Monday, September 28, 2009

For Shannon...

Update: it's working now. I had to re-up-load it, and delete the old one, but it "processed" right away.

A "thank-you note" of sorts for Aunt Shannon, from Bing and Wesley. Also worth noting: how quickly play turns into fighting for these two--play fighting, yes, but still...

They really like the new toy, Shannon. On Sunday morning, one of them had dragged it all the way upstairs and left it at the foot of the bed.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Couple of quick links...

...from The Daily Dish, which has been overflowing with good stuff today.

1) A great new (to me) blog called "Letters of Note." Check out this one and try not to get choked up a bit. There are also lots of more famous notes, like this one.

2) Amazing video footage of a skier trapped in an avalanche and then rescued. Seriously--it's amazingly intense and, in the words of the person who posted it, "I don't think that you could've paid a Hollywood crew to stage something better. The fact that he could've been facing any 360 direction and yet he's looking right up into the sun-filled blue sky with that first full scoop away of the shovel is borderline spiritual."

Sunday baseball...

Good: Beating the Red Sox.

Better: Sweeping the Red Sox.

Best: Sweeping the Red Sox and clinching the division title on the same day.

Bonus: Having the game be nationally televised so Yankee fans all the way in West Virginia can watch it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dirty Scrabble Playin'...

No, not that kind of "dirty" (how would "Strip Scrabble" work, I wonder), but "dirty" as in "fighting dirty."

I love this clip and this advice, but if I was playing with this guy (especially with the triple letter blocking), I think I'd be fighting the urge to punch him in the face.

Playoffs, baby!

Oh yeah!

Image courtesy of ESPN. com

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dr. Horrible at the Emmys

How awesome was this? This was (no fooling) one of the absolute highlights of my Sunday. (That is, perhaps, a bit sad...)

In other Whedonverse news: the Buffy Baby is here! (And she even has a normal name, another reason to love SMG.)

Delayed Gratification

This video (which I found on the Daily Dish) made me smile.

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

I love how many of the kids pretend to bite the marshmallow, as if that will make waiting just a bit easier.

Forgotten Bookmarks...

A great new must-read for me: Forgotten Bookmarks. If you like Found Magazine, you'll want to add this one to your bookmark list, too.

How we spend our days...

I've been meaning to link to this chart for a while now. Interestingly, (appropriately?) it can become a bit of a time-sucker. For instance, did you know that "at 8:50 p.m., 1% of people with advanced degrees are at church or engaging in some religious activity"?

The New Literacy...

Having just finished lots and lots of ENGL 101 grading, I found myself particularly drawn to this short article on Andrea Lunsford's Stanford Study of Writing.

"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

It's almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.

Perhaps this is why these days I seem to have fewer students who say "I don't like to write." At the same time, I am not sure about the idea that students are "adept at...assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique" for different audiences. Maybe that's because I just got yet another one sentence, run-on sentence, salutation-free, punctuation-free, capital-letter-free email from a student. That stuff might be okay for a Facebook exchange between friends, but it sure annoys one's English teacher.

Still, it's nice to see a study about writing that is full of so much good news.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Link Dumping: Academia Edition

1) Have you heard about these 60-second recaps of "great works"? Kind of fun, no? (Yes, I know some students might use these instead of doing actual reading, but let's face it, they are going to use Sparknotes or whatever.) Maybe start with this one. After all, it's my favorite book. More about the girl behind them here.

2) Teaching after midnight? Seriously?

3) A pretty cool lesson about how math can be useful and interesting in the "real world." Here's a teaser: the express lane at checkout is NOT necessarily faster. (I could have told you that, but it's nice to have math backing me up.)

4) What do you think of colleges and universities scheduling a mid-day activity hour for meetings and such? At first blush, I gotta say I like the idea, since there are few things more hellish than trying to schedule a freakin' meeting. Another alternative: one of my friends teaches at a university that doesn't have Friday classes, so all the meetings and things are on Fridays. Not a bad solution, either, although this means classes meet (at most) twice a week and I do best with classes that meet three times a week. [If you work outside academia, you might consider this a really boring and unimportant question, but trust me--it matters. I have already had seven committee/organization meetings this week...]

5) Community premieres tonight and I am planning on watching, primarily because of my love for Joel McHale. As you may have heard, this show is already a bit controversial...

6) Finally, some GOOD news: UNCG has decided to renovate--not demolish--the historic quad. Fantastic choice, folks!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

All is right with the world...

...Bing has a new box. Yes, I ended up taking his old one a few days before moving day. Don't judge--it was a crazy time. And he hasn't seemed to miss it much, since he loves his new perch by the window so much.

Nevertheless, this box was on the floor for all of 5 seconds before he jumped in it. On the plus side, it does go with the furniture just a bit more than the old one...

Jane is back! (And I am so bad at taking pictures...)

Seriously, how often do I post something like, "I didn't take too many pictures"? What is up with that? You would think that I would have taken a ton of pictures to mark the momentous return of the fabulous Jane and my visit with her on Saturday, but I failed once again. I mean, I didn't even get a picture of the two of us, which really bugs me.

I did take a few, though, on our shopping trip. Jane, Kara (Jane's super-cool sister) and I hit Kohl's to get some essential clothing items for Jane, whose wardrobe took a real beating during her two years in Azerbaijan.

Lord knows why anyone thought I would be good at helping her find clothes (have you seen what I wear?), but she was very lucky to have Kara's help. Seriously--Kara could do this professionally. Watch out, Stacy and Clinton. I, on the other hand, did some very good putting things back on the racks and saying, "I like that a lot!"

Every once in a while, I would pretend to be a camera person from "What Not to Wear" and snap a picture.

Jane, arms overflowing with clothes. I know it's blurry, but doesn't she look thrilled to be back in the good old US of A?

Jane is always a good sport when I get a bit silly, so here she is posing for me in her possible "job interview outfit."

I told her that she looked like she doing the pregnant lady "this is my baby" pose, so we should try again.

She said, "Okay, I'll make 'serious face' now."

I think someone spent a bit too much time in a former Soviet state, because this looks like something out of a USSR propaganda poster--and I love it.

Nice outfit, though, right? And it must have worked, because word on the street is that the girl already has two job offers. Not bad after only 4 days back in the country. She rocks like that.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday night poetry

Love this one...

"Misgivings" by William Matthews

"Perhaps you'll tire of me," muses
my love, although she's like a great city
to me, or a park that finds new
ways to wear each flounce of light
and investiture of weather.
Soil doesn't tire of rain, I think,

but I know what she fears: plans warp,
planes explode, topsoil gets peeled away
by floods. And worse than what we can't
control is what we could; those drab
scuttled marriages we shed so
gratefully may auger we're on our owns

for good reason. "Hi, honey," chirps Dread
when I come through the door; "you're home."
Experience is a great teacher
of the value of experience,
its claustrophobic prudence,
its gloomy name-the-disasters-

in-advance charisma. Listen,
my wary one, it's far too late
to unlove each other. Instead let's cook
something elaborate and not
invite anyone to share it but eat it
all up very very slowly.

You can find audio here. Reminds me just a bit of this gem by Charles Simic.

Patrick Swayze

This one hits hard as Patrick Swayze was one of my first celebrity crushes. I think my first memory of him was from a movie that still has (in my opinion) one of the greatest collections of male eye-candy ever...

But my big old crush on him really got going when he was in North and South. This mini-series was a huge hit in the Hanrahan household. Erin and I would re-watch the VHS copies we had of it (taped from the original broadcast). Heck, it's how I first learned so much about nineteenth-century America because let's face it, that mini-series covered everything--from the Mexican War to John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry to all the big battles of the Civil War. It was even my first introduction to the tragic mulatta trope, the subject of my first published article many years later. Sometimes when I am teaching the nineteenth century to my 204 students, I almost want to tell them, "Go watch North and South!" It's totally racy, too, and must have been a bit scandalous back in 1985. Check out this trailer from the third night of the first part of the mini-series. Good stuff.

For the record, I haven't seen the whole thing in years and years, although I did discover not too long ago that it's all on youtube and soon wasted about an hour watching the beginning. Yeah--it's not Ken Burn's style accurate, but it still rocks. And at the center of this epic (yup, that's right, I called it epic!) mini-series was the young, gorgeous, and charming Patrick Swayze as Orry Main. Hmmmm...maybe Patrick Swayze, therefore, is part of the reason I became a nineteenth-century Americanist.

And then...Dirty Dancing. Again, I was obsessed. When the movie first came to theatres, my parents insisted I was too young to see it. That was probably a good choice (although they did always let us watch the most gory horror films...) since I was just ten years old. But when it came out on VHS about a year later, all of the sudden, they decided I was old enough. I remember watching it at one of my first slumber parties, too. I had two posters from the movie, the soundtrack(s), and yes, a VHS copy. And I watched and rewatched it. I can still probably quote most of the script.

One of my favorite moments from this movie (and there are so many): the look Johnny Castle gives Baby at about 1:42 into this clip (youtube won't let me embed it) followed by that bitchin' jump off of the stage. It still gives the pre-teen girl in me flutters in the stomach.

And then...Ghost. Cried like a baby in that one, even enduring the awkwardness of seeing it in the theatre with my dad. (I was 13 by that point...not the right age to watch that pottery scene with your dad right next to you. Although, is there a right age to watch that scene with your dad next to you?)

Anyway, I've got lots of other Swayze stories to tell (like the time my brothers thought it would be funny to tease me by pausing Roadhouse at the point where Patrick's bare butt is on screen), but it's enough now to say that it's very sad to hear of his death. He was such a decent man who fought so hard against his disease. Rest in peace, Patrick.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Birthday pictures...

Well, they are about a month late, but here are some pictures from my birthday, when my mom and Kelsie were visiting.

My mom and Kelsie outside Crystal Grottoes in Boonsboro, Maryland (about 15 minutes from my house). Visiting the Grottoes was a nice way to spend an hour or so. It's no Howe Caverns, which I remember vividly from my childhood, but it was still interesting and cool (literally) and our tour guide was excellent.

Below, a bunch of pictures from inside:

For dinner that night, we went to the Bavarian Inn and had a lovely dinner. You can read about the last time I was there here. The food was delicious, of course, but my favorite part of dinner was watching Kelsie develop a crush on our waiter, a Shepherd student who I know a bit from Sigma Tau Delta stuff. Girls got good taste--he is a cutie and he kept calling her "Miss" and "young lady," which she seemed to love. At one point, he asked if he could refill her almost-full water glass and she was like, "Sure!" and took a big gulp when he went off to get the pitcher.

A nice view of part of the Bavarian Inn.

The chalets overlooking the Potomac at the Bavarian Inn.

After dinner, we walked around town a bit and took my mom to see my new office. Kelsie sat at the desk and pretended to be me.
Okay--that's about it for August, which turned out to be a pitiful month for posting. I am making a vow right hear to aim for at least 30 posts a month. (I managed that in July, I think.) I am already behind for September, but I like a challenge.

TMI from Students: Part Two

This one happened the second week of classes:
This kid in one of my ENGL 204 courses had been arriving to class late with the excuse that he was coming from the music building. In his defense, it is way across campus and certain music professors hold their students over, making it really hard for them to get to classes on time. Anyway, this particular day he shows up just after I've finished giving a reading quiz. (FYI: I give the questions out loud, always at the beginning of class, collect them immediately and go over them immediately.)

Anyway, I've just collected all the quizzes and I'm going back and forth in my head: do I let him take it (quickly repeat the questions--taking maybe 2 minutes) or just move on? If I didn't let him take it, it wouldn't have been a zero for him--I just wouldn't have counted it, but if he had done the reading, then it seemed unfair not to give him the chance to take it. I already had a great report with this class, so I joke out loud, "Hmmm...should I let him take it? You ran all the way here, didn't you?"

"Well, I walked, I didn't run," he answers.

Honestly, that ticks me off a bit. Because he should have been hauling ass to get to class, you know?

"Okay. In that case, you can't take it," I say.

After class, he comes up to talk to me, and I can tell he was nervous. He started to explain that he didn't mean to sound snarky or rude--he was joking and is worried that it sounded wrong. And I believe him and don't feel ticked off anymore.

But then he keeps talking...

"You see, I'm in [insert name of music class--I can't remember which one] and we are doing a play this semester and for part of it, I am actually being held up in the air and it gets uncomfortable. When class is over, I am completely sore."

I must confess, I have no idea what he is talking about at this point.

"I mean, sore on So it would have hurt to run to class."

Man-parts? Seriously?

In what universe did that kid think it would be a good idea for one second to make me even think about his man-parts?

"Talk to your teacher," I say, "tell him you missed a quiz today and that he needs not to keep you over anymore, okay?"

Then, mercifully, the conversation is over and he hasn't been late since that day.

TMI from Students: Part One

The first of two funny stories I've been meaning to post, collected from the first four weeks of this semester:

1) One of our English majors (someone I don't know all that well at all, although we've had a number of friendly conversations) stops by my office to get a registration form for the upcoming conference. "I'm going home this weekend and I'm going to ask my parents for the money. I am trying to keep busy since I'm going through a bad break-up."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that," I say. But I didn't want any more details. I try to stay way the heck away from students' relationship problems--especially if I hardly know the student.

"Yeah, well, lots of people know about it," she goes on. "I keep talking about it." And she's kind of laughing and loud and not at all private about any of this.

"Oh. I see." And I'm thinking, "please don't say any more."

"Well, it's just because of the way he broke up with me."

I have to say, this piqued my interest, if only a bit. Plus, I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable and felt the need to make a joke. (Yeah, I am one of those people.) So I say, "What, did he send you a text or something? Break up with your voicemail?"

"No--he told me he was gay."

I don't even miss a beat here: "Well, then, sweetheart," (where the heck did the "sweetheart" come from? I dunno...), "you couldn't have done a thing about that."

"But you see," she says (as I am thinking, "Really, we're not done yet?"), "he's not. He just said that. He doesn't go to this school, but I asked a friend goes to his school, 'Okay--tell me the name of the guy he's seeing' and my friend says, 'He's not seeing a guy. He's seeing a girl.'"

My response? A loud burst of uncomfortable laughter followed by, "Well, I sure am sorry about that, but you don't need him." That's my girl-power/feminist refrain to any girl who gets dumped.

Some more awkward conversation followed, but really only awkward in my perception--which only made it more awkward for me. The girl was fine with all of this--telling someone she barely knows that essentially her boyfriend would rather have her think he was gay than just tell her he wanted to break up with her. If he worried she would be the type who just wouldn't go away, then I've got to hand it to the guy: that's a pretty smart strategy. Too bad she's got an informant at his school.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Also in late August, I bookmarked the video below. I found it on The Daily Dish, whose guest blogger had found it at Jonah Lehrer's site. Lehner's words say it perfectly: "I won't waste too many words trying to explain this stunning video, which is by Will Hoffman and the folks at Radio Lab. At first glance, it's a mere collection of ordinary moments - a falling teardrop, an escaped balloon, a dive into a pool - but I think it's also evidence that the things we see everyday, when carefully framed, can ache with ignored beauty."

You could so use this in a composition or creative-writing class, couldn't you? It reminds me of that quotation from Tobias Wolf that I posted back in July. Just substitute "art" or "film" or any other medium for "fiction" and you'll see what I mean: “In fact, we’re always living next door to worlds that we don’t suspect and the best fiction suddenly illuminates that thing that’s been beside us all along and makes us see it for the first time and makes us enter another world.”

God and stuff on a Wednesday night...

(As I attempt to catch-up on my blogging a bit and finally post some of the links I've been saving...)

Back in late August, the ELCA (the synod of the Lutheran Church I grew up in) adopted a statement that will, quoting from the column I'll link to below, "allow congregations to bless and hold publicly accountable those in same-sex, lifelong, monogamous relationships, as well as to call GLBTQ pastors in such relationships to serve as their clergy." Not surprisingly, there's been some mixed responses to this decision and I won't say too much about it one way or the other. But I will point you towards this piece by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

A long excerpt:

"The debate on the floor between those at the green microphones who support these steps and those at the red microphones who reject these steps was sometimes inspired and sometimes insipid. Those in support urged the church to be open and loving as Jesus had been. Those opposed urged the church to heed the Bible. Both sides were passionate and faithful, and I’m proud to say that throughout the debate the assembly paused every 20 minutes to pray together. I watched people say prayerful things, hurtful things, thoughtful things, and idiotic things on both sides of the aisle.

And then a young pastor got up to speak at the green microphone and the first thing he said, in a quivering voice, was “Anyone else frightened to speak? I’m shaking. Please pray for me.” And the man standing right next to him at the red microphone reached over and laid his hand on him and prayed while his brother of the opposing viewpoint spoke.

Then I knew Jesus was really in between the red and green microphones. Not in some sort of neutral Jesus-as-Switzerland sort of way, but in the you-must-lose-your-life-to-gain-it sort of way. Jesus is between the red and the green microphones, between the red and the blue states offering us life and salvation in the words of eternal life and in the sacrament of his own body and blood. Jesus right there between the liberals and conservatives speaking the word that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus standing there saying forgive as you have been forgiven."

That's good stuff, no?

And then there's this fantastic poem I found on (yes, you guessed it) the Poem of the Day podcast, called "Staying Power," by Jeanne Murray Walker.

In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International Convention of Atheists, 1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
outside to the yard and question the sky,
longing to have the fight settled, thinking
I can't go on like this, and finally I say

all right, it is improbable, all right, there
is no God. And then as if I'm focusing
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.
It's the attention, maybe, to what isn't there

that makes the emptiness flare like a forest fire
until I have to spend the afternoon dragging
the hose to put the smoldering thing out.
Even on an ordinary day when a friend calls,

tells me they've found melanoma,
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,

wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which—though they say it doesn't
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.

Oh, we have only so many words to think with.
Say God's not fire, say anything, say God's
a phone, maybe. You know you didn't order a phone,
but there it is. It rings. You don't know who it could be.

You don't want to talk, so you pull out
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbery
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up

and a voice you love whispers hello.

You can read more from and about Jeanne Murray Walker here.

Rethinking "Helicopter Parents"

Although over-involved parents aren't much of an issue at Shepherd (so far, anyway), this column from got me thinking a bit. I know that helicopter parents are the topics of jokes and conversation among teachers these days--and with some good justification--but this writer's unique perspective certainly complicated those easy dismissals.