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, May 29, 2010

RBOC: Memorial Weekend Edition

  • The Assessment Workshop is over!  It was far worse than I imagined it would be.  I can't really say much more on why it was so horrendous but as of yesterday Summer Break has officially started for me and I couldn't be happier. 
  • I had a very lovely day yesterday.  It started with breakfast with b at our favorite spot and ended with dinner and drinks with b at another favorite spot.  In between there was gossip with colleagues, a little clothes shopping, a phone conversation with Angel, and a great yoga class.
  • There was also a huge thunderstorm last night.  b and I got caught in it for a bit but it was the fine kind of storm where you don't mind getting wet.
  • It is now officially hot in SouthLite.  The "summer" in Summer Break has started as well.
  • I spent today doing tai chi.  I went to my regular tai chi class in the morning and then did a 4 hour tai chi broadsword workshop.  My arms, shoulders and back are killing me but in that good way.
  • Tomorrow morning I'll be heading to a nearby city for a chi gung class with a master.  I am very excited.
  • b has to work all weekend.  His store is having its biggest sale of the year.  
  • Every year b's store holds a chili cook-off during this sale.  b's chili has won for the last two years.  He got up early to make it this morning but the results aren't in yet. 
  • Monday we are both off and the gym is closed.  He's planning a paddle and I'm planning a bike ride.  Than we'll do the traditional Memorial Day grill.  Perhaps we'll even make Sangria.
  • Hope you are all having a very lovely Memorial Day weekend.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


We will have been living in the current House of Dirt and Rocks for four years come this July.  In some ways I am "over" the house and in other ways I am not.   So I think about moving but do nothing about it except fantasize about other houses.

Ways In Which I Am Over This House

  1. It is not an attractive house and could never really be an attractive house.  My last home was very attractive.  What I could do to make this house more attractive is not worthwhile because I am renting.  
  2. When we first moved here the street was quiet with several empty lots.  There has been a lot of construction and all of it has been student housing so we are now a much busier and noisier street with frat parties. 
  3. The house is cold throughout the winter.
  4. The house has few closets and the ones that are here have no doors. 
  5. The kitchen, while large, is not conducive for cooking. 
  6. We've been battling termites for too long. 

Ways In Which I Am Not Over This House

  1. I can walk to my university.
  2. b can ride to his job.
  3. I can ride to my gym and the store (if necessary)
  4. It is cheap and my money can go towards paying off old debt and Angel's tuition.
  5. It has a large, fenced-in backyard that is good for Pupzilla and b's kayaks.
  6. Moving is time-consuming and a pain.

So it looks like we'll be staying a while and I'll just keep window-shopping. However it looks like I may be moving offices again this summer.  This will make the third office switch in four years but this one is at my request.  My current office is way to small for my needs.  The new office is in a different building and is on the side of campus that is near my favorite coffee shop. It is also in a suite that has more amenities conducive to the way I work and with colleagues I really like and don't get to see often enough (although I actually like all my colleagues so I'll miss the ones I'm moving away from, once I move).

I'm hoping the office move satisfies my need to relocate for at least a year or two.  If nothing else it will force me to throw things out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Angel's New Digs

Sunday b and I drove down to visit with Angel in his new home.  He had been working double shifts all week but had Sunday and Monday off.
We met one of his roommates (the other is off visiting Vietnam as part of the school's study abroad program) and his roommate's cat.  The cat has a stubby tail because someone wrapped a band around it when she was a kitten.  I don't know how people can be so cruel.  She's a very sweet cat.
Angel gave us the tour and all I could say to b was that the house is a lot nicer than the one we're renting.  The rooms are all large.  They have nice wooden floors and great detail on the walls.  I really liked the yard.  It has a lot of potential.  It's an odd shape, with a lot of little sections and steps that remind me of an English garden.
The house also has a formal dining room and a breakfast nook.  We're big fans of the breakfast nook in our family.

Angel says he eats most of his meals in his room.

The kitchen is very nice and comfortable for cooking.  Angel is buying groceries like cereal and sandwich fixings but he wants to learn how to cook simple meals.  We're supposed to be sending him recipes.  I brought groceries with me to cook one of his favorite dishes: Arroz Con Pollo.  We also bought him a pot because we weren't sure if he had anything to cook it in.

As we were driving down, he called to see if we minded cooking for some of his fraternity brothers.  Of course I said I'd be happy to meet his friends and that there was always enough food.  I ended up cooking for 10.
I wrote down the recipe and took pictures at each step while I was cooking. I'm in the process of putting it altogether for Angel. The guys loved the dish and several said they want a copy of the recipe too. If it turns out well I might end up posting it here.

His friends are great.  They are exceptionally polite and considerate but, more importantly, really care about Angel.  The warmth and good affection they all have for each other is obvious and is not what I expected from a fraternity.  I have to admit that Angel's college experience has taught me a lot more about Greek Life than I ever thought I'd know.

We left shortly after dinner.  The guys were all lounging in front of the TV and I believe there were plans brewing for that evening.  Angel looked pleased with himself and quite content in his new surroundings.  It was easy to leave him there.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Pumpkin gave me several books for my birthday.  Many of them are off my Amazon Wish List, which I had told her I keep public just for such purposes. She knows I love getting books as presents and did a great job picking them out from my extensive list. But she also strayed off the list, which, unbeknownst to her, is something I enjoy even more.

Pumpkin's favorite book is Gone With The Wind.  She was talking to a co-worker about favorite books and her feelings for GWTW and he mentioned that Stoner was his favorite.  He said it was an amazingly intense and emotional book and the only one he has ever had to put aside while reading because of the intensity.  She was intrigued and looked it up.  What she read about it reminded her of me and she included it in my gift.

Have I mentioned how amazing Pumpkin is?

I can't believe I've gone through 45 years of reading (or being read to) without ever having found John Williams or this novel before.  It is a quiet but brilliantly intense read.  It was published in my birth year and the story takes place at the beginning of the century but it still holds true today.  It is set in academia but it is a book about life and love and work.  It is a must read.

I told my mother about the book before I started reading it.  My entire life I have been convinced that my mother has read every book worth reading but she had never heard of the novel or the author.  Having now read it, she agrees with my assessment and offered a likeness to Marilynne Robinson's work.  I hadn't made a connection but it is definitely there.

If this post hasn't piqued your curiosity enough to go out and find a copy in your local library (or bookstore) yet, here are some quotes.

On privilege and gender:
So she grew up with a frail talent in the more genteel arts, and no knowledge of the necessity of living from day to day.  Her needlepoint was delicate and useless, she painted misty landscapes of thin water-color washes, and she played the piano with a forceless but precise hand; yet she was ignorant of her own bodily functions, she had never been alone to care for her own self one day of her life, nor could it ever have occurred to her that she might become responsible for the well-being of another.  Her life was invariable, like a low hum; and it was watched over by her mother, who, when Edith was a child, would sit for hours watching her paint her pictures or play her piano, as if no other occupation were possible for either of them.
 On gender and marriage:
She had gone into her marriage to Horace Bostwick with that dissatisfaction so habitual within her that it was a part of her person; and as the years went on, the dissatisfaction and bitterness increased, so general and pervasive that no specific remedy might assuage them.  Her voice was thin and high, and it held a note of hopelessness that gave a special value to every word she said.
On teaching and passion:
Now and then he became so caught by his enthusiasm that he stuttered, gesticulated, and ignored the lecture notes that usually guided his talks.  At first he was disturbed by his outbursts, as if he presumed too familiarly upon his subject, and he apologized to his students; but when they began coming up to him after class, and when in their papers they began to show hints of imagination and the revelation of a tentative love, he was encouraged to do what he had never been taught to do.  The love of literature, of language, of the mystery of the mind and heart showing themselves in the minute, strange, and unexpected combinations of letters and words, in the blackest and coldest print--the love which he had hidden as if it were illicit and dangerous, he began to display, tentatively at first, and then boldly, and then proudly.  

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Assessment Workshop

My summer break is starting a little late this year.  I volunteered to participate in an assessment workshop for our General Education Program. By volunteer I mean I'm getting paid.

The workshop runs for two weeks.  We meet from 8:30 to 4:30 every day (actually most days we get out by 4 at the latest) in a remote campus that is outside of SouthLite city limits.  This means I need to drive to the workshop every day.  Normally I walk to my campus and rarely am I on campus 5 days a week.

We have completed the first week and already I have learned a lot.  Here are some highlights:
  1. I am grateful to be an academic.  This business of having my work and time scheduled for me and being in the same room with the same people every day really bites.  Yes I know it is the reality for the majority of people employed in industrialized nations and for many years it was my reality but now I know better.  While academia is far from perfect, we have a pretty sweet deal and I can't wait to go back to it.
  2. Assessment is not grading.  Ok, so I actually knew this before I took the workshop but the Powers-That-Be don't seem to realize that I know this and feel the need to say it every few hours.
  3. It is really hard (but not impossible) to assess students' writing when you are not allowed to mark the page.
  4. Assessing 20 student papers a day--from assignments you didn't develop and in disciplines you know nothing about--blows.
  5. Just because I am now eating meat again does not mean I should refrain from ordering the vegetarian option on a catering menu.  I am amazed how frequently I forget that saying you eat meat means saying you eat bacon when you live in the south. (And yes they are feeding us at this workshop, something I know does not happen for the majority of the workforce.  Nor are the majority of the workforce being paid at the daily rate that I am receiving--yet still I complain.  That, my friends, is what academics do.)
  6. People believe you can teach someone how to write in a class or two outside of their major and then students will magically come to you with the ability to write clearly and concisely, display critical thinking skills and correctly use and cite the literature in your field. This is convenient because then all you need to teach them is the content of your field.
  7. My friend (who thankfully volunteered for the workshop with me) and I can solve all the problems in our department just by taking daily walks at lunch.
  8. Stag beetles are quite unattractive and a little scary looking.
  9. The remote campus is really lovely but not as large as I had imagined. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

RBOC: Action-Packed Weekend Edition

  • Friday was graduation.  We always have two graduations on the same day--the big university-wide graduation and than a smaller graduation.  The smaller graduation used to be for our entire school (5 departments) so it wasn't that small.  This year the Powers-That-Be decided every department should host their own graduation. Personally I find this to be a poor use of resources but no one asked me.
  • The university-wide graduation was in the morning.  I didn't go.  In my department we generally take turns representing at the morning graduation and I went last year.  
  • I did attend the afternoon graduation and since it was only my department it was much smaller (and quicker) and I thought we did a very nice job hosting it.  I still think it is a bad idea but we executed it well.
  • Moments before graduation was over a note was brought down from the Dean's office and passed to my department head on the podium.  He announced that a faculty member had won the university-wide teaching award.  Then he said it was me.
  • I'm not one for surprises and this was a rather big one.
  • It is a really nice honor but, even better, it comes with a monetary award.  
  • It was a very nice way to end the semester.
  • When graduation was over I got in the car and drove 3 hours down to Pumpkin's house.  We had plans for a mother-daughter weekend.  We did a lot of fun things.  We walked along the river; found a cool antiques store; went out for drinks with one of her friends (who is also a doula--so there was a lot of childbirth talk); cooked yummy dinners and stayed up late talking.
  • By Sunday afternoon I was exhausted.  I drove the 3 hours home and met up with b to do the food shopping for the week.  After all of that all I could manage was to go out for pizza and beer.
  • This morning I had to get up early and head out to a work-related workshop.  It will run for a full two weeks of eight hour days. Today's information felt like it could have been covered in an hour. Luckily a good friend is attending with me so it wasn't all bad. 
  • Here are a few pictures from my weekend with Pumpkin:
Walking and talking

The river


My favorite piece in the antique store.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Am Worried

I am not a worrier.  I take things in my stride.  I am the calm that worriers seek when they are exceptionally stressed.

But I am worried.

I am concerned that my children are becoming independent in an age where this economic depression will follow them for the rest of their lives. But I am not worried about that.  They are both the kind of people who can turn things around and I have faith that they and their generation will do just that.

I am disturbed that most states do not have any laws or policies against shackling pregnant prisoners and that women are forced to give birth in chains.  I am disgusted when I read the comments to articles such as this one and find my fellow countrymen (and women) defending this practice and claiming that any woman would deserve this.  But I am not worried about it.  Unfortunately I am aware that atrocities occur to disadvantaged and marginalized people the world over.  It has always been and, while we need to fight for social justice, I don't see this as a new trend.  I also recognize the hard work done by activists to make change and realize that change is slow to come.

But I am worried.  I am worried about my country.  I am worried about the future when we rewrite the past.  I first became worried when I learned that Texas had voted in changes to their curriculum that ignore important historical facts (such as the separation of church and state) and appears to rewrite much of the racism that is a significant part of this country's past. And while some may feel write it off as Texas being extreme, they are a huge force in textbook adoptions.  A significant number of my family members write or help publish textbooks and I know that as Texas goes, so goes the country.

But today I became really worried.  Today I learned that Arizona (yes, that Arizona) is banning ethnic studies.  I don't think it is just because I am an academic that this worries me so much.  What we teach our children shapes what they will become and what the future will hold.  When we rewrite (or erase) history we are ensuring that history will repeat itself.  We have made too many strides to backslide like this and I am worried about where we are going in this country.

I am also confused. The article claims that "the bill bans classes that promote resentment towards a race or class of people."  How exactly does one teach American History without doing that?  Can you teach how are country was (so-called) founded without hating the Europeans?  Can you teach about slavery without hating White people?  Yes, of course you can. Because it is not about the facts that you teach but about how information is conveyed and the degree to which we teach students critical thinking; the degree to which we present the facts--as ugly as they are--and allow them to draw conclusions about right and wrong.  But I don't think that is what the bill has in mind.

The bill also bans classes "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group."  Again I am confused.  My recollection of American History is that it was taught primarily for a specific group--White Anglo-Saxen Protestants.  I would go even further to say what I learned was the history of white men. But I don't think that is what the bill is trying to stop (imagine if it were?).

I don't know what is going on in Arizona or Texas.  I know this is but one in a list of atrocious decisions made by Arizona's legislature but this one scares me more than the others (and that's a saying a lot as the others are pretty scary).  I recognize that there is no truly objective curriculum in the world. Educating people involves choosing some information over another; deciding what constitutes the "important stuff"--the cannon of knowledge we will hand out.  I teach, I get it.  I struggle with it all the time.  But there is a difference between presenting alternative views and instilling students with the ability to draw their own conclusions and erasing the history and culture of entire populations.

I have to ask myself, is this really us?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Birthday/Mothers Day Weekend

Friday morning, b and I got up on the early side (for us) and had a quick breakfast in our favorite local diner.  Then we drove south for an hour and a bit to a national forest where we heard there was lots of good hiking.  One of my favorite birthday activities is to spend the day hiking in the woods with my husband.

We found the trailhead and started off.  We were aiming to hike a loop and had the entire day ahead of us.  Unfortunately we had to keep Pupzilla at home.  She has reached an age where a day long hike is not possible and, as it was a hot and sticky day, I don't think she would have lasted an hour.

We were warned that the area was confusing and could be difficult to navigate.  We had a book of trails but no map.  Signs like the one above would have been helpful except the name did not actually match the trail.

I like to hike by water, like a river, lake or creek.  The book mentioned several water crossings but the actual water was pretty minimal.

We saw mileage signs at the very beginning and very end of the hike.  For the rest of the day, signs were few and far between.

At one point we turned onto a gravel path.  It was pretty but not very challenging.

b checked his GPS at each critical juncture.

Several hours into the hike we reached a critical juncture of three trails.  It coincided with what we were expecting from the little map we had in our book.  Unfortunately these three trails connected twice and we thought we were at a very different juncture than we actually were.  b says we committed a classic error of "bending the map."

We kept expecting to find this trail but since we weren't where we thought we were the junctures never appeared.  We finally figured it out and adjusted ourselves in the right direction.  We ended up on this trail but had no definitive proof until we were back at the trailhead.

Almost 5 hours and 8 1/2 mile later I was back at the car and out of my boots.   It was a great hike.

We drove home, showered up and headed out to one of my favorite restaurants.  The food was quite yummy.  We finished the evening at one of our favorite bars, where I indulged in some chocolate mousse.

The next morning, Pumpkin came over and we ran some errands together.  One of the errands was to pick up my new bicycle.

Later in the afternoon, Angel drove up and we all hung out in the backyard while b grilled us up a lovely dinner.

Earlier in the day I had baked my favorite cake (chocolate with peanut butter frosting) and I had been making ice cream all week.  I ended up with three pints: coffee (decaf), cinnamon, and chocolate.   We headed inside as the sun went down and tried them all.

Angel had to drive home so he could work in the morning but Pumpkin spent the night.  We stayed up and watched one of my favorite movies: Orlando.  Pumpkin didn't like it all that much and napped through most of it.  Sunday morning she left to attend her friends' graduation and b and I spent a very laid back day together.

All-in-all it was a very lovely weekend but I am looking forward to getting back to my usual routine.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Look

It feels like a good time for a change.  A new look for a new age.  I wanted something a little simpler.  Any and all feedback is welcome.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A New Perspective

I am 45 years old today. For some reason I can't think of the number 45 without thinking of angles. It must have been all the geometry I took in high school. So it feels like I have a new angle on life.

At 45 I'm halfway through my forties. This is both good and bad. Its good because I'm really enjoying my 40's; it's bad only if my 50's suck. My tai chi teacher told us that his goal is "a healthy hundred." That is he is trying to live to 100 years but all of them healthy. I like this concept. I've always wanted to be an old lady but not a frail, sick, or senile one. I also like it because it means mid-life is still 5 years away.

I believe that how you feel about a given birthday has more to do with where you are in life relative to where you want to be than it has to do with a specific number. I am really quite lucky to be in such a good place this year. I can say sincerely that I really like my life and I've accomplished many of the things that I wanted to accomplish as an adult. If anything I'm having a hard time coming up with new goals to inspire me. Here's what I have so far:
  • Become a full professor
  • Get an R01 grant
  • Buy a house I love and can afford
  • Become a grandmother
  • Write a book
  • Live just outside of Portland
That's really about it. Not a long list and not an undoable one. Even more amazing is that if anything (or everything) on that list DIDN'T happen, I'd be ok (the not being a grandmother would hit the hardest, but ultimately I'd be ok).

Since arriving in my 40's I've also picked up (or picked back up) a number of activities that I enjoy immensely. I don't want to stop any of these activities but I also don't have a great need to accomplish anything within them. I just want them to continue in my life. My beloved activities are:
  • Writing openly and creatively (including blogging)
  • Tai chi (and other martial arts)
  • Yoga
  • Photography/learning a visual medium
  • Mentoring students
  • Volunteering as a doula
So 45 finds me in a career I love; surrounded by people I adore and who make me feel loved; and doing the things that make me happy on a daily basis.

b and I have several festivities planned to celebrate my birth and life on this planet. I'm sure I'll be sharing the highlights with you all in a few days.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Amazon Meme

Haven't seen or done a meme in ages. I spotted this one at Profgrrrrl, Seeking Solace, and Snarky McGeekerson's.

My first Amazon order was December 1999. I believe it was the first time I did Christmas shopping online and boy did it change my life. Previously, Christmas shopping was always hell. I was always in school and battling end-of-semester deadlines and exams. It didn't help that I'm a horrible shopper and can't stand going into stores. Then along came Amazon.

Here's what I ordered:

Phantasm (This must have been for Drax!)

Togepi and Psyduck (ahh, the Pokemon years)

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly: Animal Edition

We have three pets living in the House of Dirt and Rocks.

The Good (She really is the sweetest pup ever)

The Bad (He can be evil but I love him)

And The Ugly (Actually she's very cute but she is an ugly pet to own)

I write frequently about the first two but have never really described TOC before. TOC (not her real name) stands for The Other Cat. Its not a good pseudonym for her. The other day I told b her name was Smudgy McDoodle, or Smudge. That seems more fitting. [All of our animals have multiple nicknames. Pupzilla is also Pupsicle, Puppy Chulu, and Maximus Fartimus, just to name a few.]

We have a love/hate relationship with TOC/Smudge. Most of the time it is closer to hate than to love. I know that sounds horrible but the truth is you don't always like every family member you have but like them or not, they are still family. You stand by them and you love them even if most of the time you wish they would just disappear.

Smudge is odd. She stares at walls. She will stare at the door without saying a word until someone notices that she wants to go out. That's not really the part we dislike however. I think the part that gets me the most is the amount that she vomits. There isn't anything physically wrong with her. She's been doing it since she was a kitten (she's 10 years old) and several doctors have checked her out. She may be bulimic as she often does it after gorging herself (and she's never weighed more than 6 1/2 lbs). When I say vomit, I really mean projectile spewing. Luckily it starts out fairly loud so about half the time we can catch her at it before she throws up on something valuable. A few weeks ago she threw up on my pillow while I was sleeping. Unfortunately I wasn't fast enough that time.

As small as she is, she's a fierce fighter. This ability only comes out when humans (like vets) are trying to do something she doesn't like. Around other animals she's quite the chicken. Last month the doctor tried to give her a pill. It took her and the technician several attempts. They used a long pill inserter, a towel, and a syringe filled with water and the doctor still walked away with several deep scratches.

The second thing that bothers me is her need to climb the clothes in my closet (there is no door so I can't keep her out). She has really sharp claws and particularly likes leather. She climbs leather jackets and silk shirts and scratches at my boots. She doesn't seem to possess the ability to completely velvet her claws. She does like affection. In fact she likes a lot of it and if you don't give it to her or if you stop after several minutes, she reminds you of her desire by extending her claw into your arm. Of course if you continue petting her and she likes it too much, she bites you.

She likes people but can't stand any other animal on the planet. The feeling is quite mutual and we often need to rescue her from the neighbors' cats when she's outside. When she's inside we have to rescue her from The Brute. Pupzilla no longer cares about her one way or the other but she still hisses and claws at her whenever she gets too close. To get away from the other animals she sometimes climbs into the kitchen cabinets. We try to catproof as many as possible but some are just not set up for locking. I cannot begin to describe the number of glassware she has broken as she walks her way around the shelves.

She is a big fan of the "Make The Bed" game and manages to be in the room every morning when this event happens. Sometimes I play along.

She is a climber and it is one of the few things b respects about her. She used to climb on top of the doors constantly when she was a kitten.

She still does it occasionally. It is her best trick.