Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I love travel.  I also hate travel.  Do you ever feel this way?

I love to be places and I get excited about experiencing new cultures, sights, history and especially foods.  What I hate is getting there, especially if I am traveling alone.  I don't like flying to be specific.  It's like voluntarily loading onto a flying cattle car, paying to pack ourselves tightly in with germy, snotty, farty humans with no health screening.  And me. I'm the grumpy cat of flying.  I look bored, unamused and ready to bite at a moment's notice. I will too.  Thank goodness for Dramamine- I tend to sleep the entire way.  I was on a plane for 7 hours each way and lost an entire day in traveling.

Driving is a different story.  I love driving, especially across the country.  I love the changing landscapes, the wild open expanses of fields and hills and the bustling cities I zoom around on my way to somewhere else.  I'm all like "out of the way, I have important stuff do to!" and I beep beep my way on into the sunrise.  It's awesome.

I had a presentation proposal accepted for the National Council of Teachers of English this year in Boston, Ma.  I love doing teaching presentations, and I really love doing the national ones. It's a great way to meet people and talk about teaching English. At NCTE I get to reconnect with my old grad school friends and this year, both of my dissertation advisers.  My friend Kimberly Stormer let me crash at her hotel because I was poorly funded by my university this year.
At Boston Common

We took almost all of our classes together in doctor college, wrote our general exams together and have remained pretty good friends through the years.  I appreciate her for her wit and silliness and also for her passionate care of students who need to learn to read and write in order to have a chance at success in life.  She's pretty awesome.

I got to hang out with Cathy and Jackie too. I'm sure you know all about my friend Cathy- she and Charlotte pretty much threw my wedding.  She read a Shakespearean sonnet at my wedding and currently lives in our house in Oklahoma.  She picked the house out for me in 2005.  I started planting an orchard in 2006. She brought me six apples from the trees. Four made it home.  What a kind gesture!
Here we are at a pub having dinner.  The bouncer- a huge man with a handlebar mustache- waxed philosophical about the virtues of teachers in a thick Boston accent. 

Jackie (On left) is seven months pregnant- what an adventurous soul! She teaches Social Studies with Cathy and they did a presentation on cross-curriculum collaboration.  It was us four for the most part all through the conference.  

My advisers, Baines and Angelotti, have always been close to me.  Baines was Kimberly and mys copresenter (along with Anthony Kunkel) and he came up with the proposal.
Me and Baines

Me and Angelotti. He's my academic dad.
It wasn't all work and no play though.  There were dinners and a trip with my amigas to Little Italy in Boston to see Paul Revere's house, to eat at Legal Seafood and to visit Mike's Pastries.  Mike's was packed but we managed to find one of the 6 tables in the joint.  Next to us was an older man with a raincoat and hat, placidly eating a pastry and watching the tourists.  He found out we were English teachers and recited Shakespearean sonnets- including the one Cathy read at my wedding- from memory.  I sort of felling love with him on the spot and told him that's what Cathy had read.  When we left, I thanked him and he shook my hand and told me to tell my husband that he has excellent taste. It was a little surreal, but hey, Boston right? 

There were other sights: 
Flying into JFK on my first flight 

Decorations outside of Hynds Convention Center

I love NWP!

Jackie, Cathy and Johanna presenting

Boston Public Library

Close up of Trinity Church


Paul Revere's House

Boston Terriers in Boston

George Washington wearing a Red Sox jersey


A tree in Boston Common

And a Willow

The Frog Pond

Library statue

Trinity Chapel 

These are all doors at Trinity 

Trinity from afar

A seeker of knowledge outside of the Library 

I think this is Franklin's grave

John Hancock's grave

Paul Revere's grave.  He's a big deal.

I can't remember the name of this church. 

I got to see Temple Grandin speak at the conference.  I video'd the first 8 minutes and put it up on Youtube.  She has Asperger's Syndrome and is so brilliant. I was blown away.  She may not have social graces but she is an engaging, enlightening and hilarious public speaker.  Here is the link. Sorry for the poor quality, but it's my iphone. And I was excited!

I made it home just fine; left the hotel at 3:30 a.m. and got into Seattle at 1 p.m. local time- so 4 p.m. Boston time. I slept on the plane a lot.  I was freezing on my last flight. I put on my hat, coat and scarf and was still shivering. But I was being quiet and trying to sleep.  We were in the exit row, and the middle seat was the only one not taken on the plane.  The man sitting opposite me obviously took pity on me.  He called over the flight attendant and quietly asked her (presumably so I wouldn't hear) to turn up the heat so that I didn't freeze to death.  She did and it got much better.  He's a good example of what a small kindness can do for someone's soul.

I'm glad to be home with G and Eleanor.  I guess they got along nicely, though I was told of an...incident. G was sleeping when he suddenly had a dream of dogs biting his chin.  He woke to a small kitty gently but firmly pressing her claws into his chin to get him to wake up.  I guess it was time to snuggle/play/eat/wake up!  In any case, I think that was the worst consequence.  We are off tomorrow for adventures in Thanksgiving.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thank You For Sharing

I have published this elsewhere, but thought I'd share it on my blog for a wider audience.  I wrote it a little over a month ago.

I took a group of students on a field trip today. It’s fun when you can take college sophomores and juniors on a trip. They appreciate it so much and seem to take pleasure in the idea that as far as their youth is concerned, one or two more field trips for the purpose of education can still be in the cards.  I love it.
We went to a wind farm, up to the education center.  Had a tour, viewed the Ed Center and ate some lunch.  Then we got to go to a turbine and even go inside.  It kicked ass.  It was cold, but not as cold as I had expected.  It was heavy jacket weather. Lunch was catered and as they were paninis, I took along a panini grill and cooked for everyone.  It was a nice way to serve my students. They are an affable group, interested in knowledge and silliness and learning to write better.
We took several opportunities to stop and write in the moment.  The urgency and energy of writing when you’re there is one which comes across authentically later, is detectable months after the writing and activity are over.  Of course, we have to share, warts and all.  There’s something I always ask my students to do when they share their writing together.  At the end of the reading- out loud, of course- I ask them to simply say “Thank You For Sharing.”
I do this for several reasons. The most obvious is affirmation that someone took an emotional risk and shared their writing and a part of their soul with another.  To be vulnerable takes trust, to build trust takes risk and affirmation.
I have another reason, and her name is Diane.
Dr. Diane Holt- Reynolds to be exact. It hurts a little to say her name.
I met Dr. Holt-Reynolds in the Fall of 2002 as I was beginning a master’s program in English Education and she became my advisor.  I’d never been to graduate school before. I had no idea what to expect. No preconceived notions, nothing. Nobody I knew had ever been to graduate school. Nobody I knew did these sorts of things. That’s why I needed a mentor.  She was a calm soul, one I always picture by the ocean, clear blue skies and thin white clouds in the background and happy waves dancing at her feet. She had short, dark, curly hair and mischievous eyes, and a smile that put people at ease. My first class with her and a bunch of other first year students began with a bit of arrogance.  How hard could it be to learn to teach English? I already knew the stuff, right?
Heh.  Diane said “Let’s just close the door and admit that we don’t know everything about grammar.”  Yeah right. I did an internal eye roll.  Then she gave us a test. Every single student failed. Except for one guy- and the rest of us decided right away that we didn’t like him. Then she taught us to teach grammar. I wanted to be like her- a gentle soul bent on helping others be better at what they do.
It took me three weeks to realize that she was left-handed because her right hand didn’t exist.  She had had a prosthetic hand since she was a kid; her right arm developed to the elbow but that was it.  It did not seem to impede her in any way and my admiration for her grew even more. We went on writing marathons and Writing Project outings and conferences.  Everyone knew Diane and liked her immensely.  When we shared our writing, she asked us to say “Thank you, for sharing.”  So we did. No explanation, just a request.  One did not wonder why.
At the same time, I was in the throes of a nasty divorce and suddenly needed a job.  I might have to drop out to find work but I didn’t want to leave my program. She gave me a graduate assistantship and I worked for her for six months until she died.
Diane had a recurrence of ovarian cancer. It came on fast and hit hard.  I went to doctors and hospitals with her and a cadre of concerned friends. They shaved her legs and we brought cake and drew funny chicken pictures on blown up hospital gloves.  She did her best to help people around her.
One day she asked that I call the Social Security office for her.  I gave her ID number and they asked why I called.  ”Ovarian Cancer”, she said. I repeated it.
“What stage?” I relayed the question.
“Stage four.” I told the disembodied voice on the other end.  She drew in her breath.
“Terminal, then.”  I drew in a quick breath myself.  That’s when I realized she was going to die.  And there was nothing I could do. She opened her library to me and I selected a few books. She insisted I take “A Perfect Storm”, so I did. Couldn’t bring myself to read it.
And I couldn’t, and she did. But I did attend her memorial, with chocolate cake (and chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles) and strong coffee. After losing the ability to digest food, and between the delirium of morphine and the agony of cancer spreading unchecked through her body, Diane advised me to find the joy in all I do and to never eat a meal unattended. Before she died, the department established a scholarship in her name and she was thrilled.  I was the first recipient, and perhaps the proudest. I finished my master’s, taught for awhile, finished a doctorate and here I am.
Today, eleven years later, in bright sunshine of a visitor’s center, amidst two stories of clean glass, roaring wind and the bright faces of students and colleagues, we prodded our imaginations and wrote our stories.  My students took that risk with me, to write something authentic and to show that vulnerable side of themselves, and in the echo of their words I can almost hear her voice and the waves of the ocean.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Million Little Things

Oh My Gosh, do I have a problem.

It may not seem like much but I have to stop drinking coffee. Like altogether.  I figured this out two weeks ago.  My body has bee intensely disinterested in working with me on getting food in and not being sick. I tried lots of medicines, including an antidepressant since there is seretonin in the gut and the doctor thought it would help.  It helped a little, I admit. My husband also reports that I am less cranky and less bubbly when I take it.  But after a month or so, the benefits dwindled and I have been back to potatoes and rice and bland things for awhile.  What other possible irritant could I possibly give up?

*Groan* I wish I hadn't asked.

So what the heck. I have stopped drinking coffee, except for one cup a day.  I split that into two half cups, or rather two half-caff cups.  I've started drinking loads of tea, which not only helps but keeps me hydrated.  I've had muscle tension, headaches, pain, crankiness and days where I feel like I'm going to pass out from fatigue.  In coming off of my addiction, I've had this fogginess about me, like the world is moving faster than I can keep up with.

Pretty severe addiction, huh?

I have been drinking coffee since I was 11.  That's 29 years. About 20 of those years have been about 2 pots a day.  Not cups, pots.  I've stuck with it through ulcers and a year of this colitis business.  Wanna see me without coffee?
Not Pretty
Wanna see my new haircut (with coffee)? 
The good news is that I am so much improved. It's like I stopped drinking poison, and I am so sad.  
On the bright side, I can eat dairy again.  DAIRY! I thought that was gone forever. I'm going to eat ice cream and stuff and cheese.  Yeah. 

In other news, I took a group of students up to Leavenworth, Washington for a trip to Icicle Creek Performing Arts Center.  Lovely people, and we got to eat lunch at a pretty swanky restaurant called Kingfisher.  Some people in the group wanted to hike; others wanted to go shopping in Leavenworth. Nobody wanted to leave each other so we hung out around the grounds and climbed up hills for a bit.  I snapped a few photos: 

Icicle Sculpture

Icicle Creek

See the ruby in her mouth? 

I love that 12 students who only met a few weeks ago are so attached to each other that they don't want to part.  We all headed into town as a group and shopped together, only splitting up for about half an hour.  It's the sweetest thing I've ever seen a class do. 

The other really neat thing is that I have a writing mentor for the class and a co-teacher. (Ah, the beauty of grants!) My writing mentor, Jamie, is a wonderful budding teacher and her kids came to see us off the morning for the trip. Megan and Dylan are practically class members anyway, since they sometimes attend class or help out in one way or anther. Kyle, one of the students in the class, was taking his dog so he was driving up separately.  He didn't say anything but smuggled Megan and Dylan up to the lodge.  Cool as could be, both Megan and Dylan did our writing assignments with us and participated like everyone else.  I loved the way the whole day went down. I am a lucky, lucky teacher.  

My other English classes are going well too.  In one assignment, my students were to summarize an article that they chose. Preferably something interesting, academic and in their field of study.  The student above was talking about a peer-reviewed article from the Library database on orgasm in contemporary romance novels.  She said she couldn't help but have fun with the title.  I took a picture and put it up on Facebook. Can't help it.
On the 21st, I'm heading off to Boston to present at the National Council of Teachers of English conference. I'll connect with my Oklahoma teacher friends and attend seminars and probably get a good look at Boston.  I like it there, but it'll be cold in November! I may have to stay inside a nice, warm museum or something...

Wish me luck- pretty soon I'm going to wean off of caffeine altogether, forever.  For some reason that looms over me like a cartoon monster.  On the other hand- ice cream.