Monday, April 24, 2006

Hispanic Literature

American Literature On-line Discussion

We've only just begun Sandra Benitez's Postmodernist novel A Place Where the Sea Remembers. Recommended related reading includes the poetry of Hispanic poet Pablo Neruda; and, because it's still April (National Poetry Month), we'll read some of his work as an accompaniment to the work of Hispanic author Benitez.

Visit this Web site. Find a poem you like and then post a comment explaining your thoughts about it--its title, why you like it, what makes it poetic, what it makes you feel or think about, what about it seems "Hispanic," etc.

But there's a catch: First, you must comment on whatever poem the person before you commented on! (Thus, do not choose a poem that anyone before you has already chosen.) Do you like the previous post-er's choice of poem? Why or why not? What does it make you feel or think, etc.?

To review: Comment on the poem mentioned in the post right before yours; then, choose your own poem to comment on.

Note: The first person to post will have no previous poem to comment upon and may waive that requirement!

(What's the difference between "Hispanic," "Chicano," and "Latino"? Start here.)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Our Own Amazing Race!

Do you watch The Amazing Race on CBS? Susan and I are big fans, so we were very excited to be invited to participate in our own "amazing race" in Grand Forks, ND tonight! We have several friends--married couples with children about our kids' ages--who get together every month for some activity. Often it's a family "game night" when the kids hang out together and play while the adults have beverages and play board games and talk. Sometimes we get babysitters for the kids and get together--adults only--for drinks and dinner, maybe a movie, etc. In February, we gathered at one couple's home for a more elaborate outing: an Iron Chef-style cooking contest. Tonight, one couple hosted and arranged a scavenger hunt/activity challenge--like The Amazing Race--that took us across the city of Grand Forks!

We were told ahead of time to bring a digital camera, a pencil, a flashlight, and shoes to run in. We arrived at Curt and Jen's (the hosts) house at 6:00 P.M. to enjoy soda pop and appetizers. We gathered in their living room around 6:30 P.M. to hear the rules and begin. Each team (married couple) was given a $5 bill, which was the total amount we were allowed to use for any and all purchases necessary throughout the night. Each team had to choose one member to do the food challenge that would begin the race; I was selected. We went to the kitchen to find four salad plates covered with soup bowls. When Jen said "go," we were to take off the bowls and eat whatever was on the plate. As soon as we finished, we could get our first clue from Jen in the living room. We uncovered the plates to find individual Jell-O molds of this recipe: blended lemon Jell-O and mayonnaise in which were suspended green olives, green onions, pimentos, celery, and dried beef. Although I have had this recipe before (truly!), I was not the speediest eater; there were four couples playing, and the husbands from two teams finished before me. The wife from a third team refused to eat it, so she had to take a penalty: wait 10 minutes after the last person finished eating it before proceeding to the next clue. And here were the clues/challenges in order:

#1 -- Deck It -- You must make a complete deck of cards from the pile. Put them in order: ace-king clubs, ace-king spades, ace-king diamonds, and ace-king hearts. If they are not in the right order, you will have to start ALL over again. When you complete this challenge correctly, Jen will give you your next clue. There were several decks of cards scattered face-down on the living room carpet, some with a red back and others with a blue. We joined the two teams already kneeling on the carpet sorting cards. It took a while because Susan and I assumed we needed cards all with the same color back, but Jen didn't appear to check for that when we turned them in. The other teams were very friendly and cooperative, allowing us to look through the piles of cards they had collected but didn't need. On the real Amazing Race, couples would have hidden any extra cards or at least put them face-down back into the pile to make their competitors' search all the harder. Jen gave us this note: Drive to the Ralph Engelstad Arena and meet Curt at the Sitting Bull statue. He will have your next clue. And we were off.

#2 -- Count It -- Count all of the green flags attached to the REA. Come back to Sitting Bull and tell Curt how many flags you counted. Count accurately, or you will have to recount or be assessed a 10-minute penalty for each number you are off to acquire your next clue. When Curt and Jen thought of this challenge, there were 40 flags flying from the REA; tonight, Curt got there ahead of us to find most of them removed! He saw only two above the front door and didn't have time to check all the way around the building before we arrived; we found a third on the north side, but that was it. Curt accepted "two" as an answer, because that's all he could see. He also accepted our answer of "three," because what did he know? Maybe we were right! There was much running around that monstrous facility, and I had to ignore my cousin Rachelle (a UND student), who was rollerblading there and probably thought it was pretty rude of me to run right past her without visiting! Susan wasn't very amused with the running and did plenty of walking between bursts of jogging. We left there still in third place.

#3 -- Santa or Snoopy -- Read both descriptions and choose to do one. If you are unable to complete one, you may attempt the other. Santa: Take photos of four houses that still have Christmas decorations in their yard or on the house. Lights count. Snoopy: Take photos of one member of your team with the following characters: Strawberry Shortcake, Ronald McDonald, Dora the Explorer, Darth Vader, and Barbie. The characters can be in any form, but it has to be the exact character. When you complete this detour, return to Curt and Jen's house to verify your completion of the task and receive your next clue. Because it seemed likely to take a long time to hunt for decorated houses, we decided to stop by McDonald's for a photo and then find the other figures on movie covers at Blockbuster. We were seconds behind another team pulling into the parking lot, posing in front of a poster, and leaving! We felt weird running into Blockbuster, posing for photos, and then running out without having bought anything--we didn't want them to suspect us of shoplifting! We were alone when reporting to Jen's, so we couldn't tell what place we might be in.

#4 -- Pick It -- Find a pick-a-mix distribution at a local store. Purchase .15-.20 pounds of candy. You must return the candy with your receipt to Jen at their house before you can get your next clue. We went to Hugo's, a grocery store just a couple blocks from their house. One couple was just leaving as we arrived! Susan spotted the candy bins, and we used a scale in the produce department to weigh some caramel candies. Another team was just arriving as we made our way to the aisle to purchase! We had to remove a few candies before buying because the scale at checkout was more accurate and showed that we were slightly over on the weight of the candy. I had to return a few caramels (I tossed them onto the scale being used by the third team!) while Susan paid. We left the building in second place, but the first team was returning, having to redo the challenge! It seems they had bought .30 pounds of candy and just eaten some of it on the way to Curt and Jen's! That didn't work; the receipt had to show the correct weight, so they returned to Hugo's and asked the clerk to let them re-buy the very same (albeit slightly lighter) bag of candy! That put us into first place! (And when we checked in, Jen said, "Oh, good, I like caramels.")

#5 -- Swish It -- You must choose one member of your team to complete this task. The next task must be completed by the OTHER member of your team. Choose wisely. You must make three of the five marked shots on the driveway. If other teams arrive, Curt will facilitate taking turns. When you complete this task, Curt will give you your next clue. We decided that I would do it, since I played basketball in high school and had done so again just the other night, in fact. It took a couple tries at each mark, but it went relatively quickly.

#6 -- Find Him -- Drive to the Memorial Union on UND's campus. Find Tony there. He will advise you of your next task. Once completed, he will give you your next clue. It took a couple loops through the Union parking lot to find a spot, but we were still the first team to arrive. We started at the information desk. I asked whether there was a Tony working, and the woman called the Union manager's office, who was not in his office (it was after 7:00 P.M. on a Friday, so that was a long-shot anyway). I then asked if she could use the public address system to page Tony, but she was reluctant to do that. So we went off hunting down males and asking them if they were Tony. People were caught off guard and probably thought we were retarded, but they were pretty polite about it. Soon, two other teams showed up and tagged after us--sassafras! We finally found Tony downstairs playing pool. The task that Susan had to complete (since I had shot the baskets) was to make a shot that Tony lined up: use the white ball to hit another ball to hit a third ball into a corner pocket. I pointed to where on the second ball she might hit, and she made it in right away. (She attributed her success not to me but to her genes, since her family has a few pool sharks in it.) Tony gave us the next clue.

#7 -- Drive It -- Drive to Wendy's on South Washington St. Find Jen and she will give you your next clue. We did, and she did. (Still in first place.)

#8 -- Hot or Cold -- This challenge must be completed by the person who did not attempt the first eating challenge. Hot or Cold challenge: Purchase a small Frosty or a large French fries. You must sit with Jen and consume the item you chose to purchase with no beverage. Try to do this quickly, as this could help you team get ahead. When you complete your task, Jen will give you another clue. Since I ate the Jell-O concoction, Susan did this one and chose fries. ALL the other teams caught up with us at this location!! One team ordered a Frosty, and then she decided she couldn't eat it, so they had to dip into their money for fries. On another team, the husband blew on the hot fries while the wife ate. The fourth-place team bolted into first because, although they arrived last, the husband consumed the fries in about three gulps. My encouragement for Susan consisted of telling her to hurry up because others were about done eating! We slipped into second place and got our next clue.

#9 -- Figure It -- Cryptogram: Finish this cryptogram. Do what it says, and Jen will give you your next clue. The cryptogram had a key telling what numbers represented what letters, but we were supposed to figure most of them out; it only gave us the values of E, H, and L--and here's the phrase we were given: _ E _ _ _ E _ _ H _ _ _ H _ _. It didn't take long for us to guess it: "Tell her that's hot" ("That's hot!" is an in-joke amongst this group of friends). I whispered the phrase to her, and we got our next clue.

#10 -- Ticket or Tickets -- Choose one of these tasks. If you fail to finish the one you choose, you may attempt the other. Find a ticket stub with today's date on it. OR Go to Happy Joe's and obtain 14 game tickets. When you have complete your detour, bring your proof to the Grand Forks Town Square, the finish line of the Amazing Race. Good luck! We left the parking lot of Wendy's just seconds behind the team that had been in fourth place all along. Aargh! Nerve-wracking. We thought of buying a ticket to a movie, but we didn't have enough money. Happy Joe's isn't too far south from Wendy's, so we went there and started playing games in their arcade in order to win tickets. It was going okay until the games stopped in mid-play without allowing us to collect our tickets or continue playing! We went to the front to report it, but instead Susan found an employee seated eating. She asked him if we could just have some tickets, explaining that we were on a scavenger hunt. He opened up a machine and pulled off the number of tickets we still needed and gave them to us for free. As we were leaving, and before he had shut up the machine, another team arrived! We raced off, and they ended up getting their tickets the same way--but without having to spend any time or money in advance playing the games. We drove to downtown Grand Forks where the Town Square is, swore at slow drivers in front of us, ignored my cousin Jeffrey (who called out to us from his motorcycle as he waited at a traffic light), and raced across the square to the stage at one corner where Curt and Jen were waiting with a rug, similar to the check-in mat that contestants of the real Amazing Race must stand on when arriving at the final pit stop. Jen said, "Welcome to Grand Forks" (a nod to the "welcome to . . ." that real contestants receive wherever they end up around the world), and Curt counted our tickets. Then, in the style of Phil, the TV show's host, he said, "Kevin and Susan, you are the . . . SECOND team to arrive." Then, from behind the back wall of the stage emerged the team that had been in last place the whole time, having had to wait 10 minutes at the start for not eating the Jell-O! They had arrived about 10 minutes before us because they had just stopped at a grocery store and bought a lottery ticket, giving them a stub with today's date. Clever. And it got them the win.

We all hid and re-hid as the next teams arrived, and it was a blast to hear the stories of their own races: where they had fallen behind, decisions they had made at each stop, arguments they had gotten into with one another, what they had guessed all along about the progress of other teams, etc. We had nothing but respect and congratulations for the host couple, who had gone through SO MUCH work to organize and carry out this event, which was SO MUCH fun to do!

We went to the Blue Moose in East Grand Forks for beverages and snacks afterward. Every team won awards of increasing value the better we placed. Our second-place prize was gift cards to a bottle shop and a craft store. We all agreed that our driving throughout the night was appallingly reckless. I sped, I tailgated in order to persuade more law-abiding citizens to move out of my way, I drove offensively instead of defensively. We saw police cars a couple times, too, but thankfully were not stopped. But we were in a racing spirit with one mission in mind: to win this amazing race! It was so fun, though, that I'm sure we'd all agree that we ALL won.

Theatre of the Absurd

I just love the theatre class I have this semester! It's a mix of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors--some who are artsy (music, theatre) and some who are athletic (football, wrestling), but all of whom are extremely talented performers. We just today finished our performances of excerpts from the absurdist play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. Absurdist theatre can seem to make no sense when reading it (and sometimes when watching it), so my challenge to them was to stage and perform it in such a way that it made sense to them and, as a result, to us as viewers.

They partnered up and chose unusual performance spaces, allowing the peculiarities of these "found" theatre spaces to influence their interpretations of the scene. They did just great. Two pairs used different areas of our classroom for their scenes. One pair had us join them in the courtyard in the middle of the school, then follow them as they wandered the corridors, delivering their lines as in casual conversation to one another as we walked behind them, finally ending up back in the courtyard beneath a giant tree just in time for their lines about a tree! One pair used to their advantage the constriction of the cramped space just outside the superintendent's office beneath the stairwell. Another used the two-story stairwell itself and its height and levels. Another used the elevator!

We ended the performances by going outside and standing on the 50-yard line of the football field. Lying in the stands on the west side was one performer; on the east side was the other. They yelled their lines at each other, gradually crossed the field and met one another in the middle, then continued until they ended up back in the stands on the opposite sides from where they started. It was bizarre to be in the middle of the performance space, and weird to have them yelling, but it really worked to emphasize the confusion and repeated lines by the two characters. And there was an interesting acoustic effect going on that made their voices echo and at the same time slightly amplified them. The overall effect was unusual, funny, and effective.

They all did a great job of deciding how to make nonsensical lines make sense for them and of using within the scene the features of wherever they were performing. Very fun to watch and see how they're learning the fine points of staging a scene and interpreting it and creating characters. Awesome!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hillary's Surgery

Today's guest blogger is my wife Susan, who took Hillary in for her surgery this morning and reports on how it all went:

I don't know that all of you know this, but Hillary had surgery today. She had PE tubes put into both ears--she'll tell you it was "because I had fluid in my ears and needed to hear better."

We checked in at 7:30 this morning and then went back to do the height/weight and paperwork. There was a little problem--Kevin had taken Hillary to her appointment last week, and the consent form said the doctor talked to "Hillary and her father." I couldn't sign the consent form. So they had to get Dr. Lapp to come in before his first surgery to tell me what he had already told Kevin, and then I could sign the form. We went back out into the waiting room and then immediately were called in to the pre-op room.

Hillary didn't have to wear a hospital gown, so she just climbed up into the bed. She got to put her shoes into a bag to take with her, covered up with the warmed blanket they provided, chose "grape" as the scent for her mask, and sang a couple of songs to pass the time while we waited. She was very excited about getting to go for a ride in the bed to the operating room--and she had her giraffe, Melvin, to keep her company. She gave me a kiss, told the nurses she hoped they'd push the bed fast, and was off.

About 20 minutes later, Dr. Lapp found me in the waiting room. The surgery went well. He first suctioned the fluid out from behind the eardrums--he said it had been there a while and was "thick, like pus or mucus." Isn't that a nice picture? Hillary will need to use eardrops for a couple of days to make sure that any remaining fluid doesn't plug the tubes.

About two minutes later, they called to tell me Hillary was on her way to the recovery room. I got there just before she did, and she started to cry a little and try to climb out of the bed when she saw me. Her first question was, "Where are my shoes?" We sat in the rocking chair for about five minutes, and she cried and whimpered. It was very sad. Then she threw up a little mucus--and then she asked for a popsicle! She ate her red popsicle, drank a little Sprite, and kept asking for her shoes so she could leave! Twenty minutes after she arrived back in the room, we were on our way!

We made a stop at the pharmacy to get Tylenol and her ear drops, then I took Hillary to Lana's [her daycare provider]. Hillary was very excited to show the other kids the coloring book that she got from the nurses about what happens at Same Day Surgery and the stickers she got for being such a good girl! She's also pretty excited about the free French fries from McDonalds that came with a "Certificate of Bravery" for her good behavior.

The tubes will stay in anywhere from about six months to one year and should come out on their own. Because the fluid is gone, her hearing will immediately improve--and I could tell a difference already when she was sitting in my lap. I whispered, "Hillary, I love you!" and she smiled and whispered back, "I love you too, Mommy!"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'ma Hurt in the Morning!

Tonight I went to South Point Elementary School to join other teachers from our district for another wellness activity: dodgeball! Well, actually, first I jogged several laps, then walked with a couple teachers several more laps. Then I joined a game of three-on-three basketball. Then, we moved into a game of full-court dodgeball. We meant business! It was very fun--quite the workout, too, incidentally. I think I'll be sore in the morning.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Impromptu Supper Invitation

This afternoon we got an invitation to join friends for supper. Spur of the moment. So we joined them for grilled hot dogs and brats, raw veggies, watermelon, and Long Island teas. The kids (ours and theirs) played together in the back yard while we sat on the deck and visited. Very leisurely, very fun.

Tomorrow is the last day of our "spring break" (Easter vacation) at East Grand Forks Senior High School. It has been glorious to have a few days off, and the weather has been so great that it has seemed like the first days of summer vacation. It might be a bit difficult to get back into the routine on Wednesday . . .

Independent Reading

American Literature On-line Discussion

Over the break, you have read a book-length work of American literature. What literary movement or "-ism" do you think it represents or reflects?

On our course page at, there's a greenish/brownish sidebar on the left labeled "Literary Trends" (scroll down a bit on that page). Use any of the links there to review the "-ism"s we've been studying. If you find out when your book was written, you might use that knowledge to help guess the literary period (e.g., if the novel was written in 2005, it's probably Postmodern). HOWEVER, you still must see if the characteristics of the literary period are present in the book you read (e.g., I could write a novel today that is, nevertheless, Transcendental and that has the characteristics of that time period instead of our current one).
  1. Tell us the name of your book and its author.
  2. Tell us the literary movement that you think it best represents.
  3. Tell us why. Provide some characteristics of the literary movement (the "-ism"), and demonstrate that they're in your book with some examples and explanations.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter!

What a beautiful day this was, weather-wise and otherwise. The girls got new Easter dresses and looked oh-so-cute in them for church this morning. Susan had to be there for all three services (8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 A.M.) because the choir sang, so we attended the first service as a family. The brass quartet joined the choir and the organ to fill the church with radiant music, and our new head pastor, Roger Dykstra, delivered a great, upbeat sermon. At two ends of our church, throughout Lent we have had displays made of floor-to-ceiling Styrofoam panels carved and painted to look like (very realistic) cave walls. The stones on each have been covering the openings, but this morning they were pushed aside to reveal an empty tomb but for a grave cloth and a potted Easter lily (yes, I just used the construction "but for"). Whoever decorates our church throughout the year does an awesome job. During "kids' time" in church, Pastor Marty had four boxes for the kids to open, the first three of which each contained an object that somehow symbolizes Easter (a plant, eggs, and a butterfly). The fourth one was empty, and he asked who knew why. Abigail raised her hand and offered, "It symbolizes the empty tomb that they found when they rolled the stone away." Yay!

The girls and I then went to Starbuck's while Susan stayed for the next two services. We drank hot chocolates and shared a cream cheese Danish and a chocolate glazed doughnut while I read the paper and started the Sunday crossword puzzle. Then we picked up Susan and went home. She started Easter dinner while the girls and I went for a walk. The weather was beautiful--about 74 degrees. We returned to a nontraditional but delicious Easter meal (that I had requested): paella, a Spanish dish of spiced chicken, sausage, and shrimp. It was superb, and the flavors were unlike anything that either of us ever ate while growing up. Susan is excellent about trying new and unusual recipes, and the girls are great about joining us in trying anything. Click here for the recipe. She served it with peas and multi-grain dinner rolls with garlic butter. Susan and I drank adult slushes (called California Hangovers--a recipe from her mom--served with Fresca) in lieu of sangria, which I thought would have been a great accompaniment.

In the afternoon the girls read and replied to all their Easter e-mails (from my dad and stepmom and my two sisters) and then played outside. We all went for another walk before supper, and the girls led us to the playground at their elementary school (just a few blocks away). We played there, and I played a little basketball with some of my students, who happened to be there using the courts. We had more paella and finished the jasmine rice pudding afterward.

It was a very full day but a relaxing one (well, except for Susan perhaps, who had all that food to make). It's been an excellent break so far!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Easter Vigil

Two highlights from today:

Susan made jasmine rice pudding for dessert with supper (we ate tacos-in-a-bag--yum!). Wow, was that ever delicious: jasmine rice, milk, cardamom pods, a cinnamon stick, honey, cream, egg yolks, and vanilla. We ran out of time to eat it right after supper because we had to get to church, but it was a super post-church, pre-bedtime treat.

The other highlight was church itself. We went to the Easter vigil that our church holds. It starts with a mini-bonfire in the parking lot, after which we process with lit candles into the darkened church. We hear traditional Bible stories (e.g., creation, Noah, God's rescuing his people from slavery) told in unusual ways, and the girls were in the "Noah play" performed this evening. They did this last year, too. A narrator retells the story of the flood while actors play it out in front of the church. A man in robes is God, and a boy and girl in Biblical garb are Noah and his wife. Our girls and a couple other children were in (very over-sized) robes and head scarves, too, and had their duties: carry baskets of food and pictures of animals and plastic finger-puppets of insects aboard the ark (er, set them behind the plywood cut-out of an ark propped up at the front of the church). Cute!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday Service

There was lots of crying at tonight's Good Friday service at Calvary Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, ND. Pastor Roger Dykstra, our new head pastor, brought this particular service with him from his previous church, and I gotta say: the man gives good church. All the windows of the sanctuary were covered in black cloth, and the lights were dimmed. They kept getting dimmer, and the candles were progressively extinguished, with each section of the service. Each section had to do with another part of Jesus' route toward death on the cross and consisted of a beautiful overview by Pastor Roger to introduce the reading of the accompanying Bible verse, which led into a singing of the "Agnus Dei" and a prayer . . . and another set of candles extinguished. Eventually, the church was dark except for a spotlight on one of the wooden panels above our altar--the panel that reads, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" Chilling.

The gradual movement into darkness and the hushed, contemplative tone to the readings and prayers were highlighted by the choice of music for the night. Several soloists, the choir, and a trio sang songs related to the events surrounding Jesus' death on the cross. The choir sang a song called "Agnus Dei" that featured our friends Kevin and Katie Brandt as soloists (and they did a good job). It pulsed with steady, surprising, and moody chord changes and was very moving. Our friend Allison Brooks sang a solo called "Why?" that left Abigail--sitting with me and Suzanna and Hillary in the pew (Susan was with the choir in the loft)--in tears. (She rested her head on Suzanna's shoulder, and Suzanna dabbed Abigail's eyes with a tissue--SO SWEET!!) The narrator of "Why?" is a little girl excited to ride beside her dad. They see Jesus being crucified, and she wonders why it's happening. By the end of the song, we get Jesus' perspective as he asks his Father why he himself must do this (die on the cross). God tells him to look at the little girl; she is the reason He must die. Allison captured the little girl's innocence perfectly and has such a gorgeous voice.

The final song, the trio's "Rise Again", had me in tears because the woman singing the low part sounded so much like Mom! I sat and wept quietly with my eyes shut in an effort to calm myself. Then I felt little fingers wiping tears away from my eyelashes and a tissue dabbing at my eyes. That made me cry all the more. People left the church in silence, authentically moved by the seriousness and sadness of the service. Pastor Dykstra certainly has a sense for the performance aspect and ritual of "church," and he capitalizes on it. Awesome experience.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hillary's Day with "Poppy"

I don't know why, but Hillary has taken to calling me "Poppy." She had plenty of opportunity to use that nickname today because we spent the entire day together, just she and I. I took Hillary to her 9:00 A.M. doctor appointment because Susan wasn't feeling tip-top. The appointment was with Dr. Lapp, who removed Abigail's tonsils last August. This time he recommended tubes for Hillary's ears to get rid of the fluid build-up that has reduced her hearing over the past several months. That surgery--a ten- to fifteen-minute same-day procedure--will happen in the morning next Thursday, April 20. It was fun to watch Hillary exercise her independence and confidence maneuvering around the four-story clinic and the many offices to which we were directed to report. She's unfazed by the prospect of surgery and enjoyed the smiles and attention from all the nurses and employees in each office. Pretty cute.

After that appointment we went to Target to buy some supplies. I tried on some shorts and a T-shirt, and she was so sweet helping me select something that would look good, and commenting on the fit of each garment, and offering to carry things for me. We bought a bottle of water in the check-out lane, and she had fun sharing that with me in the Explorer afterward. I love those little things--like sharing a bottle of water--that little kids still enjoy doing and think are fun just because they get to do it with Dad (or Poppy, as the case may be).

She was a very patient trooper after that when we waited an hour-and-a-half at Hansen Ford for some work to be done to the Explorer. We had only the bottle of water and out-of-date home-and-garden magazines in the sterile waiting room to keep us entertained, and she was very well behaved. Afterward we went to the Ground Round and had dinner. We had to control ourselves with the complimentary basket of popcorn that precedes a Ground Round meal. We shared a Buffalo chicken salad, and I was amazed at how much of it she ate. I could never consume the entire thing myself and, in fact, had a hard time finishing half of the monster. Hillary, however, ate nearly as much as I did! The server was shocked that a nearly-five-year-old would enjoy the spicy, spicy Buffalo chicken with, of all things, blue cheese dressing (gasp!). Sadly, so many little kids these days are such fussy eaters with such limited palates that I'm not surprised anymore when adults comment on what our children are willing to each (which is, basically, anything). I do enjoy that they're adventurous eaters, polite enough to try anything and experienced enough to enjoy a variety of flavors and foods.

Then we went to the Columbia Mall where Hillary helped me shop for instrumental piano music for my sister-in-law Cassie's upcoming wedding (for which I'm playing). Hillary took me into Bath & Body Works to smell the samples of perfumed lotions. We stopped by the pet store to look at the puppies, kitties, and fishies. We made a couple trips to the restrooms, whose remodeled "family" bathrooms have little kid-sized toilets that Hillary finds fascinating. We left in time to get to her 3:00 P.M. pre-op appointment with Dr. Funk (our family doctor, Dr. Gomez, is out of town). He let us know that she had to have lab work done as a prerequisite for receiving anesthesia for surgery next week.

On the walk from Dr. Funk's side of the clinic to the lab side, I asked her to recall coming to PRACS with me to watch me get my blood drawn. As we sat and waited, I had her practice putting "the rubber band" on my arm and drawing my blood, and she pretended to put a Band-Aid on me afterward. When it was time for her to get her own blood drawn, the nurses were so kind; I could tell they had a good demeanor for, and experience with, working with kids. They had me sit in the chair with Hillary in my lap, and I helped to support her arm. The nurse showed her the tiny needle that she would use, put the tourniquet on Hillary's arm, warned her that she would feel a mosquito bite, and directed her to look away. Both nurses were astounded that Hillary said only a low-voiced "ow" when they stuck her with the needle. Then she turned and watched the rest of the draw without a tear or a fuss--she was just sincerely interested in seeing how it was being done. They said they have never drawn a four-year-old who didn't cry. Hillary was a trooper!

Ironically, what did draw tears was the one unpainful part of the lab work: the urine specimen. When I forewarned Hillary that they would need some of her potty, she scrunched up her face with a look that said, "That's so gross!" She really didn't see the point, and she was a bit offended that they would be so intrusive about something as personal as her excretions. The nurse put a pan inside the toilet to capture the urine and left the covered bottle with me to pour the urine into. She also gave me a swab to clean Hillary's "bottom" (the nurse's choice of technical medical terminology, not mine; Hillary knows it as her "vulva"). The nurse left, and Hillary backed into the corner and wrapped her arms around herself. She didn't want to lower her skirt or be wiped or sit down or potty into the pan. I had had a bad feeling about this beforehand, anyway, because of her two trips to the restroom in the mall. Now, Abigail can pee at the drop of a hat, but could Hillary squeeze anything out just minutes after leaving the mall's mini-toilets?

I tried running water in the sink as inspirational background noise, distracting Hillary with non-urine-related topics of conversation, and coaching her with "You can do it!" and "Just be patient; it'll come!" Eventually, her face perked up, and she announced that she had produced the goods. It wasn't a generous amount, to be sure, and I worried that it wouldn't be enough for the lab technicians to use. However, it passed inspection, and we were on our way. It was very fun to have a Daddy/daughter day with Hillary, to hear her thoughts and her unique way of expressing them, and to be seen with her about town (vanity, thy name is fatherhood). And I think Hillary enjoyed her day with Poppy, too!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Teachers with Bowling Balls

I did some bowling for health tonight. Our district's wellness committee has organized several activities throughout April and into May to get staff active in fun, non-intimidating ways. Susan and I were planning to join the festivities tonight--bowling at Liberty Lanes in East Grand Forks, MN--but she came home from work with a fever and dizziness. She went to lie down, and while she was napping, the babysitter arrived. I finished supper with the girls, and Susan got up from her nap. She had hoped to feel better afterward, but she didn't, so she went back to bed, and I left the girls with the babysitter while Susan slept!

After enough people had gathered at the bowling alley for six teams of four, I was appointed a team captain, and we began taking turns selecting people for our teams. I took Paula Hedlund (who teaches a unit on bowling in her phy ed classes, for Pete's sake) and Kirk and Nancy Misialek (I teach with Paula and Kirk). We were--how shall I say this?--inconsistent in our performances. But who cares? It was all for fun, and it was, indeed, fun. There were teachers there from three of the four school buildings in our district (New Heights Elementary, what up?!), and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Upcoming events: volleyball, dodgeball, and running.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Recent School Events

Tonight was the second of two nights of spring parent/teacher conferences. I always enjoy conferences, and I think parents enjoy talking to me about how their children are doing, even if the news isn't all good. Many parents come already knowing a lot, anyway, since I e-mail out my students' grades very regularly, and many parents are on my e-mail list for their kids' grades, too. The spring conferences are always more lightly attended than the fall ones, probably for a number of reasons. However, this year's spring conferences had SO FEW parents, at least at my table. I had LOTS of time to visit with those who did stop by--usually about topics not even related to their children!

After school today I had my first meeting with teachers and administrators from all the buildings in our district on the Web site committee. A public relations committee was recently formed, and one of their concerns is our school Web site (last updated April 20, 2005!!). I am one of two teachers who will be trained to create pages for our building. The more people talked, the more it became apparent that we would probably be expected to update the site daily and, at a minimum, weekly. This is in addition to all our other duties, and it is strictly volunteer. And it has the potential to grow exponentially in responsibility as more teachers start to make use of our services and ask to have more things on the high school's Web site and to have it updated more and more often. What have I gotten myself into?! On the other hand, it will be a chance to get to know better Jacki Kliner, a new business teacher on our staff; she's the other high school teacher on the committee.

On Sunday I saw our school's spring play, The Boardinghouse directed by Ben Klipfel. It was short--less than one hour! It was also a little crazy . . . about crazy people, yes, but the characters were mostly cross-gender cast due to limited numbers of the right sex for each role, so some lines just didn't feel right; I could tell they were supposed to be said by someone of the opposite sex. Attendance was really, really poor. Friday night, there were 70-some; Saturday night, 40-some; and Sunday, 24. But I got to visit with some fun alumni after the show, so that was good.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I'll Be the Judge of That!

Last Saturday, I drove to Glyndon, MN to judge the speech contest for MN Section 6A's Subsection 23. Today, I drove to Alexandria, MN to judge the speech contest for MN Section 8AA. Both days were a fun return to the world of high school competitive speech. About 13 years ago, I was an assistant speech coach to Judy Sheridan, who was head speech coach and still is my English-teacher colleague at East Grand Forks Senior High School. About four years ago, I resigned from speech coaching after having spent about three years as head coach, following Judy's retirement from doing so. Since then, I have judged the occasional speech contest and one-act play contest, but that is absolutely nothing compared to the hectic schedule I kept as a speech coach. It's kind of fun to just show up--in my own vehicle, not a school bus--to judge. There is always food served in the judges' lounge, and the paychecks + mileage are nothing to sneeze at.

My schedule at Glyndon was to judge two rounds and a final. My schedule today was to judge three rounds, a semi-final, and a final! But I got paid more to do that today. Section 8AA competition is intense, because of both the students and the coaches. They're very serious about advancing to state!! I did hear some very good speeches today, including poetry in the final round, at which point all the competitors are the best of the best, having made it through three rounds and a semi-final. Storytelling in the semi-final was a mixed bag, and earlier in the day I heard speakers ranging from excellent to . . . um, shall we say "novice"? . . . in humor, prose, and discussion. Still, it was fun, and I got lots of thinking and public radio-listening done in the vehicle on the way down and back (about a two-and-a-half hour drive one way).

Tonight I got home and relieved Susan of parenting duties so that she could join some colleagues from Central Middle School (where she has been long-term subbing) for curling! That's the first of several activities sponsored by the wellness committee in our district, so Susan's going to go get well (and visit and eat snacks, etc.) by learning how to curl.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Poker with Da Boyz

Tonight I joined four friends at Buffalo Wild Wings for beer and chicken wings after work. They ordered their wings in flavors of sauce decidedly more spicy than I did. But I enjoyed my meal (boneless wings, shrimp, potato wedges) and my beers and the conversation. Afterward we returned to the home of my friend Jay, one of the guys . . . where, incidentally, my wife and children were hanging out with his while I was gone! Jay, I, and our friends Jesse, Rob, and Curt played some poker--all varieties. Now, Rob was basically the only one among us who knew how to play. That didn't stop me from betting irresponsibly and wiping everybody else out. Beginner's luck + the bravery that comes from playing with someone else's chips and not for my own money = a highly successful first night of poker with da boyz.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


After parent/teacher conferences tonight, I beat it over to New Heights Elementary School (just a couple blocks from the high school where I teach) for my daughters' music program How Does Your Garden Grow? It was cute, choreographed, and well decorated. The children played characters related to plants and gardening, and the gardener's name was Herb. You now have an indication of the tenor of the show's plot and mood!

In it, Suzanna was a scarecrow, and Abigail was a weed. The weeds had a fun breakdancing, funk-style number. Abigail had to dress all in green, and she wore a grassy-looking headpiece that she made in school. When she added her sunglasses for the dance, she was the coolest weed I had ever seen! Susan made Suzanna's costume by sewing patches onto an oversized pair of overalls, attaching a stuffed blue bird to her shoulder, and stuffing raffia into her sleeves to look like straw. Suzanna did well with her speaking lines, and she was honored to be asked to play the scarecrow in both the 7:30 P.M. show (she and Abigail's scheduled time) and the 6:00 one as a substitute for the sick child who was supposed to play the scarecrow then.

We usually take the girls to Dairy Queen for a treat following a music program or play performance, but since we knew it would be too late tonight, Susan took them there for supper and ice cream before the shows. My buttons were popping off my shirt with pride as I watched them on stage! I hope this is the beginning of many, many more nights ending in trips to the Dairy Queen . . .

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Talent Night 2006

What a resounding success!

This was the seventh (I think) annual Talent Night sponsored by the Drama Club at East Grand Forks Senior High School, and it was probably the best in terms of organization. It wasn't as well attended as the past couple years, but that's a misleading statement because the Performing Arts Center was still entirely full (the past couple years were over-packed--people sitting on the steps in the aisles). Organization was great tonight because we had so much adult assistance.

Also, it was the first year in which the Drama Club actually organized to help me; usually all the work, planning, and carry-out is mine in the name of the Club, and the students get all the benefit from gate receipts, which go into their activity account. (Bitter much? Nah.) This year, the officers arranged for volunteers who made buttons for performers and helpers to wear tonight (to show ushers who should get in free), and another set of volunteers to greet audience members, hand out programs, and help out backstage.

Several adults in the community and a couple teachers volunteered their time selling tickets, overseeing those in the house, and standing at the doors to check for tickets and prevent food and drink from sneaking in with patrons! Terry Waite, who traditionally has been our emcee, joined us again this year and did a great job again introducing each act and keeping the evening moving along. "Well, I know how to talk," he told someone afterward who complimented him on his emcee-ing skills!

Because of all the help (adult and student), everything went off without a hitch. The audience was mostly students, but they were much calmer this year than past years, and they were super supportive of every act--very well behaved. There were a couple of lovely singing/acoustic guitar-playing acts, lots of good singers, some comedy, and a couple bands. Another highlight was the showing of two student-made videos, both of which were hits with the crowd.

This past fall the Drama Club used some of their money from past talent nights to purchase a light board for the Performing Arts Center. Tonight's money will go toward restocking the account for a future purchase.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

National Poetry Month

American Literature On-line Discussion

We are now a couple weeks into our weekly student-led lessons on American poets. This weekend, I judged the category of poetry at a high school speech meet in Glyndon. April is National Poetry Month. For all these reasons, I've got poetry on the brain at the moment!

So let's kick off National Poetry Month with something poetry-related.

Visit the Poetry 180 Web site. It's a site intended to provide high school students with one poem to read each day of the school year. Find one that you like and then post a comment explaining your thoughts about it--its title, why you like it, what makes it poetic, what it makes you feel or think about, etc.

But there's a catch: First, you must comment on whatever poem the person before you commented on! (Thus, do not choose a poem that anyone before you has already chosen.) Do you like the previous post-er's choice of poem? Why or why not? What does it make you feel or think, etc.?

To review: Comment on the poem mentioned in the post right before yours; then, choose your own poem to comment on.

Got it? Okay, I'll start by commenting on one of the poems so that the first person to post after me actually has a previous post-er's poem to comment on! Here we go:
  • I really like the poem "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins because it captures pretty well something I have experienced with my own students in the past: their reluctance to let and just enjoy a poem instead of studying it and trying to "figure it out." In the sixth and seventh stanzas, Collins writes about students wanting to tie up a poem and torture it, beating it until it reveals to them "what it really means." I like that image of torturing a poem to get it to "confess" its meaning . . . and approaching a poem in that way usually does result in torture--for the student reader, though, not for the poem! I also like the many interesting ways Collins describes the act of reading/enjoying/experiencing a poem: as a color slide to see, as something to hear, as a puzzle to be solved, as a dark room whose light switch can be found eventually, and as a lake to ski across, "waving at the author's name on the shore." A good poem--even if its meaning is not entirely clear upon the first or second reading--can bring delight to the willing reader through its interesting use of language to express something in a way that the reader has never quite thought of before . . . and that's what Collins' poem does for me!