Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

On a family trip to Italy on the Millenial year, after we saw the Sistine Chapel, the Hall of Maps, the courtyard with the enormous machine-like sphere, our family wandered through the rest of the Vatican museum, only half-paying attention.  In one of the glass cases was this very small sculpture; in my memory not more than a few inches tall.  It depicts Joseph pulling on the donkey while Mary, swaddled and very round, leans into the wind, shown by the cant of the bodies, the donkey's tail and Joseph's robes.

This small sculpture reminds me to think about Joseph and his devotion not only to his espoused wife Mary, but also to the cause of bringing Christ the King to his earthly kingdom.  He had to not only obey the law of the land in paying taxes, the laws of nature as he worked against the wind, the stubborn donkey, his Mary nearly delivered of child, and the laws of the marketplace as he tried to find a place for his family.

There are always those who are behind the scenes, pulling the donkeys forward, caring for others who remain the focus.  If not for Joseph's determination to do the right, the world might have shifted slightly on its eternal axis, tilting us off our Christ-centered mark.  May we all revere the Christ child in the manner of Joseph: shoulder against the wind, focused on the babe from heaven. 

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

Reflections on a Long Semester

This is what the semester felt like: me, surrounded by piles of papers, grading rubrics and my computer, dutifully marking comma splices, run-on sentences and loudly moaning to my husband as we compared the writing in our students' homework.  Other days I was typing away on the computer, dutifully creating assignments and worksheets and handouts day-by-day, week-by-week.

Some days I escaped, to the quilting and the cloth, and to trips with Dave or others.  But this semester, a new class I'd never taught, felt more like a ball and chain in many ways.  I felt so responsible. I was always trying to be at least a day ahead of my students.  I learned I hated my textbook.  Actually, I hated both of them, but doled out readings like some sort of medicine.  I was sorry I'd made the students buy them and tried to supplement with other books that I should have had them purchase, and interesting and challenging assignments.

This semester I also had Jonathan.  On the last assignment, I had them bring their paper and copies of all their sources in a manila envelope (his is above).  Jonathan was also known as Mr. Oh No.  Another friend had him the year before and when she'd hand back an assignment, he'd start keening "Oh! No! Oh! No!" at his less-than-stellar grade.  When I handed him back his paper today, he began keening again, whooshing in and out of the classroom if he was too upset (a coping mechanism for his particular disability), then finally storming up to me at the end of class and loudly saying "Okay.  Now we need to talk about my D+." I asked him to sit down until I had gotten through all the other students, and when finally I could talk to him privately, he immediately apologized to me for getting a such a bad score, for letting me down. Jonathan's words of apology caught me by surprise, reminding me again that he is at heart a nine-year-old boy in a man's body in a college classroom, trying his best to get his proverbial gold stars.

Today was our final exam day and this student came in bubbly and happy--the most animated I'd seen her the entire semester.  I used to think of her as zombie girl: lurching through the semester expressionless.  I wrote her this note at the bottom of her paper (which I think I took more time to grade that she took to write) to reassure that this time, her second time through this class, she would pass with a C.  She was still happy when she left today.

But now it's all done.  I've graded everything.  I tallied up grades.  I posted them on our electronic class site, and on Thursday, I'll upload them to Campus Central and move on to the next class.  I thought I'd feel something -- something more -- after finishing up.  It was a good class with some phenom students, as well as the others, including one of my C students who brought pizza for everyone in the class today.  

I'm wandering here, and badly.  If I were a teacher, I'd get out my purple pen and say "Focus.  Trim.  Edit."  But tonight I'm like my students, writing and writing trying to get at that elusive something I'm trying to say, yet knowing that I'll never be able to say it, but hope that the readers -- like some mysterious professor -- will sift my words, sort out the dross, find the gold.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Lights

I had purchased new blue lights to replace the older bulb lights that we gave away two years ago, and it took some remembering why we had done that (we were tired of them) so this morning found us finishing up the job started yesterday: clipping on the remainder of lights along the roof line and winding them around bushes and trees.  As I wound the lights around the hideous lavender bush (it needs to be yanked and replanted--one of the side effects of being that intimate with your front yard is realizing how long you've ignored it), I thought about the house across the street and the difference between her Christmas decorations and mine.

She has candy canes and gingerbread men.  I have strands of lights woven in among dying lavender bushes, the places where the strands join together carefully taped with silver duct tape.  Hers look great in the day, but disappear at night.  You should probably avert your eyes from ours in the day, but hey--in the night we really shine.  Literally.

It got me thinking about my day yesterday, with three doctor visits.  The first, to a dentist, started with me tripping and landing on all fours on the pavement outside in the parking lot.  I looked down and there were no holes in my new jeans, but hidden by those jeans, my knees were quite sore and achy, and my hands hurt although on the surface although they looked fine.  I think my ego was more bruised than my body, but still.

The next doctor was to schedule one of those loathsome every-ten-year tests. And the last doctor was the oncologist--a check up on last year's cancer surgery.  Sitting in waiting rooms gave me a chance to think about what goes on under the skin, physically.  I do spend some time in church thinking about what goes on under the skin, spiritually, and if my outward pronouncements and behavior match up with my desire to have a generous heart.  But to sit and think of the muscles, tissues, bones, blood systems, cancer and surgical scars is not something I usually do.  Or like to do.

It's kind of like my Christmas lights.  Even though we'd rather not, we have to open ourselves up to the harsh light of day to see the woody stems, prickly branches and dead spots. I realize that I'm lucky in that I don't have endless doctor's visits; these are sporadic events.  Yet they force me to think about mortality, about relationships -- all those Big Things -- as I wait for my turn to be called back to the exam room.

But I'd rather think about last night when I went outside to see what our handiwork had wrought: the blue lights were a slice of the heavens of blue and white stars in outer space.  I thought of that phrase from The Little Prince, by de Saint Expury, paraphrased here: What is essential is hidden from our eyes.  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  I know he did not mean that heart of the doctor's office.

So for now, for this Christmas season, although I am aware on those things that are hidden, I'm keeping my eyes -- and heart -- focused heavenward, on the glowing lights.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Feeling the *Old* Divide, again

The other day I was shopping for a lamp.

I wanted a floor lamp that my husband and I could read by, and in the old language, I needed at least 100 watts of light.

This is where I get all Republican-y and decry the government's intrusion into my life.  They are replacing all the lightbulbs because someone has deemed them awful and wasteful and they need to go.  I do have a pack of 100-watters sitting out in my garage, no, make that two packs, because you can't buy those anymore--they're gone gone gone from the shelves.   But, I digress.

I talked to the young woman (maybe 20 years old?) at IKEA.  She had no clue.  I asked her if they had lamps that could take the equivalent of 100-watt lightbulbs.  She nodded and jumped on the computer in front of her, typing, pulling faces, typing.  I stood there like a doofus while her fingers clattered away.

"No," she finally said.  "We don't have any 100-watt lightbulbs."
"I know that, " I said in an even tone, but firm, voice.  "I want a lamp that will have the equivalent of 100-watts of light."
"Well, you don't have to yell at me."
 I convinced her to walk away from her keyboard and come help me.  But she wasn't any help at all, only lifting up tags to read them.  She knew less than I did.

(marginally helpful chart that I discovered much later)

Now I'm at Target.  Two very nice twenty-somethings.  Confusion.  The young man insisted that I couldn't swap out the lower bulb--13 watt CFL with a 60-watt equivalency-- for the 26 watt CFL (100 watt equivalency), otherwise you'd blow a fuse.  A breaker, even, when the surging electricity would short out the light.

He was most insistent on his theory.  I started to try outthink him, or at least out-talk him.  A breaker?  There's no surge of electricity.  It's all the same current flowing through the light.  I think it has to do more with heat, I said.  The higher wattage light will generate more heat and possibly melt connections.  Then I did something I thought I could postpone for a few more years.

"In the old days," I began, then stopped, horrified at what had just come out of my mouth.

But it was the old days, when the sockets that held the lightbulbs were metal and if you wanted a brighter light, you just went and got a brighter light and screwed it in.  And I remember even in older days there was ceramic sockets, and it didn't matter what wattage went in there.  Now we have plastic everything made in China and everyone in the world is twenty years old and their eyes don't need a lot of light.

Upshot: After a stop at another Target closer to home, I was able to buy a floor lamp that was adjustable (to go by the chair I'd just bought at IKEA), and had not one -- but three! -- lightbulb sockets, all the equivalent of 100 watts.

This aging business, as my mother says, is not for sissies.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Feeling the *Old* Divide

I think there is this divide between between being young and being old, or older, that starts to show up in strange and interesting ways.

While driving to school, I was listening to a younger woman on a radio talk show analyze the electorate, and she happened to repeat herself on a point she'd made earlier.

She then said, "Sorry to sound like a broken record. . . . player."

I realized then that she had no idea what she was talking about, that this cliche had lost meaning for her because in her mind, it was a broken record player that would cause a song -- or a bit of a song -- to be played over and over, not the broken record.  I figured she was about the age of my children, so records and record players would still be something she would know about.

She would not be like my grandson, who was completely stymied when I showed him a record and told him that it had songs on it.  And who was even more flummoxed when I told him we played it on a record player.  "What's a record player?" he asked.

I felt really old that day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Helping Hands

My sister Cynthia sent me this link. Thanks! My niece's husband is about 3:27 in the film.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Progress of Man

A French art collaborative is posting, day by day, different imagined versions of the famous Progress of Man illustration. Be warned: they aren't shy about swearing occasionally, but really, it's mostly pictures..  Dave and I looked at what they've gotten posted so far (up to 39 of 99 hoped-for) and here are some of our favorites:

Here's a  video:

And now you've seen the video, this last one is easier to understand:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shuttle Endeavor Lands in Southern California

I'm quite intrigued by Big Ideas, and certainly the space shuttle program was one of those.  So when the news about the Shuttle Endeavor going to its permanent home in Southern California splashed all over our pages, I read every bit of it.

 It arrived at LAX yesterday, and when watching the *video* from the Los Angeles Times, I loved how someone popped out of the cockpit and waved an American Flag.

Soon, it will be mounted on some sort of mover and taken through the city streets from LAX to its permanent home at the California Science Center. Dave and I are already planning a trip to see this, just like we did when they moved Levitated Mass, the giant rock on its own mover, to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA).  Another Big Idea.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Guido Brunetti Mysteries

I've been saving this distorted Grand Canal picture for a while (thank you, Google Maps) to accompany the recent list of Guido Brunetti mysteries that I've been reading.  Dave started reading them, getting in the mood for upcoming travels to Italy this fall, and I was jealous of all the fun he was having.  So even though I had a full plate of things to read, I jumped in.  Luckily they read quickly.  Quite a few people I know have read/are reading these: my sisters Susan and Cynthia, my brother-in-law Bruce, a quilter friend, and on Rick Steve's radio show this week, they were also mentioned.  As the woman said, "I may never travel to Venice, but by reading these, I feel like I have traveled there already."  Or something like that.

These little books are addicting.  I finish one, saying not another until I get the grading done, but after that, I find the next one on my nightstand (where Dave puts them after he finishes them) and dive into another.  I've been in Venice, these past few weeks, courtesy of Donna Leon.

Guido Brunetti is the Commissario of the Questura, the police department in Venice, and has two teenaged children and wife who teaches English Literature at the local university.  I can relate definitely to the wife-teaching-English-Lit part.

Here's what I've read, so far:

1. Death at La Fenice
2.  Death in a Strange Country
3.  Dressed for Death, also published in Britain as "The Anonymous Venetian."
4.  Death and Judgment, also published in Britain as "A Venetian Reckoning."
5.  Acqua Alta (one of my personal favorites)
6.  Quietly in Their Sleep, published in Britain as "The Death of Faith""
7.  A Noble Radiance
8.  Fatal Remedies
9.  Friends in High Places
10.  A Sea of Troubles

This last one is set on the neighboring island of Palestrina, and had me reading and flipping the pages at the end as fast as I could.

This summer I've also read (with my mother):

The Sense of an Ending: A Novel
Turn of Mind
The Buddha in the Attic
On Canaan’s Side: A Novel
The Shadow of the Wind
How It All Began 
I'm still thinking about On Canaan's Side, as well as Turn of Mind. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cushion Comfort

We went sofa shopping yesterday.  Let me rephrase that.  We stopped sofa shopping yesterday.  We began sofa shopping shortly after one of our grandchildren had a major diaper-leak accident on the current sofa, and that was coupled with the grape juice incident, to which was added the barf incident.  We had talked about it off and on, but sort of dragged our feet, waiting for our grandchildren to grow up a little bit.  Who knew you had to wait for that?  Dave is sitting on Option 3 of 4, all models found in the Crate and Barrel Store at South Coast Plaza.  (I refused to buy the prefab junk at Macy's.)

So after we'd sat down and up and down on the four different sofas, we talked about what fabrics were available to us in their Custom Upholstery Event.  "Event" is a misnomer.  It should read Custom Mark-Up-The-Price-Of-Your Sofa Experience.  I like the lines and the look of the mustard colored sofa, above, but obviously not the fabric.

And here we're trying out fabrics on the Other Sofa.  I couldn't make up my mind, but remembered my mother's refrain to "get a sofa you can get out of." 

We liked the fabric available to us on the mustard sofa, as we took to calling it.  We had about the perfect salesperson ever, patient, cheerful, and no high pressure to close the sale. It was time.  We closed the sale, chose the leg color (more decisions?), handed over the plastic card, signed the white screen.  She made up our little folder for us, and off we went.

Here it is from the brochure online (above).

Here it is in the front window as we walked out.  We didn't choose that fabric, but I do like the look of it.

Then we went out and looked at their corporate canned food drives in the mall.  I think the deal is that some corporation gets someone to design them a design using stacked cans, and they hit up collect them from their employees.  Above is a gnome and toadstool (?).

London Olympics and telephone booth.

Apple Logo.  Right near the apple store.

We had lunch, stopped by Chad's house to say hi to the family and to see Chad's new car, then headed home to the furnace called home.  I'm tired of this heat wave and ready for summer to go away, for my sofa to come (sometime mid-November) and for my front room to be magically redecorated to match the new piece of furniture.

Sunday, September 09, 2012


There's a sort of a shakedown that any new school term goes through, when the students are getting used to the teacher and the teacher is adapting to the new classroom of students, and generally by the end of this period, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.  This can be disrupted by reality knocking, and that's usually in the form of the first essay to come in to be graded.  Which happened this week.

The results, roughly:
Two A+ papers
Four A/A- papers
2 B+/A- papers
Two B papers
Bunch of C papers
One paper I refused to grade because the student didn't turn in the required copies of her source materials
Three papers I stopped grading because 1) either the student is trying to use another paper from another class to get by for this assignment and it missed the mark by a mile or two, or 2) the student never read the assignment sheet again after we went over it in class, relying instead on their brilliant memory, or 3) the student is clueless.

It took about 18 hours to grade this stack.  The B+/B/C/Redo papers I'll see again in about a week, for their mandatory re-write.  We'll see if the A papers want to do the same, but I'm praying that they won't.

I started working on this class the second week in August, about five weeks ago, and it's been a constant grind getting this baby afloat.  I've had a few hours here and there where I just refused to write another assignment, or blog post, or quiz and either did quilting, or stared at any screen (computer, iPhone, iPad or TV) for a while, candidate for Vegetable of the Week.

And finally, tonight, after taking this show on the road for five weeks, I feel somehow I might be just turning a bit of  corner.  Just gliding over a wee bit of a hump.  Just the tiniest bit of pressure escaping.

If that's the case, I guess I can lay that red pen down for an hour or two.  Maybe even a day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

I Guess I'm Really in School

The general attitude this week is "I guess I'm really in school now."  That applies not only to the students, but also to me, the professor.  I guess I'm really in school means that I'm used to dragging myself home on Wednesday night to stand in front of the refrigerator looking for something to fix for dinner, then calling Dave and saying, "Meet you at the Vietnamese place?"  Only this week I called him when I was at a dead stop on the 3-story flyover at the freeway interchange.  He told me it was "orange and red" all the way home, so to go back roads.  And then I said I'd meet him at the Mongolian Barbeque.

It also means we survived J's first experience at testing.  I handed out a pre-announced pop quiz (is there such a thing?) and within moments after writing his name, he started freaking out.  "Oh, oh, um, um" and squeaks and shifting and sighs.  I directed him to head over to the Disabled Students Office across the way to take his test.  As he got up to leave, the girl with the purple hair told him to hold out his hand.  He did, and she sprayed something on his wrist.  "For stress," she whispered. "Okay," he said as he sailed out the door.  Maybe I need some of that spray: I received word that I'll be evaluated this semester by one of the full-timers. 

Mr. Call Me Maybe student looked like he lost his best friend in class, sitting there morosely the entire time.  Maybe it didn't help that it was 81 degrees in the classroom.  The fellow behind him had three paper towels on his desk, using them to mop up the beads of sweat that never stopped once during the two hours of class, and occasionally running the paper towel all over his head to try and stay dry.

I gave an MLA test (review) and cut the usual edition by 2/3.  It still took some of them nearly 45 minutes to finish; I guess these are the students who are a bit rusty at this. Our color printer died, nearly, so we got a new one of those on deal.  I had trips to the Mammogram Shop, the Dermatologist's Shop, the X-ray shop, the Grocery Shop, the Gas Shop, Target Shop, where I got myself a nice new pack of colored pencils for annotating my nice new textbooks.  I rebelled against lesson prep one afternoon and sewed the binding on my Scrappy Stars quilt, just to get my hands on the cloth.

I invited everyone in my class to Dropbox, the online cloud storage system, not only to grab up some extra storage space for myself, but also because I'm tired of the dilemma where a student needs to print a paper but they left it on their computer at home and they're here and can they send it to me to print?  (No.)

The bigger panic, though, lies within myself.  I need to get these students from Point A on this shore to Point B across the river, and I am still crafting the boat they need to get in to make the journey.  I just don't know the material that well, and I wish it were on the tip of my tongue, rather than having that vague sort of recollection of having read something once that pertained to this topic.

Welcome back, everyone. Two weeks gone, sixteen to go.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

So Call Me Maybe

 I think the beginning of the semester is like getting a circus launched.  I'm the main clown.  It takes lots of applying the mental make-up, finding the right costume -- especially when my room's average temperature is 84 degrees -- and bringing energy to entertain the crowd.

Ah, welcome back.  I have J. in my class, formerly known as "Mr. Oh-No!" by my friend, as that was his (loud) response when she'd pass back a quiz.  Note to self: send the quizzes over and J. over to the Disabled Students Office (DSPS) to be handed back.  It's only Day Two, but I have to admit I've been charmed by the boy.  He's a giant fellow, sits near the back and goes in-and-out-and-in-and-out.  I think that's a coping mechanism and I'm not getting in the way of anyone coping with Critical Thinking.

I turned away five wanna-adds before class, and fended off another ten that first day.  I usually only take the first one in the classroom, and that was a mistake.  When I came home I found his earlier pleading email to me: "Dear Elizabeth" was how it started.  Um, not a good start.  Two days ago he wrote that he was trying to join the Marines and he'd be gone next week for both days.  He didn't come to class yesterday.  I'm done with him.

But the next student made it all worthwhile: the hours hunched over the computer getting their class blog up and ready, the writing of the assignments and hoping they get printed at Printing Services, the slavish attention to typos and errors (as I'm teaching an English class), among other things.  Our class met yesterday in the library, and they had several "computer orientation" tasks to complete, one of them being an email sent from inside their class (Blackboard) software.  I suggested when they send me that email, they tell me what a great professor I am, and how they'll work hard and earn an A, or how excited they are to learn about Critical Thinking.  But I started laughing out loud when I received the following:

It's going to be an interesting (and funny) semester.
For those who haven't heard this song, here's the US Olympic Swim Team's version of it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympics 2012

I've been watching the Olympics, like all of you, and if I don't get too tired (because the broadcaster always saves the most compelling for last) I actually get to see some of the events.  I re-watched the Opening Ceremony because I was stuck in traffic, coming home from the Quilt Convention.  Above are the "forged" rings lifting up into the air, a very cool visual display.

I also like the art that is generated by others, inspired by the Olympics, like these three pictures of athletes, working through their fractured universe (and they'd make a great quilt).  I'm sure Gabby Douglas felt like she was fractured after her glory night, unable to compete effectively for more medals.  Some one said they should have taken away her electronics, feeling like the constant Twitter feed was a distraction.

I feel like Twitter has become a brand to push, as I see segments about the "Social Olympics:" like who "wins" on number of Facebook fans, or who is "trending" right now on the twitterfeed. 

I forbade Dave to tell me the outcome of the Women's Beach Volleyball final, and sat there glued to my set as Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won the match.  I felt a part of the emotion, and didn't want the celebration to end.  And not once did I wish I could tweet about it, joining the endless scrolling of hashtags in comments.  It was my one genuine Olympic moment, as I have known the outcome of the rest of the events ahead.

Tonight is the close.  That leaves me only two years to gear up for the Winter Olympic in Sochi, Russia, with their quilt-like banners, which I love. Can I make these??  Better get stitching.

And P.S.  Sorry for adding back in the awful comment verification words.  There are some very persistent spammerbots out in the world.  I'll take it off when I shake them.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Friday, August 03, 2012

Summer's Over

I can tell summer's over by the fact that my eyes hurt from looking at the computer screen for too long.  A new course (Critical Thinking), two new textbooks--no, make that three--and I can't blame anyone but myself because I chose them all.

It would help if I knew what I was doing.

I sort of know what I'm doing, as I've lived with my Dave for nearly a quarter of a century and he encourages sharp, not sloppy, thinking.  And then there were all those years with my sisters at home: you had be on the top of your game, logic-wise, otherwise someone would trump you and you'd lose the squabble.  My parents trained me at the dinner table to think globally about a lot of issues and my mother can still hold her own in any political argument (speaking classically, of course).  And then there's those years of eye-rolling in Sunday school, when someone makes a connection with the barest strand of plausibility.  I can't forget the Letters to the Editor of our local newspaper, where we must have the highest crackpot population I've ever seen, and they are all busy writing letters.

In between the studying of the screen and textbooks, I've been doing wash.  We've just had Barbara and David and their family here, with a day visit from Chad and his boys.  I decided to wash the bedding from the mattress up, as Tom and Susan will be checking into Motel Eastmond in a couple of weeks as well.  We also saw Scott and his family this summer and now that they've all gone back to their lives, it's really quiet around here.

Summer's over, but not the heat.  Summer's over, and I've almost finished the cutting and pinning of the Lollypop Tree blocks

Summer's over, and it's gone too soon.

Monday, July 23, 2012


 At the end of June, a friend, Steve Cahill, had his final show before leaving UCR.  Here I am with Steve at the gallery showing.

Then, summer started with a visit from Barbara, and we trekked down to Orange County to go out to lunch with Chad.

We headed out to LAX one hot June morning for a trip to the Big Apple: New York City.

Peter and Megan came up from Washington DC and joined us for a couple of days.  Here we are in Times Square, during the East Coast heat wave. 

We went up to the Metropolitan Museum, where we took turns posing on the steps.

We had dinner at a vegan restaurant, then headed back downtown.

View from the Empire State Building that night.  It was fun to hang out with those twenty-somethings. 

The next morning we walked the Brooklyn Bridge, then headed to Grand Central Station for lunch.

Where we found my old favorite from when I went to NY with Barbara: Zabar's.  Peter and Megan left that night at around 6 p.m. and we headed further downtown to the 9/11 Memorial.

A beautiful and sobering memorial.  It always makes me cry--just like the Vietnam Memorial.

Another day Dave and I went to the underground garage flea market, near City Quilter, a quilt shop.

And one thing I wanted to see was the Guggenheim Museum.  I was surprised at how small and intimate it was.  I loved the building, and enjoyed a couple of the exhibits. 

 Our hotel was near the garment district, so I stopped in at M & J trimmings to oogle.  Floor to ceiling cases of trims and ribbons and all sorts of trimmings.  Amazing.

Dave and I went over to Times Square another night, where I saw the Naked Cowboy--from the back.

I fell in love with the UniQlo store.

Happy Fourth of July!!

Then back home to LA, and to our lovely home, where it actually felt cooler than what we had experienced in New York, with their heat wave.  
More on some of these subjects, later on.