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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Psych: The Last Meal

When Will and I started dated, one of the first things we discovered we had in common was a love for the TV show Psych. Since Will had cable and I didn't, dinner and watching Psych quickly became our Wednesday routine. For those who don't know, the symbol for the show is a Pineapple, and there was at least one hidden in every episode. To this day, we still text each other pictures whenever we find a hidden pineapple, and the fruit played a key role in many of wedding decorations (most people just thought we were being welcoming).

So when Season 8...the season after we got married...was announced to be the last season of Psych, we knew we had to do something. Keeping in the tradition of our Wednesday night dinners, we planned an 8 course meal (one dish for each season) of Psych themed foods, and invited some friends to come watch the finale with us. Here is our menu:

1. Santa Barbara Skies (cocktail): Named for the opening number in Psych: The Musical

Pineapple juice, cherry syrup, Sprite, and rum

Do not forget the umbrellas staked through a slice of pineapple and a cherry!

Also, to really do right, it should be chilled with a brain-shaped ice-cube (yes, this is a real thing, and is the usual ice-cube shape in our house...well, that and Han Solo in Carbonite cubes).

2 and 3. Pineapple-mango salsa and Guacamole: Inspired by Shawn and Gus' love of anything you can dip a chip into.


4. Carlton's Cheese and Crackers: Speared with swords, in honor of Lassiter's Civil War reenactments. Salty with a hint of sweetness. Just like Carlton.


5. Fruit Loop Quesadillas: Why? Because Shawn and Gus served them from their food truck.
 

Fruit Loops, peppers, onions, bacon*, cheese**

It was while serving these that we remembered one of the friends we had invited was a chef. He pronounced them "not bad", and said he could see them being served as bar food.

6. Pizza-Chili Cheese Fries: Because Shawn and Gus eat them, and Will wanted to try it too.


French Fries, baked beans, pinto beans, chili/tomato sauce (vegetable stock, crushed tomatoes, spices), mozzarella cheese

7. Jamaican (jerk chicken) Inspector Man Pizza: Inspired by Gus' show-stopping number in Psych: the Musical

Pizza dough, chicken marinated in jerk spices, pineapple, onions, peppers, cheese**

8. Pineapple Upside-down Cake: Because pineapples, that's why.


Yellow cake, pineapples, cherries, rum, brown sugar, vanilla
(I ran into some difficulties with the pineapples... they sort of broke when I sliced them.)

*We used turkey bacon
**Make it kosher-style by using a non-dairy cheese substitute

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Letter to My Students

One of the biggest things I've learned since I started teaching was how many of my former teachers and professors I owe an apology to. But I'm saving that letter for another post. First, I want to write a letter to my students...to ALL my students, from the middle schoolers to the college students. I'm writing this because there are some things I think you should know. Things I want you to know when you sit down to send any teacher an e-mail demanding a grade change, to write a negative review on ratemyprofessor, or just complain in the hallway about how mean your teachers are. I don't claim to be writing for all teachers (after all, one of the things I hope you've learned from me is to think as an individual and to think of people as individuals), but I think there are a lot of teachers who would I agree with these things. So, here are 10 things I wish you knew about me, and teaching.


1. I care about you
I mean this. Even in big lecture classes where I'm not able to learn all your names, I care about you. Each of you. You (or your parents) have trusted me with providing you with a part of your education. That is a trust I consider sacred. Each of you is a wonderful, unique, human being with your own skills and gifts. I respect that. I am in awe of that. And I will do everything I can to help you be the best person you can be.

2. I'm not trying to fail you
I realize it seems this way sometimes. After all, I'm the one creating those challenging tests, tearing apart your paper with red ink, and taking away points when you miss a deadline. But here's the truth: I'm not doing it to be mean. Remember what I just said about caring about you? Those tests, those papers, those deadlines...they all serve a purpose. They are all designed to teach you something, to push you to do more and be more than you thought possible. I do not sit up at night designing tests with evil glee. I spend days making tests that I think will challenge you while still allowing you to demonstrate what you have learned.

I don't take sadistic joy when you fail. In fact, every time one of you fails, I feel like I have too. I rationalize. I say it's not my fault you didn't come to class, not my fault you didn't study. Other students got 'A's', so surely the test wasn't too hard. But it is all lies. Every time one of you fails, I blame myself. I wonder what more I could have done to help you. So don't ever, ever think I want you to fail.

3. I don't like tests/quizzes/homework any more than you do
For every one assignment you do, I have 10, 30, 50 (depending on class size) to grade. And this isn't just about the work load. I know not every one tests well. I know some days things come up and you just don't have time to do your homework. I get it. I do. But. But I have to be able to evaluate your work, and I have to be fair across the board. In an ideal world, I would have no more than 10 students. They would love learning so much that they would go home at night and review what they had learned during the day. Then, through class activities and instructions, I would be able to gauge how well each student had mastered the subject I was teaching.

This is not an ideal world. I know that even those of you who love learning sometimes need motivation to study at home. Hence homework. And because I have to be fair, because I must show some level of objectivity, I can't just willy-nilly decide who passes my class and who doesn't. I have to give the same form of evaluation to everyone and grade you with that. It isn't fair, it isn't right, but I didn't design the current education system. Please don't blame me for its failings.

4. I do like papers
I'm not going to lie to you. I like papers. I may be alone in this amongst teacher because papers are incredibly time consuming to grade (they take much longer than tests). That being said, I like them for a lot of reasons. First, they let me learn something about you. I can learn a lot about a student from reading a paper, and this can help me understand how best to help you to learn. Second, I believe good writing and communicating skills are universal. A lot of you, especially my college students, do not actually need my class for your career path. I am very much aware of this. But being able to write well and defend your opinions in a logical manner are skills that will serve you well no matter where life leads you. Finally, when you write a paper, you have the time and resources to get it right. A single bad day can ruin a test, but I usually give you several weeks to write a paper. And during that time, I let you bring as many rough drafts as you want to me for review. This means even if you are a weak writer, I make sure that you have every chance to write an 'A' paper.

5. I'm not out to destroy all your free time
Remember what I said in number 3? About how for every assignment you have, I have it ten-fold? You think I can get all those assignments graded during my office hours? I give up a lot of my free time planning lessons and grading papers. Time I would rather spend doing other things. And I know you feel the same way when you have to write papers, do homework, or read texts for my class. But just like my office hours aren't long enough for me to get all my work done, a class period isn't enough to teach you all you need to know. I give assignments so you have a chance to practice new material before it counts for a lot more on a test. It is not an evil plot to take over your social life. It's just meant to help you prepare for class.


6. I sometimes refer to you as 'my kids'
(this one is mostly for my college students)
Yes, even you, my 45-year-old non-traditional student with more years of teaching experience than me. I don't mean this in a demeaning way. I don't mean that I think of you as children. In fact, this is more about me than it is about you. It hearkens back to number 1 and the trust you've given me. I feel responsible for the tiny part of your life that takes place in my classroom. So when I call you 'my kids' it's my expression of that responsibility.

7. I don't think I'm smarter than you
You all are amazing. I mean it. Your talents and skills, your experiences and knowledge, all astound me. And I respect them. I don't expect you to be an expert in my subject. If you were, you probably wouldn't be in my class. But that doesn't mean I'm not aware that you are experts in other things. Many of you have skills and knowledge that I will never achieve, and I will never confuse a lack of expertise in one subject for a lack of intelligence. So when you do poorly on a paper or test, don't worry that I'll think you're stupid. I don't. I just assume your talents lie elsewhere.

8. I teach because I love it
I had student come to my office hours once and ask "If I gave you a million dollars right now, would you still teach?" I said yes. Sadly, he didn't give me a million dollars. Here is a simple fact: no teacher teaches for the money (at least not in the US). No amount of money is worth the frustration, the sacrifice of time, and the heartache that comes with teaching. We do it because we believe. Because we believe that we might, in someone small way, make a difference. Because we believe that a love of learning is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Because we believe that the skills we teach can help you succeed. Teaching is, at the end of the day, an act of hope, faith, and love. And that is why I put up with all the angry e-mails, with all the class-skippers, and with all the grading. Because I believe I have something worthwhile to teach you.

9. I used to be a student
Ah, yes. That famous refrain muttered by all students, everywhere (including me, in the past). "How could they do this!? Don't they remember what it is like to be a student?" Yes, yes I do. And now I can pass on the horrible tortures of overwork and impossible tests that my teachers gave me. Ha! Ha, Ha! HA HA HA HA!

Actually, yes, I do remember being a student. And I remember asking the same question of my teachers. And when I look back at my time as a student, it's those teachers who pushed me the most that I learned the most from. Some of you have heard me say, when you were overwhelmed with school work, that I am empathetic, but not sympathetic. I know how you feel. I've been there too. Some days, I still am. But I'm not changing the assignment deadline just for you. Nor am I going to give you an extra credit assignment because you chose not to do the one I offered to the whole class at the beginning of the semester. I am teaching you to be a good student and a good employee, not just how to get an 'A' in my class. I survived the rigors of school. You will too.

10. I'm a person too 
One of my colleagues has a sign in her classroom reminding students of this. I think it's an important reminder. Like you, I have good days and bad days. Days when I look forward to coming to school, and days when I don't want to get out of bed. I too have personal tragedies I deal with, and days where my relationships with my family and friends aren't going the way I want them to. I have feelings. It hurts when you send angry e-mails accusing me of being a horrible person. It makes my day when you thank me for a job well done. I make mistakes. I get angry at classes when I shouldn't just because I'm having a bad day. Please be understanding of this condition we share.

________

There are are. Students. are there things you wish you could tell your teachers? Teachers, what other things would you tell your students?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Selfishness of Miracles?


I prayed for a miracle last night.

This may not sound like an extraordinary thing to do, but it is very much out of the ordinary for me. You see, I have a problem with miracles.

I like to think of myself as, for the most part, a fairly strong Christian. My faith has had its challenges, its ups and downs, its doubts and fears, but through it all, I’ve never really doubted that God exsited, and not just existed, but was a personal, loving God. But through it all, I’ve also always struggled with miracles.

It’s not that I don’t believe they are possible. I do. Absolutely. I believe God is capable of anything, including breaking His own laws (guidelines?) of nature (for that is what is what a miracle is). I believe God can heal the sick, move the mountains, stop the Earth in its path through space…I just have trouble connecting the idea of “able to” with “willing to”.

You see, the God I believe in is a loving God. A loving God does not want people to suffer. But a loving God, perhaps, has a bigger responsibility than the individual. A responsibility to keep the World on a path towards the best for the whole. I don’t want to believe in a God that cares if a sports team wins or loses. I want to believe in a God who is working, sometimes against us creatures he gave free will, to end wars, and hunger and poverty. A God who has a Bigger Plan.

When I think of miracles, and what it means to ask for one, I can’t keep my mind from going to two texts. The first is the Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, where Ivan challenges his brother, a priest, about God. "It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket," he says, citing the fact the children are allowed to suffer in this world. 

“I return the ticket.” I refuse to accept a God who has the power to stop suffering, but doesn’t. It is a powerful line. One I often struggle with. So I blame people. We who have free will, we who have the ability to move outside of God’s will and cause suffering to happen. Sometimes I picture God as a Heavenly maid, so occupied cleaning up humans’ messes that he doesn’t have the time left to fix the brokenness in the World. In my heart of hearts, I reject this idea. But I can’t always keep it from surfacing in my mind.

The second text I think of in conjecture with miracles is Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. In a debate with his theology professor, Jayber exclaims “After you have said, ‘thy will be done,’ what more can
be said? And where do you find the strength to pray ‘thy will be done’ after you see what it means?” I actually take a lot of comfort in this idea. That God’s will is the one being done, not mine. After all, I make mistakes all the time. How nice if it is God’s will that always happen. And yet, in the Bible, we see many examples of God asking people to ask Him for requests. Jesus’s parable of the boy asking for the fish. The story of Abraham arguing for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah. God, it seems, actually wants us to ask for miracles. But still I don’t.


My cousin is dying.

These are the words no one wants to think or say, but that we all know. He is dying. There are no more treatment options. It would, as they say, take a miracle. But it is so hard for me to ask for one.

You see, asking for a miracle is, I feel, inherently selfish. The World is falling apart. People are starving, are living on the streets, are dying in wars. Children are suffering. How then, can I demand that God turn his attention to me, to my prayers, to my desires. Despite all the Biblical examples, how can I ask God to do the impossible simply because I desire it? This is my problem with miracles.

But my cousin is dying.

So I prayed for a miracle.

I tried to shuffle around my own beliefs and ask for my miracle in as selfless a way as I could. “It’s not for me,” I prayed, “not even for my cousin. It’s for his wife, and his child.” I offered a justification (in truth, just to myself, what justification does God need?). Surely I am not selfish if I am praying on behalf of someone else? I even tried bribery. 

“God, just think how much a miracle like this could strengthen my family’s faith.” Yes, that makes sense. Bribe an all-powerful deity with a promise to believe in him. But this is how I deal with my struggle with miracles.

So here I am. More fearful, perhaps, than hopeful. Fearful that God will not give the miracle I asked for. More fearful, perhaps, that he will. Fearful of what it means to believe in a God capable of miracles in a suffering World. But hopeful too. Hopeful that there will be a miracle, even if it’s not the one I asked for. Hopeful that God intends to bring good, even when people mess up. Hopeful that my family will find peace, whatever the outcome. Hopeful the World will not always broken. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hazel Goes to the Vet, and I Accidentally Steal a Candle

Hazel-rah, the fuzzy poof-ball that impersonates a rabbit, had been having some issues. His butt fur kept getting matted, and and even worse there was...well...fecal matter in the matts. I tried to clean him up myself, but finally took him to his usual vet (where I've taken him at least 3 times since I got him) who shaved him down and treated me as if I was a horrible rabbit owner and this was all my fault (which I felt anyways). I took him home, started grooming him even more than usual, but a few months later, he was all matted again. So I called the vet. The conversation went like this.

Me: Hi, I'd like to make an appointment for my rabbit.
Receptionist: Your what?
Me: My rabbit.
Receptionist: We don't treat rabbits here.
Me:...

Turns out the one small animal vet had left the practice. Another vet was recommend to me, so I called, and after confirming several times that Hazel was a male rabbit, made an appointment. Before taking him, I checked the office's website, and saw they requested that you bring in a sample of your pet's fecal matter to the appointment. So I packed up Hazel, his water bottle, his food, and a ziploc with some rabbit droppings, and we set off for the vet.

When I arrived, they couldn't find Hazel's file, but finally located it over with the files for the female animals. Remind me to never name a pet for a literary reference again.

I explained the matting issue to the vet, who took Hazel and the fecal sample to the back to run some tests. Turns out, Hazel had a stomach parasite, which was making his droppings runny, hence the matting fur, something the other vet never thought to look for. Five days of medicine, and he's his normal, hoppy self.

Now, for the candle...

The vet's office sells this candles that eliminate pet odors. I put one on the counter to purchase, but with all the confusion of Hazel's paperwork ending up on the female side again, the receptionist forgot to add it to my cost. I didn't realize it until I got home, and happily left with the candle in my bag. The people at the front desk where very surprised when I showed up to pay for it the next day.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Creare: To Create

I made my wedding veil. Just wanted to brag, since I haven't posted anything I've made in a while.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians (series)

Title and author: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Rick Riordan

Summary: This is a series of five books. In the first book, 12 year Percy Jackson discovers that he is a demi-god: half-god, and half-human, and that there are many kids like him all over the world. As it turns out, the gods of ancient Greece never faded away, they just moved to New York, and have been up to their usual activities, albeit with modern twists, ever since.

The demi-gods are targets for ancient monsters that still roam the earth, and so take refuge in the safety of Camp Half-Blood, where they are trained to become heros. Adventures ensue.

My Review: Anytime a book alludes to Greek mythology, I watch closely to see what mistakes the author makes. Riordan makes very few. I've found that I can actually tell which of my students have read the series because they know their Greek mythology so much better than the one's who haven't.

The biggest criticism I've heard of the series is that it's a rip-off of Harry Potter, but I don't find that to be the case. Instead, it's a simple matter that both books clearly and deliberately follow the quest cycle common in ancient myth.

The characters are likable, the pacing is excellent, and so is the writer. Riordan is a masterful storyteller, and he knows his material well.

Age appropriate/kid friendly/morality: This book is intended for middle school audiences and above. It has the usual issues one finds in ancient myth (gods having children with mortals, etc.), but the human characters are all very well-behaved. Mature kids ages 7 and up will probably be fine reading these books.

Recommended: If you like myth and fantasy, this is for you. If not, then you probably won't like it. Adults may find the books feel a little young, but the adventures are exciting enough to keep older readers interested, and it's always intriguing to see which myth Riordan is going to take on next.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Don't Smile Until December! And Other Bad Teaching Advice

I've be given the advice "don't smile until December", or the similar "start out really strict" advice more times than I can count. I was given it my first day teaching at my current job, when I first started teaching as a Graduate Instructor, and most recently in a coffee shop by a stranger who overheard  me discussing my syllabus with a friend. And I have always blatantly ignored it. 

As both an adjunct at a community college and a part-time teacher at a middle school, I have experienced a vast range of students and instructors. When I first started teaching grad school, it was almost a competition amongst the grad students to see how many students they could scare into dropping their class the first day. In middle school, of course, students don't have that option. Instead, 'don't smile until December' is about setting the tone of your class, of making sure that students understand that they are going to have to do the work if the want a good grade. 

But I can't help think that this idea supports several statements I strongly disagree with. It says "learning is serious business", "this is work, being a student is your job", and worst of all, "learning isn't fun". 

But the truth is, learning should be fun. Learning is exploring new ideas, new places, new ways of thinking. School is where children learn how to become adults, how to communicate with one another, how to make friends and socialize, and how (hopefully) to one day make the world a better place. And if your teacher isn't smiling, well, who can blame kids (or adults!) for not liking school?

Don't get me wrong, learning is serious business. And it is a student's job to do the best they can at school. But any employer can tell you that they would gladly take one employee who loves their job over a half dozen who don't.

It takes a lot of energy to smile day in and day out. Students can be exasperating. It takes a lot of work to make conjugating verbs into something fun and exciting (believe me... it takes a lot of work), but the pay off can be worth it.

I have noticed that some of my students (college and middle school), are taken aback by my teaching style. They aren't sure how to react to the teacher jumping up and down in front of the room shouting, "aren't Latin nouns cool!" or "Maps are great!". But eventually they loosen up, and many are surprised to find that learning can actually be fun. 

Legall-ly stuff: This are my opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employers.