Tuesday, August 26, 2008

And one not-so-dreamy student...

Okay--one not-so-good (but pretty darn funny) story. A student comes to my office hours yesterday, agitated and a bit out of breath. (Anyone else notice that? How often students appear out of breath at your door, as if they ran to get there?)

"Are our papers due tomorrow?" he asked.

"No," I explained. "They aren't due until September 11, like we talked about in class. You do have a topic due, but not until Thursday."

"Oh man. I thought the whole thing was due tomorrow. I'm almost done with it!" (This happens a lot when students get deadlines wrong. They seem downright disappointed--almost angry--when they are actually ahead on their work.)

"Well, that's okay," I said. "This just means you've got a head start. Lots of time to work on it and revise. What are you writing about?" (They have four general topics to choose from and a bunch of stories to choose from as well.)

And--I am not making this up--he was completely unable to explain his topic. Lots of "uhs" and such. "And I just bought my book earlier today," he added.

Wouldn't you just love to see this paper he had been hard at work on? The one he thought he had to hand in the next day? Sadly, lots of students turn in those kinds of papers. Ugh.

Dream students...

We actually got started here at Shepherd on the 18th, so we are in the middle of our second week of classes. So far, so good, although yesterday was a busy enough day that I wondered to myself how in the world I could be so far behind on only the second Monday of the semester. There will be plenty of time to write/complain/laugh about the bad students, but I thought I'd briefly list some of the impressive students I've met so far.
  • The freshman girl in my ENG 204 class who has already emerged as one of the brightest and most vocal (in a non-annoying way) students in the class. She has already stayed after class a couple of times already with really smart questions and to get some reassurance that she's got what it takes for the class (because she's only a freshman). I want to clone her.
  • Another student in my ENG 204 course who has already written his first paper and earned an A on it. (They can hand in their papers on any date, so long as they've handed in one by each deadline.) What pushes him into dream student land is an email he sent me while he was working on it, asking if he should cite the poems he was writing about by line number or page number. I am just amazed that a sophomore knows that we sometimes cite poems by line numbers. Most of the time, I am content if they put the darn periods in the right spot.
  • The five students who've been in my classes all three semesters (including this one) that I've been teaching at Shepherd and who seem to get stronger and more confident from class to class. Yes, that's what they should do, but we don't often get the chance to see it. We started off here together--they were freshman and I was a new faculty member. I've also got about seven more who I've taught in previous semesters and have chosen me again (all general education courses). That's pretty good for the ego, too--especially if I tell myself it's all about me, and not about fitting into their schedules.
  • The group of students in my ENG 346 class who--on the third day of class!--had a smart debate with each other about the heroine of The Coquette and if she is a proto-feminist. This is the kind of stuff that teachers savor.

Come fly with me...

I've been meaning to post these for a while: photos from a visit I took to the Udvar-Hazy Center, a branch of the Air and Space Museum out by Dulles Airport. I'd been to the Udvar-Hazy (isn't that an awesome name? fun to say, too!) once before a couple of years ago with some of the Roanoke crew (Jane, Shannon, Beth, Ian, and baby Caitlyn) and thought it was a blast. This time, my companions were my parents, my sister Erin, and her boyfriend, Eric. Fortunately, Erin's new home is right near Dulles, so it made for an easy, interesting, and affordable way to spend an afternoon. (You just pay to park--$15.)

A shot of just part of the ceiling of the museum to give you the idea of how much there is to see. Basically, it's a huge hanger with planes on the ground and suspended various heights.

My mom and Erin posed in front of an F-14 Tomcat. We Hanrahans are partial to the F-14 not just because of its Top Gun fame (remember when Tom Cruise was that hot and not scary?), but also because they were made by Grumman, a Long Island-based company. In fact, at the museum my dad reminded me of a canoe trip we took once with my fourth-grade class (my dad was a chaperone). As we paddled down the river, these F-14s roared by over our heads on a test mission. It was amazing--their speed, the volume, the overall coolness of the whole thing.

During my first visit to the museum, I was so thrilled to hear that there was an actual space shuttle there. Much to my disappointment, you can't get inside it, but it is still pretty darn cool. (Full disclosure: the Enterprise never actually made it to space, as you can read about if you follow the link above.)

The space wing also has all kinds of vehicles from the early days of space travel and computers/technology that made space travel possible. Check out this old UNIVAC. Seeing big old computers like this (which are downright tiny compared to the earliest computers) reminds me of just how far we've come (especially as I prepare this post on my laptop with a wireless internet connection).

Back in the front part of the museum, you'll see lots of early planes and gliders. Looking at something like this, I can't help but marvel at the guts it took to fly these sorts of things.

I also found myself repeatedly cracked up by "planes" like this. What really made me laugh is that a lot of these are have "experimental" written on them. That seems a bit unnecessary. When you are taking off on what is basically a lawnmower with a propeller, the label "experimental" is obvious.

Another highlight of the museum is the Enola Gay, although I must say that it's a highlight that is also sobering.

Close up of the plane.

Erin posing in front of a shiny silver plane. She looks so cute, right?

One last picture: Erin and Eric posed in front of this awesome yellow plane.

If you are looking for something to do in the DC area, try out the Udvar-Hazy. I haven't even mentioned all the other features: an observation deck where you can watch the planes leaving Dulles, an IMAX theater, flight simulators, and more.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Look who I met!

Ever since Mr. William Hollandsworth turned one, I've been saying that it just wasn't right that I hadn't had a chance to meet him yet. I mean, one of my best friends in the world has a baby and I haven't had a chance to hold him? Well, now I feel much better because Will and his family stayed at the Heidi Hotel last night on their way home from a conference in Philadelphia.

Some pictures from their (all-too-brief) visit:

Will and Burt. Heather explained that this is how Will points--and he loves to point at the camera when it's taking a picture of him.

Another shot of Burt and Will--right after this was snapped, Will lunged at me. I was surprised and touched by how well he took to me. To me, that shows what a nice job Burt and Heather are doing raising him. He's a sweet, easy-going kid. No screaming. No tantrums. He goes with the flow and is a joy to be around.

Since he has cats of his own at his place, Will liked seeing Bing and Wes. For their part, Bing and (especially) Wes were good with the baby. Here's Will petting Bing under the table.

Will watching Bing enjoy his scratching box.

Wesley asking to join the group. For the record, pretty soon after this Bing, who can be quite snarky, decided he had had enough and swatted at Will. He did this more than once. The last time, he actually scratched him a bit (didn't break the skin, but left some marks). Will was very upset by this--his feelings were really hurt. Bing is a stinker.

After a breakfast at Cracker Barrel (Will had Cheerios, Goldfish, and bacon--the breakfast of champions), it was time to say good-bye. Too bad, but I am so glad I finally met the little guy!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Can your computer tell your gender?

Well check out this site for some convincing. The author has written a program that looks at your browser history to determine your gender. It's pretty darn cool.

Interesting story: the first time I used the program (a couple of weeks ago), I got a 90-something probability of being female. Since then, I've cleared my browsing history (a good thing to do every once in a while). Just now, I ran the program again and now my number is down to 55% probability of being female. I guess I've been doing some manly surfing lately. (It's probably all the car research I've been doing, although you think bettycrocker.com and some soap opera sites would balance that out more.)

If any of you try it, let me know what you get!

Leavenworth's Underground City

I meant to link to this story last week--a brief piece about an underground city in Leavenworth, Kansas. This kind of stuff fascinates me. What was the space used for? Who built it? And why is it abandoned?

Bulwer-Lytton and Lyttle Lytton Awards

These are always so much fun. Check them out here and here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Zoom Zoom!

So here it is--my new car! It was time to give up the old one--it was right on the brink of 190,000 and I was getting more and more nervous by the day with it. I'll actually miss it--it was a nice ride, comfortable, classy, etc.

But the new one is awesome! It's the car I was dreaming of getting (in terms of relatively practical dreams): the Mazda 3 hatchback, in "stormy blue mica." I love it so much--even the little things like volume controls on the steering wheel and an auxiliary jack for my ipod (never mind starting when you need it to).

What do you think?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cape Cod Trip, Part Five: One last batch of randomness

Just a few more pictures from the trip.

First, Java on our last night there. I love this picture: he looks like a puppy, doesn't he?

Second, the perfect church for Vogel. Please note the sign. And of course it's a Unitarian Universalist Church.

Third, a picture from our trip home. I was trying to sleep a bit (something I never do on roadtrips, since I like to entertain/talk to the driver), when Vogel woke me up by saying, "Heidi, I know you are trying to sleep, but you need to see this." Yes--two camels were in front of us. "You wouldn't have wanted to miss that, right?" she said. She knows me very well.

Cape Cod Trip, Part Four: Sunsets

By now, faithful readers know I am sucker for pretty sunsets. Cape Cod (and specifically the view from Vogel's parents' house) never let me down.

Cape Cod Trip, Part Three: Visiting Rita

One evening, Vogel and I drove over to Plymouth to meet Rita, who lives outside Boston, and is, as I've noted earlier, expecting a little girl in late September.

Vogel and I had a bit of time to kill before Rita joined us, so Vogel did her best impression of a lobster.

After dinner at the Cabby Shack (which was pretty yummy despite an awful cover band playing in the backgroud), we took a walk along the water and ended up down by the Mayflower 2. You can see the back of it here.

Once again, we were blessed with beautiful weather, and I took some nice shots of the boats on the water.

Another picture of the boats and sky.

A friendly woman volunteered to take this picture of the three of us. I think we look pretty cute in it. And check out that pregnant belly Rita's sportin'! By the way, we couldn't get to Plymouth Rock (it was closed for construction around it), so we pretended that the rock we were sitting on was Plymouth Rock.

After some more walking and some delicious ice-cream, we said good-bye. It was awesome to see Rita and have the three of us together again, if a bit bittersweet since she lives so far away these days. It was also great to see her before the baby comes, but again, kind of bittersweet since we won't be there when she is born and all that. At least she's not all the way in Azerbaijan, like some of my friends, but it's still tough.

Cape Cod Trip, Part Two: Breakfast at the airport...

Like I said above, I didn't take all that many photos this time, but I did snap some good ones one morning at breakfast. We went to this little restaurant out by a small airport (where those little private planes take off and land). It was pretty cool to watch them take off and land, especially since the day was sunny and clear.

The restaurant is on the second floor of the building. The planes and runway are directly opposite the building.

A shot of the planes parked.

A plane taking off.

Another take off.

A good breakfast with a free show! Hard to ask for more bang for your buck!

Cape Cod Trip, Part One: The Drive

Just like last year, Vogel and I took a trip up to Cape Cod. (I apologize for taking so long to post the photos--the trip was early/mid July.) I also didn't take all that many pictures this time. But there are a few good ones worth sharing.

So, just like last year, let's get started with some photos from the drive up there.

Just like last year, Java Bean was our companion.

Here's the second one we took. Vogel liked the slogan on the back of this truck. I did, too, until she kept talking about it and said, "That good advice for the bedroom, too." I called foul on that bit of over-sharing.

Next, the back view of a car that spent entirely too much time ahead of us. Creepy.

Just as we got on the NJ Turnpike we found ourselves stuck in some traffic, giving us plenty of time to spot this biker. He/she was a bad-ass--completely with an actual bad ass. Check out the skull on his/her butt cheek!

Another view of the biker.

This made us giggle. No explanation necessary, right?

Dharma Wants You!

I've been meaning to link to this for a couple of weeks now: check out dharmawantsyou.com. Some background: during the freakin' fabulous LOST finale in May, I followed a link from one of those intriguing Dharma commercials and entered my email address. Every once in a while, I get cool emails from them, one of which contained this link. Even if you aren't a LOST fan, I think you'll enjoy the personality test on this site.

For the record, I passed the test (does anyone fail?) and am waiting to hear about the next step.

You can read more about the Dharma Initiative Recruiting Project here.

"Poems bite. And my poems are bitey."

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Kay Ryan, our new poet laurete. Time has an interesting little piece on Ryan and the laureteship in general.

I especially like this observation from Billy Collins, whose work I've always enjoyed: "'Suddenly you're asked to stop looking at specifics — I mean, I write about saltshakers and knives and forks — and talk like a politician,' Collins says. 'You're asked to leave right side of brain and live in left side.'"

Then there are a couple of great quotations from Ryan herself: "'But I'm ready to be interrupted,' she says. 'I'm getting tired of myself, tired of inflicting myself on myself. I'm ready to inflict myself on others.'"

You know how you know she's good people? She talks about happily teaching developmental writing for thirty years--one of the hardest jobs is academia: "'It was mainly second-language students and students who lost their way in school," Ryan says. 'They wanted something that I could help them get: an understanding of the basic elements of grammar, pronouns, those pesky apostrophes. The goal was to write an effective paragraph that was coherent and well supported. We aspired to the semicolon, but that rarely happened.'"

As the article makes clear, though, the job isn't exactly without pressure, pressure that Ryan is already feeling: "But the stress of becoming America's ambassador of poetry is already keeping her up at night. 'I just lie in bed rigidly,' she says, 'and I think about how I have moved from a condition where the world can humiliate me to one where I can humiliate myself. And let down other poets.'"

The title from the post, by the way, is another quotation from Ryan--a particularly fanstastic one, I think. What a great way to describe to students how poetic language works.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

End-of-Summer Syllabizing

I haven't gotten nearly as much work done as I wanted to this summer, but I am rather proud of this accomplishment: as of today, 2 August 2008, I have all my syllabi ready for the Fall semester. Not bad, right? I just put the Xerox requests in and everything. My webpages are ready to go. Go me!

You can check out the fruits of my labor here, if you are so inclined. While I've taught ENG 102 and ENG 204 before, I had to do some re-arranging on two counts. First, each course has switched to new editions of its respective textbook,* which meant adjusting page numbers and, in some cases, reading selections for each. Second, the days both courses meet have changed. In the past, I taught ENG 102 as a MWF class. Now it's a TR. In the past, I've taught ENG 204 as TR. Now it's a MWF. Those kinds of changes do require some reconceptualization, especially for ENG 102, which is a writing course. I rather like the changes made to the 204 syllabus--I've even included three new writers (Richard Wright, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Jhumpa Lahiri). I am not so sure yet about 102. It looks a bit rushed at certain points in the semester (at least on the page), but maybe it will be okay.

ENG 346 is the new one for me--and I am pretty excited about it. It's a version of a class I taught at Richmond, but whereas that course stopped in 1865, I am framing this course as a study of the American novel from the beginning until 1900 (well, technically 1896, ending with Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs). The reading schedule is a bit ambitious, I know. I've already had one student email me and say "You don't believe in light reading, do you?" However, they can handle it--especially if they want to be English majors.

*Don't even get me started on this whole "new edition" issue. I understand the need to keep updating things, but some of these prices are insane. I don't get to choose the books for the gen. ed. classes I teach (101, 102, 204)--and if I did, there's no way I'd pick the hugely over-priced Perrine's. It's a great book, but not worth over $100.