Sunday, October 31, 2010

In absentia

I spent the day complaining to anyone who would listen about being gone on Halloween.  (Then I showed them pictures of the kids on my cell phone to drive home how painful this was for me.)  Luckily, I have a husband who not only dutifully dressed them in costumes and took them around the neighborhood, but shot and edited a video so I could see it from afar.  When I called this afternoon, Noel told me they were totally psyched for trick-or-treating. I hope they had as much as it looks like they're having.  And look how great my Poké Ball costume turned out!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Membership has its privileges

I've always enjoyed being on the inside.  Being one of the people who is in the know.  In another setting, that appetite might have made me a gossip-monger.  In academia, it's made me an administrator and an officer of associations.

As an officer of the association whose meeting I am currently attending, I feel emboldened to introduce myself and shake hands with famous scholars whose work I admire.  Just this evening I made the acquaintance of Margaret Miles, whose book Seeing and Believing is one of the seminal texts in religion and film.  I tapped Diana Eck on the shoulder at a session earlier today and shared pleasantries.  For a person who still thinks of herself as a young scholar sitting at the feet of various masters, this is huge.  I am starstruck, yet the ribbon on my name badge identifying me as an officer of the organization provides the entree.  I make the overture and convey my appreciation for their work.  We communicate as colleagues.  I feel for the moment at least that I inhabit the same space as scholars whose work I admire, emulate, and have made use of.

I find myself in a bit of a different position than many of the meeting attendees I pass in the hallways.  There are undoubtedly hundreds or thousands who attend the conferences year after year, sitting in the room with folks whose work they have read and taught, and never feeling they attain the stature to cross that gap between the unsung toiler and the celebrated author.

From the moment I joined the organization and began to approach people whose writings I'd studied and analyzed, at the urging of my teachers, to ask questions and get advice, I was struck by the extraordinary collegiality of this branch of the academy.  My students probably wouldn't think of e-mailing a scholar whose article they might have read in class to get more insight; I urge them to make the move.  Nine times out of ten, the response is positive, generous, and helpful.  No matter how famous or anonymous, we are all part of the same academy.  The fact that we live that out so explicitly in this meeting is one of the wonders and miracles that give me hope for my discipline, my profession, my community, my country.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gains and losses

I do love coming to professional meetings.  I connect with fascinating people, learn more than I thought possible, indulge in the mutual admiration society that is the academy (at least this branch of it), and usually find time for a little sightseeing in the vibrant cities where we meet.

But I hate what I miss at home.  This year, like the last couple, it's Halloween (and Election Day).  I've early voted already, but missing Halloween hurts like the dickens.  I worked hard on Cady Gray's costume (can't claim to have done the same on Archer's, which was far more forgiving of a less-than-all-out effort), and I want to be there to see her flaunt it on the streets of our neighborhood.  Plus, candy.  You only get a limited number of Halloweens when the kids are small enough to really get into dressing up and trick-or-treating, and I've now missed three running.

Today I spent all day meeting and doing business, then celebrated this evening at a lovely dinner in our Executive Director's home.  It was a long day of intense effort and intimate socializing.  Tomorrow begins the conference proper: sessions, plenaries, receptions.  I have a few obligations, but there's also a lot of choice and options in my schedule.  There will be time, at last, to think.

And some of what I'll be thinking about is my family going about their weekend rounds without me.

Last week I was just as busy -- more so, actually -- and for all I missed at home, my university actually paused for that trip; classes were out for a fall break holiday while I was gone.  Today, just like that, I've missed two days of classes, and by the time I'm home I'll miss two more.  Meanwhile on the weekend, as I try to catch up when I can with the work my students are doing, that's when my children are most active in home life and when I miss the most time and experience with them.  It feels like I can't win -- attend to duties here, and I miss class; attend to class when duties here wane, and I miss family.

All I can do, I suppose, is keep up with what's actually possible at a distance, which is the work of this meeting and the classwork that I can read and return online.  Family contact isn't possible beyond a few minutes of phone conversation, so it's pointless to feel like I could be doing more or should be able to participate.  Yet that's the one area where the loss of ordinary time and effort -- what I'd be doing without having to make any special arrangements, if I were just home -- seems most damning.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Science fiction

The Marriott Marquis hotel in Atlanta inspires wildly divergent feelings.  The atrium soars 470 feet high, the entire height of the building, ringed with walkways that lead into the rooms that line the outside of the building.  Plants grow over the edges of the walkways and hang down into the atrium.  You ascend in glass elevators that run up and down the outside of pillars, looking out as you rapidly rise through forty-seven floors of empty space.

photo by connor.carey, CC attribution share-alike license, link to original on

Many people are freaked out by the elevators.  They stand with their back to the glass, facing the door, refusing to look out as they are carried up and down.

I am not a big fan of heights.  When at the top of tall places, or ascending steeply, I tend to be quite anxious.  I won't get close to the edge of drop-offs even when there are walls or barriers.  Even photos of people standing on rocky outcroppings make me nervous.

Yet I find the Marriott Marquis interior absolutely exhilarating.  There's something about the enclosure, the levels, the references to human scale that comforts me at the same time as it stimulates.  Many of our meetings are at the Hyatt across the street, which is a humbler version of the idea, and it's like the gardener's quarters at Versailles by comparison -- still pretty nice probably, perfectly livable, but not inspiring.

Moving around in the Marquis, you just want to stop and look.  There's nothing utilitarian about it, but somehow it works.  It reminds me of the scene in Star Trek II where we just pause and spend a couple of minutes watching the Enterprise move out of dry dock.  An experience to be enjoyed and savored, an experience that reminds you of how powerful ordinary moments can be when framed by a masterful hand.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Georgia on my mind

I'm traveling again tomorrow, only four days after arriving home from the last trip.  This time it's the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Atlanta, and I am really looking forward to this one.  It marks the end of a very productive period where I've been able to participate in the leadership of the organization.  I've been on hand for some huge decisions and helped shape the present direction of the group.  And I'm transitioning into what looks like a brief interim period in another role that should teach me a lot in a short amount of time.  I'll be able to use what I learn in seeking offices in other organizations.

So while I'm on the road, let me direct you to the Craft Wisely podcast.  My students have recorded six episodes, and I am pleased and proud to say that they've been learning avidly as they go, and have put together some very credible packages, especially the most recent episodes.  If you have a yen to peek into the class I'm teaching on handmaking's philosophical, historical, and social aspects -- or if you just want to see what a group of smart twenty-year-olds will do with some rudimentary podcasting instruction -- please check it out, and leave a comment on their blog if you have have feedback!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In training

Running Club has started meeting again at Archer's school.  You may recall that last year, his first eligible year to join, I went with him to most training session and ran the one mile fun run with him in the spring.  This year I can't go to the meetings, which are held after school on Mondays and Wednesdays, because of other commitments at those times.

So Archer has been running just with his schoolmates -- a huge gaggle of them.  If you happened by the schoolyard on Monday or Wednesday afternoon around 3:30, you'd see fifty kids circling the 1/12th mile track, chasing each other, walking several abreast, clunking and squirting each other with water bottles, and generally delineating an atmosphere where sustaining running is nearly impossible.

We've been a little worried by what we've found on a few occasions when picking Archer up after Running Club.  The incident he describes in "The Big Scrape" was fairly traumatic; he was banged up in several places, had his water bottle broken and spilled, and then insisted on running despite the advice of the physical education teacher supervising the club.  When Noel picked him up he was upset and exhausted.  Even when he hasn't been knocked down, he's been splotchy, sweaty and coughing when the half hour was up.  Given his insistence on telling us every day how he had set new personal bests in number of total laps and running, we were concerned that he was pushing himself beyond his limits.

I was able to get free for a Monday afternoon to join Archer at running club and see for myself what was up.  And apart from the scrum of third- and fourth-graders socializing and occasionally sprinting wildly and erratically around the track, there was nothing untoward happening.  Archer set himself a pace -- three running laps and one walking lap, rinse and repeat -- and enthusiastically announced the lap number in Spanish every time we crossed the starting line.  I taught him to sing out "On your left!" when approaching a blockade of third-grade girls.  And when he determined that the ending whistle was about to blow, he encouraged me to "kick it in" and ran the last three laps at double speed.  That's why he's physically spent when Dad picks him up.

It's good to know that Archer is motivated but not immoderate in his training.  He's hoping to run the 5K this year instead of the mile.  There's no doubt he can do it; the only question is whether I can manage to do it with him.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mixed media

I have to say that I love the way Archer has been integrating diagrams and charts into the writing he brings home from school.  It's so natural and effective to put the image right there at the point of need in his prose -- something I'm sure he equally intuits from the way his mind works and gets from the graphics-laden books he favors, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Edward Tufte would be proud!

Here's a couple of examples from last week.  Click the images to embiggen; I've transcribed the text below each one.

The assignment: Write a conversation between two friends talking about a science experiment or an invention.  Use quotation marks to show each speaker's exact words.  Remember to put all punctuation that goes with the quotation inside the quotation marks.


4 Square by Archer

Archer, Will Ward, Lauren, and Kate went out to play a game of 4 Square. This is who was in the squares: [diagram showing Will Ward in King square, Lauren in Queen square, Kate in Jack square, and Archer in Dungeon square]

Will Ward said, "Let's do no tricks except War and 2007."

Kate exclaimed, "What is 2007?"

Will Ward explained: "2007 means I may serve to any player."

Lauren said, "But this is where the King [crown icon] must always serve!" [small diagram with arrow moving from King square to Jack square]

Will Ward said, "2007!" and serve this way. [small diagram with arrow moving from King square to Dungeon square and then Out]

Will Ward was considered Out and went to Dungeon.

The End

The assignment: Think of a problem you solved.  Write a paragraph that tells how you solved it.  Include compound and complex sentences.


The Big Scrape
I was running fast, but I fell over and scraped myself, because of another runner.  I was determined not to give up.  I ran 17 consecutive laps, and walked the 18th one.  As I ran, I did only scarce walking laps.
[chart showing laps run over five days]
[chart showing running laps over five days with a sixth "prediction" day added]

And finally, just because I thought this one really captured the essence of the student-teacher relationship, here's a worksheet on quotation marks where Archer had to finish a story.


The story so far:

1. Madeleine said, "I'm going to try my own experiment!'
2. "No, you're not," said her teacher.
3. "Why not?" asked Madeleine.
4. Her teacher explained, "You have to do a lot of research before you try an experiment."
5. "I guess I better think about it carefully," said Madeleine.

The assignment: Write sentences on the lines below to continue the conversation between Madeleine and her teacher. Use quotation marks in each sentence.

6. "Where are you going to do your research?" asked her teacher.
7. Madeline said, "I'll go to www.".
8. Her teacher said, "There's no such website."
9. "How about" asked Mad.
10. Her teacher ended, "Go look in an encyclopedia."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Moment of decision

Twice a year I have to conduct what amounts to a job interview without the interview part.  It's an opportunity and a burden all at the same time.  Thirteen students have applied for positions as teaching assistants in the freshman seminars.  Five positions are available.  One of them is mine.

We get to select our own assistants out of the pool of applicants, and it's always a daunting task.  The students provide written statements about what they hope to contribute to the class, a leadership resume, and samples of their lesson plans and essay writing.  Some of them I've had in class; many of them I haven't.  You'd think that those I know might have an edge with me, but in practice I've selected a number of assistants over the years without firsthand experience of their academic skills.  I feel like I should consider everyone on their own merits and not eliminate anyone from consideration based on what classes they happened to take up to this point.

So from the material they provide, I have to decide who will serve the freshmen best; who will mesh with my pedagogical values most adroitly; and whom I'll be able to work well with.  All of that involves predicting an uncertain future.  Even if I happen to know the applicant as a student in a previous class, there's no guarantee that our experience together forms enough basis for this new decision.

My task isn't to select the best of the applicants, but the one who will be the best partner for me in the classroom.  Or perhaps it's the one to whom I can teach the most.  At any rate, there will only be one each semester.  I have to live with my choice, and so does the student who ends up with me, and the freshmen who will be in our class.  It's a moment that defines a semester for all of us.  So far I've chosen well ten times.  Tomorrow I'll try to make it eleven.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Next year in Phoenix

Aside from my usual disagreements with the lavishness of the arrangements, I had a wonderful time at this year's National Collegiate Honors Society meeting.  I helped lead two sessions (one of which I think was quite valuable to the audience, the other of which was more valuable to the presenters), and was called upon to participate in two more for which I had relevant expertise.  I attended two business meetings and served as a consultant to a half-dozen members looking for a way to make their programs better.  It was one of the more valuable three-day conference stretches of my professional career, in terms experience shared and gained per unit of time spent.

Next year the meeting is in Phoenix, Arizona, and right at this point it looks like a tough sell.  The sentiment for boycotting conventions in Arizona over their immigration law is still active, for one thing.  National meetings in western states always do more poorly, for another, a fact I've learned over my time with the American Academy of Religion; the bulk of the membership is on or near the east coast, and the time and expense involved in making the longer trip reliably depress attendance.

I know that the 2011 conference planner, Greg Lanier of the University of West Florida, has some innovative and bold ideas to make the meeting attractive yet responsible.  And hey, I'm looking forward to the single-hop Southwest flight from my home airport as much as anything.  So I'm hoping that the Phoenix meeting exceeds expectations and sets a new standard for the organization.  It would be nice if we could take this crisis of a meeting with two strikes against it and turn it into an opportunity to rethink the whole national convention paradigm for NCHC, wouldn't it?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Where all the lights are bright

Riding in a taxi into downtown Kansas City on Wednesday night, coming across the bridge and into the blaze of buildings and streetlights, I had an incredible sense of vertiginous deja vu.  The magic of a city at night is something that always makes my breath catch in my chest and my heart skip a beat.  I feel as if I am dropping off the edge of the known world and being caught by a fantasy rising up to meet me.

And yet for all its unreality, the city felt strangely familiar.  I don't think I have ever been to Kansas City before -- at least I can't remember a visit in my adult life.  Part of it, I'm sure, is that the city is much like other cities in whose downtowns I've roamed during similar conventions.  The bank buildings with the food courts on the first floors, the revitalized dining and entertainment district, the park opposite the convention center, the mix of older hotels and those rebranded as major chains.

But there is a sense of scale here that resonates with me.  I feel I am vibrating on the same frequency as this city.  It's big but not overwhelming or impersonal.  It hosts and nourishes major national events and franchises, yet the local theaters and troupes seem just as splashy, presented and promoted with just as much pride.  There's southern charm and urban energy with a sense of tradition and elegance, as if they've got nothing to prove.

I hadn't thought much about where I was going before I landed; it was just another meeting in just another city.  But now I'm glad to be here, and already plotting when I can come back.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I stick to the path that I choose

Today's post about Halloween props is at Toxophily.


Posting from Kansas City, and presuming that these cushy, huggable Poké Balls are being employed back in Conway luring and trapping stray Munchlax that happen to be hanging around the front yard area.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rooting interest

I'm in the Memphis airport waiting for my flight to Kansas City to depart in about an hour. The airport authorities have thoughtfully tuned all the TVs in the terminal -- the ones normally blaring CNN -- to game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

Now my team, the Braves, was eliminated in the National League Division Series, after putting up a heck of a fight despite the heart of the All-Star lineup being sidelined by injuries. So I don't have a team to root for in either league championship or the World Series.

But sometimes it's enough to have teams to root against. And there they are in both leagues: the Yankees and the Phillies. The team battling the Yankees, with their obscene payroll and 900-pound-gorilla attitude, suddenly becomes a David that easily captures the heart of any baseball fan except the privileged New Yorkers. And this year it's the Rangers, a team that before this series had never won a playoff game at all. Their offensive explosions in the last three games have been both flabbergasting and highly satisfying, considering they occur at the expense of the vaunted (but aging) Yankees pitching staff. As I type they appear to be on their way to lose this one, extending the series to a sixth game. I hope it's just the inevitable bump on the way to victory, and not the start of a distressing Yankee comeback. If the Yankees won, it would be expected, boring, and a little bit evil, like the Empire crushing the Rebellion.

The Phillies aren't nearly so insidious; in fact, with their tradition of scrappy blue-collar hitters, they're kind of likeable, at least historically. But for the past few years, they've been a powerhouse that's run roughshod over the dreams of other denizens of the National League East. They are direct competitors for postseason slots against the Braves, and therefore our rivals, and it's hard to break the habit of rooting for them to lose all season long. And so I find myself in the odd position of rooting for the suddenly underdog Giants, a team that we all loved to revile during the Barry Bonds era, when their bandbox ballpark and freakishly 'roided hitters made them a run-scoring factory and a symbol of raw, amoral power.

Should both my teams win, I'll be in a pickle. The National League has a severe deficit of Series wins, so it will be hard not to root for the senior circuit and the honor of the games' oldest traditions. But the Rangers have won my heart, and what a joy it would be to see them and their fans celebrate a championship they've never been able to fathom before..

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back to airland

I'm flying out tomorrow for Kansas City in the late afternoon.  It's a strange time for me.  I prefer to fly in the day on the theory that schedules will have less time to get backed up the earlier I go.  (I once had a 7 am flight delayed for nearly an hour, though, because the crew got in late the night before and couldn't go back out until after their mandatory rest period.  So my theory might be all wet.)

But flying out early has one distinct disadvantage: getting to your destination early.  If you get to the hotel before mid-afternoon, your room may not be ready, and you'll end up cooling your heels in the lobby or stowing your luggage with the concierge and taking a stroll.

So I usually split the difference and fly out around midday.  It might be the worst of all possible worlds -- certainly I encounter my share of delays -- but it also means that if I miss a connection, there will probably be another way to get to my destination.

Tomorrow's flights break all my rules.  I have to connect -- no way to get to KC from here direct -- and the late flight means that if there's trouble, I'll be stuck in Memphis overnight.  (Oh, that brings back bad memories.)

So while I'm in transit, go read the Craft Wisely blog and make some comments.  Listen to the podcast.  Commit to help my students craft for Conway Cradle Care -- The Sensible Seamstress has put out the call.  And I'll check in tomorrow night from Kansas City, or at least here's hoping!

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's so sad if that's the way it's over

Today's post about a perfect hat for a young lady whose life is still short of perfect is at Toxophily.


No, Cady Gray is not the young lady in question -- she's just my model, as always. But seeing how beautiful the hat looks on her, she just might be getting one of these in the near future.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Intensive preparations

And so I enter the season of absence.  I'll be traveling eleven of the next sixteen days, including Halloween.  Those costumes I worked on this weekend -- quite successfully, if I do say so myself -- will be donned and admired without me.

Four of those days are on weekends; another two encompass my university's fall break, when no classes meet.  So that leaves only five teaching days I'm going to miss.  For one of those, my class is scheduled to meet with others in a large group led by another instructor.  Now I'm down to four.  I'm actually not missing class on the first day of my travel, since my flight isn't until late afternoon -- that makes three days I'm abandoning my duties.  Two of them are being covered by my teaching assistants, and I have a guest speaker for the other one.

So my classes are all in order.  But what about my travels?  Of course the planes and hotels have been booked for months.  The presentations for this coming weekend are just about done (always just about last thing I manage); the board materials for the following weekend haven't yet arrived for my review.  There are only two matters on which I feel dreadfully behind.  One is student work, which I always proactively stress about not being able to keep up with on my trip.  The other is knitting.

See, travel is good for two things, in addition to the stated purpose of the trip.  The long periods of downtime provide the perfect opportunity to get through piles of student work.  And when you can't read  journals, papers, and blog posts, you can knit.

But you need the right project.  I can take all the student work with me on my laptop -- it's all out on the web and in the cloud.  The only limitation on the amount of grading I can do is the amount of work that the students have done.  For the knitting, though, I have to take physical supplies: yarn and needles.  That means I have to know what I want to knit before I leave.  And the knitting needs to be quite specific: not so difficult that it requires constant attention to a pattern, not so quick that it will be done before the trip is over; not so bulky that the yarn to make it will take up a lot of luggage space.

Sometime before Wednesday morning I'll pack, print handouts, and double-check my electronic equipment.  And I'll settle on a project for the trip -- a choice with a lot riding on it, considering how large knitting looms in my plans.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Now we're off the hook

Today's post about the miracle of changing directions is at Toxophily.


Come on, chilly weather. I'm ready for you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Halloween commissions

There are so many wonderful things about having children.  Halloween costumes are not one of them, as far as I'm concerned.  I love taking pictures of my kids on Halloween, I love having them be excited about dressing up and going house to house.  But when it comes to putting together good costumes, the pressure really gets to me.  I don't feel like I have the time or creativity to do it well, but I don't want to send them out in something half-baked.

So when Noel reminded me that this is the weekend to get their costumes made, since I'm going to be gone for the next two weekends in a row, I didn't need the heads-up.  I've been thinking about little else all week.

Cady Gray wants to be a Poké Ball.  I would love to make her into a sphere, but the only way I could think of to do it involves sheets and sewing and stuffing and the serious possibility of it going very wrong.  So I'm thinking sandwich board ... styrofoam ... cardboard ... poster board, maybe poster paint ... fabric straps over the shoulder.

Archer wants to be a chess piece.  We have talked him into a rook, so there's not a whole lot of shape needed to the body of the piece.  Basically I'm thinking poster board wrapped around him held up with fabric shoulder straps, and a crenellated crown.  All white, no fuss.  But I started to think about where his arms would go and whether his legs would be able to move.  There may be some details that I'll have to figure out on the fly.  And that's what I dread.

Any suggestions for how to do these costumes, oh creative readership?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

She's making sure she's not dreaming

Today's post about the dichotomies of the scarf perfection is at Toxophily.


Oh, and the race? Finished without walking. Time: 20:02. Bring on the weekend.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the road (first time)

My family has its share of runners.  My older brother set records in distance events running track at his high school, and ran cross-country in college.  Dad started jogging when it was a fad in the seventies, shed an impressive number of pounds (so much so that he grew a beard to give shape to his newly thin face) and stayed with it as long as his joints could take the pounding.

I ran with my Dad some, but it was cycling that I enjoyed much more with him (and on my own).  Running was so ... slow.  The scenery barely changed, step by step, minute by minute.  It took forever to get somewhere.

Over the years I occasionally jogged as part of various exercise resolutions.  Usually various aches and pains send me back to less jarring forms of working out after awhile.  Last year I decided to run with Archer in his school's running club, culminating in a fun run in March.  That's when I discovered that I'd been doing it wrong for years, trying to run too fast and both exhausting and injuring myself.  Slow, I found, was the key; jogging slowly, I could keep going much longer in both time and distance.

So it's not accurate to say that I run; I jog, and barely.  But I've extended my stamina in tiny bits until entering an actual adult fun run was conceivable about a month ago, when a two-mile Halloween race was announced on my campus.

Two miles is hardly anything.  Most of us could walk it without noticing; most of my students could run it barely breaking a sweat.  But to this 45-year-old non-runner, getting to two miles without stopping to walk, even at an anemic jogging pace, is an accomplishment.  I hesitated to sign up.  I'd be taking my jogging off the track and into public, daring to set foot on the same course with actual runners.  I'd be exposing my decrepit form and snail's pace to the world.

But I thought it was time.  Tomorrow night I'll be creeping along at the tail end of the Trick or Trot fun run around the UCA campus.  My goal is to jog the entire distance, without walking, tripping over curbs in the dark, twisting an ankle, breaking a bone, or passing out.  I hope to finish ahead of people who walk the whole distance, but there certainly are no guarantees.  If I make it, maybe I'll feel -- just for a moment -- like a runner.  Like a member of the family.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tonight, tonight the highway's bright

Today's post about otherworldly geometries realized in crochet and cotton is at Toxophily.

And if you want to read more about hyperbolic space and the way mathematicians figured out how to model it with crochet, here's a good place to start.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lucky town

Tomorrow is my fourteenth wedding anniversary.  On October 12, 1996, Noel and I got married, and remarkably our parents seemed happy about the event, despite our combined lack of marketable skills.  We just knew we wanted to be together.

Now there are two bubbly, energetic kids bouncing around the house.  Oh, there's a house, in a town where I have a job.  There's a two car garage with two cars in it.  There are all the trappings of settled life.  It's not as luxurious as many, but in so many ways it feels like a damn sight more than I deserve.

On beautiful fall evenings, with the Japanese maples blazing with color and the sunset filtering in through the windshield, I like to think about the little miracle of my life as I drive through town.  The careers that we have, just about exactly what we would have chosen if we had been designing our own jobs.  The children -- so astoundingly bright, so wonderfully happy, so achingly beautiful.

None of that is forever, of course.  It could all be taken away tomorrow.  But what unmerited good fortune -- what grace -- to have enjoyed it even for a moment.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Putting the hand in handmade

Fascinating stuff happening in my upper-division class "Craft Wisely: The Past, Present, and Future of Handmade."  You can peek in on the discussion through the blog and podcast being constructed by the students.  And if you leave a comment on any of these posts, the students will get the benefit of realizing that their writing is reaching an audience outside the classroom walls.  Here's what they wrote about recently:

  • Adrea confesses her startitis and her "drawerful" of yarn (which brings to mind this comic).
  • Ariel reveals the beginning of her knitting -- imperfect, like all of ours.
  • Anna goes back to the Renaissance and finds a handmade world.
  • Lynn finds a way past the frustration of flawed work.
  • Natasha aims to inspire others to create, the way her grandmother inspired her, and wrestles with her desire to knit sweaters that would require tender care.
  • Kim shares her passion for making film props, the more outrageous, the better.
  • Ella goes back to the very beginning, and documents her transformation into an artist.
  • Kate relates a childhood friendship to a favorite artist who works within the natural world, and links to a "This I Believe" essay especially relevant to the class.
  • And in the last two episodes of the podcast, students discuss their service project for the Orphan Foundation of America, and ponder craftivism as communication.

Please visit, read, comment, and listen!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy birthday to me

Not only does my husband cook my favorite foods and get me amazing, thoughtful gifts on my birthday, but he always makes sure the kids have a chance to make me cards.  Today I woke up to the oversized cards they made with markers and art paper after their early breakfast.

Here's Cady Gray's card.  I could tell she lavished attention on the poetic cover ...


... then ran out of time for the inside.


Archer, on the other hand, takes delight in addressing me by my first name ...


... then praises me for occasionally acting like a mom (that's my office room number and a Wii remote in the pictures) ...



... and gave me a math-themed birthday cake! Look at that elegant candle!


I love my kids, and they loved me back all day long. Best birthday ever!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Next stage

Every ten years, I feel like my life is beginning anew.

At fifteen I was beginning to ask the questions about authority, tradition and religion that would set me on my life's quest.

At twenty-five I was starting the graduate program that would provide me with the first glimmers of an answer that could enable me to move forward.

At thirty-five I was starting a new job and about to embark on the adventure of motherhood.

And at forty-five, the milestone I reach tomorrow, I feel like I'm starting something yet again.  I'm learning a new way of teaching that has the potential to realize some of my deepest values as an educator.  I'm in the first stages of a research project that I hope will define my next decade.  I have a new administrative title and a new urgency about learning how to manage people and processes well.

There are gray hairs on my head, I learned earlier this year when I went in for a trim.  For awhile I didn't know how to feel about that.  Now I think it's a sign of another turning point in my life.  Not the onset of decline, but the start of yet another identity that builds on the one before.

Here's to the next decade.  I hope you'll still be reading when it comes time for me to muse about what is beginning at age fifty-five.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What color is your parachute?

When I got home this afternoon, Archer greeted me at the door with big news.  "At Pinnacle today," he reported, "I got one of the two highest scores on the thought of the day."

I've written about the thought of the day before.  It's a challenge for Archer to interpret these sayings, maxims, and quotations, which often rely on metaphors and lateral thinking.  Since Pinnacle has started again, he's struggled, usually earning one or one and a half points on the three-point scale.

I always encourage him and praise him for the way he works on the thought.  From what I see in the notebook he brings home every week, he uses the strategy of working out what he thinks as he writes.  You can see the gears turning while he composes sentences one after the other, trying to buy time for himself as he thinks about what the words mean and what connections the combination might suggest.

Today he earned 2.5 points, tied with one other student for the high score in the class.  I think he had a creative response that actually deepens the meaning of this saying for me, even though it's not exactly what "open minds" means to most of us.  Here's the thought and his response:
"Minds are like parachutes.  They only function when they are open."
Your brain can only run when you are given something to work on.  It must run if you need to finish some kind of work.  Your brain needs to run that way because it contains everything you know.  That's like a parachute: it only runs if it's opened.  When you are given work to do, your brain "opens."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Handwork teaches you about yourself.  For instance, it's become undeniable that I have a problem with finishing.  The last few minutes it takes to complete a project and place it firmly in the done category, are minutes I will procrastinate on for days, weeks, months.

For many knitters, finishing means sewing pieces together.  I often wait a little while to do that, but usually not very long.  Because an item that is still in pieces or has gaping holes under the arms or whatever needs seaming is demonstrably not finished.  It is still far from being finished; it doesn't even look like the item is supposed to.

No, I don't have a problem with sewing.  In fact, as I told a student this afternoon who expressed her hatred of "making up," I have gotten over a paralyzing fear of seaming and now wield my needle fearlessly -- well, almost.  Once I get started, I remember why.  Mattress stitch, the method most often used to connect pieces of knitting together, is a magical thing.  It works like a charm and requires few judgment calls.  Almost as automagical as knitting itself.

What I have a problem with is sewing on buttons.

I've had a baby gift done for a month. The baby is due any day.  I was supposed to mail it last week.  But the buttons -- buttons I bought back in August -- are still not attached.

Two weeks ago I finished major knitting on a cardigan that I hoped to wear on some of the first cool weather days this fall.  Those days are already here, at least a week's worth where I've pulled out a sweater to wear to work, and where is the cardigan?  That's right -- blocked, seamed, ends woven in, but buttonless.

And you could outfit a whole other family with the clothes sitting in my mending pile, fine except for ... missing buttons.  Many's the year when the whole season passed and the clothes were outgrown, never receiving the five minutes per item it would have taken to put those buttons back on and make them wearable.

So I have a button problem.  I don't hate buttons, I don't mind sewing them on, but for some reason it takes an effort to get out the needles and thread and get it done -- an effort I can happily go for weeks on end without making.  What's the one little detail that you can put off indefinitely and keeps those projects on your pending pile?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Let the sunshine in

It's been a great year to be an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reader.  As if to make up for six years of neglect (and sometimes outright complicity) in l'affaire Hardin at my university, the newspaper has gone on a FOIA tear through state government, uncovering all sorts of questionable practices, favoritism, waste, and lack of oversight.

First there were the non-retired retirees.  A few years ago, legislators worried that government offices were losing their most experienced human capital to retirement, and accordingly passed a law allowing those offices to re-hire retired workers after a short mandatory waiting period.  Whaddya know, this year the Dem-Gaz found that several highly-paid state employees had gamed the system.  They retired with the understanding that the office would re-hire them after the 90 days were up, thereby enabling them to draw both their salary and their pension simultaneously.  In a few cases, they never actually quit working -- just took their names off the payroll.

Then came the story on state vehicles.  Turns out some elected officials were being granted use of a state vehicle to commute to and from work, but weren't counting the value of use as income because of -- get this -- a constitutional provision stating that elected officials can't receive any income over and above their legally-set salaries.  If the state was giving them a car, the reasoning went, it couldn't be income, because they were prohibited from receiving any more income!

That led to a sweeping investigation by the paper of various agencies' practices regarding state vehicles, uncovering one agency with more cars than employees.

Today's exercise in truthtelling was the revelation that in Pulaski County (the home of Little Rock, the state capital), the assessor has been granting nine pastors exemptions from property taxes on the homes that they own.  The law allows an exemption for church-owned parsonages, but citing "custom," the county assessor gave it to everyone who asked whom she could verify were full-time ministers.  The fact that only nine asked is a tribute both to how few people knew about this lucrative loophole, and to how lucrative it was for those who made the effort to benefit -- their houses ranged from the $300,000 to $600,000 range (in a state where you would have to search long and hard to find a $600,000 house).

I take great delight in these investigations.  They are Arkansas newspapering at its finest: uncovering unfairness, waste, and profiteering in practices that people justify based on the way things have always been.  Long live local journalism!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Words and pictures by

Cady Gray brought home a few pages of writing about her number one favorite subject -- Pokémon. Here they are, complete with illustrations.


I like to watch Pokémon. I have the Deluxe Pokémon handbook. Pokémon are fun to have, and their battles are exciting to watch! (P.S. I'm going to be a Pokéball for halloween.)


A Pokéball is Red and white a Great Ball is blue and white a Ultra ball is yellow and white and a Master ball is Purple


and white and each one has a button. Pokémon games are my favorite!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


October started back a couple of days ago when I wasn't looking.  It's my birthday month, and our anniversary, too.  I'm taking two trips to conferences late in the month.  There's Halloween for the kids (which I will miss during my second conference).   And then when it's over, it will be almost the holidays and almost 2011.

But wait -- I'm getting ahead of myself.  First, the anniversary.  I've made an effort to stick to the vicinity of the traditional gifts (or their more expansive modern variations) for the past thirteen years.  It all culminated with number 13 in 2009 -- textiles!  Finally an excuse to knit my man a sweater.  I did!  And now there will never again be a prescribed anniversary gift that falls so squarely in my kitchen.

This year the traditional gift is ivory, and the modern gift is gold jewelry.  Hm.  Where do you go with that for a stay-at-home dad and freelance writer?  Piano is out -- budget will not allow.  I can't see Noel sporting a gold chain.  What else is made of ivory, or an environmentally and politically acceptable substitute thereunto?

Fourteen might be a challenge, readers.  If you have any suggestions, leave 'em in the comments.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

It's the arts


Noel is in Austin appearing on a Flow Conference panel on television criticism. Luckily Conway put on an arts festival for the amusement of my children!


Up top, Archer colored the A in ArtsFest for Archer. Here Cady Gray colors the R because ... it's the next letter, I guess.


They say autistic kids lack mirror neurons, but Archer has never seen a dance performance that he didn't immediately want to imitate. He followed these dancers' every move ...


... even when it took him down to the ground.


And of course, they were proud of Mom's yarn bombing. (Front page worthy yarn bombing, actually!)


Cady Gray really wanted to scrutinize the yarn-bombing centerpiece: this Honda motorcycle completely covered with knit and crochet. (Even the stand anchoring it in place had a comprehensive cozy.)


It was the kind of morning, with the kind of kids, that makes Morton Brown's brilliant mural Aurora Rising seem like sober realism.

Friday, October 1, 2010

In the air

Many people associate summer with freedom.  When we were children, summer meant school being out, and being master of one's own time and energy.

I find that spring and fall are the times I feel most free.  Change is in the air.  It feels like something new is on the way.  And that's when I have the sense of unfettered motion, of expansiveness, of being exhilaratingly untethered.

Does that say anything about what freedom means to others, and what it means to me?  Maybe.  I crave security and routine, not adventure.  But security and routine are not the place where I find freedom.  Throughout my life, it's when I've left behind the known and the familiar that I've found that sense of possibility.  They've been frightening moments -- but moments when I could not avoid the realization that I was making my own way.

As the seasons change, the world around us moves toward a new destination.  Summer and winter are stable, the zenith and the nadir of the year.  They linger, and we wonder if we will ever emerge.  It's when the stasis breaks and the seasons are on the move that the future opens me.  I don't know where I'm headed, but I know I'm not standing still.  Something new is coming, and what I do will determine what it is.  That's a risk, but a heady one.  It's what freedom feels like to me.