March 30, 2010

Slicing Month Done for Another Year

Time to celebrate another month of Slicing. I found this website, The Two Writing Teachers, at some point in 2008 (I think?) and so was curious about what the Slice of Life Challenge was all about. It was all about fun. And work. And thinking. And writing. And under the fine tutelage and encouragement of Stacey and Ruth, we all joined a "writing group," for that's how I refer to you all in conversations around the dinner table.

A few kept at it all year around, but I switched over to my other blog after a while, finding it too hard to focus in and keep one more blog going (it's really pathetic how many I have and maintain). I admire those who were steady writers and have appreciated all your comments while I sliced.

Last year at this time, my daughter had just been diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, my aunt had died, and I was on the road, and teaching and grading. When I look back at those slices, I see that month through the prism of writing to remember, as well as writing to cope. My daughter is doing well, learning to ride the waves a little, learning to love her little family that will never be as large as she had once hoped, but still fills our hearts in so many ways. The son and his wfie that had a baby that last March, has just announced they're expecting again (October, and this will be #9 in the grandchildren dept.). My classes for fall have changed from what I was teaching (and am teaching) so here we go again with learning a new course, or two. The relationship with the other daughter in-law has softened some, and I have hope--always--that we'll continue to figure each other out. And for a final update: the last child was married this summer, and the trip of last weekend was not only to the wedding, but also to see him and his new bride in their little home in Davis.

These slices, as Kevin mentioned yesterday, are so aptly named. Not only are they a slice of our daily events, but taken together as an aggregate, are a slice of a year, a lovely little wedge of memory.

I wish I had something profound to say, like "Keep your powder dry," like they say in those old spaghetti Westerns. But "Keep your pencil dry" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Keep writing, is about the best I can do. I plan to, in one form or another, in one forum or another. Look for me.

SOLSC Day 31. Click to return.

March 29, 2010

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

This is not my yard, but I pulled the photo to illustrate the fact that we're getting new fences today on two sides. One side was replaced a few years ago. Don't make me think when. All my years are running together now. I used to be able to anchor events around the children's births, or where I was in school; now we use the sabbatical in Washington DC as a milestone, and even then we're always asking each other: "Was it before we went?" A shrug. Who knows. It's so bad now that when our water heater was replaced I got out a marker and wrote the date on it. . . just so I'd know. Our new windows have their manufacture date on the interior separating the dual-paned glass, and we got the new kitchen counters and stove then as well. Those guys are on to our forgetful minds.

Because my father was a fan of Robert Frost, I give you a fragment of his famous poem Mending Wall:

There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'

Sometimes living here in Southern California I love a wall to make me feel like we have our own little fiefdom, tiny as it is. I had to walk around the block to the backside to enlist the approval of that neighbor (who asked me to please remind him when to send me the check; all I could think was, please, you're a grown man, give me a break and ask your own wife to do that for you)--and the next door neighbor below us. They both have pools so they have to have fences.

Our fence has been in bad repair for years. We had a lovely wedding reception in our backyard for our daughter and somehow, one of the fence posts had broken off and we didn't notice it in all the fixing up we did for that celebration. It's in all her pictures, this snaggle-tooth fence post.

Things like that, and the fact that I can't remember what year that was, keep me humble.

SOLSC Day 30. Click to return.

March 28, 2010

Bias and Opinion

We've been discussing bias and opinion in our classroom this past week and I referenced Malcolm Gladwell's very fine discussion on this (section #4) in order to help them see the difference between their biases (we all have them) and opinions. Biased writing, Gladwell notes, is dishonest when the bias is not disclosed. My students especially focused in the word "dishonest" and in the quiz, mentioned that several times.

So, I try to be aware of biases and opinions in the things I read about healthcare, as often students, while working on the research paper, will come to me for help with sources and finding examples and good research that will help them develop their argument.

Our country has just come through a very long grueling year discussing the healthcare issue. It began way last summer with a supposedly bi-partisan team of both Dems and Republicans, and ended last week with the signing of the bills. Much has been written about this on both sides, and I find it a challenge, as a teacher, to help steer my students around the particular biases inherent in the massive amounts of what has been written, but also to be aware of their own biases as they write it, as I have several who want to write about it.

Full disclosure: There is a public figure who doesn't do this. This person (okay--it's a she) seems to revel in bias, innuendo, minimal fact-checking, violating all the good argument logic I try to instill in my students. This is discouraging at times for me, especially when I was linked over to her Facebook page and she has rifle sight icons to denote the members of the opposition party that should be removed this fall (according to her). So, when her name comes up in class as a possible source, and it does--for she generates a lot of discussion always--I try to point out that I hold them to a higher standard of reasoning.

I don't care which "side" they want to argue from--they just have to marshall their evidence, and write with good solid evidence and support. It's out there. They just have to do the research, be scholars. Think, and reason.

P.S. No pictures today. Blogger is misbehaving.

March 27, 2010

Thiebaud on the Brain

The wedding of a friend was held in the mountains of Santa Cruz, California, at a location with one name: Nestldown, and the main event was held in the "cabin"--a rustic, yet fine building with soaring ceilings, pine walls, and an elegantly set reception.

Over in the corner was the dessert table: one side full of cookies as the groom was from originally from Pittsburgh, and the bride corralled all her friends to bring the wedding cookie tradition to this celebration. (And yes, they had pizzelles.)

The other side was a rendition of the cake still life painting by Wayne Theibaud. My husband and I had just taken in the Thiebaud retrospective at the San Jose Museum of Art that morning, and laughed when we saw this. I waited until they cut the little tiny cake with the looping scallops of pink to have my slice of wedding cake. It was luscious lemon chiffon. The original painting is shown below, my lame snapshot of it taken when we last visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, where it hangs.

SOSLC Day 28. Click to return.

March 25, 2010

Seeing Anew

One of the challenges when all the children leave the nest, is keeping up with them in a deep, intimate and satisfying way without pestering them to death with questions or prying. The best way to understand their lives is to go and visit them and stay in their home. My parents always practiced this, as did my in-laws (although they gave shorter notice, as in "We're in the car and will be there tonight"). But then they'd go with us on our carpools, help sweep/vacuum the floor after dinner (one set liked the broom, the other set liked the vacuum).

And so as I type this, I'm sitting up in bed--an inflatable mattress that gave a serviceable night's sleep--having enjoyed a night in my youngest son's home office. We drove up the length of California yesterday arriving here near dinner time. First a look at his office, then to their new home--a tiny 900 square foot detached condo, and a hello to his wife and a welcome by their dog. We had dinner out, then walked through a bookstore, then back to their home for conversation and a game of Scrabble.

We heard about the uptick in his small business (yay!), the lab work she's doing in her PhD program, saw the dog's tricks, viewed their garden and array of miniature peat pots holding seedlings. We heard about her parents, viewed the wedding photos (they were married this past summer), and discussed how computers work (well, we tried to keep up with this conversation, led by my son).

My husband and son blew up the mattress, made the bed, while my son's wife showed me her Kindle and the different features and options. Then more conversation and then bed, and we fell asleep underneath a quilt I'd made for them for their wedding.

A satisfying--although brief--visit.

March 24, 2010

Ordinary Miracle

My friend Judy and find that it's about this point in the semester when the quirks and habits of the students are either endearing or maddening. And for some reason, this week--the week after spring break--has brought a shower of maddening quirks, with one sad one. Not somebody died sad, but teachery sad, which is ultimately a happy thing.

She had a student who had been a doctor in the Ukraine? Russia? Romania? Somewhere over there. A white coat medical doctor. Several years ago they amazingly got visas to immigrate to America. But none for their parents who they lived with. She wanted to stay. He said if we don't go, we'll never go. If we don't go, we're all lost. They went. I think his first job was something like picking up trash in schools after hours; her first was playing piano for a Montessori school--jobs that don't require English. Those kinds of jobs. Then after ten years of this he got a job near us, an hour from Los Angeles, that could support both of them, and she decided to go to school to really learn English. She was in my friend's remedial English class.

When Judy opened up her mail on Monday after Spring Break there was a drop notice from this student. Wow, Judy said. My favorite student who was so hungry to learn is gone, Judy said. My favorite student who'd made teaching the lower level class rewarding. She wrote her an email, wondering. A day or two later the return email arrived. This woman , who had come to America and had been waiting for ten years until the right moment, had been granted admission to the pediatric residency program of Loma Linda University and was going to be a doctor again.

I've been listening to Sarah McLachlan's Ordinary Miracle song ever since she sang it on the Olympics. I think this story is one of those ordinary miracles, one of those teachery miracle stories that help me when I'm a bit dragging. We're here. Students are here. And when it all works--that the student gets to where they want to go--and we somehow knew them at some point in that trajectory, well, it's just an ordinary miracle. It's why we hang in there through the maddening quirky moments and do the grading and the lesson prep and hope and dream and encourage and push and pull.

I salute you all.

SOLSC Day 25. Click to return.

March 23, 2010

So, Happy Birthday One More Time

When I was young, birthdays began with the cake. What kind of cake do you want? when the question and my answer was always: Marble.

So my mother would go down to the store and find the marble cake mix, and mix up the batch of yellow, divide it, squeeze in the chocolate packet, stir some more. I was allowed to drag the knife through the blobs of chocolate in the yellow batter to make the marbling effect.

I don't think I ever chose a different cake, but I don't really remember.

My husband had another birthday today, and I worked hard to come up with inventive gifts that he wouldn't ever guess, and he didn't. I bought a new staple gun, staples for the staple gun, a phone with a speaker in the base, and of course, that original artwork. I'm not so sure he's crazy about the artwork, but he does like the idea of it.

Glacier Point by Doug Braithwaite

The birthday cakes I make now don't start with store-bought mixes, although for years they did. Funfetti was my son's favorite. German Chocolate was what Dave used to say. Lemon was my daughter's choice for a while. But since I learned that the best cakes are from scratch (or did my taste buds just get more sophisticated?) we have a few we make around here. I ended up making what we call the "castle" cake--a lemony pound cake baked in a bundt-style pan. Not only is it magnificent for presentation, it tastes good for days afterward.

What's the cake in your memories?

SOLSC Day 24. Click to return.

March 22, 2010

Lego Mash-up

So the students asked me how my spring break went? I answered, truthfully: "Crappy."

I'm usually a pretty sunny gal, always looking for the glass half-full, and they know it. I don't know why I answered that way--maybe I was feeling contrary, or didn't think it through or just felt like a little truth in the classroom is okay. I rarely talk about my personal life. Sure, they know the basics--I have a husband, some kids somewhere, grandchildren that I dote on, but really, I'm there to think about the students and their needs and problems and whatever, so I don't say too much about me.

"Really?" they said. "What happened?"

I plopped my book bag down and started taking out the folders for their class, arranging the handout Bias and Opinion by Malcolm Gladwell.

"I had a fight with my husband for starters." I hefted the stack of graded essays to the corner of the table. "Then I graded papers, but really I just love doing that." They laughed.

"I visited my mother and father and found out that they are on the edge of being able to care for themselves, and that's not a fun realization that your parents are getting way older." I looked up. "I know you all think at my age, I'm WAY old and nearly dead," I said. "But I'm not." We'd relaxed into the class, and they told about what they did, how there was some crappy things for them too, and then we went on to other things, like bias & opinion, a quiz, and how to structure a research paper.

Truthfully? My spring break was like a mash-up of Lego pieces. All the parts are there to make something but it remains unmade unless someone has the energy and the creative bent to get-it-done. I seemed to be in short supply of the latter.

And like the potential Lego creation, I left out some parts. I didn't tell them about whether or not to defy my doctor's request that I go on statins. (I'm deferring, another year. My doctor will cluck cluck and then we'll go on.) I didn't tell them about the conversation with my sister--that she wants to have a conference call with my brother about my parents. I can't shake the feeling that I'd be ratting out my parents, and I don't want to do that.

I didn't tell them that my husband and I are planning a terrific vacation to Nova Scotia, Quebec City, and Montreal this summer, and of course, that's what triggered the fight. But we're better now. His birthday's tomorrow and a bunch of Happy Birthday balloons are floating in the air at the end of the staircase, tied to the banister. I'm planning his birthday dinner, and am going to make him a fabulous cake. I bought him two things I know he wants, as well as a surprise of some original artwork; the painting arrived tonight during dinner, having been purchased while at my parents house from their artist friend. I clapped like a five-year old and he laughed.

I'm going to yet make something of this day.

SOLSC 23. Click to return.

Spring Break's Over; Girl Crying

I knew spring break was over at the sight of the young woman in front of me, her eyes full of tears, explaining away her inability to turn in the paper that had been due four weeks ago, and then paper that was due a week and half ago.

It was a lovely, lovely spring day. I handed her a tissue, said we'd conference with whoever she needed to in her support system that's behind the scenes. Keep going, I encouraged. Keep trying.

What do you think the odds are that she'll have her assignment ready for Wednesday?

SOLSC Day 22. Click to return.

March 21, 2010

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter

I've watched this Greek Orthodox church go up, bit by bit, steel beam by steel beam. This afternoon I grabbed my husband and our cameras and we went over to take a look.

As I stood on this slight hill at the base of the Box Spring Mountains in Riverside, the fragrance of citrus blossoms came wafting into these outdoor rooms. It's that time of year here. All the citrus trees that have been harvested are getting their "haircuts." The top foot of new growth has been lopped off, and the white blossoms for next year's crop adorn these trees, looking like giant sprigs of baby's breath. They smell wonderful. Before our city exploded in growth and leveled many of its orange orchards, all of Riverside used to smell like this in the spring.

The sun was on its downward trek, the silvery beams and the golden domes glowing in its soft light through the clouds. Time for us to head home, too.

And that's my slice for today.

SOLSC Day 21. Click to return.
Back to school tomorrow. Spring Break's over.

March 20, 2010

TP-ing Houses

This is my neighbor's house, and the red car on the front right is the teenaged son's, complete with their yard security sign stuck through his door handle. We used to get this experience a lot--that of a bedecked landscaping--as we had three teenagers under our roof for six very long years, until the oldest went off and the youngest hadn't yet grown up to qualify.

One summer I think we cleaned toilet paper off our yard and trees and fences every Saturday. We learned to re-set the sprinklers to not go off early Sunday morning, so we could get to it. We used the tree-pruner-on-a-pole to tug the strands from our enormous birch tree. A good part of our trash was wadded up white toilet paper (why is it always white?). One time my husband decided to save all the little roll ends to use in the house. We all rolled our eyes, and I noticed that his stash was gone the next weekend; I can only assume they were used in acts of revenge by our teenagers upon other weary families.

Then one day, it all stopped. The children grew up, moved away and now I get to watch the cycle all over again across the street.

SOLSC Day 20. Click to return.
Happy First Day of Spring!

March 19, 2010

Catching a Wave

Diane Ravitch, in a broadcast on the Diane Rehm show: "[Public] schools are, and should be, the anchor of their community." She states that charter schools are no better and no worse than public schools and that by splitting up our communities into "tiny little high schools" here and there scattered throughout, we actually do "damage to our democracy." I don't know enough about this, but I imagine that the Slicers do.

She was discussing No Child Left Behind, which I imagine most of us detest, with its orientation on a test/one answer sort of approach to imparting learning. She, of course, was once an ardent supporter for this program, then realized it wasn't working. In fact, according to her, National Test Scores were higher than they were before this went into effect.

I'm an older soul, so my elementary education had a healthy dose of everything: history, grammar, music, PE, art, and spelling among other things. I don't know how things are now on the K-12 front, but if they are anything like what goes on in the community colleges, it's a battle. It's a battle between the government and their power to bestow money if we do what they say, local issues--which include cultural and socio-economic concerns, and a battle as well by those who put out our teaching materials and the teaching philosophies and jargon of the day (I filled out a questionnaire the other day for my textbook publisher and one question was something do to with what helps my "pedagogy." My pedagogy? And you gotta' love those SLOs.).

When I'm in my classroom, all these philosophies and pedagogies and turnabouts and drama remain outside my doors. When I'm in my classroom, I see a few faces paying attention, wanting to learn how to write better, how to catch the wave and ride it for a long long time, letting all the rest fall below them into the hidden, churning deep.

SOLSC Day 19. Click to return.

March 17, 2010


One advantage of [lame] students who don't turn in their work on time was shown today, when I began grading the stack of 101 essays. They are essays supposedly analyzing the complex themes and worlds found in Einstein's Dreams, a novel by Alan Lightman (I LOVE to teach this!). There were a few who couldn't hit the side of a metaphor if they had a telescope and a repeating rifle, but most were right on target. Blessedly so.

Then, as a teacher, you begin to wonder if you're grading too easily--letting them off the hook on comma splices, misplaced commas and faulty analysis. That's when I realized that no, the [lame] students just hadn't turned theirs in! Easiest day of grading I've ever had, not having to struggle through a forest of errors, badly laid logic and wild and woolly constructions.

So, when my husband called me from work and said, let's go and look at the wildflowers in Sycamore Canyon, I changed into my walking shoes and we were off, rather than me begging off because of Too Much Grading. We've had a lot of rain this year and supposedly the wildflowers are on target to be quite showy and spectacular. They weren't, but we enjoyed them anyway.

Stats: 23 students in the class (a few have dropped).
Essays late: 5.
Essays corrected: Yep. 18 lovely little papers.
High score: 97%.
Low score: 72%.
Music of choice: Ratatat's Ratatat.
Snack: Ginger Chews from Trader Joe's and lotsa water.

SOLSC Day 18. Click to return.

March 16, 2010

Filling Up at the Slicer Station

As I have been gone this past few days, instead of reading my books (I have many more to consider, thanks to my Slicers) I tried to catch up on the posting.

I was happy to read that one author and her husband received their traveling call to see their new baby boy. Another writer wondered about how will we know if we are the good teachers. . . or the bad ones who get sacked? Another wrote about her father's Grudge Box, and how, upon his death, she and her brother opened it to find little slips of paper, each denoting a kind of heartache and pain. Still another wrote about an elderly Italian man diffusing a potentially harmful situation while riding the transit home.

I wish I could write individually every night on all of your blogs. I learn so much about what's really going on in the world of teachers, of relationships, of ups and downs and an occasional sideways thrust into the gut. I learn about struggling to maintain a delicate balance in the face of all that.

I feel completely drained after my visit to my parents, and sit staring at the computer with nothing to say. Empty, I worry about how I'll navigate these ending years. I wonder if I can be the daughter they need. I wonder if I can continue my relationship with them in spite of all the hurdles of their hearing and sight loss, increasing OCD, frailty, tears and sadness. I'm anxious about all this.

I took a night off and read. Joined in your lives. Filled up.

Thanks for writing. Thank you all.

SOLSC Day 17. Click to return.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Clearing out the Cobwebs

Whenever I head out on a trip, an adventure, a visit there's this surge of adrenalin that picks me up and carries me through the travel, the airport hassles, the whatever.

Coming home? Only fatigue accompanies me along my way. The suitcase needs to be emptied, the photos uploaded, sleep caught up on and just a general list of Things To Do.

Only sometime later do the cobwebs of coming home clear in order to see the memories glistening on those strands like dewy jewels in the morning light. I have memories of my mother's blue blue eyes watching me. She asks about my children, demonstrating her ability to keep tabs on all those who she loves and cares about. She's up to date on everyone, not missing a beat on life events of her posterity. It's a talent. I have memories of my father leaning in for a discussion, intent on listening for the point I was making, catching it and winding up again to toss it back to me, keeping the fine art of conversation lively and active. It's a skill that I hope someday to emulate. I miss them both already, and look forward to my next trip.

And today, a rare picture in my posts.
My friend Judy posted about the yellows of spring last week and I came home to several fragrant stocks of yellow freesia in my garden. Temperature wise? It's supposed to be in the mid-70s today. I'm heading out Orange County to lunch with my son, then I'll do some grading. Somewhere in this day, I hope to stow the suitcase and put away the detritus from my trip.

Welcome home.

SOLSC Day 16. Click logo to return.

March 15, 2010

We Need Paper Towels

I think my father wanted to spend some time alone with my mother yesterday as he encouraged me to head out to church, where a special speaker was addressing a large gathering of saints. (He was worried about her not bouncing back from her illness, I think, and really, couldn't we all use a little space from houseguests once in a while?)

As I was driving there, I passed a downtown Rescue Mission where the large cross (Jesus Saves) reminded passersby of their main mission (Hope, Peace, Love), but added: "We need paper towels. Thank you."

I was raised with a strong religious tradition, and have been reminded more than once that while religions can preach all day long from the pulpit about being saved and reading the scriptures and sequestering their members from sin and evil, most of the time, it really is about the paper towels. We lived in Peru when I was a child and on our way to family excursions would pass by Lima's city dump, where there were many squatters. A common sight was a small hovel created from four large square grass mats (three walls and a roof), the drifting gray smoke from their small fires making up their hearth and home as they lived on what they could find in the refuse. More than once my father made the observation that these souls needed a full stomach before they could be educated, or saved, or what have you.

That idea has resonated as I've delivered many many new-baby casseroles, served dinners at homeless shelters or offered up my time to help pack relief boxes for Katrina. We're all just trying to keep body and soul together one way or another. To be truthful, I'm not very good at preaching religion and probably never will be. But I can look out for a neighbor who needs their trash cans brought in. Or a friend who just needs someone to take them to lunch and listen.

When my first husband blithely stepped away from our marriage, a close friend knocked on my door in those first few awful days, bringing me and the children a simple supper of fried chicken, mashed potatos and green jello. She went back out to her car and brought in a plate of cupcakes and sat us down at the kitchen table to eat. She then went over to the sink, and did the dishes, chatting away as we all tried to not think of the devastation that we felt. She then bathed the children, tucking them in to sleep with a song and a story, then sat beside me on the sofa as I cried and cried and cried.

More than once I have been the recipient of such an act of kindness, of someone tending to my earthly needs, of someone--if you will--showing up with the paper towels, saving my life. I can only hope to do the same for someone else.

SOLSC Day 15. Click to return.

March 13, 2010

Building a Class--Want to Help?

I pulled up the Course Outline for the classes I'm supposed to teach in the Fall. I was given a plum of a course, Literature (rarely awarded to an adjunct), but at a really terrible time: MF 11-1. The Friday slot is new to our campus, because someone in the President's office wants a "college hour," so is disrupting these carefully honed schedules in order to shoehorn one in. So the MW class is now MF. (The other course I'm teaching is, as my mother calls it, Bonehead English. She's right.)

Luckily at my college, we are given free reign with what we assign for textbooks. Yay. That almost makes the Friday slot palatable. The idea of the course is to introduce them to the elements of literature: poetry, drama, novels, short stories. Oh my. For an English teacher this is like being a kid in a candy shop. I have some short stories I love to teach, and ditto the poetry.

So for ideas for the novels, I prowled my parents' bookcases, and asked them for their favorites. My mom said it was always the one she was reading, and then she'd let it pass from her mind. My dad pulled out some heavy hitters: Gaddis, Stegner, Hemingway. It's a big world of books out there, isn't it?

So, the novel (or two?)--I still have no idea. But you, my fellow Slicers, might. If in the comments you wouldn't mind leaving me the title of the novel that you've liked the best, plus a one line addition as to why, I'd appreciate it. I'm looking at everything, but would prefer the slimmer novels, with some meat on those bones.


SOLSC Day 14. Click to return.

March 12, 2010

Approaching the Limit

Visiting my parents, our pace is turtle-like, but that's the way of the older folks, and I'm fine with that. They let my husband and I pay for lunch today--a first--as they have always liked to remain in the Parent-slot, paying for things, taking care of me, their fourth daughter in a family of seven children.

My mother is sick with a bad cough, and she looks so tiny, sitting in her chair, exhausted from coughing and a too-strong dose of cough medicine from last night which has left her a bit groggy. She is silent a lot today--another first--as she has always held her own in our fast-moving conversations. Dad is a bit more compulsive about things, and I have to tell him, in a good-natured way, to sit and let the dishes be dirty for a few minutes while we talk. He lets my pasta dish remain solo on the table, which I think about does him in, his need for tidiness and order having increased dramatically since our last visit. He's the only driver in the house. She can hear well, even my whisper to my husband in a sotto voce, while he cranks up the hearing aids. He can see like a hawk, while she can't read the numbers on the microwave.

I can see that they're approaching their outer limits of independent living in some ways, which is sad. I seem to think that in my mind they'll be here forever and forever and I'll be scheduling little trips to see them and stay in their condo. Somehow I can't imagine this not being available to me, but rationally I know it won't be. Time to enjoy it while I can--so I'm not going down to Salt Lake tomorrow to see my sister, but instead will stay here and cook Seafood Scallop Gumbo because my mother wants me to.

I ask if they have any mending they want done, what technology problems are bugging them, how can I help? They've got this life of theirs down pretty pat, but it just feels little more precarious than before.

And I'm just not ready for them to go.

SOLSC Day 13. Click to return.

Back Home Again

There's something about coming home again--but it wasn't my childhood home. It's my parents' condominium, high up on the east bench of Mt. Ogden, overlooking the valley all the way out to the defunct flour mill towers and almost to the upper portion of the Great Salt Lake.

I never lived here, but have been here many times since they moved from the big house three streets over . As my mother likes to say, they got rid of the big house before they had to, nestling easily
into this one-floor, served by an elevator, extremely efficient, very comfortable abode. Everything here has its place.

My 84-year-old father tells me that one day last week he realized, as he went to bed, that he hadn't had to fight with technology that day. The home theater worked, the car was working, and the computer/internet was up and running and fine. I understand that one, realizing that all these things that make our modern-day lives what they are, have a cost: that we are required to be handmaidens to technology. For if we do not remain patiently involved, the system may go down. It does not care if we are frustrated, or if we are trying to get the gold-medal
performance on the Olympics, or if we have a deadline, or if we desperately need to go somewhere in the car.

Emerson said, "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind."

Oh, yeah.

(Click to return.)

March 10, 2010

Encouraging the Students

The student came over to my "office" which is any free table on the second floor of the library for an hour before one of my classes, with his concern and dejection carefully plastered all over his face in his Meet The Teacher expression.

Him: "I plan to work really hard, really, but I just need an extra day for my essay."

Him: "I mean, I'm really stepping up here and want to do well.
Him: "By the way, do you have my grade?"
Me: "73%"
Him: "YESSSS!!!! Whoa, that's great. Thanks."

Miss Moved-to-Arizona-and Missed-Eight-Classes-But-Came-Back met with me last week. She, too, had the face on.
Her: "Can I still come back to class?
Her: "Thank you! Thank you!!! I know it's three weeks late, but can I still turn in the second essay?"
Her: "Oh. Bummer. Well, okay, I'll work really hard and turn in the third one on time. I'll see you Monday for peer review."
Me, after she didn't come to class on Monday:
Her email today: "I've been working on the paper for three days and didn't come to class today because it wasn't done. Sorry. Do you think I should drop the class and start all over?"

I like to encourage my students.

(Day 11 of the Slice of Life Challenge. Click to return.)

March 9, 2010

Brilliant Pieces of Wisdom

Oh wow. This Slicing is great!

Why do I say this today? It's because I snatched a brilliant piece of wisdom from Kevin's blog, which you just have to read. To take it completely out of context (really, you have to read Kevin's blog) the quote is “I refuse to do more work than the student.”

My sushi therapy friend Judy and I have been riffing on this all day. Does it mean we get to be as lazy as some of our students? Well what about those students who are completely slothful, yet they benefit from the efforts we make in our lesson prep to teach the students that are interested, and interesting? Do we scale back our prep to even it out? Or does it mean that we don't start our engines until we hear the varroom of theirs at the starting line?

I think it means that we strike a balance. We can't do the work, the learning, the effort for those arrayed before us in their desks, balancing their books and their lives and their 35 hours of working at Starbucks and their child with pneumonia and their 24-hour video game marathons. Everyone gets to figure it out--gets to figure out what's important. And because I think school's important, I want them all to succeed. (Preaching to the choir, here.)

But I need to tattoo that saying on my head, pulling back instead of making it too easy. Struggling to learn a concept (as mentioned by some in my comments a couple of days ago--you are all wonderful, wonderful) is not necessarily a bad thing.

Because I read this, while slicing along, I laid my guilt over not letting Mr. Bodybuilder Student revise his essay for the third time, instead letting his 68% stand.

He chose. I chose.

But if and when he steps up, I'll be there, ready and willing.

Click to return.

March 8, 2010

Sushi Therapy

I'm an adjunct.

That means every semester I sign a little paper that says that I have no contract, that I am at the mercy of the administrators, that I can't sue, complain, or try to become a full-timer. That I am worse than a grad student in terms of job security and benefits. Okey-dokey.

So budget cuts. For personal reasons, I volunteer to drop one of my two classes. They think I'm saintly. I let them. Then my Fall 2010 schedule came out. El Crapola, as my son would say. Sigh.

So my fellow faculty member and I went out for Sushi Therapy after class today. We stayed for a long time, chewing over this issue and that and dissecting the wretched schedules and weirdo students and strange fellow faculty and in the end we were filled with good sushi, filled with empathy and good vibes.

We're ready to go again, ready for our continued forays into the adjunct maze.

Click to return.