Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Getting back to routine after the long weekend in Samsonville. The electricity was working when we arrived, but the wire for the cable was laying across the road near our driveway; a short distance away, between our house and the road, there was a branch down. I wanted to work on the computers, to test whether my mother's can be converted to wireless so we can eliminate the high speed lightening rod that has been the source of all the computer frying, but that isn't possible without Internet! So I called it in, and the robo voice said they were aware of the outage and would call me when it was fixed. 

On Sunday, I received the call, so I rebooted the modem. No dice. I walked back out to the road, and the wire was still laying on the ground. Must be they fixed the widespread problem (and it was widespread, Central Hudson and Verizon trucks were everywhere, all sorts of trees were down with dangerous-looking wire draped all over the place), but individual houses that were out had not been addressed. So I called again, and the answer is that they are not going to fix it until June 14! Yesterday I saw my brother, and his is also out - with the same response from TW.

He has all-in-one, but I only have Road Runner. I'm also only there on weekends, but for his household, that means no phone, no television, no Internet for nearly three weeks. Luckily where he lives, cell service works, but at my house, it doesn't. He said it will be good to have television cut off for that long, although he resents having to pay for it. I told the very nice woman who was on the phone that I am not paying for turbo a la carte (sixty bucks a month) for three weeks. She said, of course you will receive a credit but I doubt that is true without me calling and going berserk. Regardless, I'm not happy that my mother will be without Internet for that long, so I am going to give them a couple business days and then call back. Sad to say, sometimes going nut job is the only option when you want results.

In terms of the weekend, though, it was fine to not have email. Being "off the grid" has its advantages. We took the cover off the pool, and did a lot of visiting. I conducted the interview for my pending nonfiction story. I don't have television in Samsonville, and the very nice woman was incredulous. When I mentioned having turbo and not being willing to pay that exorbitant fee when there is no service, she said, "why don't you have TV? It would only cost a little more." I told her even in my "main" Castleton house, I only have up to channel 20. Believe me, that is still too much television. She wanted to know, what do I do instead of watch it? I said, I read, I work outside, I write, I draw, I cook, I play with my animals. I daydream. And of course, I have computers and a DVD player so it's hardly a big deal.

Anyway, yesterday I went to the parade in West Shokan, as I often do. It was great, as always. But no 'net meant no posting. Besides tinkering with the wireless, I intended to upload some pictures to facebook for Memorial Day.


I wrote about it in 2008 (which might be the last time I attended, since in '09 and '10, Bob was convalescing). It doesn't change a lot from year to year, and I have to make the same comment about the band as I did three years ago. This year, my father approached the band teacher in advance and said the American Legion had a special request. Could the band play for the entire route? The teacher said no! The kids have to do three parades in one day (it is a huge district in terms of area and there are three towns consolidated) and they would be too tired if they played the whole time! The distance from the general store (where they step off) to the town offices (where they have the ceremony) is not even a mile. I walked it and biked it as a kid several times every day. Something is definitely wrong if 14-17 year old teenagers cannot march and play musical instruments for that distance. Granted, yesterday was hot, but I suspect the truth is they do not know how to play. They can't be that frail and out of shape. "Insiders" wonder why communities become skeptical and non supportive of their local public school - I say it's no mystery. Music Man all the way!

My father told us that he wanted to say "I pay for your salary, the uniforms, the instruments, the buses that truck the kids over, and the gasoline to fill those buses" and "when I was 14 I could run over High Point Mountain and back and still have energy for the parade" but of course he didn't. When he was my age, he might have - but he has mellowed considerably with age! Funny to me also was that he referenced High Point, as when he was 14 he did not live anywhere near it.  

I had to crop the band photo. My fingernail made a white streak at the top of the frame. I have very long fingernails. They are real, and I don't paint them. They grow fast and are extremely strong. My thumbnails are so strong I could use them as screwdrivers. My nails mostly don't get in my way - I can type and garden and wash dishes. My rule is, when one breaks, I cut the others. Generally that works, but occasionally, none break and I start getting Howard Hughesy. I notice students mesmerized, watching my hands (since I tend to talk with them) -- perhaps thinking "what a weird lady." Then they do start to get in the way, as in this picture. The risk of a painful break increases. I think it is time to get the scissors.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

 I decorate the front porch with 2-4 variants of this hanging basket every year
 I can hardly wait for the first tomato!
 Teddy is my first cat who likes catnip
 This is to honor Sophie and Sam and all my wonderful dogs of the past (although they much prefer the veggies)
 Forsythia on their way to transplant in Samsonville
 The street rehab left us with a triangle near the front door (Sophie sniffs that quasi-tacky butterfly every time she goes out on her leash; she mistakes it for a flower)
These chives are the first sign of spring annually

 Next week: rototilling and seed planting! But right now, the power in back in S'ville...so away we go.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ugh. This will definitely impact our going to Samsonville today, if our house is involved (as it usually is). One thing I want to do while I am there is sort out the fried computer situation. My sister, bless her, has already fixed about 90 percent of it. But I'll still need power to finish the job! Unlike here in the Capital District, it rarely takes just a few hours to restore the grid.

The other agenda item for the long weekend is research for the non-fiction story I have in the works. I don't need power for that, and the interview is set for Sunday, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Yesterday after my lament I buckled down and started checking off to do list items. I felt a lot better after I did it. In the back of my mind, I was hoping to go out in the late afternoon and start working on the plants, but then the tornado warning came, and I decided hail would hurt the seedlings - why risk it? We did have a terrific thunderstorm very late at night, but nothing else, so I suppose I could have done some planting. Just as well, though - guess what is on the agenda for today? So excited! (Pictures are on the way, stay tuned.)

A couple of days ago I had a strange facebook experience. I received one of those notifications about a friend's birthday. What's weird about that? This person died in October. Not only was the message a sad reminder, but it sparked me to think about her facebook page, continuing to meander along, on autopilot...leading me to contemplate an entire technical world structure without the actual people, going into eternity.

Added: speaking of fb, I decided to put out a call for information to see if the electric is out in S'ville. When I didn't get an immediate response, I thought, "guess that's my answer!" But then someone did respond: Yes, it is. That ability to gather information not easily available by any other means is one reason I am not among the fb detractors. Then I went to the Central Hudson website and found this! The difference between the yellow and orange is only because of density of population - I'm sure every house in the colored areas is out. Pretty cool, even for an unhappy answer. (Unfortunately, if you were in the colored area - you would have no way to see it without electricity, since there is no guarantee your smart phone will get a signal. Lots of folks do have generators, though.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

We both were feeling "blue" over the disappointing dinner on our anniversary. That seems kind of shallow, I mean, who cares? In the scheme of things it isn't important. But, we rarely take days off from work completely. Working at home, in such a flexible fashion means that work is always there, the line is rarely drawn. So a stolen weekday off after the semester's end is much anticipated. And Bob's job is very, very demanding. Finally, '09 and '10 for him were filled with surgery and recovery, especially at this time of year. Both summers were impacted significantly.

I decided that we had to do something fun and life-affirming last night. So we went to Becker's in East Greenbush and bought the annuals! Bob said, "this is like going to a botanical garden." (Or, he added, like Magic Wings.)

Worked like a charm, Now the problem is that I want to go outside and plant them! Most years, I wait to buy plants until I've rototilled, and I target that for shortly after Memorial Day. My grandfather said that the ground isn't warm enough for tomato plants until then, and I always follow that rule. I see others planting much earlier, but occasionally they lose their more delicate seedlings (such as basil) when we have a cold snap. I never do, and my plants always catch up. Another piece of wisdom that works: plants seeds when the moon is getting bigger, as it grows toward the full moon, not after the full moon, as it is gradually getting smaller.

I make sure I clear my plate of deadlines and spend two full days working outside in early June, assuming the weather is right. I rototill, get my plants, and put them in. After the seeds are up, I take another day to mulch to prevent weeds and keep in moisture.

However, jumping the gun to combat blueness has created a distraction! I am not concerned about putting the plants in a couple days before Memorial Day - it's close enough, and it isn't predicted to be cold anyway. But I didn't clear my plate! And this is a Samsonville weekend, so I can't catch up then.

This year I'm going to grow something I've never tried before: Eggplant. My sister calls it "the official Giuliano favorite vegetable." That's true. If polled, more than a few of us would list eggplant parmesan as our favorite food, me included, and the rest would say it was top five or higher. The plants I got are white eggplant = I'm especially excited. I only grow things in my garden patch that are winners in terms of productivity, so I focus on cucumbers and green beans in the ground. (Last year I started using Page Seeds after years of buying from Seeds of Change. Not to take anything away from SoC (a wonderful vendor), but Page is local/upstate and the germination rate was unbelievable! The plants were also very hearty with high yields. Highly recommended.) I plant everything else in containers, and that is the plan for the eggplant. My sister-in-law had great success with container eggplant a few years ago. Uncle Bud calls eggplant "the commune plant" because so many kinds of bugs love to eat the leaves. I'm hoping the container approach will help me win that battle without chemicals.

That same SIL emailed me last night. We have a sort of family community garden at my parents' farm. It has the blazing sun that produces high yields, and space enough to have a huge fenced-in area. She let me know my brother tilled it, and it is ready to go! Among other things, I will plant the leftover cucumber seeds and zucchini. Zucchini parmesan is pretty darn good too! I know it has the rep of being overly productive, but to me, that's a feature, not a bug. It does not grow well in Castleton - soil has too much clay and the yard is too shady, but in Samsonville, Bob could almost open the stand of his daydreams.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We're number one! (NYS = $18,126.)
Our anniversary yesterday was quite an adventure. The Norman Rockwell museum was great. Something I wasn't expecting was that it is so much more about his work than about his life. I knew his illustration and art would be the major focus, but I thought there would be more artifacts that related to his life in general, and that wasn't the case at all. Maybe because his sons are all still living? Regardless, the tour guide was excellent and the experience overall was very satisfying.

Afterwards, our intention was to eat at the Red Lion Inn. We stopped in a little shop as we were walking from the car to the restaurant. There were '60s buttons on display in the store window. We are going to a friend's 50th birthday in a couple of weeks, and it is a costume / theme party - the sixties. We bought a few buttons (they will make great "flare" for the party, and I collect them besides), and headed for the Red Lion Inn. The walk was maybe a half-block at most - during that time, the sky opened up and soaked us! I can't overstate the rain - within seconds it was a downpour - even our shoes and socks were dripping. At the door of the restaurant, we decided that we couldn't sit there and enjoy it in that condition. So we took a "rain check," went back to the car and came home. What a disappointment!

We dried off, changed our clothes, and went to the Carolina House. It's a favorite place of ours, and not too far away. I'm not sure why we didn't call first, because it is closed on Tuesdays. From there we decided to cut our losses since it was getting late, and just go and get pizza. We eat in fancy places often, so didn't mind the downgrade (that much). We ordered steamers as an appetizer. The clams were spoiled! Seriously, they were so disgusting they sparked an almost immediate gag reflex. Then, the server told us that they made a mistake in preparing the pizza so it had to be made over. We didn't mind waiting, were not really in a hurry, but they must have been nervous about the various problems and didn't cook the pie enough, so the vegetables in the topping were crunchy. (I won't name the pizzeria, because it is always excellent and we love it, so I don't want to trash it for this one bad experience.)

So after the museum the day was a comedy of errors. But, I remarked - it's better than being in the hospital! That's where Bob was two years ago.

It's a beautiful day today! I would love to be gardening.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Plagiarism almost always results in some unpleasant email exchanges. Invariably, no matter what action has been taken, the student tries to get the penalty lessened by one degree. So if they received a failing grade on the assignment, they argue to have it count a little more. If the final course grade was lowered significantly, they try to persuade me to just drop it one letter grade. If they failed the class, they argue to get a low passing grade, even a D (last resort) in the class. If they are reported to Undergraduate Studies, they beg to just fail without being reported. And if they get the worst sanction of all - referral to Judicial Affairs - instead they argue to be reported to Undergraduate Studies only.

I'm completely non-negotiable on this topic, and to be honest, there are some students in my classes who have argued with me passionately when we cover academic dishonesty. A good number are offended over my objectivist views, really protest and probably think I am crazy. (Maybe that's why I'm "weird.") Then, the students who are caught red-handed refuse the label of unethical and don't like being called on it. They don't seem to believe it reflects a character flaw - after the initial denial (they stop when they know the evidence cannot be refuted), they say it's the first time and once that falls flat, that it's expedient or understandable or no biggie, not a symptom of a bigger (profound) problem. Quick! Go to RMP and write that I'm incompetent and cruel.

Usually the violator shuts up or dries their tears after a volley and goes away but occasionally there is one who continues to push it. Mostly this happens when I have chosen one of the lower level (in my class) sanctions, which generally means course failure with no referral. That's my usual path for borderline cases.

This approach comes in two varieties: schmoozers, the sales rep types, or self-righteous, the arrogant types. In the hope of what, I wonder? Hurting my feelings? Getting me to concede? I've one such student now, unfortunately not someone who is trying to win me with flattery. (That wouldn't work either, but it does make me feel a lot less pissed off.)

An odd feature of this incident is that it shares something with a long-ago case that caused consternation at that time, and then again, recently (as well as sparking a really nasty comment on a post). They are the only times in the 20 or so times when I've detected cheating where the student would have gotten the bad final course grade anyway, without having to be sanctioned for plagiarism, so technically they didn't fail due to academic dishonesty. That factored into my decision to not refer the case to the university for review and additional penalties. No need. Maybe I should have, in both cases?

The condescending missives I've received drip with outrage and finger pointing. Oh yeah, I'm the one who is out of line. I suppose it is easier to be mad at me, than to take responsibility. Unfortunately, this is one of those times when I can't elaborate with lots of details for a long time, if ever. I would dearly love to copy and paste the correspondence here to record it, but that would be unethical.

Suffice to say, when something like this happens, I ponder why the student is trying to push my buttons? It is possible they do not realize that they should go away and thank their lucky stars, because I always have an excellent "paper trail" and if ruffled, I may be forced to resort to a worse penalty than the one I imposed?

PS I hate to be writing this. I wanted to put the semester to bed, and move on. And honestly, complaining about awful students makes it seem as if I think poorly of a lot of students, which isn't true at all. One of my constant sources of frustration - and I know the same is true for other faculty - is how much time the tiny minority of bad students take up, and how little time there is to devote to the bright lights.

I don't necessarily mean "A" students when I describe them as bright lights, either. Oh sure, A students make up the largest proportion of wonderful students. (But, not all A students are wonderful.) What I mean is, most students are great, whether they are A students or C students. I like them a lot; they have much to offer. The students who are working with me on my research are shining examples of young people who make me proud. Cases such as the one I am describing here are rare, thankfully. Unfortunately, though, they are not completely absent; I catch about one per year. I can't just look the other way, as I know some do. That would be shirking my responsibility.

Also, in my experience, the A and B students outnumber the C and D students by a lot. That may not be true in all classes, not sure. Regardless, the A students who are so smart and a pleasure, as well as the B and C students who may need a bit of extra help but deserve it, do not get any where near the attention as the total slackers and the cheaters. Is that always true, at any level of education?
They are exiting? Not before taking the trees and branches across from my house. There was a crew here all day. I'm not complaining, except about the racket. That's one of the hazards of working from home so much. It can be beautiful, peaceful, birdsong the only sound (admittedly punctured occasionally by one or both of my buddies joyously barking). Or it can be VERY annoying - someone running a chainsaw, lawn mower, wood splitter all day, playing music at high volume, revving a motorcycle engine constantly or screaming while riding downhill in the winter (the hill behind my house is the best).

I like to do most work in natural sound. That's what I call it instead of silence. Years ago when I was studying for the GREs or something else high stakes such as comprehensive exams (a one day cram session, typically me) it was one of those days noise-wise - and I did something completely out of character, opened the window in my office and yelled outside to shut up!

Anyway, I remember a couple of weeks ago there was an article in the TU (advocate section I think) about people freaking over trees being cut. Admittedly, the picture did make it look pretty drastic, but I can't say I mind. It isn't that I don't like trees because I do. I love wilderness of all kinds, to the point that even though bugs hate me, I hardly ever kill them; I try to live in harmony with things others seek to exterminate. (Hardly ever rather than never because with my history sometimes I have no choice; it is self-defense. I apologise for it as the gardeners did in Atwood's In the Year of the Flood.)

The reason is because when the weather is bad, I am so grateful when the electricity stays on. This really hit home yesterday, when I was re-organizing the shed. (An aside, years ago we bought a Rubbermaid shed. Everything about our architectural footprint is small, the shed fits in perfectly. You know how sometimes you buy something and are uncertain whether it will be worth it? Well, that Rubbermaid shed has been worth ten times what we paid.) Back to spring cleaning. Something that was in the front of the shed is a kerosene heater. We had to buy it last time there was a major power outage that lasted a while. We don't lose our electricity all that often in Castleton, but it is routine in Samsonville. It is pretty rare for it to be off for a few days at a time even there, but still. And it is even worse in the winter when it goes out. So within reason, when powerlines are above ground - I say cutting branches is OK.
I forgot the mention this pet peeve, also from yesterday: I watched about half of 60 Minutes last night. The story on farmworkers so irritated me. Granted, it was interesting. But so patronizing! I wanted to reach into the TV screen, grab the reporter and say "how dare you. You could never have one shred as much dignity and character as these folks."
I had a really lovely weekend. Yard work figured into it prominently. There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment from working outside. I just know in my blood I was meant to be a farmer! Last evening, we went to get a pizza after the long day of working in the yard and spied an abandoned vegetable stand on the way. I pointed it out, said that is the sort of place I want to patronize this year to buy my annuals. (If it was in business, that is!) Bob said wistfully, "I would love to chuck everything and open up something like that." Unfortunately after thousands of dollars of education and years of hard work of the mental variety, plus all the financial obligations that we've accumulated, that sort of lifestyle change isn't possible. And I know it may seem charming to a hobbyist, but it is a lot less romantic when it is the way one has to make a living. So I satisfy myself with some perennials and a few annuals, container tomato plants and three squares of carefully managed vegetable plantings. Oh, how could I forget? Also two days of haying in July, if my schedule matches with the timing (which is an opera).

The other thing that made yesterday particularly nice was that it was the 40th anniversary of our priest's ordination, and so the Mass had a few extra touches. We have a choir, band and musical director who are extremely talented. It's like going to a concert every Sunday, yesterday even more so. I also appreciated that there was no mention of the "rapture." Not that I expected it, but I know some clergy of other faiths planned to bring it up. The media was falling over themselves covering it, as if it was news worthy? Why?

Speaking of concerts, I bought tickets to see Bare Naked Ladies at SPAC in July. We rarely travel to SPAC any more; just don't go to concerts as often as we did, the ride to Saratoga is too far, and the last couple of times we went to SPAC we didn't enjoy the experience very much for various reasons. But I had to make an exception for BNL. They aren't playing alone, but with Goo Goo Dolls and Michelle Branch. I don't remember much of the music of either one so I'll have to get up to speed, but BNL could be playing with bands I hate and I wouldn't care.

On the subject of anniversaries: tomorrow we're off to Stockbridge to the Norman Rockwell museum (surprisingly, I've never been before) and the Red Lion Inn to celebrate ours! It's been two years since Bob was really well on this date, so this is major! For us it is about the equivalent of two weeks in the tropics since we do not really take vacations or even full days off. (Part* of that has to do with having two houses, it is the trade off one makes.) He was able to do some outside work yesterday, and I know he felt especially good resuming normal activities.

Finally: off to Samsonville for Memorial Day weekend! Really looking forward to it.

*not all, we never really did, even before the second home. Provincial me, I'm not much of a traveler.

sign of the times

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A sunny day! I ran out, "cleaned up" the yard, and weed whacked. The grass was so tall I thought I might have to hay it instead! Imagine hayin' my postage stamp yard, would I even get one bale? Now I'm itching to get the garden going.

Friday, May 20, 2011

About my last post: First, I forgot - Bob was proofed for that mega can of beer! Granted he looks young for his age, by about a decade. But under 21? No way! (Says the "lady" with the black-into-grey hair.)

Second, I put the remaining pie in the fridge last night - tonight we had it again. It was much firmer today!
Cooking is something that I do a lot more in the summer than at other times. I like to cook and (this part isn't humble) I'm decent at it, but I also (pick all that apply) 1) love to eat in restaurants, 2) am often pressed for time, and 3) hate to clean. I prefer to make complicated things when I cook, ones that take a lot of time and make a lot of dishes. I wash as I go so it isn't an enormous job at the end, but still it is a task I can't stand.

Last night I wanted to make beer batter (never made it before). We didn't have any beer (I prefer wine and Bob prefers martinis), so on his way home, Bob picked up one of those big single cans. He didn't buy a lot of items, and he said it was awkward. Who buys big single cans of Budweiser? He decided only two types of people. A homeless person would not very often be wearing a suit and tie (at least not clean ones). The other alternative is an alcoholic, who can't wait to get home to have a drink, and plans to slug this one down in the car on the way!

This is the pie I made for dessert:

It's a Strawberry Chobani Pie!

This recipe is very easy. I made the crust by rolling 2 cups vanilla Oreos into crumbs (they are on sale 2 for $5 at Rite Aid this week). Mix with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Press in 9" pie pan. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Spoon in 32 ounces of Strawberry Chobani yogurt. Freeze at least 1 hour. Cut up 1 quart fresh strawberries. Mix with 1 tablespoon sugar. Cover top of pie and serve.

It has a flaw. I am going to have to play around a little to fix it. A couple of weeks ago, I froze a small cup of Chobani solid to see what would happen. I already knew it froze and defrosted OK, that wasn't the point. I wanted to see if it would be palatable frozen, as an ice cream alternative. But I found that when it is fully frozen, it is hard as a rock, and it is just about impossible to eat until it is almost completely thawed.

So in this recipe, after an hour, the yogurt is not really frozen. Unfortunately, it is too soft to stay in a perfect pie shape when cut, and that's unacceptable to me. Bob felt the pie was delicious and didn't see this as a big deal. And it does present beautifully as a whole pie. I am not sure what is the exact time to freeze it for it to be not too soft, not too hard - I will have to experiment. I don't want to add another ingredient to the filling (such as Cool Whip....ewwww) unless I absolutely can't achieve it otherwise.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm getting near to putting Spring '11 to bed - moving on to reading, article writing, research / consulting, gardening, blackboard upgrade, and eventually the pool...

I wanted to write a favorite anecdote from this semester first. This needs a little background. Early last semester, a friend of mine who was new to facebook emailed me that an ex from long ago had sent him a friend request. What should he do? I advised him to ignore it. That blast from the past sparked him to do a little googling on her name. He emailed me again to ask, could she now be a professor? So I searched too, and told him to check out "Rate My Professor."

After he did this (to hilarious results, I might add), naturally he couldn't resist looking up my name. He emailed again. "Are you a weird lady?"

Now, my policy is to avoid RMP. I can imagine that students find it useful, but I have a tendency to agonize over the littlest comment. Considering the site is anonymous and public - well, it just doesn't seem good for the psyche to explore it routinely.

I always found the evaluations the university collected every semester valuable, until they converted them to an online tool. That's surprising for me, the advocate for early adoption. But the response rate plummeted once it was no longer administered via paper in class, which means only motivated students (those who LOVED or HATED the class and me) bother to complete it. Even at that, it is better than RMP, since the university one has to be submitted before final grades are in, where RMP is sensitive to grades.

After he sent me that note, I had to see what he meant. So I visited. A student had written that I was a weird lady, but nice. I wasn't upset by that remark, and responded to my friend "I am kind of weird I guess. I have some hippyish jewelry and sometimes I say outside the box things in an effort to shake them up. But the truth is the student probably wrote that because since May '09 when I screwed up my ankle I sometimes walk with a cane and canes are weird. Or maybe it is because I occasionally make them draw pictures during class, which is unexpected in a social science class." His answer came back: "you are so past weird you would have to look in the rear view mirror to see it."

So this semester, when the subject of RMP came up during class discussion, I told them that story. The uncomfortable glances when I brought up RMP and the weird lady part - it was so obvious almost all of them had looked my name up and read that. Then the laughter at my cane reference and my friend's response! I thought some of them would pee their pants.

We were focused on the "weird" part of the comment, not on the "lady" part. I've noticed students still use "girl" to describe their female peers, when my generation has been socialized to say "women" for anyone past adolescence. "Lady" sounds like something out of the antebellum south! Admittedly, I've been called (much) worse.
I go in spells where I write a lot about my teaching. I spent some time when I first started writing here thinking about how to handle my students finding me, what things are acceptable to share, etc. I considered this question not just about my classes but about other aspects of my life too. True, 99% of people cannot spell my last name, so that makes google searches tricky. (Even my own maternal grandmother couldn't remember whether it was UI or IU - she resolved it by writing in cursive, and dotting it high up.) But one can't rely on all those diphthongs to keep a secret.

It was an extension of a subject I'd thought about many times pre-www when writing stories - how much to self-censor? It was not really necessary to self-censor a journal in the days of the spiral bound notebook (well, maybe a little) but it was always a question with fiction. I have a couple fiction stories that are great, but one of the main characters makes it impossible for them to be published. I err on the side of self-censoring. I know, most writing advice advocates breaking free, avoiding the practice, but once when I (innocently) threw caution to the wind in a story, it bit me. I didn't even see it coming!

In the early days of weblogs, there were debates about the self-censoring question, and lots of bloggers pushed not holding back online. I was always skeptical of this, even more than in stories.

I keep this ejournal as a record, just like I kept my paper journal. It's a reflection tool, and I use it as a chronicle. I do it for myself. I've been influenced by Elwyn to some degree. Imagine! Keeping a journal every day of your life from age 16 to age 86. Recording the mundane, the weather, daily life, major events. Newspaper clippings and receipts.

I've figured out how to navigate the censorship question. It's gotten a lot easier actually, now that everything is traceable, everybody is always online, and facebook has made everyone vulnerable, not just those of us who were online pioneers.

Still, there are some things I never write about, both in terms of my job and personal stuff. The main character of the story described above is an example. Sometimes I'd like to write more on something - but cannot. That has made me consider starting up a private journal again. But I've never been as consistent as I am here, and I don't want to break that continuity.

In terms of classes and students, I mostly avoid specifics. Not entirely, but that's made a bit easier by my having over 100 students every semester. It's hard to figure out who it might be with so many classes and students. If I want to be a little more specific about something sensitive, I wait several semesters before writing about it. I never write a reflection or funny incident here that I wouldn't share with class. In fact, I often do tell stories and reflections to class. I always get more than a few laughs from my anecdotes.

This is a long introduction to what's on my mind right now. One of those things that I'd like to write about more specifically, but can't. The E student. The reason it's on my mind is due to this. That's one of my anecdotes, from class last semester. The E student is just like the woman I described as meeting at my local watering hole. Oh, I don't know if she is a free spirit, and I don't know if she has a tendency to shoot her mouth off when she drinks wine, "no offense." But the attitude - that education as a discipline, schools of education, toleration, foundations, certification - are BS is a commonality.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I've been thinking about a contrasting example to the student who sparked the last post. This one is a student with a troubled history, on probation. Bad family situation, and no money. He was struggling, and told me he couldn't afford the books. Now, I put everything on reserve, but students don't like to go the library. They like e-reserves. I do provide some materials that way, but that isn't possible for all the reading.

At about the midpoint of the semester, I told him he would fail the class if he continued with the same behavior; I said he could get a D or C at most if he stepped up immediately. When addressing the entire class, I said that one of my frustrations is that students aren't resourceful. For instance, one of the books that is assigned is an edited collection of journal articles - the vast majority of the journals are available in online format from the university library. Do students who don't buy the books ever search the library catalogue and get the articles that way? No. They either whine to me, or try to play the games of multiple guess and forum of ignorance.

You know what? He took it to heart and made extreme effort for the second half of the semester. He took my advice about being resourceful; searched the library for the articles and used them. His writing and class participation were good, very insightful. The end result? A B- in my class, and he emailed me not to ask why he didn't get a higher grade...but to tell me that his GPA wound up being OK this semester and he wasn't kicked out. Also he said that he knows he has to try harder next year. So he'll be able to be at college for his senior year! This made me very happy. I wouldn't mind having him in class next semester; it was well worth my time to work with him.
"Why" number four arrived. From an "E" this time. My response probably would have made me upset, if I received it from a professor when I was a student. But I've never been a slacker who feels entitled and demands explanation and a grade change. Have I ever been a slacker? Well, yes, on occasion. Have I felt entitled? Probably, but very rarely. Both things together? Never. Did I ever demand explanation? Once, in seventh grade (mentioned near the top of this post, in the Unintended Lesson Imparted section). How about a grade change? Perish the thought! I took my lumps, sometimes undeserved ones, such as that time in seventh grade. Also in grad school when I dissented from the company line philosophically and got zinged (but only by having my A lowered to A-, never something catastrophic).

When I asked that seventh grade teacher "why," it wasn't about the 50. It was about the end of semester grade, which I believe was in the C+ range. It surprises me to think back on it now, that I had the courage to ask her, but I recall that my parents encouraged me to do so, since I was upset by the grade. I asked her if I got C+ because of the 50. (It didn't count enough to bring it down that much.) She said no, it was because I was too quiet. She was right about that. I was quiet in class in junior high school. I'd been acculturated to be that way, had been rewarded for such behavior. Teachers generally preferred silent adolescents. I doubt that was the real reason she penalized me. It was the last time I ever questioned a grade.

I'm remembering another of my teachers from the Seven Teachers story encouraged me to ask "why" when I got an 80 in pottery in high school.  I describe her in the Exceptional English Teacher section. She required a journal for class and I wrote in it how upset I was over the grade. So she commented nearby, telling me to ask the teacher why? (Believe it or not, I still have my journals from her classes and that's why I know it was underlined.) I never asked, though.

A couple of days ago, my sister emailed me this picture:

She asked me if I had made it for her when I was in high school. I responded, yes, but not in school, at our town's library in West Shokan. I did take pottery in high school, but the teacher wouldn't let me make something like this. She felt my stuff was too utilitarian, symmetrical and boring and she didn't like us using colorful glazes; she made us use dull '70s earth colors. Admittedly, I'm no sculptor (nor do I have my sister's level of artistic talent) but I wasn't completely incompetent and I still wonder why so much of high school is about extinguishing nonconformity. 

Conformity in this case didn't mean being a nerd, or even an artist. About half the class time was spent with kids throwing clay at the clock, sneaking out of the classroom (one of the art rooms had a door to the outside, bad idea) and other foolishness. At the end of each quarter, we had to have 10 projects done. There was a day when we put them out on display, and the teacher walked around evaluating them. My brother was also in the class, and he was many projects behind, so a couple of days before, he took a ball of clay, punched it, fired it, called it an ashtray. He made several projects using that same method. I'm not sure what his grade was, but I do remember it was higher than an 80. Other kids made elaborate bongs and pot pipes. They got a lot of praise, and probably a 95. Remember it was the '70s and my school was near Woodstock.

I liked pottery and didn't let this school experience dissuade me. Our town library had a kiln and a wonderful librarian who fired it for us. We gathered as a group of all different ages. Some made pottery, others ceramics. It was a much more nurturing environment than school. It's true that the vase isn't exactly a museum piece, but my sister has been using it for 35 years!
Today makes three emails asking "why" - this time, about a B. Why do students think B is a bad grade? It makes me suspect grade inflation is true. Sure, I too was a "grade monger" - I wanted As - but I never complained to a professor. Different times or insufficient assertiveness? Fear/doormat syndrome or respect/the way things used to be?
This is disturbing. Could it be a strategy to assemble a list of suspects? Maybe I have watched too many Criminal Minds. I confess to being interested in true crime stories, but I cannot fathom what sort of person would want to collect his stuff.
Reading this column on Wednesday mornings is one thing I miss in my new paper-free life. This comic strip is another. (Both are in The Record.) I've subscribed to the syndicated comics I liked in both the TU and Record (a couple had been yanked already in one of the many redesigns that were purportedly making the papers better but really were just stripping out content and replacing it with crap). I've also subscribed to Dear Abby and Annie's Mailbox and find the emails satisfactory. Other stuff gets missed even though I check the websites (because the reading pattern is different in print v. online) but overall, I don't miss the papers as much as I expected. I will have to buy it for a while when I need to mulch my garden though! For that, it is invaluable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Testing out the "share" button on my sister's blog: Paintings by Janette Kahil. It works!

Also - decided to change the background of the template.
Surprisingly, I received only one** email immediately after grades became accessible, demanding to know "why" (about a C+). Since it is raining, meaning no gardening or yardwork of any kind :-( [the grass is going to be up to my knees, and my weed whacker will be too wimpy to handle it], I decided to get the grade breakdowns out of the way.

I can see that the end of the academic year, the more leisurely summer pace, over a decade of college teaching, and turning 50 on the horizon are conspiring to make me reflective. So here's a scattered group of things that were brewing in the back of my mind while I was up to my eyeballs in assessment.

Students with special needs: According to the U.S. Department of Education, from 1977 to 2002, the number of children served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act rose by over 2.7 million, a 73 percent increase. In 2002, 2.8 million students were classified with specific learning disabilities, 3.6 times the 796,000 students identified in 1977. In 1977, learning disabled students made up fewer than one-quarter (22 percent) of all those with disabilities, compared to almost half (44 percent) in 2002. Autism increased 96 percent in those same 25 years.

Considering these data*, I suppose it is to be expected that eventually colleges would see increased numbers of students who have been identified as having disabilities. I notice it, more every year. It isn't something I mind, and it hasn't been a major issue up to this point. However, if the number grows somewhat larger, I could see a time when classroom aides will be necessary.

Dogs in the Village: For the past dozen years, we've been the only one of our close neighbors to have a dog. We've all lived here forever (at 24 years we are the newest). On one side, there were never any pets; on the other, although they have always had cats, after their last dog died (in the '90s), they did not get another. Then, a few months ago they adopted two small puppies. About a month ago on the other side, the eldest son moved home and he has a large young dog.

Our two (really just Sam) will bark almost without provocation, and Sophie, while more mellow, doesn't stop easily once she gets going. The two puppies are now nearly grown, and they are adorable, plus very excitable and yippy. The big dog is also almost grown, handsome and luckily, seems to be placid. But recently some contractors have been doing work; it was a barkfest plus machinery noises for hours...during those nice days we had, while I was grading. Bring on the rain!

Chaz: I'm not a Letterman fan but I watched the night Chaz Bono was on. I always watched the Sonny and Cher show with my family when I was a kid, and I remember little Chastity. I was very impressed by what he had to say, and I thought his openness was extremely brave. Dave was somewhat less jerky than usual.

Assignment changes dynamics: I am always tweaking assignments and expectations, experimenting, and trying to make assessment less painful. This semester I made a major change in journal and online discussion requirements. I eliminated the paper option for the journal, and combined the two into one assignment. The peer commenting aspect really intensified it. That always took place in the online discussion, but making the basis a lengthy journal post rather than brief, cursory dialogue completely altered the character of it.

I think the impact also spilled over into FTF class discussions. It was responsible for the edgy dynamic I noticed in both classes, more than the long winter, the kegs n eggs fiasco, no fountain day, the bad job market, or two student suicides. It seemed to spark more intellectual challenge. And the assessment changes worked like a charm! Adding in the requirement for students to enter their peer and group assessments into a blackboard tool really lightened the burden for me at the end of the semester. This freed up time for me to figure out how to evaluate the new discussion journal assignment, and it allowed me to make this reflection.

*Data:  I remember when I worked at SUNY System, there was a heated debate about whether "data" was singular or were plural. The things academics sweat! Reminds me of "Word for the Wise" on NPR (I have been perceived as nerdy for finding it interesting).

Added: I resolved the argument about data by not taking sides, instead forcing the singular v. plural, for instance writing "a piece of data" or "data elements."

**Finally, make that two emails, this one after the breakdowns were posted. (Another C+.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Grades are done! YAY!

Within the next few days, I will post breakdowns in blackboard so students can see how they fared on the final, for participation, etc. Tomorrow I will get to the academic stuff that has been waiting, such as fall enrollment. Also up ahead are my end of semester activity report and the blackboard upgrade for the summer class.

However, if it wasn't raining, before thinking of any of that, I'd be outside cutting the grass and rototilling the garden. As it is, the weather may prompt me to finish it all, long before deadlines loom. Just as well, then I can garden without guilt when the sun finally comes out.

I am definitely going to get back to my Mark Twain book. Also, I have to write the pitch for my nonfiction story. And get working on the two sci-fi stories that have been brewing. All things that can be done when it is raining.

But right now, time for some reflection.

I arrived at college at age 16 in 1978, intending to major in pre-law. After one semester I determined that I liked history better. So I majored in US History. The economy and job market at that time were similar to now. I did not pursue education curricula and had no interest in teaching.

I had a variety of jobs in my twenties, in Oneonta where I went to undergrad (and lingered a little while afterwards, adored that town), in NYC and Westchester after college - some tolerable, some drudgery, some temporary, none very lucrative. Each only lasted a year or two (and often less).

I had a lot of fun, and was not focused on climbing the career ladder. Finally I sort of figured out what I wanted to do (and what I didn't), did figure out where I wanted to live (and where I didn't), and I had a vague idea that I might be ready for grad school at some undetermined point in the not-too-distant future.

I moved to the Capital District, got a clerical temp job at a State agency. My boss taught me how to use a spreadsheet, which wound up being a valuable skill, one that turned me from computer phobe into a computer enthusiast. She became an important mentor for me.

I went back to school for the MPA when I was 28. I thought I wanted to take the human resources concentration, but found I liked data analysis, statistics and policy more. I also thought I wanted to work for a state agency, but instead I found an internship at SUNY System - I took it because it came with a tuition waiver - and eventually that made me gravitate toward education.

They hired me when I graduated, and I stayed there nearly ten years. During that time I was told "you'll never move up if you don't get a doctorate" and although I had promised myself when I pursued the MPA that if I went on to a doctoral program, I would go back to studying my true love: History, I did the expedient thing instead, and applied to the educational administration and policy PhD.

By the time I finished it (an aside, but I almost didn’t - four years in, I decided either the job or the doctoral program had to go because I needed time to pursue other interests such as writing...a year later goodbye job) 22 years after graduating high school - I had been volunteering as a docent at Historic Cherry Hill, and through that experience, discovered that I didn't want to be an administrator - I wanted to teach college! That was in 2000, when I was nearly 39, and I have now been teaching for 11 years.

I'll be 50 this year and will probably work for another 20 years if my health stays good [I have excellent family genes, so keeping my fingers crossed] and also I'm born the first year of the social security age being raised before you can collect or be on medicare so I may have no choice but to not retire.

My track record is to spend about a decade in each setting (exploration in the twenties,  administration in the thirties, teaching in the forties) before I move on. So what's next for me? In twenty years I could fit in two more "careers."

It would be nice if one of the ten years could be full-time freelance fiction writing, which is really what I have always wanted to do. Unfortunately I don’t think I could generate enough income that way, until I am also collecting my pension. I know that’s a cop out, that if I really wanted it I would take a risk and “just do it.” I’m either too risk adverse, or not confident enough.

Appreciating change is a part of why I like teaching; every semester is new, a chance to start over and experiment. I have never had a job I liked as much as teaching, so at this point I am satisfied and this is mostly joking. But I do like new challenges. Not that I spend one moment worrying (I don’t) but I am adjunct, so I am mindful of keeping my options open (one reason for the research and consulting).

I also know that I probably won't be in the classroom for another 20 years. There will come a time when I will be too out of touch to be effective as a college instructor. I'm hoping that doesn't happen too soon but I can't be unrealistic either.

I shared sentiments like this with students in online discussion and one protested:

I don't think that you will be done teaching because you don't think you are effective any more. I think there will be a loss of interest or you just really can't teach anymore; you're satisfied at the time in your career, so it will be ok for you to retire. Being ineffective is a very bold statement, one that can be misinterpreted. As long as you have the effect on your students the way you do now, and you keep them interested with the material you teach (for example, applying it to their lives), then I really don't see how you can't teach for another 20 years- if you want.

Bob would probably say it was only apple polishing, but I say it’s not :-). Spring ‘11 was a good semester.
Almost finished with grades - but not quite, will have to work several hours tomorrow. (It's still Sunday to me; I am in summer owl mode.) I receive daily emails from students asking for their grade. My answer is always the same: they will be available. 12 noon Tuesday 5/17 (that's the university's common date / time). My deadline from the Registrar is Monday 5/16 11:59 pm and believe me, I need every minute! I announced this several times at the end of the semester in every class, and posted it on the home page of each course's blackboard site, but still the emails dribble in. Some even acknowledge what I said about when final grades would be ready, but ask anyway.

Speaking of birds (I mentioned owl mode), we watched The Black Swan tonight. Before this, I had no desire to see it for some reason. (That isn't really like me, generally I want to see the Oscar nominated movies.) We were standing there at red box, and another couple was right behind us. Both of us hate to be rushed (tailgated, as we say), so I said, "why don't you go ahead of us?" They did, and while they were browsing the movies, we were discussing the new releases that are pictured on the machine. The Black Swan was one, and I (loudly) whispered that I wasn't interested in it. They guy who was reviewing the movie selections looked up and said it was one of the best movies he'd ever seen! We must have acted as if we were going to choose it, because at that point they said, "why don't you get your movie first?" Maybe they felt pressured by tailgating too? So I felt kind of obligated to get his suggestion.

After watching it, I would describe it as an art movie, but not really an entertaining movie - to me there is a difference. It left me feeling the way Ingmar Bergman movies do. Not that it was similar to one of his movies, but I am always so tense and anxious while watching them (and for a while afterwards). That is the same sensation I had tonight. I can see why Natalie Portman won best actress. She nails it, but her character isn't a bit likable. Nor is it a sympathetic portrait of ballet dancers. They are shown to be uptight, backstabbing, vindictive, mentally ill, anorexic, among other unflattering things. I imagine dancers hated this movie.

It's sort of funny what "art" brings to mind. Back in Oneonta, I was in a writing group. Our goal was to create radio plays. I was invited to join by my writing tutor, who had been an editor. I remember when I first met him, he thought I was a dancer, not a writer. I don't mind dancing (and I even won a contest at about that time), but I am not sure why he had that impression. I suppose it must have been the Danskin leotards and Chinese shoes I wore all the time (although those were very common fashions). Or perhaps I was graceful, in those days before orthotics and walking with a cane?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I'm reaching the part of the assessment process where the last cell gets an entry - and the final grade pops up. I examine each letter grade - most seem appropriate, but if it is a failing or bad grade, or one that is borderline in terms of awarding a higher grade, I reflect on the assignments, the class characteristics, and the student. I don't curve grades as a whole; it isn't really necessary, except occasionally - for instance at the end of the semester of the hybrid class, grades in that section were noticeably lower than in the other sections, so I had to equalize them. Clearly the design and delivery impacted performance for the entire class.

In general, though, my classes are structured so that students can get good grades. Sadly, not everyone does. I wonder if they will be shocked by the grade, or if they are expecting it. I wonder if they will email me Tuesday afternoon, demanding an accounting. With some students, it is apparent all semester that they are facing challenges, struggling but trying. However, there are others who are extremely capable but put in minimal effort yet feel entitled. I calculate whether what is fair is also expedient (for me), but I always wind up erring on the side of fair when there is a judgment call. This is one reason for why I go to the mat on academic dishonesty. It isn't fair to do otherwise, so even though it isn't expedient, I don't shy away from the process.
More good news involving Chobani.
Grading's going so well...and no more alarm clock until late August! So I can do what I love, stay up late and write.

I'll be turning 50 in September. A lot of my friends from high school and college are also celebrating "the big five-oh" this year or next, or have hit that milestone in the past year or two. I'm constantly writing happy fiftieth birthday greetings on facebook, and summer parties are on the horizon.

I remember Mimmie telling me, when I was a teenager and she was in her 70s, that she still felt the same on the inside. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I finally do! It isn't that you don't mature emotionally - internally (externally is a given). Of course you do. But in some ways your perceptions don't change - and the mirror can be something of a shock!

I thought it might be fun to gather some photos and writing to mark the beginning of every decade. All of this was written pre-GPB, and is squirreled away, here and there. (Packrat city - a minimalist would have a convulsion.) I'm choosing the first things I run across that fit the timeframe. So here goes:

I was around 10 in both of these early '70s photos (above and below). I'm pretty sure the fashion show one took place when I was in fifth grade, in 1971-72. My mother sewed the green polyester dress, and knitted the green cable sweater for our dog, Pud. But I might have been 11 in the one with the raccoon, because I remember getting my long hair cut in sixth grade.

It's funny that more of these photos don't show my hair extremely long or extremely short - because I've worn it those two ways for more years than the medium length it seems to often have been at the decade changes. Maybe if I'd done half-decades as intervals instead? It's also surprising that animals are only prominent in these two! Where are the rest of my buddies through the years?

Here's something I wrote when I was 10 or 11:

"Priss," as she was referred to in the city reported to Linda that she was going to camp out. She didn't give any details, just that she was going to camp out. Linda laughed. "You, you!?" she mocked. Prissy was determined to do it. She said, "just because you're from the country and I'm not doesn't mean you're braver than me!"

"And when will you perform this feat that will make history?"

"Saturday night."

"You'll have to prove it to me."

"I will, I will!"

Saturday night came. As Prissy didn't live in the country, she had brought her camping equipment to her grandmother's house, which was in the country. She walked into the woods, but when she got there she was terror filled. An owl hooted and she screamed. A dog began to howl and she started walking back home. She finally reached the house. She decided to pitch the tent in the backyard. After almost crushing her hand with the hammer, she called her grandfather out to help her. While he was pitching the tent, she decided to start a fire. "Ol" Gramps ended up doing that too.

She had pork 'n' beans that were raw on the inside and burnt on the outside. She crawled into her sleeping bag. She was petrified. A few hours later, she went crying to "Gramma."

"Gramma! Gramma! I'm scared! I'm hungry! I'm lonely!" She slept in the guest room the rest of the night. The next day she sadly told Linda of the previous night's happenings. Linda smiled.

"Don't worry. I'm a liar. I'm terrified to sleep out alone. I hardly sleep well in my own room or in groups." Prissy couldn't believe her ears. "Oh, you!" she said. Both girls smiled as they walked away.

This story comes complete with illustration, a precursor of Nileston News, perhaps?:

Here's something I wrote when I was nearly 20:

August 31, ‘81

Today’s Chuckle: How not to do it

“My dear,” he said, “that’s a poetic name!”

“Thank you,” she replied, emotionlessly.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you have a moustache?” he asked.

“I think I’ve heard this routine before," she replied, leaving.

September 2, '81

“Please listen to what I’m not saying.”

“Don’t expect anything and you’ll never be disappointed.”

A doodle that was nearby:

I was 21 in this next picture. I distinctly remember the day it was taken, and not because it was a yearbook photo or the age was significant. Becoming 21 didn't have the same meaning in those days, when the drinking age was 18. I remember because it was a couple of days after my birthday, and a dear friend had just committed suicide - he died the day before I turned 21, in fact.

Later, when I looked at the proofs, I was surprised that they didn't capture how sad I felt that day. Maybe the photographer somehow retouched the pain away?

This is from a nonfiction article I wrote in 1991:

My mother frequently used the word "bungalow" to describe the various houses that she and my father lived in when they were first married. To me, it meant a small, probably rented, damp, dark, and (of course) unpleasant temporary residence. As an adult, I still thought of bungalows as small structures, but they seemed much more appealing, especially when I was searching, with a limited budget, for my first house.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered while doing research that while some of my thinking was misguided, not all of those childhood images were incorrect. The literature does not mention bungalows as being particularly damp, dark, or unpleasant; in fact, Gustav Stickley (1912/1982) wrote in The Craftsman that they are "houses that are durable, beautiful, comparatively inexpensive and always convenient" (p. 59).

The picture below was taken the day I got my master's degree in 1991, when I was nearly 30. My only comment: hair!

I have done some of my best writing while riding on Amtrak. Here is something I wrote in my journal in 2001:

In the Chronicle this week, a grad student writes about Western culture and the changes that education has imposed on him. He hasn't figured out the big picture. I don't know whether I've discovered the big truths but one thing I do believe is that the answer is somewhere in what is the most small - the personal.

I was sparked to write that opening by two men who were sitting behind me on this morning's ride. They spoke of their children, who I got the impression are in their 20s - one is at Stanford, the others living in NYC. They remarked about the differences between going to SUNYA or Siena, where you meet other students from Gloversville and Long Island, or going to college in NYC, where you meet peers from all over the world.

"That's the good thing about having kids scattered all over," said one, "you get to travel." The other responded, "my wife doesn't like to travel. She doesn't like disruption, and she misses her own bed."

Why did the conversation remind me of the Chronicle? (Aside, of course, from the fact that I recently read the article.) Because, as with so many of these snatches of dialogue overheard on the train, they concern opinions and insights on big picture life issues. Is there something about the train that encourages such thought? Are the riders educated folk, deep thinkers, or is it the scenery and the rhythm of the ride?

The big picture questions always bring me to the same conclusion - it is what's most personal that is also most important - not going to NYC to meet people from all over the world - but seeing your mother, who hates to travel.

Here I am at about 40. It was probably the summer of 2001, near the pool in S'ville. I turned 40 a week after 9/11, and I remember how much that overshadowed "the big four-oh" and how relieved I was that I had opted not to have a big party. (That's assuming relief can be used to describe anything at that time)

I cropped myself out and made a tiny picture, which is why it isn't the best quality, but it seems sort of artsy.

And this is me now, at age 49; this is the picture I have been using as my most recent fb and blogger profile. Taken Christmas time at Dinosaur BBQ in Troy; we met there for a family dinner.

What I will be writing when I am 50?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Only one assignment per class left to grade, and three leisurely days to do it! This is my most efficient semester ever.

So, I can post this. My sister sent me this link yesterday. I had to save it until late last night, after I was burned out on grading, but it is definitely worth watching. Simply remarkable!

Mary Margaret, "the first lady of radio," lived in West Shokan, my hometown. My sister was at her place yesterday, doing a plein air painting. Here are a couple of pictures I took a few years ago, standing near her house, looking toward the Reservoir:

Her place is now a bed and breakfast.

In Favorite Recipes of the the Watson Hollow Inn, there is this note:

"Mary Margaret McBride was a cherished friend and featured guest at the Inn. Her favorite dessert was the Lemon Icebox Cake and for many years it appeared on the dessert list as "Mary Margaret's Favorite" (p. 84).

Lemon Icebox Cake

My-T-Fine lemon pudding, 1 package
Juice of Lemon, 1
Heavy cream, whipped, 1 cup
Sponge layers

Use directions on pudding package, reducing water to 1 1/2 cups and adding lemon juice. When cooled to room temperature, add stiffly beaten cream; fold in. From purchased sponge layers, remove all brown crumbs top and bottom. cut each layer in half, making four layers. Cover each layer and sides of cake with filling. Place in refrigerator 2-3 hours. 

From a 1960 newspaper clipping in Mimmie's scrapbook:

Mrs. Roosevelt is Luncheon Guest of TV Personality

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, lunched with Mary Margaret McBride, noted television personality and author at Watson Hollow Inn, West Shokan.   

Mimmie prepared Party Cheese Pie for the occasion.

Party Cheese Pie

Ritz Crackers, finely rolled, 36
Butter or Margarine, softened, ¼ cup
Sugar, ¼ cup

Blend together cracker crumbs, butter or margarine and sugar.  Press firmly on to bottom and sides of 9 inch pie plate.

Softened Cream Cheese, 2 - 8 ounce pkgs.
Eggs, 2
Sugar, ½ cup
Vanilla, ½ teaspoon

Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time; beat well after each addition.  Add sugar and vanilla.  Pour into crumb crust; bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes; spread topping and continue baking 5 minutes longer.  Chill.


Beat together 1/2 pint sour cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  Spread over filling.

Fresh or frozen fruit (strawberries, raspberries, cherries) can be used instead or in addition as a topping for Party Cheese Pie, and for the Icebox Cake, angel food layers and chocolate frosting can be used instead.

Chocolate variant for Icebox Cake:

Prepare sponge layers the same. Melt 4 ounce bar of German's Sweet Chocolate. When cool, fold into1/2 pint whipped heavy cream. Fill and frost layers. Refrigerate 2-3 hours.
Blogger was down this morning, and now it's back, but all posts since 5/11 have been removed. These kinds of issues were routine in 2002, when I first started to use Blogger, but for years I've rarely had a problem when I want to post. Looking at the status updates makes me realize that bugs are not uncommon, I just have good timing!

There are people in the ecommunity who hate Blogger; it's no different than any other popular software or hardware. There have always been people annoyed with and trashing AOL, Google, IBM, etc. and all their users, particularly once the services and users trend mainstream, old and unhip. If I cared, I would probably look into something else, but in economic terms, it's not worth the effort I'd have to expend.

Anyway, status says they are working on it, and will restore everything soon. So I'll take this an an omen to not take a break, instead I'll get back to grading and forgo making a new post right now. Happy Friday!

Later: Hmm. Supposed to be fixed? Yesterday's post is back, but comments are missing, and the tag is weird. Maybe it will take a little more time.

Still later: I tried to change the label, and the post became my newest post? Strange. So I copied and pasted it below.

This is my post from Thursday, May 12, 2011. 

Yesterday was my last day on campus for the semester, the day I clean up my office, go to the end of semester luncheon, change my telephone voice mail message, etc. It was a nice day at the end of a good semester, and much appreciated. There have been a few semesters where grading was so burdensome (ie, teaching six sections, two of which were huge; or my exotic portfolio assessment design) or other parts of life were calling (ie, Spring '09 and '10 at Albany Med) and I wasn't able to spend a day on campus. My automation of the assessments is really making a difference. (Fingers crossed, knock on wood.) This is when the hard drive dies! No, lesson learned and still remembered, all is routinely backed up on a flash drive. Or maybe this is when a time-consuming plagiarism case crops up? Perish the thought! The dean asked me yesterday if I'd found any this year. I had to think a moment, but the answer is no.

I will have to be there one more day at some point before my summer session class starts (late June), because I am part of the pilot who are upgrading our Blackboard courses and we are "required" to have training. Unless the training is a webinar (my preference), then no trips to campus for me until late August, but I suspect it will have to be FTF.

Not to be snotty, but I've been an early adopter for (almost) my entire working life. I'm an independent, self-directed learner, which is why I support online approaches. I've never needed much (or any) training to use software or courseware. I even know (more than) a few things about hardware. So training has always made me "itchy."

But I'll be "good" and attend a training. It will have other benefits, besides learning the new Blackboard. It's not a bad idea for me to be around people occasionally during the long summer break. I tend to slip into borderline agorophobia ~ and serious night owl syndrome otherwise.

I'm looking forward to gardening as soon as grading is done. It's going well but this weather is killing me! Once I am done it will probably turn rainy. The grass needs weed whacking again and that's what I want to be doing.

I have several other things I want to write about (ranging from Chaz on Letterman to some stream of consciousness on assessment and student demands to my usual animal rights schtick) but I have procrastinated enough already. Back to grades you slacker!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Drowning in end of semester evaluation! No, make that - I'm treading water. Or how about more positively -  swimming. I suppose that's the most apt because I'm making progress. As I mentioned in my last post, I made many changes this semester in assessment and I think it will pay off. It is also resulting in some interesting observations. I won't elaborate a lot until I'm finished, but something that is emerging from the revised approach is that many more students than in the past gave themselves and their group a score (I require peer, self, and class assessment of a project, but the form it takes for the "self" is a short essay, and for all class, students are not required to include their own group). In one class in particular, the vast majority scored themselves and their group the highest. Quite a few chose A+. This is true even for groups that obviously didn't perform as well as other groups, and for students who tended toward slacker. Well, that's the essence of constructivism, right?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Not a great picture, but you can see how beautiful she was. RIP Heidi.

On a different subject, Bob is off to visit his mother today. One good thing about the oppressive grading schedule is that I am not expected to make that awful drive right now. I am nervous in the car anyway, forget traveling in the metro area for long distances...takes years off my life! After church my sister will pick me up and we're going to her son's. She's bringing my parents also, hopefully it will be a good day for them. I know they are so sad. Normally I would just work like crazy all day, but I am going to make an exception. I'll probably pay the price for it, but that's OK. I made some significant changes in assessment this semester that I really hope pay off -- so far, so good (more on that subject another time).

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Heidi died yesterday morning. I can't wrap my mind around it. She was only five, and obviously ill only since Monday. How can that be? I am thinking GSDs are prone to strange illnesses? Or the name wasn't a good idea?

Feeling the need for some better news on the dog front, so here goes.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Sad news yesterday. Heidi, my parents' GSD, has cancer. Sounds like it is kidney cancer, which is what Rudy had. I thought he was young (9 at diagnosis, 10 when he died), but Heidi is only 5. They got her from German Shepherd Rescue two years ago, shortly after their 8 year old GSD died - of cancer. Mandy was also from GSD Rescue. They've had three dogs die too young from cancer in the past seven years - Hobo, a Doberman who one of the best dogs to ever live, died in 2004 of bone cancer when he was 8. He was diagnosed at age 7. Six years ago, my Rudy died. Why are all these dogs getting cancer and dying too young?

I was thinking they've had three dogs in the past seven years, when sometimes you can go twice that long or more, having the same dog. My Penny lived to be 16 1/2, and Howie lived to be 15 1/2. Sophie is 12 right now, the upper range for a Basset (and she's doing great since her surgery in November). It's kind of strange, but in both Sophie's (especially) and Howie's cases, I have and had to fuss over them their entire (long) lives, because they were sickly - while Rudy was the picture of health, energetic and shiny almost right up until he died (too young) - hardly a moment of worry. But that was true even more of Penny, and look how long she lived.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

This morning, I received official notification of my grant. Yay!

Just now, I took some soda and seltzer to the conference room where I will be having a meeting this afternoon to put it in the fridge – I decided to put it in the crisper drawer – as I was fitting in the last six pack, one of the cans of ginger ale came loose, hit the floor, and as in Murphy’s Law, it opened up and sprayed me in the face, all over my pants, shoes, socks. I am soaked with soda, as if someone hit me with a hose. It only went on my shirt a little, but my pants are ridiculously wet. 

Thankfully my pants are black, if they weren’t I think I’d have to go to Stuyvesant Plaza and buy a new pair. But I am very sticky!! Ugh. I hope once it dries it is not so uncomfortable. Why couldn't it have been a can of seltzer?

As I was attempting to blot it up with paper towels in the bathroom, all I could do was laugh.  Spring semester 2011 ends with a flourish!