Wednesday, July 30, 2014

25 Years

When you're a month shy of 21, the idea of being married for 25 years is almost inconceivable. Well, maybe not inconceivable . . . but it sounds like a long, long time. Like a lifetime. Because it is, when you're a month shy of 21.
Once you hit that 25-year mark, it doesn't seem like it should have ever felt so inconceivable. It even feels like something you can aim for one more time. But it still seems like a long, long time. It's kind of hard, some days, to remember what it was like to not be married; it's so much a part of who I am.
Hubby and I have done SO MUCH in the past twenty-five years, it seems. Since we said “I do”, we've completed three college degrees between us, lived in eight different cities (five different states), and between the two of us, worked full-time jobs for seven different employers (not even counting the short-term work we did here and there).We had two children who are now nearly raised – and we even started the parenting thing relatively late in our marriage. We've been members of five different churches and regular short-term attenders at more. Hubby has played on innumerable softball and basketball teams. I've performed in innumerable music and drama productions. We have friends all over the country.
Wow. It's been a rich life.

It's been a hard life sometimes. Marriage is not easy. There were ugly times -- a lot of them. “Love will keep us together” is a lie. Hard work and sacrifice and sometimes pure stubbornness – and above all, the grace of God – is what keeps us together, because love (at least love as you know it when you're a month shy of 21) comes and goes. You need to love someone before you marry them, but I think you have to be married for a while before you learn how to Love someone, with a capital L, the Love that matters. 
And even then, there's no guarantee. Although I've known couples who loved intensely until the end, I've probably known more who have limped into their final years, hanging together just out of habit, or obligation, or convenience, or fear of the unknown. 
Lord, save us from that fate. Please. Teach us how to Love . . . with Your Love . . . until the very end.
Happy anniversary, honey. Here's to Loving forever and Loving well . . . until the very end.

Monday, July 28, 2014

What I Hear You Saying Is . . .

I don't remember the context of this, but the girls and I were talking the other day about how we wish the dog could text us while we're out. However, we know exactly what he would be texting us:
    Where are you????
    When are you coming back??
    Come home!
    Come home!!
    Come hooooooooooooome!!!!!!!!!
Yeah, it would be interesting to hear what the dog would say if he could talk. I often give voice to what it looks like the dog is thinking:
    Walk? Did you say walk?
The adorable mutt
    Ooo! Ooo! Ooo! Walks are my favorite thing in the whole, big, wide, wide world!!!
    Are you really going to take me for a walk? Are you really? 
Our dog is just so darn cute.
But it occurred to us that, if we could really hear what he is thinking, it would probably be something annoying. Like Stan, on “Dog with a Blog”. (You're not familiar with the Disney Channel series, “Dog with a Blog”? Consider yourself blessed.) Chances are, we look at Wheatly's overwhelming cuteness and attribute cute thoughts to him when he may very well be cussing us out or something. Maybe it's better that we don't really know what our pets are thinking so we can just assume they're thinking something that we like – then we like them better.
And wouldn't it be nice to be able to do this with people? To press the mute button so they can't talk, look at them, and assume that if they were talking, they'd be saying something nice that we agree with, so we can like them? But the fact is, I would probably see little disagreeable gestures or looks and jump to the assumption that I know that what they're thinking is mean and nasty and ungodly and deserving of contempt. So I can feel justified in not liking them.
I mean, I do that already. Don't you? I even hear the words that come out of their mouths and color them with the assumptions I've already made about the person.
When you think of it, it's entirely possible that our feelings about others have less to do with what kind of people they are and more to do with what kind of people we are. 
And good heavens . . . isn't THAT revealing.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Silly Colleges

Preparing kids for college makes us do stupid things.

This has been a conundrum for me this summer as I create my Freshman English class for this fall: do I teach them what they need to know for college, or do I teach them what they need to know for life? Because they are frequently not the same things, and they are often not even compatible.

Any teacher could tell you (and most average people off the street could, too) that standardized tests are a lousy way of telling you what a student knows or can do. Doing well on a standardized test only proves that you have the knowledge and skills required to do well on a standardized test. Yet, we require all students to do well on the MOMMA of all standardized tests before they can even get a foot in the door to higher education. Why?

People say that's because those are the skills they need to do well in college. But doesn't that just call into question the quality of what they're doing in college if the SAT whiz-kid is representative of what colleges successfully produce?

Final exams are in the same category. I would really like to implement the use of a portfolio to assess my students' learning at the end of each year. Much more useful, much more accurate, of much more value to the student, teacher, parent, everyone. Final exams, particularly as high schools and colleges have come to implement them, focus on bits of information as opposed to overall conceptual understanding. They provide only a snapshot of the student's performance at a particular moment in time, which may or may not be representative of their actual achievement level and certainly doesn't show any evidence of growth. They just stink.

But colleges give final exams, so my college-bound students need to learn how to cram ungodly amounts of informational bits in their brains to spit out on a scan sheet so they can succeed in college. Why?

My daughter had to memorize ten vocabulary words a week last year, words that were purportedly for SAT and college preparation . . . and many of them words that I, a word-fanatic English teacher with a master's degree, had never encountered in my life. Words that she, honestly, would not be likely to read again in her life. And words that she most certainly would never be using again in her life. But she has to learn them to succeed in college? Ridiculous.

And academic writing . . . good heavens. For my online course I'm taking this summer, some of the articles I'm having to read are the thickest, most nominalized, most ridiculously obscure writing I've read in a long time. But this is the way you are expected to write in higher academia. (My professor commented on one piece I turned in that I should rewrite lists with bullet points into paragraphs. Forget the fact that the list with the bullet points is significantly more succinct and clear -- clarity is apparently not the goal here.) So, I can teach my kids how to write for college, OR I can teach them how to write well.

And literature! To succeed in a college literature class, my kids have to be able to tear apart a novel into its various elements, analyze them all, critique them all . . . and I'm not arguing that a certain degree of such knowledge isn't beneficial. I can enjoy watching football much more when I have some understanding of the rules and the strategies and the skills involved in doing what the players are doing. It's the same with literature.

But good heavens -- we kill all the joy of reading! Most of my kids are not going to get literature degrees, but I hope they will be life-long readers. Life-long readers don't label and analyze the literary elements of a novel. They read it! They lose themselves in a story. They let it affect their minds and spirits. They talk about it with their book-loving friends. And they respond to it by changing their interaction with the world in some way.

Our students expend so much energy responding to a novel academically, they have nothing left to respond personally . . . if they even understand that a personal response is an option.

Why don't colleges shape up? Why can't they figure out that the way they do things is ineffective and impractical, so the rest of us don't have to make a choice between what is good for our students' educational future and what is good for our students' future?

Because, people, there simply isn't time to teach it all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Surprised in San Antonio

Our family has lived in San Antonio for a little over a year now. Last night, we were discussing some of the more interesting or surprising things we have discovered about our new hometown during that year:

- The need for layers -- in the summer. As incredibly and consistently hot as it gets here during the summer months (and lingering into the fall), if you are leaving home and going to be entering another building and spending any significant time in there, you need to take a wrap of some kind. Church, grocery store, restaurant, Target . . . it doesn't matter. They keep their indoor temperatures at refrigerator levels around here during July and August. Good heavens.

- Mediocre BBQ -- We have yet to find a BBQ place that knocks our socks off . . . or even one that just makes us really want to have BBQ for dinner tonight. They're not bad, just meh. Which is really a bummer when you're in Texas, for Pete's sake.

- The RiverWalk -- I expected it to be pretty. But seriously, every time I'm down there, I'm struck all over again by how truly lovely this stretch of land is in the middle of a major metropolitan area. SO pretty. And so well-kept by the city. It's enough to make me wish I lived downtown so I could just spend all my evenings wandering along the river path.

- The 90s are liveable -- It's not as humid in San Antonio as we expected; I guess we're far enough south and west in the state to miss the sweep of moist air that floats up from the gulf as far even as Kansas (where hubby and I grew up with hot, humid summers). And because it's relatively dry, the heat is relatively tolerable. If you're not exerting yourself too much, and if you're in the shade, and particularly if there's a breeze of any kind, you can be outside quite comfortably for any length of time. I enjoy sitting in our courtyard even in the middle of the day (well, I would if I wasn't a veritable feast for every biting insect in the county).

- Fireplaces still have value -- It actually does get cold enough in the winter to light a fireplace indoors. Once in a while.

- The taco vs. burrito thing -- This has been a controversy in my daughter's class all year. A certain taco chain in town has an item on their menu: beans and cheese wrapped in a tortilla. They call this a bean taco. And my daughter cannot bear this. That is a burrito. That is, in our experience, practically the definition of a burrito. And I've already written about the breakfast taco/burrito question. Yeesh.

- Spursmania -- Okay, admittedly, this may have only been a surprise to me because I don't follow NBA basketball. But good heavens, this place is Spurs-nutso. Especially when they are doing well at the end of the season, which they usually are. After watching some of the championship game they won this year, I understand the loyalty and excitement now; I may even get swept up in it myself pretty soon.

- Long ballots -- I think I already mentioned how I was surprised at the offices I had to vote for in the primary elections this year. Railroad commissioner? Seriously? That's an elected office? And one of the hot contests as well! And all sorts of other minor positions were on the ballot, too. I'm kind of bracing myself for the November ballot which I assume will be more thorough than the primary election ballot was.

- No basements -- Having grown up in tornado alley in Kansas, and having heard all my life about tornadoes ripping through cities in Texas (also part of tornado alley), this one threw me. Apparently, the ground is too rocky in San Antonio to dig deep enough for a basement. Nobody has them here. However, most of the houses we looked at (and the one we bought) have decent-sized "game rooms" on the upstairs floor. "Texas basements", they're called. Only they're of no use to you if a tornado comes.

- Texas pride -- Yes, we knew Texas was about being Texas. But sometimes it feels like Texas is ALL about being Texas. Lone stars everywhere, folks. If the state were to secede someday, it should surprise no one.

. . . And probably our biggest surprise . . .

- No cowboys -- Nor any southern accents. At best, I have one friend I can think of who has a bit of a drawl that she will exaggerate for effect on occasion. This is Texas, people! Where are the ten-gallon hats and big-hair ladies? Where is the country music and line dancing? Where are the cowboy boots? (Well, you do see some of those around.) Where are the "y'alls" and "ain'ts" and the "yee-haws"? I wasn't expecting to live in the midst of a hoedown, but come on, friends. We're in TEXAS!

Yes, but we're in San Antonio. Tamale country. More "holas" than "y'alls" around here. And that's fine. We like San Antonio. But I'm going to have to throw out a "y'all" once in a while.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blogging About My Excuses for Not Blogging

I've had family in town for a week . . . I've been working on my online class for my recertification . . . and hubby and I took an anniversary trip to New Orleans last weekend . . . all to say that I've had very good reasons for taking a week off from my blog.

The week break has, however, reinforced for me why I need to be regular about this blogging business if I'm going to do it at all. After such a busy and eventful week, I'm sitting here drawing a blank about what to write about. Well, not exactly what to write about . . . but how to find an angle to any of the things I have to write about that would make them something anyone outside of my brain would care to read.

I could tell you the ins and outs of the various family members who stayed in our house at various points in the last eight or nine days. There were seven of them, none all here at the same time. They came and went. Some of them I didn't see at all while they were here. But, you know . . . does anyone outside the immediate family want to know all that?

I certainly could tell you about my lovely trip to New Orleans with my husband -- three days in the city where he proposed to me, to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (which is actually not until the 29th) . . . doing an Urban Adventure Quest scavenger hunt in the rain . . . eating stuffed eggplant and etouffee at Galatoire's (where 26 years ago the waiter asked us, "How are you this evening?" and I responded breathlessly, "GreatI'mEngaged!!!" and shoved my ring in his face) . . . listening to a couple great jazz bands at Fritzel's for a couple hours sipping hurricanes . . . taking the street cars up to the cemeteries and through the garden district . . . stopping for Willie Mae's fried chicken, a Smoothie King smoothie, and a look through a public library branch in a very old building that was much more interesting on the outside than the inside . . . building a burger (with amazing chili bbq sauce) in a restaurant remodeled from a recording studio where Fats Domino, Little Richard and Lee Dorsey (among many others) recorded hit songs . . . sitting in Lafayette Park talking . . . eating candy bars in the St. James hotel courtyard outside our room . . . yeah, I suppose I could tell you about all that.

But do you really want to know about all that? Eh, maybe. But something in the retelling would diminish it in my mind, I think -- and this is one of those trips that I want housed in my mind more than I want it plastered on the internet.

I could tell you my thoughts about the Malaysian jetliner being shot down and the Israelis' firing on the Gaza strip . . . but I'm still too mellow from my New Orleans weekend to want to get all worked up about that.

I could write about all the things I have to do for the next month to get ready for school starting -- one month from today!!  But you couldn't possibly find that as exciting as I do.

I could write about the stuff I'm learning in the online class about helping students' reading comprehension . . . and some of you would be interested . . . but not many of you.

See, there's all sorts of things I could write about. I just suddenly don't know how to write them in a way that they will make any difference to anyone but me. I lost my mojo. This is what comes of taking a week off.

For a couple years now, I've committed to blogging every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This fall, I'll be teaching on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. I may have to let go of my Fridays. Maybe shift to Saturdays? I don't know, we'll see. But I'm determined to keep blogging regularly. I find that my brain needs to be forced to sift through its contents, determine what would be meaningful for mass consumption, and go through the exercise of actual, genuine writing. I'll be expecting my students to do a lot of this; it will give me some credibility if I can assure them I'm writing just as much as they are.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Octogenarian Newlywed

I don't know for sure how old my Uncle Jim is, but my dad (the eldest sibling) would have turned 91 yesterday, so Jim must be in his late 80s. And I just heard Uncle Jim is getting married.

Yeah, my jaw dropped, too. Except that he's my Uncle Jim, and he's just kinda like that.

He's been widowed twice before, so this is his third marriage. His bride (also in her 80s) was widowed three years ago, according to a news article about her that my sister told me about. She immediately decided to go back to college, printing up business cards to hand out to the students calling herself "Granny Franny". Someone even nominated her for Homecoming Queen. Sounds like the kind of lady my Uncle Jim would marry.

Still, it's hard for me to imagine getting married at that age. I mean, what exactly does marriage offer you at that age that you can't get just by being friends? I doubt they're marrying for the bedroom privileges (although, again, this is Uncle Jim . . . I can't quite bring myself to eliminate that possibility).

Is it terrible that I found myself wondering if there are financial advantages to tying the knot at that age? (Because it doesn't seem like there would be many . . . but then Lord knows I'm no money guru . . . )

Do they want someone to help take care of them as they age? That's possible, but they're both aging, so I don't know how reliable a help they'd be to each other. Plus Uncle Jim has been pretty darn independent his whole life; it's hard to imagine him needing to be taken care of. And Granny Franny doesn't sound like a fragile, needy little thing, either.

Honestly, why shouldn't somebody in their 80s want to get married? I assume they're getting married for the reasons people should get married: they love each other, and they want to build a life together, even if it's a relatively short one at this point. They're house-hunting in Topeka (house-hunting!), and my sister said he sounded VERY happy.

God bless them! I hope I have the energy to consider starting a new life path in my late 80s. I just hope I live to my late 80s.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Tempting New Theater Situation

My youngest is in the middle of two exciting and stressful weeks. She's doing Shakespeare camp at Crystal Sea Drama Company here in town. This is a theater program aimed mostly at homeschoolers; they have classes in various theater arts all day on Thursdays and perform two or three shows a year, I understand. We found it online when we moved to town and SO wanted my girl to be involved . . . but Thursday is a school day for her. No go.

But summer camps, she can do. And she's enjoying this one, even with the stress of memorizing lines from five Shakespeare scenes in a week. And I'm fascinated by this new theater (new to us, that is).

They have their own building. A great building -- a small theater, but quite adequate, tons of backstage and storage space, "classroom" areas, box office. How awesome to have your own building! No clearing out all evidence of your presence after every rehearsal so the church can have its space back. No lugging props and set pieces back and forth. Wow.

They have a huge stash of costumes AND a woman who makes costumes for them. She's making lots of beautiful new Shakespearean costumes for this week (out of Goodwill finds, my daughter tells me). A costume genius -- wow! What a joy to have on hand!

The director makes the kids help clean up the building every night before they leave; it's just part of the routine. In fact, taking the trash to the dumpster has apparently become a social event for the regulars in the group. Love that.

The director was asking about my drama experience and how I might like to get involved here . . . if I am interested in getting involved here. I told her the stuff she probably needs (techie stuff -- that's always what every theater needs) is the stuff I stink at. I mostly write and direct. "Well, actually," she said, "I'm the only director here and I could use someone to take some of that burden . . . "

My first thought was that I simply won't have time for that with my teaching load this fall. But a summer camp . . . that's a possibility. And then I thought some more. When we did our plays in Sioux City, we practiced two hours a week for four weeks, then added another two-hour rehearsal each week for another four weeks. A total of 24 hours of rehearsal for each show. For this two-week camp, they've met from 3:30 to 9:30 for nine evenings to prepare for two dinner theater performances. That's 54 hours of rehearsal time.

54 hours. I'm not sure I would know what to do with 54 hours of rehearsal time. Holy smokes! How cool would that be to do a show with 54 hours of rehearsal time! And a costume genius! And a building! And a significant budget! Oh my goodness . . . this is sounding quite tempting.

But for now, I'm anxious to see Shakespeare Comes to Dinner this Saturday night. And pay a buck or two to have the servers deliver Shakespearean insults to my husband. Maybe I'll even have him thrown in the stockade. Sounds like fun!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cell Phone Panic

My husband's alarm woke me from a very weird dream this morning. I won't describe it all (as if you're interested). It had to do with hubby and me going back to college . . . sharing a dorm room with no bed . . . never-ceasing rain . . . and some snotty cheerleaders trying to recruit us into their snot-circle. Weird.

But the key moment in the dream for me was when I woke up in our dorm room (I'd been sleeping on this chair thing we have right now in our game room -- it unfolds into a "bed", but I've had it since my real college days and it's pretty worn out -- I woke up thinking how am I going to sleep on this all year?) . . . anyways, I woke up in our dorm room and my husband wasn't there, and I got my cell phone to call him.

Only my cell phone was messed up. The screen had little dots on it which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be tiny holes. The picture on the screen was too dark to see and seemed to be fading as I watched. I had a vague memory of dropping the phone the day before, but it had been fine when I picked it up . . .

(My daughter's phone did something similar a few months ago. My brain has precedent for the concept.)

No problem, I thought. I'll call him on the regular phone. Only this "regular" phone was some absolutely bizarre contraption that I could hardly figure out, and once I did, I realized I didn't know my husband's phone number. It's saved on my phone.

And then the panic set in. Because my life is saved on my phone.

All my phone numbers. Passwords. Calendar. To-do lists. Everything. (Okay, in reality, my laptop has a lot of this stuff, too, but this was dreamworld and my panic was justified.)

I tried to stay calm. I tried really, really hard to stay calm. I tried to remember that I used to live life quite well without a cell phone, and surely I can do it again. But my mind was a-swirl, and I couldn't put two and two together to make seven, and since we were now apparently poor college students, I didn't know if we had the money to pay to fix my phone, and I was starting to hyperventilate.

That's when my husband's real-life alarm woke me up. The alarm on his cell phone, ironically.

I'm not sure what to make of this dream. There's nothing to make of it, right? Right. Just a dream. A brain fart. No message in there from my subconscious or the Almighty or anyone.

But I'm SO glad my phone works today!!!!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Dead Limbs, Lucille Clifton, and the State of My Soul

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:1-2
Yesterday morning, I decided to get out the ladder and trim a few dead branches I saw in a tree in our courtyard area. Once up there, I noticed more and more dead branches. Then I glanced to another set of trees at the side of the yard and saw work to be done there, too, so I dragged the ladder to that end of the yard and started snipping some more.
And more. And more. Small tips of deadness were revealed upon closer inspection as entire dead limbs. I was stunned at the size of the branches and how easily I could break them off when there was no life left in them. Shift the ladder again and again. More and more and more deadness. I kept having to shield my head from the wood falling down on me.
In college, I read a poem by Lucille Clifton:

at last we killed the roaches.
mama and me. she sprayed,
i swept the ceiling and they fell
dying onto our shoulders, in our hair
covering us with red. the tribe was broken,
the cooking pots were ours again
and we were glad, such cleanliness was grace
when i was twelve. only for a few nights,
and then not much, my dreams were blood
my hands were blades and it was murder murder
all over the place.
In my memory, those last couple lines were “death death / all over the place” . . . and those lines and that image were running through my head as I snapped leafless limbs from the tree branches above and around me and they came crashing down: “death . . . death . . . all over the place . . .”
And I wonder if that's how my Father the Gardener feels. He snips off one bit of deadness in my soul, only to reveal another. And another. Something that appears to me to be a small dry twig is in reality (as He knows) a monumental limb, branching off into many directions, entwining itself with other branches, even with other trees, requiring not just a simple snap but a hacksaw at the trunk, leaving a gaping, painful hole for a while until the healthy branches grow to fill in the space.
It shames me sometimes, this pruning. Death death, all over the place. But as Miz Lucille tells us, such cleanliness is grace.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

This Old Dog's Learnin' New Tricks

Yesterday, I started an online master's level course about Teaching Reading in the Secondary School through the University of Phoenix, something I need to do to get my Missouri teacher certification reinstated so I can get a Texas teaching certification. Three significant things I have picked up already in my first day:

1) Online learning is DA BOMB! I am loving this so far! Of course, I think some of the credit has to go to the University of Phoenix who was a pioneer in the concept and seems to have this all down to an art. Easy access to University Library materials at my fingertips . . . simple classroom set-up so I can find assignments, materials, and instructions easily . . . quick and efficient means to post completed work and discuss assignments with the teacher and other students . . . everything done on my own schedule . . . oooh! Ahh! I expect I'll find some things to annoy me later, but for now, I love it.

2) The "New Literacy" movement fascinates me and irritates me. Irritates me because of their
hijacking of the word "literacy". Literacy is supposed to refer to the ability to read and write. But now "literacy" is often being expanded to mean the possession of a set of knowledge about a topic. Being "technologically literate" means knowing a lot about technology, not just having the habits of thinking and reading strategies involved to pull information from technological sources. Language evolution sometimes makes a term more convoluted, I contend.

On the other hand, I much appreciate the idea that a general literacy does not necessarily apply equally to all subject areas and information sources. A student who is an excellent reader of literature can be a lousy reader of scientific text. Masters in the different disciplines approach texts in different ways, with different strategies, and those strategies need to be explicitly modeled and taught. I've always contended that I never did well in science because I don't think like a scientist -- and surely a great science teacher could have taught me how to do that.

Another fascinating aspect of "new literacy" -- that reading online media is a qualitatively different process than reading print media, and it requires, again, explicit modeling and instruction for students to do it effectively. I think I know this instinctively, but need someone to articulate it clearly for me to be able to do something with the knowledge. Looking forward to learning more about that.

3) I am SO out of touch with online and digital technology. I know how to use what I use, and that's about it. In my reading yesterday, I was introduced to terms like "wiki" (the word that "wikipedia" came from -- I didn't know there was such a word), "ning", "hyperlink" (okay, I knew that word but only vaguely -- couldn't have defined it if I had to), "webquest" . . . oh, my. And not only that, I can use these when I teach! I mean, not just find a website where some other techno-genius has set something up where I can send my kids to learn something. I can make my OWN wiki, where I create my OWN webquest where kids look at MY hyperlinks -- or add their own hyperlinks to show their understanding and connection-making . . .

Oh, oh, oh . . . the possibilities!

So, yeah -- I'm kind of psyched. Between this class, and my curriculum writing for the fall, and my having my daughters sitting around me most of the day to enjoy their company, this is a good summer.