Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Wandering Mom...

Hello from Austin, TX, one of my favorite cities in the US.  I'm fond of it, mostly, because my daughter and son live here, so I have ample opportunities to visit.  Austin has a great deal to offer the eclectic, artistic, musical person, but us regular folk can enjoy it, too.

My son had spine surgery on Dec. 8 to remove a Schwannoma, a Schwann cell tumor.  The tumor was approximately the size of a fist, and, according to his doctor, was the largest one he had seen in 17 years of surgery.  The operation took about six hours; Dan was in recovery for about two hours; he was in the hospital for about a week. 

I made a trip to Austin for his surgery, then went back home for five days, then drove back to Austin, where I've been since December 18.  My daughter went to Ireland for Christmas to visit her boyfriend's relatives, so Dan needed someone here to cook, clean, nag, and otherwise transport him around.  That job fell to me, of course, since I'm his mother.

We've had a pleasant time, really.  I've cooked and baked, washed clothes, etc., but we did go to see "Avatar."  While I loved the special effects, I thought the message was less-than-subtle, which distracted me somewhat.  But seeing it in IMAX is awesome--and made me extremely dizzy in spots!

I've baked two batches of cowboy cookies, two loaves of French bread, cooked pots of soup and spaghetti.  Right now, I'm waiting for the last dozen peanut butter cookies to bake.  I'm surprised I haven't gained 50 pounds with all the cooking I've done.

We took a trip to Book People, a nice multi-story bookstore here in Austin.  And we've made a few trips to the grocery and dollar stores.  But, mostly, we've hung out at home, watched movies, and read...we've barreled through quite a few books this Christmas.

I hope your New Year is excellent for you!  See you soon, I hope!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009



Hooray! I'm a winner again, though my count and NaNo's count differ by about 250 words. Still, why argue with it--it's still over 50,000 words. And I did it in three weeks.
I'm happy with what I have right now and will wait until December to revise, since that's revision month. Then I seriously need to work on getting this published.
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Most of the time, those of us who want to write seriously (meaning, for money and fame) allow too many things to distract us. I know I could use teaching, grading papers, family matters, and any host of distractions to keep me from the keyboard. Writing, for me, though, is somewhat cathartic and provides an outlet for all the tasks that suck up my time. When I'm writing for myself, I can escape to a world of my making and shape it according to my will (unless the characters hijack it--then I'm just along for the ride!); it's one of the few times I have a measure of control over what I'm doing. It's fun, for me, and I doubt that people who hate writing understand that.
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The last part of November has been fraught with stress--papers to grade, advising for spring semester, as well as a myriad of other obligations. On top of that, my son has had health issues. He has a tumor on his spine, a Schwannoma, which is a tumor of Schwann cells that forms on the myelin sheath over the nerves. It can form anywhere in the body--this one is on his spine. It's a slow-growing tumor, so it's been there for a while.
He will have surgery soon, probably an all-day affair, and he might need two surgeries--one from the back and a second from the front--because the tumor seems to have wrapped around his spine. I'll be in Austin for part of December for the surgery and for his recovery.
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Once finals are over and I've posted grades, I'll work on revising the novel. Right now, I need to concentrate on my son and on helping him get back on his feet.
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Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have time to spend with your family and friends, eat tons of no-calorie, no guilt holiday food, and relax for at least a day!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Last November, the students who tuned into my blog had to put up with me yammering about NaNoWriMo and had to endure endless updates of my word count.

NaNoWriMo takes place every November. For 30 days, NaNos write their brains out in an attempt to write a short novel in a month. To win, one needs to write 50,000 words between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. Editing and rewriting take place in December. The goal is just to get the words down.

I didn't provide constant updates this year. I'm not sure I mentioned it at all, except on my Facebook page. But, I am happy to say, I've reached 50,351 words, which is 351 words more than I need to "win" NaNo. And we have another week to go.

Last year, I wrote about 64,000 words by the time Nov. 30 rolled around. I have no idea how many words I'll end up with this year, but the novel's not finished. The story unfolded so much easier than the one I wrote last year. I like the characters; I like everything about it; I don't even mind that it's ended up being a fantasy/romance. That's just the way it played out. Sometimes, you just have to let the characters have their way.

So, here's my badge for this year. I hope, on November 30, to provide a word count update along with a winner's badge. nano_09_red_participant_100x100_1 Am I proud of myself? Hell, yeah! To do this for the second time in two years is something to be proud of.

Now, if I can just get this one published...that's my goal, and I'm going to do my best to make it happen.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Grading, Writing, and Meeting the Relatives

Usually, my life is routine.  I don't think it's boring--it's just "settled."  I teach on campus two days a week, teach two online classes, grade papers, mow the grass, clean the house...

Every so often, I have a hectic week full of meetings, lunches, errands, and sundry things that take me out of my routine.  Those weeks wear me out, and I'm more than willing to go back to my routine.

This weekend was one of those hectic ones.  I had a Guy Fawkes bonfire on Friday night that broke up around 10:30pm; I had to clean up, wash dishes, and get the cats' food bowls filled for the weekend, because my mother and sister were coming to pick me up around 8am Saturday to go to my uncle's 70th birthday in a town called Montz, LA.

Here's a picture of the funny Guy I made to burn in effigy:

GF1 On Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 5, in England, effigies of the Guy are burned all over England.  If you don't know about this holiday, Google it! 

We had fun, ate a bit, drank a bit, and talked a great deal.  I love spending my evenings with my friends.

On Saturday morning, I headed south with my mom and sister.  My sister drives a Tahoe, which is too big for me to maneuver, so she drove there and back, bless her heart, with my mother as the GPS system.  That was enough to convince my sister to buy a REAL GPS system for the next trip we take.

I took quite a few pictures, which I've posted on a Facebook Group Page for my family.  But here's one of my uncle and his kids:

ripskids And here's a picture of my godfather's daughter and her daughter:

Janey_Olivia I hadn't seen Janey since she was a baby, so I was glad to have a chance to see her as an adult and meet her three children.  I also had some pictures of her father that I emailed to her.  He died several years ago, and I miss him terribly.

I discovered that many of my cousins resemble my immediate family, which shouldn't be a shock, since we share some of the same genes.  But, sometimes, the resemblance is shocking.  Here's my brother Mike, on the left, next to my cousin Alan, on the right.  The resemblance in person is more striking than, perhaps, is evident in this picture:

Mike_Alan2 But even my sister, Mary, who wasn't there, noticed the resemblance.

I had a great weekend, which, of course, put me behind on my grading.  But, really, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  I had a great weekend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Time Off

After nearly three weeks of continuous paper grading, I finally had two days clear.  Luckily, a delivery of books from Amazon came to suck up the time.

My son asked for some books for his birthday--an Ursula K. LeGuin trilogy and The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett.  I sent the LeGuin trilogy, but received the Pratchett book later.  Since I'd been thinking about reading Pratchett--his Discworld series is popular--I ordered A Hatful of Sky for me.  That, unfortunately, is the second in a series of three books about a witch named Tiffany Aching.  I liked it so much I ordered three other Pratchett books--The Wee Free Men, Wintersmith,  and Good Omens, a book he wrote with Neil Gaiman. 

I finished The Wee Free Men at 3am this morning; I began Wintersmith today.  I've also managed to wash clothes, sweep the entire house, and put the French bread dough on to rise. 

So, why do I feel guilty?  Guilty, you ask? 

As I'm reading my novels, cleaning my house, etc., in the back of my mind, I hear this little voice saying, "You need to be working on coursework.  You have sections to update, schedules to amend, students to pester; the next semester begins in January--it's already October!  Get to work!"

I need to kick my type A gene to the curb.  I work 15 to 18 hours a day, most days; even when I teach on campus, I come home and hit the computer.  My sense of duty/obligation needs to leave me alone for a while so I can enjoy a good book or two or three.  I also have two manuscripts written by my friends that I've been reading, and I have my own writing to ponder.  It's not as if I goof off that often, if one could call "reading" "goofing off."  It's not (she said, defensively).  And NaNoWriMo begins Nov. 1, so I'll have that added, self-imposed pressure. 

I'm trying to convince my workaholic self that I need time off...working all day every day gets tiring.  And I find that I make more mistakes when I don't take time to recharge.  When I'm in work mode all the time, I can' slow down or stop.  I think that's wrong. 

I need to relax.  I'm working on it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

That was the week that was...

I'm behind on my posting, but I've been dealing with midterms, specifically midterm exams.  I gave two.  One went off without a hitch; the other didn't.

I updated my course site with a midterm for my freshmen. I saved it and displayed it in Moodle, and it looked fine to me.

I started grading those midterms Tuesday and became increasingly frustrated because the students weren't following my directions.

I sent the midterms back with a remonstrance.  And then my students started emailing me, protesting my severe grading.  I checked the midterm.  It was not the midterm I posted, but a midterm from the spring.  The date on the exam was March 9; not one student emailed me to ask me if that was the correct exam.  Not one.

I threw the exam grades out.  Regardless of whose fault (I blame Moodle) it was, I wasn't going back to regrade those papers.  It took me two days to grade them the first time, and I don't want to read them again.  The sad thing is removing the grade didn't not impact midterm grades significantly.   

But I learned something.  Always change the filename before you upload it.  Then you'll know that the file you want someone to see is the one he does see.

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Okay.  This is how I sprained my ankle.

I worked out in the yard last Saturday for several hours, weeding and planting my "fence" garden.  Here's a picture:

bottleg1

When I did what I set out to do, I came in the house to get a cup of coffee.

I opened the door from the living room to the garage to go back outside.  I have three steps leading down (or up).  I turned sideways to close the door, then proceeded to bounce down those three concrete steps.  I had to sit there in a puddle of coffee for about five minutes before I could move.  I hoisted myself up the stairs butt first and managed to drag myself into the living room.  I couldn't stand up for about 10 minutes; I was too shaken and too wobbly.  My left ankle swelled a great deal.  It's still swollen, and it hurts once in a while, but ice and an ace bandage help.

The coffee cup did not break, just in case you're wondering.

I cannot tell you, really, how it happened.  It just did.  I'm hobbling, but at least I'm moving around and I didn't break anything, as far as I can tell.

Here's what it looked like a week ago:

foot1

I'm not taking off the ace bandage to show you what it looks like today!  That hurts too much.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Break? What Break?

I'm sure my students are screaming, too.  If I didn't have a meeting on Monday, Oct. 19, I'd have six days of not having to leave the house.  Unfortunately, as soon as classes resume, I have to be at the college four days in a row--on Monday and Wednesday, I have to come in for meetings, each of which will last an hour or less.  Feh!

Which means, of course, that I'll spend more time driving than sitting in said meetings.  Which means, of course, that I'll have to fill my car up with gas twice in one week.  Feh, I say!

At some point, I wish our U would hold virtual meetings, so I could stay home and "attend" in my pajamas.  I'd like that.  It's not as though I say much in these meetings.  I especially try not to volunteer for anything...unless one of my bosses presses me into service the way the British Navy used to "press" citizens of other countries to serve (in other words, by force).

And, of course, this break is not a "break" for my students, or for me.  In order to cover everything I need to cover, I have assignments due.  Which means I have stuff to grade.  If they've stayed on top of things, though, they should be able to slid those things in early and cop a couple of days of snooze time.  That is, if their other profs haven't loaded them down with work, too.

Yeah, being a student is a drag, sometimes, but my students can rest assured that I don't have much time to slack off.  My only hope is that it rains for six days so I'm not tempted to go out and slog around in the yard to pick up limbs.

Oh, well.  The good news is that my daughter has a full-time teaching position as a traveling art teacher in Austin.  She splits her time between two elementary schools.  She's going to love it, once she gets the hang of working a regular job, with regular pay, regular hours, regular vacations, health benefits, etc.  Her first salaried position.  It's about time, and I'm soooooo happy for her.  Another Smith to shape young minds!  It's a conspiracy, I tell ya!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Randomness....

I find myself in a peculiar position...one set of quizzes to grade, but no grading frenzy until Saturday. Wow.

I'll have two or three days of down time, so I'll be able to update my Moodle course sites, read a book, watch movies, play in the yard. Then, I'm back to grading like a crazy person--midterms are here--though I don't have many exams to grade, just two. After fall break, though, I'll have plenty to do, so I'm going to make the most of the down time.

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The weather is driving me nuts. Yesterday, the high was almost 90; today, the temp here is about 66 at noon. Tomorrow, the forecast is 90 again, then we revert to 70s for the high and 50s for the low. I wish autumn would decide to stay for a while.

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I will finally be able to get a flu shot tomorrow, free, thanks to the college's ties with LSUHSC. At first, we were told that the hospital didn't have enough supplies of the vaccine, but, somehow, they magically appeared. This doesn't cover the H1N1 strain, though, so I still have to watch for that. My students have been great about staying home when sick (however mild!), so I haven't had epidemic absences so far. Actually, attendance in my on-campus classes is great, and the online classes seem to be humming right along.

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I have my fingers crossed for my daughter. She's taking one more test today. If she passes this one, she has a full-time teaching position in two elementary schools in Austin, TX. She went back to college for her teaching certification in Art, did her practice teaching, took two Praxis tests and received her teaching certificate. She has to pass the classroom teacher's test in order to have this job. She deserves it. She's spent most of her adult life, so far, working at minimum wage jobs in cafes and restaurants. She's ready to move up. And, if she gets this job, she'll probably make more money than I do! It's about time she stops stressing about money. Besides, she needs to make enough money to afford my retirement home!

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Yesterday was a lousy day. I pulled up to the end of my driveway to leave for school and discovered my mailbox flat on the ground. I thought someone had backed into it, but, when I looked at it yesterday afternoon, it seemed that it just fell; my daughter's boyfriend cemented it into the ground in the summer, so the entire thing must have shifted from the road vibrations. One side of my property is a ditch, and the road has a bridge over it right by my driveway. We get so much heavy truck traffic that I think the vibrations just caused the earth to shift. I'll probably have to pull the box up periodically. I can't think of any other way to solve the problem except to have a brick enclosure built around the box. I'll talk to Pete about it. That may be another summer project.

In addition to the mailbox, I misplaced my one pair of glasses; I couldn't read anything, so I borrowed a pair from someone--they were huge and not as strong as mine, so I ended up with eyestrain and a headache. And our bookstore doesn't sell reading glasses--a big mistake with all the older professors and students on campus. I told them that!

I went to the ValueMart here and bought six pair of reading glasses for $5--they had a sale! Lucky me, as long as I don't misplace all of them! I'll leave a couple of pair in my office in case I "forget" to bring a pair with me.

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So that's the boring randomness of my life for now! Maybe something more exciting will happen--but not too exciting. I rather like "boring."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another Day, Another Blog...

The last two weeks have passed in a blur.  All I've done, it seems, is grade papers...with short forays to the Ace Hardware store for paint for my mother and into the yard for mowing.  Other than that, I've been chained to my computer.

I've tried to make time for my own work; I stop grading papers about nine at night, then spend a couple of hours revising a novel.  I have a friend in Kentucky who's willing to swap novels with me, so I feel some pressure to make it as good as possible before I hand it over to him.  And I have a new friend who's asked me and several other poets to help with his manuscript--decide what should stay, what should go, and what might go either way.  And he's asked for help with ordering the poems.  So I have these obligations.

And, of course, November is NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month.  Crazy people like me sign up to write 50,000 words in a month.  I did it last year for the first time, and I wrote 65,000 words--I'm working on revising that novel, and I'm nearly pleased with it.

I don't gripe too much about grading papers, usually.  I know it's part of my job--a big part of it.  I'd love to be able to teach a class without assigning work, but I'd have to find another way to grade students!  I have no idea how I'd do that, but I'm sure my students are full of suggestions!

But, if the weather stays as nice as its been lately, I need a bonfire this weekend!  Grading can wait for good weather!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Shameless Endorsement...

I am not one who usually waxes poetic about companies or products, but I have to promote a company that consistently saves me money, Gateway Tires on S'port-Barksdale Hwy.

The story begins with dinner out on Friday night.  I started driving home in the gloomy rain around 10pm, only to discover that I had no "dim" headlights.  I had hi-beams and fog lights, but no "regular" lights.  Scary, and I'm sure the oncoming traffic was confused, too.

This morning, being the first morning I had time to deal with this, I took my car down the road to a local garage and asked them if they could fix it.  I left my car, walked home, and received a call about an hour later--no, they couldn't  They'd have to take the entire front end off the car and the bulbs cost $145--EACH--and no one in town had them, I'd have to take the car to the dealer, yada, yada, yada.  You get the idea.  Sounded to me as though they really didn't want my business.

So, I called Gateway.  I told the guy my problem and what the garage here said.  He said, "Bring it here first.  We can probably take care of it more cheaply than a dealer can."

The bad news--the bulbs from the dealer would cost $216--EACH--but Gateway could get them for $128--EACH.  Gulp.  Total with tax and labor would be about $328.  And it would take an hour.

I graded papers; I re-read the stories for my Eng. 215 class.  I tried not to panic.  How soon could I get to the bank and transfer money from savings?  Did I really need to go to the grocery store this week? 

I'm ready to start a movement--before a dealer can sell you a car, he/she must tell you replacement costs for every part you might have to replace.  Just about the time I had worked myself up into a full-blown crusade, Craig, one of the counter persons, came over to me and said, "We checked the part numbers for the bulbs, and we think we can use bulbs that cost about $10 or $15 each.  Does that sound better?"

I offered to cook for him for a year, but, smart man, he turned me down.

Total cost for parts and labor?  $84.47!

And that's why I will shamelessly promote Gateway Tires to anyone who asks me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stuck in the Middle with You...

I'm three weeks into the fall semester, and I feel as though my butt has fused to my chair...that my hands are welded to the computer keyboard...that my world has narrowed to a small section of my living room.

When was the last time I sat in one of my living room chairs to watch a movie?  I have a crick in my neck from glancing over my left shoulder to view the TV.  But work comes first...or does it? 

I am probably as conscientious a person as anyone will find.  I take my responsibilities seriously.  Some days, though, I just want to sit on the carport with a cup of coffee and let life drift by.  Once in a while, I indulge myself.  But, then, I remember all the "stuff" I need to do, and the responsible person in me gives me a swift kick and tells me to "get with the program."

I'm trying to lighten up a bit.  I will drive into Shreveport on a Friday to have lunch with friends; I'll drive in to visit my parents and siblings.  I need to do that more often.  Narrowing my world down to the desk and the computer is restrictive.  I can't be a well-rounded person if I'm always fixated on work.

That's not to say that I give myself permission to ignore what I must do.  But I'm trying to find a balance--all work and no play, etc.  I don't want to be dull!  But procrastination doesn't get the work done.

I'm looking for the middle ground...but it's a learning process!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Hummingbird Wars

I realize that, since the semester has begun again, I need to keep up with my blog so my students will have something to laugh at...I mean, "read."  I could recycle blogs, but that's one type of recycling I'm not in favorite of--"The Best of Ms. Smith's Blogs."  I don't think so.

So, today, after I finished reading freshman diagnostics (finally) and grading a quiz for my 215 class and re-reading a couple of stories I need to teach tomorrow, I went outside to enjoy the freakishly fall-like day and watch the hummingbirds duke it out in the back yard.

I learned something about hummingbirds when I was in Colorado.  They make noise.  I don't mean just the wing noise; they make sounds that I'd describe as "twittering."  Maybe that's where the Twitter site took it's name.

What I've discovered during my numerous afternoons of watching them is that they are aggressive with other birds, too, not just their own kind.  They'll go after a Jay or Cardinal if those birds get in their way; hummers will also chase wasps and bees away from feeders, but I haven't noticed them going after butterflies.

Hummers attack each other physically.  Today, during a quiet stretch when the other birds had gone off, I listened and watched as three hummers chased each other around the yard.  They "chest bump" each other--well, maybe not exactly, but they fly straight at one another and try to knock each other off flight.  One hummer hovered around the feeder, and another much smaller hummer flew at him and knocked the large one sideways three times.  And, at times, I thought they must be fighting with their beaks--I thought I heard some "clacks" in there.

I took Middlemarch out with me to read, but I didn't make it through two pages before the hummers claimed my attention.  One of them--the smallest, most aggressive of the three--sat on the clothesline closest to my chair.  I managed to get a good look at him/her, and the hummer sat still for a good five minutes.  It's not true that they are constantly in motion; these guys sit still plenty.

Watching the birds is one of my favorite past times.  It's relaxing and informative.  Of all the birds, the hummers are my favorite.  I wish they'd hang around all year, but I know they have to migrate.  I still keep the feeders out and filled all the time, though.  I can't ever tell when one of them might need a drink before its long journey southward.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"

Ultra far-right conservatives are probably secretly celebrating the death of the "last true liberal" of the senate, Ted Kennedy.  For me, the end of an era has arrived.  With Ted's death, the dream of Camelot, begun with John F. Kennedy's presidency, seems to be fading away.

But maybe not.  Those of us who grew up during the sixties listening to and buying into the dreams of John, Robert and Ted Kennedy will probably carry on.  Though I am not now, nor have I ever been, a card-carrying communist, I am proud to say that I am a "true liberal" in most areas of my political thinking and affiliation.  I so want the philosophical aspects of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" to become a reality, not just in America, but in the world--but not through war or aggression.

That brings me to this health-care controversy gripping our nation right now.  I'm not one to jump into the fray without thinking things through.  I'm not going to mouth off in response to some knee-jerk capitalistic conservative just to make my opinion known.  I have to think it though and come to my own conclusions, make my own decisions.

I know enough about early American history to know that Jefferson, Adams, Madison, et. al, weren't the liberal bleeding-heart types.  The philosophy expressed in the Declaration of Independence was not egalitarian sentiment--Jefferson was a member of the "ruling class," one of the privileged white men who owned property and wielded power at the highest levels.  He wasn't concerned with the slaves he owned, or women, or the disenfranchised.  He wanted to protect the interests of the powerful like himself.  The philosophy of the Declaration is great: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights...life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..."  But in Jefferson's day, the meaning of this passage was specific and non-negotiable--white men who owned property were equal to each other and to the British government that oppressed them, and only they had these rights, which didn't apply to anyone else.

The great thing about America is that, as the country has changed, so has our conception of the promise of the Declaration.  Our Constitution reflects those changes as well--the 13th Amendment, which freed slaves, the 19th Amendment, which gave women the vote (finally, damn it!); we are an adaptable country.  We are an inclusive country.  We're willing to admit our mistakes and right our wrongs...most of the time.

Here's what I think about healthcare...I think all people, regardless of age, gender, income, class, party affiliation--whatever one might use to classify them--deserve the same level of care.  A poor person should not have to die from a treatable, preventable disease just because he/she doesn't have money.  Likewise, I don't think a person who flashes a big wad of cash, or pays through the nose for health insurance, should have more or better care than said poor person.  My Mother and Father, who are 78, should get the same care as my two-year-old niece.  That philosophy certainly expands Jefferson's conception of "life," and I'm sure it plays into the ideas of "liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

So who pays for it?  We all do, as we always have, through our taxes; if we're all "created equal," then we should pay taxes when we have jobs or make money.  When we come upon hard times, then maybe we should go back to FDR's WPA--put people to work fixing the roads, beautifying public parks, painting murals on post office walls and government facades, tutoring others for literacy--we could do so much for each other if we just tapped into the potential of every American, if we gave every American the chance to be productive and useful.  They get paid, we get taxes back from that to pay for health care.  We could do more if we'd stop talking and start planning.

I am not opposed to dialogue and compromise.  I am, however, opposed to yelling and scare tactics.  Those people who oppose change simply because it doesn't come from their political party impede true change.  And they do a disservice to all of us.  Debate, discuss, compromise.  I think that's the true "American Way."

Teddy, I'm going to miss you and your imperfect, improbable life.  Even though many considered you a member of the privileged class, you worked hard for the rest of us.  RIP, Teddy.  "And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Let the games begin...

Okay, so classes begin in less than a week, and I'm not sure I'm ready for them.  I sent out "welcome" messages to my online classes and have already started receiving emails from the students.  That's what I call getting a head start!

I'm sorry this summer is coming to an end.  It's been productive and relaxing.  I had a great group of students in my online course.  I could take care of them AND my house without compromising either.

End of summer means less travel, but I hope I'll have more visitors and more bonfires.  I didn't burn a single fire this summer--but that had more to do with the burn ban than anything.  Fall and winter are ideal times for fires, so I'm starting to pile the fallen limbs in the fire pit for my first official bonfire of the season--maybe at fall equinox.  I definitely want a fire on Guy Fawkes Day!

Still have a bit of work to do on my courses, so I'll work on that today.  Sigh...if only this could be an "endless" summer without the heat!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Random Thoughts on Summer 2009

Wow!  What a summer!  I managed to do so much--paint the walls and rip up the carpet, have bookshelves installed, teach a class...where did the time go?

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And I managed to take three trips this summer--to Houston, Austin, and Durango, CO.  I had fun with my family (color me surprised!).  I also enjoyed Dot and Pete's visit, as well as a visit from my sister, Lydia.

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Writing all of this down seems to diminish it.  All of these activities seemed more monumental while I was in the middle of them.  Funny how, when I look back, the work appears effortless, though, at the time, it wasn't to me.  I felt overwhelmed.  When I finished my tasks and returned home from my trips, I took it all in stride.  I have a house more to my liking (the outside needs work!), and I had fun in other places, too.

****

It's almost time for the fall semester to begin.  I'll be teaching TWO freshman comp classes, a 105 hybrid and my 115 online.  I also have a 215 on campus and a 226 online.  This will be another semester when I'll grade papers constantly...but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge (summer proved that).

****

Colorado--what can I say?  Exceeded my expectations.  I loved the weather--cool, breezy days.  And the thunderstorms were scary!  So here's a picture of what I loved about Durango (apart from my brother's family, that is):

IMAG0041 How beautiful is that?  I took this picture while I was on the steam train to Silverton, CO, an old mining town turned tourist trap. I could fill my blog with pictures like this, but this gives you a good idea of what I saw everyday.

 

****

Enough.  I've had a great summer, am almost sad that it's about to end, but I am looking forward to a new semester.  I'm going to try to enjoy the next two weeks; I don't plan to work constantly, but I do need to get my courses ready.

I hope everyone had a pleasant summer, too. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Craftsmanship

My daughter, Dot, and her boyfriend, Pete, spent my birthday week with me.  The birthday was just an excuse; I really wanted them to build bookcases for the living room and my bedroom.  With all the books I have, I just can't have enough bookcases.  And, even with these two wall-to-wall, I still need more for the rest of my books, half of which are in storage.

When I asked them to do this, I envisioned some oak or pine, nailed professionally to the walls.  What I got, instead, are two beautiful bookcases built of a mix of South American hardwoods Pete salvaged from a floor installation.

Here's a picture for those who haven't seen my Facebook photo album:

Books in Place

Sorry--the picture is slightly crooked, and you can't see the top shelf, but you get the general idea.  This is the living room; the bedroom, unfortunately, is too dark, and my camera doesn't have a flash.  The bookcase in the bedroom is about half as wide as this one.  Both are seven feet tall.

They measured, cut, sanded, stained and waxed every shelf and support.  Each of the shelves in the living room is made of three pieces of wood, as are the side supports.  The books glide on the surface.  I'm awed every time I look at them.  The bedroom shelves have a slight variation--the middle piece of each shelf has four different, shorter pieces of wood.  The picture, below, shows these shelves before gluing.

Shelves 3

They put so much time and effort into these; it's almost a shame to put books on them.  But, now, I feel as though my books have a worthy home--support that's as beautiful as their contents.  I love them.

Thanks, Dot and Pete!  This is one of the best birthday gifts, ever!  And I loved the company, too!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"And that's the way it is..."

Walter Cronkite, the iconic journalist and news broadcaster, died yesterday at the age of 92.  The best of broadcast journalism died with him.  He was, after all, "the most trusted man in America" when he anchored the CBS Evening News--more people tuned in to hear him than any other anchor at the time.

I remember so many historic events to the voice of Cronkite...the assassination of John Kennedy, where Cronkite almost broke down...the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr...the 1969 moon landing, when I saw and heard the joy and amazement in his voice...the Vietnam War--Cronkite in the trenches, bullets whizzing by, and bodies carried out of the rice paddies in color.  This wasn't a newsreel war--it was blood and guts and horror.  Through all of this, Walter Cronkite delivered the facts with honesty and controlled emotion. 

That's not to say Cronkite didn't express his opinion.  His assertion that the Vietnam War could not be won drove Lyndon Johnson to despair--he knew if he had lost Cronkite, he had lost the American middle class.

Look at who brings us the news these days...Anderson Cooper, reporting from a devastated New Orleans in Prada; Katie Couric, a former morning talk-show host; the revolving talking heads at CNN and HLN, who spend hours repeating the same stories until some new "crisis of the minute" stirs up the broadcast.   On other cable networks, we get pundits so far left or so far right, that any "dialogue" degenerates into a screaming match--instead of listening to one another, these people are so intent on making their opinions heard that they overtalk, yell, and blatantly ignore what anyone else has to say.

I blame us, the people who "watch" the news.  We don't want to hear the "facts" or the "truth," we just want to hear whatever confirms our fears or our beliefs.  Personally, I won't listen to a thing Anne Coulter says.  She's a poster girl for the far, whacked-out right; the words she spews make no sense to me.  She's a hate-monger, intent only on controversy for the sake of book sales.  On the other hand, I'll listen to Al Franken all day, as a comedian or a senator.  See what I mean?  I'm not interested in your point of view--just confirm mine.

And many people I know--not all of them, mind you--I know better than to spout generalities--don't want to hear about Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Iran.  All that drama, all that money committed to death and destruction, all those civilians and soldiers dying--how depressing; how real!  These days, the news from "the front" comes from "embedded" reporters.  Because the government "lets" them report, they can't show us the true horrors of what's going on.  They can't show us soldiers being carried off with missing limbs and their guts hanging out.  That's not the picture the government wants us to see.

The news channels can get away with running the same footage of an ambulance whisking away Michael Jackson's body every five minutes because that's what people want to see.  We don't want to think about some war in some far-away country--we want gossip!  I'm thinking of Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry"--"Give us dirty laundry." 

We want our "bubble-headed bleach blondes," our "talking heads" to look good.  They don't have to be able to write cogent, elegant journalism--they just have to be able to read without stumbling over the words on the tele-prompter.  They don't have to have any personal interest in what's going on, as long as they have a smooth delivery.  I wince when I listen to these people--whoever writes that copy can't...grammatical errors abound.  But it's not just that--most of the newsreaders can't be bothered to learn how to pronounce anything correctly.  They don't care about the news they report; they just read it.

And that's why I miss Cronkite.  He delivered the news, yes.  But he wrote his copy; he was elegant; he was interested.  He knew what he was talking about.  He was a hero to me and the main reason I minored in journalism in college.  If I could "be" anyone else, I'd want to be him.  His passion for life and for delivering the news to America--I could feel it.  When he retired, I stopped watching the news on a regular basis.  Yes, Dan Rather was good, but he eventually let his own desire for greatness bring him down.  Walter Cronkite never put himself before his news...and his passion for his profession helped him become "the most trusted man in America."  He had integrity, and I think that's what most newscasters today lack--it's all about the next big scandal and who breaks it first.

As Cronkite would say, "And that's the way it is..."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Random Thoughts...

How is it possible that a company can send me a package that arrives from Indianapolis in four days for $5.95, but the package I send to Georgia to arrive in 2-3 days costs me $12.70?  This is why I pay most of my bills online.

****

Hand-feeding a kitten is no different from bottle-feeding a baby.  Same schedule, same sleep-deprivation factor.

****

Current temp at 10:01 AM is 87 degrees; with the heat index, it's 94 degrees.  Can you say "global warming"?  High today projected at 102; I have no idea what the temp will be with the heat index.  I'll get back to you on that.

****

Update: 6:04PM, 103 degrees, 111 with the heat index.

****

Working at home during the summer is great.  I only drive when I have to.  I save up errands until I have enough to justify the drive.  I haven't put gas in my car since Father's Day.

****

When I was in Houston in May, I broke off a piece of an Angel Trumpet plant (with the owner's permission!).  I put it in a bottle of water for a week, then stuck it in a pot and forgot about it.  It's growing.  They get HUGE and have the most beautiful flowers.  Hummingbirds love them.

****

I hate footnotes in novels.  I just finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and the footnotes drove me bonkers.

****

I've been trying to read regularly this summer.  So far, I've read three novels.  I've just begun The Time Traveler's Wife.

****

I've buried seven kittens this summer.  The vet says it's not my fault they died.  I wish I could believe that.

I'm going to move my garden to the back end of my property.  I've buried kittens everywhere else, and I'm afraid to plant where I've buried them.  I don't want to unearth any kitten bones.

****

I love watching birds in my yard.  In the evenings, I sometimes have 20 Cardinals flitting around.

****

Any day can be improved with a nap!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Can't" is a four-letter word...

If you had told me a year ago that I would paint almost every room in my house, paint furniture, make curtains, pull up carpet and padding, and strip floors by myself, I would have laughed hysterically.  Then I would have looked you in the eye and said, "No way.  I can't do that by myself."

Right. 

I think, many times, we have no clue about our capabilities.  I have no idea what possessed me to do this...oh, yeah, I do.  First, I hated the dirty hall carpet.  After a visit from a colleague and her son, I just ripped it out.

Then, my sister offered me a bedroom suite--French Provincial--and I just didn't think it should go into a bedroom with white walls.  I hadn't planned to start the renovations quite so early, but my sister brought the furniture to me, and I had to put it in the living room.  I got tired of it, so I started moving  the books, bookcases, and my desk out of the office/soon to be bedroom, ripped up the carpet, then painted the room (very badly, I should add) a burgundy.  With a little cleanup, it will be fine.  The floor needs to be refinished, too, but I won't do that while the kittens are still too young to move out. [My cat had four kittens on June 16].

Another sister brought me a can of gold paint.  I painted the back bedroom, the room that used to be my bedroom, with that.  Then I ripped up the carpet and painted all the furniture that I wanted to put in the room, recovered a chair seat, and made shades for the room.  The floor in that room is fine--no need to refinish it.  From walls to windows, I did it all.  If I may brag, it's a good-looking guest room.

Then I bought two gallons of "Clay Pot"--almost a terra cotta, which I wanted, but it's more coral.  I painted the living room and the hall.  And then I started pulling up the carpet--yuck!  The carpet padding has melted into the floor, so I'm having to scrape and strip the floor as I go along.  It's awful.  So far, I've managed to pull the carpet and padding from about half the room.  I don't look forward to the rest of it.  I will need help moving some of the heavier pieces of furniture--I know I "can't" do that without hurting myself!  I have to acknowledge my limitations.

Another sister offered to help me on the weekends, but I have time during the week to do this.  I'm teaching an online class this summer, but it doesn't require every moment.  I didn't want to wait until Saturdays to paint the walls when I was capable of doing it myself.  So, I'm just doing it.

My daughter and her significant other are coming in July to build bookcases in the living room and my bedroom.  I'm hoping to  have space for all of the books still languishing in the garage.  Then I can clean out the garage--again!

Is it possible to become addicted to renovation?  I'm already thinking about painting the dining room and kitchen.  My next "big project" will be a wood floor for the kitchen and dining room.  But that might have to wait until next summer. 

I think I'm shocked that I did all this.  Too bad I'm the teacher...this could count as my "What I did on my summer vacation" essay!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Surprise, Surprise...

I went to Austin to visit my kids for four days.  My son performed in a show some friends of his put together, and he wrote and performed a rap song...in gold lame pants and spray-painted blue shoes!  It was fun and interesting...I got tired just watching them run around the stage.

While I was there, the temperature, with the heat index, was somewhere around 105 degrees.  My daughter doesn't like to use her air conditioner, mostly because it runs up the electric bill, but also because she's used to the heat.  My son, who shares the house, finally decided he needed an A/C for his room, so we went to Lowe's and bought one.  I'll let them work it out.  They're good at compromising with each other, and Dan is willing to pay extra to stay cool.  On my last evening, my daughter finally relented and turned on the A/C.  I think my red, sweaty face convinced her that I'd have heatstroke if she didn't cool things down!

I almost made the trip home Sunday in six hours.  Usually, I get home six hours to the minute, and that includes a gas/potty break.  But I hit the Kountry Korner store in Marquez at a late shift change and had to wait 10 minutes to buy a Coke.  That put me home about 15 or twenty minutes later than usual, but I was in the door by 5:30pm.

My inside cat greeted me with strident meows.  She followed me around all night, even climbing in bed with me, which she hardly ever does.  But I figured she would have her kittens soon, and she did--between my knees, under the coverlet on my new bed!  I slept through the whole thing.  I'm just grateful I didn't roll over on them. 

When I was in junior high school, our family dog, Lady, had her puppies in bed with me.  I slept through that, too!  I had to sleep on the sofa until she moved the babies. 

The four kittens are beautiful, and, as I hoped, one of them looks like Buddy, the tomcat who disappeared about a month ago.  So, I have a replica of him, though nothing will replace him.  My awful neighbor gave Buddy to me--the only remotely "nice" thing she's done since she moved in.  He was my "puppy cat" and followed me around.  A sweet tomcat.  I miss him.

I'll take a picture and post it as soon as things calm down. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

One thing leads to another...

The A/C guy came out yesterday with his little girl in tow. Where else but Coushatta could a repair person bring his/her child along on calls?

Some starter motor had broken on the A/C unit, so he fixed that and added freon to the unit. I had to turn the water on outside so he could flush out the line. When I went to turn the water off, I couldn't get it off. The outside faucet on the side of the house didn't have a handle, so I used pliers to turn it on and off. When I couldn't turn it off, I watered the garden until the plumber could get here. He put on a new faucet--cheap, too. My garden flooded, but I'm sure the plants were happy about it.

But now I'm broke. Only so much money to go around.

I'm packing up to go to Austin on Thursday. My son is in a production, "Faster Than The Speed of Light." He wrote a song for it, and he's in the chorus. It should be fun.

Here's a random thought: I talk more to my children on Facebook than on the phone! Isn't that odd?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Weird Weekend

I was out mowing the backyard on Friday when I saw a white pickup truck coming down the driveway. I thought it was more evangelicals coming to invite me to a revival, but I should have recognized the truck, since I rode in it to Ms. Emma's funeral on Tuesday. My brother and his wife drove in from Monroe; they wanted to go to Ed Lester's farm stand today.

Well, I love company. But if you saw my house at the moment, you'd know that company was about the last thing I needed. I have a bedroom set in my living room; the bedroom where it's going is a wreck--I've stripped glue off the floor and puttied the holes in the wall for painting. I have books and furniture all over the house. I'm usually an organized person, but, right now, I'm about as disorganized as a person can get. It affects my focus, which means I don't have any right now. I don't have much room to cook; didn't have anything thawed out except a whole chicken (which would have taken a couple of hours), plus I was in the middle of mowing.

And of course, I've been dealing with three cats dying, and a fourth that I'm afraid will also die (vet's on Monday, since I have a home for it). Add to that my summer school class that I should have been monitoring, which was difficult to do with company. I also had a lunch engagement on Saturday for a friend's birthday, so I needed to leave my house around 11am. And I planned to have the oil changed in the car, too, for my trip to Austin on Thursday (and I did).

The last time they spent a summer weekend with me, the A/C wouldn't work, and, believe it or not, it wouldn't work yesterday, either. It's been working great, but I turned it off for the coolish weather. When I turned it on yesterday, the compressor wouldn't work. That means a call to the A/C guy on Monday, as well as the vet visit. I can hear the money pouring out of my already strained account.

It's always better if people call me to let me know they are coming--not that I begrudge my brother and his wife their visit. I like company. I just like to be prepared for it. And, in some ways, I resent that people think I don't have a life. I have one; they just don't know about it because I don't normally broadcast my social calendar. Maybe, though, people will start calling me before they just show up on my doorstep.

Visitors are welcomed with proper notice!
*****
Update--I buried the last kitten this morning (06.07.09).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Summer Semester and Projects...

The long summer session begins Monday (June 1), and, while my course site is ready, I'm not. Geez, where do the days go?


The projects for the summer--paint the bedrooms, living room, and hall; paint the Sears circa 1919 iron bed and some bookcases; rip the carpets up and refinish the red oak floors; make new curtains; get my daughter to build some bookcases...what else? Oh, yeah. Finally, sheetrock the wall I knocked down last year in the bathroom. The kitchen and bathroom might be good projects for next year. I don't have the money or time to redo them. Painting, etc., is going to be hard enough. I hate moving furniture, and I have no idea where I'm going to put all this stuff. Hmmm...I think a garage sale is in order--anything but my books.


I feel a trip to Lowe's coming on.


*****

My mom called me this morning around 8am to let me know that a close friend of the family, Emma Davidson, died of a heart attack. I'm shocked. My mom and dad were planning a trip with them in August. Funeral arrangements are pending, so I don't know when that will be, but I'm guessing Monday. I wonder why, the older I get, the more surprised I am when people older than I am die. Of course, I'm also shocked when people younger die. Let's face it--I'm shocked when anyone I know dies. I hope I'm not holding on to the idea that I'll live forever. I thought I got over that many years ago.


So, here's a sunflower for Ms. Emma.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Kitten Saga...

A little over a month ago, the feral mother cat who is responsible for nearly all the other feral cats around here had another litter.  Four cute little kittens.  When the rains came, she moved them into the laundry room--her usual behavior--where they stayed until she thought I was getting too familiar with them.  Then, about two weeks ago, she moved them across the ditch.

Yesterday afternoon, I went out to the back ramp and, lo and behold, I found three of the kittens, meowing at a fever pitch.  I could hear the fourth one--sounded as though it was still across the ditch--and I figured the mother cat had not moved it yet.  Somewhere around nine pm last night, the fourth kitten came tearing up the ramp from the deep darkness of the backyard in response to its siblings' cries.

I have no idea where the mother cat is.  I don't know if they found their way here, or if she brought them.  She's a conscientious mom, so I'm wondering if the marauding dogs got her, or maybe a coyote or hawk. 

For the time being, the babies are in my laundry room with dry cat food and water.  They can eat solid food, but I worry that they still need their mother's milk.  The water will help hydrate them, but it's no substitute.

Anybody need a kitten?  They're a bit clingy right now, but they should be ready for a good home in a week or two.  You just have to promise to neuter them when they are old enough (ask your vet when that should be).  They haven't had shots, either.  I can't afford to inoculate every stray cat that hangs around here, even if I could catch them all.

So, here they are in a picture I took on May 5, before the mom moved them.  They are slightly bigger, but not much.  I don't know if they are boys or girls, yet, but time will tell!

kittens

Friday, May 15, 2009

What I Don't Like About Summer...

Well, let's go with the obvious first--the heat!  Though with all of the weird weather we've had lately, that might not be at the top of the list by summer's end.  On Sunday (5.17.09), for example, the high temp is supposed to be 68!  Go figure.

Second, my time clock gets screwed up.  I slept today until noon, for example, which is great, but I'll probably be up until 2am, which will cause me to sleep later tomorrow--you see the pattern here?  Teaching online from home is excellent, yes.  But, when fall comes, I'll have to seriously adjust my biological clock to get back on track.

Third, unless I go back to working at the bookstore, or having lunch with my "peeps" periodically, I won't see too many people unless they make an effort to come here.  That's not likely to happen.  So, by the end of the summer, I'll be holding regular conversations with my cats, expecting them to answer.  I'll have to schedule a few trips--and have, already.  Houston next week; Austin in the middle of June.  I'm hoping to persuade my kids to visit sometime during the summer, too.  My most sustained conversations, other than with the cats, will likely be the cashiers at the grocery store.

Fourth, air conditioning bills, though that's closely aligned to the first dislike.  The hotter the temp, the higher they rise.  I feel as though I'm working to pay the utility company.

I'm sure I have tons of other summer dislikes.  But, on the flip side, sleeping late has its perks, air conditioning keeps me cool, and I don't have to drive unless I want to.  And Mr. Lester's Market opens soon, so I can indulge in fresh produce and local honey all summer.  I think the likes/dislikes balance, which is all I really want--a balance.  I do have more time for writing and reading, and I love most that my time is my own...I can do what I want, when I want.  That's the best thing about summer.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Goodbye, Grandfather Tree


Well, it finally happened. My anti-nature next-door neighbor pulled down the old tree at the back of her property. She's back on her kick of removing as many trees as she can...when she first moved in, she cut down 19 trees. Oh, her Karma's so far in the hole!

Okay, so it was old and gnarled and frequently dropped limbs on the fence. But she was the one who put up the fence so close to it. I'll bet that tree was there for a hundred years or more. And now the back of my yard will get full sun all morning, which means the grass will get dry and crunchy.
I need a new neighbor.
I took a video of the tree coming down, but I can't figure out how to flip it--I turned my camera sideways to take the video. I'll figure it out and post it as soon as I can.
I'm sad my old friend is gone.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Here We Go Again...

with the plagiarism. 

A couple of years ago, I had a rash of plagiarism in a freshman class.  I think I turned in three students at one time--one received zeros on her assignments (which effectively tanked her grade); one received a zero and probation for the rest of her time in college; and the other didn't show up for his hearing, and, I guess, ended up being expelled.

I hate plagiarism.  First, it takes a great deal of my time--I have to gather up and copy material, write a memo to the dean of students, and hold the rest of the assignments until the dean sets a hearing date and the committee makes a decision.  Second, my other students get angry with me because I won't give them their papers, and I won't tell them why.  Third, inevitably, the Student Conduct Board sets the hearing for a day when I wouldn't be in town, which means that I have to drive 45 minutes one way for 15 minutes of drama, then drive 45 minutes back home.  Not productive for me.

Generally, the student cops to it.  If he/she would do that to the dean of students, the hearing wouldn't be necessary.  The student could discuss it with the dean, and he and I could determine how to handle it.  That would be much easier (for me).

I can't ignore it--my students just don't understand that.  And, if they thought about it, they wouldn't want me to.  They'd hate the idea that another student made a better grade by cheating.  So I have to do this.  I just wish I didn't.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

This poem writing has me by the throat...

I wrote a sonnet the other day; that's line two.

I don't write much formal poetry--that is, poems that require a specific form. That being said, in the last two days, I've written three--a sonnet, a villanelle, and a pantoum.

Formed poetry is, to me, mathematical in its precision. I have to worry about meter and rhyme scheme, and sometimes, as with the villanelle and the pantoum, I have to flip lines according to a specific pattern. It's hard; it requires concentration. But once I get started with them, they are hard to shake.

So, here's the pantoum; I'll post this on NaPo tomorrow:

A Possible Pantoum
04/05/09

There is no heart where heartache cannot go.
We guard ourselves, believing we are safe,
Yet pain will come, and we will never know
The lengths to which it goes to find its place.

We guard ourselves, believing we are safe
From jealousy, and love, and burning rages.
The lengths to which it goes to find its place
Never lessens, not with growing grace or age.

These jealousies, and loves, and burning rages
Consume us, fill our souls with awful fire.
It never lessens, not with growing grace or age
And drags us through the mud of grand desire

That consumes us; it fills our souls with fire
That burns us down to ash and smoky embers
and drags us through the mud of grand desire
To places we fear we always will remember.

It burns us down to ash and smoky embers.
The pain will come, and we will never know
the places we fear, that we always will remember.
There is no heart where heartache cannot go.

See if you can figure out the "rules" for this one!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

April is Poetry Month...

so I am participating at NaPoWriMo at Poets.org, where my friend, Catherine Rogers, moderates a forum.

I've gotten another friend/former student involved.  It's similar to NaNoWriMo--but for NaPo, the object is to write a poem a day.  I'm hoping it forces me to get back into the poetry-writing habit that I abandoned a while ago. 

I used to write poetry all the time--and I do mean that!  I've had poems published, and I received a fellowship for my poetry.  But, after I read and/or grade 60-70 essays or other writing assignments, I don't feel poetic.  By the time I finish grading papers, I feel like Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady"--"Words, words, words--I'm so sick of words."

Just so my students don't go into a blue funk, let me say that not everything I read is awful.  It's just that, after my brain processes all those words, it has trouble finding more.  I have to decompress; then I have to begin grading again.  It's a never-ending cycle.

So far, so good...I've posted two poems.  I wrote them a few weeks ago, but I've been revising them.  As long as they're still "in play," I think of them as current.  And today I've written a couple of poems that need work, so I'll use those when I'm ready for someone to see them.

Ah, one must have these little challenges! 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Louisiana Budget BS...

Am I hearing this right?  If Louisiana wants to fund healthcare and education, we have to pay higher gas prices?  Excuse me? 

I ask this question because, every time I read something about the state's budget crises, one of the "reasons" postulated for it is the lower oil prices.  So my understanding (sorry, not an economist here) is that, in order to have the money to fund these two areas, oil prices need to stay high.

Am I not understanding this correctly?  It seems too simplistic.  What I do know is that these two areas are not protected, so they are always the first two categories that are slashed.  That, of course, puts us last or next-to-last in the US in those categories--consistently--crisis or no. 

I think what bothers me the most is Louisiana, as a state, doesn't seem to value education--period.  And, I guess, it doesn't value health, either.  So we have uneducated, unhealthy people living here.  Which doesn't recommend it, does it?

I think my mother captures some of the mentality, as far as education is concerned.  She told me once, "The more educated a person is, the less that person believes in God," as though education and faith were mutually exclusive, something I don't believe at all. 

We need to get over that in order to progress.  If we don't have an educated workforce, the most we can hope to attract, business-wise, are companies that rely on unskilled labor.  And while we may be attracting more non-agriculture jobs, do those jobs make use of college-educated residents?  Not entirely. Do we want that?  Do we want our college-educated, white-collar force to desert the state to find jobs that pay it for its intelligence and education?

This whole situation just chaps me.  State legislators who spent us into this crisis, whoever they are, should lose their jobs.  Any state legislator who voted him/herself a pay raise in the last two years should have to give that money back, especially when many workers haven't received raises in at least that many years.  And any state legislator who filled budgets with pet pork projects should be barbequed over the spit of public opinion. 

We have to start paying attention to what these people are doing.  We have to raise our voices and tell them to pay attention and do what's right for Louisiana and the people who live here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Break...

is not much of one, so far.

My brother and his wife came in Saturday night, and, Sunday, we got out in the yard and cleaned up.  We cut up limbs that had fallen down, and I have so much stuff for the burn pile, plus two big piles to burn in the front yard.  Mike and Linda cleaned out the front azalea bed; we cleared out the space in front of the garage; didn't do much in the back yard except cut up a huge limb that fell late last year.  I managed to get a climbing rose bush planted at the corner of the front porch. The yard looks so much better.  I'm hoping that we can all get together in April to plant the butterfly garden I want.

My mother and two of my sisters showed up on Sunday.  Mom cooked cabbage; Jeri brought red beans and rice; Mary brought me a bookcase and some chotchkas from my sister Lydia, all in keeping with the bee theme, except for a beautiful star ornament to hang in the back yard.  I feel lucky to have my family members.  Really, I love them all, but I know who I can depend on.

****

I've been grading papers...gee, that sounds so familiar!  Why should spring break really be a break?  I have midterm grades averaged for three classes.  I have two sets (well, really three) of papers to grade and two sets of drafts to read.  I'm hoping to get the papers graded and grades posted by Wednesday so I can spend some time gardening.

****

The repair shop didn't get in the parts for my car, so I have no idea if they'll be able to repair my car this week.  I'm kind of ticked about that...I don't have three consecutive days for car repairs when I'm working; these guys aren't opened on Saturday, but I'm not taking my car to the Mazda place in Bossier.  The last time I had to have my car repaired, the Mazda dealership kept my car for ten days--they didn't bother to tell me that one of their mechanics quit.  Every time I called, they told me "We'll have it ready tomorrow."

I probably should go to the store tomorrow, just in case.  I hope I can get the car fixed and inspected before I have to go back to school.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Springing Forward...

Written on March 7, 2009

I hate daylight savings time.  Let me just get that out of the way.

I do like more daylight in the evenings, but I hate the whole changing the clocks twice a year, especially in my car.  If cars didn't have digital clocks, maybe I'd feel differently about it, but when the time changes, I have to get out the manual and figure out how to set the clock.  I don't like having the wrong time staring at me while I'm driving, so I become obsessive about fixing it.  I'm wishing the car clock had a stem, like a wristwatch does, so I could do this more easily.

The other thing I don't like about DST is that my cats aren't on it.  They'll keep waking me up on their own internal schedule.  Doesn't matter if the clock reads 5:30am; if they want me up, they're going to find a way to get me up.

I'll bet we don't really know what time it is anymore because we've sprung forward and fallen back so much.  Einstein is right; time is relative.  Too bad I can't live on my internal clock; I'd be in perpetual nap time.

*****

I finally finished the assignments hanging over my head (Saturday) and went outside to clear the herb garden.  I love my herb garden.  Fresh herbs make foods more flavorful, and I like not having to pay for them since they are so expensive (even the dried herbs are expensive these days).  Now to get the vegetable garden dug up and planted, which I will do next weekend. 

Teaching summer school online is the only way to go!  With only one class, I can spend more time on my gardens.  Inevitably, of course, I have to work on my fall classes, but not having to drive into the "big" city saves me so much time.

*****

Now to get the front garden cleared out and plant some flowers.  Today is also bread-baking day.  I'm out of bread, and I hate paying the ridiculous prices for that airy stuff that passes for it.  I have a great recipe for French bread that makes four loaves.  It freezes well and goes with anything I cook.

I might be done with schoolwork for the day, but it seems that I've made myself quite a to-do list here.  Better get started!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Waxing Poetic

I have been trying to come up with ideas for a new blog--not that I ever truly have problems--but I couldn't decide what I wanted to tackle next.  It occurred to me, though, that I should write about writing poetry, since my Facebook cohorts and I have been swapping poems we like and poems we've written.

I've been writing poetry since I was in high school, which was a loooooong time ago (in a galaxy far, far away...not really!).  That doesn't mean that I'm a great poet; it just means I've been trying to be a better poet for almost 40 years.  I've published my work in a few small literary journals, been a member of a number of writing groups, edit poetry journals, won a fellowship ($2500--I bought a new dryer, among other things), and met so many wonderful writers that I can't remember them all. 

All that means squat.

A writer can't sit back and say, "Well, I've done that, so I don't need to do anything else."  It's not about what I wrote yesterday, it's about what I've written today.  The admonishment, "Never a day without a line" is one I take seriously.  So, even if all I write is a blog, I try to write something.  Some days, I only write comments on students' essays and assignments, but I try to put some thought into those, too.

These days, I don't feel poetic.  I think the constant grind of life distracts me.  Occasionally, the muse will gift me a line, and I snatch it and mine it for all it's worth.  I never take those gifts for granted.  But I don't sit around waiting for them, either.

Most writers will say that good writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  Good writing takes work.  That's the hard part--a writer has to work at writing.  And, of course, I believe what I teach my students, that the most important part of writing is revising.  I have a friend, an excellent poet named Brenda Hillman, who revises most of her poems at least 50 times.  It shows.  Her work is luminous, something that I envy and aspire to.  As long as I keep such good poets around me, as long as I read their works and study their techniques, I'll improve. 

So, here's the poem I posted on my Facebook page:

Hourglass

Curvy, that's how
I would describe
her
and him
and them, together.
Perhaps nervy,
him thinking
she's the type
who'll put up
with anything.
She dips and narrows
as the sands
of her time fall through
this impasse,
this impossible maneuver.

And, remember, it's my original work, so it's copywrited.  I have the handwritten original to prove it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Me and My Monkeys...

One of my students, during an IM session, suggested that I write a blog about my rather obsessive working habits.  I don't think I'm OCD--really, I hate to grade papers--but I don't think I should hold on to student work any longer than I have to.  I set due dates on my assignments, and, frankly, I can't see where being a professor gives me the right to sit on a stack of work until the end of the semester.  Besides, it would nag me to the point that I couldn't sleep.

When I receive student work, I might not be able to get to it right away.  For example, I received two sets of essays Sunday; then, on Monday, I received a set of reading journals.  But I taught on Monday, kept office hours, had a meeting, had a book group meeting Monday night, the Wifi at the bookstore wasn't working, and I was away from home until 9pm. Today, Tuesday, I'm goofing off a bit, trying to work myself into work, but I know that, soon, I'm going to wade into them and dispatch them with a vengeance.  I might not send them back for three or four days, but I'll send them back before the week is out. 

And that prompts me to admit that I'm the world's biggest procrastinator.  I HATE to grade assignments, but, since that's part of a job I love, I do it.  Some mornings, I'll sit at my desk for an hour playing Spider Solitaire, but, when the moment comes to "bite the bullet," I'm on those papers like a bee on a flower, and I don't stop until my eyes fall out--figuratively, of course!

I'm quick to point out to my students that some things are "not my monkeys."  Grading student work is "my monkey."  I think students respect teachers who return their work as quickly as possible.  And, frankly, I just want to "clear the decks."  I can't enjoy myself if I have a stack of work hanging over me.

Which brings me to my absolute abhorrence of late work.  When I sit at my desk for three days, I want to walk away knowing that I've returned everything I needed to.  Late work means more time at my desk, if I choose to grade it (I don't, mostly), and also means that I have to backtrack.  I don't want to backtrack--I want to move forward.

Am I a "Type A"?  Probably.  I'll admit that, when I don't have anything to grade, I'll find something I need or want to do, even if it's just reading a book.  I'm not one for lounging on the sofa, eating bon bons...though I won't pass up chocolate!

I blame my father for this obsessive desire for completion.  He only offered me a few direct bits of advice, and one of them was: "Your boss pays you to do your work in a timely manner.  Period.  If you don't do the work, you don't deserve the money."

Thanks, Dad!

****

And here's another thing. 

I know "people lie" (my favorite "House-ism"), and I think my BS meter works well.  When someone walks into my office, the BS meter clicks on.  I listen, I watch, and I assess.

I don't automatically assume that students lie to me.  In most cases, if a student takes the time to talk to me, I'm more inclined to think the student wants to come clean about whatever is preventing him/her from doing the coursework.  And I'll listen and try to respond appropriately.

And I do care.  I can't always help, but I try to offer appropriate responses to students who obviously have problems. While I can sympathize, though, sometimes I can't excuse. 

You've heard this before, too--"Everybody has problems."  Yes.  But, amazingly, not everybody can cope with his/her problems well.  After a while, a "problem" begins to sound like an excuse, especially if a student invokes it repeatedly to justify late or nonexistent work. I'll do what I can do, but, eventually, the student must assume responsibility; if he/she doesn't, the result is a failing grade.

I was shocked the other day when a student told me that most professors don't care why students aren't completing their assignments.  I only feel that way when students don't talk to me.  After a while, it's "not my monkey."  But I tell my students that they need to talk to me if they are having problems that interfere with their work.  Sadly, many of them just don't take the time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Bees Knees...

Many, many years ago, I let slip to my family that I wanted to be a beekeeper.  At the time, I was reading Sylvia Plath; her poems are full of bees and beekeeping.  And the bee is a constant symbol for Emily Dickinson, another of my favorite poets.  Somehow, keeping bees (though I don't know how anyone can "keep" a bee) seemed romantic, and, besides, who would pass up all that honey?

That, of course, was before I did my research and discovered how much time and effort beekeeping requires.  Trust me...I have six books on bees and beekeeping, and I know I don't have the time to properly look after them.  But the notion is still one I harbor. I'm thinking about getting Mason bees to satisfy the urge.  These bees don't make honey; they live in paper tube condos instead of hives, require little attention, but are good pollinators for gardens.  And I need them for my gardens.

But, the damage has been done.  My sisters, who love to shop, have been giving me "bee" things--garden ornaments, birdhouses, bird feeders, candleholders.  This week, when I stopped to visit my mom, she gave me a bag from one of my sisters.  I'm now the proud owner of a bee chip-and-dip set!  The only thing I've contributed to this unplanned collection is a bee windsock that hangs in a tree in my backyard. 

Most of my "collections" were unplanned.  I have two shadowboxes of thimbles--my former mother-in-law started that.  I have masks--my aunt started that.  I have China cups and saucers and green teapots--I think I started those.  I bought most of my teapots in the flea market in the French Quarter over several years.  My friends scope out the China cabinet, and then I get these wonderful little gifts to add to my collections.

My biggest collection, as you might guess, consists of books.  I have more books than I can count; I still haven't unpacked all of them.  I don't have the bookcases for them, and, to accommodate them, I need built-in bookcases--floor-to-ceiling--in every room of my house.  Some of them are so old (before acid-free paper) that I'm afraid to open them because they might crumble into bits.  Some of them are irreplaceable--they've been out of print for ages. 

I know--I can find nearly anything in print on the Internet.  But that doesn't quite equate.  I like the leisure of sitting in a comfy chair, reading a book.  The Internet is great for research, but, for pleasure, I'd rather engage in the physical act of turning the pages.

I wonder where this urge to collect comes from.  I don't take my things out of the China cabinet or the shadowboxes and admire them.  Really, I hardly think about these things until I have to pack them to move.  Then I wonder why I keep them at all.  What they  do, though, is evoke memories, so that, when I take them out and look at them, I remember who gave this to me and when.  They are the tangible evidence of my connection to people who are important to me. 

Saturday, February 07, 2009

That Crazy Little Thing Called "Love"...

You know (or maybe you don't), I'm a cynic when it comes to love. Most of the time, I think it's just raging hormones, or some kind of delusional hysteria that seizes people and makes them crazy for a while. Sooner or later, my cynical self thinks, it's going to wear off, and then there will be hell to pay.

But, when it works, it's great. My mom and dad have been married for 60 years. I don't know if that's because they love each other, or because they're stubborn. My dad won't divorce my mom because he doesn't want to split the assets; my mom won't divorce my dad because she wouldn't have anyone to torment. I don't know...They might really love each other. I hope they do. Otherwise, why live under the same roof?

I have many friends who have been married for a coon's age (a little southernism there!), but I also know people who have been divorced just as long. Take me, for example. I've been divorced longer than I was married. I liked being married, but I like being single, too.

My observations about other peoples' relationships put me off. I listen to my friends talk about their relationships--he doesn't put the toilet lid down; she won't let me go out with my buds; he's a tacky dresser; she's too flirtatious. I throw my hands up. Who am I to give relationship advice? But I will say this--anyone who goes into a relationship thinking he/she can change the other person is delusional. Any behaviorist will tell you that a person has to want to change; we can't make that person change. "If you loved me, you'd..." No. It doesn't work that way.

For example, people in the throes of an addiction will not give up that addiction until they are ready. Love has nothing to do with it. Your partner might love you more than you know, but s/he won't give up alcohol for you and that love because s/he can't--until s/he's ready. Likewise, a person who likes to spend more money than his/her significant other makes won't stop, even if the other cuts up the credit cards. A compulsive spender will find a way--until s/he decides to stop.

It's taken me my entire adult life to figure this out. I'm not sure I could apply it within the confines of a relationship. Knowing something intellectually and applying it practically are two different things. I can sit in my nice little house feeling smug, but, to tell the truth, I'm positive I'm no different from anyone else.

Probably the reason I have cats...

For my dear friends who married today, long life and long love to you. I have faith that you'll be two of the lucky ones.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Feast or Famine

Truly, I'm not much of a party person.  I'm happy just to stay at my house, puttering around inside or outside, hanging on the computer,  writing, reading, knitting...fill in the blanks.

I don't mind driving--I like it--but, if I never had to stir out of my house, that would be fine with me.  I have enough people contact through teaching, phone calls, and the Internet.  Periodically, I work at the bookstore and reconnect with my friends there, or spend time at my parents' house, visiting with them and my siblings.  And, of course, I love to go to Austin to visit my kids.  So, I'm not without human contact, but I try not to be overwhelmed by it.

I used to give my Advanced Comp students an assignment at the beginning of the semester--to spend an entire day by themselves.  I cannot tell you the number of stunned looks I got.  "What?  You want me to spend a day by myself?  See a movie by myself?  Eat by myself? Shop by myself?"  I couldn't understand their reactions.  Who wouldn't revel in a day all to him- or herself?

Well, obviously, quite a few people, as it turned out.  I discovered that many people don't like to be alone.  Some of my students couldn't figure out what to do with the time, though I did have a couple of female students, who had small children, who loved it.  They could tell their husbands/boyfriends/parents that it was an assignment for a course--they HAD to do it for an essay they were writing--and that gave them a reason to take a "personal" day.  I had one student who went to the bookstore where I worked, ordered a cup of coffee, and spent about six hours reading, writing, and watching people.  She enjoyed it so much that she told her husband she wanted time off one day of the weekend, every weekend, for herself.  And she got it!

I don't understand the aversion to being alone.  It's thinking time; it's recharging time.  With all of the energy I expend teaching and talking, I need that time to regroup!  I'm getting more of it this semester than any semester in seven years, and I'm so grateful for it.  I know if I have to go back to a four-day week in the fall, I will miss my solitude.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why I Prefer Cats...

I said something witty about this is class the other day, and I feel compelled to write about it.

A cat will never try to be what it is not. It will not be a dog (though cats can growl). It will not seek attention unless it wants it. A cat will leave you alone until it deigns to acknowledge your presence and will suffer your attention until its had enough. A cat will not turn out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. It is what it is.

A cat will not tell you it's off catnip when it's not. Cats don't hide their addictions or fascinations. If they catch something--a bird, a mouse, a rat--they will proudly drop it at your feet, alive or dead. They do not hoard or hide things from you.

A cat will not tell you where it has been, even if you ask. So you don't have to hear all the sordid details about what it did last night or where it went or who it was with. A cat will come in, eat something, then stretch out on the sofa for a nap.

A cat will not borrow the car, get drunk, and wreck it. It will not borrow the car to go visit its other caretaker. It won't take your car and run off to California with someone it just met yesterday.

When a cat gets sick, it doesn't whine. It will let you schlep it to the vet's office and will sleep until it recovers. It does not expect you to wait on it hand and foot.

Cats don't pretend to listen to you. They don't listen. A cat will do what it wants to do and make no pretense of caring what you think. Cats only pay attention if you pick up a spray bottle full of water and threaten to wet them if they don't cease and desist. But, the minute your back is turned, they'll do exactly what they want.

You can leave a cat alone for a week, as long as you leave it plenty of food and water and a clean litter box. It won't invite the gang in for a party because it doesn't know how to dial the phone on purpose. A cat won't run up your phone bill and will only send email accidentally.

If a cat is mad at you, it will let you know--really--in messy and obvious ways.

I'm sure I haven't covered everything. If you read this and think of something to add, leave a comment!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weather Weirdness...

Yesterday, in my office, I nearly froze.  Today, I'm at home with the windows opened.  What's up with that?  Is it global warming, or just Louisiana weather?

Tomorrow, the weather is supposed to be the same, with some rain added.  Saturday, the temperature's supposed to go down to the 40s with rain.  I'm getting tired of the yo-yoing temperatures.

I may have to go outside for a while and sit in the sun.  I filled up the bird feeders today; they usually feed early in the morning and about five-ish or so.  I put out black-oiled sunflower seeds--the Cardinals like those, so I'm hoping to see my usual flock this afternoon.

As for me, I have a sinus headache because the weather is about to change--again.  Maybe the chili I'm cooking will help knock it out!

****

I picked up a copy of The Reader by Bernhard Schlink yesterday (for my book group; yes, the one the movie is based on), as well as a copy of two of Charlaine Harris' vampire novels, Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas (the basis for True Blood on HBO).  I've resisted reading the vampire books because everyone seems to be on the bandwagon because of Stephanie Meyers' books.  I like these types of books, but I'm resisting the temptation to get out my red pen to correct the punctuation.  It's driving me crazy, especially the comma use.  Gack!  I'm such a comma geek!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hwy 1 Blues

I had a long day today. I was in my office at the college before 9:30am, kept my office hours, taught my two classes, and then headed to the bookstore to help with reducing inventory (sending books back to publishers).

After I put in about three hours packing books, I made the mistake of going into the grocery store for "just cat food." Hah! When have I ever been able to get out of the store with "just one thing"? After staring at the wine, debating over which bread to buy for my lunch sandwiches, and sifting through the egg cartons to find a whole unbroken carton, I checked out, loaded my groceries, and headed down the road, a half-hour later than I should have.

Which was fine, really, until I hit the Caddo/Red River Parish line and sat in traffic for another half-hour. Seems that a dump truck burned up on the road (I hope the driver wasn't hurt), and the state police were trying to gather as much evidence as they could and move the dump truck on a large flatbed trailer.

Hwy 1 doesn't seem that busy most of the time. But when a half-hour's worth of traffic backs up, one begins to see just how many people travel that road. And, of course, all those people who were slowed down because of the accident then became aggressive drivers, speeding to make up for lost time. The whole thing was nuts.

I love driving a two-lane road, really. When I go to Austin to visit my kids, I always take the "back roads." They are busy, but not as frantic as the interstate. But accidents clog up a back road. It's hard to clear wrecks and harder to get rescue vehicles around all those stopped cars. Patience is the mantra during those times. I just turned off the engine and sat in the glow of all the cars behind me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Semester Looms...

I'm ready for at least the first two months! And, of course, I have all kinds of projects in the works that I need to hop on.

But this is the last weekend of the break. The good news is that I only teach on campus on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I have a semester of four-day weekends. Maybe I can squeeze in a couple of trips to Austin--I might be able to go to SXS, which takes place the week before our spring break. That would be great, since I've never been.

My students have already begun signing on to the course sites, so I'm hoping some of them will be prepared Monday and will understand the mechanics of the class. This might fall into the category of "wishful thinking," but I can hope, at least.

Course-wise, I'm ready. Mentally? I'm not sure.

The paperwhites are blooming, as is the Japonica (Flowering Quince). Weird weather!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Letting Go

I'm not the kind of person who makes New Year's resolutions, for a number of reasons.  Primarily, I just don't think that resolving to do something means that I will do it.  If I want to change, I have to commit to it, and making a resolution does not equal commitment.  If I'm going to make a change, I make the commitment, then do it.  No fanfare required, no teary "confession" regarding the error of my ways.  As the Nike commercial exhorts, "Just do it."

Do I need to make changes in my life?  Oh, yeah.  I need to exercise, quit smoking, eat healthier (cut out refined sugar!)--the list extends out the front door.  But until I'm ready to do these things, they just remain items on a list.  Knowing I need to do these things doesn't equal committing to them.  I beat myself over the head with them until I give in or learn to ignore them.  And I'm an expert in ignoring things!

I do sneaky things to make myself aware of my needs--keep the weights out where I can see them, replace the white sugar with raw sugar (I can't stand that artificial stuff), drink water as much as possible (cut off the caffeine after the morning dose), walk around my yard to pick up sticks.  If I do these subtle things, I can trick myself into getting healthier without consciously knowing that's what I'm doing.  I know--I should just face up to it.  But it's easier for me to make these as "unconscious" as possible.  The changes need to seem natural and painless.  If I gradually sneak these things into my routine, they become a natural part of the day instead of things I have to "make time for."

If you need to make changes, "Just Do It."  Don't agonize.  Make the commitment and move on.