If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Saturday, October 31, 2009

1st Annual Pumpkin Carving and Cocktail Soiree

Last night b and I hosted a party. We have never been very big on entertaining but this has been slowly changing since we moved to SouthLite. Last month, while hiking with Pupzilla, I thought throwing a pumpkin carving party would be a fun way to celebrate the fall. Since we're not big Halloween people, I wanted to throw the party the weekend before the big day but schedules got in the way and it was relegated to All Hallow's Eve Eve.

b and I took the day off to prepare. He really did the lion-share: mowing, cleaning the yard, decorating, cooking and baking. Here are some pictures of his effort:

Big bowl of candy--his idea

Luminaries throughout the yard - his idea

Dead guy in the bathtub--totally his idea

Pupzilla got into the festivities with her bee costume:

Post-treat for letting b put on her costume

Pumpkin and her friend, HungryGirl, came early to help with the last minute decorating touches. HungryGirl prepared the chalkboard.

Written with our new Chalk Ink pens

Once the guests arrived, everyone picked a pumpkin and the carving began:

The aftermath:

And the results:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Today is Ursula K. Le Guin's 80th birthday. Since this blog is named for one of her quotes, I thought I'd share a few others that have been attributed to her and resonate with me:
  • Traveling is bad for fiction but good for poetry. That's the only cycle I have noticed.
  • There are no right answers to wrong questions.
  • Love does not sit there, like a stone; it has be be made like bread, remade all the time, made new.
  • The creative adult is the child that has survived.
  • The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader reading it makes it live: a live thing, a story.
  • The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not know what comes next.
Happy Birthday Ursula.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are many "Awareness" campaigns that are assigned to individual months, weeks, or days but the breast cancer campaign, with its trademark pink ribbon and fun runs, is the one people know best. We are very aware of breast cancer in October.

I am particular aware of breast cancer this year. My mother was diagnosed and treated this summer as was b's aunt. More recently a blogger buddy of mine was diagnosed and has just had surgery. In addition my research assistant is struggling to accept her mother's recent diagnosis of a brain tumor not yet five years after her treatment for breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women (non-melanoma skin cancer is #1) and the second leading cause of cancer death (lung cancer is #1) for women in this country. It is the seventh leading cause of death among women. I say all of this as a caveat for everything else I'm about to say in this post. I recognize, personally and statistically, that breast cancer is an important health issue for women, yet I am anti-pink ribbon.

I'm not going to go into all of the reasons why the pink ribbon itself or campaigns such as "Save the Ta-Ta's" or "Feel Your Boobies" bothers me because there is an excellent book already written on the subject of breast cancer and cause marketing. Barbara Ehrenreich's Welcome To Cancerland also describes much of my frustration with the culture of breast cancer.

My mother, after surgery and radiation were over and life was--relatively--back to normal, was feeling very blue. The reality of living with a cancer diagnosis was just sinking in. What she was telling me reminded me of a post I had recently read, so I shared it with her. But it also made me wonder if, due to all this awareness, it has become too normalized? When I first moved down to SouthLite a colleague was diagnosed and undergoing treatment. I met many women across campus and in the community who, in discussing this woman's situation. talked about their own treatment. The manner in which they presented it sounded like it was a rite of passage. I wonder if this acceptance of breast cancer as a common event has made it easier or harder for women to process the gravity of the diagnosis?

My mother's treatment was seamlessly coordinated and she was handled with both respect and care. I am thrilled that she had that experience and I think we can thank the awareness campaign, in part, for the fact that these systems are now in place. However breast cancer also has huge disparities by race and class that are not highlighted by the awareness campaign. For instance, more White women are diagnosed with breast cancer but more Black women die from it. As I sat in the doctor's suite with my mother, I couldn't help but wonder if everyone has the same access to this type of care. This isn't a subject I hear much about in the campaign. Perhaps this could be the next step in promoting "awareness"?

As I mentioned, there are a lot of awareness campaigns out there because there are a lot of issues that need our attention. There are more campaigns than there are months, so they are forced to share. Breast cancer awareness shares the month of October with domestic violence awareness. The domestic violence awareness campaign is symbolized by a purple ribbon. Pink symbolizes femininity and Ehrenreich's piece has a lot to say on the feminization of breast cancer. What does purple symbolize? b says bruises. I prefer to think of the purple heart, but neither is a very satisfying thought.

The statistics on domestic violence are staggering. As prevalent as breast cancer is, domestic violence reaches into the lives of women and families at a far more alarming rate. One in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime and, unlike breast cancer, the support system for treating the effects are seriously underfunded. Another blogger buddy, jo(e), has been seeing the effects play out very close to her home. These stories happen in every town but rarely get told.

While I don't think it is helpful to make social problems compete with one another and that is not my intent with this post, I do think it is important to question why we can be comfortable supporting and talking about breast cancer but not domestic violence.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Student Update

I've been blogging the saga of my undergraduate class this semester. Previously I've discussed my disappointment over what seemed like a disproportionate amount of slackers when I had been expecting a kick-ass class. I also vented my grading woes--filled with poor writing and plagiarism. Now I completely admit that my experience with undergraduates is minimal and I'm sure in a few more years this will all seem quite normal but this semester it still stings.

We have now passed the official last day that classes can be dropped without getting an F. I gave them their papers back 2 weeks ago while telling the entire class that a number of them were working hard at failing the class. I also explained the plagiarism--they all seemed quite shocked to hear that even if you include a citation, verbatim sentences need quotation marks. [Interestingly I was telling this story to our favorite bartender--yes we have enough bartenders in our life that we rate them--who happens to be a finishing his degree at my institution and is a mature and intelligent man and he didn't know that was considered plagiarism. In fact several people siting at the bar looked chagrined.] I then posted mid-term grades--with 3 Fs and several in the C- to D range--and strongly suggested they should assess whether they needed to drop the class.

The result? Two of the Fs dropped right away. Another tried desperately to hang-on because of financial aid issues. However before the week was over she exceeded my attendance policy and I was able to drop her regardless. Since an F in the class would have had the same financial aid results and ruined her GPA, I felt this was the kindest act. The ultimate result of coming down hard on papers, plagiarism, grades, and slackers in a public but appropriate manner was that the rest of the class seems much happier. It is amazing how much silent resentment builds when students notice slackers getting away with their behavior. Now mind you no one was disruptive, just unengaged. But others are highly engaged and working hard.

There are still some very low performing students left. Some I can tell are trying hard to get on board and others are hoping to ride it out. For the rest of the semester they are doing a lot of small group work and I'm trying the strategy of grouping most of these students together. My thought is they will either be forced to do the work or they'll fail.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is my doctoral methods class, which is totally amazing this year. It is my favorite type of methods to teach and I've come up with some interesting hands-on activities that have really worked well. We've also been reading and discussing some heady philosophy of science stuff. I'm nerdy enough to love sitting around talking about it but even the best of students usually can only take a class or two. These guys are totally digging it and we've really bonded as a group. This past week they organized ordering Thai food (its a 3 hour class that meets over lunchtime so we usually break to get crappy university food and then continue our discussion as we eat) that made the class seem almost festive.

Last night my Women and Gender Studies students put on a production of Jane: Abortion and the Underground. They've been working on it nonstop for weeks and its been taking quite a toll on them. They've had little sleep and lots of stress. They asked me to facilitate a discussion after the production and I was happy to oblige. Abortion is a topic I've discussed in many classes and it is always interesting to hear how the younger generation views the issues. I wasn't disappointed as they came up with quite sophisticated and passionate comments. One student even challenged me, respectfully, and was totally right. Unfortunately the play started at 8 pm and the discussion didn't start until 10:30--which on a Friday night is rather late for me to be in "teaching mode." I covet their energy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Break

My Fall Break officially ended yesterday with a 9 am faculty meeting. Faculty meetings have a way of sucking the zen right out of you. Even worse, I attended completely unaware that I was coming down with a migraine. Now, at the end of one of my dreaded Thursdays and with the migraine still lingering, I am surprisingly fairly relaxed. Sometimes Fall Break can have that much power.

b was off from his job for my entire Fall Break. I spent Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday alternating between doing some catch-up work and playing with him. Sunday evening we packed up Pupzilla and went camping. It rained on us for most of Monday but we didn't care. We lounged around the campsite eating yummy meals and reading trashy novels. Well I read trashy novels, b read Bear Attacks:Their Causes and Avoidance.

Pupzilla spent most of the trip inside the tent snuggled in her sleeping bag. She just doesn't understand our love of camping.

Tuesday morning we packed up early, dropped Pupzilla off to doze on her couch, and headed to our favorite breakfast place. By Tuesday afternoon I was back at home, in front of my computer, working on a paper.

It was the right combination of work and relaxation and it came at exactly the right time. I taught all my classes today and found my students to be in a much better mood as well. How's that for powerful?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Before I Leave For A Little Camping...

I thought I'd leave you all with a song from a woman who has charmed me for over 30 years:

She never ceases to amaze me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

RBOC: Mid-Term Edition

  • Today was the start of Fall Break at my university. While it is always a welcome event, this year it seemed like every last person on campus was desperate for its arrival.
  • I posted mid-term grades for my undergraduates last week and weeded out three of them.
  • Two went willingly but the third had to be told in no uncertain terms that she didn't stand a chance of passing.
  • The rest of the class seems happier now. Students like decisive action as long as its not directed at them.
  • b and Pupzilla and I wanted to spend Fall Break at a pet-friendly hotel on the beach but, alas, I waited to long and they were booked solid.
  • The three of us will be going camping for a couple of days instead but first we doing the relax thing at home.
  • I'm working on and off while I relax. I made the mistake of not working through Fall Break once.
  • I have many books, thanks to my favorite used bookstore, that I can read over Fall Break.
  • I am becoming a Jane Yolen junkie.
  • Fall Break will not be long enough.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Survived Another Thursday

Thursdays are my killer days this semester. Today started with a 9 am meeting with a consultant (paid by the training grant that is funding me this year--which is a godsend in many ways) to give me feedback on my grant application. This was my first meeting with this woman. Several people have told me how wonderful she is and I'm happy to say they were absolutely right. In half an hour she gave me more concrete and helpful suggestions (along with an edited hardcopy) on the application than anyone else has given me in the past 6 months I've been working on it. What she suggested made perfect sense and completely solved a problem I've been struggling with for a while now. She wants another draft by December, which is totally doable. Due to changes in NIH guidelines I have to cut the grant in half. She told me to only cut what I think is absolutely necessary (about a third she said) and she will tell me where to cut from there.

She also confirmed that the grant is going to hinge upon me and my partner getting several papers out and accepted. She feels this needs to be a push in the next month (along with the grant edits and you know, my normal work). I have two that are pretty close and my partner has another that is also almost ready, so its doable but we're going to be busy. The good news is that this woman also edits papers and encouraged me to send her a draft.

I was supposed to meet with my student research team directly after the first meeting. However I cancelled it the day before because I wasn't prepared for them (which makes me feel awful since they did all their work and were totally prepared for me). Worse yet I was supposed to use the meeting time to get ready for them but had to use it organizing the papers I graded last night and getting back-up for all of the plagiarism.

I then taught my doctoral class at noon. This class has been going well. I have a really enthusiastic and bright bunch of students. Luckily I had prepped a class with a lot of individual and small group work, so I did some of the work for my student research team while they were doing in-class assignments. The bad part was that this was also the day their papers were due, so now I have another stack of grading.

I teach my undergraduate class immediately following my doctoral class. We actually had a fairly interesting discussion that ended with Roman Polansky. Believe me when I say it was relevant to the topic. However only 2 of them were aware of the case and I believe only 3 or 4 even knew he was. Undergraduates have a way of making you feel old right quick. At the end of the class I had to read them the riot act about the state of the papers in general and the plagiarism. They all looked generally shocked and, even my A students looked nervous until I actually handed them out. I told them I would be posting mid-term grades this weekend and that more than a handful will have to decide if it is in their best interest to stay in the class. Needless to say I had a line of students waiting to talk to me at the end of class. I think I may have busy office hours next week.

Dealing with the line of students and the fact that I had no cash to pay for parking (I don't normally drive to work so often forget about the need to pay when I do), made me late for my childbirth class. Fortunately/unfortunately this turned out not to be a problem because for the second week in a row it started approximately 1/2 an hour late. I have to say I love the idea of being a doula but the training has mostly been painful. It makes me really sad that this is a model program for teen moms but even so it is not the program they deserve. To get through it I put on my researcher's cap and take mental notes.

I'm finally home, waiting for b who is working late, drinking a beer and ignoring the fact that I have no dinner plan.