Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Finals

It's that time again- finals week.
For some it's just the end of the quarter. For others it's make it or break it time. For a lot of professors this is a sort of blow-off week. I say this because I have seen a trend over the last five years. That's to say that the final exam isn't used to demonstrate the knowledge one has accumulated over the course of the allotted tim as often as when I was an undergrad.

Maybe this is one of those "when I was a young sprout" stories. Really, I did like it at the end of the semester we had a big test. I'd study my head off and get a great grade.  It was affirming, like a pat on the back and an 'atta girl'. But really, from a curriculum standpoint, a cumulative final exam can help students review what they know and help them to relate that new knowledge to other knowledge so it has a greater chance of sticking.

But teachers in some places, with far too many adjuncts, have a hard time investing themselves for a longer run. A favorite strategy in the English department is to give a take-home final and not even meet the day of the exam. The mandate rule is that you have to meet with your class and engage in meaningful activities for the final exam. But given the pay, the hours, and the lack of oversight, is it really a surprise that sometimes teachers give a final that can be turned in online and be done with it? You can get an extra few days of vacation and planning time that way. It's tempting.

Today I gave the second of three comprehensive finals. It took my class, on average, about 2.5 hours to thoroughly complete and it's mentally taxing. Their hands were tired from writing. I handed out gum and owl stickers to lighten their moods, played classical music, and reminded them every hour to stretch and look around to avoid eye strain. One of my online friends asked why I would do such a thing.  It's a good question. But I promise the answer is not that I enjoy twisting a knife and making my students uncomfortable.

Have you ever done something hard and found out you had more in reserve than you thought? A lot of times our curriculums do not challenge students enough.  When they walked out of that classroom, there was no doubt in their minds that they can write well enough to find success in college. 

This is not the only goal in my teaching life, but it's an important part of why I do what I do.

Now to go grade all the things. Finals is exhausting for more than just the students.

Monday, March 9, 2015

We Need Change at The University of Oklahoma **UPDATE**

**Update is at the end**

Hi Friends:

If you're used to my usual mild discussions and observations about life, you may want to skip this post. Because something happened which touched a nerve for me; dealing with racism is part of my life's work. 

Yesterday, a video went viral showing  fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma chanting a racist chant. I won't link to it, I won't tell you what the words are. But it's not good. It makes me feel a little sick to think of. If you want to see, google SAE or Sigma Alpha Epsilon and University of Oklahoma. The national SAE chapter revoked their membership and the university cut ties with them. But that's all. A quick fix for a national embarrassment. Perhaps this will blow over. 

But I hope that this is where we begin a constructive conversation about race and racism and institutional change. OU doesn't even have a diversity officer. Nor do they have a diverse faculty or staff or student body.

I have been told that letter writing is still a thing and that it's effective in bringing about change. What happened with SAE is not an isolated occurrence. It's part of a systematic problem. But we can we do about it? 
I wrote a letter to President Boren this morning, calling for creation of a Diversity Officer (and office!) at OU. Please write him too. The email address is actionline@ou.edu. There is a diversity enrichment program at OU, but it's really insufficient. 

Strike while the iron is hot; this is our best opportunity to fight back against racism and oppression in the OU community!

Dear President Boren: 
As an alum of the University of Oklahoma (Ph.D., Education, 2011), I have always been proud to call myself a Sooner. My fellow graduates and I always boast of our attendance at the flagship university, an oasis of tolerance and academic excellence in Oklahoma.

But not today. Today I feel ashamed. I felt nauseous when I viewed the SAE video.

I expect better of our campus, our greek life, and the culture at OU. We can do better, and we must.

Here are two suggestions I have.  First, please read the introduction to my dissertation. It details my observations of the systemic racism seen in my classroom at OU which became the impetus for my research topic. The dissertation itself deals with racism and white privilege in the college composition classroom. 

More importantly, I hope that you will open a diversity office with a chief diversity officer to educate students, faculty, and staff about systematic oppression and to attract more diverse employees and students to the institution. The diversity officer should be supported financially and ideologically by the university. 

Punishing one branch of one group is effective for a day. Educating, enlightening, and demanding equality for everyone is preferable if you want to improve a part of the culture. 

The university's home page claims that "OU students benefit from a diverse, vibrant campus and community, and an exciting global heritage". Please remove this mark on our university.
If I can be of service, please do not hesitate to contact me. 

Sincerely, 
Dr. Mindie Dieu
Class of 2005 and 2011

Since I posted this, I have learned that President Boren kicked the SAE off campus. They had until midnight to vacate premises. Their sign was taken down and many of the young men were recorded by local reporters saying how embarrassed they were. Somehow, I just don't think that's enough. 

Football coach Bob Stoops and his players walked off of the field yesterday as a protest, and the group OU Unheard staged a silent protest. I think this has put some pressure on the administration.

President Boren took it a step further. He told Wolf Blitzer that this was not an "isolated incident", but that he can't just expel students for this unless he can prove they have created a hostile environment for others.  You can read the news report here

Additionally, the house mother- who went on with Boren- reported never hearing such things from the students' mouths. Yet the Lost Ogle shows a vine with her....well, maybe you don't want to know what she's singing. This seems to be indicative of a culture of oppression. 

I don't think President Boren is amused or even surprised. The ball is in his court and I look forward to his next actions. I feel a bit hopeful, because once you shed light on the dark parts of things, you can correct the injustice. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Kindness

Today I want to give credit where it is due- to my readers. Thanks for hanging in with me for these last four or five years. I was digging through old blog posts, trying to find a particular one- more on that in a minute- and it made me think about who reads this and just what the hell we all get out of the experience.

Hopefully, I'm showing a bit of my world. This morning, I'm in my heavy red bathrobe, sipping hot coffee and trying to come to life before I go do my weightlifting. I'm in the office portion of the house. The office is part of my dressing room, on the second floor, with no door and just my old dresser and a rack for hanging clothes. And make up, and hair stuff, and a mirror, and a rocking chair that my sister Patti gave me. The heater is on because it's 27 degrees outside. However, it's predicted to get up to about 60 today. First time we've seen 60 since October. If you've read my blog even once, you'll know that I'm not excited about Spring. Oh, it's a lovely season and it's neat to see the world wake up from a long slumber. Except that we didn't have any slumber this year. I'd say we had less than 3 inches of snow in total for the entire year. You might imagine that as someone whose favorite necklace is a snowflake pendant, I want more. We've even gone to visit snow in the mountains. The ski areas up here have had very few operational days, and ski tourism is out all over the state and in Idaho. Boo. *sips coffee*

Back to the world. Our old house is from the turn of the century, around 1900. The owners put in modern carpet and put in new drywall. The original doors are still up and the weird nooks and crannies that go with the architecture of a peaked roof are naturally still in place. Our bedroom has angled ceilings that slope such that we have few places where we can strategically place the bed without banging our heads every time we go to sleep. I love it. The only thing I don't love is the tiny kitchen. We have the upstairs and half of the down. The other half is walled off- along with (probably) the other half of the kitchen! The owners use their half of the bottom as an office. I think besides the drafts in the winter- you can stick fingers through the sliding windows- these are the only downside of the house. It's wonderfully located and the owners are quiet, only showing up a few days a week and never early. With a Starbucks, a pizza place, and a grocery store within 200 meters of the front door and an easy mile walk to work, I couldn't imagine a better place for us for now.

I get up earlier these days, 5, 5:30, 6 ish. Going to bed between 8 and 9 is better for me, even if it's not more fun. I'm more productive in the mornings. I get to go work out if I get up in time, and since I do most of my grading online, I can knock some of it out in the mornings. I like to have a little time alone too, to think and write and read. I do love reading for pleasure. Most of my life follows a routine: wake up, get around, work, teach, work, teach, teach, teach, volunteer hours, grading, home, dinner, sleep. I get the workouts in where I can. I often get a yoga class in once a week, though I try for twice.  Since G and I both work so much, we eat lunch as our big meal and usually just have something light for dinner. On the weekends, it's travel.

My life seems to be missing something, and indeed it is.  I miss my little kitty, Eleanor. I miss her about as much as I thought I would. Her presence was pervasive in my life for almost 19 years. I must have burst into tears a dozen times the first day she was gone. And the second day. On the third day it was less. Now the rawness is gone, but I feel as though I am missing something or someone important, like a low-grade fever. You can ignore it for awhile but eventually you have to get some rest. On Saturday the vet called to say her ashes were back. I hope by saying that here, I get up the guts to go get her.  Nobody has said to me: Eleanor was just a cat. Because DUH, I know that. Nobody has said "get over it". That might be because nobody would say such a thing to my face or even online.

Everyone has been kind. Like really kind. My veterinarian's office sent me a handwritten card. My in-laws sent me flowers and a sweet note. My former student came by with hugs and flowers too. It's just too much to list how many nice things people have said- in text message, Facebook messages, phone calls, and notes.

Thank you. So, so much. When we figure out how and where we will be, G and I will adopt another rescue pet. The Nevada SPCA is where Eleanor came from. I think shelter animals are often the best kind.

Now, if you're still reading this, I'm hoping you can help me out. GR asked a question about a blog where I talk about hunting, and a friend of mine who hunts, and how I reconciled his philosophy with my own. I can't find the damn thing anywhere. I looked at every post between the first one and the time I met G. Zilch. If you run across it, can you alert me in the comments or email me? That would be awesome. Thanks!

My quarter at school is coming to a close. Two more weeks, then a week of relaxation. Ok, planning. Then I'm teaching 4 classes. Two is considered a full load for tenured faculty; three for non tenured.  It's going to be busy. I'm looking forward to it though. I was invited to teach an honors course in academic research; just up my alley. I'm not sure how I'm going to pull this off and retain my sanity. I love to be busy, like really busy.  But my days are already full and I'm not willing to give up sleep or gym time. Sometimes I feel like a juggler with too many balls in the air; every week, some ball will get dropped and I will have to remember to be kind to myself about the whole mess. I will make it through, probably laughing with all the new stuff I learn from students. They think I'm the teacher. Little do they know they are the reason I'm here.

Have a good weekend.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Little Story of a Lady and Her Kitty

I got Eleanor in the 1990s, before some of the nieces and nephews were born.
This is me and Henry and Eleanor. They were litter mates. Henry died at age 10, and Eleanor was happy to be an only cat forever after.

She's always been so bright and inquisitive and incredibly attuned to me. When I don't feel well, she sits with me, sometimes ON me and makes me feel better.


In November we learned that she has cancer. That's ok. I was pretty firm in my conviction that we not try to treat it. Cancer in a young cat is sometimes operable. Two years ago, I asked the vet if she would clean Eleanor's teeth. No- she is too old for anesthesia. What would have happened is that we would have done x-rays to find what kind of cancer it was. Then maybe if she was healthier and younger, an excision or surgery to remove it. Sometimes cats get chemo, though it's much more common in dogs.

Not for us though. I thought maybe if we were lucky, we'd get another month. We got 2 1/2.



Since 2009, Eleanor has had prednisone twice a day to deal with her arthritis. It works fabulously, and she is easy to pill. Unless she's feeling frisky. Then she'll sort of cheek it and spit it out when she thinks you're not looking.  She also has a twice daily oral liquid metrocloprimide to help her pass food from her stomach through her duodenum.  In 2013 we added a thyroid medicine twice daily.

She's always been such a sweet kitty. A little mischievous. She sits in my lap when I type or behind me on the chair. At night she sleeps between my feet. The last few weeks, she's taken to climbing up on my pillow and purring at me to wake me up and feed or give her water in the middle of the night. I don't mind. Sometimes she doesn't want anything except to cuddle and her soft purring is comforting, even if her fuzzy face against mine sometimes keeps me awake. This is also how we get up in the morning, pets and cuddles and purring. Caturday means that G gets in on the act and we drink coffee and pet Eleanor as she sits between us, getting tummy rubs and snuggles. This is, I think, a good life for a cat.


Last night she crawled under the covers with me, like she used to when it was cold outside. When we woke up, she wasn't purring.

On Monday, she started to crash. Renal failure causes a disorientation, dehydration, confusion, and when I see it in her, it causes panic in me. Dr. Val, who owns Mt. Stuart Animal Hospital, gave me a bag of saline to administer to her once a day subcutaneously. Don't freak out; I've done this before. I used to work for a vet, I lived on a farm for a long time, and I'm resolute in giving my little kitty the best care ever. I cried every time I had to poke her with that large gauge needle.

Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, I came home and she was up and around and wanting to go outside in the sunshine. So yes, of course, we did.


We spent about an hour out there, enjoying the sunshine and unbelievably mild February weather. Both times she was exhausted and fell right to sleep on her heating pad.

Last night, I sat on the couch between Eleanor on her heating pad and G, and watched tv. I petted her for a long time and told her the story of her life. I told her about the Nevada SPCA and how we would never have declawed her anyway. I told her about how she used to love to climb as high as she could. I told her about our 4 cross country moves together, and how she tried to pop Gs head the first night he stayed with us. I told her about all of her friends and people who inquire about her on a regular basis and how sometimes she is referred to as Queen Eleanor. And I told her how much she has meant to me these last 18 years and that even though she's ten days from her 19th birthday, I still won't let her drive the car. And she purred quietly to herself while I scratched under her chin. These are old stories and she hears them all the time.

This morning, I held her and cried and cried. Also nothing new this week. I can't keep forcing her to stay alive when it's just for my emotional benefit. She hasn't been eating for awhile. Not really.

G and I took her to Dr. Val. She asked why El was all wet. My eyes may have leaked all over her.  G brought his iPad with him, of all things. I thought "why check your email at a time like this?", but of course I was wrong. He wanted to play her favorite jazz music, by John Coltrane. Val gave Eleanor a strong sedative and I put her on my shoulder like I always do. That's how we hang out, El on my shoulder hugging me.

After awhile, Val came in and give her the final shot of Beuthanasia. I held her the whole time and G was there, and crying too. She's the only cat he's been able to be around for an extended amount of time, since he's so allergic.  Val gave us a few minutes, and as the door shut, I couldn't hold back the sobbing anymore.

This is how I will always remember her, not for the myriad of pictures below but for this: She was the quiet reassurance that I am loved, needed, and valued. The physical comforting presence when I was sad and my little friend to talk to about nothing at all. She never wanted me to leave her alone. She was loved by people who met her, even if she didn't always enjoy strangers.




Pretty sure this is a C paper.


No Papparazzo!

"Grading time is over toots. Time for pets"















Best Pals



The house is too quiet today.

I took the day off, and G went back to work. I'll spend some time cleaning house, since she couldn't control her bladder at the end. And I suspect I will catch myself expecting to see her walk into a room, asking for pets or just wanting to be nearby.

This, then, is the price of loving a pet. As awful as it is to lose her, I would pay twice the emotional toll and be glad just to have had the privilege of knowing such a sweet soul.

We donated a bunch of food to the Kittitas Valley Friends of Animals, and will probably continue to make donations. Perhaps helping other rescue animals will ease the pain of losing mine. I got her when I was so young- hardly an adult- and we grew up together.

She really did rescue me and I couldn't be more grateful.

Good bye, dear friend.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

I drove to Yakima yesterday. It's slower to go down the back road, but much more beautiful. I took a few photos. This is from Yakima Canyon Road.










I also took a little video. Hope you like it!


Today is Valentine's Day. I left G to sleep in and went to work out.  On the way home, I picked up some flowers, fruit, cheese, and chocolate dipped strawberries for our breakfast, along with extra strong coffee. 


In turn, he prepared the food. He made extra strong coffee. That means he brewed the coffee and put the coffee back through with new grounds. I can't stop shaking and I'm typing really fast! 

I made us reservations this evening for our favorite restaurant. As much as I don't like Valentine's day, I do love G and he's a helpless, hopeless romantic.  He got me a cool gift too- new earbuds especially made for exercise.  I keep fearing that I'm going to sweat too much and end up electrocuting myself as I work out. I'd never thought to get good earbuds and that's an incredibly awesome gift. You can't get them in town so he had to order them in. I didn't know about any of this until the UPS guy showed up at our house at almost 7 last night. The package had fallen in between others on the truck and he was on his way out when he saw it. 

Too cool. 

Hope your day is bright and kind and loving and thoughtful. 


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Exodus

This quarter at school, I've had a lighter load than usual. I thought "Oh I'm going to get so much done. So much writing, so much planning, and it's going to be an easy time."

I was wrong. I ended up spending most of my free time on Facebook and having to rush to do my grading. My students and I deserve better from me.

So, I pulled the plug. Just turned it off.

Almost immediately, I got three inquiries from friends and loved ones who were concerned about my health. That made me feel good, but it's not enough for me to turn it back on.

And I feel better. I'm getting more stuff done, like yoga, visiting with friends and attending lectures. And I'm writing more now too.

I've given this two weeks, and week one has been great. I'll let you know how week 2 goes. I may not reactivate the account.

You know, because life.

And now I have more time to.......:

Walk in the park

Feel annoyed that there isn't more snow

Brush my hair

Make breakfast!

Attend concerts (photo by permission from Canadian Brass)

Get mah workout on

And watch this guy Facebook

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Winter Wanes

Eleanor says she's doing just fine, thanks. 
     After our return from the fabulous-ness that is London and Paris, we settled in for the new quarter. In the dead of winter, the sun doesn't rise so early- as late as 7:45 a.m. It goes down early too- 4:30. If you're not careful, it's easy to live in total darkness for about three months of the year- late October through late January. Lots of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for this reason. Imagine this compounded with all the rain in Seattle. We live in a relatively dry area, so the rain doesn't factor in much- but still. Beginning in October, I start reminding my students to remain active and to get some sun on their faces at least fifteen minutes a day. This ensures that their bodies will be able to make enough vitamin D and that psychologically, the smaller amount of daylight isn't as impactful as it could be. I follow that rule too. Is that my job as an English professor? No. Not technically. But I also warn them against coming to class if they are infectious with any weird (or normal) illness and to buckle up when they drive. Yes, I'm your Aunt English Professor. When you live this far north, SAD risk factors are just a fact of life. For those of you sun lovers, you should know that it stays light until 9:30-10 p.m. and the sun comes up at 4-4:30.

     I remembered pretty quickly my strategies from years ago, before I moved to Oklahoma, how to live in a dimly lit place. Judge me all you like, but I love winter and shortened daylight hours is one of the reasons. I get up early these days, between 4:30 and 6, and when I don't have to be at work before 9 a.m., I go to the gym in the mornings. If I don't get there early, I have something to look forward to in the afternoon or early evening. My days are mostly the same; meetings, teaching, answering frantic emails, and grading. Grading takes up a lot of psychic space for me. I have 77 students this quarter and each deserves time and attention. Writing is serious business and can be a huge part of their success in college. I volunteer to teach the beginning writing courses and I do enjoy it. I like knowing that because someone helped a student learn to read and write better- to more critically examine the materials presented to them- they have a better chance of graduating with a degree that means something to them. As a matter of fact, while I'm writing this, I simultaneously have a tab open to grade a homework assignment. In any case, I try to do these things in the morning while I feel energized.

     That's because once it gets dark, I lose my motivation to do...anything. My preferred evening activities are reading on the couch with G on one side and Eleanor on the other, or watching television in the same configuration.  And I'm in bed between 8 and 9. This is also why I love winter: I feel ok just resting. I'm *supposed* to hibernate. I have four favorite jammie bottoms made of soft cotton or flannel, with snowman and snowflake patterns. I just love to put them on and stay home. This is also my favorite strategy for avoiding SAD. You know, because Happy! See? Longer nights means more snuggle time.

     My annual routine for work follows the quarter system now. For the fall quarter, I'm very enthusiastic; I join committees and do research, plot out my lessons for weeks and months in advance, and make sure that I have at least one class of freshmen to welcome on their first day of college. In winter it's more of a settle in and run the race. Slow and steady. It's about routine, getting things done and meeting commitments. This is also when I work out any new materials for classes and invent something for spring quarter. Spring quarter is the hardest. Students and faculty get all squirrely. I don't blame them. March is a difficult month for me and by April with the advent of spring, everyone wants to go outside, feel the sun, go hiking and spring skiing, and relish the warmer weather.  Students mentally check out somewhere in April, and by mid-June when we wrap up, ugh, I'm ready for them to go. No new creative projects really happen for me in spring.

     I think I may be one of only two people who mourns the loss of winter. I think we had our last snow for the year last week.  All of the weather reports are in the 50s this next week. We didn't have any real accumulation this year! If I want to see real snow I have to drive up to the mountain passes. The other person who mourns is, of course, my husband. There's something exciting to waking up to a heavy blanket of snow, or a blizzard, and having to bundle up to go outside. Since we both walk to work, we get to tromp through small drifts and place our feet carefully lest we slip on a patch of wayward ice. This is also how I get my sunlight time every day. G works earlier than I do; he has to be in by 8.  When the sun is sleeping in and going to bed early, he risks never seeing it. So he sits and has lunch by a big picture window where I often join him. It's also a great place to watch the weather outside. Last week, my mother-in-law posted a photo of her trimming a rosebush. In Louisiana, it's in the 60s and 70s right now. The same day, I took a photo of our last snow, hoping it would stick around at least a little while. To tell the truth, though, I think today I'd like to see a little sun. Maybe it is time to think once again about the earth waking up and shooting up a few daffodils and snowdrops.

     With less snow and precipitation this year, that means there is less snow pack to melt off slowly during spring and summer. We're running the risk of another terrible summer fire season. Man, I hate to think of a worse fire season than what we had last year- it was the worst on record in Washington state. The first two summers I was in Ellensburg, I had to stay indoors and take real precautions because of the smoke. It's super bad for my lungs and the first year I caught bronchitis from walking outdoors. Fortunately, this last round with it went away really quickly and I'm back at my usual activity level.

    Oh! I almost forgot: My New Years Resolutions.  I have made a grand effort to be more social this last month. We invited friends over to the house one Friday, invited other friends to watch the ill-fated Superbowl, AND we met another friend out at a restaurant. All in January.  Am I done for the year? As far as my health is concerned, I had some luck last month with my running.  I made five miles in less than an hour- twice. So a pace of 11:15. Not fantastic, and not terrible. I'm happy with it. I also did my mile in ten minutes a couple of times.  I have to do all my running indoors now, and I've added in weights and yoga twice weekly. It's running and walking that really help to clear my head. That's also my best strategy for beating off any winter blues which may come to call. Ok, that and Nutella. If you've never had Nutella, it's a hazelnut-chocolate spread. One of my friends calls it a jar of candy. I say it's not. It's quasi-healthy frosting. Maybe not the best stuff to eat before attending my sister-in-law's wedding in March (can't wait!) but it sure is delicious.

Sigh- so much sun

It's raining through the sunshine

Not sure what's going on with my face. Look at the handsome guy instead, k?


Little bit O'snow 

Our campus has an awesome diversity office!

Don't think I'll ever get tired of this view

See? I had people at my house!

My Seahawks lost! Boo! There's always next year.

How is this winter?!

Barge Hall- the first and original building on campus


Five thirty on a foggy morning

Eleanor