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.