Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rounding the Bend

With a late Thanksgiving, the end of the semester is even closer. I was able to catch up on grading before the holiday. That was a wonderful feeling. Yesterday, I was able to not only download one class of assignments that had been turned in when they returned (they had time to do it BEFORE the holiday! ;-) )and even get it graded. Today, I just have to post the grades and return the papers with the "tracked changes". I also took care of some administrative paperwork I will follow up on with the department chair this afternoon. We have our annual division meeting with the provost and president and it should be interesting given all that has happened in the last year.

I'll do some more grading in my other classes this afternoon. And, hopefully, I can also get a head start on two other deadlines - getting courses ready for next semester and my annual performance report. I won't sweat the latter as much as usual given that last spring meant a huge downturn given my dealing with losing Mom. I am going to cut myself some slack. Plus, I doubt we get any raises for performance anyway.

I'm getting fired up about some writing projects and also a new curriculum consulting project. I love designing curriculum - sometimes even more than implementing it. And incorporating primary sources, flexibility, ELL strategies, and assessments will be fun - especially working with the person asking me to submit the proposal. Plus, I will spend quite a bit of the holiday break catching up on other writing projects I've had my eye on.

Hope your week is off to a good start.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I have a lot to be thankful for. But there will be a huge hole tomorrow without Mom there. I remember thinking last year that I had this eerie feeling that it would be our last Thanksgiving with her. Since losing her February 28, 2010, I have learned to listen to my gut much more closely. I am so grateful that Dad encouraged her to stay the entire holiday instead of going home early with Sam. She never liked that I wouldn't let her smoke in the house but I did try to accommodate her in the garage or covered closed deck, depending on her preference. I know that smokers don't realize the horrible smell their habit leaves behind and, with carpet, there's no way to ever truly get rid of it. I loved her dearly but not her smoking. The only good thing that came out of it is that I never even had an interest in smoking even when that was the "thing" to do. And I have to hold my tongue as I watch young women now smoking despite what we know it does to you. I thought it took 10 years off your life. Now I'm hearing it can be 15 to 20 years and with Mom's heavy habit, it was probably toward the latter. Too bad she didn't want to realize what a toll it took on her. But it also points to how some of us are more prone to addictions than others. And, maybe if I had ever started, I would have had just as much trouble quitting. Thank God I never did.
As I mentioned last night, I didn't get as much done as I wanted. And, I'm only here right now (at the computer) because I vowed to stay with this writing thing. It's the only way to get where I need to be.
When I was growing up, we always went to the cabin Mom and Dad built at the Lake of the Ozarks near Mom's relatives who always spent Thanksgiving there. I know we had Thanksgivings before the early 70s but I don't recall those. They used the kitchens in both our house and my Aunt Cova's next door. And there was always the kids table and I remember hating be at the kids table when I was older. I always wanted to be with the adults - they were a lot more interesting.
I can remember the fall leaves at the lake and playing in them for hours. And exploring the Ozark woods of mid-Missouri. And I remember Mom always being concerned (and rightly so) for the hunters that might mistake us for deer so we had to stay pretty close to the house. Dad had built us a tree house and that was fun, too.
Now I am so deathly allergic to poison ivy - or at least it feels that way. Now when I look around at the ground at the lake, there is poison ivy everywhere. I only wish I had the immunity to it now that I did then. I can't work in the dirt anywhere without Ivy Block and rubber gloves under my regular gloves. It took me awhile to figure out I was getting it not where I expected it - ie in the woods, but around the house. And since the steroid shots to get rid of the severe cases are definitely not good for bone density, I have to be even more careful. You can see, however, that I refuse to give up working in the yard. And I do miss getting my hands in the dirt.
Back to Thanksgiving. One year, one of Mom's cousin's wives (Cova's daughter-in-law) decided to do Thanksgiving at her house that wasn't big enough in Kansas City. It was chaos for everyone because the weather was bad and the children were underfoot and not in a good way.
And I can remember one year when we were still at the lake my Dad giving Aunt Tootie a hard time for bringing a store-bought pie. What was the point, he asked? (I agree! -even a bad homemade pie is better than most store-bought pies.)
It's been more years than I care to remember but, as adults, we started going to the Locarnis (who had been Dad's family friends growing up) for Thanksgiving afternoon. We ate before (or after, who remembers) the Dallas Cowboys played. In the early years, it was a matter of having too much good food to eat since Shirley was always a good cook.
After I built the farm, we started having our family Thanksgiving out here. I did a test turkey run on my cousin when he was down hunting and managed to make it work. I didn't like how my stove was impacted by overflowing candied apples so I only made those once and let Mom bring them - esp. since they could be served cold. And Mom brought the pies and doughdies and sweet potato casserole. I like sweet potatoes but not the ooey gooey with brown sugar.
Dad knows I can't do all that she did but I did make him some candied apples in Carthage and will make sweet potatoes for our "re-heat" of Thanksgiving dinner and he can take them home with him.
We have turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, jellied cranberry sauce (yes, canned) - it's not Thanksgiving without this ingredient, Heavenly Hash - also known as 5-cup salad, stuffing - another favorite, green beans with bacon and onion. I'm making pie and doughdies today. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Sunday, November 07, 2010

It's November

The election is over and we can now do more looking forward than looking back. There is still a great deal to "settle out" but I have confidence that Washington will do what it always does. Brownback will return to Kansas as governor and it will be interesting to see how he translates his DC experience back to Topeka politics, especially education and the economy. 

A friend is re-entering the workforce after being at home with the kids, doing an infinite amount of volunteering, and being elected to the school board. It will be interesting to see what path she ultimately chooses. Right now she is overwhelmed with the possibilities of what she could do. It's another thing we have in common, we like to do lots of diverse tasks and not just focus in on one. Most importantly, it keeps it interesting and we don't have to worry about getting bored.

I'm gradually learning to do little things for myself (old habits are hard to break). It actually does help keep me more sane. A friend pushed some buttons way too hard last week and learned that I just don't take that any more no matter how well-intentioned the original impulses may be. And it did feel good. Only wished I had learned that about 35 years ago but there is still time to add it to my bag of reality tricks in dealing with real life.

This is travel month but I have, in many ways, looked forward to it.  An important committee meeting with a new person at the organizational help who actually wants input from a diverse group of experts (I'm "user interface" meaning the average user not the expert user that already knows all of the descriptive terms surrounding what they are looking for.) 

Later this week is a national conference which will primarily be an opportunity to catch up with research colleagues. With enrollment this week, I could not attend the early part of the more formal research part of the process. Because of my new chair, I have been allowed to return to providing more assistance to colleagues in helping advise students and it will be a nice change from all of the preventable emergencies showing up at the door. In general, students are having more trouble understanding that the guidelines they've heard several times by the time they get to me really do apply to them no matter what other plan they might have. But, as I contemplate this, I think it is more societal that they are used to everyone else taking care of them. Given the fact that they will be responsible for a countless number of young people in a short time, we have to find ways to help them get to where they need to be before they enter a classroom as the teacher instead of the students. They may involve a few hard lessons for some but tough times sometimes call for tough love. If they can't handle some of these guidelines, they really aren't ready to be in front of the classroom anyway. The lack of jobs, of course, is a whole other issue we are trying to prepare them for but, again, they won't really internalize it until they literally smack up against it. Even people in their 30s and 40s returning to school seem to think there is an increasing demand for teachers but I feel compelled to be realistic with them and let them make the call. To be fair, by the time they get to me, they are already committed to the decision - especially regarding student loans - so I just have to do my best to help them get where they want to be.

I'll come early from this conference to head to a groundbreaking ceremony for the nation's newest presidential library. Given my interest in what presidents do after they leave office, it will be intriguing to see it up close and personal. 

Students will be turning in some big projects before Thanksgiving. Twenty-five years of teaching experience has shown that is it is a very good thing to get the draft version in and give them a chance to take a break from school (or at least a longer diversion) before they come back to it to revise and resubmit. Then, the end of the semester will be up on us.

On the personal front, it is still a roller coaster although I'm sometimes able to anticipate when it will get harder. We knew the holidays would be hard. And I have some associated guilt since I remember thinking "what if this is the last year we have Mom at Thanksgiving". I'm still working on banishing the guilty thoughts. She went out the way she wanted to - without causing too much trouble for anyone else. Dad is FINALLY (it's been more than eight months now) headed out on his big motor home trip. It will be good for him, especially after this week verbalizing how he's really missing Mom. I'm glad he realizes it won't be the same. Someone asked him if I was as good a cook as Mom and he let them know I'm better than most. They shouldn't have put him in that position in the first place, though. Mom was an unusually good cook in the first place and while I fare pretty well, his daughter's cooking is not his wife's. 

We're paring down on some of the extras Mom used to bring and one of them I made for him at his house - candy apples - since when I tried to make them for the first Thanksgiving I hosted, I ruined a burner on my new stove when the pan full of sugar overflowed. Not a good input factor to getting everything else ready to go - especially Tom Turkey.

That reminds me that looking for a turkey was more challenging than expected. Last year, I ended up with one with out the "innards" and, in my world, the prepared gravy packet just doesn't cut it - especially since Mom's showing me how to take the meat off the neck that her Aunt Bertie loved just can't be replicated by the gravy packet. So, in my search this year, I discovered that Butterball is "holding back" it's complete turkeys and is pushing a very large (can you say hormones?) breast that is packaged to look like the whole turkey. I have a feeling some holiday cooks are going to be surprised when they open up their almost thawed package. Apparently, they are holding the full turkeys back from the grocery stores to sell this "new product". Luckily, the smaller town grocery store nearby had a real turkey with giblets included. It's about 2 pounds bigger than I would have liked but I picked it up while the "gettin' was good". 

A few years ago, Dad mentioned that I would have "first dibs" at Christmas. Mom used to prepare the same large turkey feast Christmas Day - in addition to all the other Christmas responsibilities she had. He's gotten the message earlier rather than later that I will be happy to let my brother handle this one. As I anticipated, that means Dad will help him take care of it. But, as a friend told me, I can't work it all out for them. I can only set my boundaries. 

In fact, I would actually at some point like to travel at the Christmas holiday given all the great deals you can get. I do think, however, that we will have one more Christmas in the family home. After that, all bets are off. It is quite a big place for Dad to be all by himself. And it will be especially lonely without Mom this winter. 

I still find it difficult to offer him support without his shooting back that he is fine. But I will just offer occasionally - reminding him he can always call. I did remind him last week that although I really miss Mom, it is truly much harder on him. I think he just needs to hear that it's okay that he's facing a challenging time now. 

And I have to remember that I am, too.

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