Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Put the finishing touches on developing the last two weeks of class (there was more to do than I figured). Next on the agenda: pumpkin and sweet potato pies!

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Tuesday Too

1.) What's the longest time you've gone without posting an entry in your blog/journal? What was or is the reason behind your dry spell?

One week. When I got started, I knew I would be pressed for time on occasion, so I figured I would try to post at least once per week. I have generally exceeded that. If there is a dry spell, it is because I am too busy with other work; semester end and semester beginning are typically hectic. Also, when I am away and computer access (or more accurately, cable modem access) is difficult, then I don't post much.

2.) Are you "going over the river and through the woods" for thanksgiving, or is the gang coming to your place? Perhaps you have something to be particularly thankful for this year. What is it?

Yes - over the river and through the woods is an apt description. We are going to my sister's for Thanksgiving (she lives on the other side of the Hudson River, and in the Catskill Mountains). I am thankful for many important things (like health and family), but in the array of less important things, my increased teaching and advisement responsibilities are among them. I like my job, and I feel at home on campus.

3.) All those bumper stickers that say, "I'd rather be...", what does yours say?

I don't think much of bumper stickers, but at the moment mine would say, " sleeping!" I guess because I had a bad night, my sinuses are driving me crazy (it seems that although I am rarely sick, if I do catch something, it is near a holiday!).

Monday, November 25, 2002

I made two apple pies over the weekend. I can bake fairly well, and I was (relatively) pleased with the outcome. Apple pie is one of my signatures; family and friends now expect me to produce at least one for all holidays. I always feel connected to my grandmother when I bake. Mixing the pie crust, rolling it out, sensing if it needs a bit more water or flour, getting the end result to be perfect...these tasks call images of Mimmie, and the remarks she made, to mind. When I asked her to describe her occupation, as part of an interview for my college class on aging, she responded with a laugh, "I don't want to say jack of all trades and master of none," before settling on "cook."

Mimmie was especially fond of sweets. As a newlywed in 1926, she started writing recipes in a spiral-bound notebook. On the cover is taped an illustration of a kitchen by Maxwell Mays that looks much like Mimmie's at the old house, where she lived before moving to a small mobile home next door to my brother's house, during the later years of her life. Assembling my pies on Saturday, I realize that my kitchen is also reminiscent of hers; although there is no wringer washing machine, and my range uses natural gas instead of propane and wood, the 1940s are still visible in my enamel-topped table, chrome hardware, tile walls, and lack of automatic dishwasher.

Mimmie was precise in everything. Just today I received a note in the mail from my aunt, Mimmie's oldest daughter, about a dinner she hosted a few weekends ago. She writes that it was great to have us over, and she would like to do it again. "I'll try to make something better, I think the mashed potatoes were dry." This makes me smile, because the meal was delicious, and her words remind me of Mimmie. Then, I see she added: "I sound like Mimmie, but it's true," and my smile becomes a chuckle.

The stained pages inside Mimmie's old cookbook are written in fountain pen and long ago started to crumble. That notebook begins with a recipe for Irish Wedding Cake. My sister recently returned from a trip to Ireland. All of Mimmie's grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1840s or '50s. She never visited there; in fact, she rarely strayed from the Catskill Mountain region of upstate New York, and she even preferred staying at home to going out locally. But that didn't prevent her from being fiercely proud of her heritage. My sister brought back some stones from Counties Cork and Kerry. After Thanksgiving we plan to go to the cemetery, to share with Mimmie those mementos from her ancestral place.

Friday, November 22, 2002

I noticed on AOL's welcome screen, one of the changing main photos/headlines reads "On This Day in 1963...where were you?" The story is about President Kennedy's assassination. I can't remember where I was, since I was only a little more than two years old at that time. Sometimes we kind of remember things from when we were tiny not from the actual experience, but because someone has told us the story and it becomes familiar. I don't recall my mother or father telling me what I was doing, either.

What is a coincidence is that last night I was thinking of JFK. He was really only the subject of a passing thought, and it wasn't because I remembered the anniversary of his death was today. I had straightened up the porch once again, in an effort to make a renewed commitment to using the treadmill. I started thinking about physical education class, or as we called it, "gym." I hated gym in school. That hatred resulted in a lifelong disdain for most sports, whether as a participant or spectator, live or televised. (I don't like other types of games, either.) I don't read that section of the paper or listen to that part of the news. I'm ignorant on the subject, and I'm fine with that. More troublesome is a distaste for exercise, which I now struggle to overcome. Oh, I don't mind swimming, but I don't want to go to some sort of facility with others to do it. And I like walking, but it has to be productive in some other way than simply improving health. It has to be alternative transportation, in other words. Even the treadmill in the semi-privacy of the front porch is an adversary.

I think given the chance, I might have been an OK athlete; some members of my family have considerable talent, and I respect them for that. My hatred started early, and it isn't one of those memories that someone else told me. I don't think I told my parents about the things that happened in gym, anyway. Those were still the days when school authority was respected. My first grade gym teacher treated me all right. I mean, I wasn't singled out as an athlete or a wimp. Average is often a good place to be. She was extremely mean to some of the boys, though. She even hit a few with a whiffle ball bat, right in front of the class. I don't know if corporal punishment was allowed then, or if she was breaking the rules. I don't remember why she did this, I'm sure they were being brats, but I know it wasn't an isolated instance and it was awful. She only lasted a year.

Because I wasn't the target, though, I think that experience isn't really to blame for my aversion to athletics. It may have set the stage, but it took root during Grades 2 - 6, when I had the same teacher every year. He hated me. Or at least that's what I believed, I doubt he gave our relationship that much energy. But he did single me out for public abuse regularly. Unlike Ms. Whiffle Ball Bat, he never raised a hand to a kid, at least not when I was a witness. He may not have had to resort to such tactics, since he was especially good at verbal humiliation. He seemed to like the competitive, athletically skilled kids, which were many of the boys and some of the girls.

I vaguely remember, the first year in his class, that another girl and I didn't participate very much in whatever game the class was playing. In elementary school, that usually meant dodgeball, or the equally vicious war. I don't know why this happened, if we claimed we didn't feel well, or were tagged out almost immediately by our more aggressive classmates and so sat out much of the game or what. I'm sure I wasn't a really good player; I've always been careful and tried to avoid injury, so I wasn't the type to slide into home or jump really high to get the ball. I didn't care that much about winning. So that could be what started it.

Already I had been labeled a loser, which meant never being chosen as team captain by the teacher, and being picked last, or second to last, or on a really good day, third to last for a team, even by kids who acted nice to me at other times. I wasn't exactly a popular kid at any time, but I did have a couple of friends, and as a top performing, quiet and well-behaved student I was generally liked by the teacher. That year my new gym teacher threatened to send us both to the nurse's office for gym class because he insisted there was something wrong with us, and he said he was going to give us the grade "M" for "medical" on our report cards instead of real grades. He never carried through on either, and instead we passed the class. Could they retain a straight A second grader for failing phys ed, I wonder?

When I was older, we occasionally did something other than play dodgeball in the gymnasium. I remember being outside on the athletic field, and when the class was nearly over, the teacher telling us to run as fast as we could back to the school. I think it was getting near to one of the holiday breaks, and he said he was going to give us each a lollipop when we got there. I liked candy as much as any kid (still do), and I tried to run fast. True to his word, he handed lollipops out to all of my classmates. When he got to me, he said I couldn't have one because I ran too slowly. You know, it has been over thirty years, and I still feel the sting as I write that.

Just two years ago, I was at a luncheon meeting of school counselors, and I was seated at a table with a man who was recently retired from the high school I attended. I was not one of his students, and he didn't remember me, but he knew my elementary school, and he mentioned that he still socializes with my long-retired nemesis. I nearly choked on the spring mix salad with mandarin oranges and raspberry viniagrette dressing (a conference standard) at the mention of the name.

When I finally got to high school, for the most part I had more competent physical education teachers, and we played much better sports, but the wimp label was not easily shed, my hatred for gym remained, and I certainly didn't transform into the teacher's pet. I remember the annual physical fitness test, which I think had something to do with national or State standards. There were timed squat thrusts and push ups and jumping jacks, and the gym teacher marching around like a drill sergeant. I learned that President Kennedy was to blame for my torture. (Did you wonder when I was going to get to the part about JFK?)

Sometimes changes in physical education curriculum are discussed in academe, or the media, although probably less than reforms in other subjects. The focus is usually the cruelty of the games played, the unfair methods of choosing teams, and the damage to self-esteem. I've had students who believe such changes to be ludicrous, arguing that learning to deal with competition is healthy or a fact of life. Whenever I mention the dreaded dodgeball game, or my gym aversion to my classes I am sure to get a laugh. A lot of people do identify with it, it seems. I don't tell it like a tear-jerker, and I omit the medical and lollipop days. Leaving aside the being labeled a loser problem, I argue that gym class could have taught me something valuable about physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle, but it didn't. Nor do I see much impact now; there are too many kids laying on couches, plugged into television programs or game systems, eating fast food and drinking soda.

However, there is something important I did gain. I was lucky to like, and achieve, in the academic and creative parts of learning. Whatever social difficulties there were in school (and there were many, but they will keep for another time), I felt comfortable in math, social studies, English, art, etc. That feeling of being at home in education is one reason people pursue advanced degrees, and a career somewhere in the academy. The gym experience was unacceptable, but at least it was isolated. Now, when I am teaching classes full of future teachers, I try to impart that there are kids who feel that way about all classes, and at all times in school. I want to make sure the losers get an occasional lollipop, too.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

The Troy Record has a columnist, John Gray, who is a really excellent writer. Yesterday he wrote a touching piece about the recent death of his mother from ALS. Unfortunately, the newspaper's website isn't great, and John Gray's columns aren't online. A couple of years ago we were subscribers, but we cancelled due to commuting; there was little time, so the papers built up, unread. I may subscribe to the Record again, if only because of his columns, and also because of a really funny feature they have called "Sound Off." It is a phone number, where readers can call in and leave a thirty-second message that might get in the paper. The results are often hysterical. Sound Off is one thing that they do post online.

On another local newspaper front, my letter was in the Independent. Unfortunately, the letters to the editor are not online. They titled it, "Has questions about our stories." It reads well. They put the "Dr." in front of my name. I always feel a little funny about that, but I have to admit it felt good to see it there. In a lot of ways, the novelty will never wear off. Sometimes I think it is pretentious or tacky to wave around the PhD, but then I remember the years and years it took to get it. I call it by the euphimism "a pleasant memory," because that's the way so much of life, when it works out, is. (When it doesn't, that's another story.)

How could I forget the many nights I was in class until after 10 p.m., then walking on campus after dark, with my trusty pepper spray in hand? Or how tired I was on so many of those days, working full-time and being a student? Rushing to leave the office on time so I could catch the bus from downtown to the campus, and walking, often in the snow or rain, the long distance from the road to the academic buildings, dodging cars, mud, and patches of ice, wearing a suit, dragging my heavy bookbag, my feet wet and freezing, trying not to be late to class again. Struggling to budget enough money to buy the books. Spending endless nights in the PC lab, before I had my own computer, wishing I had the money for a second-hand 286. "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and if watches were turnips, I would wear one by my side."

Resisting the urge every semester to fill out paperwork for a leave of absence. Missing important events, dinners out, entire television seasons, movies, pleasure reading, creative writing, other hobbies, and beloved sleep to finish a paper. The day, after a night with minimal sleep and a morning spent frantically switching between putting the finishing touches on my final project for class and on a slideshow for work, when I was staffing an academic conference for my job that was being held at a hotel across the street from campus. I had to slip out and run to class to deliver my project in time to make the deadline, and then return to the hotel to resume my duties and all-important dinner-time shmoozing. Realizing that the only way to avoid "ABD" was to take the risk of resigning from my job and returning to full-time school. And I could never forget the endless re-writing and re-analysis involved in completing a dissertation. Yes, I most definitely earned that salutation. Sometimes I just need to remind myself.

I had a little time, so I tinkered a bit with the Annie McSpirit Handmade Soap webpage, and with the Gully Brook Press website.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Plagiarism is the topic in this Chronicle of Higher Education article. And for a change, no subscription is needed to read this one.

Fourteen percent. That seems about right, I think. The vast majority of college students that I encounter are wonderful; they are bright, interested and interesting, and they make genuine effort. Sure, not every single one is brilliant (though certainly some are), there are skill issues and, of course, a lot of time spent having non-academic fun. But that's an important part of the process; guiding students in improving their skills, helping them to think, assess, interact, organize and present.

On the other hand, for that 14%, I suspect they do not share the idea that learning is important, that the process should be respected and what is discovered is intrinsically valuable. Getting the degree, a perceived ticket to lucrative employment, is the only goal pursued regardless of the cost, unless that involves making an honest effort to learn the material. The rules don't matter. Not all of these students cheat, I guess. Some go through the motions to do the work, but they refuse to be impacted by the experience. And I suppose some cheaters probably do respect learning in a way, but feel pressured to go for the highest grade in the easiest way possible. There is also a tiny minority of students who question the rules and the process. They challange the values of academe. Some are cunning and some are in earnest. These are in separate categories all together. Finally, the bright, serious, majority of students often do have a degree, and employment, as their goal; but they also appreciate that the path that leads the way contains many charms.

This is Picabo when she was a foal (or is that Peekaboo? Not sure. She was born shortly after those Olympics). But isn't this one of the cutest things you've ever seen?

This is a day when my writing met my dreams.

Officer David Lim wrote me a note today, thanking me for my story about his partner Sirius, the only dog to die 9/11, and letting me know that I captured his thoughts on that day. Here is an April post on the subject, and here is another. Here is the Port Authority website with tributes to Sirius. Wow! It was so nice to hear from him, and it is such a wonderful compliment about one of my most heartfelt, and saddest, essays. So, thank you, Officer Lim.

I forgot to pick up a copy of the Independent today, to see if my letter to the editor is in the latest issue.

On the teaching front - just three more classes to go - I felt like my head would explode after tonight's content. It was on policy and assessment - two of my specialties. Sometimes I feel like I need to decompress. Luckily, an hour or so of television draining my brain, coupled with adding leftover Halloween candy to my waist, and I returned to normal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Tuesday Too

1.) Chad has been writing/talking about alternative forms of government. What's your take on a "new government?"

I think it would take someone much more astute than me, or for that matter than anyone currently on the scene, to think up something better than the form of government we have now.

2.) The last Harry Potter film ignited a "whirlwind of controversy." What's your opinion; is Harry Potter dangerous to children?

Honestly, I have never been a bit interested in stories like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. Magic, wizardry and all that's related leaves me bored. I don't think you could have paid me when I was a kid to read something on the subject, regardless of popularity or acclaim. And a movie made from such a book would be nothing short of torture. But do I think they are dangerous? No, I think it is dangerous to censor literature. Do I think they should be required reading? No, I think it is wrong to force feed content.

3.) What do you think of this ("What would Jesus drive?")?

I think Jesus would probably still walk. And I think a more important question could be, "HOW would Jesus drive?" But I think it is a worthy idea anyway. I believe having a personal commitment to being environmentally responsible is important. We should be caring guardians of this place we temporarily inhabit. I know organic gardening is pretty close to a religious experience! Of course, I don't drive. And sadly, when I ride in a car, I feel much, much safer in a bigger vehicle because of (1) the abundance of self-righteous road ragers and (2) the preponderance of SUVs, vans, and trucks on the road.

Monday, November 18, 2002

We got a significant (for November) snowfall. Very heavy and icy, and it did accumulate a couple of inches. I kind of forget exactly what winter is like during the rest of the year! It is a winter wonderland outside, all bright and crisp and clean. Rudy loves snow. He bolts out the kitchen door, dives and rolls on his back in the yard. Since the yard is sloped, he slides quite a distance that way. It looks like he is swimming upside down!

Today I received a call from the Editor of the Independent, a newspaper in East Greenbush. They are going to publish a note I wrote to them about boycotting Target as a result of the Defreest-Church House demolition. I didn't write much besides the idea in the letter to the editor, so here are a few more thoughts. While it's true the town government and the developer need wake-up calls, it's great to be an activist, and it's nice to feel sad and all, the only way other debacles like this will be avoided is if good folks who care about preserving history vote with their wallets.

I do not believe another big box store full of plastic pre-garbage is worth the sacrifice of the Defreest-Church House or its trees. Nobody needs to shop there. Not far away, K-Mart is struggling to keep its doors open. I know, it's kind of hard to cry over the demise of an older chain that destroyed Main Streets everywhere, but let's not create one more boarded up, decaying big box in our quest to buy things destined for landfills. So if you must have that sort of stuff, go to K-Mart instead! You could throw a stone from where the Defreest-Church House once stood and hit the vacant box that was Grand Union. If a Target store is so vital to the economy of East Greenbush, why couldn't they renovate that space?

I also mentioned an article about increasing library services for the Town of Schodack. I thought the reporter was out-of-line for describing the Castleton Library Director's demeanor when she made comments in support of increasing services within our town (rather than funding another town's library so that we can use it) at a recent town board meeting. The presentation skills and glibness of other quoted speakers (all of whom happened to be on the opposite side from the director) were not mentioned. Then, an informal poll was conducted on election day about this issue, which the town supervisor said had been "intentionally derailed" and was "of no value to the town." I took the time to participate, the ballot box was jammed with ballots...seems to me some elaboration on just what this means is required. An interesting note is that the outside library being supported is in East Greenbush. I didn't make this connection in my letter, but I certainly don't want my Schodack tax money going into the coffers of a town that favors a throw-away big box culture over brick and mortar history!

And by the way, I don't mean just avoiding the future East Greenbush Target. I mean all Target stores.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Thursday, November 14, 2002

I am pleased to announce the launching of the Annie McSpirit Handmade Soap website. Why not stop in and browse, maybe do a little holiday shopping? You won't be disappointed (in the soap; my webpage design will not win awards).

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Tuesday Too (on Wednesday)

1.) Is there something you find fascinating/interesting that you'd like to share (oh so 70's)?

Fascinating? Interesting? How about outrageous? Don't shop at Target. See this post and this one, below. Everytime I hear their annoying commercial play on the television, I get mad all over again. A bunch of plastic crap that will eventually wind up in a landfill (and sooner rather than later). Makes me want to puke.

2.) What's your latest accomplishment/achievement? I know, I know you got up this morning, but what else?

I am so busy keeping up with my classes and student advisement that I can't get to this 'til Wednesday. Hmmm...I have been making tiny, but incremental progress on an article idea I developed a while ago.

3.) What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?

How about: I'll least two? more books published, and they will not be about educational issues. I'll have least a few more articles and essays published also. I'll still be teaching, but I'll be writing much more, teaching a bit less.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

A bittersweet day for me. An immaculate historic Greek Revival house wasn't worth saving. And my oldest (met the first day of kindergarten) and still dearest friend Anne - moved from our hometown of West Shokan to the Buffalo suburbs the summer before we entered high school - finally gets email.

Here's a link to the Defreest family home page, where there is more information about the house. It was demolished today. I will never shop at Target. (Not that I ever have, but now I have a really good reason).

Stacks of journals and many bytes of essays, from my in-person and online classes, respectively, await.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Tuesday Too

1.) When was the last time you really had fun? What were you doing? Are you someone who can have fun alone?

I'm having a hard time answering the first question. My initial reaction is that I have fun a lot, but when pressed to select the last time I am drawing a blank! Some possibilities: on Sunday we worked out in the yard, putting dead plants in the composter. The air was clean and crisp, and it was fun. Friday night I went to the movies with Bob & nephew Tom; we saw "Punch Drunk Love." The movie was very good, not at all a comedy; going to the movies is usually fun. Saturday we took the dogs for a long walk around the village; that was fun. Sunday night I read a book, Henry and Clara, until the wee hours; that was fun. Yes, of course, I can have fun alone, and often do.

2.) Are you going to vote today, and do you know the major differences between the candidates? Does the balance in the senate and the house figure into your choice?

I always vote, and I certainly will today. I am reasonably well-informed, and I know the differences between most of the candidates, I think; of course, many have tried to do their best to package their image to such a degree that it can be hard to tell what, if anything, they represent. No, the balance of Congress does not figure into my choices; it never does. In the first place, I always vote for individuals, not parties. I also think third parties are perfectly OK, and I believe the only throw-away vote is not voting at all. Second, in New York we are not having a Senate contest, and in the House race, my representative is a long-time incumbent, and the race is not considered competitive.

3.) Is there something extraordinary going on that you've failed to notice?

Hmm! Well, this is a strange question. I think "I don't know" is the only possible choice here. How can the answer be yes or no? Because a yes answer means you have noticed - and a no answer means you haven't...?

Monday, November 04, 2002

There were two interesting articles in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education. I won't bother linking to the individual articles because it is a subscription site and the two articles aren't part of the free content. One focused on adjuncts at Western Michigan University getting the right to earn tenure, and the other on students' fighting college academic and disciplinary actions with litigation.

I think I must be part fish. Now that the heat has been on for a couple of weeks, I am beginning to have trouble with my sinuses. I have a huge 5 gallon per day humidifier, as well as two smaller ones in other places in the house, and gas/hot water baseboard heat - and still I feel pressure in my face. The crisp outside air helps, when I remember to take a break from the PC. I can't imagine what it would be like without the humidifiers, and with forced hot air heat.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Well, we had only 25 kids come for Halloween this year. That's a lot of leftover candy.

Thanks to David for this wonderful photo!!:

Bob is calling it "Rudy and his friends go out trick-or-treating."