Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Recent Miscellany RE: Daughters

  • While eating a sub sandwich the other day, Suzanna had the experience of biting into the bread and having the meat, cheese, etc., pop out the opposite end of the bread while she bit. She told me that the "insidings" were coming out.
  • A few weeks ago, Suzanna was working on a music theory exercise as part of her practice for piano lessons. I came home to find her pondering her theory book at the piano. She asked me for help, saying, "What are 'two-inds'?" Not knowing what "two-inds" were, I asked her to show me in the theory book. The page was teaching her about steps on the keyboard--particularly 3rds and 2nds, the latter of which she pronounced as "two-inds."
  • I came home from work last week to hear the girls engaged in much activity in the basement. I went downstairs and found the furniture pushed to the walls and Suzanna and Abigail in shorts and sleeveless T-shirts, wrestling! They were reenacting what they had seen the high school wrestlers doing days earlier. Hillary was involved, too. Her older sisters had given her one of their pink alarm clocks--with a second-/minute-/hour-hand face that she can't yet read--and told her to keep track of two-minute intervals (the time allowed in each round of high school wrestling). Hillary was also to get down on the floor (as the ref had done at the high school match) and check to determine whether one sister had indeed pinned the other's shoulders flat on the floor, and, if so, to call the victory for her. They were having a blast.
  • All three girls will perform in the musical Once on This Island (Junior) with Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, ND next week at the Empire Arts Center. The director asked Abigail and Hillary to play children (what else?) needed at the end of the play, and she asked Suzanna to play the younger version of a main character. Suzanna has lines and appears throughout the play, so she attends a few more rehearsals than her sisters. They're all excited, however, and seem to enjoy working with the middle schoolers and the production team. (The director works at our church and is a family friend, but she's the only person they really knew before joining the cast.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Appreciating Authors' Use of Language

American Literature On-line Discussion

You've read six Modernist short stories as a class, and by now you've probably also read a seventh of your choice (for the composition assignment).

From any one of the stories (your choice), locate a sentence or brief passage that you feel is an example of beautiful or interesting or well crafted language. Type out the sentence or passage in quotation marks, tell what story it's from, and then explain why it appeals to you. What's so great about the way the author writes that particular sentence? 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.

BTW, you've done something like this before. Review your earlier work here first, if that's helpful.

Monday, January 23, 2006


I have been attending several home athletic events this winter, at first due to being threatened (jokingly) with bodily harm by my students in those events should I fail to attend, and thereafter just because it's fun to see them involved in something they enjoy doing--besides being in my classes, that is! The home wrestling meets are usually held at the middle school, but last week Thursday, it was in the high school gym. I decided that was the perfect opportunity to take my wife and daughters to their first wrestling match.

I explained to the girls a little bit ahead of time just what wrestling is. Hillary told me that she had watched wrestling on TV with her uncle Nick a couple weeks ago. I can only assume that it was professional wrestling, which is, of course, not the same as high school wrestling. We found a seat in the bleachers and watched the wrestlers warm up. The girls had a lot of questions about the set-up of the gym with the mats, the chairs for the wrestlers, the location of the cheerleaders, etc. They were also curious about the wrestlers' head guards, warm-up sweat suits, and singlets.

When the first match began, Abigail was seated beside me, smiling and happily awaiting the start of the match. As soon as it began and the two boys began to attack one another, she began to draw back aghast, her face registering her dismay at the harm those two were apparently inflicting upon one another without interference by the referee or any other adult in attendance, for that matter. It took a few matches before she was convinced that wrestlers know how to keep from hurting one another or getting hurt, and that they are indeed okay following the end of a match.

Suzanna seemed okay with the whole process the entire time, and Hillary seemed slightly unhinged by it the entire time, periodically turning to face me, either to bury her face into my shoulder or simply to sit looking at me, in both cases to avoid having to watch the brutality out on the mat. Abigail, however, who had started the evening with shock and disgust, soon appeared to enjoy the matches and even cheered occasionally when a pin appeared imminent. By the last few matches, however, she had checked out. She buried her face in my lap at one point, looking up only long enough to say, "Dad, wake me up if something fantastic happens" before lying down again.

I don't know enough about wrestling to have been able to explain everything about the scoring or the referee's calls, but I was able to tell Susan and the girls some things that enlightened them as they watched. I don't know that they will add wrestling to their list of favored spectator sports (they much prefer to attend basketball games), but at least they have experienced it now and know what it is.

P.S. Abigail thought it was pretty gross to observe one boy's nose buried in the other's crotch during a particular wrestling maneuver. I'm hoping that will dissuade her from ever generating an interest in being a wrestler herself--because she did, in fact, ask me whether girls are allowed to wrestle.

Modernism, Part I

American Literature On-line Discussion

For this discussion topic, you would benefit from having handy the reading guide you completed last week on the essay "The Moderns" (that you read in the maroon literature book). If you don't have that nearby, you could consult this site or this site or this site or this site, too.

At this point, you have read the Modernist stories "The End of Something" by Ernest Hemingway, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber, and "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner.

Which one do you feel best exemplifies the spirit of Modernism?
  • You might refer to the three parts of the American Dream and explain how one of the stories shows, better than the others, that such a dream was not a reality for Americans of the time.
  • You might refer to the characteristics of Modernism and demonstrate how one of the stories displays more of them than the other two stories.
  • You might refer to influences on Modernism--such as psychoanalysis, national events like the Depression, international events like World War I, etc.--and explain how they are reflected more strongly in one story than the others.
Whether you agree or disagree with others who have posted before you, include your reasons. In any case, be careful to justify your choice. Why does your chosen story seem like the best example (so far) of Modernist literature?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Naturalism Revisited

American Literature On-line Discussion

First, a note about the previous discussion question: Simply mentioning something in nature (a rock, a hill, a flower, etc.) does not make a story Naturalistic. Puritans wrote about nature as a gift from God. Romantics wrote about nature as an escape from the evils of city life and civilization. Transcendentalists wrote about nature as a means for connecting with a larger life force. Gothic Romanticists wrote about nature as reflecting the dark forces in people (think of the rotting tarn, decayed trees, and eerie gases around the Ushers' house). Realists wrote about nature in vivid detail. None of these "-isms" thought about nature the same way as Naturalists, though.

To prove that the mere presence of nature in a Naturalist story or poem is of any connection to Naturalism itself, you have to look at how nature is portrayed in the work. Is it portrayed as an uncaring force acting upon the characters' lives? Is it shown as controlling the characters' fate no matter how hard they themselves work toward a goal? If so, then the author might be a Naturalist.

Take, for example, winter weather. The Romantic poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote his poem "Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyll" about the beauty of the world after a snow storm--how lovely the snow is lying upon everything outdoors, making wonderful shapes atop ordinary objects outside. That's not Naturalistic.

On the other hand, the Naturalist writer Jack London wrote his story "To Build a Fire" about a character who ignores warnings about severe winter weather and tries to hike in super-frigid temperatures, thinking he himself is in control of his own life. Nature thinks otherwise, however--or, rather, doesn't think about him at all. The man cannot survive the cold and dies before he can reach his destination. Nature is both a controlling force in his life despite his best efforts, and a part of a larger uncaring universe that doesn't give a hoot whether this guy lives or dies. Now that's Naturalism.

Given what you've already learned about Naturalism, as well as what I've just written above, consider this scenario: Pretend you've just read a story in which a man and a woman meet in a park for a picnic. As they sit outside eating, their conversation turns to their relationship, and they start to argue. At the beginning of the story, the sky is clear, the sun is shining, the breeze is warm and light, and the birds are singing. As the couple begins to argue, the sky darkens, the wind picks up, and the animals scatter. By the time the couple's argument reaches the yelling stage, there's a full-fledged rain storm happening.

Here's your question: Is this most probably a Naturalistic story?
  1. Refer to this site or this site--or any other sources on Naturalism that you can find--to help you come to a decision.
  2. When you decide (either "yes" or "no"), explain your decision--what helped you to determine whether such a story seems Naturalistic?
  3. If others before you have already said what you'd like to say, don't merely repeat them; add comments that will provide new insight, not simply rehash others' thoughts. Be sure, too, to disagree (politely) with others if you think they're off the mark with their reasoning or their conclusion.
  4. And, if you think the story is not Naturalistic, then what "-ism" does the story seem to reflect? Again, explain yourself.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Crane the Poet

American Literature On-line Discussion

Stephen Crane was an accomplished and widely admired poet as well as fiction writer. Read one of Crane's poems from this collection. (There are nearly 100 available to you, so please do not choose one that someone before you has written about.) Then, respond to the questions that follow (number your answers to match the questions below):
  1. What poem did you read?
  2. What does the poem seem to be about or seem to say, from your perspective?
  3. What features of Naturalism and/or Realism can you detect in the poem? (Click here to refresh your memory of those two "-isms.")
  4. What connections can you make between the poem and The Red Badge of Courage?
  5. What connections can you make between the poem and any others that classmates before you have written about? (The very first person to post a comment does not have to reply to this question!)

Sunday, January 08, 2006


You'll never guess what I'm doing. Unless you're one of the people whom I've already told, that is.

I'm taking the comprehensive exam for the doctoral program in educational leadership at UND. I'm sitting at my home computer because our cohort are the guinea pigs for the department's experiment: administering the comps on-line this year. We received no indication in advance of the possible questions, or even probable line of questioning, to expect. We were simply told to log onto Blackboard (an on-line "learning environment" where instructors can post assignments and resources, students can join discussion groups and check grades, and cohort students can find their comprehensive exam questions and deliver their answers to a "drop box") at 1:00 P.M. today to download the questions for the "short answer" part of the exam. There were eight questions from which to choose six, and we had two hours to type up our answers and deliver them electronically via Blackboard. They were due at 3:00 P.M., after which we had an hour off.

At 4:00 P.M., the "integrated essay" questions were available. We have 30 hours to complete our answers to two essay questions. They are due by 10:00 P.M. tomorrow. We should know the results in eight weeks.


Ringing in the New Year

We were back from our Christmas traveling one day (the 29th) when we hit the road again (the 30th). It was Suzanna's birthday, but we were making her share some of the focus with our friends! Susan's high school friend Audrey, her husband Chad, and their son Ethan were in Fargo, ND from Texas, visiting friends. So we took Suzanna to Olive Garden for a birthday lunch (joined by Susan's sister Cassie), then met Audrey and company at the mall so the kids could play in the dinosaur-themed playland while the adults visited.

Then we went to Media Play to buy some CDs for Suzanna, who received a CD player (from my sister Sandy) as one of her birthday presents. Then we drove to Harwood, ND (just north of Fargo) to have supper with our friends the Zanders. We usually stop there and spend the night each December on our way to Mandan and Dickinson for Christmas celebrations on Susan's side of the family. This past year, not having traveled that direction, we missed our annual Zander Christmas stay-over. This time we ate supper and opened gifts without spending the night. Now we MUST start an annual tradition of having the Zanders come to our house every summer--so that we'll see them more often, and so that Janelle isn't the only one doing all the cooking and cleaning for one of our get-togethers.

We were back in EGF for New Years Eve. That night we attended a party at our friends the Olsons' home. They had many couples with young children there, so it was . . . loud! The food (baked potato bar) was delicious, the kids had a blast playing, and I enjoyed participating in a darts tournament in Doug's office/bar downstairs! We got home in time for the girls to do the countdown to the new year at 10:00 P.M. ("It's the new year in Newfoundland and Labrador"), then sent them to bed. I then put in an appearance at another party (of adults, this one) in order to see my friend who recently moved to Chicago and was back for the weekend.

I was back before midnight so that Susan and I could crack open the champagne, enjoy some snacks, and welcome the new year. Here's hoping for great things in 2006!

Christmas on the Farm

This (now past) year, our plan was to host Susan's family at our home in East Grand Forks on Christmas Eve and then travel to my dad's farm on Christmas to spend a few days there. It turned out that Susan's family was not able to make it (but will the first weekend in February, when we'll have our "Christmas" together), so we had a quiet Christmas Eve with just the kiddies. We did go to my dad's on Christmas Day, though. My stepmother was with her ill brother in Bismarck, so it was just my dad, my two sisters (from Nebraska and Oregon), and my fam--another small-scale, quiet get-together. Mrs. Claus made scarves for the girls:

And Grandpa and Beverly gave personalized sleeping bags to the girls:

Here's a pic of the fam:

Here's a pic of my nephews Aaron and Ryan with their dad Ron, my brother-in-law:

Aaron, Ryan, and Ron were not able to attend, so it was truly a much quieter Christmas than many years past. Sandy and Susan took over cooking duties for the most part--and Sandy cooks much like my mom, so it was nostalgic to get to eat her meals. We had brought all the girls' snow gear for sledding, but at 46 degrees, there was no snow available in the pastures for such fun! We did get a chance to see my uncle Shine one day and my aunt Penny and her kids and grandkids while in the McGregor area. We also celebrated Suzanna's birthday early so that her grandpa and aunties could watch her open her presents.

Other than having some family members missing for the holiday, it was a pleasant Christmas--very relaxing and very family-oriented. We were at Dad's from the 25th until the 29th, on which day we left at 5:00 A.M. (yes, "A.M."!) to take Sandy to the airport in Minot. It turns out that her plane had been delayed in Bismarck the night before, so she wouldn't be able to fly out of Minot until close to noon, anyway! But we didn't stick around with her to wait for the late plane. We were in EGF by 10:45 A.M.--yes, "A.M."! We spent the day reorganizing our house to make room for the Christmas loot!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Realism and Naturalism

American Literature On-line Discussion

Well, it's back to business after a too-brief break. I hope you all had a great vacation and are refreshed and ready for the new year. We have only two weeks remaining of this semester, and we will spend them on Realism and Naturalism.

Click here to read about Realism. You need not read the entire page--just the bulleted list under "Characteristics."

Click here to read about Naturalism. Rather than read the entire page, read just the sections called "Characteristics" and "Themes."

Now, think of a book you have read or a movie you have seen that you think would qualify as either Realistic or Naturalistic. (1) Tell a little something about that book or movie, and then (2) tell what characterstics or themes of Realism or Naturalism you see evident in it, and how. Provide plenty of detail in your explanation so it is clear to any of us who have not read what you read or seen what you saw.