figuring out how to function well while hobbled by this or that. And then when I finally get my balance, another will come.

Getting old isn't for sissies, I've seen on bumper stickers. My mother says it more gracefully: Aging is not for the faint of heart." Yeah, sure. I just never thought it would apply to me.

May 2, 2009

Going Dark for a Bit

I'll be away from a computer, visiting a grandchild.
But until I return. . . click here for
ways to break out of a creative rut.

May 1, 2009

Granite vs. Quartz

I can tell when it's the end of the term, because my brain is fuzzy--like picking up your great-grandmother's coke-bottle glasses and trying to see through them. I'm tired. The students are tired. We sick and tired of each other, although there's no hard feelings.

So, like an idiot, I moved right along to a project that requires full brain facility: choosing new kitchen counters. I guess it was driven by the fact that we are getting new windows and they are "retrofit" which means they go in over the existing aluminum frames (which are in pitiful condition) and right over the edge of the windowsill. In the kitchen, this means they'll be stitting on my countertop.

As far as home renovation goes, the kitchen counters were actually up on the list first, but when the neighbor got his windows done, and it was a great deal for great windows and there's a tax rebate and a manufacturer's discount--well--I paid the deposit on Wednesday. But, they agreed, if you were going to do the counter, it would be better to do that first.

I read a lot this morning and decided the debate between granite and quartz countertops is like the debate of Mac vs. PC. The granite people have nothing good to say about quartz ("there's no movement in the pattern") and visa versa ("upkeep is more than I want and it stains"). Of course, like the computer debate, no one is really debating apples to apples, making it all the more challenging.

All I know is that no one is really talking prices. Is it like that old saying, that if you have to ask how much it is you can't really afford it? I did check my bank account balance before picking up some samples this morning, knowing that once I took them home and saw them as compared to my 30 year old tile counters, there was no going back.

Maybe it would be better for my bank account if I just kept my nose to the grindstone, kept my brain in Fuzz Mode and kept grading those end-of term essays.