Friday, October 30, 2009

Language and Consciousness

I just got finished grading causal papers about Frederick Douglass. I asked students to choose a strategy of slavery or escaping from slavery that Douglass discusses in his Narrative, and to explore the mechanism by which it either turns a person into a slave or a slave into a full human being, according to Douglass. Reading many papers about literacy, I began to think, as I have occasionally in the past, about how a pre-verbal child is not fully conscious, and to wonder whether this is true of adults or older children who are not literate as well. Language is such an integral part of who human beings are, that perhaps without the ability to read, as well as to speak, we are not really capable of full consciousness. Think of Helen Keller. I am sure that is an iffy and perhaps dangerously politically incorrect hypothesis, but it would be interesting to investigate. At least the quality of consciousness is different in literate people than it is in ones who are not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Torah Party

Last night a very large and jovial group assembled to talk and munch on the all too numerous goodies (including a freshly baked pumpkin banana bread, among other things!). We were discussing the last two books of Leviticus, Emor and B'Chukotai, extremely interesting and provocative portions.
Emor discusses the intricacies of the Jubilee year. I am sure all of you have heard of this idea before, the notion that every 50 years, income would be largely redistributed and the land would lie fallow. It is a sabbath of sabbaths, when all contracts are retracted, or the sellers get an opportunity to re-purchase all lands, etc. that they have sold in the previous 49 years. In fact, all contracts in the land of Israel would be temporary, as buying a home in Irvine entails purchasing rights to build on land, but not the ownership of the land itself. The price a person paid for something would be based on how many harvests they would hold this thing for. When the 50 years were up, the rights would revert to the previous owner, should that person wish to repurchase the thing.
Though it is a radical idea, very idealistic, there is some question whether and how it would work or if it were in fact ever put into play on a large scale. There are apparently Orthodox Jews in contemporary Israel who do act on it, but they are a small portion of the population. They live on specially designated frozen and canned food made just for these Jubilee years.
Shockingly, though Jewish indentured servants (debt slaves) had to be freed in these years (except for the women, who were sex slaves, and thus belonged permanently to their owners), all others who were held as slaves did not, even though the reason stated for this rule is a reminder of how God freed the Jewish slaves in Egypt, generally linked to the necessity of being conscious of how the stranger needs consideration. No one ever accused the tradition of being consistent or logical.
The second book was a gripping discussion of all the blessings that would ensue if the people followed the laws, and the many and detailed curses that would follow if they did not. I learned from this book that the ancient Hebrews raised forbidden animals, such as pigs, and sold them to outsiders in order to make money. Sometimes these animals would be given to the temple as pledges. Since no one in the community could eat them, they were probably sold and the proceeds went back to the Levites. Interesting.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

claiming my loss

Today I spoke to the claims person at my auto insurance, and I realized just how little I could tell about the accident. I didn't know what side of their car hit my car. I didn't even look at their car, and couldn't remember what make it was. Luckily, they wrote that down for me when we exchanged information. I didn't see the collision, just heard it. But I am so bad at directions and especially backwards! I may get nothing because of that although it was definitely their fault. I was out there in the process of turn, sitting still so I could look out for cars and shift to Drive, but not moving at the moment. There is no way this is my fault or even no one's fault.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Birthday Blues

Here it is Monday afternoon. I had planned to go shopping this afternoon, but yesterday, when I took my mom to look for shoes (found them too!), as I was pulling out of a parking lot, actually stopped and about to shift into drive so I could drive out of the aisle in the lot toward the street, a big ass SUV hit me on the driver's side back, right over the wheel. The woman in the car (she wasn't driving) tried to call it a wash, saying we were both backing out at the same time. But I wasn't moving when they hit me. They just plain weren't looking. I was there, as large as life. Their car sustained no damage, of course, only little bitty me did. They were moving, after all, and I wasn't, and their Acura was so much bigger than my car is. So here I am sitting in the house waiting for the claims adjuster to call. I may just leave. It should wait till they reach that guy and look at the car, and they have to come down here from Long Beach. What a drag! Thought I'd get it done right away, but that isn't going to happen.
No one was hurt, and I can still drive the car. It's just a huge drag.

Birthday Dinner

I didn't take any pictures at my birthday dinner, but I can tell you that we all had a wonderful time. Though I asked scads of people from yoga and elsewhere, only three showed up besides the three of us (yes! Jeremy DID get off work for once and come to dinner with us!). But it didn't matter because we all had a great time and really enjoyed dinner.
We went to a vegan Vietnamese restaurant in Westminster, and ordered lots of different sorts of things. My favorite was one recommended by the waiter--a plate of fried mushrooms--they seemed to be oyster mushrooms and possibly shitakes also, in a sweet/spicy dipping sauce. We also had vegan spareribs, a Vietnamese crepe filled with veggie ham and beansprouts, a noodle soup with veggie shrimp that tasted like gefilte fish, and other assorted delights. Even Jeremy, who was all set to hate the food, actually liked it and admitted to having a good time with a bunch of assorted adults. He was surprised to be treated just like everyone else. No one there talked down to him or asked him in that phony voice how school was. Though he was sure he'd be bored, he was friendly and engaged in the conversation and actually didn't prompt us to leave. When the time came, it was I who said we had to go so he could go meet with his buddies afterwards. When we waddled away, very full, we all felt good and ready to enjoy another year.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting Schooled

Last night, I turned down an invitation to go eat bbq because of a squeamish stomach (saving myself for today's vegan feast, my birthday gift to myself) and went to the movies with R to see a new film, An Education. I had read enthusiastic reviews galore about this new film, which tells the story of a young girl in either the late 50s England or early 60s... there was the song "A Summer Place," which I remember as early 60s, but there was also Audrey Hepburn updos and hula hoops, which might be 50s, and talk of "beatniks."
The main character was a 16 year old, very bright, very out of place in her boring striver's household and neighborhood. Her father, played by Alfred Molina, had to be one of the most memorably obnoxious characters I've seen in a long time, and seeing him captured the sense of being a teenager, simultaneously knowing very little, but knowing one doesn't belong here, among these boring and hypocritical walking dead adults. In other words, we definitely see the world through the eyes of the main character.
This girl, the brightest in her class, meets up with an exciting older man, probably in this mid to late 30s, who charms her and everyone around her, and predictably seduces her. How he manages that is hard to say, since he seems rather transparent to me, in his Humbertian way, but the young girl who plays the main character is a terrific actress, both in her innocent and experienced incarnations, and the screenplay is shapely and well put together, as is the film as a whole.
Go and see it before it goes away.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I have plans to enjoy this weekend, to do exactly what I feel like doing. I am between papers to grade. Tuesday the students will write essays in class about Frederick Douglass' narratives. Then I will help them choose an angle on their topics for their cause or effect analyses. From here on in, there will be lots more classes in which I will not teach a lesson per se, but will conference individually with students. Less prep, more time. But a change, nonetheless.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thinking Ahead

I don't think the clocks will be moved forward this weekend, but for most of my life, I was used to time changing to mark, as it seemed to me, when I was a child, the day of my birth. The end of summer and the official change of time to reflect the angle of light and shorter days always came during the weekend closest to my birthday on the 26th of Oct. I think that has changed, and it won't come till sometime in November, but in my head, it will always be this time of the month.
I am thinking ahead too to next semester's class. I am changing my curriculum, and somehow, will have to make an entirely new syllabus between semesters this time. I am anxious to move on to something new, anxious enough that it is worth the effort. This time it will be a class in adaption from literature to film. I have decided to make use of the textbook much more than I normally do, since this is a new topic for me, one I have never formally studied. That makes it interesting, if difficult. So when I am whining next semester, I'll have to remember it's totally my doing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hospital at Night

Last night, about 9 PM, just as my eyes were beginning to grow heavy and the desire to go to bed began to steal luxuriously through my body, the phone rang. When the phone rings at night, I always worry; is it Jeremy, in trouble or in need of a ride? Or, more likely, is it a family emergency, a problem with my parents?
This time, it was the latter. My dad, whom I had been talking with just a couple of hours earlier, as he cheerfully nattered on about his sudoku prowess, had fallen in the garden after dinner, and was now in terrible pain. I tried, in vain, to put off the problem until morning, but the caregiver insisted he had to go to the hospital, so, a bit afraid I wouldn't make it in one piece, I got into the car and went to his house.
When I got there, he was asleep in his bed, wearing his pjs. I thought I might as well go home again, or else bed down in the living room in case he needed me. I had brought tons of grading to do, just in case. But he soon woke up and began wailing. His back was really sore.
Despite warnings from us and from the physical therapist, dad had gone outside into the garden without his walker, using only his cane. He became dizzy when he turned his head too quickly, and when he grabbed a branch of the lemon tree, it broke, and he fell smack on his back. Luckily, he didn't hit his head, and he didn't feel any pain at the time, but later on, when he tried to lie down in bed, that's when it started. Naturally, he didn't tell anyone till then.
Angry and tired, I decided not to take him UCI, despite the fact that last time I took him to Memorial, they gave him the wrong medication, twice, and he had to go back to the hospital (UCI that time). I had sworn at that time I would never take him to Memorial again, but I was pretty sure he would be coming home, after an x-ray, and that's what happened. Only it was 1:30 AM by the time they released us. After a pain pill, it was easier to manage him than before, so I packed him into the car and took him home.
I said to my dad, who was half asleep, "You have rocks in your head, dad!" and he grew wide-eyed. "Where?" he asked, feeling his head with both hands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

State of Mind

If I ever needed proof that the way a person thinks makes all the difference in the world, I have it now. Last week I was frantic and anxious, at my frayed wit's end. I had 2 sets of papers from disgruntled students to grade, doctors appts. to take parents and myself to, and no yoga to help me make it through the days. After almost daily applications of intense yoga, finishing up the papers, and moving forward toward the next assignment in my classes, I feel so much better I'm almost a different person. Of course, the one set of papers was still awful--ever see research papers with almost no research? no works cited? I have! And I'm not looking forward to giving some of these babies back. My best student's computer died, and he didn't get a paper in at all, despite my giving him an extension of 3 days. He had a partial back up, though all of his research was gone (it was in virtual folders and not backed up). I hope he doesn't drop.
Oh well. I even wrote a poem, and you have the evidence in yesterday's blog entry! I feel like a person again. It would be nice to teach a workshop again, but in this economic climate, I don't imagine I'll get to do it anytime soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Object Description, a Poem

On Friday, as I have said, my colleagues presented their assignments for Writing 201, a developmental writing class. One of them was an Object Description assignment Lewis discussed. In the course of explaining what sorts of objects he encouraged students to choose for the topic, he said that they shouldn't choose something like the ocean because it is impossible to describe. Of course, I took that as a dare. Here's the result:
Object Description
for Lewis
He says the ocean can't be parsed.
Just when you think you have it nailed,
the angry green goes glassy pale
and all Caribbean, sublime, the blue
of sapphire skies or aqua pools,
the eyes of silent staring Siamese.
Or where the angler swims,
the purple bottom of the sea, the water's
bright with phosphorescent sparks.
Can a description ever catch
the essence of what changes?
Other things more sure than these
do not endure as long.
Drawn by the moon, the chameleon sea
takes on the shape and shade of air:
now topped by marcel waves,
now thrashing in its bed.
It cannot be contained.
Truthfully, the ocean's minted
every moment, every hour.
And this is why it charms the restless
mind, why probably we find
ourselves most present there,
loving what can't be limited
what must be made and made,
and consequently, never fades.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Doozy of a Day

My day started out beautifully. I always know that the time change is nigh when I sleep late of a morning and stay up later at night. It happens around mid October every year, when the morning light comes later, and I consequently sleep until past 7, like no other time during the year, even when I have been up half the night.
This morning I slept past 7:30, and in my dream, my son said, "Don't you want to get up? It's already past 7!" I don't know how I knew that. I didn't get up and look at the clock, and Jeremy is always asleep on weekend mornings, especially after sleeping till midnight, but my internal clock knows, I guess.
But I finally got up, ate a little, and went to Denise's Puna Daze workshop. These monthly yoga workshops replay classes Denise had with her own guru, Mr. Iyengar's daughter, Gita Iyengar, in Puna India, at the Iyengar Institute. They are notoriously rigorous. This one was just perfect for me. I felt wonderful after 2 1/2 hours of hard work, which helped me to put my anxiety about papers, etc. aside for awhile.
Following that though, the trials of the day began. I went to my parents' house. The caregiver told me that my mom needed diapers. To buy the kingsize package of diapers, we generally go to Costco, so that's where we headed, like all the other folks in Orange County, or a large percentage of them, I would wager. We shoved our way through the hordes, only to find that they did not have her size in the diapers. We bought a few items, after standing in a long line, and then my dad realized he had lost his hearing aid. We couldn't find it anywhere, though I thought he hadn't had it on when we left the house. He insisted I was wrong.
Then we stopped at Target, but couldn't get a parking spot because all the handicapped spots were taken by creeps without handicapped stickers. I stormed into the store and demanded that someone investigate this because I had had to leave my parents in the car, parked far from the store.
By the time I got home, I felt horrible again. The papers were still there, and I hadn't (still haven't) planned classes for the week. Some of the papers I finally got to were awful, showing me that students hadn't grasped anything I have said all semester about how to use sources or organize essays.
And the computer is worse than ever. But I am still here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday without Yoga

I am bent out of shape because I have not been to yoga class for three days! There has been too much to do. Weds. I was very tired and behind the 8 ball, with papers coming up, so I graded homework and tried to work ahead as much as possible and cleaned up a little, both in the house and on the computer, where I am having trouble getting the Internet, the printer, and everything to work together nicely. Since we got Cox and a wireless router, things are not the same. The applications are scowling at each other like kids in the playground about to start a fight, and every night, the spyware program or something else erases key components of the wireless and everything is a mess. Somehow, by afternoon, it's cleared up until the next morning. I think the computer is haunted.
Today, despite the student papers sitting in the corner and whining that I was not paying attention to them, I went to school for a presentation by my colleagues, including Lou! on writing assignments. It is always wonderful to hear what my colleagues are doing in their classes. It gives me terrific ideas and so much respect for what they are teaching the students.
As usual, there was tasty stuff to snack on, though I wish there had been something to drink besides coffee and orange juice. Water bottles would have been nice. But that's a minor point. It's nice to have anything at all! And I won the drawing, getting lots of nice whiteboard markers in a number of colors, Starbucks bucks, and other assorted things!
Lou told us about her first assignment, about Lars Eighner's essay "On Dumpster Diving." I had seen bits and pieces of it, but didn't have a full understanding of how she had put it together this semester. She turned it into a few assignments, including journal work, paragraphs, and finally a whole essay. I admired that because I have never known what to do with journals, though I learned about teaching first from a person who influenced me a lot, Charles Kay Smith, at UMass Amherst, a wonderful and very creative man who used journals extensively in that class and in his own comp classes. He wrote a wonderful Comp text that I keep around as a reference, Styles and Structures, based on definition methods. I still use his ideas all the time in my own classes today.
Smith was a biologist, I think, with a few graduate degrees, English among them. He had a restless, inquiring kind of mind, and was a terrific teacher.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Weird Day

Today was weird. First, there was an earthquake drill when I was in the Writing Center today. As Lou knows, that was deeply disturbing. It was a busy day, very busy. One student after another shoved papers under my nose, impatiently, jostling each other, and listening in to the discussions I was having with their friends. Then the canned voice I last heard when the campus was closed down during the fires a couple of years ago began bellowing words I didn't understand that turned out to be "duck and cover." So I did. The student I was working with and I went under the table and sat there. I didn't continue talking about his paper while I was there. It felt kind of like being 5 years old again, crawling around the feet of relatives at the family seder.
Then, later in the afternoon, I picked up student papers and a quiz from each section and let them out a little early so I could go to the reading at UCI this afternoon. Two fiction writers, young women who had gone to the fiction program at UCI 10 years ago or so, were reading from their work. They were both very good. The pieces they read were short, but the introductions, particularly the first one, were longer than the readings themselves. They were almost funny for that reason. It was hard not to laugh as the graduate student tried to outdo himself with praise for this writer and her stories. I guess he felt that he wasn't going to get a chance anytime soon to read his work the way she was, but he could at least let it be known what people were missing with his introduction.
On the way home, R and I wanted to stop for a fish dinner at the California Fish Grill, but there was the worst traffic jam I have ever seen on Culver. I got caught in the middle of an intersection near the freeway and prayed no cops would turn up to ticket me. It lasted all the way up to the restaurant and turned out to be a traffic light outage a block from the restaurant.
It blocked things up for miles in both directions.
I think I'm going to sleep better tonight than last night!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rainy Day Torah

We finally got the first heavy rain we were expecting. While I am concerned, like everyone else, about the places that burned and the possibility of landslide and floods, it is all the same nice to smell that rainy day smell and to sleep in a little in the darkness.
Last night the Torah group met, a smaller group than sometimes meets, and discussed a very dry portion of the Torah. What was interesting about it was not so much the text itself, which was mostly a rehash of formulaic prohibitions we had seen in previous parashahs, but the fact that there were so many and various levels of text woven around this one text. We discussed for a while the one narrative strand in the section, a short and disturbing story about a young man, product of a union between a Jewish woman from the tribe of Dan, rival clan to the Priestly caste who had written this text, and an Egyptian man. Their son was said to have blasphemed, uttered the name of God and somehow misused it. There is some question as to what that means... it could be he cursed God, or, as I wanted to read it, dared to utter the secret name of God that was meant to be said ONLY by the high priest and then only one day a year, on Yom Kippur. It made sense to me that the P scribe would use this opportunity to strike back at Dan for setting up its rival priestly caste in the Lower Kingdom, some distance from the rest.
For this serious infraction of the law, God declares that the boy is to be treated like the scapegoat we had earlier seen sent off to die with all the sins of the community on its head. The people laid hands on the boy and then stoned him to death.
The interesting thing, a member of our group with extensive experience in studying Torah told us, was all the contradictory commentaries on this story, which wove a conflicting web of extreme complexity around it, giving the family a context and history the original does not offer. Obviously, the story has captured the imagination of the rabbis through the ages, disturbed by its cruelty. They struggle to make sense of it, and of so many other things in this text. That is the most interesting thing of all about the Torah and the commentary that flows around it like a many branched, turbulent river.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The sky looks grey and rain swollen this morning, and I am hoping that the rain the meteorologists have been promising actually arrives. It's true that the parking lots around here end up looking like lakes in no time, and that my shoes always get wet and half-ruined, but the smell and feel of rain is wonderful, and I'm sure the parched ground and the patient plants on the hillside will also appreciate it.
Even though my closet seems full of irrelevant clothing at this point, I have not put everything away for the winter and taken out the winter stuff; I heard that it will be 90 degrees in a few days again, so I resolved not to be fooled by the weather this year, as I generally am.
The regular year has definitely started for the synagogue choir. We are done with our big job--high holidays--for the year, and beginning on the cycle of the rest. This year we're getting some "new" songs--some actually ARE new, some are recycles from years and years ago. Since I cannot read music, there is much for me to do to assimilate them, but it is welcome work. It is always a struggle for Shannon, the choir director, to find us this new music. Not that much is out there for us, as opposed to the nearly endless supply church choirs can find. We require our own resident musicians to write more, and I don't know if we have any in our midst right now.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Play On

Today, as I said yesterday I was going to do, I went to the theater at SCR's Agyros stage and saw a premiere called "The Happy Ones."It was a play about Orange County, of all places, Garden Grove, peopled by folks some years older than I am (it was set in 1975).
I am not sure I liked the play that much, actually, but the leading actor was appealing and set the right tone as a very satisfied guy with a family he adored, a successful business, and the idea that everything he did was golden. Of course, in a play someone with that attitude must be spoiling for a fall, and fall he did, when a young Vietnamese man hit his family straight on, going the wrong way on the freeway. They died, but the man who hit them lived, though he tried to kill himself afterwards, and of course, he and the surviving husband and father ended up becoming friends.
The man who had hit his family had lost his parents and his own wife and children to the war in Vietnam, and was, in his words, only "a ghost." This character's performance, almost entirely without affect for much of the time, reflected that belief. But the two men helped each other survive the tragedies that left them survivors.
The relationship at the core of the play was good enough to make it at least partially a success. But the peripheral relationships in the play, such as that between the floozy neighbor, a loud and annoying character in flawless 70s garb, and the main character's best friend, a Unitarian minister who wasn't really too good at his job, was too sit-com for its own good. I could swear I heard the laugh tracks.
It was as though the genuine emotion between the Vietnamese man and the main character had to fight to find a place, uncomfortably, in a shallow made for tv film. But it was interesting, and by chance (perhaps not by chance, since she probably got her ticket from the same person I got mine from), I sat next to a person from the synagogue who asked me a lot of questions. As a therapist (every other person at the synagogue seems to be a therapist, if s/he isn't a lawyer or doctor), she was good at getting things out of me. She ought to just come here and read my blog.

Two Places At Once

If I could be two places at once this morning, I would be at the synagogue taking part in a rare ceremony to commemorate the beginning of an exciting new adventure: the synagogue is having a new Torah scroll inscribed by a person who makes his living doing just this. This individual, a fascinating person I spent some time talking with on Friday evening after the annual Simhah Torah service, copies out the Torah letter by letter with turkey feather brushes and vegetable ink. He must copy every dot, every line, exactly. That is why, as he told us, ancient copies of the Torah, over 1500 years old, are preciesely the same as the very newest one, and written on the same substance--skins taken from a kosher animal.
This morning, everyone who attends will be permitted, with the guidance of the sofer, the scribe, to write one letter onto the parchment in Hebrew, adult or child. But I cannot come because my teacher, Denise, recently came back after a hiatus of 4 months, and is now teaching every Sunday morning at 10:30-12:00. She teaches so rarely, or, I should say, I can go so rarely to her lessons that I must go to this one, particularly since this will be another very busy week with several doctor's appts. for my parents and for me. So I need to get my yoga in to keep my hip in shape and my mind as well.
This afternoon, I will go see a play at South Coast Repertory theater because my choir-mate, Harriet, gave me a ticket for a show she was unable to attend.
So I will have a wonderful day, I am certain, but I regret not being able to do everything. The scribe assures me that there will be plenty more occasions that I can write letters in the new Torah and more over the year or so he is working on it, so I console myself with that.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Other Foot

When I was a little girl, my parents used to take me shopping to various malls every Saturday. Wandering through the labyrinths of Wannamakers and Gimbels, through their tight made beds shrouded with matching comforters and shams, the creepy mannequins, looking like the victims of torture with their clawed fingers and grotesque painted lips, I was supernaturally bored, so stiflingly out of my element at the age of 4 or so that I tried to create some excitement by ducking under the metal racks of clothing and not responding to my mother's frantic calls. Or, wanting to avoid my father's wrath, I merely stood in a stupor so profound that it almost qualified as an altered state of consciousness. I stood in the three-framed mirrors contemplating myself, wishing that for once, the person who appeared there could be someone entirely different, someone I had never seen before. When I stared into the silvery receding distance of the mirror, like a veil of mist, I would imagine that the substance of that world before me would soften and part, allowing me, a latter-day Alice in a suburban Wonderland, to step in. Funny how what was so uninteresting and ordinary on my side of this barrier could be so fascinating that I would wish to sever my ties to this world altogether to get to it.
Today, I was the adult, with my mother in her Other-land of dementia. She wandered through the aisles, her head cocked like a sparrow's, eyes not quite focusing on the gleaming bangles and watches in the jewelry department of Steinmart. Quite frequently, like a small child, she picked things up and wanted to stuff them in our basket, oddments, random clothes in no one's size,---generally hidious--sweet, unhealthy foods, expensive perfumes that I know she would pour immediately over her head if I bought them (something I know because I have bought them for her before, and have been asked, politely, by the caregiver, not to do it again because the powerful fumes almost made the caregiver pass out). Today it was a watch. She says her watch doesn't work. Of course, she has never told me this, so that I could get a battery for it. She just stuck it in a drawer and assumed I didn't want her to have a working watch.
So today I said yes to a bracelet watch with a turquoise band. My mother can no longer wear regular watch bands. She can't manage them because her hand shakes too much to do up and undo them. So I bought her a bracelet watch last year, and it worked well. Even though the watches at Steinmart were locked into their boxes and we couldn't try them on, I assumed that any of them with a bracelet would be okay. The chain ones are always too big--for me as well as her. Our wrists are like twigs. so that the watches flop about, threatening to fall off. The upshot of this is that I cheerfully bought this watch, put it on mom's wrist, and packed my parents and the purchases into the car. An hour later, I was home again, and the phone rang. It was my dad, sounding so sad that he scared me for a minute. "It's about Lydia," he said. "What's wrong?" I was getting ready to run back to the car, to the emergency room, or maybe it was too late for that. "She lost the watch." It was a relief. Probably even now it is lying in the back seat, stuffed between the cushions. Or maybe on the floor. I haven't gone to look yet, but I have to laugh, thinking that the shoe is now certainly on the other foot.

Parental woes

My parents are doing really well right now. My dad in particular is stable in his health, and after a bout of physical therapy, more stable on his feet than in quite some time. He initially turned down the physical therapy, though he had complained so much about not being able to walk well that I took him to the doctor, had CAT scans done, and this culminated in his doctor sending him to a spine specialist and referring him to a physical therapist. After struggling for days and hours to get the correct service (the same one that provides his at home nursing care to replace the urine catheter every 6 weeks), he turned down the physical therapist and I had to run after her and tell her to go anyhow. He now swears by her services!
As this suggests, to keep my parents in shape, I have to run myself down!
I took my parents to the doctor yesterday to get flu shots, and will be going for shots myself this Weds. None too soon, because my students are falling ill with the flu (probably H1n1) at an alarming rate, and are really really sick sometimes. I myself didn't feel well this past week, but fought it off with zinc, yoga, and hot tea as well as with lots of sleep and good, healthy food. The doc didn't have any swine flu vaccine though, and I am concerned. I will have to seek it out somewhere, and that will take more time and effort. I'm hoping the college will have it soon, and I can get the shot, as well as taking them and talking Jeremy into it. I give up on Richard. He is impossible to drag to a doctor.
I have to take my mom to the oncologist for her bi-annual checkup on Monday, so this is a tough tough week, with papers coming in on Thursday and the reunion from my college in Long Beach coming up on Saturday for picnic lunch. Perhaps I just ought to cancel that.

A Tale of Two Classes

I teach two sections of Writing 2, a class in research and argumentation. One of these sections is cooperative and has produced some really terrific papers. Though there are students who struggle, they try to do what I ask, and generally come to class and do the work. Some go way over and beyond the norm in their efforts to research the topic and write the paper, and there are some of the best papers I have ever seen in this section.
The other, however, is enough to give me conniptions. Again, there are some very intelligent students in this class, fully capable of doing the work. But they often don't, for one reason or another. Either they skip out on classes or on homework designed to prepare them for the papers, or both. And at this point in the class, halfway through the semester, they are consequently either without usable topics, unaware of how to research and use sources, or both.
I know it is not I who have not done the work, but I have to come into class and deal with this group of unfocused and unprepared students every class session.
It is true that the class is late in the afternoon, precisely in that part of the day when I, having woken up at 5:30 AM or earlier, am too tired to deal effectively with their questions. But in addition, we have just had bad luck. This class was the one with the really bad research session, and since then, students have not figured out how to research their topics, no matter how many times I sit down with them personally and show them how to do it or assign chapters in the books that will help them to do it.
At least one of the students seems to think I am trying to get out of doing my job, which is ironic because of the time I put into it. This student himself, although very capable of writing these papers (and actually a very good writer and intelligent person), does not seem willing to put in the time, so perhaps he is only projecting his lack of commitment onto me.
And there are behavior problems in the class, something I am not very good at dealing with. Knowing my limitations, I have avoided teaching the bottom level of developmental writing because there are frequently many behavior problems in there. No matter how much experience I have with students who have such problems, I am just not very good at handling them. That's why I have never wanted to teach high school.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Been Remiss, Excuse My Absence

I haven't felt much like blogging lately. The pile of sad research papers beckons and complications, such as my balky computer, which badly needs someone to come and empty out the trash and make it run decently again, make things difficult. Plus, I am feeling bedraggled because I am not writing and not reading outside of classroom stuff either. I need to find another wonderful book or two and revel in them as I did that last one. And I need to go to a good poetry reading and get fired up.
Perhaps going to the movies would help as well. I am feeling as if most of my time is being taken up with errands and tasks that do not include feeding my own desire for narrative or poetry. And it isn't a good feeling.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More Cooking

I am hoping that this shift toward the kitchen will mean a new spurt of creativity. Often when I am not writing, I cook instead. They sometimes are mutually exclusive, but I have a feeling this time they will not be.
Yesterday I was not feeling too well. After yoga and a student conference, I came home to hole up with drafts and wait for the cable guy who was switching the computer and phone to Cox. Richard is still angry at me for switching when the guy on the phone offered a very good deal. We have been burned before in the telephone department, and so he has concluded we should simply stick with what we have, but I didn't agree, despite his anger.
After grading, I was hungry, so I made another fall dish--my portobello mushroom pie, in a prepared pie shell. It turned out better than it ever has. I tried a few different techniques, such as mixing in the rice flour before I simmered the vegetables rather than after, and this paid off. The gravy was not gummy. I also put in less water than the recipe called for, and this worked also. It wasn't leaky or watery, as it is sometimes. I would have made my own pie crust, but I didn't have unlimited time or butter.
Here is the recipe for Tuesday's pasta:
2 lbs cubed and peeled butternut squash
2 handfuls of bitter greens--I used romaine, but any will do.
6 cloves of roughly chopped garlic
1/3 cup shredded fresh basil
16 leaves of fresh sage, shredded
1 large onion peeled and cut in chunks
1/3 cup olive oil
fresh grated pepper and salt to taste
1 full Tsp of brown sugar sprinkled over vegetables
Preheat oven to 450, and cook for 30 minutes, or until the squash is slightly browned and the greens are crisped but not immolated.
Meanwhile, cook bowtie pasta, drain, and mix with 1/2 cup half and half, vegetables, and, if desired, grated cheese.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall Dish

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day, so I was in the mood for a quick, delicious fall-type dish. I spotted just the one in my email, from a weekly feed from the NPR program "Splendid Table." For anyone who likes to cook or just to think about cooking and eating, this show is really terrific. There are all kinds of features, such as Michael and Jane Stern, who do their weekly "Road Food" discussion of interesting places they've eaten on the highways and byways of the US. They are entertaining writers and conversationalists, and I enjoy their books as well as their radio visits. There is even an occasional food-oriented game show, like the one where the host of the show speaks to someone with very little in the fridge and has to invent a full meal (judged to be edible by Chris Kimball of Cooks Illustrated) out of it. Sometimes the things in the fridge are bizarre, such as blue cheese, cauliflower, and capers, and occasionally, she cannot think up a dish deemed suitable to pass Kimball's muster, but she's pretty inventive, and it inspires me.
In one of her emails, the host (whose name I forget, obviously) recommended a pasta dish made out roasted vegetables--butternut squash cubes, onions, greens, garlic, crushed red pepper, and olive oil, roasted in a 450 oven for 30 minutes. To this, one just adds a 1/2 cup of half and half and (I didn't do this last) cheese. I don't eat cheese at all, so I left it out, but the dish didn't suffer for all that, in my mind. I served it over bowtie noodles. Delicious!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Not hysterically busy for once

This semester has been way too busy. I've been giving too much homework to prepare those students for the research they have to do and write about. But predictably, it's been mostly fruitless. A few have done very nicely, and they would have done nicely anyhow. They are the ones who did the homework but probably didn't need to. The ones who needed to didn't do it anyhow. Of course, I could have guessed that would happen!
I am home on an off day, and having prepared for the week and upcoming drafts, etc., have a few hours to myself. I couldn't go to yoga this morning because the bottled water sprang a leak. I had to bail it out like an old leaky rowboat because there was 3/4 of a bottle going straight into the carpet and no one was home to help me. I am not sure what to do to keep the carpet from molding up. I just took the water out and put it elsewhere and hope the damn thing will dry.
I'm enjoying the fall weather, though it's the usual dilemma of whether to put the summer things away and take the fall ones out now, or wait till I am sure the weather has changed for the season. I am not convinced it has done that yet. So I'll try to find the odds and ends to wear until I switch out for the winter.
Just put a lamb curry into the iron skillet to simmer for 45 minutes. I hope I don't die of food poisoning. The meat has been in the fridge for a week or more, but it didn't smell bad or look slimy. I am quick to throw things out if I suspect something, but truthfully, besides the color, this didn't look at all suspect, and I know lamb turns dark quickly.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

93 redo

It was mom's 93rd birthday today! She wanted first to go shopping and buy some clothes, or rather, wearables. She needed nightshirts/nightgowns, since her pjs have gotten too big on her, though she hasn't really lost weight. I guess the elastic is stretched out. So we got her pants and a shirt and two lightweight nightshirts, one with matching socks for when it gets cold. And a winter nightgown.
Then we headed up to Fullerton to a restaurant we discovered last year that had wonderful fillet mignon (her favorite) and dim sum. There was something for everyone there, and it was very reasonable and wonderful quality. However, when we got there, after an hour and a half of driving (since I don't drive on freeways), it was no longer there. It had become a bar, and we weren't in that. So I called Richard and Jeremy and got back in the car and headed for Tustin, where we went back to the Korean bbq. It was very good, but we were nearly delerious by the time we got there, and we really kept everyone waiting. By that time, Jeremy had to go to work, so he couldn't come, and Richard had gone home, waiting for me to call him. R and M waited for an hour for us to arrive. I guess they just missed Richard and Jeremy.
Once we got there, everyone had a good time. Afterwards we went to a Chinese bakery, where we bought a beautiful strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream (mom's favorite) and sang happy birthday to her. She smiled for that for sure!

Friday, October 2, 2009


At Yoga Works in Mission Viejo, where I spend many mornings, the manager at the front desk had a pet oranda goldfish the students collectively named Om by voting for this name (though no one ever calls him that). Om started out as a little rotund speck of a fish, but is now a beautiful full grown oranda goldfish, swimming around in a bowl that is much too small for him.
Tom, the manager, took care of Om, changing his water periodically with a paper cup.
No one else at the studio knew how to take care of him, though they fed him. He always seems to be hungry.
Yesterday, in one of those things that come up in every work place, Tom left Yoga Works, never to return. He left Om.
When I came in this morning, I saw the fish, obviously distressed, swimming around in a very dirty bowl, in need of a change of water.
Goldfish consume a lot of oxygen from their water, and are very dirty fish. They are carp, messy and dirty fish, even though in this refined state, product of highly selective breeding, they don't seem to be glorified gefilte fish, having lost the streamlined shape of carp. Orandas can only wiggle their round bodies, waving their voluminous tails in a very attractive sort of movement that is nonetheless not very efficient.
So being the only one (apparently) who knows anything about keeping fish, I found that I had to take responsibility for Om. After class, my friend Liz and I went to the store and bought a fish bucket and a net to do the necessary change of water. The bowl still looked dirty when I left (it would have been nice to wash the gravel and wipe out the inside of the bowl) but I had nowhere to put the fish while I was doing that. Next time I will bring another bucket to the studio and leave it there so I can do that.
I hope Tom comes back and takes the fish home with him before that.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Today was an annoying day. First I took my mom to the psychiatrist, an exercise in futility since she can neither hear nor understand, even if she does hear. The psychiatrist didn't arrive for about 45 minutes, so we sat in the car and then outside, with mom in danger of toppling from the stone bench onto the ground, as she threatened to fall asleep. We spent only about 20 minutes with him, because what is there to say? He sent a nurse to check things out at her house last month, and determined she was getting excellent care and doing as well as possible.
Then I went to class, only to find that my best student from this summer was missing again. He hasn't dropped, and I haven't heard from him. He wasn't absent once the whole summer session.
The second class was even worse. Many people were absent. I didn't check to see if they had dropped. I haven't heard from them, as far as I know. The people who were there walked in and out and were generally very rude. I figure that not knowing how to write their draft will be the punishment they will receive from this, but most likely it will be my punishment, since I will have to teach each one individually what I delivered today in class.