Sunday, January 27, 2013


I've been so excited to see Grey in our church's Reader's Theater.  It's part that he has a lovely theatrical presence and partly because one of his readings is absolutely ridiculous and he has to deliver it with a straight face.  It's James Thurber's "The Last Flower".  It's filled with pathos and has an icky part where a youthful man finds pleasure in touching a young girl. I always crack up when he reads that part.  It's not meant to sound the way it does to my ears, and Grey has sworn to not look at me when he does the reading because he cracks up too.  Here is an excerpt that I stole from Wikipedia:

"Once again a dictator comes on the scene with his lackeys.
They demonstrate their brutality and begin the war.
The works of mankind are destroyed.
And no-one wants to live any longer with the exception of a flower.
This flower awakes in the girl and the man a joy in living again."

Almost nonsensical if you take it out context.  And it's not really fair that I did.  Too bad. If you want to get a sense of the anti-war message (which is what it's really about), go read it for yourself.   It's much better to follow the link and read it set to cartoons. 

However, I don't get to see this performance. 

I had an asthma attack from hell

I don't normally talk about it much, but I do have moderate to severe asthma.  I have inhalers out the wazoo and I have written about it here, so not much else needs to be said.  I had a rough time when we moved to Ellensburg because of the crazy wildfires.  It got better and the air cleared. I am down to just two inhalers. One is for daily prevention. The other is for rescue. 

Lately, we have had a stagnant air warning.  One that I ignored roundly and kept going to the gym.  And walking outside. And doing anything I damn well stubbornly want.  And today, as I got ready to go see my husband in a performance, I had a (pardon the language) bitcheroo of an asthma attack.  Ten minutes, four inhaler puffs and the worst coughing fit in the last six months later, I was on the couch unable to stop shaking long enough to go.  Even if I could, I can't go outside in the freezing air since it will induce coughing and more bronchial spasms.  

Just for today, just for a few hours, I'm going to sit here and pout. 

We are going to have a family (hopefully sooner rather than later) and what happens if I can't go to soccer games or recitals or on family outings because I can't breathe?  It just sucks. Asthma makes me suck wind and drink hot coffee (ever wonder why I drink so much? Helps with asthma too). 

I bet Grey did a great job. I bet it was a lovely reading with lots of messages about peace and social justice.  I just wish I had been there. 

"Once again a dictator comes on the scene with his lackeys. 
The demonstrate their brutality and begin the war." 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Teaching Writing Theory

It's Still Cold
I am having more fun than I thought in teaching my Writing Theory class.  Great group of grad students from a mix of disciplines. Smart, listening, reading and writing and critically thinking students.  More than you could hope for. 

My friend V is going to Skype with us next week. She's going to talk about language and recorded and digitized archives and cultural property and who owns what and where these types of artifacts should be kept and curated.  It's very exciting and I'm lucky to know someone who knows a lot about language and linguistics- which are both part of teaching writing. Hopefully, the week after that, my friend K will Skype with us too.  She has unique and extremely productive methods of teaching writing to at-risk kids.  Her students have passed their end of year writing tests with an average rate of 100%.  So yeah, effective.  And fun.  Ask her sometime about "salmagundi". 

This class has been productive too.  In and around talking about chapters from the theory book, we are also discussing relevant articles from Kinneavey, Vygotsky, Csikszentmihalyi, Bruner, Parker Palmer (yay!) and one of my favorite teaching writing mentors, Baines.  Sometimes we go off-book too.  Everyone knows that this happens in seminar and that usually it's a good thing.  I'm glad my students take the initiative in this. 

Yesterday, we talked about possible topics for a research article we are writing for the class.  I wrote with my students like a good writing teacher should, and came up with several papers I'd like to write:
How can I incorporate more writing center into my classroom? What are some "out of the box" techniques I have used as a writing teacher?
How can I incorporate more visual rhetoric into my teaching of writing?
What happens when I offend my students?
What do I do when my students are underprepared for the rigors of college or writing?
How can I design an awesome curriculum to meet department objectives?
Who are my students? How do I find that out?
How much is too much to share with students?
How can I encourage more creative and engaging "flow" activities with my students?
How can I engage freshman writers?
How can I get freshmen to care about writing?
How can I get graduate students to care about teaching writing?

Good topics, right?

Yeah, my students blew those out of the water.

I won't share their topics publicly because it would feel like a betrayal, and besides, their stories are not mine to tell. 

But they are good.  Really good. 

As we discussed approaches to these topics, I realized the ten minutes I had grudgingly devoted to topic selection discussion was woefully inadequate.  Besides, these people were "in the zone", and the creativity was rather palpable in the air. Carpe Diem- we would talk about the chapters another day.

I have also noticed a spark in my own creative process.  I wrote a short article detailing my five favorite books on teaching writing and sent it off for publication.  That's pretty cool.  I feel most alive and most effective when I learn and do while teaching and doing.

It's been a good week.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Teaching Who We Are

I'm teaching a graduate course on Writing Theory.  We read and talk about theoretical issues in teaching writing as well as in education.  I'm trying to frame a bigger political picture sometimes.

Let's face it: As a teacher, I am either aware of my place in the institution and system and I use that to my advantage to work on behalf of my students who deserve a good education, or I stay in lala land, pretending this has nothing to do with me and become a cog in the wheel.  Being a cog is pretty much what administrators and politicians want, even if they wouldn't articulate it that way.

Do I look like I'm kidding? 
So, in and around the important discussions of culture in education, constructivist theory, cognition and the writing process in general, I have been hearing rumblings of how much or how little a teacher should invest themselves or reveal themselves to students.  It comes out a little sideways, but what I hear (and maybe I am wrong) is that these teachers are uncomfortable with being personal with their students.

Enter Parker Palmer and "The Courage to Teach".  I think I'll hand out his first chapter this week.  It talks about how we teach who we are and what social presentation of the self means.  I will use myself as an example.

I love teaching and I am good at it.  I am not always successful and sometimes I really miss the mark.  You'd be crazy or disengaged to think that every single time you enter a classroom, something magic happens.

My best teaching days are filled with students who are engaged. I start with a story, something engaging about teaching in prison or growing up on the rocky hillsides and rolling hills of Dayton, Washington.  I tell stories about music or dumpster diving or camping on the Tucannon or visiting my great grandparents in their little ramshackle house way out in the boondocks, with light coming through the cracks in the boards and the water pump in the kitchen sink.  Out back was the privy and a big old tree that my grandma and her siblings walked over when it was little so that it grew sideways.  It still stands that way today, even though the house is gone and an RV park has been erected in its place.

These stories are me and the original details, the energy I put into telling them is pretty apparent.  My students can tell when I don't care about an assignment, so I tend to only give assignments I like.

We teach who we are, and I am a better teacher because I am doing something I love and believe in with everything I have.  Enough to give meaningful assignments, enough to hold students accountable for their work, and enough to know everyone's names and something about them.  I could always tell when a teacher or professor really shouldn't have been in this business, and I can sometimes tell who is fulfilling a potential that perhaps they never knew they had.

However, when I'm having a bad day, personally, they likely will not know.  My teaching persona is something I don like a mask or a costume.  It begins with my clothing and make up, continues with my lesson plan and doesn't come off until my pretty shoes get kicked into the closet at the end of the day.  Even on my crappiest days, I wouldn't trade this for the world.

Now, that doesn't solve the problem of "how much is too much?" or "how little is too little?" when sharing with students.

The answer to that question is "it depends".

Ok, this is just here b/c he's cute 
The answer is always "it depends" because I can't tell you all of the answers.

It just does.  I can't tell someone what to say in front of a class, how to inspire or to spark imagination or the willingness to explore in writing that authentic self, which is where a lot of great writing comes from.  I can offer advice on this one point: You will want to know your own heart and your own identity as a teacher.  You might consider doing that development as a teacher as a writer and as a human before you offer your skills and guidance as an English teacher (or any other teacher) to your students.  And if you don't care about student learning or about your students in general, then perhaps it would be best to do something else.

At some point you'll develop the tools to figure out situations as they present themselves.  That's why we have teaching theories.  They emerge from teaching practices. Teaching theories are the collective wisdom of many, many teachers over time.  We become aware of these theories, we apply the ones that work best for us and discard the rest.  And sometimes we contribute to these theories ourselves as we pass them on to others.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Epic Fail!

I love teaching online. Right now, I'm teaching online for two different universities.  For my "real" in-person job, I have just one online class.

The other is a few thousand miles away, but I have been with them for three years and I love it and don't want to give it up.  And they like what I do too.

One of the perks of online teaching is online office hours.  I set up a time with my students for a Blackboard Collaborate session.  Great, right? I could do it from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 to 9:30 and then go into work. Bonus: It's warmer after 9 a.m. up North. I even got some extra one-on-one training for the collaborate sessions.

Of course, it went up in smoke.  I created the session, but my Mac won't open it for me.  I'm not sure why.  It just keeps barfing and timing out.

So I opened Skype and am patiently waiting for someone- anyone- to drop in.  Any day now...

Not a great first experiment, but not a complete waste. I'm revising an article I wrote yesterday on teaching writing theory.

Have a great day!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Norovirus, Oscars and Snoqualmie Pass

I lived
So last Saturday night I got sick. Really sick. Like "Oh my God, which underlord from the depths of hell did I piss off" sort of sick.  The sort of sick that comes out everywhere.  Sounds and other things came forth from my mouth that I have never heard before.  It sounded something like "HOOOOOLAAAA RAAAAALPHHH OHHHHHH" and was punctuated rather uh, chunkily.  I thought it was food poisoning, but it lasted, and lasted.  And lasted.  Three days before I could get to work and the rest of the week feeling pretty yucky.  Tired, a small fever and cough.  Fatigue and body aches.  All I lived on for days was Gatorade and eventually, pretzels.  Most likely, I had Norovirus.

Poor Grey took care of me.  We busted out the good air mattress and put it downstairs in the living room for my sick command center.  I just couldn't make it up and down the stairs.

And I lived through it and got to go back to the gym two days ago.  Yes!

Just so you know, those three days when I couldn't eat anything count as my vegan days.  Suck it.


But we still had two other vegan days this week.  Our only real dairy products are occasional cheese and yogurt.  Sometimes it's fro-yo.  We had frozen yogurt last night, even though it was under 20 degrees fahrenheit. Don't worry, I drink lots of warm liquids to keep the cold out of my gullet.

Even thought it's freezing-ass cold, Snoqualmie Pass, at 3022 feet (921 m) is still quite operable.  This year has only had one avalanche, and that was controlled.  The pass has 24 hour cameras and is updated every five minutes so one never has to wonder if driving over is going to be treacherous.  That's not something we ever thought about when I was a kid (read pre-internet stone age).  Imagine that you are sitting in a warm comfy bed with your hands out in front of you.  The bed is Washington.  Seattle is in your left hand, that Ellensburg is in your right.  In between the two is a quilt strung over your knees.  You have to drive over the top of the knees to get from one point to the other.

Grey took off for Seattle today, while I went to the UU Church.  It's difficult for him, especially this time of year, to get to see the movies he really wants before the Oscars.  Now that they have been announced, it looks like he won't get to see Amour before the awards show.  Zero Dark Thirty just came to town on Friday.  It's got to be depressing to live not only in a small town after living in Tulsa for so long, but also to have a stark absence of arthouse theaters like the Circle Cinema to go to for all the fun films that don't get a wide release.  So while the pass is clear and the day is bright, he took our little car and made a run for it.  I like films but I don't love them the same way he does. And you know, sometimes a guy just needs to go pursue his hobby.

While the cat's away..
Our car, Silver, is pretty reliable.  Grey takes very good care of her/him.  We aren't sure whether Silver is male or female so we use those pronouns interchangeably.  He'll get there and back without any problems.  Anyway, since he is off to enjoy himself, I am at home, snacking on whatever I want, sampling Gew├╝rztraminer and writing.  And reading and doing whatever I want.  It's kinda nice.  Oh, and at church, one of the ladies told me she liked my hair and that I must be the sort of girl that women warned their sons about.  Thinking about my big plans for this afternoon- laundry and writing and maybe catching up my online classes- I doubt if anyone has much to fear from me.  Unless they are a student.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ho Ho Butt Oil and Other Stuff

In my current physical environment, I have to be careful.  Every twenty or so steps I take, I like to touch something metal.  If I don't, the resulting *zap* when I touch another person, cat, refrigerator or other electricity conductor could leave a mark and the audible pop is terrifying.  I got a huge shock from the bathroom door one morning.  It was cold, and there is snow on the ground.  And it was early, like 6:30.  I was walking along in my fuzzy slippers, taking my first delicious sips of hot coffee. Thinking about a shower. Thinking about the things I needed to do that day.  Thinking about the yummy homemade oatmeal my husband was making.  I reach for the door and an electric arc jumps from my right ring finger to the doorknob. Yowza!  I jumped, screamed, stepped on the cat's tale and scared Grey in one fell swoop.  I did not, however, spill my coffee.  Let's not be silly.

It's dry here. The air is. The ground has a bunch of snow, in various stages of creation and decomposition.  But the air is so dry that I've considered a humidifier for our bedroom. It's been causing me problems since we moved here in September. I've been fighting it ever since.  Ok, maybe not fighting, but seriously getting peeved about it.

My nose gets stuffy a little easier.  More stuff floating on the breeze. Except that there is no real breeze. Maybe that's the real reason.  In any case, it's important to irrigate your schnozz once in awhile if you live here.  Netti pots and squeezy bottles are easy to come by.  Every once in awhile, Grey will snore gently and I know it's because the climate is much drier. 

My hair sometimes looks like a high school science project with weak electrostatic interactions at the center of the discussion. Unless it's wet, it reaches for and clings to anything that is close by.  When I got a haircut in late September how to keep it from frizzing out so much. 
"Yeah, your hair is kinda angry" She said.
"Angry? I mean, it's red and all but..."
"No, I mean Angry."
"It's frizzy and split all over the place."
"What do I do?"
"You could try, like, conditioning it."
"I do that.  Deep condition once a week, moisture shampoo and minimize blowdrying."
"Oh." She had to think a little bit. "You could try some serum. Like anti-frizz stuff until your hair calms down.  Something with jojoba oil."

Ok, so we went to the Farmer's market and bought some fruity stick-in-your-hair and be kind to the earth granola-style hair serum. It made my hair oily and gross. Grey thought it was funny.
"Ho ho butt oil? I love it!"

Thanks for having my back, buddy. 
I finally found a groove for hair and retaining moisture: I wash my hair every other day and put in a water-based anti-frizz before I blow dry.  It seems to help, though my hairs are all limp sometimes. 

My skin hasn't fared any better.  I have crazy skin anyway.  I had occasional cystic acne until about two years ago, and even though I did everything I could- including two rounds of the oral Retin-A treatments which is awful on the body- I just couldn't shake it.  Then it just cleared up.  I had talked to my doctor about wrinkles, aging, sunlight and hydration and in Oklahoma, she and I decided that really, I should just drink a bunch of water because the rest wasn't a big deal.  Wash my face in the shower and usually before bed.

Not so here.  I have done some research and had to make a few purchases to sort of make my face look fresher than a piece of mummy wrapping.  I mean seriously- I've got large pores, dry spots and kind of this overall tired look lately.  I have to take STEPS to ensure I look fresh as a daisy. And it's exhausting.

1. Wash face twice daily.  The first is Ivory soap and water.  The second is  the same, but thrice a week, I also use an exfoliating scrub. 
2. Apply toner.  I use Noxzema pads because they are easy and no mess.
3. In the morning I use a daily moisturizer with spf 15.  In the evening I use a nighttime heavy moisturizer. 
4. I have a special moisturing foundation now too.  It's called BB Magic Cream something or other. 

For my other non-face skin, I have crazy dry spots.  I can spend a morning itching like crazy or I can remember after every single shower (including a quick rinse off after the gym) to apply a shea butter Vaseline or Jergens type lotion all over.  If I don't get the balls of my feet, my heels and everything between that and my chin, bad shit happens and I have a painful day of feeling like my skin is going to split open.  My hands tend to crack and bleed at the knuckles if I don't do it.  I also use a moisturizing liquidy soap stuff in addition to regular soap. 

All of this is very uncomfortable.  Part of me thinks there is a mistake. I'm too young to even think about this stuff.  I'm still an 11-year-old tomboy, climbing in the branches of a Chinese flower-blooming cherry tree on Penny Creek Road in Quilcene.  Any minute now, my sisters are going to call me inside to introduce me to the wonderful world of breast binding bras. I'd rather turn my attention to going to the gym (which is going great) or finding and eating healthy vegan recipes twice a week (also going great). 

There is an upside to all of this hoopla about hair and skin and moisture. I'm not shocking myself as much.  Can't say the same for the man or the cat. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Love and Hate Part 2

I don't want to finish my syllabi.  I mean, I love the classes but hate all that work at the beginning of the quarter- which begins on Thursday.  So as Grey makes us some salad for dinner (more on that in a minute), I'm going to mirror what my MIL wrote on her blog earlier today.  She wrote about the things she loves and hates about January.

We are very different people- We are about a foot apart in height; she has lovely dark hair and I have red, and she's a lover of heat and many things related to the South.  I am most definitely a Northerner and seek cold, and I love everything from the architecture here to the distinct lack of reptilian, flying and biting things that exist in those nether regions.

Despite that, she and I both (I think) have warm hearts and a fondness for family.  We both keep blogs and adore people named Cavitt.  And we are both funny, though most of her humor is actually funny and Grey often makes that "I'm fake laughing but you're not really funny" face when I make jokes.  It's not funny if I have to explain my joke more than once.  Sigh. I get a lot of pity laughter.

Glorious Snow and Mountains and Stuff
Ok, top ten things I love about January:

1. Snow. Beautiful, clean, happy, snuggly snow
2. Skiing. Downhill or cross country, I don't care
3. Warm houses
4. Snuggly pets
5. Snuggly husband
6. Sweaters/sweats/slippers
7. Warm scarves
8. Fireplaces
9. Card games
10. Yummy holiday treats

Pennance: Gym Attendance
And the top ten things I hate about January:

1. Weight gain
2. Walking around barefoot
3. Cold feet in bed (not naming names, but his initials are G.R.E.Y.)
4. Too lazy to go outside
5. Fear of my clothes being too tight
6. Wet socks
7. Wet shoes in the house
8. Poor insulation
9. Lack of my favorite fresh fruits
10. Dark days and nights

So there you have it. I'm not sure I really hate that the days are so short right now, but it does make me sleepy earlier.  Last week in the evening, about 8:30, Grey asked me what I wanted to do that night.  I suggested we take a nap before bed.

Unfortunately, I am good at baking things.  I whipped up three batches of fudge for the holidays and hundreds of cookies.  I ate a lot of them.  And now, I have stopped.  Maybe it is counterintuitive to have a season where I don't watch so closely what I eat. It's part of a cycle for me.  I tend to weigh more in the winter and less in the summer.  So I guess that's why this concept appears on both of my lists.  Of course, the difference isn't awfully noticeable; it's maybe 5 pounds.

So yes, Grey has taken our dietary decisions in hand. Primarily, I come up with ideas and he does actual stuff.  When I say "I'd like to eat vegan twice a week", I can hold to that but it will usually mean I'm eating Snickers bars and raw cauliflower that day with some fruit juice.  And wine is vegan too. Maybe some chips? For Grey it's the creation of a brand new yummy, low-fat hummus with lots of olives and cumin and veggies and pita for dipping.  Waaay better. Still, if you have a main course recipe you'd like to share that's vegan and yummy, let me know.  It's salad night, but not vegan night tonight.  I'm going to have some cheese on my salad to celebrate.

Happy January!