Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Food

Christmas Eve

breakfast
blueberry pancakes
Denver omelettes
orange juice

supper
chilled wine for parents; juice with Fresca for daughters
boiled lobster tail with melted butter
broiled seasoned prime rib steak
baked potato with sour cream
steamed asparagus
vanilla ice cream (topped with Bailey's Irish cream for parents)

Christmas Day

breakfast
scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese on English muffins
clementines
coffee with creamer

supper
homemade pizza: Canadian bacon, pepperoni, green olives, black olives, red pepper, green pepper, cheese, sauce

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday Visitors

Christmas is a good time for visits from rarely seen friends, and I've had a few drop-ins recently.

Our realtor, Jerry Waletzko (who helped us buy this house), phoned the other night to see if we would be home, and the girls awake, that evening. We said yes, and not long afterward, Santa Claus knocked on our front door! The girls were very excited, invited him in, and offered him a cookie and an M-n-M (yes, one). He asked them to refresh his memory: had they visited already, perhaps at a mall or by mail? Yes, they had sent him an on-line "postcard," to which he had already replied; and they had talked to him at the mall. Thus, Santa did not need to ask them again what they wanted for Christmas, although Suzanna reminded him that all she really wanted was a picture of Rudolph. They admitted that they had been a little bit naughty but mostly nice, so he gave them each a shiny red apple from his bag, wished them a merry Christmas, and went on his way.

The girls stood in the doorway waving to him, so although he was headed for the street where vehicles were parked, he changed his mind and walked toward our garage to get out of their eyesight. I helped him out by rushing the girls into Hillary's bedroom (whose windows do not face the street) and huddling them around a window to look up in the sky. They were all certain they heard sleigh bells, and they did indeed see a blinking red light in the sky that they concluded was Santa's sleigh. This was all uncharacteristically trusting of Suzanna, who, the last time Jerry phoned and Santa then visited, observed that Santa was a fraud because he had to move his beard in order to eat a snack, and because he got into a car when he was ready to leave. No doubts this year, though.

This is also the time of year when last year's graduates from our high school return to their alma mater because they're on Christmas break before we are, and it's a good time for them to check in with former teachers and friends who are still in school. I got to see several the other night at the choir concert, and yesterday five stopped by my room to say "hi": Nick Maloney, Dan Kendall, Diana Driscoll, Zach Hennings, and Holly Boushey, pictured here with me at last spring's senior banquet, for which I delivered the address:


And last night, we hosted our friends Cathy and Eddie from The Cities for supper. It was their wedding for which the girls were flower girls in October. They brought way too many gifts for the girls, and we had a great visit over a wonderful supper: roasted chicken, steamed broccoli, roasted herbed potatoes and carrots, and Christmas baking for dessert (all from the kitchen of Susan). They're in the area for only a few days visiting friends and family, so we were fortunate to be able to see them during their rounds. And the girls L-O-V-E them to pieces--and Susan didn't tell them in advance that Cathy and Eddie would be visiting--so they were mucho excited when Cathy and Eddie arrived.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Weekend of Christmas Events

Okay, I've been kinda Scrooge-y this year about Christmas, and for no particular reason. I've just been busy with so many other things that I didn't take the time to get into the holiday spirit, I guess. I even whined to my wife after Thanksgiving, "Do we have to decorate for Christmas this year?" She did do a moderate amount of decorating indoors, but I never got around to stringing up outdoor lights or putting up our outdoor Santas, etc.

But finally, some of my obligations (writing papers for UND, grading papers for EGFSHS) are winding down for a while, and I'm able to think more clearly about the holiday and to get in the mood for Christmas. Some things this weekend certainly helped:

  1. I spent Saturday finishing writing the annual Christmas letter to send to friends and relatives with our annual Christmas family photograph. It's a doozy to boil down a year in our lives into one letter that goes out once annually, but I enjoy the challenge. I hope recipients enjoy catching up with our lives in this way. I myself certainly enjoy receiving Christmas letters from others and hearing how things have been going with our friends and family. It's one of the highlights of Christmas!
  2. We attended Suzanna's piano recital at the home of her piano teacher, Mrs. Fiedler, Saturday afternoon. It was run very efficiently . . . it has to be in order for her to get so many students into her house, onto the piano, into the kitchen for a treat, and out the door before the next batch of students arrives, all day long! For the second song, "The First Noel," Suzanna asked if I could join her and play the accompaniment (provided at the bottom of the pages for piano teachers' use) while she played the part intended for the student. It was so fun to sit beside my child and create music together! Suzanna did very well on both her pieces.
  3. Susan and I attended a Christmas party thrown by our friends the Almlies. They're great party throwers who know how to go with a theme and carry it out. This past summer, they hosted a Texas barbecue with barbecued meats shipped in from Houston, straw bales scattered around the yard, cowboy boots and hats, etc. Well, for this party, everyone who attended was required to wear a Santa hat, and there were door prizes depending on the Christmas design that appeared on your plastic cup, and there was egg nog among the beverages offered, and a chocolate fountain with plenty of wonderful treats to dip in it, and so much more. It was great to see them and our other friends at the party and to make new friends (the Almlies are also great at inviting a wide range of guests to encourage mingling and meeting new people).
  4. We attended the annual Sunday school Christmas program at Calvary Lutheran Church Sunday morning. What an extravaganza! It is one Sunday likely to get every child's parent not only out of bed but also out of the car and into the church pew! And those are always some pushy parents and grandparents, jockeying for a good view of the front where the kids line up, mount the risers, and sing/yell the lyrics while performing the movements with each song. A perennial favorite: "Go Tell It on the Mountain," essentially a contest to see which kid can incomprehensibly scream the words the loudest. I mean, can sing the most enthusiastically. We were proud of our girls' performances and behavior in front of the congregation.
  5. Tonight I took Suzanna and Abigail to the high school choir concert, preceded by a jazz band mini-concert (Susan and Hillary, both getting sick, stayed home). Now, how can you help but get into the mood for Christmas when you hear "Silent Night" and "The Holly and the Ivy" and a medley of traditional Christmas favorites? The music was great, and it certainly put me in the mood to celebrate Christmas!

Only five more days before Christmas (which will arrive six days from now). Get in the holiday spirit!

Christmas Stories

American Literature On-line Discussion

In the spirit of the season, I'm asking you this time to write about something that isn't directly related to our course work.

What's your favorite Christmas story, and why do you like it? By "Christmas," think of the holiday season in general.
  • You're free to write about a religious story--one about Jesus Christ, or about Hanukkah, etc.
  • You're also free to write about a general holiday story--one about Santa Claus, or Frosty the Snowman, or Kwanzaa, etc.
  • Think back to stories you first heard in childhood--at home, at school, at church.
  • Think about stories or books you've read in more recent years.
  • Think about Christmas-themed movies you've seen in theaters or on television.
  • Think about favorite Christmas songs and the stories that they tell.
  • Think about cartoons/animated shows you've seen that have told Christmas stories.
  • Think about family Christmas stories--ones that you heard from Grandma or Uncle Pete and that you associate with this holiday.
You should tell a little something about this favorite Christmas story's plot, as well as about your fond memories of it. Why is it a favorite? What happy memories do you associate with it? Why do you still remember it?

This topic will be available to you for posting through January 1, 2006. Have a great break and a merry Christmas! And enjoy telling one another your Christmas stories.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Poe Showdown

American Literature On-line Discussion

Most of you recall having read Edgar Allan Poe stories before now: "The Tell-Tale Heart" in middle school, "The Cask of Amontillado" in ninth grade, and perhaps others. Think of those now in comparison to "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Fall of the House of Usher."

Which story is the most Gothic, and why? Which story is the best, and why? Use the links above to skim the stories to refresh your memory. Then, let's have a Poe showdown! Agree with one another, disagree with one another, impress one another with your thoughts about Poe's writing. Discuss amongst yourselves which story of Poe's best demonstrates both his talent and the characteristics of Gothic Romanticism.

And support what you say with evidence from the story itself! If you read some lame reasoning or lack of evidence by someone else (such as, "It was the best story because I really liked it"), do NOT let that go unpunished!

Let the showdown begin!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Images of Life at UND

The campus of the University of North Dakota, where I've spent oh so many years of my life, is actually quite beautiful (if photographed correctly--ha!). Here are some pics for those of you unfortunate enough never to have seen the campus. (And in the summer, all the flower displays make it a great place for a stroll or picnic or outdoor study session.)
Merrifield Hall, home of the English Department where I did most of my course work for my bachelor's and master's degrees in English

the campus in autumn

the campus in summer

the English Coulee in the foreground, the Chester Fritz Auditorium in the background

the Eternal Flame sculpture between Twamley Hall and Merrifield Hall


a view of Merrifield Hall in the autumn


the Ralph Engelstad Arena at night


another autumn shot


the fountain near the English Coulee and the Hughes Fine Arts Center

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Teeth, Pucks, and Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

(Provocative title, no?!)

One reward for having recently acted in a commercial for UND Athletics was free tickets to a couple hockey games. So last night, the fam and I attended the game between the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux and the University of Minnesota Gophers (who ended up winning 4 to 3). It was at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, and we knew it would be a sold-out event, so we left home 45 minutes early to find a parking spot, enjoy the sight of falling snow in the spotlights scanning the skies over the arena (which looked like glitter in a snowglobe), walk around the arena so the girls could gawk at the extravagance, buy some (outrageously overpriced) snacks, and find our seats.

We shared some popcorn and pop and tried not to get nosebleeds in our mile-high top-level seats. We also tried to ignore the swearing of the boorish (and possibly drunk) oafs a few rows behind us, upon whom the irony was obviously lost of being seated so near the very family featured in the between-periods commercial whose message is NOT to swear while at UND athletic events! Ingress to and egress from our seats was an ordeal, because there is so little room between rows, necessitating that everyone between the exiter and the aisle stand up or leave the row, too, in order for the exiter to get out. Because of that fact, it was not surprising that two of our daughters had the urge to urinate immediately upon our being seated. We delayed attending to that potential emergency, however, because we didn't want to be in the restroom when the commercial played on the scoreboard big-screen. As soon as it did play, however, Susan was out the door with three little pottiers (not me) in tow.

We stayed through the first two periods before leaving. For one, the girls were pretty much over the excitement of UND Fighting Sioux hockey sometime between the opening laser show/introduction of players and the bottom of the popcorn bag. For another, we had been invited to a birthday party for our friend Job, and the girls had made presents for him and were eager to deliver them. That soiree was at his dad Duane's condo, and it was very civilized: wine, hot apple cider, cheesecake, chocolate-covered strawberries, spinach dip on rye, seafood and artichoke dip on toasted Italian bread, chicken legs (not those dinky wings that are all the rage in restaurants, no sirree), chips and dips, cookies, fruit, cheese and crackers . . . and I'll bet there was even more, too. Job was very welcoming of the girls, even though it was definitely an adult party (we had permission to bring the girls, who asked to see the birthday boy). We didn't stay long, but it was fun to see Job, Duane, Mishka, Darin, Sandee, and many other friends and acquaintances who are fast becoming friends after seeing them at so many social events recently.

Before we left for either the hockey game or the party, however, Abigail and I went into the bathroom where we wrapped a string of dental floss around her sole remaining upper central incisor and yanked it out. Yes, now all she wants for Christmas is her two front teeth, the lack of both of which makes her speech distinctly impeded now. With those and other teeth either gone or only slightly grown in, her mouth looks like a jack-o'-lantern. She's cute as can be!

Tonight: our faculty's biennial Christmas party, done as a progressive dinner. The bus leaves at 6:20 P.M. for the first of four stops (appetizers at House #1, then soup/bread/salad at the next, then the dinner course at House #3, followed by dessert at the last home). Fun and laughs guaranteed!

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Gothic in "Usher"

American Literature On-line Discussion

So, I've told you that Edgar Allan Poe is a Gothic Romantic writer, but how do you know that's true? Now that you've read his story "The Fall of the House of Usher" and had some time to ponder it and discuss it in class, return to it and look it over again, this time as evidence of Poe's status as a Gothic writer.

Read these university lecture notes on Poe and the Gothic short story, particularly Roman numerals III. and IV. (you'll see what I mean when you click the link and start reading). Prove that Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher" demonstrates at least one of the qualities listed in the lecture notes. Support your proof with a direct quotation from the story.
  1. Do not use the same quotation as anyone who has posted before you.
  2. Do not merely provide a brief two-part response in your post ("the story has this Gothic trait" and "that trait is evident in this quotation"), but do provide at least those two parts.
  3. Do comment further: How does having that Gothic characteristic add to the story's overall effect? How does Poe's choice of words (in the quotation you select) communicate or reflect something Gothic? Now that you've gone back to the story for a second pondering, what are you noticing about Poe's Gothic writing?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Wonderful Workshop

I spent Wednesday and Thursday of this week in Bemidji, MN with three teachers from our district's middle school: Teri Hammarback, Deb Schantzen, and Randy Galstad. They are so fun to work with and are a lot of the reason that I enjoyed this week's workshop so much. They and I are participants in a three-year grant-supported Teaching American History (and Literature) series of workshops and seminars (we're just beginning the second year of the grant). Twice during the school year, we attend a two-day workshop designed to teach us about Minnesota history and how to teach it using primary sources and innovative teaching techniques. That's followed by a five-day seminar each summer in which we read and discuss primary sources of American history, investigating the national events that parallel what we've learned about Minnesota history. The workshops and seminars feature presentations by scholars in the field, some of whom have given terrific lectures.

The Minnesota Historical Society runs the two-day workshops and has done a great job. They have us read the primary sources and do the activities that we would then use with our own students. This time we learned about the treaties from the mid- to late 1800s that removed much of Minnesotan land from the hands of Native Americans and made it available for the government to give to white settlers. We learned about Minnesota's efforts to advertise itself to prospective immigrants. We learned about George Bonga, an African American/Ojibwe man in Minnesota. We learned about the ox cart trade that made Minnesota an important part of the northern fur trade. We created posters, wrote songs and poems, performed in skits, and discussed a lot.

Undeniably most of what we do is geared toward history teachers more than literature teachers. In fact, many of our activities come from the wonderful sixth-grade Minnesota history textbook Northern Lights: Stories from Minnesota's Past that makes me want to be in sixth grade again! However, we English teachers did meet with a presenter who teaches English in Thief River Falls, MN about his use of historical documents in a themed unit on the American Dream in his literature course and the writing assignment that comes from it. Also, all of the activities can be adapted for use with literature--and I have already used some of them from last year!

Our workshop in the spring will be held in St. Paul, MN. We will be touring several historical sites in the Twin Cities and getting a "backstage peek" in order to be more knowledgeable about the places when/if we take our own students to them in the future. I'm very much looking forward to it. The Historical Society folks have also promised some sessions on Minnesota literature of the period that should be of more specific use to us English teachers, which will be great.

Monday, November 28, 2005

BOO!!

American Literature On-line Discussion

A new "ism": Gothic Romanticism. Read all about it here. Part of the Gothic tradition apparent in today's society is the popularity of horror as a literary and film genre. That's the focus of this week's discussion question (that is, if you're not already too terrified to continue!).

We'll start this week by reading horror writers Stephen King's and H.P. Lovecraft's ideas about why people enjoy horror literature. Horror stories are very popular today, in both writing and film. Undoubtedly you yourself have either read horror stories or seen horror movies, or both--and probably done so willingly--and probably even liked it! But why?

Read these authors' suggested reasons for why people enjoy horror literature. Choose one and tell whether you agree with his/her ideas about the appeal of horror. Support your position with specific examples from horror literature that you yourself have read, or from horror films you yourself have seen.

Some cautions:
  1. DO mention at least one of the authors (from the linked site above) and his/her ideas.
  2. DO mention King or Lovecraft, too, if their ideas help you to say what you want to say.
  3. DO agree or disagree with, or elaborate on, the comments of those who have posted before you.
  4. Do NOT merely repeat what others before you have said, however. Especially if you choose to write about the same story or novel or movie that a classmate has already written about, take pains to offer new examples from it and new insights into it.
  5. Do NOT stray too far from the topic. For example, if you were to comment that you never read horror stories but that you do enjoy romance (lowercase "r") novels, and then you went on to describe one such romance novel, that would be off the topic. And if you were to write about how pretty cows are, that would be really off the topic!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Terrifying Bedtime Story!

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely seen ads or trailers for Disney's upcoming movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It looks like it's going to be great, and the East Grand Forks Mobergs are planning to see it for several reasons:
  • Susan remembers reading, as a youngster, the C.S. Lewis book upon which the movie is based (in fact, she has read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series of seven books);
  • In 1996 Susan and I were in a musical called Narnia, also based on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--I played Aslan the lion, and she played the White Witch; and
  • we have recently been reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with our daughters in anticipation of the movie, to which we hope to take them.

Each night we cuddle up together on the couch or on someone's bed and read another chapter of the novel. The girls know about the musical that Mommy and Daddy were in, and they have heard some of the songs from it, and they have seen ads for the upcoming movie, so they are especially interested in the book. And they're terrific listeners and imaginers--the book has very few illustrations, but they listen carefully and easily picture in their heads the characters, settings, and action. They ask the best questions after we finish each chapter, and they make excellent predictions of what will happen the next night when we read again.

(This imagining and predicting is something too many of my students--juniors and seniors in high school--are not able or willing to do when they themselves read, either having lost the ability over the years or having never developed it as early readers. As a consequence, they often label whatever they're reading "boring," unwilling to expend the mental energy that a reader must in order to interact with the book and make it interesting. Some people speculate that this is a consequence of their having grown up inundated with media that do all the interpreting for them: video games, TV shows, movies, music videos, etc., that show them without ever requiring them to picture things for themselves and that they take in passively without ever having to do much mental work to interact with them. I myself am a big fan of well done movies and TV shows and don't blame them alone for so many students' poor reading. Instead, I think it's a result of never being encouraged or required to read--of being allowed to take in only visual media and rarely or never just a good book. In any case, it's a sad situation.)

Last night, the girls and I were on a roll and read four chapters before finally calling it a night and tumbling into bed! We stopped in part because Suzanna was crying. She is so good at developing empathy for the characters in a book or movie that she gets outwardly emotional when they're in a sad or scary situation. Last night she got scared during the chapter when the four Pevensie children are at Mr. and Mrs. Beaver's house eating and talking about the White Witch's evilness and Aslan's upcoming return to Narnia. At one point, the Pevensies notice that their brother Edmund (under the witch's spell) has slipped away, presumably to report the others' whereabouts to the White Witch. I was lying on my stomach, and Suzanna was on my back, and she clutched my shirt, buried her face into my back, and started to cry. We had a group hug and talked about why she was crying: she was concerned that the White Witch was going to find and hurt the children, and she didn't want to keep reading for fear that she would have to witness that horrible act! We had a great conversation about fiction and reality and good vs. evil and God and "getting into" reading, etc. What a sweetheart! And her sisters were so sweet about comforting her, too (and perhaps a little patronizing, but not intentionally).

A few years ago, we watched the movie version of The Wild Thornberrys, a terrific kids' show on Nickelodeon. At one point the daughter Eliza is sent to boarding school and must say goodbye to her parents. She is waving to them as they part, and the background music is sad--and there sat Suzanna between her mom and me, shuddering and sobbing.

I hope she always maintains the capacity to develop a sense of empathy for the characters in the books and movies and TV shows that she enjoys. That's the way that she will be able to experience the catharsis of a good cry during an emotional book or movie, and that's a good indication that she will be an empathetic and sympathetic member of the human community to which she belongs. And we need more of those kinds of people in this world.

Everyone, keep reading!!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving

Our day began with a delicious breakfast, courtesy of my wife Susan: cheesy-and-hammy scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, gigantic juicy grapes, orange juice, and blueberry/cream cheese butter braid (a breadloaf-length filled pastry, baked and then sliced). I read the newspaper over breakfast--that is, after pulling out the pounds of advertising flyers meant to entice people into venturing forth tomorrow for Christmas shopping!

(And on that topic: there are homes in our neighborhood that have had outdoor Christmas lights and indoor Christmas trees lit up for a couple weeks now. What up?! Let Thanksgiving pass before you move on to Christmas, people!)

Then we drove to Fargo, ND to my sister-in-law Cassie's apartment. There we met her fiance Nick's brother Louie for the first time. A while later Susan and Cassie's brother Jerrett from Mandan, ND and dad Roger from Dickinson, ND arrived. Then we all departed for Nick and Louie's parents' lake cabin outside of Detroit Lakes, MN. Their parents Tim and Kathy had invited us there for Thanksgiving in order to meet us and start getting to know Cassie's family now that she and Nick are engaged to be married next May.

The drive to the cabin was very scenic. Once we got off the interstate, we drove on winding roads through rolling hills covered with trees and separated by lakes both big and small. Although it's the end of November, we have no snow yet, so we saw the variegated colors of autumn grasses and of evergreen trees mixed among the leafless ones. The sun was bright, and the sky was clear, so all in all, it was a great day for a drive through unfamiliar territory. (The girls made a game of counting lakes [Cassie reminded them that MN is the "Land of 10,000 Lakes"], but they couldn't come to an agreement on the count at any point during the game.)

Tim and Kathy have a nice little home on the waterfront. The woodstove and candles were burning when we arrived, making the house smell like a country craft store. Before we ate, Kathy led us in a sweet, sincere prayer of thanks for family and of anticipation for the upcoming wedding. Then Nick gave a toast, and we enjoyed some wine before the meal. Cassie had made a vegetable salad, and Kathy served turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, baked cinnamon apples, biscuits, and lefse. For dessert Susan had baked three pies: apple, pumpkin, and chocolate (like French silk pie), each served with homemade whipped cream.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in front of the woodstove, some playing Scrabble, others playing the card game Hearts, and others watching football. The girls played Connect Four and drew pictures and played with some toys that Kathy had gathered ahead of time for them. At one point in the darkness of evening, we saw fireworks exploding in the sky over the lake, so we stepped onto the deck outside in the brisk air and watched a lake neighbor celebrating Thanksgiving the Independence Day way.

Susan and Cassie discussed wedding plans (for Cassie and Nick) as we drove back to Fargo, and Susan and I listened to MN Public Radio ("Fresh Air" with Terry Gross) while the girls slept as we drove from Fargo back to East Grand Forks. We had some warmed-up turkey, potatoes, and gravy before tucking the girls into bed. Susan is planning to do some Christmas shopping tomorrow. I've got some dissertation writing to do myself!

It was a nice holiday. We traveled someplace unfamiliar, we met new people, we spent the day with family, we ate well, and we are spending the night in our own beds. Perfect!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too.

Monday, November 21, 2005

How Far Are YOU Willing to Go?!

American Literature On-line Discussion

In his essay "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau writes, "That government is best which governs least." He believes that a person's obligation to his/her own conscience takes precedence over any obligation to his/her government. If, in following one's conscience, one finds it necessary to break the laws of one's government, then one ought to do so. However, one must also be prepared to pay the penalty, such as imprisonment.

Recall that Thoreau backed his beliefs with action when he himself went to jail in the 1840s for refusing to pay a tax to support the Mexican War, which he believed to be unjust. By now, you have also read about Mahatma Gandhi's acts of civil disobedience in India in the early 1900s and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s acts of civil disobedience in the American South in the 1950s and '60s.

Consider state, national, and world events of today. What are people or corporations or governments doing that seems wrong, according to your conscience--your morals, your values, your sense of "right" or "just" behavior and treatment of others? What acts of civil disobedience could you participate in to demonstrate your obligation to your own conscience? How would those acts clash with your obligations to the laws of your government? How committed to your conscience are you? In other words, would you be willing to pay the penalty for your civil disobedience? Would your civil disobedience have an impact on the wrong behavior of the people, corporations, or governments against whom you'd be demonstrating?

NOTE: I am not advocating that you go forth and do something to get yourself arrested! I am merely asking you to test hypothetically Thoreau's commitment to civil disobedience in your own life and times. I am hoping to find out (1) whether you think this Transcendental idea/technique would be effective in our world today, and (2) whether you yourself feel strongly enough about your conscience to consider civil disobedience as an option for dealing with current problems around you.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Recent Events and Photos

Some very fun things have happened in my life recently--and, thanks to Mishka, a couple of them are recorded photographically for your enjoyment.

Last week we had our friends Job and Mishka over for supper: manicotti, Greek chicken salad, broccoli, wine, garlic bread, and for dessert, a trifle made of layers of brownie, caramel, fudge, and whipped cream. We all had a great time. The girls were very amusing all through supper, and afterward they persuaded our guests to dance around with them in the family room and to read aloud their bedtime stories.

It was Mishka's birthday the next day, but his birthday party was the day after that. Susan and I joined a large group at Red Ray Lanes in Grand Forks, ND to celebrate Mishka's natal anniversary, enjoy very amateur bowling, and eat lots of pizza, chips and dip, and chicken from the Italian Moon. A while back my dad gave me the bowling shirts that he and Mom used to wear when they were in a bowling league eons ago. Occasionally on a weekend, I'll slip one on to wear around the house. Well, because I've got two identical shirts, I decided that bowling for Mishka's birthday was the perfect event to showcase the fashion.

Another fun event (sorry, no photos of this one) was parent/teacher conferences. Yes, "fun"! They were held this past Monday and tonight from 4:30-7:30 P.M. I was very busy both nights, and I really enjoyed it. I like telling parents what we've been doing, comparing my version with their children's version (if their kids have even told them anything about our class), and hearing their questions or compliments about the class. I especially like being able to deliver good news about a kid's writing talent or attitude toward me or behavior in the classroom, etc. Afterward I joined teachers from our building and others in the district at Tortilla Flats for socializing.

(I have tomorrow off from teaching, but I'll be at school, grading and lesson planning.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Trust Thyself

American Literature On-line Discussion

In "Self-Reliance," Emerson writes, "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist." In Walden, Thoreau writes, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Being a nonconformist was an important theme in our reading last week and in the reading we will do this week and next.

Let's test the limits today of the Transcendental push for individuality and nonconformity.

Where/how do you see nonconformity around you in today's society, either in East Grand Forks or in the nation? To what extent is it Transcendental? That is, is it somebody being true to him-/herself, or is it somebody trying to be different from everybody else for some other reason? Would Emerson or Thoreau admire the nonconformity of whoever you're writing about? Do you admire it? Are there times when, or situations in which, nonconformity is not desirable? Finally, when/how are you a nonconformist? Does it qualify as a Transcendental kind of individuality?

(Do not use people's names if what you say about their nonconformity is potentially hurtful or embarrassing.)

(And remember to respond--agree or disagree with--to one another.)

Monday, November 07, 2005

You, Natural-ly!

American Literature On-line Discussion

We're about to move forward along the path of "-isms" that guides us through American Literature. Recall that we have already paused at the rest areas of Puritanism and Rationalism, and we've just recently been wandering around the meadows of Romanticism.

To continue that metaphor, imagine Romanticism as having a big back yard, part of it sunny and bright and golden, the other part of it shady and cool and a bit unwelcoming. That latter region is Gothic Romanticism, and it's a few weeks away on our journey. The former area is Transcendentalism, and it's our next stop. Both are extensions of Romanticism, so you'll likely see many similarities to the Romantic characteristics with which you're already familiar.

Click here and, at that site, scroll down about a quarter of the way to the section labeled "Student Notes on the Transcendententalist Perspective of Nature." Skim the student responses there. Then, respond to this week's question:

How Transcendental are you when it comes to nature? Choose some aspect of nature and tell what it means to you--what special meaning it holds for you, what connection you feel to nature in general because of it, what sense of spirituality or heightened awareness or philosophical outlook on life it causes you to experience, etc.

Does that sound a little "out there"?! Your chosen "aspect of nature" may be a location in nature at a specific time of day or year or in a specific region, or it may be a natural object, or it may be a phenomenon such as weather, etc. Describe the natural place or thing and why it's special to you--how it makes you feel, what it makes you think about, what connection to the world or universe itself you feel when experiencing this particular place or thing, etc.

And, to help you further, I'll go first!

What Was I Thinking?!?!

I cannot explain myself. Friday was the last day of the first quarter of this school year, and for some unknown reason, I scheduled the courses that I teach so that I left the building Friday carrying the following things:
  • 52 American Literature essay exams to read, comment on, and grade
  • 46 junior English essay exams to read, comment on, and grade
  • 21 advanced writing compositions to read, comment on, and grade
  • 46 junior English compositions to read, comment on, and grade

And all this on the weekend that I knew my family and I would be spiriting out of town for Susan's cousin's Todd's wedding in Dickinson, ND. Absolutely nuts!

I thought I might get some grading done in the van Friday afternoon if Susan were to drive, but it was so overcast from rainy weather that it was too dark to read in the vehicle--so I just did the driving myself. We stayed in my father-in-law's apartment, and both Friday and Saturday nights, after everyone else had gone to bed, I stayed up at his kitchen table and read, read, read.

I was up until about 3:00 A.M. Saturday and until about 5:00 A.M. Sunday (after having spent all of Saturday visiting with family, then attending the wedding, reception, and dance). We left Dickinson around 9:00 A.M. Sunday, and I continued reading while Susan drove. When we got back to East Grand Forks, I went directly to school where I finished reading/commenting/grading about 7:00 P.M. Egads!

Do students appreciate the amount of time I spend responding to their work and preparing for our classes? I have no idea. I know many of them realize that I'm usually at the school, whether it be early in the morning or late at night, but I don't know if they know why I'm always there or what I'm doing there all the time.

Shhh! Don't tell them, and the mystique shall remain.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Are You Becoming Collegiate?!

American Literature On-line Discussion

Well, you've survived the first quarter of college-credit American Literature! Time to reflect.

Looking back over the past couple months, what have been the college-level challenges of this course? What have you found easy that others found difficult, or vice versa? What college-level skills do you feel as though you've been acquiring? How has your thinking or reading or writing or discussing become more sophisticated (or not)?

Remember to respond to what others before you have said, too.

P.S. Want to comment on previous on-line discussion topics? Click here if you'd like to tell how Romantic (capital "R") you are. Click here if you'd like to tell whether you're more like a Puritan or a Rationalist. Click here if you have thoughts about a favorite quotation from The Scarlet Letter. Click here if you have thoughts about Puritans and/or The Crucible. Click here if you have thoughts about the joys or difficulties of early American literature.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Pleasance

pleasance -- archaic noun meaning pleasure or a source of pleasure

Today was filled with pleasance (please help me use this word back out of archaism, everybody!).

I had opportunities to interact one-on-one with students in all my classes today as I wandered the room helping people with their individual questions about their reading. I like to do that once in a while so that I can get a feel for what individuals are struggling with, something that isn't clear during large-group discussion when those who "get" what they're reading are vocal and those who don't are not.

I have a student who has been lending me his DVDs of the Battlestar Galactica TV series (on Sci-Fi) without any prompting or requesting from me. He knows I like me some science fiction once in a while, so he generously thought, "Hey, I'll let him watch some of my collection." He surprised me today with another DVD.

I got to read my advanced writing students' reflections on the first quarter of our course, and many had great things to say--about how I've helped them, how their peers have helped them, how they've worked hard themselves to improve as writers. They also turned in essays today examining how they've been shaped by their education over the years, and I'm featured (as a positive influence, thank goodness) in several of the papers.

After school I got to meet an administrator from Crookston Public Schools who is planning to use in her district some staff development materials that I developed for use with the teachers in my district. It was nice to meet her and talk professionally about education issues from a leadership perspective, as I'm accustomed to doing in my doctoral courses but not in school, where I'm generally wearing my "teacher" hat.

I chaperoned a group of Drama Club kids on a field trip tonight to see Grease at UND tonight. They're always a fun group, and they know how to behave at public events, so it's never a problem to take them places. They really enjoyed the production and could talk intelligently afterward about what theatrical factors contributed to the overall effect of the show. I love that about them!

At the play, I saw two former students (graduates from two years ago) who called me "Kevin" and spoke comfortably about what's going on in their lives at the moment. One of them took advanced writing from me her senior year and told me what a great class she thought it was and how thankful she is for it now that she's in college. "And you can tell your current students that, too!" she said.

After the play, I congratulated several cast members. One told me that just the way I said "good job" and the smile on my face "made her day"! I introduced myself to the cast member who went to school in Tioga, ND (as did I) and whose mother was my third-grade teacher. My first cousins once removed were classmates of his, and their mother (my cousin's wife) was one of his favorite teachers in Tioga. Likewise, I really enjoyed his mother when she was my teacher. Strange how small the world can seem . . .

After the play, I met a friend for snacks at the Italian Moon, after which we stopped by his place to watch a couple shows he had DVRed: Veronica Mars and Everwood. We've been watching this season's episodes of Veronica Mars and loving it for its writing, acting, and overall attitude. Tonight was my first time, however, sampling Everwood. I likely won't commit to watching it regularly, but it, too, had sincere acting, fresh writing, and a style that drew me in. I'm kind of fussy about not watching dreck on TV (and there's plenty of it), so when I recommend a particular show, you can be sure that it had to meet some high standards to win me over. (Whether you agree with my high standards may be another thing altogether . . .)

All this pleasance helped to make up for the fact that my lovely ladies are still gone--in The Cities for a friend's wedding. They'll return late tomorrow night. Until then, what an all-around lovely day.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hair, Etc.

Abigail's hair is shoulder-length from having cut it this summer to donate to Locks of Love. Suzanna went in for a cut a couple days ago, too. She also wanted to donate hers to Locks of Love, but it wasn't quite long enough, so she just got a regular cut, and now it's shoulder-length. Hillary was going to have a trim the same day, but she requested a cut like her sisters', so now her hair is shoulder-length, too. They look more than ever like triplets. They're so cute!!

Susan and the girls are in The Cities right now to participate in the wedding of our friend Cathy Spicer. My daughters are flower girls, and my wife is a vocalist. Susan's sister Cassie accompanied them to help keep an eye on the girls, since I'm stuck here teaching. So it's a quiet night at home tonight.

I get to go to Grease at UND again tomorrow night, this time chaperoning a group of Drama Club kiddoes. Saturday night I get to attend Faith Expressions with my confirmation mentee, Jordan. Sunday morning he will be confirmed at our church, Calvary Lutheran Church. And, of course, I will work on writing for my UND courses and, at school, on lesson planning for my students. That's my weekend plan!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

How Romantic Are You?!

American Literature On-line Discussion

Oh, come on, now! Not that kind of "romantic"! I'm talking Romantic with a capital "R," not romantic with a lowercase "r." And yes, there's a difference. The next couple of weeks, we'll be immersed in a study of American Romanticism. Read more about it here and here. (You may also want to wait to address this particular discussion question until you've had a chance to read about Romanticism in class Monday, October 24. The text we will read that day does a good job of explaining this particular "-ism.") Then, give your response to this:

How Romantic are you? What beliefs of American Romantics do you share? What qualities of their writing (style, topics, etc.) appeal to you? And here's an important part of this question: What Romantic characteristics do you see as alive and well in current American society?

Remember to (1) write a full paragraph in response and (2) write in reaction not only to the discussion question but also to the responses of others. What do you agree or disagree with that they have said? What new ideas can you add, building on what they've already said? (Don't merely repeat what they have said; be sure to add some new thoughts.) This might be a good time to refresh your memory of the original instructions for our on-line discussion.

P.S. Want to comment on previous on-line discussion topics? Click here if you'd like to tell whether you're more like a Puritan or a Rationalist. Click here if you have thoughts about a favorite quotation from The Scarlet Letter. Click here if you have thoughts about Puritans and/or The Crucible. Click here if you have thoughts about the joys or difficulties of early American literature.

Snow and GREASE

Aack! It's snowing!! It's 30 degrees, overcast, west wind at 9 mph, 100% humidity, and big, wet, clumpy flakes of snow falling gently and clinging meltily (is that an adverb?!) to windshield wiper blades and shoulders of jackets and eyelashes and the tops of hedges. A while ago (I don't remember how long), we awoke one morning to find a light dusting of snow on the ground, but it disappeared quickly (still, the girls insisted on wearing snow boots to school that day). Today's snow just might mean the beginning of longer-lasting white stuff. At breakfast the girls cheered at the sight of falling snow and asked about going outside to start digging a tunnel in the snow, so I know they're committed to having it around for a while.

Last night Susan and I had my first-cousin-once-removed Rachelle (a freshman at UND) over for supper. This is one of the rare weekends that she has stayed in Grand Forks for the weekend since school began, so we were lucky to be able to have her come over. After supper she stayed to babysit so that we could attend UND's first play of the theatre season, the musical Grease by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. We attended with two couples who are friends of ours and, after the show, went to the Blue Moose in East Grand Forks for appetizers and beverages, joining another couple there. It was a fun evening out.

And the production was very fun, too. We know many of the people on the production team, from our friends Job Christenson and Darin Kerr (the director and music director) to department faculty Greg Gillette (scenic and lighting designer) and staff Loren Liepold (sound designer and technical director) to pit musician Marlys Murphy. This was the first show at UND costumed by new faculty member Tracey Lyons and choreographed by guest artist/faculty Patricia Downey, and both did well. Job is a choreographer, too, so I can't say what dances he was responsible for and what Downey did, but the movement overall worked well.

In the cast were my friends Jesi Mullins, Chris Harder, Casey Paradies, Patrick O'Neal, and Jared Kinney, all of whom were enjoyable to watch. Other standouts: David Barta as Danny, Kelly MacLeod as Miss Lynch, and Michelle McCauley as Jan (loved, loved, LOVED her!!). A fellow alumnus of Tioga High School, recent graduate Troy Guttormson, was in the cast, too. If for no other reason than our Tioga connection, I found myself watching him and liking a lot of what he did on stage, too.

(Incidentally, his mom was my third-grade teacher! Back then she was Ms. Christianson, the very first "Ms." I'd ever met or even heard of. She told tales of her ex-husband, whom she referred to as "The Hulk" for his mean temper. In retrospect, that seems like something we probably didn't need to hear about, but I liked her a lot and was amused by her Hulk stories at the time. She was one teacher to whom I gave a May basket one spring. The traditional procedure is to drop off the May basket when the recipient isn't looking. The recipient must then try to discover the gift giver's identity and pay him/her back with a kiss. Ms. Christianson figured out it was I and pretended, during sustained silent reading time, to need something from a shelf over my desk. She reached up to retrieve it, and on her way down, she pecked my cheek! Awesome!!)

Grease was a lot of fun for the usual reasons: the familiar and energetic music, the comical characters, the sense of nostalgia (for a time period I wasn't even alive for, by the way!), the identification with eternal issues of high school-dom (is that a noun?!), etc. Another reason I liked it was because of something Job is very good at (as my friend Larry and I have often discussed): keeping the stage alive with movement. Regarding that, there are two extremes that I have seen from some directors: have actors move around so much and so frenetically that the movement seems purposeless, unplanned, and chaotic; or have actors move around so little that it seems unblocked, under-choreographed, and static.

Job strikes a balance. There's enough movement to keep the audience's attention without distracting from the lines, the music, or the meaning of the scene. Not only is each scene well blocked, but transitions are well blocked, too! In this production, that is achieved by playing classic radio commercials from the era while actors cross the stage in brief vignettes that add to the realism of the characters' world: conducting school elections, getting yearbooks signed, making out in the park, practicing for the track team, etc. The transitions don't drag on too long; they last just long enough to add texture to the world of the play and give some of the supporting players a chance to strut their stuff, too. Having seen several productions directed by Job, I've come to appreciate this skill of his. Most audience members probably never notice it, and that's to his credit, too. We watch his plays and think how seamlessly the scenes flow; the directing is, to most people, invisible, and that's as it should be.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I'm Gonna Be in a Commercial!

Disclaimer: Being in a commercial is not THAT big a deal in that (1) I have been in a few before; (2) it will be run locally where I am already known, not nationally where I could achieve some fame; (3) I'm not getting paid to do it (as far as I know); and (4) it's really an on-air public service announcement (PSA) rather than commercial advertising.

That said, I'm gonna be in a commercial! The UND Television Center contacted me a couple weeks ago wondering whether my family and I would be willing to be in a PSA for UND Athletics. They want to curb poor sportsmanship at UND athletic events, so they came up with an idea for a PSA: film a dad swearing in front of his child at a sporting event, then show that child repeating the obscene language at home, then emphasize that your inappropriate behavior at athletic events is being noticed by EVERYBODY in attendance. Point: Don't do it!

The filming is happening in two stages. Stage one was this past Tuesday night. My oldest daughter, seven-year-old Suzanna, accompanied me to the Ralph Engelstad Arena (REA). REA staff had assembled popcorn, candy, (empty) soda cups, green-and-white pom poms--stuff that spectators would normally have while watching a hockey game. The REA and Television Center had also arranged for a couple dozen people to be there to portray other spectators. They were all bedecked in the green and white clothing of UND fans. They were given food and directed, with Suzanna and me, to a section of the arena where filming was to take place.

Several minutes were spent arranging and rearranging spectators to make the section of the arena visible in the camera shots look as crowded as it would be at an actual hockey game. It was "open ice" time at the arena that night, so there were a handful of people skating; everyone was directed to watch one skater in particular so that we would all appear to be watching the same action of the fictional hockey game. They set up the camera for our first scene, and Suzanna and I had to walk into the camera shot, find our seats, sit down, watch the game, and appear excited.

Next shot: Suzanna thanks me for taking her to the game, and I say, "No problem!" Next shot: I see a fictional ref make a fictional call that I don't like, and I get up and swear at him. Next shot: I swear again and sit down, and now Suzanna is visible staring at me in shock, her mouth agape. They shot each scene two or three times so they will have options when editing the final cut later. They also changed the camera angles and reshot scenes, again for more options later; they got Suzanna's reaction from a couple different angles, and they shot me swearing from a couple different angles, too.

The swearing will be bleeped out of the actual PSA, but that didn't mean we wanted to do any actual swearing during the filming--not in front of my daughter or the other children portraying spectators there that night! So I shouted at the ref to open his "funny eyes," and I called him a "funny icepole." The people sitting in the farthest-back rows during shooting said that, from where they sat, they thought I was saying the actual naughty words! (Watching the monitor after shooting that night, I had to admit that it looked realistic, too!) Suzanna didn't seem fazed, though. Still, I reminded her that she oughtn't to go to school and call kids on the playground "funny icepoles"!

Next Tuesday night, the crew will come to our house to film the scenes at the home of the naughty UND athletic event spectator, where his wife asks how the game was, and the daughter says that it was okay but that the ref was a "funny icepole." Cut to the dad's mouth agape this time and the mom's shocked expression and the sound of silence broken only by the clink of a dropped fork! The PSA will then conclude with a message about watching what you say at the games you attend.

Suzanna was scheduled to have her long hair cut off tomorrow to donate to Locks of Love, but we had to cancel that appointment since she has to look the same in next Tuesday's scene as she did in this Tuesday's scene. She was disappointed about that; but otherwise she had a blast during the filming itself and did a great job. Afterward the director, his wife, a couple "spectators" from the PSA, and Suzanna and I went to Paulo's Restaurant in East Grand Forks for a snack. There we found out that the PSA will not run (as I had assumed) on local cable channel 3, home of UND's Studio One television program. No, instead, it will run . . . before every UND hockey and football game as an immediate reminder to spectators about their behavior!! I hope people are amused and don't think that I actually said such foul language in front of my little girl! Otherwise, I could get some dirty looks around the Grand Cities in the coming months!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Label Yourself!

American Literature On-line Discussion

Those unfortunate Puritans have gotten a bum rap in our course the past few weeks. We've seen how harsh their beliefs can be in our reading of The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter and in Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But, like all people in all time periods, Puritans were like any other humans: some good, some bad, most a mix, and all with the same kinds of hopes, fears, joys, etc., of most of us today--just altered by the context in which they lived.

As we move into the Rationalism that followed Puritanism, we'll see the same thing: real people with a mix of real qualities, both good and bad--like all of us. So much like us, in fact, that even today people talk about having a "Puritan work ethic" or "puritanical style" of behavior, or about behaving "rationally." For this discussion question, I'd like you to consider yourself in light of the beliefs of Puritans and Rationalists.

First, read this about Puritanism. Then, read this about Rationalism. (Of course, there are even more links available on our page at iMoberg.) Then, tell which traits of either belief system are similar (or identical?) to yours. Are you more like a Puritan, or more like a Rationalist? Or are you a perfect balance? What makes you label yourself as you do? How are your beliefs similar to one or the other of them? OR, how do you see the beliefs of either group evident in others in the world around you today?

P.S. Want to comment on previous on-line discussion topics? Click here if you have thoughts about a favorite quotation from The Scarlet Letter. Click here if you have thoughts about Puritans and/or The Crucible. Click here if you have thoughts about the joys or difficulties of early American literature.

PRACS Meals

I was just released from PRACS after my third and final weekend of this study. It was notable for all the papers (of my students) that I was able to read and comment on while there each weekend, for all the pleasure reading I had time to do (read this and this for media updates), and for the awful food.

I don't mean to imply that PRACS food is inherently awful. On the contrary, I have usually been perfectly happy with the food they serve. First of all, it's free. Second of all, they serve night-time snacks to tide you over, since most studies don't include breakfast. Third of all, it's often stuff that I would eat at home anyway: salads, burgers, chicken, stew, cookies, cake, milk, etc.

But this study was different. For some reason, the drug company wanted everyone served a low-calorie (read: "low-flavor") diet while there. The exception was breakfast, served to only half the group (thankfully, that included me), which was supposed to be high-fat: two eggs fried in butter, two strips of bacon, one carton of whole milk, two fried hashbrown patties, and two pieces of "toast" with one pat of butter (toast should, in my opinion, have been in the toaster long enough to acquire some color and some crispness; PRACS' "toast" is notorious for being cold and not much darker or firmer than bread from a bag; no amount of the butter ever melts when put in contact with their "toast"). Otherwise, here was my meal schedule (identical each of the three weekends of the study):

Friday night supper (6:30 P.M.): 1 carton low-fat milk and 1 glass water, 2 ounces of flavorless steamed chicken breast (2?! nearly invisible!!), shredded lettuce with no-fat Ranch dressing, some corn, a slice of no-fat angel food cake, and the world's largest baked potato served with no-fat imitation butter product and no-fat sour cream-like product

Friday night snack (9:30 P.M.): nothing!

Saturday morning breakfast (7:30 A.M.): (see above)

Saturday dinner (1:00 P.M.): 1 carton low-fat milk and 1 glass water, 1 slice of flavorless processed turkey or chicken product on 2 slices of whole-wheat bread with shredded lettuce on it, 1 packet of prepared mustard, 1 bag of oven-baked potato chips, two-thirds of a stalk of celery, 1 bag of "baby carrots" (shavings of a carrot), no-fat Ranch dressing for dipping the raw veggies, a dill pickle spear, and a dish of canned peaches

Saturday night supper (6:00 P.M.): 1 carton low-fat milk and 1 glass water, 2 ounces (?!) of flavorless steamed chicken breast, 1 mound of flavorless rice pilaf, some canned green beans, a sour-dough roll, shredded lettuce with no-fat Ranch dressing, and a dish of fruit cocktail

Saturday night snack (9:30 P.M.): nothing!

Sunday morning breakfast (7:30 A.M.): nothing!

When I do a PRACS study, I'm getting paid to do it, and I accept the inconveniences involved, including eating whatever they happen to offer. And it certainly didn't kill me to eat some healthy meals for the past three weekends; but I can tell you, I much prefer my wife's healthy-yet-flavorful cooking to what I ate at PRACS during this study!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

More Media

I spent another weekend at PRACS, where I partook of more popular culture via the media of film (DVDs) and print (books). Find out what I viewed and read. (I also visited with fellow coworkers and past students, several of whom were participating in studies this weekend, too. Every time I do a study, it's a reunion with some past student or another. I guess all of us college students need to make money for tuition somehow.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

From the Mouths of My Babes

Last night at the supper table, Hillary was coughing, her eyelids were drooping, and her head was hanging--she looked ill and tired. After one of Hillary's coughs, Abigail commented, "My, that sounded dreadful!"

Later, Hillary was pondering how tired she was while looking at how much food she still had to eat, which caused her to drop her head into her hands and proclaim, "I'm doomed!"

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Musings on a Beautiful Day

It's a beautiful autumn afternoon. On the second day of October (Happy birthday, Dad!), it's 78 degrees outside! It's so windy that our potted plants are blowing around on the front step, but it's a warm wind that reminds me of the hot summer gusts that swept me into and out of the tractor when working in the hillside fields of our farm as a teenager. One neighbor was out watering his flowers this morning, but most neighbors have already taken in their plants and put up their fall-colored or Halloween-themed yard decorations. The trees realize that it's autumn (as evidence, our yard is covered in leaves from our neighbors' trees), but the lawns don't; they're still green and growing (I just mowed ours this past week).

I got out of PRACS this morning after my family had already left for church, so I went to school to get some things ready for tomorrow's classes. Susan and the girls picked me up after church and took me out to eat at Paulo's Restaurant, a new eatery in downtown East Grand Forks (and an already established one in Breckenridge and Fergus Falls). It was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! With the chips,the salsa was served in a small molcajete (mortar, as in "mortar and pestle") and was mild-to-medium and thick with chunks of fresh vegetables. Susan ordered a burrito, which she shared with Abigail and Hillary. Abigail ordered a Mexican pizza, which she shared with Hillary. Suzanna and I shared a seafood chimichanga and ordered a chili relleno on the side. For dessert we all shared an order of sopapillas.

Oh. My. Goodness. My chimichanga was light and crispy, as though wrapped in a donut-like dough. It was packed with real seafood . . . and I mean packed! The beans and rice were delicious, too (two items that I don't usually find too thrilling at Mexican restaurants), as was the chili. The sopapillas were light and wonderful, not greasy and heavy as they are at some other restaurants. Susan and the girls were big fans of the place, too. I hope it does well in its location, a place where several other restaurants have not fared so well (which is so strange to me, because it's right across from a motel, Cabela's, a mall, and several shops, and it's a hop, skip, and a jump away from the restaurants and bars of the boardwalk on the Red River).

This afternoon we called my dad, who is 68 today. We had a good visit about what's been going on with them in McGregor (ND) lately, and he passed on updates about various neighbors and family members from his region. We don't talk on the phone often enough (a lot of our communication is via e-mail, and that is usually via my stepmother Beverly), but when we do, it's always nice to hear his voice again.

This evening Susan and I and the girls are performing in a concert called Songs of Comfort and Hope: A Benefit Concert for Victims of Hurricane Katrina at Calvary Lutheran Church (our church) in Grand Forks (ND). I'll play piano, and the ladies will sing a song called "Hymn of Promise." Afterwards, of course, there will be bars and coffee (it is a Lutheran church, after all). Then my friend Darin and I will go to the late showing of the movie Serenity, which is based on the FOX television series Firefly that was on--and almost immediately cancelled--a few years ago. We were big fans of the series, so we're excited to see the movie.

The play I was directing throughout September, Rapunzel, has ended its run. It was an absolute delight to work with that cast and crew, and the show turned out quite well. The public show on Monday, September 26 had over 200 people in attendance. Then we did three matinees for the elementary schools on Thursday and Friday, September 29 and 30--about another 800 people, I suppose. It will be good to have some of my time back again, but I will miss the energy and positive attitudes of those students at the end of every day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Loving the Language of the LETTER

American Literature On-line Discussion

For some readers, one obstacle to enjoying The Scarlet Letter fully is the language, which is literary, dense, sometimes archaic, and unfamiliar to modern audiences. Most readers, however, quickly become accustomed to it and soon come to enjoy Hawthorne's language: the interesting way he describes a person, a setting, a thought, an emotion, etc. "Cracking the code" of the language opens up the possibility of "getting into" the language. That's the focus of this discussion prompt:

Locate a sentence or brief passage from The Scarlet Letter that you feel is an example of beautiful or interesting or well crafted language. Type out the sentence or passage in quotation marks, provide its page number, and then explain why it appeals to you--what's so great about the way Hawthorne writes that particular section? What makes it beautiful or interesting or well crafted?

One rule: do not use the same sentence/passage as a previous post-er, although you may refer to previous posts to say how your selected passage is like or unlike theirs.

P.S. Want to comment on previous on-line discussion topics? Click here if you have thoughts about Puritans and/or The Crucible. Click here if you have thoughts about the joys or difficulties of early American literature.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Poker Night

My friend Jay has invited me and several of our friends to his house for a poker night sometime soon. There will be food and beverages and, unfortunately, cards. Not that I'm opposed to cards, mind you. I'm just opposed to card games that I don't know how to play. I've offered to cover the eating and drinking duties while the others take care of the poker playing, but none of them is much of a poker player, either. It will be the blind leading the blind. Here's the kind of card "shark" that I am:

(Sherman's Lagoon, September 23, 2005)

Fall TV

The new season of television programs has begun. Every magazine and newspaper for weeks has featured its own take on what's hot to watch and what's not. Well, I myself am a student of popular culture and have enjoyed a television program or two in my day. Perhaps it's time I weighed in on the issue of what's worth watching among all the new programs vying for our attention on television. After all, we're all busy enough not to devote too much time to the boob tube, aren't we? Everything in moderation.

(Except reading. Read voraciously!)

ABC
Invasion -- I recorded the first episode but haven't watched it yet. It followed Lost and kept most of Lost's viewers on its season premiere; that's a good sign.
Night Stalker -- I have heard very good things about how scary this one is. It premieres next week, so I may have to try it out.

FOX
Kitchen Confidential -- My judgment: "Meh." (Hey, that's better than its outright negative alternative: "Feh!") It was okay with some likeable actors, but it wasn't outstanding, and my time is too valuable to commit to a series that only might be good.
Prison Break -- Ditto Kitchen Confidential's "meh." It has the potential to be engaging in a way similar to 24, but it's not as intense as 24 and, again, I must parcel out my weekly TV commitments.

NBC
My Name Is Earl -- I recorded the first episode but haven't watched it yet. It has gotten good buzz and got excellent ratings, so I may be happy with what I see.
The Apprentice: Martha Stewart -- I watched the first episode just to sample. I don't watch Donad Trump's Apprentice, so I couldn't really compare the two. Also, I don't plan to add this one to my viewing schedule; I just wanted to see how Martha handled it and what her catchphrase is (instead of Trump's "You're fired," it's, "You just don't fit in"). Martha seemed friendly but firm in the first episode, but still, it's likely to be the only episode I ever see.
Three Wishes -- I tried to record the first episode, but I failed as a VCR programmer and got only the first few minutes. Eh bien. I still want to see at least one episode. I'm sure it will be a tear fest, and that's sure to be cathartic if nothing else. Note to self: watch while alone in own house so as not to humiliate self around friends.

UPN
Everybody Hates Chris -- Recorded; haven't seen it; heard great things about it; got good ratings; more to tell in the future.

WB
Supernatural -- Like Night Stalker, this show was reputed to be v-e-r-y scary. Well, at the most, it was "v-e-r-y" without the hyphens. It has an okay premise, but unless they reduce the amount of exposition and increase the amount of unanswered questions about the characters themselves, there will be no reason to tune in from week to week. One could just catch an episode here and there and never feel like one has missed out on much in between.

Now, mind you, this doesn't account for the television shows I'm already committed to. And, as you can see, although I've sampled some new TV, I'm not adding much to my roster. Time is too precious. I'm definitely not an anti-TV snob, but I am a pro-quality TV snob, I guess. Your opinion of what "quality TV" is might be different from mine, of course, but you have the right to be wrong.

(Disagree with me on anything above? Share a comment!)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Those Wacky Puritans!

American Literature On-line Discussion

We've read some Pilgrim (William Bradford) and Puritan (Jonathan Edwards) literature and some background information on Puritan beliefs and traits. We watched a program (the History Channel's Witch Hunt) and read an historical court document ("The Examination of Sarah Good") about the Puritans' Salem witch trials. And we've just begun to read a modern American play (Arthur Miller's The Crucible) about that very topic. So here's your next question(s):

What are your thoughts on, reactions to, or questions about (1) Puritans? (2) the Salem witch trials? (3) the plot, characters, themes, symbols, etc., of The Crucible? [Take your pick!]

P.S. Want to post to the previous question? Find it here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

RAPUNZEL

Oh . . . my . . . goodness, but I am having fun! I'm in the midst of directing East Grand Forks Senior High School's annual children's theatre production, which this year is Karen Boettcher-Tate's version of Rapunzel. Good scripts for children's theatre don't seem to be that easy to find, but I lucked out this summer when I found this one. It's a funny retelling of the familiar tale of Rapunzel with plenty of interesting characters and opportunities for zaniness on stage. It's been a good script to work on, and it's one that will appeal to our audiences of elementary students as well as their parents.

Best of all so far have been the students themselves! We sometimes refer to the children's theatre production as the freshman play because freshmen get first priority in casting; it's our effort to get ninth-graders involved in theatre at the high school without the pressure of competing with upperclassmen for parts. Sophomores through seniors, though, serve on all the crews and help to train the backstage freshmen. They're great helpers, and the two senior assistant directors/stage managers--Katie D. and Kaitlin W.--have been invaluable at organizing, errand-running, and working with small groups of actors when I'm working with others onstage.

And the cast is marvellous. They all suit their roles remarkably well, either because of brilliant casting (ahem) or because they took their assigned roles and made them their own. They all take direction very well and clearly "get" both the humor of the script and my own special humor that I'm imposing on the production! They even have, and share (respectfully), their own good ideas for adding to the comedy without going overboard. They listen extremely well and stay focused throughout rehearsals. They're good-humored and pleasant to be around. I can't believe what a good group this is.

Auditions were September 1 and 2. We had a read-through September 6 and blocked the show the 7th and 8th with a first run-through the 9th. They were off book September 12, and we've been working scenes and running the show this week (September 13-16). That leaves us next week to continue rehearsing before the public performance Monday, September 26. Our matinee performances for the elementary schools (three shows for about 300 kids at each) are September 29-30. Then we'll be done! From auditions to final strike, it will have been exactly one month. That's quick.

I highly recommend you see this show on the 26th at 7:00 P.M. in the Performing Arts Center (1420 4th Ave. NW, East Grand Forks, MN). Tickets are $2 apiece, available at the door--but EGF Public Schools K-12 students with an activity pass are admitted free! It's a funny show with a great cast and humor for audience members of all ages.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Interesting or Difficult? Or Some of Each? Discuss!

Attention young scholars!!

(This pertains to you if you are currently enrolled in college-credit American Literature at East Grand Forks Senior High School.)

The first day of school, you practiced posting comments to this blog in order to prepare for one requirement of the course, which is that you participate in an on-line discussion at least six times per quarter. You do that by reading the questions I post to the blog, reading one another's comments, and then responding by sharing your own comments.

Your comment should be about a paragraph long (NOT only a few words or only a sentence or two!). Whenever possible, you should refer to one another's comments in your own--for example, "I agree with Shelly's idea that . . ." or "Unlike Fred, I enjoyed the . . ." That way, I'll know that you're interacting with one another's ideas and not just posting your own while ignoring everybody else's!

Remember to click the "Other" button beneath the text box and type in your first and last names when you've finished your comment. Then, type in the random letters beneath that (to show my blog that you're not a computerized spammer), and then click the blue "Login and Publish" button to publish your comment. Got it?

So alright, American Literature smarty-pantses, here's your first real on-line discussion question:

What makes the early American literature that we've read either interesting or difficult to read?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I'm Pooped

The fall semester at East Grand Forks Senior High School began this past Thursday, September 1. Yes, we had a two-day first week of school before taking a three-day Labor Day weekend, and I for one needed this break! Oof, but I was plumb tuckered out at the end of each school day this week. I always forget over the summer just how relentless a typical school day is. For example, here were my first two days (stuff specific to Thursday is in blue and to Friday in green):

7:45-8:20 -- morning duty: patrol the hallways, greet the students, make the rounds

8:30-9:20 -- American Literature: take them to the computer lab to read and respond via e-mail to the syllabus and course standards on-line, to post comments to our on-line discussion board (on my blog), and to start their two-paragraph writing assignment due tomorrow; collect their homework and lead them on a half-mile walk to the Red River to observe nature and write descriptively from an assigned perspective (either early Native American or European explorer circa 16th century) that will become relevant Tuesday when we talk about the origins of American literature

9:23-10:13 -- preparation period: get ready for the rest of the day

10:16-11:06 -- Study Hall: take them to the library to check out a book for those days when they have no homework to do; try in vain to help them with their math homework

11:09-11:36 -- brunch period: skip eating altogether in order to use the restroom and finish errands for later class periods; eat in the faculty room with other teachers and wonder how my feet are going to hold up through all the afternoon hikes to the river

11:39-12:29 -- American Literature: same as above

12:32-1:22 -- Advanced Writing: the same trip to the computer lab as above, but with a different writing assignment for homework; collect their homework and lead them in a discussion of it followed by an in-class written self-assessment of writing strengths and weaknesses and then a trip to the school's outdoor courtyard to enjoy the weather and start filling in a self-identity quiz that will be the springboard for their first writing project next week

1:25-2:15 -- English 11: same as American Literature (the two courses will begin to differ next week, because American Literature is a college-credit course that requires more and more challenging work) [my third mile-long roundtrip walk to the river]

2:18-3:08 -- English 11: same as above [my fourth trip--I can feel the blisters forming on my heels]; upon returning to the high school, discover my 2nd-grade daughter crying outside the building, worried because she couldn't remember if she was supposed to ride the bus home or come to my school (two blocks from her school) and a little panicked because she could neither reach my wife on the phone at home nor find me once she arrived at my classroom

3:30-5:00 -- conduct auditions for the annual children's theatre production

5:00-5:55 -- prepare for tomorrow's classes, then go home for supper and an extremely early bedtime

3:10 -- bring my daughter to the Performing Arts Center to spend time with the children's theatre student directors while I attend a meeting

3:15-3:45 -- attend a meeting about a student (scheduled without concern for my pre-existing commitment to conduct children's theatre auditions at 3:30)

3:45-4:15 -- get hijacked by a prospective play director who has questions for me concerning budgets and personnel

4:15-5:30 -- arrive at auditions extremely late and join the student directors who have been conducting them in my absence; wrap them up, cast the show, and assign technical crews; bring my daughter home

Notice the ten-hour days without breaks for restroom use or simple rests to collect thoughts and recharge energy (unless I sacrifice precious minutes from my morning preparation period to do so). And normally my evening hours are spent reading homework and preparing for the following day; I was just too wiped out this week to begin that yet.

A definite plus is that I have pretty likeable students. Once my body gets back into school mode, my school day schedule should (sadly) seem less shocking. In the meantime, I'm using the long weekend to catch up on my reading of Thursday night's homework and to prepare for the weeks ahead.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Post-Operative Abigail

Abigail's tonsils and adenoids are no longer in her body. Wednesday, August 31, Abigail had them removed at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, North Dakota by Dr. Greg Lapp. We dropped off Suzanna and Hillary at our friend Jennifer's home for the morning, and when Susan was inside with the girls, Abigail told me in the van, "My tummy feels joyous" (she was in a good mood for her surgery). Susan, Abigail, and I were at the hospital before 7:45 A.M. Abigail brought Pink Blanky (yes, her name for her pink blanket) and Bobo (a stuffed monkey), too, for moral support.

Abigail had been very excited about her tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy ever since it was initially scheduled, so she was an excellent patient that day. We checked her into Same-Day Surgery where she responded very politely and enthusiastically to all their questions. They put an I.D. bracelet around her ankle and then sent her to wait in the kids' play room until the doctor was ready for her (Susan and I had to sit next door in the boring adult waiting room).

Finally we were called back to a room where Abigail changed into a hospital gown and a surgical bonnet ("Cool!") and hopped onto a bed on a trolley. Some nurses showed her the mask she would breathe from in order to fall asleep before the surgery, and they let her choose a flavor of chapstick (her choice: raspberry) to smear inside the mask so that that would be what she smelled as she drifted away. The anesthesiologist introduced himself, told Abigail what would happen, and asked if she had questions. Unfortunately, he was from India and spoke with a heavy accent that Abigail apparently couldn't crack; the dumbfounded look on her face as he spoke and her simple nod at everything he said (even at "Do you have any questions?") were priceless.

She was asked multiple times throughout the morning by numerous people, "Do you have any questions?" and she always answered "no." The final time, though, she did ask the surgical nurse if it would hurt to have her tonsils removed. Susan and I were suddenly heartbroken. Then they wheeled her away from us, and we both felt like crying. What were we doing to our little girl?! I told Susan, "Just think what torture it must be for parents whose children are having really serious surgeries."

We were very relieved when the doctor came to us in the waiting room about 45 minutes later to say that everything had gone just as planned. Not too long after that, we were allowed to join her in the recovery room. She was coherent but groggy and told the nurses that it hurt "just a little bit." She had an I.V. in her left hand wrapped under a bandage, her voice was incredibly high, and she winced with every swallow of ice water. She ate a few bites of flavored gelatin (not Jell-O) and, later, an entire popsicle. Mostly she was uncomfortable and didn't know whether she wanted us to hug her or leave her alone.

After they gave her Tylenol with codeine, she was able to take a brief nap. When she woke up, she was wide awake, energized, and ready to leave the hospital. We had to wait until her I.V. had mostly run out, and she got impatient. Suddenly she wasn't feeling pain, she wasn't talking particularly strangely, and she was her normal bubbly self. When she hopped off the bed to use the bathroom, she first did a little dance, looked down at her legs, and told us, "Yep, they still work." On the way back from the bathroom, the nurse held the I.V. bag, but Susan wasn't allowed to hold Abigail's hand; instead, Abigail had Susan hold shut the hospital gown so that people wouldn't see Abigail's panties. Back at her bed, Abigail noticed my impatience, too, and told me, "Read your book. That'll keep you amused." I questioned her use of the word "amused," and she responded to my prompts with, "Well, I'm not amused at all" and "I wish I had something along to amuse me."

She was so polite to all the nurses during check-in, pre-op, and post-op (both when she was feeling awful and when she was feeling better) that they decided they wanted all their patients to be like her. She got a wheelchair ride to the parking lot, and Daddy carried her the rest of the way to the vehicle. That marked her fourth stay at Altru: for her birth (emergency C-section), for an infant surgery to open a tear duct, for a respiratory virus (a few nights' stay) when she was a year-and-a-half, and now for tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy at age six.

She went into the pharmacy with Susan to pick up the pain relief prescriptions, and she was so energetic that the woman behind the counter assumed she was the well sister helping out her Mommy for the sister who had just had surgery! Throughout the next few days, the pain worsened, though. She stopped opening her jaws to speak and even stopped speaking if she could figure out a way to pantomime what she wanted. She would grasp our hands and squeeze every time she had to swallow. She would let her saliva pool in her mouth and swallow it all at once infrequently rather than have to swallow at a more often, regular pace. She wanted cuddling a lot more, but she couldn't always decide from whom or for how long. It's been hard to get food into her--and to keep it in. However, this morning began with her gulping down an entire glass of water and making plans for the day, so maybe she's on an upswing now. Let's hope so. It's so hard to see her feeling so awful.

Her grandpa, aunts, and uncles on Susan's side have all called and e-mailed to see how she's doing and cheer her up, and many of our friends and my coworkers have sent her e-mails or well wishes via me, too. The doctor told us to expect her to feel back to normal within a week, and for the scabs in the back of her throat (pretty image, huh?) to be gone by the week after that. Then she can return to normal play, food, and exercise at school. We hope that she won't suffer any longer from the incessant sore throats that plagued her throughout past winters.