Sunday, July 31, 2005

August's Thought-Provoking Question(s)


Those of us who are teachers or students do still have a month remaining of summer vacation, so summer's not over yet, I realize. But we can see the end of summer from where we're standing, so already I'm nostalgic for the good times of the past two months.

What would you say was the defining moment of your summer? What event captures or demonstrates the meaning of your existence during summer vacation? When you look back on the past couple months, what stands out as a highlight for you?

Of course, what defines your summer might be a negative event. Feel free to share that, too. How did it shape who you are right now? From this point forward, how will you be different because of this defining moment?

P.S. I warned you they would be thought-provoking.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

A Student Funeral and a Student Wedding

Being a teacher means getting to share in all sorts of life events with your students, if you're lucky. Today I shared in two that fall on opposite ends of the spectrum of lifetime milestones.

This morning I attended the funeral of Jakob Johnson. He was sixteen, so of course the funeral was much sadder than had he been a ninety-five-year-old man. There were many students there, which made me both happy and sad--happy that they would come to show their respects for Jakob and his family, and sad that they should have to deal with the death of a friend at such an early age in their lives. The music was beautiful. Maria Williams-Kennedy was the cantor and soloist, and her voice was as clear, soaring, and inspiring as ever. She was joined on one song by Jakob's girlfriend Amanda, who I couldn't believe was able to sing with such control despite her grief. Jakob's friends were gathered on the sidewalk after the funeral; I hope they will continue to spend time together and talk this through so that they can deal with the emotional aftermath of Jakob's death.

This afternoon I attended the wedding of Kassandra Frownfelter (now Kassandra Axt). It was a very brief but nice wedding, and all the participants seemed so sincerely happy about the event. The pianist was great, and the vocalist was a former student of mine, as were many of the guests and some of the wedding party, which made it fun to visit before and after the ceremony. As I told one former student today, once they've graduated, they all become the same age to me; I can't remember who graduated what year, so in my mind if they're not in high school any more, they're all the same indeterminate age. It's really enjoyable to go to former students' weddings and see the kind of lives they've created for themselves since high school--and conjecture what kind of lives they'll have in the future ("I wonder where they'll live," "I wonder what their kids will look like," etc.).

A day like this makes me wax philosophical about life, about relationships, about religion--all the biggies. I hope tonight Kassandra's friends and family fall asleep with happy memories in their heads, and I hope Jakob's friends and family fall asleep with hope and comfort drawn from their religion and their relationships with one another and with Jakob himself.

Friday, July 29, 2005

"Reunited and It Feels So Good . . ."

We had a great day in Bemidji, Minnesota today! [Well, it's Saturday now by the time I'm typing this, but we spent Friday in Bemidji. I always type too late into the wee hours of the morning and get my "todays" out of whack.] We arrived at 11:00 A.M. and had lunch at Subway with our friends Susan and Tim and their son John, all from Houston, Texas. Susan has been directing a play for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse the last week and a half, so that's why they're in Bemidji now. Susan's mom is visiting them, too, and she has a room at Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge on Lake Bemidji. Thus, after eating, we all went to Ruttger's to sit on the beach. John (age 9) and our girls (ages 4 to 7) had a BLAST kayaking, swimming, canoeing, playing in the sand, playing with other kids, playing with the friendly dogs of the people beside us on the beach (including a Lassie look-alike [named Mollie] whom we kept asking whether Timmy had fallen in the well!), etc. Susan and Tim and Susan (my wife) and I got to spend the entire afternoon visiting and catching up and reminiscing. The weather was perfect for being outdoors, and the kids played so well and had so much fun, and it was such a picturesque and relaxing locale for a reunion with friends that I can't think of a better way to have spent the afternoon.

At 5:00 P.M. we went to see our friends Steve and DeeJay at the farmhouse they're renting just west of Bemidji. It's a lovely little spread with horses and pygmy goats in the pasture and cats and kittens in the barn and lots of beautiful flowers planted all around the yard. Best of all (from my perspective, at least): Steve and DeeJay take care of the mowing and the gardening but not feeding and dealing with the animals (the "animal husbandry," I called it); the farm owners/landlords do that. Our friend Jackie from Grundy, Virginia is spending the weekend with Steve and DeeJay, so we got to see her, too. The girls enjoyed the animals as well as the above-ground pool out in the yard! While they swam, we adults enjoyed beverages and appetizers in the serene setting: lots of very green grass and trees all around; flames crackling in the fire pit; a steady, cool breeze; country silence; and a sense of peace in that place. Indoors, we ate a good supper, and the girls played with the kids' toys in the basement play room, then watched movies. We adults played a game called "Imaginiff" and caught up on recent events and old times and wondered why we don't do this more often.

The girls were thoroughly pooped from the active day spent outdoors, and frankly, so was I. The nearly two-hour drive back home at 10:45 P.M. just about did me in, especially since everybody else in the vehicle was asleep pretty much the minute I backed out of Steve and DeeJay's driveway, making the van feel very sleepy inside! We're safely home now, though. I'm grateful for dear friends with whom we can just pick up right where we left off the last time we saw them, even if we go years between meetings.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Reading Update

Take a gander at what's on my reading list at the moment. HarperCollins Publishers now has me reading and reviewing books! The first couple are in the mail to me even as I type. Learn more about them here.

I'm also reading part of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography (among many other things) for an upcoming seminar on Teaching American History (and literature). All the works are primary sources, and they're available on one awesome site. Learn more about it/them here.

Connecting with Students

This week has been one of two very different (but both very positive) kinds of connection with students.

First, I spent some time with (both on-line and in person) a former student, whom I shall refer to as the V.P. (and he knows why!). I have always enjoyed the V.P. as a student, but it's been great to converse with him in a non-student/teacher situation, get to know him better, find out what makes him tick, etc. I hope he has seen that teachers are people, too! Likewise, it has reinforced for me that students are people, too . . . too! There are so many interesting things to know about every student. It's an unfortunate reality of the way our system of education is structured that we teachers don't get much time to make authentic connections with students in order to learn many of these interesting things. I'm glad the V.P. was willing to take the time to spend some of his free time shootin' the breeze. It's sad that it couldn't occur until after school was out, however.

Second, another student came to see me today; I'll call him Joe. Jakob, a student from our high school, was found dead earlier this week, and Joe wanted to talk to me about it. Joe and several of his friends, all of whom were Jakob's friends, have been hanging out together since learning about it, and it's been tough for them. They don't have all the answers about the circumstances of Jakob's death, and they're sixteen-year-olds united by one tragic event, trying to make sense of something that traumatizes even adults. Joe came to find me and just talk about it. I'm glad I was here when he came by, and I hope it helped him in some small way to talk. Last summer, another student from our high school, Monte, died, and many of our students were affected deeply by that loss. I feel for Jakob's family and friends and hope that they are able to find some peace of mind even if all the details surrounding Jakob's death don't come to light in the end.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"Something horrible has happened . . ."

Two funny things said by Moberg daughters today (well, Sunday, that is):

  1. Suzanna was charged with putting away her clean, folded laundry. After struggling to cram it all into her already-packed-tight dresser drawers, she told Susan, "Mom, either I need to start wearing more clothes, or you need to stop washing, because my drawers are getting too full." (Is that last part another way of saying that she's getting too big for her britches?!)
  2. After having been tucked in tonight (well, Sunday night), Hillary was out of bed several times (before finally falling asleep around 10:30 P.M.). Once, she prefaced her arrival in the living room (where I was reading) with, "Something horrible has happened." The something horrible turned out to be the premature ringing of Suzanna's alarm clock, which Hillary brought to me to silence it. She turned to go back downstairs (she's camping out on Abigail's bedroom floor) the direction she came up--through the office--then changed her mind and made for the kitchen route back to the stairs. She glanced at me long enough to hold up her hand and explain, "I'm just going to go in a circle." Yes, of course you are.


Our friends Erin and Jay lent us Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code several months ago after they finished reading it. Susan read it immediately (and really enjoyed it), then gave it to me. Of course, I have zero leisure reading time during the school year, so it has sat on my desk for quite some time. Even the past two months as I've been tending to my summertime reading list, it has waited patiently for its turn.

Yesterday (well, Saturday of this past weekend--I'm typing this late enough on Sunday that, by now, it's probably actually Monday) Erin told me that her brother has been waiting to read the book, too, so I put it on the fast track to getting read! I spent the entire day today reading it and only just moments ago finished (with breaks throughout the day for meals, playtime with the kids, and the Sunday crossword with my wife, of course).

I really enjoyed it; more of my reactions are here. Perhaps more interesting, though, are the reactions of others to the book. The book came out in 2003, so there has been plenty of time for the Internet to fill with electronic records of various people's (and organizations') outrage at Dan Brown and/or his characters and/or the notions presented in the novel. "Novel" means a work of fiction, but some people apparently believe that Brown is offering the world of his novel as the truth about the world of us ourselves, his readers.

On one Web site, Amy Welborn consistently attributes the statements of the characters in the book to the author himself: "Brown says that . . . ," "Brown indicates . . . ," and "Brown's argument rests on the assumption that . . ." She makes a point of noting that Brown "holds no advanced degrees in religion." She criticizes the book as being "historically flawed." But it isn't history; it is fiction. Perhaps she is fearful that some readers will not understand that distinction themselves, and she hopes to dissuade them from reading the book as historical fact instead of as fiction. That might explain her authorship of the book De-coding Da Vinci: The Truth Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code.

But that wouldn't explain Welborn's own mistaking the words of the characters for those of the author ("Brown's argument . . ."). It may be that Brown believes what his characters do, but that cannot safely be concluded simply because he is the author who created those characters. Some of his characters are murderers, but we cannot assume from that that Brown himself is a murderer or one who condones murder.

A more reasoned reaction comes from Ramon Jusino, whose review of Brown's novel acknowledges that it is a work of fiction (that Jusino enjoyed reading) and that the "decidedly anti-Catholic slant" of the characters/plot does "not mean that Dan Brown bashed Catholics," but does mean that "many people unfamiliar with authentic Catholicism may get a very negative impression of the Church since they might assume that all of the historical references are accurate and meticulously verified." I am not so naive as to dismiss this possibility; I know the varying levels of sophistication amongst readers. If I were Catholic, I, too, might feel a vested interest in getting my version of reality "out there" to combat the version offered by the characters in Brown's book (note: not by Brown himself).

A Google search will lead you to a multitude of other reactions to the novel, from news organizations, from religious groups, from art historians, from educators, and from "lay people" who have read the novel and been moved to say something about it (whose ranks I have just joined, I suppose). As interesting as reading the book has been reading the public conversation about it (via the Internet). Thanks to Brown, Welborn, Jusino, Moberg, and others, people are reacting and interacting, and a novel moved them to do it. I love the power of literature, even today, to capture people's attention and spur them to action.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Emmy Nominations

Look at that beautiful woman featured in the photo to the right. She's CCH Pounder, the under-appreciated co-star of FX's The Shield. Well, this past week, she finally got appreciated a little bit--with an Emmy nomination for her outstanding work! You go, girl! Here are my faves from those who got Emmy nods on July 14 (the awards will be September 18):

Jason Bateman (Arrested Development)

Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle)

Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development)

Jessica Walter (Arrested Development)

Cloris Leachman (Malcolm in the Middle)

Arrested Development (FOX)

Kiefer Sutherland (24)

Glenn Close (The Shield)

Terry O’Quinn (Lost)

CCH Pounder (The Shield)

Lost (ABC)

Halle Berry (Their Eyes Were Watching God)

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC)

The Amazing Race (CBS)


Oh. My. Word. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a great book. It's been quite a while since the last book in the series (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), so I had really forgotten what it's like to read a Harry Potter book.

It's a bit like possession, I suppose. There's this drive to keep reading just one more page, just one more chapter before setting down the book and getting back to normal life for a while. Consequently, sitting down for a half-hour to read is foolish; it will always last two or three or six hours, depending on how urgent the demands of real life.

I read the 652-page tome in three (lengthy) sittings this weekend, in part by ignoring my family during the day and in part by staying up after they went to bed. It was worth it. Please read this for more details about the experience. (Don't worry; if you haven't read The Half-Blood Prince yet, it won't give away any plot points.)

If you don't plan to read the book, change your plans. You must read it. If you haven't read the previous Harry Potter books, read them. Check them out from your local library. Better yet: buy them to keep in your personal collection and bequeath to future generations. Go; do it now!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Kevin Moberg and the Half-Blood Prince

A few years ago, when the last installment in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of novels was released, my wife Susan and our friend Jen stood in line at the bookstore late at night to be there just after midnight when the store opened and the book went on sale. They arrived at 10:30 P.M. and stood at the back of a long line snaking its way through the Barnes and Noble parking lot. However, the next morning, Susan was shopping and saw plenty of copies of the novel at stores all around town. Hm.

So we were not planning to do any standing in line for the release of the most recent novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, at 12:01 this morning. But Jen's husband Curt asked me this week if this year was to be our turn to do the standing in line. I agreed to it; what harm could it do? We agreed to meet at 11:15 P.M. to get in line for the midnight opening of the store.

When I arrived, the parking lot was pretty empty, and the "line" consisted of about a dozen people. Pretty anti-climactic, especially considering the news stories about pre-release parties--literally across the globe--just jam-packed with people lined up for a copy of The Half-Blood Prince. Curt and I stood in line behind five teens seated on the sidewalk, talking on their cell phones, holding disposable cameras, and wearing the enormously round, black-rimmed glasses sported by Harry Potter himself. One guy even had a wand. The group had me take their photo a few times while we all waited.

That and my conversation with Curt kept me distracted so that it wasn't until close to midnight that I bothered to check out the line-up behind us. It was gi-normous! A store employee in Harry Potter glasses and a black graduation gown emerged riding a broom to goof around with people in line and help us count down the minutes until opening. When the doors opened, we streamed in (right past Laura, my friend who works there and gave me a buss on the cheek when I passed by), stopped briefly at a "free goodies" table by the door (where I got a green rubber bracelet and my own pair of black plastic Potter spectacles!), grabbed a copy of the book from a stack, and got in line to buy. I was out of the store by 12:15.

I had planned to come home and put the book on my wife's desk for her to read first. She gets through books more quickly and, besides, I have a few half-finished books that I should wrap up before tackling another. But I did manage to stay awake to read the first 100 pages or so (of 652 total). I don't tend to recall all the names and details of the previous volumes when I start a new Harry Potter book, so part of the fun of reading is re-meeting characters and re-familiarizing myself with them and their histories. Susan told me this morning that she will reread the previous book before starting this one, so I'll keep going with this, Book 6 (of 7). (I have a few students who spent the past couple weeks rereading all 5 previous books in preparation for Book 6!)

I wore my plastic Harry Potter glasses out of the store last night and saw one of my students waiting to get in the bookstore. She yelled out my name, so I got to talk to her and exhibit my pride in the goofiness of the whole event: the waiting in line late at night to buy a copy of a book that I could easily purchase the next day and that I wouldn't be able to finish reading that night anyway, and the participating in the mania of rushing the doors and grabbing the promotional goodies and displaying my Potter gear for the world (or at least the people in line behind me) to see. Silly . . . and fun.

My seven-and-a-half -year-old daughter is sporting the specs around the house this morning. She has neither read any of the books (or had them read to her) nor seen any of the movie versions, but she is looking forward to the day that her mother and I share them with her. (When will she be old enough? We haven't discussed it enough to have decided.) In the meantime, it's pretty cute to see her in the oversized glasses, pretending to ride a flying broomstick, and saying, "Haddy Poe Tah" in her best British accent.

I'd better get back to reading. Dumbledore has just dropped Harry off at the Weasley house and . . .

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Daughters in A DOLL'S HOUSE

Our friend Erin took some photos of the girls after one of our performances of A Doll's House. She un-colored them with her digital camera, so they appear as antique as the costumes and sets. Enjoy!

Hillary and Suzanna


Daddy and his girls


Abigail and Hillary


Abigail, Hillary, and Suzanna


Dancing Sculptures

I received the July issue of English Journal this week, and on the cover is a photograph of sculptor Richard Hallier's "Capriccio":

I thought it was lovely, so I looked up some of his other work. Some of his lifesize works remind me of my daughters, who take ballet and tap classes and break into freestyle dance at the drop of a hat (or the sound of a note). Check these out and see if you don't get inspired to move around a bit (or just appreciate the beauty of Hallier's work).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Straight from Google to My Research Paper"

I enjoy the convenience of an Internet search over a scavenger hunt through a library's stacks as much as the next guy. But when I'm looking for reliable information--perhaps when writing a paper for college--I know what to look for via the Internet in terms of credible sources (usually electronic versions of articles from academic journals in print).

I avoid using sites as reference sources that seem to be maintained by Joe Schmoes sitting in their dark basements making stuff up while scratching themselves amidst piles of moldy pizza boxes and empty, plastic pop bottles. (You're wondering, "How can he tell all that while sitting at his own computer?!")

And sometimes I need an actual, physical, three-dimensional book; the Web doesn't always satisfy my needs. Few of my students, however, would consider checking out a book as part of conducting research for a paper or other project. "As Lorie Roth, assistant vice chancellor of academic programs at California State University[,] puts it: 'Every single one that comes through the door thinks that if you just go to Google and get some hits — you've got material for your research paper right there.'"

And some of my students are not so discerning when it comes to finding and using Internet sites during their own "research." They use whatever sites appear on the first page of results from a run of an Internet search engine without checking them for validity, reliability, credibility, etc.

But now, colleges and national testing services are working together to do something about this situation! If technology is going to be a part of our lives and our sources of knowledge for academic work, then at least we should know how to evaluate the "knowledge" that technology purports to offer us, right? Read the article that is the source of the Roth quotation above.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Photos from Aune Family Reunion 2005

(click any photo below for a larger version)

The children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Olga (Aune) Moberg, June (Aune) Clark, and Bea (Aune) Wilson

And no, not everyone was in attendance! The Wilsons are in tan, the Mobergs are in blue, and the Clarks are wearing whatever they feel like! If you study the photos below, you can probably pick me out of the crowd in this one, too. I'm near the center, kneeling by my wife, who is holding my cousin's son in her lap. My sister's head is right under my chin so that we look like a mini totem pole. Find me?

These are the people with whom I spent last weekend: supper Friday night, brunch Saturday morning, children's games at my dad's Saturday afternoon, photos and supper followed by a program (I wrote a skit that my family and I performed) Saturday night, a fireworks display in Tioga, ND late Saturday night, brunch Sunday morning, church at Grandma's church in Battleview, ND Sunday morning followed by a visit to the cemetery where my grandparents, my mom, and other friends and family are buried.

It was a busy weekend, but it was great to see so many family members again. The next reunion will be in the Twin Cities in 2009, hosted by the Wilson branch of the Aune family tree.

Olga (Aune) Moberg's son Arlo (my dad) and his family

My family!

Standing, L to R: sister Cathy, father Arlo, stepmother Beverly, wife Susan

In front of them, L to R: sister Sandra, daughter Abigail, daughter Hillary, me (Kevin), and daughter Suzanna

Olga (Aune) Moberg's grandchildren (minus one: Darren)

The crowd doesn't look so intimidating when you exclude everyone but the first cousins: Grandpa and Grandma's grandchildren. Only my cousin Darren did not attend--and he lives just a few miles away and was home all weekend! To whom does this make sense? Not me. Anyway, there I am again, kneeling on the far right of the first row.

Olga (Aune) Moberg's children and their kids and grandchildren

We had our photos taken (by my stepbrother Dennis Jacobson, by the way) at the Aune family reunion this past weekend. This one is of my cousins, first cousins once removed, aunts, uncles, sisters, dad, wife, and children. My grandparents Olga (Aune) and John Moberg had six children. My dad, Arlo, is their second-eldest. In this photo he is standing--the fifth person in from the right. My stepmother Beverly is beside (and in front of) him--the fourth person in from the right.

Dad and my mom, Mary Ann, had three children. My sister Cathy is the eldest; she is kneeling directly in front of Beverly. My sister Sandra is next; she is next to Cathy and is on the end of her row. I'm the youngest; I'm five people in from the end of the same row as my sisters, being clutched by my wife Susan. We have three daughters: Suzanna (directly in front of me, pig-tailed, holding her legs), Abigail (directly in front of Susan, pig-tailed, her arms across her knees), and Hillary (next to Abigail, seated in a cousin's lap, pig-tailed, her hands in her lap).

Quite a brood, huh?!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Some Articles for You to Read and Ponder

Should teachers never record zeroes for student work that is not turned in? Read this article.

What are the dangers of not learning to write well? Read this article.

I'm not the only blogging teacher! Read this article and this one, too.

UPDATE (July 12): Here are some more examples of blogs in education: instructors who blog and who use blogs with their students.

UPDATE (July 26): Here is yet another article on blogs in education.

UPDATE (August 10): Here is yet another article on blogs in education--and it has links to further resources.

Independence Day Quiz

"A quiz?! I thought I was on vacation from school!!" Well, you are. That doesn't mean you can't take a harmless little quiz to test what you really know about the Revolutionary War, Independence Day, etc.

A friend of mine wrote on his blog that he wonders how many people really know what they're celebrating when the 4th of July rolls around. You can test your own patriotism by taking this quiz. Then, go to the library and check out 1776 by David McCullough.

Go! Do it now!