Saturday, March 31, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Turn down one opportunity -- another, better one falls in your lap.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. I loved MAD Magazine and many comics. Then I decided I'd rather be a writer, then a lawyer (that one was more other people's idea than mine), a historian, a public administrator, and finally -- a professor. But I still like to draw cartoons (and of course, write). So I appreciate most comic strips, some more than others. I can't say his work was my favorite, but this is sad news. Never knew he was so young!
As I have written here before, my classes this semester have been impacted by two things: 1) classroom structure of tables that seat 5-6 students rather than individual desks that can be moved around from the usual rows or fixed lecture center / auditorium style; and 2) smart phones (a steadily growing problem over the past several years).

I expect the lower division class to start out a little rough and gradually get better over the course of the semester, until by now the class is really good. That's happened this semester, and the smart phone / immaturity issue is not a problem at this point. It never was a problem in the day section of foundations, but in the evening section -- usually the strongest -- although the majority of students are very strong (maybe stronger than the day class in general), the unusually large number of disengaged students has been an irritation. So I've spent a lot of time trying to reel them in. It has worked for about half; unfortunately there is still one group that has been troublesome.

A class discussion was on the agenda this week, Normally I would just go with what was on the syllabus and they would have luck of the draw on that night in terms of which of the four or five readings they would get, but instead I selected readings from recent weeks that I thought they would find most interesting. I emailed them a couple days before class and told each group  on which of the readings they would be presenting. Then I tweaked the discussion prompts to demonstrate more intense understanding.

We've been covering sociology and economics of education. For the evening class, there are four groups. The articles I chose were about Privatization, Single Gender Education, Merit Pay, and the one I linked here  (at the bottom of the post), School Reform. (Each topic is a set of two readings, one pro- and one con.) For the day class, I did the same thing, but there are five groups, so the topics I chose were Vouchers, Redefining Public Education, Privatization, School Reform, and Merit Pay.

I have done this in the past, but it has been a few semesters. It is hard to motivate students to do the reading, but in recent years I have been lucky -- I have had foundations classes where most of the students come prepared on the class discussion days, and most have refrained from continuously texting. Naturally, there are always slackers but their numbers have not been high enough to impact class.

So this is taking a lot more control -- but at the same time it is letting them off the hook from some of the reading, and it is placing greater responsibility on them for a small piece of the reading. It always works well, in terms of getting a larger number of students to have done some of the reading. (It probably also reduces the number of students who do all or most of the reading to zero or close to it.)

It worked well this week too. In the evening class, the weakest group still had the weakest performance (because one member didn't come to class and one bailed at the break) but it was better than usual. I'd hoped giving them my favorite issue of the four would work wonders, but my expectations were probably too high. It often happens when you start to really make an effort to reach out to problem students that they don't show up to class and the time spent was wasted. In this case, it wasn't really wasted -- the three remaining students did fine. One thing they brought up from the Epstein/Botstein article was the criticism of college faculty (perhaps directed at me? -- LOL).

The other group that had been troublesome but has since straightened up did great. And of course, the two groups that were strong already continued on their excellent pathways. I'd say overall the class discussion was better than in the day section.

In the day section,there were no problems,  as usual -- but the good vibe from the evening class made me notice that in general the class discussion was not as lively. We had a good discussion, don't get me wrong. My classes are pretty active in that regard. But I noticed a reluctance to respond from the majority at times -- and wondered if targeting a specific issue for each group was a bad idea because then they had little knowledge of the other readings and so were not confident enough to speak up.

Anyway, the group that had the Epstein/Botstein piece in the day class did an outstanding job. They did not have consensus on whether they agreed about abolishing high school and it produced some good debate. It's very hard to get anyone, including students, to think outside the box, to consider that maybe they are not comfortable with the idea of certain reforms or philosophies because they have been acculturated by the system to perpetuate status quo. That giving adolescents more ownership and responsibility in their education would have to start very early, and we'd have to adapt structures to accommodate the change. We couldn't just take a tenth grader right now and throw them into college or the workforce. Of course that would be a disaster except in a tiny minority of cases.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Last month the photographer for the university came to one of my classes and took pictures. I had volunteered to be the subject, and it was planned. But I thought it would take place in April -- figured that's when students do presentations and it might provide a good activity for photos. Instead he came almost immediately upon my saying yes, right in between Sophie's and my mother's-in-law passing. For the months of January and February I was very sleep deprived. In January, I woke up or sat up many times every night because of Sophie. Then she died, and I couldn't rest because I felt so sad. Plus, in February I was exhausted from multiple trips downstate, and from the continuous worry over Millie's condition.

So let's just say I wasn't looking my best, OK? As I have written here before, I don't wear make-up or dye my hair (my hair is awesome though). I also don't care much about clothes -- if they are wrinkled, so what...and dog hair really is a fashion accessory for me. But that day I made an effort to look presentable. Not with make-up, but I wore a necklace that had been Mimmie's and a decent shirt and pants.

Several weeks passed and I received the link to the gallery of pictures. All 125 of them. My first thought: when did I become that weird, frumpy professor? I have made this joke to several people...and the response invariably is "oh, you could never be frumpy." However, I notice they do not mention "weird"...hmmm.

 Here I am, looking not frumpy but still weird

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Saw this beautiful woodpecker outside the window today. Too bad my cell phone camera isn't better!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Now this is bizarre. Over an hour ago, I went to the rest room. The "favorite" end stall was occupied, so I went into the one at the other end of the row. I could hear snoring. The person in the end stall was sleeping? Or was it my imagination? Or perhaps the person is obese or has another health problem that causes her to breathe really loudly? Oh well. I forgot about it.

Just now -- over an hour later, a colleague came up to me and exclaimed "someone is asleep in the bathroom!" I said, "I know, they were in there an hour ago too." She said "I looked under the door and there are no legs, so they must be laying on the ledge near the window." I am not sure there is room to stretch out, and there is a heating vent on the ledge that sticks up and would make it uncomfortable. We both noticed that it stinks in there something terrible -- so maybe she (?) is ill.

It is not a busy bathroom at all; few students wander up to the third floor and there are not a lot of female faculty so we have no idea who it could be. I'm not sure at what point we should intervene. Never a dull moment!

Added: It's a student, and she refuses to leave the stall. Also does not want us to call anyone to help her.

Still later: She finally left at about 2:45 -- after being in there for several hours. The awful odor lingered for much longer, unfortunately.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My father is very active in his American Legion chapter. He's been a member since about 1950, but never had any sort of leadership in it - joked that you had to be "Anglo-Saxon" to get the keys to the hall or have your son chosen for Boy's State. Fast forward, he is one of the few WWII era members who either 1) is in good enough shape to serve and/or 2) isn't a snowbird.

So, while he still hasn't ascended to top leadership (maybe when he's 90?) he now is Sargent at Arms for the Memorial Day parade and is on the committee to select the HS junior for Boy's State. Last week he went to the school to interview the candidates selected by the guidance counselor. The guidance counselor sadly reported that there was only one candidate. All the other juniors 1) have bad grades or 2) would not want to do it or 3) have parents who wouldn't want their kid to do it. The interviewed boy is the only kid in his class who stands for and says the pledge of allegiance during homeroom. All the others stay sitting and say nothing. My reaction: it certainly shows he is a dissenter, a leader. There may be other bright lights in the class but they are not brave enough to defy the norm.

(This reminds me of the generic, hysterical, threatening, far-right spam that my mother-in-law (RIP) would forward to me 10X per day. I mostly ignored those emails, but now believe I am going to miss them. Sniff.)

Anyway, not to be like those awful emails but this is crazy. It sparked Bob and me to reminisce that about 1/2 of school was spent with the teacher grabbing some smart mouth kid by the collar and dragging him (usually) into the hall. That the schools don't do that any longer, yes, maybe the awful emails are correct on that point. But teachers can't do that any more, and for the most part that is an improvement - all that crap wasted a lot of time and I'm sure sometimes was damaging to the more sensitive. But I'm not sure how much that matters. Yes, the school may play a role, but I'm guessing it is more of a family issue.

I'm not saying kids should be forced to say the pledge, btw -- I don't think they should. We were not forced, but you did have to stand and be respectful. Most kids said it, a few didn't, OK either way. We all stood, or in some cases, slouched. I don't remember too many kids being jerked out of the room by their collars during it. Anyway, it would be sort of disingenuous if public schools didn't bother to blast it over the PA system, wouldn't it?

If these kids truly were philosophical objectors - I'd say, great. They are intellectually alive. But knowing what I do about college students, I am sure the vast majority are simply slackers -- or else just going along with the school culture.

However - if teachers can't take those kind of actions any more, we wondered about the idea of getting rid of high school altogether. What is taught past grades 6-8 that couldn't be learned better elsewhere?

Added: Coincidentally, this is one of the readings for my class discussion this week. I have assigned the slacker group to present on it. Stay tuned.
What a cute Beagle.
Lovely sunset over the Hudson River last Tuesday.
Sea change - slept (and drank, and Samsonvilled) on it and concluded that I am not going to do the academic writing project. I want a summer full of gardening and pleasure reading! Bob said something Saturday morning that resonated. Considering the enormous, stress-producing tasks we both routinely take on, he remarked, "I think we should be kind to ourselves." I have to tell the rep on Friday.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Since my research project is wrapping up at this point (still have to get the article in final), I decided to take the academic writing opportunity that's been on the table. At least I think, I have not signed the contract yet but I'm moving in that direction.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my trials with disengaged students this semester. It turns out that the threats worked at least to some degree with one of the groups. But it doesn't seem to have done anything with the other. Last night we were watching a video, and it looked like there were 4 flashlights coming from that group's table, beaming up in the air reminiscent of the twin towers memorial in NYC on the anniversary.

Finally I whipped out my blackberry, held it up on the air, danced around, and made a slashing motion across my neck. (Yes, I realize this was taking a bold step from my usual "weird" to "crazy.") The lights disappeared. About 10 minutes later, they were back. I gave the group a dirty look and shook my head. One of the students got up, came over to my table, asked me what was wrong! I said I was not sure what was up with the group's constantly texting. She said, she got a text from some club she is in, needing to reschedule a meeting. She didn't know about the others, but it wasn't distracting. I said, it is distracting to me. She went back to her table. After the break, during the group work, I made the rounds. The other three groups have all made progress on the big project and/or had questions about certain aspects. This group had almost nothing done, and they didn't seem to be doing much. The demeanor of the various individuals: one was absent, the remainder were nervous, smug, or disinterested. Only one was focused and serious.

At this point, I will let them sink. They will do a shitty job on their presentation, who cares. That happens sometimes. Or else they will get their acts together at the last minute, even if it is only the serious student and one of the other four stepping up. That happens sometimes as well. But the smart phone issue raises the more important question. If it was K-12 there are oppressive strategies (like confiscating them) that could be utilized but among adults (even immature ones), what can be done? Is our society so addicted to the things that the answer is nothing?

I ask myself how to bring them into a class in a productive way, if they are just a reality that must be accommodated. Certainly some students use them productively, to schedule class project related meetings with each other, to look up information on the fly in class that is relevant to class. But how to deal with students who don't seem to appreciate that there are standards of behavior for personal electronic communication that should be respected -- such as leaving the room to use the damn things? Or has the new norm become using them whenever, however, why ever, F You -- it's not rude, it is acceptable and even justified? "LOL" from your suite mate on facebook takes precedence over class or FTF peers?

Finally, if my "crazy" continues to be ineffective, how do I learn to accept it? By counting the days until the end of class, while reminding myself of the justice aspect, the negative reinforcement, the penalty -- a bad grade? Bob says they won't care, and maybe are secretly hoping -- even if they are not aware of it -- to fail and be able to delay college graduation for a semester.

Problem is: It is very hard to ignore the flashlight beams, the eyes downcast as the fingers tap away, leading to blank faces* when it is that group's turn to share. Sometimes the distraction is so great, the energy emitted by the devices so powerful that it erases my mind.

* Some would say they can multitask, but the evidence proves otherwise.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Just got back from campus center. It felt to me almost as if was my first day on campus for the fall semester -- the temperature, the way students were dressed, and my reaction to the cacophony and crowds. There was a table set up with giveaways of sandwich wraps, tee shirts, basketball key chains. What looked to be a mini-roulette wheel was being used to determine winners, and a large group of students was gathered around. One week of break and already my self-diagnosed agoraphobia has reared up? Another issue, I am tired. I should be well rested from my lovely time away from the grind, but habitual late nights and being able to rise (& shine) when it suits me takes a toll. 7 a.m. is not my preferred hour for rising and certainly not for shining -- especially given the !@#$%^&* too-early switch to !@#$%^&* daylight savings time (in rebellion I considered keeping my wrist watch on standard time), so by mid-day I find myself looking forward to the day being over. But I shouldn't wish my life away, and so instead I'll dream about a nap. Unfortunately, a cup of coffee will have to do!

Turning over an academic writing opportunity. Conflicted about whether to do it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The weather has been beautiful, although after that mild winter I feel strangely cheated. Maybe that's why the promise of spring hasn't been making me feel as "up" as it usually does. More likely, it is the flashes of death-related sadness, though. I didn't really get to deeply grieve Sophie the way I probably would have if Bob's mother hadn't gotten sick. So now the grief has arrived, a double dose at once, and it is making spring bittersweet. Late last week I got a call to sponsor an Ulster SPCA dog in the Freeman, and I did, in honor of Sophie. Then a letter arrived, saying one of Bob's colleagues had made a donation in Sophie's memory to Cornell's veterinary medicine school. How nice. It made us both cry.

Earlier today, I was outside with Sam, Rosie and TB/TC, looking over the yard. Rosie has barked on three occasions at this point. Once last week, when I arrived home after a campus day, once a few days ago, when she didn't like her dinner but wanted to guard it from Sam (she has to be fed in a crate because of this behavior), and once yesterday, when she was outside. Bob and Sam had gone in the yard to feed the birds, something Sam loves to do. He gets very excited, barking and jumping around. She ran outside, joined in, seemed to think Sam might have been in distress. When she was in her crate guarding food, it was almost a howl, not quite. The other two times it was very screechy, not hound-like at all. It is as if she is learning how to bark. We are both delighted that she can make sounds, and is getting comfortable enough to try it.

She hasn't barked today, but the animals were really enjoying being outside, and I thought, "what would take away these blues?" Next spring, if I'm came to me -- yard work. It is still more than two months too early to plant (except maybe spinach), but I can clean up my containers and trim away dead growth. So I came inside, had lunch, finished up pending work (break really helped me to catch up) and that's the plan for this afternoon.

Added: Did some yard work, met my goal -- it was actually a little too hot for what I am wearing. The dogs grew impatient and wanted to come inside!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wound up having a low key day yesterday. No corned beef, but I did make cabbage, potatoes, carrots and turnips. "Delish." Also discovered that the Irish Heritage Museum has opened in its new location. Didn't go (the parade revelers would have made that difficult), but plan to in the near future. It was a beautiful day, so we took the dogs to the cemetery. Rosie was so excited she was trembling. I guess that is her way of joining in with Sam's exuberant barking.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I spent the first couple days of break writing something intense (that I am not sharing here -- at least not yet), and since then I have buckled down and started to catch up on the work-related to-do list. The past couple of days that's meant grading essays, and I just finished them. Yay.

I've been a little distracted though, did not have an easy time staying focused on the grading. I almost never play music, television or the radio when I am working. I much prefer natural sounds, and my own thoughts. Another reason that I rarely listen to media while working is that it isn't white noise for me. I have a hard time not being distracted by it. However, today I decided to play pandora, as a way of tamping down my thoughts. It seemed to work, and I happily buzzed through what seemed to be an endless list of e-files. Then "100 Years" by Five for Fighting was the selection, and what I was endeavoring to block suddenly came flooding back. Life is over in a flash. Millie didn't get 100 years. And what would 100 be in dog years? I suspect Sophie didn't either.

Rosie Posey. I weighed her, and she is 16.5 pounds. She barked yesterday, for the first time! That's a major milestone.

Here she is, surveying what's beyond the fence (Mt. View Cemetery, all Castleton dog's favorite place to walk). Which reminds me, shortly after Sophie died, Bob took Sam over to the cemetery for a walk, and a man was cutting trees and doing other maintenance. He told Bob the condition of the cemetery in terms of dog crap being everywhere is deplorable, and that they have been considering putting something in the Castletonian (village newsletter) about it. Then if things don't change, the cemetery will be off-limits to dog walkers.

They haven't done it yet, but I have noticed that it is much worse this past year for some reason. I'd assume it was the snow and cold causing people to rush along and be slobs, but this winter has been so mild that can't be it. Bob showed him his baggie and said, I always clean up after my dog. The next time, I went with him and Sam, took about 10 bags with me, and made it my mission to do "poop patrol" of the cemetery. I saw the guy doing maintenance, and he was smiling at us, the man with the wild dog and the woman scrambling after dog sh-t.

It was an enormous task. I got through about 2/3 of the cemetery that day, which is the entire old part, closest to our house. We rarely walk in the newer part, which is closer to houses, and I can't believe people would not clean up in the active burial area -- but maybe the conditions are deplorable in that section too. Then, when I resumed walking a dog in the cemetery after we got Rosie, I did it again, in the old part. It had been a couple of weeks since my last patrol, and the number of loads was quite a few!

What is wrong with these people? I am not sure whether sociopaths can change behavior -- so I won't waste an appeal, but my proposal to all who walk a dog and clean up after him or her: when you see another leaving, clean it up. If you can't bring yourself to do this for all you encounter, then resolve to clean up just one extra. If everyone did this at Mt. View, I think the problem would be solved. Until then, though, it looks like cemetery poop patrol might be my job. I don't care; I don't want it to be off-limits to my dogs, and if this is what it takes, so be it.

Sam thinks he spies a dog walker up in the cemetery. Clean up you slobs!

TB/TC isn't sure what all the fuss is about. Just don't be late with dinner, OK?

Yesterday, I did something I've never done before: made a dish with tofu. I'm not crazy about tofu, except when it is in tiny crumbles in something like a spring roll. But in the interest of health and kindness to animals, I want it to be a part of my diet. So I read up on how to prepare it so it isn't slimy or tasteless (a Mimmie word :-) and whipped up tofu, spinach and mushrooms with peanut sauce. I sliced the tofu, drained it, pressed it in a dish towel, dry fried it while pressing it with a spatula, marinated it in peanut sauce, and sauteed it to really crisp it up, then added it to the cooked spinach and mushrooms. It was delicious! The only change I would make in the future is to use fresh spinach and fresh mushrooms. I violated the usual principle of vegan dishes -- use the freshest ingredients, and instead used frozen and canned, respectively. But I didn't have fresh on hand yesterday.

Added: Sam loved it. Rosie, not so much. It will take her a while to develop the sophisticated palette of my other dogs.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In Honor of St. Patrick's Day

Crazy Questions, Aren't They?

I twisted the knob, attempting to open the door that led to the little room Uncle Lou had added to Mimmie’s mobile home.  It was locked, so I knocked.  “Mimmie,” I called.  Inside, I heard her fumbling around with the door.  It took a while, as she had several latches to release, as well as a hook and eye.  That little trailer in the woods of upstate New York was more secure than many apartments in New York City, 100 miles to the south.

The door swung open.  Mimmie stood a little to the side, so that I could pass.  That day, as always, her floral house dress was perfectly pressed, her stockings complemented by a pair of white sneakers.  Not once in my life did I see her in pants, although my mother says that in Mimmie’s younger days sometimes she did wear jeans.

We were going to sit at the kitchen table, drinking tea and eating coffee cake while we talked.  That was what we always did during our visits at her trailer, and before that, when she still lived at the old place.  But this day I was going to tape record her answers to a list of prepared questions.  It was an assignment for a class at college, and I had already asked Mimmie if she would be my subject. She had agreed, reluctantly.

I sat down at the table and arranged my notepad and tape recorder. Mimmie hovered nearby. “Should we have some tea first” she said. It was not really a question. I said yes, and before long, it was brewing. She took a danish out of the refrigerator and heated up a few slices in her toaster oven.

“You know, I think these coffee cakes aren’t so good anymore. I think they bake them right in the boxes now,” she remarked. I smiled. Years later, I decided she was probably right! And a little time in the toaster oven always improves “store-boughten” baked goods.

“Maybe we should get started?” I suggested. The clock with the big numbers above the kitchen sink was loud when it ticked. The hours slipped away during visits with Mimmie.

I had to make the bus back to Oneonta later that evening, and this assignment needed to be finished. “Where were you born?”

“In my parents’ house.” Mimmie’s parents lived on Dug Hill Road in Hurley, New York. Her father was a widower with five children, but it was the first marriage for her mother. Mimmie was the oldest of three surviving daughters from this union.

“And you lived there your whole childhood?” “Yes.”

My birthday is just five days after Mimmie’s. When I turned 18, the card that came in the mail from her read:

“Received the birthday card you sent me. Thanks. I like it, they must have had me in mind when they made it. Never saw one like that, with the Mc on it.”

All four of Mimmie’s grandparents immigrated from Ireland. She was proud of her Irish heritage, and had no patience for tired jokes about being Irish and drinking. Her mother, she said, would not touch birch beer or root beer either, just because of the word “beer.” On the card for my 18th birthday she wrote:

“Want to wish you Happy Birthday for Tuesday. Hope my card gets there on time. Eighteen is a lovely age to be isn’t it. Just think you are now your own boss. Have a Happy Birthday Tuesday and don’t drink too much (champagne). Suppose that is spelled wrong, but guess you will know what I mean. That horrible tasting drink that they always have at weddings.”

Years later, I noticed Irish Soda Break being sold at the Kiwanis Club barbecue at the firehouse, and many restaurants serve it on St. Patrick’s Day. I was not really familiar with it, so was wondering if Mimmie had a recipe for it. I looked and couldn’t find anything. However, the Old Book begins with a recipe for Irish Wedding Cake. Mimmie wrote on the page “I started this cookbook in 1926. My first recipe was given to me by Gladys Fox.”

Irish Wedding Cake

Flour    2 cups
Baking Soda    1 teaspoon
Butter    1 tablespoon
Cinnamon    1 teaspoon
Cloves    1 teaspoon
Egg    1
Molasses    1 cup
Boiling Water    1 cup

Sift dry ingredients, add remaining ingredients and beat all together. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes in loaf pan, or recipe can be used to make layer cake. Use white icing.

Here is Mimmie’s Irish Apple Cake recipe, this one not from the 1926 notebook, but from the little mod recipe file box:

Irish Apple Cake

Flour, sifted    3 cups
Sugar    3/4 cup
Salt    ½ teaspoon
Egg Yolks    3
Butter    1 cup
Lemon Rind, grated    from one lemon
Applesauce    1-3/4 cup
Cinnamon    ½ teaspoon
Cloves    1/4 teaspoon

Mix flour, sugar, salt, egg yolks, butter and lemon rind. Divide mixture in two parts. Press one part in bottom of pan. Mix applesauce, cinnamon, cloves, and spread over mixture in pan. Sprinkle rest of mixture over applesauce. Bake at 350 degrees in a greased 9x9x1-3/4-inch pan for 40 to 45 minutes. Top with whipped cream, if desired.


By our second cup of tea, there were still a lot of questions to go. The first ones had answers I already knew. “When were you born?” I asked. “Heavens, the date’s right there on the form,” she said, laughing. Then, “September 13, 1904” came the reply. “Do you have children?” “Yes, three.”

“How did you come to West Shokan, and when?” “How’d I come? I moved here in 1932, no reason why.” I made some notes in my spiral-bound book. West Shokan was my grandfather’s hometown.”I’m not a native,” she confided, and I smiled a little. Not a native? West Hurley and West Shokan are now part of the same school district. “No,” she continued, “I didn’t come here until I was married.”

“What other places have you lived as an adult?” “Well, I lived in Woodstock, working there, for two years. And I lived in Alleben. That’s all.”  I made some more notes. In 1918, after finishing eighth grade at the one-room school, Mimmie left home. She went to work in Kingston, New York. In 1922 she moved to Woodstock, New York, to work as a nanny for the Reasoner family. Mr. Reasoner was an artist who owned the Woodstock Playhouse.

“What is your occupation?” “Crazy questions, aren’t they? I don’t want to say jack of all trades and master of none.” She was laughing. “What would you be, mostly I’ve been a housewife, cook. As young girl, I worked in a factory.”

“What did your husband do?” “Farmer, carpenter.” I continued my notes. Grandpa owned the store Mimmie worked in when she lived in Alleben.

In the 1940s, Mimmie’s sister Alice and brother-in-law Frank would drive to West Shokan from their home in Stony Hollow for a visit. Most of the time, these visits were an unplanned surprise. Having no sweets readily available to offer them and few ingredients on hand to rectify the situation did not prevent Mimmie from slipping into the kitchen to see what she could manage. A short time later, without fail, she would emerge with a just-baked cake. For one visit Alice decided to save her sister the trouble by bringing something she had picked up at a store. Mimmie served the dessert and coffee, and Alice remarked, “isn’t it good, Frank?” “I guess so,” he replied. “But I prefer those one-egg cakes that Annie stirs up in a hurry.”

One Egg Cake

Flour, sifted    2 cups
Sugar    1 1/2 cups
Baking Powder    2 ½ teaspoons
Salt    1 teaspoon
Vegetable Shortening    1/3 cup
Vanilla    1 teaspoon
Milk    1 cup
Egg    1

Sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the shortening, vanilla, and 2/3 cup milk; beat vigorously for 2 minutes, add the remaining 1/3 cup milk and egg and beat 2 more minutes. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in 350 degree oven.

And here is a favorite of mine, a simple cake recipe from Mimmie’s mod file box:

Frying Pan Cake

Flour    1 3/4 cup
Baking Powder    1 tablespoon
Baking Soda    1 teaspoon
Cocoa    6 tablespoons
Sugar    1 cup
Oil    1/4 cup
Vinegar    1 tablespoon
Water    1 cup

Sift together dry ingredients into ungreased pan. Make three wells in the mixture -- put oil in first, vinegar in second, finally water in third. Mix. Bake 25 minutes at 375 degrees.


Confectioner’s Sugar, sifted    1 1/2 cups
Butter    2 tablespoons
Coffee, brewed    2 tablespoons
Cream together sugar and butter; add coffee; stir until smooth.

Excerpted from  A Visit with Mimmie: Catskill Mountain Recipes by Gina Giuliano (2011).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bob and I have been working on the thank you notes. We aren't the type to shove the pre-printed card from the funeral home into an envelope, slap on a stamp and be done with it, so it's a complicated process. We're writing on each one. We bought some individual thank you cards for people who really went above and beyond. Deciphering the handwriting in the guest book is a chore. Some addresses have to be googled. It's moving along but I suspect it might take us days to finish.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I am perplexed about how old Rosie is and also what could have been her story. In terms of age, she has a couple warts. I don't think dogs get them until middle age. In terms of her story, she does not bark, has not even woofed once. I looked it up on the internet and there are four reasons why a dog would not bark. 1-breed (but beagles are not one of them) 2-deaf (she can definitely hear fine) 3-vocal cords cut (a possibility, but my nephew rescued a dog who had that done and she still barks, she just makes a raspy sound) and 4-traumatic experience. I think that is pretty likely -- whether dropped or otherwise lost I can't imagine this tiny dog on her own in the world. Had to be awful. And I suppose her former home could have been mean to her, although she begs for people food so much and is comfortable getting on the couch so that seems hard to believe. I didn't find anything about shock collars causing it, but maybe that is it? Everyone's reaction is "that's great, better than yapping all the time" and of course I don't want her barking like crazy constantly but I'd like to know that she can bark. And I'd love to hear whether it is a beagle bark / howl.
We took Sam and Rosie for a walk in the cemetery today for the first time. They both got new leashes and harnesses. She has a lot of energy, can keep up with Sam. It's a beautiful day!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

One more class and it's university break! YAY. Really need it this semester. Lots of work to do -- but also badly need recharging. Will be good to be with the animals more. Pitiful but adorable little Rosie Posey needs TLC.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

And finally...

I canceled my Thursday afternoon class and asked four students who are in the class but took foundations last semester to cover the Thursday night toleration class. They did a fine job with a difficult task (The Two Towns of Jasper was on the syllabus), but there are a bunch of young women, all freshmen, who are suite mates and friends who reportedly chatted during the entire video. Not a surprise, although with such intense subject matter you have to wonder what is going on in their heads. Then, the notes from one group's discussion were terrible. I sent them the following note:

I am in receipt of your group's notes from class on 3/1, when I could not be present. They are appalling, and that's putting it mildly. Although I don't believe your entire group is not putting in good effort, I do perceive that there are several members who are not taking class seriously. I am especially irritated that this was the behavior when I could not be there and your peers were doing me a favor, and on the night when The Two Towns of Jasper was shown -- a disturbing video on a very important topic. I advise you to shape up immediately. This class is not a joke.
What a challenging semester in every way. Good news, the Tuesday evening foundations class seems to have heeded my scolding and has shaped up nicely.
On March 1, this ejournal turned 10. It seems an appropriate time for reflecting, but on what? How the electronic world – especially blogs, have changed – and how they have changed other things? In the early days of blogging, I remember much discussion about how blogs were becoming a source of original journalism. How they were challenging print newspapers. I have not subscribed to a print newspaper for a year, but it isn’t because of blogs. For me, ejournaling and reading the blogs of others are done more for personal, artistic reasons.

I remember also many assertions that commenting was an essential part of the process, that it was sparking innovative new dialogue, expanding connections and communication. I don’t engage in commenting all that much, and rarely get comments here. For me, that connection has been via email, and more recently, the social network. I’ve sustained this journal for longer than I have using any other method. I have boxes of handwritten journals, and diskettes containing pages of electronic text, but none has gone on in the same place for close to ten years. There were always long gaps. That’s never happened here, at

Should my reflections instead focus on the changes of the past ten years? I was 40 when I started writing here, and now I am 50. I had just taken the plunge into the non-9-5 world of consulting, freelance writing, and adjunct teaching. I had Rudy, Sophie and Edna, all now passed away – Sophie just a month ago. The years brought Ande, also gone, as well as Sam, Teddy, and Rosie – all with me as I write this; Rosie we’ve had for just over a week. Several former teachers have died, as have aunts, uncles, and friends. Ten days ago, my mother-in-law passed away.

A niece was born, and a nephew and a niece have gotten married. Three grandnephews and two grandnieces have been born. We got a swimming pool! I’ve gone through several computers. I’ve had two articles and a book published. Bob has had four operations. I’ve had two crowns, one extraction, Lyme Disease and I destroyed my ankle. My hair has turned salt and pepper (though it is still more pepper than salt).

I am not much of a traveler – preferred the staycation approach before it was trendy. (Call me provincial.) Aside from visits to family, the trips I can remember taking were to Vermont, the Finger Lakes, Philadelphia, Buffalo, New York, Cortland, Syracuse, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Cherry Plain, Oneonta, Cooperstown, Binghamton, and I finally visited both Mark Twain’s Hartford house and his grave site in Elmira.
This is the eulogy I gave after Bob gave his (which I won't be sharing here). I didn't use notes, but this is pretty close to what I said.

Bob spoke about the positive influence his mother had on his life. I am going to tell you about some of the gifts Millie gave me, both simple and profound.

As some of you know, we have a weekend house that is a log home. So many of the gifts from Millie in recent years have had a rustic log cabin theme. There are the lovely alpine chimes, the beautiful birch candle sticks that we’ve never had the heart to burn, and who could forget the plastic, three foot tall black bear who holds a roll of toilet paper between his front paws?

I’m not going to give you a litany of all the gifts she gave to me for Christmas, birthdays or anniversaries over the years, for that you would have to sit here until next year. But I do want to share with you what was going through my mind as I was getting ready to come down here for the service.

I don’t have a job that requires me to get dressed up very often. My usual garb are jeans and a casual shirt. So I don’t have a half dozen suits fresh from the dry cleaner. Those of you who know me well are aware that I don’t care much about whether my shirt is wrinkled, or if my socks match my pants. But when I took this suit out of the closet, where it had been hanging for three years, I noticed that the slacks were badly wrinkled. So I went to the linen closet, and there it was. The Rowenda iron that Millie gave me several years ago. It’s German, I think, and a very fine iron. It worked like a charm.

I realized I needed to wear my long black coat. It’s too formal for me to wear very often, and besides, this winter hasn’t been cold enough anyway. When I located it in the closet, I saw that it was missing a button – of course. I went to the cabinet to retrieve my sewing kit. An antique basket full of needles and thread that had belonged to Oma. Millie gave it to me after Oma died.

As I was getting dressed this morning, I needed to select jewelry. I picked out earrings. It wasn’t a hard decision. They are my favorite pair and I wear them almost every day. You guessed it, they were another gift from Millie.

The last gift I am going to share with you is the most important. Millie had a terrific sense of humor. She loved to laugh. She was always telling jokes and funny stories. She often forwarded humorous emails. She passed that quality on to both of her sons. Bob makes me laugh everyday, at happy times and during difficult ones. Thank you Millie for my life partner Bob, and for one of his best qualities, a wonderful wit.
This was the obituary I wanted to have published, but Newsday charges $25 for every four words, so it was considerably shorter and less detailed. I am working with the Babylon Beacon, a small community newspaper -- they will write a celebration of life story and print it in the near future.

Schmidt, Mildred of Ridge, a 58 year West Islip resident died February 26 at Mather Hospital. She was 79. She was born December 28, 1932 in Freeport to the late Henry and Paula (Griem) Severs. She graduated from Freeport High School and in 1952 moved to West Islip. On September 2, 1956 she married George Schmidt. Millie worked at home transcribing as a court stenographer while raising her family, and in 1980 opened PIP Printing in Bay Shore with her lifelong friend, Claire Bury of East Islip, which she operated until her retirement. She kept up a family tradition of Christmas wreath making throughout her life, and supplied many area nurseries with handmade wreaths every year. She was secretary for the Hanseaten Club of East Meadow, and attended Ascension Lutheran Church in Deer Park. Millie was witty, warm and generous and will be greatly missed. She is survived by her husband of 55 years; her son Bob and his wife Gina Giuliano of Castleton-on-Hudson, NY; her son Gary and his wife Stephanie Lebowitz of Hoboken, NJ; her granddaughter Olivia of Hoboken, NJ; her sister-in-law Irene Severs of West Islip; her brother-in-law and sister-in-law Tom and Rochelle Schmidt of West Islip; her sister-in-law Ann Savage of Florida; her nieces Laura Mattalevich of Oakdale, Gale Lopez of Florida, Pam Savarese of NJ and Kristen Schmidt of West Islip; her nephews Tom Schmidt of CT, Anthony Savage of Florida and Chris Savage of Baldwin; also by cousins, grandnephews and many friends. She was predeceased by her brother, William Severs of West Islip, who died January 6, 2012 and her brother-in-law, John Savage of Baldwin. Services were March 2-3 at the Frederick J. Chapey & Sons West Islip Funeral Home. Internment was at North Babylon Cemetery.

Anyone who would like to make a memorial donation in Millie's honor can consider the Lee Schwarz giving tree at the West Islip public library. Lee was Bob's childhood friend who passed away from leukemia at age 14. Or, you could become a friend of the library.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Today I am back at my routine. I'll write more about the past week soon, but I wanted to put up a quick post on a non-bereavement, non-dog, non-teaching, non-education subject: what with all that has been going on, the tenth anniversary (3/1) of Gully Brook Press slipped by without me noticing!