Sunday, January 30, 2011

Oh deer

In this sequence of photographs, my husband captured the almost daily pilgrimage of a family of deer, who rather nonchalantly cross our front yard on the way to our neighbor's bird feeder. As we approach the middle of winter, especially as hard and cold a winter as this one has been, deer will eat anything they find edible, including bird seed at feeders they can reach. 

The only reason we don't have deer pilfering our bird seed here is that our bird-feeding station, which my husband built shortly after we moved in here almost two years ago, is within our fenced-in yard. But we do regularly put out deer food for our resident deer families to help them survive the winter. And, no, they don't become so dependent that it affects their status as wild life since they never come to their feeding spot in spring, summer or even fall, only in winter.

This has definitely been the snowiest winter I can recall for us since we moved to Ohio in 2001. The meteorologist was saying last night that we haven't had a day above 30 since January 2nd. It's not above 30 here yet but it is supposed to perhaps edge above the 20s, which would make it the one seasonal day we've had in a long time. But if I thought February was going to bring relief and live up to its average 40s, I was wrong. Another Arctic blast is expected late next week and the temperatures will not rise from the 20s during the day and dip into the single digits at night. Brrrr, that's all I've got to say about that.

At school, we are now entering the 3rd week of classes and this semester has started much better than my spring semester 2009, which is a blessing. I have three good groups, with engaged and interested students, and I feel myself to be a lot clearer on what works, especially in terms of writing instruction, which I do a lot of in my 100- and 200-level classes. I'm also trying out a new approach in my American Fear class, and in my Hawthorne senior seminar, which is to give the students a grounding in cultural analysis. 

With that, I hope to stave off comments such as "I don't care what she [meaning me] says, Signs [the movie] isn't about race," or, "Why can't we just read "The Black Cat" as being just about a black cat?," or, "There's too much race and gender [read feminism] in this class." As we say back home, en guerra avisada no muere gente so we'll see if giving the students a clearer analytical framework up front gives them a sense that there is purpose in using race and gender as analytical lenses, even if, like any other analytical framework, including formal readings, it has its limitations

The fact that I have no new preparations this semester, and that, after seniors graduated and some advisees changed advisors last semester while I was on leave, I have come down from 20-25 advisees to about 15 or so, also has helped make the start of this semester less hectic and from-the-get-go overwhelming than last year's spring. I've also been able to continue working on scholarly projects, such as a proposal for a collection of essays on teaching Hawthorne and a proposal for presenting at MLA 2012, which I hope to submit by month's end on a paper comparing Hawthorne and Poe.

So far, I haven't missed my leave, which was such a gift at such a difficult time. For now, and I hope for the rest of this semester, I am still able to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Or, more appropriate to this climate, take the time to watch the deer and the crows and the birds as they do their best to hold on for spring, which still seems to far, far away.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

College learning found lacking

College learning found lacking (click here to read the story)

This news makes me feel so much better about being such a hardass in my classes with regard to students' analytical thinking and writing.

The new semester started Monday with a vengeance, and while the MLK Days of Dialogue events that I have coordinated now for three years in a row went well, attendance was much lower than in previous years, which was disappointing. (I just found out that all the e-mail announcements I sent to students were returned to my Spam folder!) We are trying to persuade the faculty and administration to find a way to make the day a college-wide event of dialogue, reflection and service.

Between Monday and Tuesday, I taught my three classes and seem to have good groups in my senior seminar and my first-year seminar. My 200-level class seems like it will be more challenging, which may be the nature of the beast (both in terms of theme and nature of the group) and the fact that it is an afternoon class. Still, my senior seminar is in the afternoons and most of those students seem to be on fire, so to speak, even when the class is all Hawthorne, all the time. We'll see how it goes tomorrow when I meet the two lower-level seminars for the second time.

I am excited to be back in the classroom and teaching, and that is a good thing since this is the profession that I have chosen. Best of all, this is the first semester in my time working at my small college on the hill that I'm teaching three classes that I have already taught at least once before. That, I realize now, is a huge advantage. Often, I've had at least one (if not two!) new preparations and that's simply ridiculous, as I have learned the hard way.

I've also managed to go to the gym, to make bread and two pies (one rhubarb, one cherry) for my husband, and to give myself personal R&R time so, maybe, just maybe, I'm finally learning to balance my vocation with my life.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Los Angeles

2011 started busily with a five-day trip to Los Angeles, which I had never visited before, for the main conference of our discipline. My friend TK and I stayed at a hotel in the area known as "L.A. Live," which at night looked like something out of "Blade Runner," with full-color ads streaming live on gigantic screens on the side of buildings.

The best thing about the hotel, though, was that it had a 24-hour gym and a Starbucks right next door so I was able to work out early in the morning and then go get my decaf and read the paper on my Nook with free Wi-Fi. The huge glass-paneled hotel (we had a 16th-floor room!) reflected nicely on the screen of the Nook.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon and presented my paper on Hawthorne the following day and received very positive feedback. On Friday, I attended a couple of panels, including one on Poe, which was fascinating, and also the Ohio State University party for alumni and grad students where I got to talk to old and new friends before TK and I left to have dinner at the best Mexican restaurant I've ever been to, Rosa Mexicano.

We couldn't figure out why the name isn't grammatically correct but there is nothing erroneous about the food, which is sublime. And I even tried their Mexican mojito (known as "La Rumba") and it was superb. TK and I went to dinner with one of her old friends and one of my former graduate student mentees at OSU and we had a blast. Although we are all academics, we were not in the mood to "talk shop" (especially since both TK's friend and my former mentee were in the job market this year) so we talked instead about everything and anything and had a really enjoyable conversation.

On Saturday, TK and I decided that we'd spend the day doing the touristy things in L.A. and we found a tour that was supposed to take us to Hollywood, etc., and then bring us back to Chinatown. But we missed the bus and ended up having to take the subway and then to walk into Chinatown once it was already evening, even though a tour attendant had told me that it was peligroso to do so after dark. There was no danger at all and TK was able to get a few souvenirs and I got myself a little red dragon for my office.

We missed the bus that would've taken us to Chinatown because we spent way too much time on Rodeo Drive, aghast at the gaudy displays of wealth, from the yellow and black Rolls Royce belonging to the designer Bijan Pakzad (who we actually saw) to the several blonds with stiletto boots and fur coats walking their fashionable dogs to the clearly Botoxed and lip-enhanced women to the skinny men in tight-fitting jeans. TK and I both agreed that we would just hate living in a place like that, even if we had all the money in the world to waste.

Today, I'm back home after a very long trek and, although I'm exhausted, I'm so happy to be back where I belong. Downstairs, as I type this, Chiquita is barking and Lizzy is chasing the ball that my husband just threw and the cats are running around and I am in my own private heaven, which is as far away from California as you can get.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome 2011!

Although 2011 dawned as a very rainy and gray day, by the afternoon the clouds began to break up and the sun eventually showed its bright face, even if for only a few minutes at a time. Still, it was warm enough that we were able to take the dogs to the nearby paved trail and give them a walk. Chiquita didn't want to do the entire mile (I don't think she's going to enjoy the outdoors until we're back to 70 degrees and up) but she did get to pee and poop and smell other dogs and critters on the trail (the rest of the way I carried her inside my jacket).

The first day of 2011 was spent in a very mellow way after we both decided against venturing into the big city for separate errands, opting to stay home, instead. Tomorrow, however, I might get motivated enough to drive to the movies to see "The King's Speech," which I had hoped to see when it was released here on Christmas Day. Instead, that day I took two international students who had spent the holidays here by themselves to see "Black Swan," which was awesome. I'll be going to the movies tomorrow by myself but I don't mind doing that now and again. It's good to practice enjoying doing things on our own, and I'm fortunate to be able to do so.

Earlier this past week I traveled to my sister's in Maryland, where my brother and his family and my mother also visited for the holidays. It was a quick trip but I was blessed to have gathered many wonderful memories while there. One of the best was an almost two-hour conversation between my two teenage nephews, one already in college and one a high school senior, my mom and me, in which the four of us talked about literature, movies, theater, and college life, among other topics. It was simply thrilling to see and admire the kind of young men that my nephews have become. Another was a game of "Apples to Apples," on the last evening I was there, in which the whole family participated and in which I laughed out loud more than I had at any other point in the entirety of 2010.

I returned to Ohio this past Thursday and will be traveling (ugh) again this week to a conference in California. Yesterday, as 2010 ended, I also finished the paper for the conference and my book proposal before my husband and I went off to have dinner at the home of a Puerto Rican friend who is married to a Costa Rican. The amounts of food were biblical and my husband brought his famous coquito (adapted to my sister-in-law's renowned recipe), which people really liked. We left shortly before 11 and then spent a quiet hour here, watching Univisión and waiting for midnight, which came quickly enough, and we were ready for sleep when it came shortly after getting into bed.

Tomorrow it will be six months since my papi left us and his absence is keenly felt, especially since our family spent almost every New Year's Eve together since 1999. But I know that he's in a better place and, like sun breaking through thick gray clouds, that feels like a blessing.

I have great hopes for 2011, and I'm rolling out the red carpet to welcome this new year so excitingly filled with possibility.