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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Audition Week

It is the first week of classes.  Today, as I was parking my car to go and teach my first class, I overheard two drama students discussing what they would wear to auditions that evening.  It was a cute conversation (each one telling the other how great they were in their respective clothes).  I then went and taught my class but the concept of auditioning stuck with me.

My university has had a substantial increase in enrollment in the past few years and one of the undergraduate programs in our department has more than tripled since I started five years ago.  In addition to our majors and minors we also have several large departments that require our courses of their majors.  We have both online and face-to-face sections of all our classes in this program. However I only teach one undergraduate class and it is an elective.

Each year the first week of classes (also known as the add/drop period) feels more and more like an audition.  For a number of reasons students usually register for more classes then they are going to take and then drop some during the first week.  They also "shop around" attending a class or getting information from their friends and then deciding what to add and what to drop.  Some of this happens before the class even meets.  For example, my course has a cap of 50 students.  I am over-enrolled by 4 making the final count before I taught the course today 54.  However the latest student to register was number 93.  By the end of the week it may be well into the hundreds.

Students take courses for a variety of reasons with the number one being to fulfill their requirements for their major and/or minor.  Scheduling is also very important.  A class needs to fit into their schedule.  Both of these make perfect sense to me but it saddens me that a third of my class today had no interest in the subject matter.  Instead it met the first two requirements.  The third requirement for many students is level of difficulty.  There is the perception that electives are supposed to be easy.  Mine is not.

I use the first week (I teach twice a week for an hour and fifteen minutes each) to make my expectations perfectly clear and to layout the amount and type of work they will be asked to do.  In most cases, students who have no interest in the subject and are expecting an easy class are going to end up failing.  That is not a good experience for any of us and I want them to drop.  I also want the students who are either interested and/or willing to give it effort an opportunity to either stay in the class or add the class.  And so the first two classes feel like an audition.  I try to highlight both the strengths and the challenges of the class sufficiently so both groups of students can make an informed decision.

By the end of the session today my stats were: 54 registered; 44 attended; 1 walked out; 3 asked about transferring to the online section.

This year we have more students then ever along with a severe budget cut.  There simply are fewer sections, fewer electives to choose from, and restrictions on some of the courses.  I fear many will not be able to drop the course.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Shopping With Pumpkin

I went further south to spend the weekend with Pumpkin and BB.  This morning Pumpkin and I went shopping at both flea and farmers markets.  Although it was a little hot and sticky (but nowhere near as bad as it usually is down here), we had a great time.  Pumpkin ended up with three plates, two tea cups, eleven forks, five knives (for her wedding) and two watermelons (for a watermelon carving party).  I ended up with some fun shots.

We found amazing produce at both types of markets and I tried boiled peanuts for the first time.

There was no shortage of colorful items at the flea markets.  I couldn't help but think of Angel as a little boy when passing by the table of toy cars and trains.

There was a fantastic table of refurbished cast iron cookware.  b would have loved it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Walking Miss Pupzilla

When we moved into our new home last January many things in our lives improved.  However the house is in a very "walking unfriendly" neighborhood and that has been a big disappointment to me.  I didn't realize that it has also been affecting Pupzilla.

For several years (and three houses) now, Pupzilla has made ample use of a backyard.  However in the old house I also took her on long walks to the park.  This was an activity we both enjoyed.  In the new house I drove her to the park once.  While there she bit another dog and she hasn't been on a walk since.

On Saturday it took her a long time to get out of bed and then she proceed to fall down.  One of her back legs just refused to work.  The vet told us that she had a "touch of arthritis" in that knee and the humidity was through the roof.  We figured that her arthritis was acting up.  Still it was sad and a little scary to see fall down the steps and not be able to get up on the couch.  In a few hours she was doing better but I decided we needed to be diligent about her exercise.

So we've been taking a constitutional after dinner every night.  Each night she goes a little further and tonight her step was jaunty.  We walk along the busy street until we can turn into a little neighborhood-y section.  There are no sidewalks but the streets are quiet there.  She walks as far as she likes and then takes a section of leash in her mouth to gently turn me around and lead me back home.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer of Yoga

I started my summer break declaring this to be the Summer of Yoga (last year I declared it to be the Summer of Core, but that didn't get past the first week) and taking a week of hot yoga classes. Unfortunately hot yoga in SouthLite does not compare to hot yoga in Emerald City (where I first tried it).  It turns out that we have Bikram style here in SouthLite and I really don't like this style at all. Bikram is very rigid and, I felt, a little judgmental.

However I did not let that dissuade me and I ventured forth in my yoga explorations.  I tried new yoga classes at my gym.  This was especially easy because during the summer months most yoga instructors go on vacation and we had a lot of "substitute" yoga teachers in my regular classes. When I found one I liked, I tried one of their regular classes.  I also branched out and tried a yoga studio outside of the gym. This studio came highly recommended and I decided to try a restorative class for my first session.  Unfortunately it didn't really thrill me but the instructor was "subbing" for the regular teacher and she described some of the other classes that they offered.  One, yin yoga, really stood out to me and I tried it the following week.  Long story short, I fell in love.

Yin yoga is passive yoga.  It is all about easing yourself into a posture and staying there for around 5 minutes.  There is no straining and only minimal use of muscles.  It is far more of a meditation than a workout but it puts me in a complete state of calm mellowness.  I can no longer live without it.  The instructor is the owner of the studio and she is fabulous; a great person with a warm, welcoming personality and a lot of knowledge.  I've been going twice a week all summer.

While b was gone I was doing 5-6 yoga classes a week, both at the gym and this new studio.  My attendance at tai chi classes suffered greatly.  I also realized that our trip, which entailed many hours of sitting in a car, was completely at odds with my new yoga practice.  So I would sit in the passenger seat trying to fit as many postures into a Yaris as possible.  b also agreed to try a few classes with me when we arrived at big cities.  We found a yin yoga class in the City of Glass.  It was 90 minutes long and we both felt much better afterwards.  I still preferred my instructor at home (b has since tried her class and agrees) but it was a very welcome break.

At our next big city we tried hot yoga.  It was not billed as Bikram so I was hoping for something different but alas it was the same 26 movements I had come to detest at the beginning of the summer.  b was a trooper and made it through the whole hour but was less then pleased with the experience.  The studio was lovely (they had a strict rule of silence before and after class that was interesting) and the instructor was an adorable young woman with a big pregnant belly.

On the trip out to meet b, I read Dederer's Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses from my summer reading list.  It is an interesting read, as she details a specific time in her life through her experiences learning yoga.  Each chapter is a different pose and she provides a fair amount of background information on the pose and on the history and philosophy of yoga.  Between reading the book and taking many different classes with different teachers and different styles, I've learned a lot about what I do and don't like about yoga.

It seems I like the extremes.  I really enjoy vinyasa yoga, which is characterized by putting poses together into a flow.  It is more aerobic and sometimes is combined with the word "power" to denote a more intensive class.  I especially like this type of yoga in a hot room so you are sweating before you even start moving and by the end you're not sure how you can still be standing.  But I also adore yin yoga, which is quite the opposite.  What I am not so thrilled with is the in-between.  If the instructor is really good I can appreciate a class that is just based on postures, especially if there is a lot of instruction on how to do them correctly.  I like to hear about philosophy.  I like to be physically adjusted (I am a kinesthetic and visual learner; I do the worst when someone is describing to me how to get into and out of postures--which is what happens in Bikram).  I don't need a particularly chatty or close community but I do like to feel welcomed when I arrive.

Ultimately I do yoga because it makes me feel great during and afterwards.  If it doesn't do that, I'm out of there.

Monday, August 8, 2011

We're Back!

Actually we've been back for a few days.  Towards the end of the trip we were in a hurry to get out of some of the excruciatingly hot states and back home to our moderately hot one. We arrived home Wednesday evening and have ended our vacation with a little staycation.  We told very few people we were home and spent the days snuggling our pets and working out at the gym.  Three weeks in a car has done its damage and I'll be spending most of this week there as well.

Tomorrow is b's first day back at work.  He's been out for 7 weeks.  We have spent every minute of the last 3 1/2 weeks together and it has been amazingly wonderful.  He is my perfect companion and I can't imagine ever not wanting to spend all my time with him.  I'm not quite sure what I'll do without him during the days.  Actually I know exactly what I'll do.  In addition to working out, I have to finish prepping classes, get some administrative work done, write a chapter and send out an article.  Luckily that can all be done from home.  Unfortunately the following week is "welcome back meetings from hell" week.

My entire life I've always enjoyed vacations but have been ready to get back to work once they are over.  This year feels very different.  There are a number of reasons but the gloom and doom emails I've been receiving on the state of our budget and the amount of work we are expected to do this year is certainly not helping.

On a brighter note, I'll leave you with a brief video I put together of our road trip.

Road Trip from Brigindo on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

National Parks: Land O'Sand

The last in our trilogy of National Parks was probably the coolest.  It has only recently upgraded from National Monument to National Park.  As with the other parks it was quite crowded (July is probably the worst time to go to the parks unless you really like being around other people) but we managed to get a campsite that overlooked the dunes.

It was very hot and we were tired, so we waited until the early evening (photography's "magic hour") to go for a hike.  Do you remember when you were a kid and you were following your parents across the beach to find the perfect spot to lay your blanket down and the sand was so hot you had to wear your shoes but they kept filling with sand and it was hard to walk?  Well it was kind of like that except you never got to the water.

Actually it was a lot more fun than that.

We were hoping for a fantastic sunset but no such luck.
The next morning we were up with the deer to begin the long haul back home.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

National Parks: "Large Teat"

Our plan was to spend two days in Jellystone and 1 day in Large Teat National Park.  We stuck to the plan but really should have reversed it.  The mountain range is breath-takingly beautiful.  There were plenty of trails to choose from, but given our limited time (actually our time wasn't limited at all and we could have stayed another day but I think we were ready to be making progress home at this point) we chose a fairly convenient and therefore busy trail.

The trail was only moderately difficult and it climbed around a large lake.  At first we were passing descending hikers but once we reached some of the trail's highlights we ran smack into what felt like a convention of tourists.  Mostly families, some with very young children.  I couldn't handle the crowds and we started our way back down.

We quickly ran into a couple with two young children asking us if the boat dock was ahead.  Since we were way above the lake at this point the answer was obviously no.  Th woman was wearing the exact pair of five finger shoes that I had changed out of for the hike.  I'm thinking it was a fairly uncomfortable climb for her and the kids looked like they were ready to call it quits.  Unfortunately they kept climbing in hopes of finding the dock (which we found at the bottom of the trail).  I hope they eventually came down.

After leaving the Large Teats, we drove through Wyoming towards Colorado.  Most of it was boring and flat but there were a few exceptional sections.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

National Parks: Jellystone

b and I went to several National Parks in the past week.  One of them was the flagstone.  It was the first park and is definitely the most popular.  We camped there for two nights and I have to admit I was happy to be gone by the second day.  I had read a review that called the park "the Disneyland of the outdoors" and, while the reviewer meant it as a compliment, I was sorry to find it so.  I am far from hardcore (unlike b) but that doesn't mean I want my outdoors served on a platter.

The park was crowded, with buses dropping sightseers off even in the early hours of the morning. There are many trails but the moderate and difficult ones do not appear to be well maintained and we had a hard time finding trailheads.

We did get up extra early one day to catch the good sun and I managed to take a few shots.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dogs of British Columbia

The people of British Columbia love their dogs.  b and I loved them too but seeing them all made us miss Pupzilla all the more.