Friday, December 30, 2005

Today I was reading the Olive Press, and I came across this editorial. This sentence really set me off: "Secondly, the Middle School model — which we could only eschew completely knowing that it would then set our students apart from a shared national and state experience — suggests that mid-grade students learn best when in their own school, yet with access to the sports and classroom facilities of junior and senior high schoolers."

What? So I couldn't resist, and I fired off another letter to the editor on the subject. It is similar to what I wrote here, with a few changes and deletions. I sure hope it doesn't cause some jerk to attack me - although I doubt this issue is of as much interest as the large parcel.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

It was really bugging me, so I kept at it and got it to work. The little I remember from that HTML course I took years ago (in the days when I knew something about computers, before Microsoft absorbed everything) does come in handy sometimes.
Trying this one more time.
I think the problem with comments probably has to do with my using an old template. I don't get error messages when I republish, but I suspect that is what is going on. It would take too much time for me to switch to a new one, so I guess when I feel like devoting the energy to it, I will find another commenting system to use.
I made the switch yesterday but for some reason the comment link doesn't appear. Great, since I already deleted the YACCS code. I had tried to change once before a while ago, and it didn't work then, either. I thought maybe I had to get rid of YACCS, which is why I deleted it this time. How irritating Blogger can be, I just don't have the patience to fool around with this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I decided to switch to Blogger comments from YACCS. Not that it makes a big difference since I don't get many comments, but I have been told that a lot of the time the comment link didn't work, and that has been my experience, too.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Finished my grading yesterday with 6 hours to spare, and now I am reading neither my campus nor my online class email account until Tuesday. (So if I have to justify, or made a mistake, it will have to wait.)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

In the recent Olive Press, I read this article, which (as usual) irritated me. (What's with the snarky remark from unidentified Woodstock and West Hurley parents and teachers that any "attempt to close Bennett School would see Olive voters ganging up on us again"?) It said that school board discussions on this issue have not been well-attended. Well, I can't routinely go to board meetings (and I am taxed without representation anyway), but I have some thoughts on the issues addressed by the article.

It alarmed me to read in the article "Combined with strong suggestions from the state and federal government that all school districts institute some form of separate Middle School facility, big changes are afoot." I am aware that special education students at the junior high were below State accountability standards (if memory serves, for two years in a row?) because they failed to make adequate progress in mathematics and English, but it surprises me that the solution to this would be establishing a separate middle school?

Onteora is already a very well-funded district. It seems to me that the creation of a middle school is a very expensive 1960s solution to the education of pre-teens and young teens, even if it is in response to declining enrollment at the elementary schools. If research is any indictor, it is also an approach that is not likely to work.

A newer idea is moving to a K-8 model. Aside from the obvious advantage of leaving grades 7 and 8 in a more nurturing, closer to home neighborhood school, it also would solve the problem of decreasing enrollments in the elementary buildings, and it would eliminate the disruption and annoyance that would no doubt be caused by shifting students and closing schools.

So I emailed the board my concerns, with this brief literature review attached:

The idea of special middle schools to serve adolescents became popular in the 1960s. Schools vary in how they define a middle student, but generally the middle grades can include grades 5 through 8. Although there is no exact definition, middle schools usually serve students in either grades 5 or 6 through grade 8. Some districts have junior high schools instead of middle schools. Junior high school most often focuses on grades 7 and 8.

The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development published Turning Points (Report of the Task Force on Education and Youth Adolescents, New York) in 1989, which highlighted the importance of children's transition during the middle grades. It has sparked debate and additional research on the middle school years, including Great Transitions: Preparing Adolescents for a New Century (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, New York, 1995). These publications and other research pointed out that the organization and curriculum of middle and junior high schools are often inconsistent with students' intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal needs. For many young people, this change means leaving the neighborhood elementary school to be thrust into a much larger, possibly more impersonal environment some distance from home.

The Carnegie Council concluded that the middle school curriculum does not encourage critical, complex thinking. They advocated the creation of learning teams, a core academic curriculum, the elimination of tracking (sorting students according to their ability level into homogeneous classes, rather than placing them in classes containing a mixture of ability levels), and the hiring of teachers who have been specifically trained to teach in the middle grades. In 1998, the Center for Collaborative Education in Boston (CCE) began to develop a school reform design that would be based on the research and work of the preceding nine years. In 1999 the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants to seven organizations to develop models of school reform. This support, along with funding from private foundations, meant research continued on the issue. In Turning Points 2000 (Teacher's College Press, New York, 2000), Anthony Jackson and Gayle Davis examined the progress being made and the experiences of middle school teachers and administrators. Turning Points 2000 builds on the original Turning Points, with added emphasis on improving curriculum, assessment, and instruction.

The Turning Points model includes seven points for middle-grades school reform: rigorous standards and curriculum, equitable and excellent instruction, preparation and support of expert teachers, schools organized into small units and instructional teams, democratic governance, a healthy learning environment, and schools linked with parents and communities. According to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, in 2005, 71 schools in 13 states (California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin) were implementing the Turning Points model.
According to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle School Reform, in Illinois, there was a rise in student achievement and fewer student behavior problems, and in Massachusetts’ middle schools, the Turning Points schools had gains in the Massachusetts Educational Assessment Program.

According to the RAND corporation (Rand Education, Problems and Promise of the American Middle School, Rand Research Brief, Santa Monica, California, 2004), in spite of these reform efforts, middle schools continue to have challenges. The transitions required by a separate middle school may cause problems that affect students’ development and academic achievement. RAND recommends that states and school districts consider alternatives to the 6-8 structure.

According to Education World (Sharon Cromwell, K-8 Schools: An Idea for the New Millenium?, 1999) Colorado Education Commissioner William Moloney reported that adding two grades to K-6 schools is less costly than building new middle schools, and in Higley, Arizona, a growing town near Phoenix, the school board decided to build five new K-8 schools rather than elementary and middle or junior high schools. A school board member stated that it makes sense to keep adolescents in the elementary school setting. School officials reported that older students in K-8 schools are less likely to be influenced by negative peer pressure than they are in middle schools and junior high schools.

According to Programs and Practices in K-8 Schools: Do They Meet the Educational Needs of Young Adolescents? (C. Kenneth McEwin, Thomas S. Dickinson, and Michael G. Jacobson, National Middle School Association, Westerville, Ohio, 2004), Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Memphis, Tennessee; Baltimore, Maryland and Milwaukee, Wisconsin have plans to transition students from middle schools to K-8 schools. According to the author, there is no data available yet on whether young students in K-8 schools perform better than they do in middle schools.

On a different topic...two vet visits in just over a week. First, Sam was acting very subdued, his little ears were all back - he didn't want to play, or chase Edna, or annoy Sophie, or eat! All checked out fine, and he bounced back. I guess he ate too much, too fast, and he had a stomach ache; he is a very sensitive puppy. Then today we had to take Sophie to the vet, because she has blood in her urine. She seems OK, and I have antibiotics, as well as a pill to make her pee more acid. I wouldn't be so worried if this wasn't how Rudy's troubles started, almost a year ago. So have a good thought for Sophie.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I got through class last night and it went OK. I am relieved the class is over, but I can't get the student who died off my mind. He was one of the students who waited after class to shake my hand and introduce himself on the first day. He was the only student to choose to write on the more difficult question about John Locke on the midterm (the majority chose the easier questions that were drawn from the text book). He made a cute cover page with color pictures of John Locke for the paper. I know all the students in class remember him because before Thanksgiving he gave a very heartfelt presentation about his football injury from high school.

For the first time in a long time I was nervous about teaching as I walked to class last night. I started class by having a moment of silence in his memory. Then I gave them a handout I made with contact information and hours for university counseling services and a peer counseling hotline run by students, the religious organization on campus, the university police department and the local psychiatric center. I gave them the information about the memorial service so they could attend. I encouraged them to seek help for this or any other pressure they may have. I told them to approach professors if they are having trouble or need extensions etc. I told them I understood completely what they are going through because I had a friend who killed himself in college. And I gave them some personal advice, of the "what seems to be important now will not be all that important in a year or five years or twenty years" and "getting a C is not the end of the world" and "hindsight is 20-20; it is easy to look back and think that you should have noticed he was depressed and maybe you could have helped, but the truth is it probably would not have changed anything, and even if it could have, there was no way you could have read his mind" and "take care of yourself during finals, get rest and be sure to eat." I shared a positive story about the student and his excellent midterm. I also told them that if at any point they want to talk to someone they can always call or email me, even down the road.

Then I asked them if they wanted to share anything. Three or four students did. One was his dorm neighbor, and two worked with him in group. All shared positive anecdotes. Several others were silent but had teary eyes.

Wednesday night we saw the musical Chicago at Proctor's in Schenectady. I had been looking forward to it for a long time, and then that day I was concerned because I was preoccupied. But in the end, it was a good diversion, and the show was great.

In other news, we are having the first major snow storm of the season.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I found out today that one of the students in my 100-level class committed suicide in his dorm yesterday. He was a first year student, and seemed like a very nice young man. He was also doing perfectly well in my class. We have our last class tomorrow, and I have to find some way to address the incident. How awful, to think that is the only way he knew how to deal with whatever pressures he was under.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I feel like I have been on a dry spell about what to write here for the past six months.

Every so often I check my referrer logs, and it seems that the four most popular queries that land people here are "Bungalow Houses," "Battle of Saratoga," "Handmade Soap," and "Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg." Bungalow searches are definitely the most common. If I was market savvy, I would figure out something to sell related to that (apparently my booklet isn't that appealing, since all these hits don't translate to sales. Not that I am complaining about that, it is barely worth the effort to produce one for the price I charge).

Only just over a week and my classes are done. Then it will be time to tackle a mountain of evaluations. I am going to be teaching a lot next semester - five courses! I am really going to need January to get ready for Spring.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

It snowed here, and this morning looks more like Christmas than Thanksgiving. We arrived in Samsonville about 1 a.m. just as the first flakes were falling. I hope it snowed in heaven too, just for Mr. Wuj.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I've been thinking lately about whether keeping an ejournal is worthwhile. I've been at this 3 1/2 years now, and in terms of writing something occasionally (my original goal was once per week) it definitely has kept me at it, so that is good. When I kept a paper (or word processored) journal, I often had very long gaps where I abandoned it. But sometimes when I look back on the types of things I wrote before I posted entries on the Internet, I think that I used to write much more creatively. I don't know whether increased education makes for a more competent, but less inventive and passionate writer, or if the public nature of posting here is smothering.

Then, this has nothing to do with my personal posting, but when I surf around in the "blogosphere" (how I hate all the jargon associated with blogging), aside from my small handful of regular reads, I am so turned off. Too many people are nasty, petty, ignorant, clueless...I could go on and on. Sometimes some truly stupid thing that someone has shared, on a blog or in the comments of a blog bothers me afterwards. What is it about electronic communication that makes some people so ugly? I've written this before here, but it always makes me think of the movie Peggy Sue Got Married, where she says to the high school beatnik, "try to write something beautiful."

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I've been meaning to share a little story here about the holiday. When I was a kid - I'm not sure how old I was, I'd say in one of the upper grades of elementary school, my father was in Florida visiting family and the rest of us were going to spend the day at my grandmother's. I would say grandparents', but I am not sure whether it was before or after 1971, when my grandfather died. My mother was doing a lot of the cooking, but we were going to eat at Mimmie's.

There was a huge snowstorm, and although it was only a few miles away, we couldn't drive there. I'll never forget what Ma said to us; it was "get your boots on." So we did, and then we loaded everything into a sled, and walked from our house to Mimmie's, pulling the sled full of food behind us. When I returned to school, nearly everyone besides me who was eating elsewhere for Thanksgiving shared stories of meals consisting of hotdogs, and whatever else was handy in the freezer because they couldn't go out.

Tonight it is going to snow; it will be the first significant snowfall of the season (and I will be thinking of Rudy, and his love for the white stuff). I wonder if there will be a repeat of that long ago Thanksgiving for a lot of folks? But I guess not, the abundance of four-wheel drive vehicles makes it unlikely.

I should be doing something else right now - and I am off to do it. (That's make apple pie!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Last night, I watched the Donner Party on American Experience. It seriously creeped me out. I always vaguely knew about the tragedy, but not that much. I could barely sleep last night! I looked on the web to try to answer some questions it raised, but didn't find much to satisfy me, in spite of a couple of good (and strangely sympathetic) websites on the topic. I guess it is too long ago to have really concrete information. Anyway, despite the ick factor, I do think that subjects such as this should be covered more in school. Instead, time is wasted memorizing Greek and Roman gods, because supposedly, kids love that material. I know I didn't, if anything, I had zero interest in it. Then there was the metric system. Not that it is useless or anything - I remember the elaborate justifications about how we would all have to know it - oh, I forgot. It did turn to out be useless for all us non-natural scientists. Today, I have a feeling Harry Potter is one of those waste of time subjects that kids are supposed to love.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Friday, November 18, 2005

I haven't had much inspiration about what to write here lately. I've been sad about Rudy, and busy with the semester's demands. I could write about Sam, I suppose, but I haven't had much to say about him, either. He's very cute. He's growing, but not that much. He is well-behaved, except when it comes to food (he is brutal). He now has free run of the house when we are not at home, and the "girls" are surviving.

But then the Albany Student Press hands me a topic, complete with whipped cream and a cherry. Yesterday, I was killing a little time as my class worked on a group discussion, and so I picked up the student newspaper. It is only the second time I have read it this semester. It is not a lot different than our paper was when I was an undergraduate, mostly poorly edited, with many articles about doing shots of booze, obscure music, events on campus, student government, and a sprinkling of not well-informed local, state and national politics. Anyway, it struck me as a little strange that there were a few copies of the prior week's edition in the rack, so I picked up both issues.

In last week's issue, I read this story and this editorial. Then, in this week's issue, I noticed this. (In the print edition, there were three other related things: a letter to the editor from the group criticized in the original editorial that pointed out the plagiarism, a brief, front page box that mentioned the mistake, and another more generic editorial, but none of these are online.) Here is the story in the Capital District Business Review from which it is plagiarized. (Sorry, you may have to register to read it, but it is a free site.)

I don't know what happened to the student who pulled this stunt - they don't say in the paper, and I guess it would be a violation of his privacy to reveal the outcome, but there are no stories by that author in the new issue. (I hope he was kicked out of school. Imagine! Not just a student, but a would-be journalist. And we wonder why the New York Times has been embroiled in scandals? Now about the editor - shouldn't he be removed from that position? I mean, did he even bother to review a front page story?) The response from the ASP seems rather weak to me. There isn't even a note on the electronic version of the original story. And there is nothing at all offered in terms of an apology (I realize that there is no way to explain) from the author in the most recent edition.

During class, I was shaking my head. Several of the students were aware of the scandal. I remarked, "and students wonder why I am so stern on this subject every semester?" What an embarrassment this incident was for the university!!

Monday, November 14, 2005

After not doing enough work during September and half of October, I have been insanely busy, trying to catch up. I still have a lot of things to grade, but the amount doesn't seem overwhelming and I will have some time off for Thanksgiving, so I am taking a bit of a breather today. I find I have nothing to say here, though.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

We had 28 trick-or-treaters last night, from about 5 until 8:30. That's the fewest ever, but seems to be many more than most people get. I guess kids don't go out for Halloween as much any more. It could be that people are so health conscious, candy is a no-no (although what seems to be a huge number of fat kids flies in the face of that logic), or all the attention on the dangers of going out diminish the activity. There are a lot of alternatives that are encouraged instead, such as going to the mall or a party. Then, Bob says people buy kids whatever they want now so maybe getting candy isn't a big deal any more. Our local Halloween party at the firehouse was on Saturday this year, so that probably cut down on going out for the actual day. Usually that party brings out a ton of kids, and since we live close to the firehouse, they all go to the nearby houses before and after the party.

Sam was neutered yesterday. I have never seen a dog carry on so bad from that procedure. When Bob picked him up, he ran over, crying, and wrapped his little paws around Bob's leg. He had to pet him for the entire drive home. Once Sam was home, he climbed on my lap, whimpering. When I tried to get up after a while, he started to cry again. He had to be touching one of us for the whole evening. It made answering the door for the trick-or-treaters quite a challenge! His little ears were back, and he didn't wag his tail. We both felt like crying. He is better this morning. Not quite as active as usual, and occasionally he whines but overall he is on the mend. Poor puppy. I am not sure if he is a super sensitive dog, or if getting surgery at the shelter is rough treatment.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Update: I downloaded the new pictures, here is one of Sam.

I finally found my camera and so I took a few more pictures of Sam today. As soon as I download them, I will post one or a few here. I also looked through some albums, trying to find a couple of pictures of Rudy when he was a puppy. It struck me that Sam's pictures will all be digital! Anyway, I found what I was looking for, and here are two of Mr. Wuj when he was a baby, and a favorite from his grown up days. His looks changed quite a bit when he became an adult, especially his face. I wonder if the same thing will happen to Sam? There is also a picture of Howie, and one of Penny. I scanned them all because I am using them to illustrate a story I wrote as a tribute to Rudy. Eventually I will link it to Gully Brook Press.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rudy's stone came today. I knew that's what it was as soon as I saw the Federal Express ground truck drive up. Heard the porch door open and then slam shut. Peeked out of the curtain on the door and saw the box sitting there. Lifted the small box and felt how heavy it was. Cleared away the shipping peanuts and bubble wrap. But still, I wasn't prepared to see what it says. This weekend we will put it on his grave. I have a feeling I will never be completely prepared to go into that little clearing in the woods and see what it says. RUDY. September 17, 1995. September 25, 2005. So finite.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Since he usually focuses on something I don't care for - television (and generally likes shows I hate and doesn't like any of the few programs I enjoy), I usually don't bother to read stories by this writer, but here is a nice article in today's Times Union about this obituary. I've always wondered how a life can be summed up in a brief column. The answer is it can't be, which is obvious to anyone who reads my writings about Rudy.

We also get The Record, although delivery is spotty. One of my favorite features is Sound Off, but I must have missed the paper on the day this one appeared (scroll down to "Nobody's forcing you." Luckily, the Advertiser doesn't have Sound Off, or someone would probably criticize my memorial for Rudy. Amazing how insensitive people can be, I think. But in Sunday's Sound Off, two callers defended the obituary writer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

By the time Tammy got to us this weekend, it was just a rain storm - but one that dumped nine inches of water. Our driveway in Samsonville was turned into a river. I had my camera with me but did not venture out to take pictures.

The puppy is doing well. We have two or three times a day when he really acts up, mostly by pestering Sophie. She is being a trooper, and a lot of time is willing to play with him, but unfortunately her wrestling is mixed in with barking, and Sophie is very loud. Sometimes he also tries to play with Edna, which does not go over well at all. I don't think he will be a cat-agressive dog, but getting him through this stage takes vigilance. He is very wound up after he has been crated. As soon as I am sure he will not chew electrical wires or harass the "girls" constantly when we are out, the crate is history. Also, it takes up too much space in our tiny livingroom.

Some of my students are gems. Several have sent me condolence messages, and after class last night, two stopped to ask me how I am doing and to say that they cried when I told the class about Rudy. How I miss him! Sam's various distractions and cuteness definitely help, but I know it will be a while before I am completely recovered.

Friday, October 07, 2005

This appeared in today's Advertiser. They did a nice job, I think.

Monday, October 03, 2005

This is Sam. That's the name he came with, and he responds to "Sammy." He is four months old, and seems already to be housebroken. He isn't the puppy that we were told about on Friday, someone else adopted him in the morning as we procrastinated, getting breakfast and taking junk from our yard to the Village clean up day.

The person who brought him to the shelter said he is black and tan hound and lab, but the shelter staff believes he is black and tan hound and border collie. He may be several breeds, who knows. He has mighty big paw prints to fill, and he is making inroads but has not quite won over Edna, or especially Sophie, but so far he has the makings of a very good dog. I am still sad, but then he bites my wrist with his needle teeth, instantly snapping me out of my grief. He makes me think about the future in a positive way, which is a good thing.

Friday, September 30, 2005

I have been spending a lot of time - too much time - on petfinder. There are so many adorable faces on there, some happy, some sad. It was a lot easier in the days when you just went to the shelter and chose from the available dogs. Now there is an application procedure. I filled out several applications, some online, some mail-in. I just received a call from the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society, where we got both Rudy and Sophie in those pre-application days, and was told that we are approved. They have a puppy they think would be perfect for us, also several other dogs, not quite as young, who may be the one. This is going to be very hard, but we are going to go in tomorrow to take a look.

I will always think back on this month, and link various memories together in my mind. This is how I always so vividly remember when things happened. I'll remember that in late Summer of 2005, the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast happened. I won't forget the timing, because of Rudy's illness and death. In the chaos of those horrible storms, when houses and people were gone in an instant, I'll never forget that Rudy too was swept away.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Getting through my first day of working at home, without my sweetie to keep my company. Today is garbage day, and when the truck stopped and Sophie started barking, I felt a wave of grief. Last week, Rudy joined her in the chorus. And last time I worked here at my computer, on Friday, he was laying under my desk, on a comforter. Sad sad sad. Here is the website I made back in February for him. We buried him in his wicker basket, that had been Penny's, and before that, Pud's, with the toy he was playing with in the top photo. Looking at that picture, who would have ever suspected he had cancer and would be gone in the Fall?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I hate September. I should like it, what with my birthday, school starting, and the beautiful weather (in NYS), but whenever trouble is brewing, I know if something bad happens, it will be in September.

Rudy died on Sunday. The positive news is that he had a good quality of life until Saturday morning, he was happy and active. He had a really good week last week. His birthday was last Saturday, the day before mine, and he turned 10. He did not have a lot of appetite, but on that morning he ate a Dentabone, something he had not wanted in weeks. On Tuesday evening, he was even playing with his toys. But he had very bad blood in his urine since Thursday – that was his main symptom since January, but it was not that bad since going to the holistic vet.

Anyway, he really started to bleed Thursday and Friday. He had a stroke Saturday morning. My guess is that a clot broke off from the tumor and went to his brain. It really impacted his left side. We sat a vigil with him all day and all night, taking turns. Then on Sunday he must have had another stroke, and he quickly died at about 5 pm. I’m glad we didn’t have to make the choice to euthanize him, since I really don't believe in it, but I think we may have had to do it if he lingered much longer. We knew it was the end as soon as his mobility was impacted, because going for walks was his main joy in life.

We took him to Samsonville that evening and despite my father having the same cold I do (he said it was a Category 5 and now is a Category 2. Funny. I guess mine is now a tropical storm), he dug a grave with his backhoe and we buried him next to my parents’ dog Hobo, who was Rudy’s best buddy. Before his cancer diagnosis, I always imagined he’d live to be 14 or at least 12. Bob says that he had such vitality, that he wouldn’t have been happy with the slow decline of age, as an old, sensory-deprived dog, the way his predecessors Howie and Penny were. And maybe he is right. He walked on his leash for the last time on Friday. But I am left with this feeling - although I love all animals, especially dogs, I know from experience that Rudys don't come along all that often, and 10 years is way too short of a time to have such a great dog.

Memories of his mischevious ways, of the things he liked to do come in waves. If you looked up "happy" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Rudy. He loved winter and I will always think of him joyously rolling in the snow after a storm. He liked to hold things "hostage" - dirty underwear, coins, you name it - and extort treats as payment. He always checked the grocery bags for Dentabones. He knew "paw," "sit," and "speak." Oh, there are so many things I could write, but I think I will end this memoir with that, for now.

Two nice pictures are posted here, as well as the tribute I wrote on his eighth birthday. Rest in peace, Mr. Wuj. There can be no doubt that you were welcomed with open arms in heaven.

Friday, September 23, 2005

This is an outrage. Judge Fletcher should be ridden out of town on a rail. What a no-good, worthless, vile waste of a pair of pants. Loser. Who elected this moron? Can I think of any more insulting cliches?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My birthday was great, so was Rudy's. Now I have a cold and I feel like crap.

Friday, September 16, 2005

My classes are going well in terms of the students, but on the other hand, there have been a few annoying glitches. Every semester, the bookstore begs faculty to get our orders in early so that the books are available when students arrive. So, I always make an effort to meet the deadline. For this semester, that was back in March. I use the most current editions of the books, but only one was updated since the Spring, so there should have been plenty of used copies floating around, in addition to the new books that the bookstore should have ordered.

I believe the books for one of my classes have sold out twice already, and there is always a delay of several days while the bookstore scrambles to get more copies. In my other class, the books recently sold out, and not every student has them yet. I know this happens because the bookstore doesn't want to be stuck with even one copy to send back, and so they must use some calculation to determine how many enrolled students don't plan to do the reading or buy the books at all, plus how many go to another, probably cheaper, vendor. But it seems to me that they are always wrong, never have enough in stock, and I wind up being inconvenienced. I really burns me up. Why bother to make the deadline if they aren't going to hold up their end of the deal?

In my experience, students perceive not having a personal copy of the book as the ultimate justification for putting in zero effort. Then, another problem is that some students don't have any money, and so they are not unwilling to do the reading, but they simply can't afford to buy the books.

Several semesters ago, I decided to partially fix the problem by putting copies of all the books on reserve in the library. I took older editions of all the books, and I went online and bought one copy each of the latest editions (I have my own review copy that the publisher provides to me for free, but they won't give extras). So there are multiple copies at the library, and one each is the current edition.

I also have a bunch of books on reserve that are for a book review that is due at the end of the semester. Students can buy a copy of one of 15 books for this assignment, or they can read one of my copies. I bought some new and some used books from Amazon so that students who have tight budgets wouldn't have to shell out any more money, since the cost of the three required books is already over $100 and I am trying to be sensitive to the rising cost of college. I didn't bother to ask for reimbursement from the department. It isn't that they wouldn't compensate me after the paperwork hassle, but my sense is that with our endlessly tight budgets, it wouldn't be appreciated at all.

This semester numerous students have reported that they are getting the run around from the reserves desk. It moved over the summer, and I did notice that although it looks much more impressive, it also seems as if the staff is more disorganized. I am not one to bash the staff on campus - as a student they seemed to be unresponsive if not downright hostile, but to faculty members the folks in most offices are quite nice. So I wondered if students were telling a tall tale to get out of the reading.

I decided to test it out. On Tuesday, I visited the library and asked for one of the books. I waited at least 15 minutes before the woman who was helping me came back. There was a whole opera as she kept looking the book up on the computer and getting someone else to help her find it. Finally she came back with an older edition. I told her that wasn't the book I needed, that I wanted the most recent edition. Again at least 15 minutes passed. Finally, another woman came out and reported that they did not have any other copies of the book. So I asked what happened to it? Did a student steal it? Was it misplaced? She didn't know. I could see she wasn't going to be helpful, so I said, "it is listed on the computer as being on reserve. These are not library books, they are personal copies. I have a lot of books on reserve. If they are not here when students need them I have to know what the problem is. Do you have the sheets I filled out when I brought the books over?"

I didn't say this, but obviously my next question would be whether the library intended to reimburse me for the lost book. It is one thing to not get reimbursed by the department for the purchase, but another thing to have the library cost me even more. Another 15 minutes passed while she consulted with someone in the back. When she returned, she told me that the listing in the computer was an error - I had never given them the latest edition. She did not produce the sheets that I brought over when I put the books on reserve.

I am proud to say that resisted losing it, although I felt like it. I would have been a lot less angry if they just admitted they were at fault, instead of blaming me. But I knew it was pointless. They do not give a receipt when you place personal copies of books on reserve. They had no intention of admitting responsibility, because they were not going to risk having to pay me for the lost book.

Later it struck me that when students don't return the reserve books, they get fined, and if they don't pay, a hold is placed on their records. In one case, I remember a student kept one of the books for the review a long time (the book review copies are two day reserves) and I had to ask in class for the student to return it. I know he had to pay at least $40, which is much more than the book cost new. Why does the library get to keep that money? It is my book. If he never returned it, would I get reimbursed? Or would they replace the book once the fine was paid? It seems the answer is no, tough luck. Just deny ever having it and run.

So, I went on Amazon to see if I could find a copy to replace it. The cheapest used copy I could find costs $43. I am simply not willing to spend that much again, so I guess the students will have to settle for the older edition. A student who came to office hours shortly after this fiasco told me that she works in the library and they put things back on the wrong shelf all the time. So that is probably what happened to my book. Maybe it will turn up eventually.

Last night I had my lower division class, the one that is mostly freshmen. It is in a smart classroom in the chemistry building, and I got ready to show a slideshow that I had saved on the class website. The projector wasn't getting a signal from the computer, so I looked around and discovered that someone had unplugged the wire from the wall. I should mention that the others who use the room clearly do not embrace modern technology, because every week the chalkboard has been rolled front and center, the overhead projector is all set up, and tables and chairs are obstructing the smart console.

I plugged in the wire and it still wouldn't work. I fooled around rebooting, etc., only to discover that everything related to the computer and the Internet had been unplugged - and the back of the smart console was locked, meaning not accessible. So, I reordered my plan for the night, and put in a video that I intended to show a bit later. I had borrowed it from the library, and surprise, surprise, it wasn't rewound. The wait was excrutiating (luckily freshmen are so well behaved), but once I finally got it set up, I ran over to AV Services to get a technician. He told me that this problem has been happening in smart rooms across campus. He came over and worked on the console, but after he left and the video was finished, it still couldn't find the Internet. So I gave the students their break early, ran over to my office (the education building is quite a hike from chemistry), managed to find a floppy diskette (not easy in this age of CD ROMs), copied my presentation to a diskette, dashed back, and gave my presentation. There is a lesson here about relying on technology, and having back-up systems in place. At least I am getting some exercise!

The good news (aside from the best news, that Rudy is doing well and will turn 10 tomorrow) this week: I got a new computer on campus, as I mentioned before, and the Dean's office gave all in my department nice tee-shirts, because we were the first department to make our Fall enrollment targets. So, I guess that almost makes up for the incompetent bookstore, the mean librarian, and the revenge of the Luddites.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bob just called to tell me something really upsetting. He saw a creep speed up and deliberately hit a turtle that was in the road. I seems to me that creep is too gentle a word, but I can't think of anything suitable right now. How about "someone who deserves to be tortured to death by an alligator."
The tax bills came and as always I have no complaints about Castleton. And, since the large parcel was shot down this year, Samsonville wasn't terrible - but it wasn't exactly a bargain either. Then, in today's Freeman, I see this.

It is very frustrating to me. This is a district that spent $26,597 per special education student in 2002-03. That's $9,555 more per pupil than similar districts, or $8,779 more than all public schools in New York State, and I'm sure the amount has not decreased in the past two years. So students with special needs at the Middle School are failing to make adequate yearly progress in math and English and and for the second year running they have landed on the "schools that were in Improvement Status in 2004-05 and will be in Improvement Status under the State Accountability System (SRAP)" list.

Hey, I know middle schools are troublesome; take a look at Turning Points from Carnegie. It is a legacy from the foolish 1950s consolidation movement. But the principal states the "school is working to align its curriculum with state standards and improve coordination among elementary and middle school teachers." Sure, that's the problem. So obvious, it could have been fixed in a year, right?

When I see stories about fiscal malfeasance at school districts I feel really uncomfortable. We all like to think that the folks who work in schools are called to do it, almost as if it is a vocation. Because while it is often a rewarding, comfortable occupation, it can also at times be thankless and undercompensated. I tell my students that it is a vocation, in a way, and in many of their excited faces I see evidence of this calling. But sadly, schools are no different than any place else. Some have jerks working there, and some are not simple jerks, but selfish and corrupt as well. Think back on your own experiences and I'm sure you will remember examples.

Then there are innocent folks who react defensively to being questioned. They have good motives, and believe all who wonder about what is going on must have evil motives. To those well-intentioned but misguided people, I say, that is no way to sell your ideas. Strong cases can withstand careful analysis, and there is almost always room for honest improvement, anyway. Weeding the selfish, corrupt jerks will only improve public education, in the same way that pulling out crabgrass helps my vegetable garden.

Hey, I don't know what is going on at OCS. My last association with the place, aside from paying my annual tax bill and attending school reunions was in 1978 (and trust me, I didn't look back). But if I was on the school board, I would mercilessly step on the toes of the administrators and dig deep to find out whether it is simple incompetence (because surely it is at least that) or something more sinister. I know that superintendents and principals don't like meddling from unqualified board members (though I could hardly be labeled unqualified). Truthfully, there are times when such mucking around is inappropriate. But when 56% more is being spent than in similar schools, and the outcome is landing on the schools in need of improvement list, it is past time to assess, I think.

The people who are truly called wouldn't mind this level of scrutiny at all. In fact, they would welcome it - because those with a vocation have nothing to hide; instead, they should desire feedback, with the goal of having their students make adequate yearly progress, and their school being removed from that shameful list.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I support

Last week a student came to my campus office to talk about class. I had an open bottle of apple juice that was about two-thirds full on my desk. After a few minutes, she knocked it over, and it ruined my papers - splashing the wall, soaking my desk calendar, and running under my computer.

I was kind of irritated, but I kept it together, because I didn't want to make her feel worse. Years ago, when I was a temp at Pepsi, on my first day of work, I spilled a cup of coffee on my desk and it dripped into the carpet and got all over everything. Of course it was my desk, but I imagine I felt about as bad that day, new and nervous at my low status job, as this student did.

Today I got a new computer. It is nice, and it has a flat screen, which is the only thing it has over my home computer. My old work computer was a relic, on its last legs, the mouse barely tracked. The monitor alone took up about four times as much desk space as the sleek new machine. When the antique was taken away, the guy who installed the new PC said, "you may want to wipe your desk, it is kind of sticky."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Rudy had to go for Vitamin C infusions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We dropped him off at the vet in the morning, and picked him up a few hours later. She said he was good, although he doesn't like being left there and so he didn't sleep, and instead spent his time scratching at the cage door and making a screetchy little bark. But now it is done, and we don't have to go back for two weeks.

The office is about an hour away from our house, so we spent the time on a mini-vacation. On Friday, we went to Great Barrington, MA and had lunch out. On Saturday, we went to Taconic State Park, and hiked to Bash Bish Falls. After we picked Rudy up that day, we took him to Lake Taghkanic State Park. On Sunday, we went to Warren Street in Hudson, visited a couple of antique shops, and ate at Mexican Radio.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Classes started this week. I think I am really going to like the lower division class a lot. More than half of the students are freshmen, and they are so polite and attentive. It was a heavy lift to get through the week, though. I came down with a bad tooth ache - apparently I clench my teeth when I sleep if I am stressed, something I discovered five years ago, and the result has been that I had to get a crown two years ago. Well, I guess with Rudy's illness I have been doing it like crazy, all my teeth have been bothering me -- and the crown needed a root canal, which I got today. I made it through the first week back on campus with the help of drugs (I had to tell the students so they would know I am not always so dopey) and I'm glad to report that it's over. It hurts worse now, though, just in a different way. Not as intense, just generally more sore all over. Next week I go in to get impressions for a night guard, that will hopefully break me of the bad habit.

The source of my worry is doing well. One thing Rudy is taking is a controversial anti-cancer drug called hydrazine sulfate that isn't approved for people. There is a whole political opera with the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society being very hostile to it. I may write more on this in the future, but in a nutshell: Apparently, cancer uses carbohydrates for fuel. It will find energy somehow if it can't get enough and so it also drains the fat and muscle of the body. Hydrazine sulfate inhibits this process, and so it helps to stop the weight loss end state cancer patients suffer. Anyway - it seems to be working for Rudy. He looks a bit better, and his appetite isn't great but it has improved. The specialist said he would have to be euthanized during the month of August - well it is September 2 and he is still here, happy and energetic. I can't say enough good things about the holistic approach. Something to think about for the skeptics.

The hurricane and aftermath are heartbreaking. It is hard to envision, sitting here in my safe, comfortable house. But speaking of politics, I am really disgusted by the endless talking heads on television. Who is to blame? Oh it is the federal government, the local authorities, the state, poor planning, blah, blah, blah. Maybe it is the throbbing in my face that is sparking my irritation, but I couldn't take it any more. We walk the dogs every day in the beautiful cemetery behind our house (yes, we do bring plastic bags and clean up after them in case you are wondering). There are the monuments honoring the rich and the poor. People who died a year ago, 50 years ago, and 150 years ago. Simple homemade stones and elaborate Victorian pedestals. There is one that says "in honor of all the infants who died here in the epidemic of 1918."

As I listened to the idiots blather on about the failure of the disaster response I was so frustrated by the ignorance that I jumped up and shouted, "I can't take it any more! Why are these people so fake, so plastic? Do they not understand that someday they will be pushing up daisies beneath a tombsone? That tragic things happen? There is no way to avoid it? Life is not always orderly. Why are they in denial? Yes - it can happen here in the USA. Yes - it can happen to anybody. All the planning in the world cannot change that. People get sick, people die. Babies go hungry and they cry. That's life. Get a reality check. When will they accept that?"

My anger isn't intended to minimize the tragedy for the folks who were hurt by the storm. I can only pray for them (and donate to charities). But over time I find journalists and people who play partisan politics more and more revolting.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I've been meaning to link to this for a while, as an update to this post. My story (which is slightly more polished than my post here, and includes a picture) is message #2069. (Note, the linked site is not for the squeamish.)
Last night we watched "De-Lovely." It was an interesting movie, especially if you like musicals and the 1920s/30s/40s genre of music. But it left me feeling the same way as I did after viewing "Pollack." If anything, it made me appreciate the work of the artist less, not more, after knowing about his life. Not that I care about the personal lives of famous people that much, but I have a really hard time admiring people from those times who enjoyed every advantage and then chose to live dishonestly, recklessly, or on the fringe, when other people who were just as worthy had to risk everything to immigrate here, or were born poor and didn't get the chance to go beyond eighth grade. Both were undoubtedly talented, but being talented is not an excuse. If they weren't born rich they wouldn't have been able to pull it off and probably never would have been famous in the first place. They would have been toiling in a factory or on a farm, and worrying about how the kids would get enough to eat, not sipping mixed drinks and singing ditties with pinkies in the air. But then Hollywood biographies are always suspect. How much is really true anyway? And does the worship that I'm sure many actors feel for greats from the entertainment business color the way the story is presented?

Friday, August 19, 2005

My first class is August 30. I am getting ready. I have been constantly working this summer, and it has been very hot, so I am not upset to have to return to campus. We are working out the details for how we will care for Rudy on the two days per week when I cannot be here. The specialist said he would not live through the month, but actually, using the holistic methods and lots of TLC, he is doing pretty well and I don't think that prediction will be true. At least I hope not. Bob was coming back right after work in the Spring to check on him, so this Fall he will do that again, and also make a trip at lunch to feed him. His appetite isn't great so we have to feed him many times a day to be sure he gets enough.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Long time since my last post...I have been very, very busy (summer session grades and the never ending book), and also exhausted. Rudy has been diagnosed with kidney cancer (which explains the blood in his urine since January), his prognosis is not good, and I haven't felt like writing here. It is a long story, but after cancelling exploratory surgery at our regular vet, and a trip to a veterinary internist, we have landed at a holistic vet. So far, so good; he seems more comfortable and is still obsessed with going for walks on his leash. Please have a good thought for Rudy, the best dog I have ever had.

On another subject, some good news. We win again!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I also remember those days very well. Is it ten years ago? It seems like only yesterday...and it also seems a distant memory. How did we accomplish anything? Or did we waste less time?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Don't tell me there's not a chance of being bitten by a brown recluse spider. Or, for that matter, that medical professionals are even close to being eager to make this "myth" diagnosis. On July 4th in 1984, I was at a Long Island beach. The next morning, as I was taking a shower, I noticed I had an extremely itchy bug bite on my calf. I didn't think much of it. Later that day at work, I noticed my calf area surrounding the bite was swelled so much that my pant leg was tight. I showed the bite to a co-worker, and he agreed that it looked a little strange, but still I didn't think much of it. Still later, we went out to dinner in NYC with friends. By this time my leg really felt odd. Again I inspected the bite, and my friends agreed that it looked weird. By the time we arrived at our stop on the railroad late that night, I couldn't walk. Bob and the conductor had to help me off the train and down the escalator from the platform. We took a cab home, and I foolishly went to bed, but I couldn't believe an insect bite could be anything serious.

In the morning, I couldn't get out of bed. A friend who was going to help with a barbecue we were having that day arrived, and she looked at my leg, called her mother who was a nurse, and she told me to get to the emergency room immediately. I didn't have health insurance at my crappy fairly new job in an artists' representative's office, and although I was reluctant, by this point I had no choice but to take the advice. With help, I put on shorts, even though I needed a shave there was no way I could shower, and pants were out of the question by now. I sat in the emergency room with my dark purple, throbbing leg, while almost every other patient was taken ahead of me. Their lacerations and broken legs just seemed more serious to the staff, I guess.

When the doctor looked at my leg, he was stumped, but he said it was very serious. In fact, he wanted to admit me. The emergency room was filthy, it seemed to me that they didn't know what was wrong (and besides, it was only a bug bite!), there was my lack of insurance (and salary so low that eventually paying the bill seemed an impossibility), and plus, we were having people over for a BBQ! So I refused to be admitted. Instead, I got a topical ointment, instructions to soak and elevate my leg, and a prescription for antibiotics.

Days passed and my leg got no better; in fact, it may have been worse. I visited an upscale dermatologist, who told me from behind a serious sunburn that I had to pay $275 to become his patient before he would treat me. I refused his generous offer, and hopped on one leg the several blocks back home (in addition to little money, we had no car). I looked in the yellow pages, and found the name of a general practitioner named Dr. Santos who charged only $25 for an office visit. He took me right away. I remember sitting in his shabby office, where his only staff was a nurse/receptionist. He examined my leg, declared that I had been bitten by a fiddleback spider, and said that aside from the antibiotics, all the treatment I had received so far had been wrong. My leg should not be elevated or soaked, although I would have to stay off it for quite some time, and not move around too much. He gave me a prescription for some little pills that he called anti-venom, and he said that they would make the poison leave my system. He said it was likely that my immunity would be impacted by the episode for some time. Dr. Santos was from Puerto Rico, and so I figured he knew about exotic spiders.

My leg healed with no problem, and what he said about my immunity wound up to be true - for several years I caught every cold and flu that went around. Later I researched fiddleback spiders, and discovered that they are the same as the brown recluse, which is not commonly found in New York. However, in the past few years, I have heard of maybe five other incidents, mostly in Long Island and one in Schenectady. The Schenectady case was in a trucker, and the speculation was that he had been bitten while on a trip.

I have great respect for scholarly research - and the spider guy in this article does seem to have the stats. I admit I did not see the spider that bit me. But my leg looked exactly like pictures I have seen of brown recluse bites, and my symptoms were the same as those listed. I certainly didn't have cancer, and believe me, there is no way this was poison ivy. In my experience, sometimes simple wisdom is more powerful than stacks of studies.

Anyway, my money - all $25 of it - is on Dr. Santos being right. I will always be thankful to him for saving my leg - and maybe my life - in his humble practice. And after that I really took the "stay off the dunes" signs to heart.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Long time no post. I am so busy with my summer class, a book deadline, and weekends in S'ville at the pool. It is so hot! The A/C here in Castleton makes it bearable, but the pool only barely does - you just can't sleep while swimming (or at least it isn't a good idea). I think we will have to get a portable air conditioner for there. Well, at least the plants love the heat and humidity. I already picked two tomatoes!

This is interesting. I have had some charismatic students over the years, but maybe since I am not into robbing the cradle, I've not had too many feelings about their attractiveness, much less their "hotness." And posting about it in a public forum? No way.

But I do feel a little uncomfortable on this subject, for two reasons. The first is that this instructor was a fellow adjunct. I assume he was fired over the inappropriateness of his posts regarding a female student (but I confess, I didn't read the full article, as I am not registering). However, I wonder, in his less-than-secure position, could he be fired for making any comments about students?

The second has to do with that last sentence. I struggle with what is acceptable to write here. I have written on this subject several times before, when this journal was newer. I'm not anonymous and have no desire to be, but occasionally I miss my private journal, where I could write whatever and not worry who might read it (though anything written down might be read by, and offend someone, someday). It is the whole question of how much censoring is necessary. This is true even in fiction, people always speculate about how much is based on true events and inspired by real people. Does censoring dilute good writing so much that it becomes lifeless - and pointless? (Not that random posts in a public forum are always good writing.) Or is it best to only write things that you don't mind others reading?

I've (mostly) resisted the temptation to over disclose about my classes, out of respect for students. I don't want them to stumble here and be hurt (even if on occasion there is one that would benefit from a reality check). But I have done some reflecting that has been more revealing.

Here are three sets of examples: first, is this too risky? Or this? Or this?

Second, how about this? Or this? Or this?

Third set of examples, this, this, and this.

And now for something unrelated: we saw Cinderella Man last week. I recommend it, it was great!

Monday, July 11, 2005

On Friday, we saw War of the Worlds. This is another time when I didn't agree with what Ebert wrote in his review. I liked the movie, and was pleased that - aside from the contemporary setting in the U.S., and the main character being a divorced dad, in many elements, it was faithful to the H.G. Wells book. It was very scary and exciting. I guess Ebert must not have liked the original story much, as after reading his review, it seemed to me that he expected a different plot. If important elements had been changed (such as why the aliens were here, why they destroyed so much, or what the machines that inflicted the carnage looked like) then the movie would not have been worthy of the title. No matter what Ebert may think, H.G. Wells' book was awesome, and this movie celebrates that. My only criticism is that it is way too loud (as are so many action movies).

Here's a picture of the orange day lily in Samsonville, followed by one of our activities on the 4th of July:

Thursday, June 30, 2005

I (finally) received a job offer for the position I interviewed for back in May. I thought about it overnight, and today I called and declined. It was a very good job, and turning it down was bittersweet. But I love the challenge and autonomy of teaching, and couldn't see myself joining the 9-5 administrative bureaucracy again. Still, it was nice to be asked.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Friday, June 24, 2005

More thoughts about yesterday's post.

It validates to me, one more time, that "legal" does not mean "moral," does not mean "ethical," does not mean "right." Ugh. What an outrage! Something about land really makes me crazy, makes me want to get a pitchfork and chase trespassers away.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Eminent domain always reminds me of Star Trek, and the stupid insistence that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one, stated as if it was a fact, and not debatable. I wasn't alive to see 10 small hamlets gobbled up but the lives of those small town folks being erased for the good of a distant city still resonates. I guess that isn't a surprise, as the visual reminder is there, and the struggle continues. So this decision comes as no surprise to me. After all - why should the concerns of little people get in the way of sprawl?

On a sort of related note, I started to read Tin Horns and Calico. Maybe the offended folks in Connecticut should study a copy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I am done reviewing that awful book! I laughed as I was filling in the reviewer's sheet, it asked "is it OK to quote you on the book jacket?" Of course. But I'm not sure it will be good for sales.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I am almost done with the five chapters of a book manuscript I agreed to review for a publisher. It is on economic and social history of education, and it is terrible. I mean, there are some good things in it, but it is mixed around with so much crap that although it is written in an accessible format, I have been tempted many times to forfeit the honorarium, and throw it into my recycle bin, where it belongs. Then, the editior in me is itching to correct all the grammatical errors and typos, but that is not my job so I am resisting. I should be finished tomorrow, and then I can get started on my other projects. My summer class starts Monday (luckily it is ready) and I have my own manuscript to edit.

On a happy note, my plants look great! Even the seeds are sprouted. They love the heat, even as I wilt. For veggies, I planted tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, basil and other spices in Castleton, and zucchini and muskmelon in Samsonville.

And I took my first swim of the season on Sunday! The pool is still kind of greenish, but the water is already warmer than it was in August last year.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Great news for horses and animal lovers! Thank you, John Sweeney. For this reason alone, if I could vote for you, I would. (But I can't, as Castleton was gerrymandered into Mike McNulty's district.)
This is a great idea. Good for Williams. I know I prize my golden apple, and despair when I get even one negative evaluation. Every semester, occasionally in an essay, and most recently in discussion, I ask students to think about a role model or mentor they have had in education, and to share what made them special. Some choose a teacher, some a coach, a few choose a family member, or more rarely, a college faculty member. I also ask whether it is a reasonable expectation of schools, and if so, whether not being able to identify someone means the system failed.

Sometimes students have wonderful stories to tell, and I encourage students who feel this way to let the source of inspiration know about his or her impact. My purpose is not so much to get students to give thanks (although that is a worthy outcome), but to spark students to model this behavior when they become teachers. I'm not saying that teachers deserve to be undercompensated, but teaching isn't about making money, or going through the motions, putting in time and doing the countdown to retirement, or at least it shouldn't be. Teaching is as important a profession as there can be, and when it is your vocation, you are truly blessed.

Not really the same subject, but in the same realm. As a member of my union, UUP (an organization for which I have nothing but respect), I receive numerous publications from educational organizations. One is New York Teacher, which is produced by NYSUT (an organization I don't hold in the same high regard as UUP). In the recent issue, there was a letter to the editor entitled "Wal-Mart not a good investment for retirees." The writer refers to this article in American Teacher, which details how bad Wal-Mart is for communities, then notes that in the Spring 2005 issue of Your Source (from the NYS Teacher's Retirement System), investments in Wal-Mart stock total $688,011,504. Bravo to the letter writer for pointing this out! (Full disclosure: I am not fond of big box stores.) Following the letter is a comment from a member of the TRS board, which says, in part: "Divesting from investments that benefit the members for their future retirement earnings, due to social reasons, would be a breach of fiduciary responsibility on the part of the TRS and the trustees."

Turn the page, after the letter and the TRS board response, and there is this: "Avoid Wal-Mart in Back to School Shopping." Truly amazing! Now, I wonder how advocating for a boycott can "benefit the members for their future retirement earnings?"

All I can say is that few things annoy me more than such stunning hypocrisy.

On a completely different subject, in the crushing heat, we cleaned up the remnants of the foundation job, moved the shed, put the dogs' fence back up, planted the window boxes, hanging baskets, containers, and vegetable garden, and put up the garden fence. I never drank so much water in my life. But it is done, and it was worth it. The pool awaits this weekend!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hurray for Saugerties! It will be interesting to see how the county legislature votes. Now, how about some home rule for Olive over the large parcel issue?

Monday, June 06, 2005

This (from the Chronicle, but for a change it is free) doesn't seem like much of a revelation.

And now for some recent pictures...

First, the foundation is done!

We also had the main house's repaired.

And some of the flowers.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Here is the progress on the bathroom foundation as of noon yesterday:

And here is the trailer filled with the old foundation:

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Book Meme

(Via Sya.)

1. Estimate the total number of books you've owned in your life.

I have no idea -- at least a thousand, I guess. I have book cases everywhere, in both houses, and a bunch in my office at work.

2. What's the last book you bought?

Tin Horns and Calico, by Henry Christman. I'm not sure it is the last book I bought -- I also purchased several from at about the same time, but Tin Horns is the last one that arrived -- yesterday. It is about the Rent Wars in the Hilltowns of Albany County, NY. The current large parcel controversy in the Town of Olive reminds me of the Rent Wars, and a friend suggested I read it. It is out of print (from the 1940s) and finding it was no easy task, but the marvel of the Internet didn't disappoint. My first edition came all the way from a library in Nevada. The last reprint was in the 1970s, and what's interesting is that the '70s paperback edition is more expensive than the first edition.

3. What's the last book you read?

I am currently reading another book from the 1940s, My Home is Far Away, by Dawn Powell. My sister lent it to me over the weekend.

4. List 5 books that mean a lot to you.

Wow, only 5? I'll give it a try, although some authors mean a lot to me, so for a couple of these I am narrowing it down to an author and then choosing one book he or she wrote.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, by who else? He's my favorite author, and I especially love this book. I can read it over and over. Whenever I feel sad, I pick it up and he makes me laugh. I could have filled this favorite five list with titles that he wrote, but I'll resist.

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. She is my favorite contemporary author, and again, this list could have been filled, or at least dominated, by her books.

The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi. This would have topped the list when I was a kid, but not the crummy, dumbed-down Disney-fied version.

The Winter of Our Discontent, by John Steinbeck. My favorite of his books, this really resonated with me when I read it years ago.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. A favorite from my teenage years, the language and absurdity of the situations are very funny. I have read three other books in the series (I think there are over a dozen? Something like that) which aren't quite as good. But one serious caveat, there is some anti-Semitism toward the end of the first book in the series, which has always bothered me. It was sanitized from modern adaptations of the story.

5. Tag 5 people!

No, I don't forward junk mail, or tag people with memes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Now here's someone who could identify with my stories about poop patrol. These rates strike me as too cheap. I wonder what he gets for the annual Spring cleanup?

On another note, but still yard-related, a crew is here working on our bathroom foundation. It is beyond needing to be replaced, and I am so happy we are finally having it done. The dogs have pretty much calmed down, at first I thought the barking would make me insane.

Update: I may be immune to barking, but the jackhammering might push me over the edge. The dogs are numb, they seem to realize that barking is no use, the machine wins. The foundation is mostly gone now, the bathroom is held up by a series of jacks. Strange, to see it floating.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

One of my students from the Spring semester wrote in her journal about not having a television. She said people look at her incredulously when they find out and then ask her, "are you a vegetarian? Do you home school your kids?" She said someone she knew from work was talking about "Ally" and for a long time she thought they were referring to a friend, until she learned there was a TV program called Ally McBeal. She wonders if not being familiar with this part of popular culture will harm her kids.

I think the opposite is true. I didn't have a TV for years, and now I don't have cable. Arguments about quality television fall on deaf ears. Even the better stuff is mostly crap, and watching it is such a passive activity. Better to read, to develop one's imagination through play, to do crafts and art, to go outside in the fresh air with your dog.

When I was a kid, our TV was black and white (which wasn't all that unusual, but color was becoming common). We got one channel, CBS 3 from Hartford, CT. As a result, I never became an addict. Maybe I wouldn't have anyway. I believe my generation is the first that was weaned on the television, and that wasn't a good thing. Today it is even worse.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Strange day. For the second time in two weeks, I am nervous. Two weeks ago I surprised myself by being nervous over the awards ceremony. I'm not sure why, I didn't have to do anything except go up to the podium and shake the dean's hand when my name was called. Today it is the interview.

I am not normally a nervous person, and in fact I have been accused of not having a pulse, or having only one speed (reverse). But that is only a partial picture. As a student I was always nervous when I had to give presentations. I would drop a class that required public speaking. Eventually I forced myself to do them, there really is no way to avoid it in graduate school, but I was never glib. I remember blushing, or at least feeling like I was blushing. Practice does make perfect (either that or it is the comforting status differential) and that fear is long gone - I could wing it and BS my way through any class, if I am not careful it can take the hook (or the gong, I like that image) to shut me up.

But I notice I don't get nervous in the same way any longer. It manifests itself physically - and there is nothing I can do about it. My hand or leg shakes. I feel dizzy. My vision is blurry. I become obsessive-compulsive, and endlessly check and re-check my paperwork and all the details. Why do I put myself through this? I wonder. Nothing is making me do it. But it is probably a good idea to get practice, to force myself to stare it down, to win. Wish me luck!

Here was a jolt. As I killed time on campus this morning, another faculty member and I were discussing whether to give special consideration to a student (who doesn't really deserve it, but I am probably too rule oriented, bureaucracy lover that I am). "She is an older person," he says, by way of explanation. I nod, and fidget. I have access to the records system, and had just finished looking up her grades. I had noted her date of birth, and it is about one year later than mine. I'm not all hung up on age or anything. I don't wear make up, or dye my hair. When everyone in the room except you is 20 - and new ones come in every year to replace the ones who have aged, there is no point in clinging to denial. I don't know how old the other faculty member is - my guess is that he is probably younger than I am, though he looks considerably older (of course that is just my admittedly biased opinion). "Older person." Hmmm. I guess it happens to all of us, try as we might to run away from the truth.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I'm in one of those moments where my to do list is growing, but none of it is urgent, so I accomplish nothing productive, and the inevitable result will be all kinds of pressure in a few weeks. In my dreams I am organized, the kind of person who does a little bit here and there along the way and is done in plenty of time. In reality, I am driven by deadlines. This is the good advice I dispense to students: don't procrastinate. But I guess it should be followed by the tired cliche "do as I say, not as I do." On the flip side, I never miss a deadline, the product comes out fine, even (at times) spectacular, and most people don't guess that I got there by burning the midnight oil. So I surf, write email, go outside and watch the flowers grow, all the while feeling a little guilty (just not enough to get moving).

Friday, May 20, 2005

I couldn't resist...I sent this note to the board of directors. (The link to the speech and her original explanation have now been removed from the Pepsi website, and replaced with a brief note of apology.)

Recently I have noticed some criticism of Pepsi's President's remarks at the Columbia School of Business commencement speech. I would like to thank you for making the text of the speech available on the Internet. I have now read both the speech and the explanation.

I am sure you are getting a lot of feedback from both reasonable folks and nutjobs, so I don't really expect a response. But thank you to whomever is reading this, anyway. I hope I am in the former, not latter, category.

I have sat through several commencements, a few of my own, most recently this past weekend, when my nephew received his bachelor's degree. Some are boring, or just too long. Some speakers are too caught up in politics, and they fail to realize that commencement addresses are occasions filled with pride for the graduates and their loved ones – speakers should be brief, funny, and most important – inspiring. Reproaching the audience about being ugly Americans is not exactly inspiring.

The president’s middle finger analogy for the United States is just plain offensive, and it shocks me that she would think otherwise. Giving someone the middle finger is a crude and inappropriate gesture. Too often people who suffer from road rage resort to it. Her explanation is not convincing – yes, there is no doubt that she meant the U.S. is important as the middle finger is to the hand, but it is also clear that her intention was to caution the graduates about the U.S. being the other meaning of middle finger – flipping the bird.

Over 20 years ago, I worked at one of the Pepsi flashcubes, along the platinum mile in Purchase, New York. I was a nobody, a temp. It was an OK job, not a bad place to work for a few weeks. Young as I was, I was amused by the backstabbing among those who were vying for management promotions. I am now a professor of education. Sometimes students who are in the school of business take my courses as electives. In my experience, plagiarism is a growing problem – and I am sad to report that when I have encountered academic dishonesty in my classes, it is often school of business students who are the perpetrators.

If she wanted to give advice – particularly in light of the recent business scandals that have plagued major corporations - she might have referenced the importance of being an ethical business person. Or considering the enormous salaries that are paid to individuals such as Pepsi’s president, she might have spoken of caring about the less fortunate, of giving back to society, of making a difference through service to others. Certainly she could have spoken about the importance of cultural sensitivity – but using the middle finger analogy was pathetic, particularly for someone in her high position, and for someone who has reaped enormous rewards from the U.S.

The true irony is that about the only worthy product Pepsi sells is oatmeal. If giving good advice was the point, what about some reflection on the evils of junk food? How do soda and potato chips benefit the United States – or for that matter, the globe?
The latest on the school budget vote.

With the adoption of the large-parcel bill, district property owners in Woodstock and Lexington saw 2004-05 school tax rates reduced by 77 cents per $1,000 of assessed value; Shandaken saw rates go down by $2.49 per $1,000; Hurley saw a 51-cent increase per $1,000; Woodstock saw a 77-cent reduction; Marbletown saw a reduction of $1.10 per $1,000; and Olive, which has yet to complete a townwide property revaluation, saw an increase of $310.97 per $1,000.

Hmmm, $310.97 per $1,000 increase v. .77 per $1,000 decrease...duh, it failed. (And in whose twisted mind was that "equity?")

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Now that I am free of the heavy workload generated by the end of the semester, you'd think I would have lots of fascinating things to write...but I don't. I have not been able to catch up on sleep yet, since every morning I have been awakened by the telephone. Today it was a wrong number. Twice.

I have a fair amount to do this summer. I already started to get my work space organized. Now, I have to send all of my students the promised email memo with a breakdown of their grades (it doesn't seem urgent this time around, since only two students have emailed me to complain, one B+ wanted something higher, and one A- wanted A. That may be a record). There is the Gale Group book on education to update. Also, I am reviewing a few chapters of a new textbook on the history and sociology of education. Then there is the summer course to teach during Session II, and designing the new course I will be teaching in the Fall. And there is always student advisement to do.

This spring, I have not done much of my favorite summer activity, yard work. Soon I will get busy. I am one of the volunteer gardeners at Historic Cherry Hill, and on Saturday I am going to put a couple of hours in there. I have lots of plans for Castleton, and this year, if I can figure out the watering-from-a-distance dilemma, I am hoping to grow zucchini in Samsonville, since my Castleton yield has been disappointing for two years. Not enough sun for squash, I guess, and since space is at a premium, I am going to put in a more prolific crop.

Several weeks ago, the weather reporters on the news starting talking about how things can be planted after May 1, and I laughed at their ignorance. Since then we have had several nights that were below freezing. I think people used to observe the rule that there can be no outside planting in this zone until after Memorial Day. I think this is the best practice. I have never had my tomato plants killed by late spring frost.

On the home gardening front, I don't think I mentioned it here, but for the first time ever, I did not have to do my usual disgusting spring task. If you are curious, here is my report on this task in 2004 and here it is in 2003. (I guess I had better things to write about in 2002, when this journal was new.) Last fall I vowed I would go outside all winter and clean up after the dogs immediately, no matter the weather, time of day or what else I had to do. I kept my promise, and waded out in the yard in the deepest snow, shivering in the dark in my night clothes, dodging thunderbolts. I was motivated by horrible past memories.

As it turned out, due to Rudy's long illness this winter, I had to check regularly to see his status anyway, and sometimes to try to "catch" his urine (eventually he grew to hate this, and would hide behind the shed or in a bush so I couldn't catch him, what with having to wade through deep snow in night clothes in the dark while dodging thunderbolts). I don't think I have ever been so involved with dog excretions. It was part of my daily activities and many of my conversations. I always hoped to report that "Rudy peed, and it looked good."

Anyway - deep snow, freezing temperatures, and thunderbolts aside (yeah, I know there is almost never lightening in the winter, it is possible my imagination is embellishing just a little), I was rewarded when the thaw came, and the yard looked and smelled great. No need to spend hours in a bad mood scraping the top layer of soil into a muck bucket, and wondering why it is I love dogs so much.

Ha, I guess I did have something to write about, but "fascinating" isn't the best word to describe it.

Back to my task list, I have an interview for a job in administration (not at the university) next week. Any more information on that will have to keep.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Goodbye large parcel. Well, not quite. But now everyone (except the worthless board president, it seems) has to admit that "Olive Matters!!!"

From the district, here is a tally of the unofficial results. Read it and weep, reservoir coveters!

Monday, May 16, 2005

I submitted grades (with 44 minutes to spare). What a relief. I have been working nonstop with only minimal sleep since May 4 (well, except for going to Vermont, spending the day on campus for the awards ceremony, and attending my nephew's graduation from the College of St. Rose) and I am tired.

In a few days, I will be starting the 2006 update of the education book that I wrote for Gale Group in 2002 and revised in 2004, but tomorrow I am going to sleep! (Unless angry student emails demand a lot of time, that is. The grades are not supposed to be available for students to view on the online system until May 18, but if the past is any indicator, they are probably accessible already.)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Spent yesterday on campus, that will be my last day for the spring semester. We had a faculty luncheon at the new library, and from the nice conference room all the chairs set up for the undergraduate commencement on Sunday were visible. I guess they are not limiting tickets for guests, and so must have it outside. I hope the weather holds!

Afterwards, there was the awards ceremony, which was very festive. Mine was first, and I got a really cute engraved gold apple paperweight, much better than a plaque. Three faculty got awards, and then the Dean awarded student scholarships. Three of the donors were there, and I thought that was especially nice. I tried to find a link on the internet to a picture of the paperweight, but all the ones I found were tacky versions with clocks or made of some other material (usually brass or crystal).

Then Bob and I celebrated at the Arlington House. It was great!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Unbelievable. Hurray for Marianne. Stop meddlin' with Castleton, ACLU.

This is going to be an interesting election. What jerks are on the board. Unfortunately, being subject to (extreme) taxation without representation, I am not allowed to vote in it.

Monday, May 09, 2005

It was freezing, and the ride is very long, but we had fun in Vermont. On the way up, we took Route 7. Very scenic, also very, very, very long. We stopped in Manchester, and Bob went to the Polo Outlet.

Once in Burlington, we stayed at the Clarion (the room was actually a suite, complete with kitchenette and jacuzzi) and our niece showed us her college, St. Michael's. We then ate at the New England Culinary Institute Commons (very impressive and delicious).

On Sunday, we visited the Shelburne Museum. We were pressed for time - and it was very cold - so we went to three of the sites: the Collector's House (very interesting and different), the Lighthouse (very cool, and it reminded me a bit of our Castleton house), and the Ticonderoga (where we took a guided tour). You could easily spend a couple of days there, there was much more to see, even this early in the Spring.

On the way back, we took the ferry from Charlotte to Essex, and picked up "our" (NYS) Northway. That made the trip home somewhat faster, but it still is very long. The ferry was quite an experience, though - I'd never been in a car on a ferry! It was very rough! Almost scary. The animals stayed in Samsonville - so Bob took a brief nap there when we picked them up before we headed back north to Castleton.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Thursday Threesome

Onesome: This--is the one thing you need to get finished today! What would that be?

It doesn't have to be finished today (my deadline is May 16) but I need to make some progress on end-of-semester grades.

Twosome: and a-- project you'd like to get started on this weekend would be?

I am not planning to accomplish a lot this weekend. Going to Burlington, VT this weekend to visit my niece.

Threesome: Day--Scenario: tomorrow is suddenly 'your day'--school is out, the kids are covered; you're shift is handled at work; you have no obligations! ...and you have gas and spending money. What are you going to do with your time?

If it isn't raining, work in the yard! If it is raining, work on my Mimmie book.

I really don't understand this. How can someone be convicted, but allowed to keep the victims? The judge must be a real jerk.