Tuesday, December 6, 2011

art and joy from weapons and pain?

At the Chicago Art Museum, some of my colleagues wanted to visit the armory section. I went along. It was fascinating to see implements of war in the context of art. There was something artistic about the suits of armor: the intricate designs meant to decorate what was (at its heart) something used to destroy.  I took this photo.

The spears were arranged in a way that felt artistic to me. I have thought about it since: both about the fact that when we see armor and weapons in an art museum we are somewhat removed from the reality of their uses (context is everything, right?) and about the fact that many everyday tools could be thought of as artistic, if we step away from their mundane ubiquity: forks for instance or pens. We add art or style to some items of daily necessity: shoes, for example. Or cell phones.

And since I'm a writing teacher, I think about how writing can be very dreary--almost punishment--for some students and a needed outlet of expression, even a joy, for others. Some of that attitude has to come from us, from the teachers, right? So, do I make spears into art? Do I make pencils fun? It's a question to consider.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Last week I was in Chicago for NCTE. I think Chicago is a beautiful city, mostly because I love the architecture. I have read a little about some of the early architects and have taken a tour that taught me a little  about the styles. Mostly I just think it all works so beautifully together.

Later in the week, I had a few hours (not nearly enough time) to visit the Chicago Art Museum. Again, it was just a feast for my eyes and my soul to see such lovely art in person, to consider the creative genius and the technique involved in creating art and objects that would continue to move viewers centuries after their creation.

The day I returned home my daughter had a new baby girl--not my first grandchild but that doesn't make her any less special. My son-in-law sent me a photo in a text message, but it wasn't good enough. The next day, I got the chance not just to see this little doll but hold her, too. Much better than a building or painting. I could hold this beauty in my hands!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

fitting writing in

This is my life: multiple screens open simultaneously and more tabs open on the bottom. I am frantically writing my presentation for NCTE this week when I realize that it's Tuesday! And I didn't post last week! I can't let another week go by without posting. I need to write this kind of writing--and I feel that I owe it to my students since they post regularly, too. So, I stop to write this post. Quickly.
 My NCTE paper focuses on what English Journal has had to say about writing instruction over the 100 years of its history. Ironically, the part I am working on right now revolves around a heated debate on whether English teachers should be writers, what it means to be a teacher-writer, and if we are different (better?) writing teachers because we write. So, I am writing my paper (and powerpoints--hopefully without typos, but the pace of work lately has made me a less careful typist and proofreader! Embarrassing!) and thinking about being a writer and I stop to be a writer. Does my blog make me more of a writer than the paper I'm writing for a conference? Or the books/articles I write? Or is it the other way around? I think my writing/attempting to write makes me a better writing teacher, but I remember when I taught junior high: there wasn't a lot of writing time available. I snatched moments. Now with this blog--and emails, and texts, and wikis, etc.--I am "writing" more than ever, but does all this writing count? What writing makes a person a writer? Or does it matter?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

scary story?

I'm not a very good story writer. I can hardly get an idea, and when I do I immediately see all the problems with it. So I don't write many stories. But for our writing prompt last week, we read a couple of the examples in Half-Minute Horror--and then I asked students to write a short scary story. So I had to do it, too.
 What feedback would you give me?

It's Halloween week, so of course all the shows on TV have an appropriate theme--ghosts or zombies or unspeakable creatures bent on unheard-of terrorizing. I watch, but I get a little creeped out. Silly. I remind myself that the stories are just for fun, not really scary, not really real. Tonight is no exception. Castle--and the murderer appears to be a ghost. So there are all the appropriate creepy images--skeletons falling out of closets and slamming doors and lights flickering. During commercials, I mute the sound. Now I can hear the sounds in the the house. Creaking. Just the house shifting. I tell myself not to be silly about it. Happens all the time.
Tapping. Branches against the window. The women in the shows always ignore the sounds, too, while I yell at them: "Why are you standing there, ignoring the sounds?" Stop thinking like that.
Bang! A car backfire. Silly me.
Thud? No explanation comes to mind.
I am being silly, creeping myself out because of a dumb television show.
Thud, again, like heavy footsteps coming slowly upstairs.
But the doors are locked. It isn't possible.
I am sitting in bed, book on my lap, remote at hand. Do I have time to check the bedroom door, to see if it's locked? Thud. Closer.
And a shuffling sound.
I throw off the covers, jump out of bed and run toward the door. Just as I reach for the knob, it turns.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

golden pumpkins

We spent the weekend in Boise with two of our grand-children, ages 1 and almost 3 (oh--and their parents!). Children know how to live abundantly. I have missed Gabe moving to Arizona; when he lived with us, he was a daily reminder of that full-life approach to living. Now, when I make David's sandwich in the morning, I miss Gabe's comment on my swirl of mustard, "It's a G!" I miss his excitement for the little things in life. This weekend reminded me of how children's approach to life can help me live more abundantly.

We are just going into the house. Bailey hugs our legs and announces: "My birthday is in one month!" Of all the first things to say, that was hers. I wish I were so excited about my upcoming birthday. I want to feel excited about the adventure of being another number--and not just older.

At dinner, Bailey and Ryker had a game they'd play. He'd watch her. She'd watch him. Then she'd let out a belly laugh--not because something was funny, just to laugh. And Ryker would laugh, hard. His was genuine. He was delighted with his sister and her laugh. I need to laugh more. And laugh hard. Sometimes just for the sake of laughing. (I just remembered this: David had heard that laughter lowers blood pressure. Once on the way to a physical, he made himself laugh over and over again. Finally he started laughing for real, thinking about what other drivers must think of this guy, alone in a car next to them at the stop light, guffawing away. His blood pressure was lower!)

Bailey wanted to show us how she could ride her bike but didn't want to put on her helmet, so she had to ride in the garage (family rule). Both cars were in the garage, so essentially she was just riding around and around one of the cars--and doing a pretty good job of it. She never hit either car once. She kept shouting, "Watch me, Grandma." Once I hid behind the fender of the car so that as she rode around, I would surprise her. She loved the surprise--and then we had to play the same game over and over, with me "hiding" at different corners of the car. Sometimes she even told me where to "hide." Each time, she seemed surprised that I was there. I need to take more joy in the repetitive aspects of life. There are so many after all. I shouldn't get so well-now-that-isn't-a-surprise-is-it about life. Keeping it fun is important.

We visited a pumpkin patch on Saturday. The place was more like an old-fashioned amusement park than farm, although there was that, too. There were tractors pulling barrels-made-into-seats around the grounds. There were animals to feed ("It tickles my hand!) and bales of hay to climb. Ryker wanted to carry every pumpkin he saw. Bailey had to swing on the swing (everything seemed to be made out of farm implements of some kind). When her turn came, she kept repeating, "This is so fun. This is so fun." The swing just went in a circle, but Bailey sat very still, her eyes looking out the side to her left, both hands gripping the chains. It was as though she was focused on the moment, on soaking in all the sensations of swinging out and around, instead of all the whirling visuals going past. She focused. I'm afraid that too often, I don't. I have so many things to do and so many places to be and so many people to do things for that I don't just focus and enjoy  small moments for the joy they could be.

We took a hay ride (big wagon hooked to a tractor--fun!) out to the pumpkin fields. Ryker would have taken any pumpkin he could get his hands on, but Bailey wanted a "golden" pumpkin. So we stayed on the ride while others got off, and families who'd found their perfect pumpkins got on. We waited past the fields with the BIG pumpkins.  At the last stop, we saw the fields with little pumpkins. We jumped down to look for golden pumpkins. I was skeptical. Yes, I'd read the sign about all the varieties of pumpkins and the varied colors, but here? We wandered around, and, sure enough, there were two small golden pumpkins. Just the right size for little hands.  Even when they might not seem possible, a dream is important. I need to think of golden pumpkins more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

making cookies

I love making cookies. I love the measuring and the mixing and the dropping by spoonfuls in rows on the shiny cookie sheet. I love the different textures: the fine grains of the white sugar, the moist chunkiness of the brown, the dusty connection of the flour, and the creamy smoothness of the butter. I love the different smells: the Christmas-season scent of vanilla, the exotic aroma of cinnamon, and the romance of  chocolate. I love, love, love the results! I love the sweet-smelling house, warm and cozy. I love that everyone comes into the kitchen to taste and talk. I love the happy faces, the chubby cheeks smeared with chocolate, and mouths talking rapidly while hands wave half-eaten cookies as punctuation. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I have recently spent a lot of time with a friend whose husband has cancer. Their family has lived for a year with intense hope and faith. In June, they were told they had a miracle: remission, even though the cancer had been stage 4 in four places. A surgery to remove the remaining tumor--and their life would be back to what it was before: marathons, camping, snowmobiling--fun. But two months later, the cancer was back. And now, just a few weeks after that horrible news, the doctors say it's everywhere.

I heard, somewhere, that grief feels like wearing a heavy coat. I found this page that uses a number of similes, including that one, to try to explain grief.

I have a picture book titled Through the Mickle Woods. In it, a king grieves the death of his wife. His journey through that grief reminds us that our lives are made of all the things that happen to us and through us--both the sweet and the sad. Sometimes it's hard to remember that when the sad is so present.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

root canal(s) or is it roots canal?

About six weeks ago, I went to my dentist. At my cleaning earlier in the year, I thought he had said that I had cavity to fill; when I got there, he said--instead-- I needed a crown. Great.  His work on the crown irritated the tooth so that for a week my face ached. When I went back in for the permanent crown, I told him of my discomfort. He said that sometimes happened with crowns--and if it continued, I would probably need to have a root canal. Wonderful. Well, last week, when the pain of the tooth had progressed so that it woke me up at night or prevented me from going to sleep at all, I decided I had waited long enough. I went in to see my dentist. He took an x-ray and decided that the roots were tricky enough to warrant an endodontist--which is where I found myself today, for what they said would be a one-hour appointment. It took twice that long because they found four roots instead of the usual three and one of them was "tricky." Lucky me. And then, when the tooth had the temporary filling in, the doctor looked at the final x-rays and wasn't happy with one root. So they took out the filling, drilled and rototilled and burned something all over again before putting in another temporary filling. I like perfectionists in some situations. After two hours I wasn't sure how I was feeling about this one.

 I don't like dentists. I don't mean the people, who seem genuinely kind and compassionate. The idea of dentists. That's my problem. I get anxious just thinking about going to them, anticipating the pain, the vulnerability: sit down, lean back, tip your chair back so your head gets all the blood, open your mouth. Then there are the sounds: high-pitched drills and ones that sound like jack-hammers. There are scraping sounds and watery sounds. The tools look like something from a torture chamber, and the burning smell? What is going on in my mouth? I hear vocabulary I don't understand: C5 (is that like C4--an explosive?), B-something, and tools with increasingly large numbers--I need a 20, now I need a 30, give me a 35. I could see--when I opened my eyes once--in the reflection in the machine (microscope?) over my face that what felt like roto-tilling actually was rototilling. I closed my eyes again for the rest of the procedure.

Instead of gas (because I was teaching right after I left the office), I opted for the headphones as a distraction. I listened to Josh Grobin. Soothing. I had the sound up loud enough that the assistant had to pull the ear piece off to ask me a question before they began. But, apparently, not loud enough. When the drill started, I couldn't hear the music at all. Everything was the sound of the drill. There would be a pause in the drilling--Grobin singing "You're still you"--and back to drilling. At times I chuckled over the irony of the words and my situation, but when the drill was loudest and my nervousness was increasing, I found myself striving, hard, to hear the music behind the drill. It came to me that that is a good approach for trying times in our lives: try really hard to hear the music instead of the drill. The music was there, but it took will and focus to hear it. I can do that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sometimes on a Mountain in September

 Kate Messner has a poem titled "Sometimes on a Mountain in April" that I really like. Since I just spent some time in the mountains over the weekend, I thought I would use her poem as a jumping off point for one of my own.

Sometimes, on a mountain in September,
gold barely shows itself,
hiding its treasure.
Reds, deep and rich,
velvet the hills,
vying with deep greens
for attention.

Sometimes on a mountain in September,
the sounds of the town in the valley
are drowned by the still-rushing river,
bounding over rocks,
nourishing mother and fawn
hidden beneath the reds and greens.
Crickets, startled by our presence,
chirrup loud exclamation points
as they fly past.

Sometimes on a mountain in September,
the sky is the bluest you can remember.
The beauty almost hurts your eyes--
so unused they are to seeing.
It definitely dents your heart.
And the road that led you to this spot
winds away like a promise:

Sometimes, on a mountain in September,
worries and stress get buried
under reds and greens
and rushing rivers
and crickets
and sky.
Sometimes on a mountain in September.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

anticipating fall

As I thought about writing this post, I realized that I had written in March about watching for the signs of spring, anticipating the end of snow and cold. It made me realize that I am a person who likes the changing seasons (fall and spring) better than the "real" seasons (winter and summer). I don't mind a few summer days where it's hot and the pool sounds like a great idea, but I get tired of trying to get a walk in or some weeding done before it's so hot that I am sweating until my glasses fall off. And I don't mind a few cold, snowy days in winter where I can sit curled up inside, tucked under a blanket, warming my hands and insides with hot chocolate, and watch the snow fall through the triangle of street lights. But, eventually, I want to go outside, and I get tired of worrying about cars sliding (and me slipping) on icy roads or the necessity of bundling up in layers and layers of sweater, coat, hat, mittens, scarf. I like spring and I like fall. The problem, of course, is that they are both so fleeting. Can that be why I like them--their very ephemeral nature?

Anyway, I was driving through the neighborhood this week--in a hurry, running an errand to a neighbor before going to work--and I saw this:
I'm afraid my jump-out-of-the-car-and-quickly-take-a-photo-with-your-phone picture doesn't quite capture what I saw, but I thought it looked like a huge cornstalk bouquet! Sure, the vase is a garbage can, but it still seemed like a big fall bouquet out there, just waiting to brighten my day the way any bouquet of flowers would. The sight made me realize that we are getting on to autumn. And, sure enough, yesterday I saw the reds showing up near the tops of the mountains. A sure sign.

In Alaska, we watch for weather signs all the time. In the fall, we watch the fireweed, a stalky wildflower that grows everywhere. Its purple flowers bloom from the bottom up, so we know that when the tops are blooming, the icy cold and the long nights are not far away. Then we watch for "termination dust," the first white dusting on the mountain tops that surround the city to tell us our snow blanket will be there soon. In the spring, we watch for "break-up" when the ice on rivers and lakes starts to break apart. A sign of hope. I grew up watching signs of the seasons, so I guess even though I don't live in Alaska anymore, I still do it.

Cornstalk bouquets and red and gold leaves tell me that autumn is just around the corner. I'm a little excited and a little sad.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

tangles and messes

A few weeks ago, I woke up with a big snarl in the back of my hair. I am talking the size of my hand--half my head in the back. I have no idea what my dreams were to have caused such a mess. And no matter how much I brushed, I could not get the snarl to go completely away. I would comb/brush until the back of my head seemed smooth, no tangles, and then, a few hours later, I would catch a glimpse of myself somewhere with a big lump on the back of my head. The snarl was back! It's like my hair had a life of its own, winding up and twisting together as I sat at my desk or in a meeting. Each time I found it, I would brush it out. It would reappear. I was plagued with the snarl-lump for two days, and then it was. . . just. . .  gone.

This past weekend we purchased a new TV. Since my daughter-in-law moved to another state last week--and she has done everything with technology in our house for the last three years--I was left to be the one to hook up the new TV. It isn't as simple as plugging it in. I had this mass of cords tangled and twisted, some going to the modem, some going to the cable box, and some going to some other box (why do we have so many???). I wasn't even attempting to hook up the DVD or VCR. I finally got the cable to work. Yea! we could watch the game (and it was not even half-time!). Time to order pizza. Oops!  I had done something so we didn't have internet or phone. Great. I called Lindsey, and she tried to talk me through  solving the problem. This box and that cord and "where did you connect the short black cord?" and "are you sure the phone connection is plugged in?"--something I had neglected earlier.  She said to send her a text with a picture of what I'd hooked up to what. (I learned how to attach a photo to a text--I'd only sent pictures with emails before. But now I can't see how to get the photo I took for that to put on here to show the big rats' nest of cables and cords!) Before she could get back to me, I figured it out. But it was a trial. Stressful.

In November I am presenting at NCTE. I am speaking about trends in articles related to writing instruction in English Journal over its last hundred years: what do I see? what patterns? who speaks? who is ahead of the game? what are we still struggling with that was a problem in 1912? So, as part of my preparation, I am reading/reviewing past issues of EJ: 100 years of journals with 8 or more issues a year=a lot of reading and note-taking.
Here are some copies of EJ I have in my office right now, but much of the work is online. It's interesting, absorbing inquiry. But it's a mess. It's too many threads right now--and I can't yet make sense of them. I'm even dreaming about this stuff.

Right now I see my life has a pattern: tangles and messes. All I can do is trust that, like the prior experiences, this one, too, will work itself out. (Well, I actually didn't untangle all the TV cords; I just hid them behind the TV stand. I don't know what that means for my present circumstance.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

time out

It's only the start of the school year, but I'm already thinking of how to combat stress. I can't keep eating cookies as a stress reliever: Dark chocolate chip cookies at Cafe Paesan. Oh my! Already they are in my head, drawing me with their sweet mixture of butter and chocolate, crunch and chew.  I have been resisting. . . so far.

Movies are a way to de-stress. Not DVDs. In-the-theater movies. Where the lights go out and no one phones or drops by. Where my work isn't sitting on the table near me or where the laptop isn't settled on my lap at the same time. In the dark. Giant screen. Total absorption. But there aren't always movies playing that take me on a trip away from stress. (Some even make me feel more stressed. . . )

 I would love a vacation--I know, it's only the second week of school--so that isn't going to happen any time soon. So, I take little mini-vacations in my head. I have a variety of "places" I visit, mental photos of places that relax me: The view from above Sundance when the fall leaves are all sorts of golds and reds against the dark evergreens. The Oregon coast at dusk when sound is as important as sight, waves washing on sand with gold sunlight a trail across the ripples. I visit these places in my head; they settle me and help me relax.
This is my newest addition to the collection:
It's the view from the Jackson Lake Lodge, just outside Yellowstone. I could sit there all day. When I first visited the lodge two years ago, the image of this view stayed with me. I hadn't taken a photo that visit, so as time passed I figured I must have imagined how impressive and relaxing it was. I didn't. This time I took a photo. The view is just amazing: lake, trees, blue sky, marsh grasses, and those peaks. We sat outside (squirrels everywhere) and then inside, spending several hours with this view in front of me. Just reading, thinking, breathing. I could sit there for days.
 I think this photo should be my screen saver. Reminding me to relax. And forget about cookies.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Essential truths

Just found this quote: "Every vivid memory holds some essential truth about your vision of the world." Kim Stafford

Last night we had dinner with friends at Chick's in Heber. It is a small old-fashioned cafe, straight out of the fifties.Something happened that caused me to tell a story about David. Just the day before, he had been telling a neighbor that we had toured the new student housing being built on campus. He couldn't remember the name of the housing development, so he actually repeated the word "toured"--three times--while his mind was trying to recall the name. Except, he pronounced it "turd." I could see the puzzlement on the neighbor's faces, so I re-pronounced the word for them. It clarified--and made us all laugh. So as I was telling this story to our friends, we all started laughing so hard that we were in tears. The whole dinner was like that--funny stories and lots of laughter. There weren't many others in the cafe--two couples left as we came in, another couple came in part way through the meal. They probably thought we were nuts--so much laughing.

I realized as we drove home last night--after saying goodbye to these good friends who now live in another state--that such laughter and fun characterize our friendship. An essential truth about my vision of the world? Laughter and friends should go together. (wish I had a picture I could attach right now!)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

outdoor concert

The Utah Symphony in the mountain tops: What could be a better combination? It got a little chilly after the sun set, but it was such a great experience, relaxing and exhilarating at the same time. The mountain air and scenery soothe me; the music moves me. And, of course, there is people-watching: Children running down the hillside along the edges of the crowd as couples sit with baskets and coolers, eating and drinking: cheese and crackers, wine and soft drinks, fried chicken and potato salad.  A guy behind us stretched out on the ground and fell asleep just as the concert started. His snores accompanied the music, but only for a short while. As I listened to the passion of the music and watched the intensity of the performers, I thought: this is what happens when passion and skill come together. Can I do it in my own life? Do I develop skills that can work with my own passions to create something beautiful, something meaningful? I hope so.

Friday, July 29, 2011

10 Books for a Desert Island

I found this prompt for 10 books you'd want with you on a desert island online and thought I'd try it. Now that I've tried it, it's a lot harder than I thought--or maybe I just made it that way.
1. Book of Mormon: isn't the reason self-explanatory?
2. Tale of Two Cities: probably my all-time favorite, or at least my favorite-the-longest. Is it the story? it must be because I don't really care for the style of writing. I think I like the story of redemption.
3. The Thirteenth Tale: I like the rhythm of this book. The language is lyrical and the story swamps me. I can't quite figure it out with one reading. But it's like listening to someone speak a language you don't understand in a soothing voice. I just want to keep listening.
4. People of the Book: I love the structure of this book: each chapter a story of a person/family who had possession of the book, through centuries, all tied together by the book curator discovering their traces in the wine stains and clothing threads left among the pages. I like the style of this writer as well. I could read this again and still find ideas I'd missed. Besides, the book makes me think about things that last, things that matter.
5. Eat Cake: I figure I'll be hungry, so a book with cake recipes and about cake and how cakes save her life and her family sounds like a pretty good choice. The main character never lets trouble get her down. On a desert island (why couldn't it be a dessert island???), that would be a good thing to remember.
6. To Kill a Mockingbird: I've probably read it more times than any other book besides scripture, and I always am happy to read it again.
7. Picnic, Lightning: Poetry makes me pay attention to the little things in the world around me. I really like Billy Collins' poetry, too.
8. Peace Like a River. Slow paced but compelling. I think I would get more out of additional readings.
9. Crossing to Safety. Stegner isn't my favorite, but my only reading of this title still leaves me thoughtful. It, too, could bear re-reading.
10. Hmmm.  I don't know how long I would be on this desert island. I think I would like at least one book I haven't read before--and it should be either something funny and/or something non-fiction: Maybe something by Mary Roach or Bill Bryson, both fun and funny non-fiction writers. I'd take recommendations.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

There was a thunderstorm yesterday. It fit my mood. I watched lightning strikes across the valley from my office window--but that wasn't good enough. By the time I got home, the storm was just starting to hit there. Yes! The wind roared and the rain pounded. Big, fat drops of rain. Gabe (my 2 1/2 year old grandson) and I opened the family room doors to watch it and listen to it. I held him up so he could put his arm out into the rain without getting soaked. It was noisy. I loved it.  Gabe looked at me and said, "The rain is my friend." That's what he says all the time now when something or someone is scary: "____ is my friend." I think it comforts him to move the scary person/thing into that role. It's reassuring. I should think of that strategy myself: The audience is my friend. The article I'm trying to write is my friend. Anyway, after watching the storm for a few minutes, we closed the door, shutting out the noisiest elements. Gabe went back to playing cars, and I started dinner. A few minutes later there was a boom of thunder that shook the house. Gabe looked up: "Dinosaurs," he said with wonder. And I thought it was probably what they would sound like, especially just before they charged you. Scary.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

writing myself awake

I just read an essay on NWP with the title of this post. It drew me because I feel a little asleep, but not sleepy. The author (Grosskopf) writes of how writing daily made him live his life differently: more aware and more alive. I know daily writing can do this, yet somehow I let days slip by without writing. That isn't altogether true either. I write, a lot, everyday: emails and grocery lists, syllabi and assignment prompts. But that kind of writing doesn't do what the writer of the article explained that regular reflective writing does: help us live life well.  Not as somnambulists. So, when I read the essay, I thought: I need to get back in the habit. I need to carve out the time again.  I wrote daily during Summer Institute--and it did, indeed, make me more aware of life and the moments that matter. This photo is one I took during our walk-and-write--when we stopped in Tangie's for a place to write with some atmosphere. Did the sweet roll taste better because I wrote about it? I don't know, but I know writing about it made me pay attention. And that is what I know daily informal writing can do: make me pay attention to life. So, here I am, back to my goal of writing daily and hoping that, like the author, I will, through daily writing, find "the bounty of inventiveness, and a heightened sense of possibility in my every day." And maybe another sweet roll, too.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I was at a conference last week in Atlanta. My room was on the the 32nd floor of the hotel--which wasn't near the top--but if you knew me, you would know that that was still a problem. The center of the hotel is hollow, so you can look from the floor of the conference center (below the lobby) through to the covered skylight, nearly 50 stories above. See the picture? It made me dizzy to take it.

I looked out the window of my room once or twice. I did better if I didn't stand close. It was a lovely view, as you can see from the picture, but it made me too dizzy.

The elevators were see through, so going up or down made me dizzy. Made my ears pop. Made my stomach tumble. But I was at this conference with people who also made me dizzy: dizzy with how much they knew and how interesting their ideas were and what questions they were asking. Dizzy with their interest in life and in writing. They were interested in all sorts of things beyond writing, too, which explains why on the evening the conference ended I found myself on a ghost tour of Atlanta with them(walking around the city at night and learning about its history was fun; no ghosts showed themselves)and eating yummy dessert at midnight (see mine in the picture? dizzying in a different way, right?).

So, although the physical surroundings made me dizzy in spells, I think that the conference as a whole will make me dizzy for a while with the ideas that are swirling in my head. And that's a good thing, right? For a teacher to be dizzy with learning and ideas. I think so.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

snowy april

I want spring--and spring is on its way. I can feel it. I can see the daffodils and hyacinths beginning to bloom, and the tulips are not far behind. Some of the willows are starting to leaf, and there is sometimes a hint of summer warmth in the air. And then, Sunday morning, this is what I saw out the back door: Beautiful, but Not Spring. Luckily, it didn't last long. Today, Tuesday, there is hardly anything left except a few cotton puffs of snow here and there. Soon, I hope, we'll use the picnic table for eating outdoors in the warm. And I will remember that sometimes things we don't wish for happen to us anyway, or they happen when we don't want them--after all, this would be very welcome on December 24. I will try to see beauty in life's unexpected (and unwanted) events, but I will probably still wish they will go away as quickly as a spring snowfall.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


So I had lunch in the basement of the Senate building today--along with a jillion other people. Then, before my appointment with my Congressman (I got there early), I visited the basement of his building, too. Again, LOTS of people. And hardly anyone on the streets. I know because I couldn't find my way back to the hotel and tried to find people to ask for help. Amazing how few people there were! One of the Senator's chief of staff told us the building was like an anthill. Everything they need is there: food, laundry, gym, mail. . . So I was wondering if being inside all the time makes a person look at the world differently. I mean, it's a grey, misty day here in DC. I have a picture that I can't seem to upload. But it's pretty. The cherry trees are in bloom. Does anyone who works here see?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

losing community

I do a lot of reading about online communities: what creates them, how "real" they are, their dangers, and so on. I have not really participated actively in one until this month. And I'm thinking today about the online communities that have been created by the SOLS challenge.
I "slice" with my students, too, and I have noticed an effect from this activity. About half of the class participates--it isn't mandatory--and I see a difference in the way those of us who are participating interact in class. We KNOW things about each other--our fears, our challenges, the details of life that don't usually get shared in class. I feel closer to my students, and I think they feel closer to each other because of the online community we have built outside of class. It's what I always hope for in a writing class--and we've built it. Through writing, yes, but outside of class. Interesting.
In addition, I feel that I have some online "friends" who respond to my posts with some regularity and whose posts I respond to. I have found myself doing some things I never anticipated I would: replying to others' blogs and looking forward to the comments that follow mine, wondering what I wrote that might spark a response in others. I don't know these people in the sense that I would recognize them on the street or that I know what they do or where they live. I only know them because for a few moments in March, we had connections: our lives intersected and were enriched because of the words (ideas) we shared. How cool is that?! I never would have anticipated it. I joined because I needed to get back into the habit of daily writing. I got that. . . and so much more.
A few weeks ago, one of my students wrote that he thought he would miss this SOLS connection when it ended. I am feeling that way today. I am flying to Washington D. C. to try to talk to legislators about funding for National Writing Project. I don't know what my online access will be in the next two days. I hope I will be able to "slice." If not, I will miss it even sooner than I intended.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Yesterday in class, I did something quite embarrassing. After most of the laughter quieted, one of my students said I should "slice" about it, and since it still is making me blush to think of it, I guess I will.
I currently teach pre-service teachers in a private religious university. Yesterday, in our discussion about grading, I intended to say grade sheets, but I accidentally slipped my vowel from a long "e" to a short "i." First, incredulity--on my part and my students' faces. Then they laughed. And me? Red face. Hot face. Cover your face. Why is that an instinct? Do we, like my grandson, think that if we close our eyes no one can see us?
The problem after that was that every time I attempted to say the word sheet, the other word felt like it was going to slip out! I changed to rubric and paper. This probably isn't a big deal to some people. But that isn't a word I say--and even if it were, it wouldn't be one I would say in this setting. So, like most embarrassing moments, it flashes back into my mind and then my face responds, blushing all over again. Even here, in my office, where no one is watching.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What if?

In addition to Two Writing Teachers :), I also RSS Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (INK), a blog written collaboratively by authors of nonfiction picture and YA books. Today's post was writen by David Schwartz--and got me thinking. Here's part of his post:
I think parents and teachers (not to mention media providers) would do children and our future a great service if they encouraged wondering and the asking of questions rather than simply consuming and accepting information and stimuli. Children need to interact, not just imbibe, what the world sends their way. . . .Case in point: I once met a 6th grade science teacher who had asked her students in a well-heeled public school to put some small piece of the natural world (a few plants and/or small animals) and temporarily transfer it to a contained environment (shoebox, glass jar, etc.) for an hour of observing, speculating, hypothesizing and experimenting. Everyone in the class thought the assignment was too hard. They didn't know what to do for an hour. The teacher lamented that if she had asked them to write a 10-page report on Einstein, no one would have batted an eye.
You might say the whole class -- or a whole generation -- has a "what if?" deficit.
What if we started a nationwide discussion on what to do about it?
In his post, Schwartz lists his own "what if" questions. What a great way to get me thinking! So here is my list of "what ifs" for today (it's actually kind of difficult to get started--but really fun once my mind starts going there!):
* What if we could choose one day a year to live inside our favorite books or stories? What would change--in the book and in our lives?
* What if rain went from the ground up, instead of from the sky, down?
* What if broccoli and cauliflower tasted like chocolate and caramel?
* What if people could run faster or somehow move faster (think my way to a place) than cars or planes? Would we even need them? Would we crash in space as we tele-ported ourselves about?
* What if we were required at the end of each day to list five things we'd noticed in the world that day? Would we pay more attention?
* What if we all had to use a minimum of 10 similes a day? More use of "like" or more effective use???
* What if spring flowers bloomed for 4 months instead of just 6 weeks?
* What if days were 36 hours instead of 24? Would we be in less of a hurry?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Taking time

I keep being reminded: we need to make good choices for how we spend our time. My friend whose husband is fighting cancer went with him and their children to the Jazz game last night (in a special suite to protect him). When I asked her about it today, she said they didn't even realize that the Jazz lost--they were having so much fun. I was so happy for them to have the time together--and I am reminded (again) that being with people we love is what matters. Yes, we have to work and fill the car with gas and pick up the dry cleaning. But when we can pick, we should spend time with the people we love. It won't matter if it rains during the picnic or if the dinner doesn't turn out as we had hoped. It's the time and the memories that will matter.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Last night we watched the new movie Limitless. In it, the main character takes a pill that let's him access 100% of his brain (under the premise that we normally access only 20%). He is a writer who can't write until he takes the pill--and then he can write. Just like that! The scene where he suddenly begins writing is visually intriguing: letters start falling from the ceiling, just a few at first and then more and more, faster and faster, until he is surrounded by letters. He finishes the book in record time. As if it were that easy. Some days, I wish it were. Not the pill, which is scary, but the words falling around me? That I would like.

Friday, March 25, 2011

imaginary driving

I haven't been home before my grandson's bedtime this week. A combination of work and church-related events kept me away. Last night, though, I got home around 5. He must have heard the garage door opening because, before I could even pull the car in fully, he had opened the door from the house and was running out to greet me. I turned the car off, preparing to get out. Gabe, though, wanted to play IN the car. So I pulled him in and we proceeded to play: we pretended to drive places, to say "hello" and "goodbye" as we went, to push buttons (he loves turning the hazards on and off, on and off), to put the keys in and take them out, to pretend to shift gears, to climb to the back seat (he did, I didn't) and back again, to put on our seat belts and take them off again. There was so much playing to be done in the car, even though it was turned off and sitting in the garage. We played for nearly a half hour, until one of us (I'm not sure which one)turned on the car alarm. I had trouble figuring out how to turn it off again, so we decided it was time to go IN the house and play cars there. I was reminded, in a week with lots of work and lots of tasks, how necessary it is sometimes to take time for imagination. How relaxing and refreshing it is to play and pretend. A two-year-old can teach us that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

too many things to do

It's one of those days, you know? We all have them, I know: more things clamoring for our attention than we can do. Today, at 11:00, there were at least four events I could have/should have attended. One would have been professionally enlightening, one would have been supportive of a colleague,one would have been I-don't-know-what (maybe boring, but I'd have been dutiful to have gone), and one was the appointment I made a month ago with a friend and colleague who works in a local school district office. About three times a year we find a day when our schedules work out to allow us to meet for lunch. Today was one of those days, so I did what I wanted to do, what I'd planned to do, and said no to the other good things I could have done. And my visit with her? It was enlightening, it was supportive (both of her and to me), and it was rejuvenating. So, I think I made the best choice for using that hour of my day. I wish I made the best choices for all the individual hours I must decide between a bundle of good options.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

slice of. . . cookies?

I didn't have time for breakfast this morning--and I have this go-pack of mini Chips Ahoy! in my office. So, guess what's for breakfast??? I was eating a few of them (mind you--the serving size is only one-fourth of the pack!) and thinking about what I was eating. First, how do they get them to be that small??? Then, what's in them? I have the book, All in Just One Cookie, in my office. It is a delightful story and informative book about a grandma making chocolate chip cookies in anticipation of a visit from her grandchildren--and the ingredients that contribute to the chocolate chip cookies she is baking. I don't think there's anything in the book about niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, soy lecithin, caramel color, or emulsifiers. Yet all those are in these little bite-sized "cookies" I am eating for my breakfast today. Hmmm. No wonder I like the ones I make at home better. But. . . these can do in a pinch. And there's something that makes me feel like I'm on vacation. . . eating cookies for breakfast.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This is where I

I'm using Ruth's SOLS as my inspiration today. Today she wrote about collecting the letter A. I have an A in my office, too.

I can't make it import right side up!

Anyway, here are some other "A" (or almost-A) things I have in my office:

ABC Books, including Agent A to Z (Andy Rash)
Art created by grandchildren and former students
Ahab's Wife (Sena Jeter Naslund)
(not really Abominable) snowmen
An accommodating chair
Adjectives: different and secret and dreadful
Adverbs: extremely and incredibly and proudly
America: A Patriotic Primer (Lynne Cheney)
Antique books, including a grammar book from 1893

Monday, March 21, 2011

book spine poems

I read about this idea in someone's SOLS on TwoWritingTeachers, so I decided to try it with my own books. I had a couple of really good ones going (one was going into zombie . . . maybe I'll work on that one a little more). Anyway, to my students: April is Poetry Month. You might want to try this with your own library and contribute it as a SOLS! Find titles to create your own poem, take a picture of it with your phone, attach it to your blog post (see how your future students would like this???)
I also see a blog where there's a submission request for these: http://100scopenotes.com/2011/03/18/poetry-friday-the-mix-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poetry-friday-the-mix-up
I look forward to seeing what you "write"! Here's mine:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

two babies

What a great way to end the weekend: two of my children and their families at the house. After ice cream and M&Ms, the two little ones (a granddaughter 20 months old and a grandson 28 months) had lost their clothes and were each dressed in a diaper and nothing else, running around the house, laughing and calling each other: "Come here, baby!" Running up the stairs, grinning at us from the landing above us, and sliding back down the stairs just to run back up again. And laughing all the time. How great is that?

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Tonight my 2-year old grandson found a bag of M&Ms on my dresser. It was a bag of individual packages, Easter colored ones I'd purchased to give the grandchildren. He grabbed it and said, "Mine!" I approached him to open it and get him a package when he took off running, as fast as he could with the bag clutched in his hand, laughing in that contagious way little kids have: pure joy. He got his package. With it opened, he climbed on the bed and lounged back on some pillows with his legs crossed. This is a boy who really knows how to enjoy his M&Ms.

Friday, March 18, 2011


We had our pre-institute tonight, getting ready for our writing project's summer institute in June. It's the end of a busy week, a Friday evening, and there we were: 19 fellows and 6 coaches (fellows from previous summer institutes), and 3 directors--all spending four hours together writing, sharing our writing, and preparing for the summer to come. It's amazing. I was tired; I'm sure the teachers were, too. But there was this energy there that was just amazing. Karen's prompt at the beginning of the evening came from Guys Write for Guys Read--and encouraged us to consider what powers we would have if we were a superhero. I think, after this evening, I would answer differently than I did at the beginning of the evening. Then, I said I would have powers to stop time for everyone else so that I could get more done. Now, I think I'd want the power these teachers have. These teachers, teachers who want to spend four weeks of their summer together learning more about writing, have superpowers. They energize me on a Friday night after a busy week. And I know from experience, that I will feel the same energy working with them during the summer. I will leave each day, after 8 hours of writing and sharing writing and working on ideas for teaching writing, with surprising energy when I should feel tired. I was reminded of that tonight. What a privilege it is to work with these engaged teachers.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

one of those days

I'm having one of those days where I just can't seem to get myself going. It was misery to get out of bed. I actually got up and then half an hour later climbed back in, determined I was going to stay there for the day. But I wasn't sick. And people were counting on me to be places and do things. So I got up. I went to work. I did some things. But the day is like walking through mud: a lot of effort (it seems) for very little progress. It's taken me all day to get this written, but I am doing one thing new for today. I'm putting in a picture.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

a storm's coming

I can see it from my office window, like a wall moving toward me. The mountains across the lake are shrouded in mist, disappearing into the gray in places. I can hear it. Every so often, a rumble. I can smell it. Water and dirt. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I'm reading Pat Conroy's book, My Reading Life. I'm reading it slowly, chewing a few pages at a time. It's a book you read like that. This morning, I read some pages about his love of words: "Good writing. . . . is taking the nothingness of air and turning it into a pleasure palace built on a foundation of words." You see what I mean by needing to chew slowly?? He keeps a journal of words. When he reads a book, he writes down the words he reads that he likes. What a great idea. He said he just picks words that "please me, goad me into action, make me want to sing a song." Not fancy words, not what he calls pretentious words. Simply words that bring some kind of pleasure. I thought I'd try it today with HIS book. Here's the start of my list:


Monday, March 14, 2011

Cookies with a grandson

One of our grandsons lives with us right now (along with his parents!). He's two. He understands that I go to work, and most days I leave before he's up, so it's not a big deal. But on Saturday when I needed to come in to work, he was up and not happy about it. He grabbed his shoes, ran to the door, and said, "I ready to go to work" over and over. So I asked his mom if we could go for a treat. We got in the car (he's still in his pj's) and drove down to Kneaders. When I said that's where we were going, he asked "French toast?" I laughed. They do make the best French toast in the world--and I wondered how he knew already. But we'd had breakfast (he ate his own and half of my bowl of Wheaties), so I said, "No, a cookie." We went in, got him a shamrock cookie and sat at a table while he ate it, one small bite at a time, studying all the people in between bites. It was such a fun way to spend a half hour, and the joy stayed with me all the time I was at work. Then on Sunday, when I was getting ready to go to a morning church meeting, he grabbed his shoes and said, "Go to Kneaders? Get a cookie?" I guess I started something. And I wish I could do it every day.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


This weekend I have had several long conversations with friends, all of whom are going through really hard things in their lives: a woman whose husband has four kinds of cancer, another going through a trial suing for patent infringement when her husband (who died last year) was the inventor, and a mom dealing with a grown child with a new baby, kidney surgery, and a flooded house all at once. Our lives can be so challenging sometimes, and I have felt totally inadequate as these friends have called just to talk, "vent" two of them said. What do you say in these situations? All it seems like I can do is listen, hope they know that I care for them, and pray for their situations. At the same time, I am so grateful for these friendships, for women whose lives have been entwined with mine in different ways for so many years. One of them was a roommate in college. We've been at each others' weddings, watched or taught each others' children, shared vacations, businesses, and secrets. What a blessing! So, even though I don't know how helpful I was to these dear friends who are going through such difficult situations, I am still glad I was someone they felt they could talk to. I am glad for friendships that endure both the good times and the not-so-good ones.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

writing stamina

I'm reading a book about teaching writing (In Pictures and In Words by Katie Wood Ray), including a chapter on stamina. Writers need stamina, she says, and I agree. She discusses the curriculum of time and tells how, when she's writing, she's very aware of time. She says, "the curriculum of time is fairly simple: Sit. Stay. Put something on paper." Even though she's aware of how much time it's taking and other things she could be doing. So, I'm in my office, on a Saturday, doing everything I can think of to avoid writing. I'm sitting. I'm staying. I can't leave until the letters of recommendation are done. Former students need them on Monday before they attend the job fair. I will put something on paper.

It's hard.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I woke this morning to the news of the earthquake in Japan. Since I was a child during the Alaskan earthquake, I have TERROR of earthquakes, and I tremble to know what those people are going through. And, although the shaking of the earth is bad enough (the feeling that something you depend on to be STILL, isn't), what comes after is worse. It's the aftershocks that wake you over and over in the night and the following days and send you frantically running for the door. It's the fear of broken gas lines and falling buildings. It's roads that have broken up so that they are impassable. It's no heat or light in the cold, dark winter. In the Alaskan quake, before the days of cell phones, it was hours or longer of not knowing where your loved ones were. It was melting snow for water and adding bleach to make sure it was safe. As a girl, I liked the no-school part and the eat-the-melting-ice-cream-for-dinner-and-breakfast part. But I was also old enough to listen to the radio broadcasting calls for lost relatives and know that some of those people would never be found. And then the waiting for the tidal wave and wondering if it would reach us or people we knew and what that would mean for us. I am a grandmother now. Many years have passed since that quake in Alaska (what I was reminded this morning was the second largest one of modern times), but I am still shaken--emotionally--when I hear news of these huge earthquakes and think of the people involved. I am reminded, again, of the fragility of life.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


A few years ago, I talked to my pre-service teachers about renewing yourself as a teacher, about how sometimes a teacher needs to "fill the bucket" so she can keep giving to her students. We discussed the many ways teachers can do this, but I also told them the story of one day I took for myself, just to recharge, when my family was all gone to work and school. I stayed home. Well, first, in my pjs, I went to the grocery store and bought a chocolate cake and checked out some movies. I went home and snuggled in with blankets and a pillow on the couch. As I watched my movies, I ate that cake--right out of the foil pan, without even putting it on a plate first. Later on, I did responsible things like grading papers and making lesson plans(and getting some exercise!), but I took a mini-vacation with my cake and movies first--and felt like a completely new person afterward. A few weeks later, one of my students gave me the book, Eat Cake (Jeanne Ray). In it, Ray says this: "Cakes have gotten a bad rap. People equate virtue with turning down desert. There is always one person at the table who holds up her hand when I serve the cake. No, really, I couldn't, she says, and then gives her flat stomach a conspiratorial little pat. Everyone who is pressing a fork into that first tender layer looks at the person who declined the plate, and they all think, That person is better than I am. That person has discipline. But that isn't a person with discipline, that is a person who has completely lost touch with joy. A slice of cake never made anybody fat. You don't eat a whole cake [well I almost did!]. You don't eat cake every day of your life. You take the cake when it is offered because the cake is delicious. You have a slice of cake and what it reminds you of is someplace that's safe, uncomplicated, without stress. A cake is a party, a birthday, a wedding. A cake is what's served on the happiest days of your life."
I like that sentiment. Today, I didn't have any cake, but I had something that makes me happy: a shortbread chocolate chip cookie. I was in American Fork for an early morning appointment today and stopped by Flour Girls and Dough Boys. They are the only place I know with these cookies, and I don't get by there that often. So, it's a party day. I had a cookie. For breakfast. And I'm not going to feel guilty.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Second post for today

Okay--I have to say that writing every day has made me think of writing more, of seeing events and images as subjects for my writing. I KNOW that about daily writing, but I had gotten out of the habit and had to be pushed back into it. So, thank you, TwoWritingTeachers!
Today my pre-service teachers gave each other feedback on drafts of their reversal essays. As I watched what was happening in the class, I wished I had thought to bring a camera (although it wouldn't have caught the quick laughter or the intense engagement). Since I didn't, I decided to capture what I saw in words (if possible), for a second post for today.

I watch them read and smile to themselves as they enjoy something in the writing. There's even been a chuckle out loud now and then to show how they are enjoying another's writing. How cool is that to be rewarded for your writing through someone else's enjoyment? It's rewarding to ME to see them respond that way. And then I see two heads leaning over one paper, conferencing about how it felt to read the writing, what it made the reader think. Another writer rubs her face, trying to explain to her peers what she was trying to do and what she didn't think was working, and nods her head as they give her suggestions--totally invested in helping each other do the best they can with what they are trying to communicate. That is something we don't often get from our writing, is it, that personal, individual response? That's one thing the SOLS do, though: put us in touch with people who respond to our writing. It's a very good feeling to know how your writing affects a reader. A burst of laughter signals another group's enjoyment of the topic--and encourages the writer to tell more than is in the draft, to extend the experiences recounted there. Students stay past the end of class, talking to each other about their writing: "I really liked your introduction. I could see the story you were telling."I like the parallelism in this passage. It makes the writing move."
In a book by Katie Wood Ray, I had highlighted these two sentences: "Writing work, or indeed any creative endeavor, is just not like other kinds of work in the world. Writing work asks you to go from nothing to something all on your own (unless you're coauthoring or sharing the responsibility), over and over for long stretches of time." This "work" we do together eases that journey from nothing to something as it gives us a chance to see progress and ways to improve. The 'long stretch of time' where we wrestle with our ideas and words might seem just a little shorter when we have an audience help us see our work through their eyes.

My celebration

Last night in my night class with teachers, we started by reading I'm in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor. Then we all wrote about our own personal celebrations. Some were funny. Some were moving. It reminded me how a good text can be a powerful prompt for our thinking--and writing. Here's mine:

My celebration would be Signs of Spring Day. Although I don't mind winter at its start, by the end of January I am ready to be done with it. I start watching for any signs of spring I can see--and sometimes I have to wait a LONG time. There are teasers, days that have that springy something: a quality of light, some warmth under the cool air. But that's not enough. I wait for buds to appear on branches and green pointy heads to peek out from damp earth. Then it's my Signs of Spring Day. I celebrate by noticing all the signs I can, to reassure myself that spring is really coming, and then I buy myself some yellow and red tulips--ahead of when they'll bloom in my year--so that the hope of spring blooms in my house before reality shows itself outside my window.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

my face itches

I have been having some sort of allergic reaction on my face (and yesterday it progressed to my neck) for about 2 months. My skin tingles, then itches, and then a welt (or two!) appears that may or may not be gone several minutes later. I tried to ignore the situation, but it seems to be getting worse. I have switched moisturizers, gone without any (that was unpleasant in this dry climate), used soap and laundry detergent without dyes or perfumes--and still my face itches, and welts come and go. I tried to consider diet: no peanut butter for a week. No change. So I called the doctor's office to ask if medications could cause this. The nurse said I had to come in, the doctor said he has no idea--and probably the allergist won't either. Use baby shampoo and don't put anything on my face (lovely--my students are going to like that!!). Replace products one at a time. But, most likely (according to my doctor) we won't ever find out what's causing the itching. So, if no one can solve this problem (I will try his suggestions, though), I think I am going to write a children's book: My Face Itches could be a good title, don't you think? I've never written a children's book, but I have a situation, and situations are at the heart of story, right? At least I could make something worthwhile come out of an itchy situation.

Monday, March 7, 2011

No Internet!?

What is that? How can I work without internet? I have a smart phone so that not only can people call me at any time, but they also have constant access to me via email, twitter, or text message! Now, in my office, where I need to access wikis and blogs and my google reader to catch up on the stuff that is my work--I can't get anything?! I remember when cell phones first came out. Although I liked the idea and could see advantages, my mother (always ahead of the game with technology) had one. She answered it everywhere, at any time, even in the middle of a dinner conversation face-to-face. All of a sudden, my sister in another state was interrupting dinner conversation when my mother was a guest in my home! I thought the whole thing about constant access was overload. Eventually, I got a cell phone, of course. But I turn mine off sometimes, and I don't let it interrupt personal conversations. I like that, when I am waiting for a flat tire to get fixed, I can still do things like check email and text a friend. So, now that I'm dependent (in so many ways) on having access--3G, 4G--what next???--what do I do when I don't get the internet working in my office? Interestingly, we all open our doors and wander around in the halls, talking, until service is restored. . . and we can all get back to work. Funny. I hope this will post.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hope for spring

I’m tired of cold and snow. I’m ready for warm and green. I’ve seen the start of buds on some of the trees in my yard. That means spring really is coming! Hooray! We have a north-facing lawn, so it still looks like winter there: the snow we shoveled from the driveway and walk onto the grass is still too deep to have melted, even though across the street those south-facing yards look like they’ve already been mowed. So, I look at their yards and not my own, look out the kitchen window at the baby buds starting to show on the maple tree there and feel hope rising. Spring isn’t just a dream. It will be a reality, and sometime soon. I hope.

Sunday-morning-for-Saturday post

I hate that feeling that you've forgotten to do something but you can't remember what it was. I woke up a little after 5:00 this morning (on a day when I finally could sleep in) with at least the memory of one thing I'd forgotten: to write my SOLS for Saturday--even though I'd intended it when I was on the computer in the afternoon. Here's what happened: my evening plans changed when my son-in-law asked if we could watch our grandchildren while he took our daughter to dinner. She'd had a long, hard week. How could we say no? So, we tended the three children and had a great time--but I forgot to write. So, two today. This one for yesterday.

Three images from tending the grand-kids:
1. When we asked Matthew, a kindergartner, how school was going, he announced he'd published several books. Grandpa said grandma had, too. "What's published?" asked Coley, Matthew's four-year-old sister. He said, "It's when you do all the stuff you're supposed to." Yep. That's it, all right.
2. Coley sitting on a stool at the counter, “helping” me prepare dinner. She had a stack of romaine leaves I had rinsed for a salad that she was tearing into a bowl. She tore up the whole stack, a surprise, but she chatted the WHOLE time, comments on this and that as she worked. When she finished, she announced, “My name should be changed to ‘Talker.’” Me: “Talker? Why?” Coley: “Because I talk more than anyone in my family.” 
3. I gave Anya, eighteen-months old, a blue M&M—something she’d asked for. A few minutes later, she walked up to ask for another M&M—and her face was covered with blue, as was her right hand. Completely covered with blue. There was no chocolate anywhere, just blue. I guess she licks off the outside before eating the inside. I didn’t know a person could do that: lick off the outside and spread so much of it and not get to any of the chocolate smeared along. Now, she’s just a little girl, but that’s was a lot of blue, so how thick is that outer covering??? Then a more disturbing thing: when I tried to wash her off, the blue was a stain! What is in those candies????

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sunshine and Shadow

A colleague was in my office this morning, upset over an email she'd received from a student who had misunderstood something said in class. The students' response was totally out of proportion to the level of misunderstanding (and probably reflected more about other things in her life than the misunderstanding in class). In the email, the student called my colleague--a gentle person--a monster and other bad names. As I commiserated with my colleague, I kept thinking that this kind of behavior is so common today, especially when people can write things on a computer, hit "send," and not think anymore about it. Just before my colleague entered my office, I had read of an incident where a woman loaned another woman $20, supposedly for necessities, found out the money was spent another way, and posted a rude comment on Facebook. The argument--public because it continued and escalated on Facebook--ended with one of the women dead, murdered by the other one! So I had the thought in my mind that we live in a world where people connect, but don't really connect, through the digital world. Where unkindness is easier with distance. Shadows.
After my colleague left my office, I turned to my computer screen and opened the next thing in my RSS feed: this SOLS from Ruth: http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/dessert-club-ruths-sols/ Ruth's candid expressions of how hard it is to make relationships that end (in different ways) and then choose to develop more such relationships moved me. My perspective shifted; clouds parted. The world isn't so bleak as it had seemed just moments earlier. Yes, Ruth's relationships with those teenagers were face-to-face. But her influence on me was through the digital world. She gave me a little piece of sunshine to carry around inside today. A much better way to travel the world.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 3: a rain shower deserves a brownie

On my way to work, I got caught outside in a rain shower after an appointment. The shower only lasted about two minutes--essentially the whole time I was running between the building and my car. At first, I thought it would be nothing much. A sprinkle. A few drops. Certainly it wouldn't ruin my hair. I was wrong. After the first few drops, it was like someone tipped a bucket of water on me. I ran to the car and jumped inside. Of course, one swipe of the windshield wipers and the rain stopped. My hair was so wet it was dripping. Great. I went to work, dried and tried to fluff my hair. This is just not a good look for me. When my husband came to pick me up for lunch, he looked at me a moment and said, "I think you need a haircut." Great. When he asked where I wanted to go for lunch, I said, "Kneaders. I need a brownie." So! Doesn't a good soaking and a bad hair day deserve a cream cheese brownie--sweet but not too sweet, chewy, and chocolate? Yes.

March 2 (even though it's March 3)

I wrote this yesterday, but I didn't have access to my blog. Here it is, even though it's posting on 3/3:
On the way to class today I saw a girl with the most unusual hair style I’ve seen in a while, especially in our hallways. I don’t know if I have the words to describe it adequately. On the left side of her head, the hair looked like what I might normally see: dark brown, straight, cut at an angle so that it was chin length in the front and longer—to her shoulders below her ears. But on the left side, the hair was straight up, like a stiff wave. Like the wind had blown it up and by some magical power, it stayed that way. In places the stand-up hair was 8 inches high! The issue for me isn’t the hair; it’s what I’m supposed to do in response to it. Should I stare? Should I look past her as though nothing is unusual? Should I gasp? Does she wear her hair in such an attention-getting way so that I will pay attention? say something? look shocked? Did my (what I considered) sophisticated response (acting like nothing could shock me) ignore her need for attention? Or was it an accident that she hoped would look better and then was glad no one reacted? Did she do it as some sort of social research project: do something weird and see what people do in response? Did I ruin her study? What IS the appropriate response in these situations?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

march 1

We visited some friends we've known for over 20 years last night. The husband recently went through surgery and has been dealing with a long, difficult recovery. We went with hot soup and homemade bread, and sat for a few hours, chatting, reminiscing, catching up. Our friend stayed in his recliner, decked out in a dark blue robe and tucked in with a warm blanket. He seemed in good spirits--and I saw hints of the witty, wise-cracking guy he used to be. Not many, but a few. His wife was as gracious as ever, but she was tired. I could see that caring for him--including some specific care every few hours, night and day, and multiple trips to the ICU and regular hospital rooms and doctors' offices over the last few months--has been wearing. Their home boasts a wide bank of windows that reflect the mountains to the east in the lake below. We sat and talked and watched as the sun set behind us and the city across the lake slowly lit up, like stars on the ground. It was a warm place to be, in so many ways, and made me think about friends and shared experiences and the fragility of living. The light faded from the sky as we watched, and the lights came on as we watched, and there was nothing we could do, any of us, to make it any different.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Before March

I told my students that I would take the Slice of Life challenge encouraged by Two Writing Teachers. I love their blog, by the way. So, tomorrow I start. This is my way of getting into writing every day again. I hope I can do it.