Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Self promotion

Gradually, as my teaching style has changed from traditional and classroom-focused to experimental and real-world-project-focused, I've had to adopt another style that didn't come naturally.  I've had to be an advocate for the accomplishments of my students out in that real world.

Doing something that makes a public difference is all well and good in itself.  But how much it's magnified when other people know you've done it!  Most of these projects aim to accomplish something concrete, but almost all of them can handle an additional goal -- to let other people know about the need that the project is addressing.  To achieve that goal, you need to utilize the communication channels that exist to get the word out.  And that means not being shy about asking people to open those doors for you.

Some are under your control.  Make a website; put up a YouTube video; link to them from your Facebook or Twitter feed.  But beyond that, you need others' help.  Ask your friends to retweet and spread the word.  Call the newspaper.  Get a photographer to your event.  Suggest a story to the campus newsletter.  Invite participation by folks beyond your classroom walls.

If any of that comes through, it means what you're doing has intrinsic interest.  Others can participate in the awareness campaign for reasons that mesh with their own goals.  Then the ball's back in your court -- publicize their publicity through the networks of which you're a part.

The reasons for doing so aren't self-aggrandizement.  It's a further step in making the activity real and consequential.  The more the outside world takes an interest -- and takes up the cause -- the more the students at the center of it all aren't just doing a class project.  They're setting something in motion that is bigger than their grade, bigger than the semester, bigger than the academic game we all learn to play.  They can start something that attracts other people -- that has gravity, that has legs, that inspires and moves people to action.

That's reason enough to let go of any remaining humility and recruit anyone you can to help you shout it from the rooftops.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I have a colleague who used to come back to the office at night and work until the wee hours of the morning.  He doesn't do it anymore -- childcare keeps him at home during his off hours -- but I'll bet he misses it.

There's something about a college campus at night.  The few classrooms still in use call to you from their lighted windows.  The library buzzes.  If there are staffpeople still working at desks or counters, they are not the same people you see during the day.  It's like there's a night shift; everything switches, the view darkens and becomes illuminated, the activities change, and those of us who go home at five o'clock will never know it.

Tonight I exited my evening obligation into a cool mist.  It had rained all day, and as the front moved through with relatively warm air, fog blanketed the streets, lawns, and sidewalks.  Lampposts wore halos.  Under the spreading shade trees, the ground crackled and popped -- moisture still falling from the autumn leaves, along with the occasional brief hailstorm of acorns.

I walked slowly to my car, parked in a space reserved for the dean; for tonight, I'm close enough.  Beside my station wagon in the other two deans' spots were unfamiliar cars -- students at the library or at study groups, making the relatively safe bet that the deans won't be stopping by at nine o'clock on a Monday night.  As I backed out, a truck waited patiently for me to vacate.  It was inconsiderate of me to be present and in my proper space, I know.  Time for me to turn the campus over to those who own it for the night.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A holiday of our own

Noel invented his new favorite day of the year -- the day after Thanksgiving, when there is mail delivery, everything is open, and there are delicious leftovers to eat.  He named it Noel Day.

I like the days after a holiday, too.  Even though our Thanksgiving feast was awesome this year, it still comes with some stress, at least on the day itself.  On Friday, with nothing but a long weekend ahead of me, I took a morning to go to an empty office and get work done that was necessary for Monday's return to classes.  We watched football all day Friday and Saturday -- great games, too.  I knit practically nonstop and finished a one-skein triangular scarf out of sock yarn in four days; as soon as it's blocked my mom, who admired it while it was still in progress, will get it.  With Granny Lou and Papa's help, the tree was up and trimmed in a couple of hours Saturday afternoon.

The next three weeks will be busy.  Two full weeks of classes (one more than we usually have after Thanksgiving), an administrative planning retreat on the designated study day at the end of the second week, the culmination of two service learning projects in one class and a collaborative final exam in the other class, two parties during finals week to celebrate the end of those endeavors, a summit with my teaching assistants to debrief this semester and plan for the next one, and a full day of thesis presentations on graduation eve.

Thank goodness I'm not having to prepare for Christmas travel during that madness.  The campus doesn't even close until the day before Christmas Eve.  It will be tough enough just to get all the gifts planned, wrapped, and on their way to their recipients, but I'm infinitely more sanguine about it knowing I'm not facing interstates or airports over the holidays.  As busy as we'll be, there will be time for everything -- including enjoying the season.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Word magic

No grammatical form is as wondrous as the modal of past habits.

I would sit for hours and look at the Christmas tree.

We would have to wait until Dad set up the lights for home movies before we could run down the stairs Christmas morning.

Mom would make pancakes after all the presents had been opened.

Whenever I use that structure, I am transported.  In the simple word "would" is the sense that these moments formed a tradition, repeated with all the joy of a fulfilling ritual.  That those who participated engaged in a tacit agreement about the meaning and significance of these simple actions.  That even at the time, we knew these shared behaviors were special.

And when we talk about them now, our reminiscences are tinged with the golden glow of memory.  Somewhere within this humble bit of grammar is a time machine.  It only goes to the moments no one else knows are the best of your life.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fairy tale hats

Today's post about hats fit for a fantasy world is at Five Alarm Fire.

Yes, that's right -- another blog!  This one isn't my own, though.  It's a group blog started by a member of the silver-medal-winning Dish Rag Tag team Five Alarm Fire.  The team was so wonderful, so active, and so generally enamored of the camaraderie achieved during the race that the members wanted to keep in touch.

Shortly after the race, I put out the invitation to the eleven other team members to make hats for my class's Conway Cradle Care service project, and I've gotten three different contributions so far (with one more in the mail on the way, according to the USPS Click-n-Ship notification I just got my e-mail).  Each has been more beautiful than the last.

More importantly, they are tangible evidence that the spirit of our project reaches beyond our classroom walls, inspiring and motivating people around the country who become connected to it via various social networks.  I'm realizing that what I did this semester -- sending a personal invitation to a small group of folks with whom I'd recently been personally and rather intensely involved -- is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of leveraging social media for efforts like this.  Or looked at another way, there are people out there waiting for such an invitation -- hungry for the opportunity to connect, contribute, and make a difference with a personal touch.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I'm thankful for

  1. The health of my children.
  2. Our jobs.
  3. Studio screeners stacked by the TV for end-of-the-year listmaking.
  4. The bins of yarn tucked away by the garage, waiting to be made into beautiful things.
  5. My husband's talent and prestige in his field.
  6. My kids' enthusiasms -- for Nintendo games, Pokemon, chess, comic strips, whatever they choose to love and enjoy.
  7. Leftover turkey sandwiches with bread-and-butter pickles.
  8. A new retaining wall that makes our property infinitely more presentable.
  9. Free public-domain books on my Kindle.
  10. A Christmas and New Years to look forward to -- with no travel to dread!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Poultry time

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving always sneaks up on me.  That's the day I need to locate my five-gallon bucket, boil my brine, and pray the turkey has thawed.  That's the day I start preparing the bird.

Even though Alton Brown's recipe has been fool-proof for the last several years, I always find something to stress about.  Today it's the weather.  I'm in the habit of putting the bucket outside in the cool weather overnight.  But it will be far from cool here tonight.  After checking the fridge to see if there is space for a five-gallon bucket -- even though I don't believe there has ever been room for a five-gallon bucket in that fridge, including when it was brand new and empty -- I decided that I'd just to get up a few times overnight and make sure the brine was well iced.

That led to a new worry: Do we have enough ice?  I broke out our iced-tea maker this afternoon and made a pot, which involved digging deep into the freezer for ice.  Would enough be rejuvenated by tonight to properly ice down the brine?  Or would I be sending Noel out for a bag of ice around 10 pm?  (Just checked the freezer; looks like the icemaker is chugging away.  See -- this is what the anxiety does to me.)

Turkey is a high-profile meal component, and you only get one shot at it.  To make matters worse, Noel casually asked my parents (here visiting for the holiday) if this was the first time they'd ever had my turkey.  I could have sworn they've been here before on Thanksgiving, but nope -- this is the first time.  I have the utmost confidence in my recipe, but my ability to execute the game plan isn't a matter on which I'm nearly as certain.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sideways arithmetic

Lately Archer has been interested in creating word addition problems of the type he reads in his beloved More Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School.  Wikipedia tells me that these problems are called "cryptarithms"; an example would be "one plus one equals zero."  The puzzle is to find out what digit each letter represents.

Archer has been trying to make his own, but the trick of constructing them so that all the elements are real words is slightly beyond him.  (He did offer "no plus no equals too" today.)  Yesterday he emerged from his room with "problems plus problems equals srbenpolm," and suggested -- without prompting -- that "srbenpolm" might be a city in a foreign country.

Cady Gray tried her hand at one last night.  She brought me out a sheet last night headlined "Bonus."  On it she had constructed "quail plus quail equals lequqi."  As a starting point she gave me that E=3 and L=1.  Can you figure out what Q, U, A, and I are?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Six times a year

I believe in the purpose-built device.  As opposed, you see, to the all-purpose device.  I find great pleasure and utility in having a Kindle that is built for reading.  Sure, I could read e-books on my phone or my computer screen, but that's not what those devices were built for, and so reading long passages on them has significant drawbacks.  If I value reading, then I don't want to struggle through the compromise it takes it read on a device that will present e-books, but not well.  I want a purpose-built device so that it disappears and doesn't constitute a barrier to my work.

For years now I've had a tablet PC at work.  I insist on it because there are six times a year, at minimum, that nothing other than tablet technology will do.  Those are the three student essays I typically need to grade every semester.  I want to receive the papers electronically and give them back electronically.  And although I could type up my comments or use Word's track-changes feature to interpose them, I find this process extremely clunky.  I just want to write on the page, cross out things, add things, bracket things, make marginal notes.  And so only a tablet will do.

I like my tablet PC (Lenovo's X series of ThinkPad tablets) just fine.  But my current X200 died for the second time today, the predictable victim of connections through the swiveling hinge.  I can always tell when I'm in trouble -- the swivel suddenly becomes difficult, and after pushing the screen into place, a few days later, the tablet pen won't move the cursor anymore.

So I took it to the help desk, and I expect to get it back with a new motherboard again in a few days.  But it's made me wonder whether the hybrid nature of the tablet PC (it's both a laptop and a tablet) makes it especially vulnerable to this problem -- and whether it is almost time to go with a new purpose-built device for this important task of grading essays in a natural, speedy, and paperless way.  I wonder whether it is time to get an iPad.

A few weeks ago I did some poking around to see if any teachers were grading papers on the iPad, and I saw that some people have cobbled together little ad hoc suites of apps that annotate PDFs or Pages documents.  I don't want to spend time inventing something, really.  I just want to grab a tablet and write on a paper that I can then send back to the student in a form they can read.

How about it, iPad owners and instructor or editor types?  Are you using the iPad to mark up text?  How do you do it, and do you think this use of the device is ready for prime time?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the air

Venita Jenkins from the UCA publicity office and her videographer Aaron were kind enough to come out on short notice to film some of our Craft-In a couple of weeks back.  It was so windy that day that the interviews we recorded on the scene had audio obscured by the noise of the wind against the mikes.  So they truly went above and beyond by coming over a few days ago to re-record them inside.

Here's the video from the UCA YouTube channel.  Feel free to share!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Planning a feast

It's the weekend before Thanksgiving, and that means it's time to decide what we're making for the big dinner on the big day.  My parents are going to be visiting for the occasion, which thrills their grandchildren to no end.  It makes me think of all the Thanksgiving dinners I enjoyed at home over the years.  When I was a teenager, that meant my mom taking dishes down the driveway to my grandparents' house, where my favorite parts of the meal were waiting: Nana's stuffing (casserole style, cooked in the oven) and her yellow layer cake with thick caramel icing made on the stovetop and spread quickly before it hardens.

I know people who are fanatical about making every component of the Thanksgiving meal themselves, right down to the cornbread used in the stuffing and the scratch yeast rolls.  Call me a child of convenience foods, but brown-and-serve rolls (or even better, Sister Schubert's) are about my favorite bread of all time.  We've got a number of prepared items that will be on our table -- apple pie made by local bakers, to be sure, but also cranberry sauce and gravy straight from the factory.

Last year's feast was one of the best we've ever had, and we're going to pretty much duplicate it on Thursday for the other set of grandparents.  I love eating, and I've always loved Thanksgiving just for the food.  But the longer the live, the more you have to be thankful for, and the more you appreciate the side of the day that your parents tried so hard to teach you about when you were a kid.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Letters to Charlotte

Cady Gray brought home some writing today from school that I really liked.  Let's start with an invitation form that she filled out (this got a "Great!" from her teacher).  The underlined parts are the blanks that Cady Gray filled in:

Dear Charlotte

You are invited to my Thanksgiving.  I would love for you to come because We are BFFS!  (Best friends forever).  It will be on Thursday at 5:00 pm.  We will be eating turkey and potato salad.  Yum!  We sure hope you can make it! 
Cady Gray 
Then apropos of I'm-not-sure-what, she composed a thank-you note to Charlotte during some free writing time.
Dear Charlotte,
I just wanted to say thank you for all you do!  Thank you for comforting me and being my friend.
-- Cady Gray 
Finally, here's another free write.  I believe she composes these in the morning during the time before the first scheduled lessons begin.  There are pre-printed sheets with blanks for the name, date, and deathless prose.  What I like about this one is that it accurately represents how CG talks these days, complete with excitement and backtracking.
Author: Cady Gray Murray  Date: 11-15-10
I got a new Stuffed Animal and it was ... Hello Kitty!   Well ... really ... Hello Kitty Purple Peace!  Yay! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A time to knit

Colder weather is finally here.  There's an edge to the wind and a chill in the rain.  And knitters everywhere are rejoicing, because that means it's time to wear those scarves, mittens, hats, and sweaters we spend all year making.

If you wear your handknits, sooner or later someone will admire them and make some comment like the following: "I wonder how much that would cost in a store?" Or, "How much would you charge to make me one?"

We have trouble answering, to be honest.  One of the reasons we knit for ourselves is to make unique items you couldn't buy for love or money.  People don't have any point of comparison, usually, to give you a compliment on the quality of your work -- so they try to imagine what the consumer price point would be as a measure of how much something like it would be valued.

When it comes to setting a price for our work -- well, where do you start?  A fair market value, consider the  cost of materials and an appropriate rate for labor, would quickly rise out of the realm of credibility for even a simple item, given how cheaply one can buy them ready-made.  Even catalog items that advertise themselves as handknit or handmade can be had far more inexpensively than even the stingiest calculation of a rate for my services.  (Which should tell us something about who's getting the shaft when those items sell for that price.)

Take a cozy striped scarf.  The nice yarn you admire could cost about $20-$50 all by itself, depending on the luxury factor.  Add in an hourly rate for the twenty hours or so it took me to make it ... well, you see how far into the stratosphere we are already, even at minimum wage.

I find it very flattering when people want me to knit them something.  But there are commissions, and there are commissions.  The students who think I can whip them up a pair of socks on demand just aren't being realistic -- nor, as a consequence, will they properly appreciate the work.  On the other hand, the friend who offers to trade her time and talent for mine, knowing that from me she can get something unavailable in retail, to her exact specifications, and willing to fill my kitchen with baked goods of similarly incalculable value in return -- that's a person who's "knitworthy," in the parlance of the craft.

In the end, it's all about finding a way to compare the value of one's work to the value of what's offered in exchange.  Often the appreciation of a knowledgeable recipient is enough.  For one-of-a-kind handcrafts, though, the most appropriate systems seem to be barter or gift.  Either agree in advance on an exchange of talents, or act in trust that your gift will be met by a gift in return that expresses the value placed on your work by the recipient.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The show must go on

Tonight as I took Archer to his piano lesson in my university's music department, we passed through a lobby full of undergraduates in long dresses, heels, and incongruous winter jackets against the cold rain outside.  They clumped in excited gaggles outside of the recital hall, a few breaking off every so often to run after some forgotten item or person.  Soon they'd be herded into a rehearsal space to make final preparations for their choir concert.

After Archer's lesson, his teacher mentioned that the end of term recital would be coming up for him, too.  He has three pieces to memorize.  Immediately that brought back memories of last year's recital; it was a watershed moment for me, seeing how Archer could concentrate and perform under pressure.

And of course it reminds me of the many, many recitals in my childhood.  There were choral performances galore, and those I loved.  Piano recitals, not so much.  The individual pressure was less to my liking; the nakedness of the performance and the complexity of the task intimidated me.  I was more confident as a singer, less nervous about making mistakes -- certain, in fact, that I would not -- and had a lot more fun making music with my voice.

As an adult I'm more accustomed to individual performances, and more confident that I can pull off a success even when I'm going it alone.  So now I'm nervous for the child I used to be.  We've tried to raise kids who believe in their own abilities implicitly.  I hope they take pleasure in stepping up to the plate and knocking it out of the park when they get their chance.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Save the words!

I'm indebted to my student Lydia for tonight's entry.  She posted on our academic online community about savethewords.org, a site produced by the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary.  You are hereby invited  to adopt a word that is in danger of expiring from disuse.

I took trophaeal, adj., of or pertaining to trophies.  It seems like a word that deserves to live.  I mean, if we want to discuss trophaeal industries these days, we have to use infelicitous phrases like "trophy shop" or "trophy maker."  The only way we can refer to trophaeal display solutions is to talk about "trophy cases."  I think we can all agree that there's a troubling ambiguity there.  Are the shops, makers, and cases worthy of trophies -- that is, they are of the highest quality?  Or are they pertaining to trophies?  Trophaeal clears everything up.

Best of all, it's got that whole "aea" vowel cluster thing going on at the end.  That's super-classy.

So please join me in utilizing trophaeal in everyday conversation, whenever possible.  And if you adopt your own word, I'll be happy to return the favor.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'm in the amen corner now

Today's post about hats that satisfy in the making and in the giving is at Toxophily.

And with that, I've got to be done writing, since I just cranked out a very late TV Club post as well as that blog entry linked above.  So go over there already, wouldja?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Two million hands at work

Unless you are a knitter or crocheter -- or a web developer -- you probably don't know exactly what Ravelry is.  Yet the site signed up its one millionth member in the wee morning hours of Saturday, November 13.

I've been on Ravelry since August 2007.  I still run into fellow knitters who've never heard of it, let alone the general public.  And I still find it difficult to explain in a sentence of two why they should be a part of it.  It's not just a social network.  It's not just a database of materials and patterns.  It's a socially-generated database that turns out to be the greatest collaboratively-updated repository of information about a specialized skillset ever produced.

When I wrote about Ravelry in my presentation to the Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Theology and Energy last February, there were a quarter of a million members.  When I updated the essay for publication this summer, there were 600,000 members.  The join rate keeps accelerating.  Of course the number of regular users is much smaller and grows more slowly; yet the daily high point of simultaneous users also keeps climbing.  Not only are there more members, but there are also more people logging onto the site regularly.

On January 12, 2008, I sent my first message to a new Raveler as part of the newly-formed Ravelry Welcome Wagon.  Almost three years later, I've sent more than 31,000 messages to people within a day or two after they join the site.  My Welcome Wagon beat is the G's, which means that I welcome everyone who chooses a username that starts with G.  That's 31,000 grandmothers, girls, grrls, glows, and geeks.

It's no exaggeration to say that Ravelry has changed my life.  It's brought me hundreds of new friends in the last four years.  It's pushed me to acquire new skills and try techniques that I would have thought utterly beyond me.  In fact, it's turned me from a person who has managed to learn the basics of knitting, into a knitter.  The living, palpable, visible example of thousands of people just like me who transformed string into art and comfort and warmth and adornment -- that's what it took to make me into a maker. 

Now I create my life rather than consuming it.  Ravelry made it possible.  One million members is quite a milestone.  But a far more impressive feat, from where I sit, is how Ravelry bridged the distance between me when I picked up the needles, and me now.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

If your heart is in your dream

Today's post about humble yarn for special hats is at Toxophily.

Here's the postscript that didn't belong in that little essay about making something beautiful out of the cheap and ubiquitous.

Many aspects of my students' service learning project for Conway Cradle Care are worthy of remark and reflection.  But the one I keep coming back to is the participation of crafters around the country.  People who have heard about the effort have stepped up and committed themselves to joining us, becoming honorary members of our class and augmenting our local handwork with theirs at a distance.


Yesterday I received the first of these extracurricular donations. A member of my silver-medal-winning Dish Rag Tag team sent this beautiful bright cap. Its broad and firm seed-stitch brim, smooth and even stockinette body, spiraling crown decreases, and soft angora haze create something truly gift-worthy -- hat perfection.


The generous knitter, whom I'll simply call G. since I haven't asked her permission to identify her, enclosed with the hat a prayer for the recipient, making that as-yet unknown teen mother doubly fortunate in the warmth of the gift and the intentions of the giver:

Dear God,

I pray for blessings on the young parent who will receive this hat. I ask you to guide them in the decisions the need to make and to show yourself in the people around them.

In Jesus' name,

And all the people said: Amen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lost weekend

Noel has gone to Chicago for a weekend of hard work, and I'm here with the kids for a weekend of hard fun.  (To coin a phrase.)  He'll be filming segments for a video version of the popular A.V. Club feature Inventory ... all day Saturday, all day Sunday.  I'll be making the usual weekend rounds -- library, playgrounds, church -- trying to keep the kids fed and entertained.

The only wild card in our weekend routine is a surprise birthday party for one of Cady Gray's classmates.  But this is an unusual situation.  Carson has cancer and has to be taught at home.  He has visited Cady Gray's classroom exactly once, making a huge impression on her.  She explained to us how he had to wear a mask so he didn't catch any germs and get sick, and I explained to her how the medicine he was taking probably made his immune system not work right, so he can't fight off normal germs like she can.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is putting on this surprise birthday party for him.  And I must admit to being curious about how these kinds of things go.  All we have to do is show up on time and party.  It's at the college across town, in a large banquet room.  Cady Gray hasn't stopped talking about it.  She's pumped --about the party, about the surprise, and about Carson, this unusual (non-)presence in her class.  I'm interested in being a part of a Make-A-Wish event, which most of us hear about in national news stories but don't participate in firsthand.

It's only three full days, really, to make sure the kids stay safe, nourished, and engaged.  Yet as with all weekends, the possibilities seem, on Friday night, practically endless.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The winding road

An alumnus returned this week to give the keynote address for our Challenge Week series on corruption in government.  But this is not someone who popped over from across the state or even across the country.  This alumnus flew 23 hours from Macedonia to be our guest expert.  A native of this young country (which became independent from the former Yugoslavia in 1991), he works with a U.S. government agency there to foster democratic development -- something very hard to do in a transitional state where corruption is an ever-present reality and threat.

What's remarkable to me about this particular person and their return to our institution is not his expertise nor his current position of responsibility.  It's the fact that his route through life took him to Conway, Arkansas for four years, where he was a fixture in the Honors College socially and academically, and occupied positions of leadership in student government as well.  That contingency is what led him back here, and surely for many people it's the one discordant note in his vita.  Eastern Europe, Washington D.C., Lisbon, Paris, Germany -- all these locations make sense.  What the heck is Conway, Arkansas doing there?  How did we become the fortunate recipient of this remarkable person's time and energy for four years, when in so many ways it seems so unlikely?

Everywhere I go I find people who have Arkansas connections, and it never ceases to surprise me.  I suppose that's because I lived right next to Arkansas for eighteen years, in Tennessee, and never found a reason to set foot in the place (or even allow it to cross my mind, to tell you the truth).  Yet here we have a hotbed of interesting theological thought, with one panel in the Open and Relational Theologies program at the recent AAR meeting dominated by Conway residents, three to one.  I meet people all the time who have lived in the state, have family there, know its ways and its colleges and its business and its politics.

All this helps me to feel confident -- and pass the confidence along to my students -- that their home state and my adopted one is not a backwater or an also-ran.  People everywhere have been touched by it.  If a Macedonian trying to guide his country into open and transparent government has reaped benefits from time in Arkansas, anything is possible.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Getting out the vote

This week is Challenge Week in my department.  It's a week of presentations and discussions around a common theme.  For the first time this year, the theme was brainstormed by seniors last spring; they chose corruption in government.  And for the first time this year, the focus was not on national speakers that cost five figures to bring in, but local talent: a professor from Hendrix, a current student, and an alumnus currently working for democratic development in Macedonia.

Because our previous experience has been mounting large-scale events that cover multiple out-of-town speakers, large budgets, and time periods that have extended over two weeks in recent iterations, we didn't really know what to expect in terms of an audience for this time around.  Here are the lessons I've learned so far.

  • When you do huge events, you change the audience from an internal to an external one. The focus then becomes doing publicity in the media and lining up partners in the community or other institutions to turn out an audience.
  • Because of this emphasis, the necessity to get your own students to come is reduced; they are no longer the primary audience, because by themselves they are not enough to justify the expense and scale of the event.
  • This leads to a strategic mismatch, if your institutional goals are centered on your students rather than on the community.
  • By scaling down, the audience of the event is correspondingly redefined.  Now there isn't a draw for the general public (no big names), nor the imperative to make multiple partnerships that can deliver segments of the eventual audience.
  • Your audience becomes the student body, then -- a result aligned both to the expenditure of resources and likely strategic goals of the organization.
  • Because you need the student body to turn out for the events, the pressure increases to offer curricular incentives for their attendance.  Incentives are not mandated, and therefore not as frequently offered, when the primary audience is external.
  • Incentives, not surprisingly, tend to increase attendance in the student population.
The result is the audiences we've seen at the first two events of the week: overflow student participation. And that's exactly what we should want for this reconfigured Challenge Week.  With limited resources, it makes strategic sense to pursue initiatives aimed at the students, which creates a momentum to do what it takes to make sure the students are reached.  If we can resist the temptation to believe our job is to educate the whole campus, city, or region, and work on educating our students, whaddya know -- we actually end up with structures that direct the education their way and vice versa.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reaching out

The students in my Craft Wisely class have been busy ... but that hasn't stopped them from blogging and podcasting.  Check out what they're writing about.  Pick a link, click in, read, and leave a comment.  Your brief message will reinforce the nature of blogging for them.  They're writing for a vast unknown audience, and when you pop up and identify yourself, they can't help but be reminded of that.
  • Kate writes about knitting beards -- and an unlikely congruence with a running joke in her family.
  • Natasha reminds us that the creativity of designers is all around us, and is intimately connected with the creativity of makers.
  • Anna finds solidarity, community, and strong connections in the example of Burning Man.
  • Adrea meditates on the unusual interest her knitting arouses among her family and friends.
  • Ariel reveals the man and the grieving that inspired a very special hat.
  • Eric comes out of the closet as a knitter (we always knew!) and looks back to describe the shape of the closet.
  • Kirsten shows us some beautiful examples of illusion knitting.
  • Sara interviews a state senator about her knitting habits.
  • Shannon introduces us to the baby who will receive a very special blanket and labor of love.
  • Kat risks becoming a crazy cat lady and develops a passion for crocheted flowers.
  • Christabel shares the experiences that taught her why to give.
  • And the Craft Wisely podcast rolls on with conversations about our class texts, discussions, and projects.
Thanks in advance for visiting and commenting!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Some expressions take me back

Today's post about a knitting secret and the girl who keeps it close to her heart is at Toxophily.


You're still here? The content is at the link above, people. All we've got here is a picture of two kids very excited about Arbor Day. You're right, it is a nice picture. Thank you very much indeed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I save up my sweet tooth until the weekend.  That's when I indulge in my longest love affair -- the one with chocolate.  And there's no better time of the year for chocolate than Halloween.

With the big night falling on a Sunday when I was away, this weekend was the first time I got to dip into the kids' haul.  Cady Gray had already made the accounting: The most treated candy was M&Ms, of which they received a stunning 82 fun-sized packets.  (Archer won the contest with a guess of 82.)

When I was a kid, we used to dump out our bags on the kitchen table on Halloween night and make sure everybody got an equal share of the most desirable items.  Chocolate came first, with Hershey's miniatures at the top, followed by Reese's cups, kisses, Snickers, M&Ms, and other lesser candy bars.  SweeTarts were the best of the non-chocolate treats.  At the bottom were Smarties.

In our house, we put the chocolate in one bowl, the rest in another.  The kids get their dessert from whichever they choose after dinner.  And on the weekend, I raid the chocolate bowl for the choicest bits.  It's pretty much the same priority as thirty years ago.  I still can't figure out what a serving is of these little mini-candies, so I eat too much, I'm sure.  And I'll be just as sad when the good ones are gone and I'm left scrounging through the off-brands hoping there's a stray Dove nugget that I've overlooked.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My lost friend

Noel and I were amused to discover, when we went to Cady Gray's parent-teacher conference, that she'd been writing about some of her more emotional experiences at home.  Here's an example.  One day she came home with a cheap little pink stuffed bunny from a claw machine.  The tag said "Rose," and Cady Gray decided Rose was her favorite toy.  A couple of days later, she misplaced Rose -- maybe in her brother's room, maybe out and about somewhere.  We hunted for the toy, but couldn't locate it.  For the next week or so, every time Cady Gray asked about Rose, her eyes filled up with tears.  I kept hoping we'd run across the bunny behind some furniture or under a bed, but so far, nothing.

And here's Cady Gray's view of the situation, copiously illustrated.  It perfectly captures that brave face she put on every time she thought of Rose.


My lost frend 
By Cady Gray Murray


My favorite stuffed animal named Rose is lost.  She has been lost a long time and she still hasn't shown up yet.  I am getting worried about her.


We do not look for Rose.  We try to find her while we're doing something else.


We have still not found her even when the cleaner came.  I sure do hope we find her soon!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A real weekend

For the last twenty days or so, my weeks and weekends have blurred due to two extended conferences.  That's all well and good when the weekend is bleeding over into the week -- like when you get an extra hour of sleep on a weekday, or have a couple of hours free for leisure -- but you pay the cost of having the work week bleed into the weekend as well.  Weekend days at these conferences tend to be a whirlwind of scheduled activities and getting up far too early.  At my last conference, I had 7:30 am meetings on both Saturday and Sunday.

So it's a relief to get back to my routine, where weekdays are for work and weekends are for play.  The little indulgences I save for the weekends now are part of a pattern of enjoyment, not stolen moments consoling me during a packed schedule.  

I get to knit with my daughter, play Wii with my son, and take some time for myself.  There will be sports on the television, Arbor Day celebrations in the park, chat with Ravelry buddies, Sunday school, soda, chocolate, spending time with my husband, and sleeping in.  That's the way weekends ought to be.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cradle, Conway, Craftivism


Today my Craft Wisely students took it out into the yard.


One of our two class service learning projects involves Conway Cradle Care, an organization that helps teen parents finish high school by providing daycare and life skills training.


After three representatives from CCC visited our class, the students coalesced around the idea of support and education.  We decided that it wasn't just the babies who needed our love; it was the parents as well.  So we are planning to give the clients and their children handmade hats for the holidays.

The craft-in crew

To increase support for the organization, and to educate our campus about teen pregnancy in the local community, we spent three hours on the central courtyard outside the student center, crafting together.


A few students collected facts about teen pregnancy and sexual activity in our state and nation, and we printed those out on slips of paper and pinned them to handmade items hanging from a clothesline. Here's Kate attaching the slips to our knitted objects ...


... and Christabel helping out.


The idea was that people would be drawn to the long lines of fluttering scarves, come over to see, and read the slips to find out more about the Craft-In's cause.




This young man was clearly attracted to the colorful scarves, even if he couldn't absorb the message.


Passersby stop to look at the crafted products and read the information.


They took some literature with them as they browsed.


Meanwhile, other visitors asked for knitting lessons from the assembled crafters.


Crochet instruction was a popular offering.


Ariel (with her back to us, in the blue sweater and hat) led an impromptu crochet workshop for members of our class.


You can see from Sara's hair how windy it was. What you can't see is how cold it was. The temperature may have been in the fifties, but the windchill was brutal.


Lynn wrapped yarn around her hand to form an improvised glove. That's how cold it was.


As the crafters represented their pride and commitment, their work hung in the sun testifying to their skill.


The most frequent comment from those who stopped at our tables was: "Are those for sale?"


On a cold day, the scarves, hats, shawls, and other beautiful accessories drew both the eye and the touch. Their textures spoke eloquently of warmth, hours of pleasure in the stitching, someone special for whom they were made.

Group portrait

Solidarity, skilled labor, giving, support, education. I think our message was plain to everyone who witnessed it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


If I understand correctly, Cady Gray's teacher provides time for journaling regularly.  The students can write about whatever they want.  Here are two journals from today that Cady Gray brought home; I really appreciate the infectious enthusiasm in her writing.



Tuesday, November 2, 2010

By the numbers

Plane trips since Oct. 20: 6
Hours of delay: 2
Hours of task force, board, and committee meetings since October 28: 10
Ribbons attached to my name badge: 2
Knitters met in Atlanta: 5
New Ravelry friends: 1
MARTA trips: 6
Business cards collected: 8
People I have to say hi to from people at the meeting: 2
Classes missed: 4
Handouts collected: 3
Keynote presentations witnessed: 3
People in my family who were happy to see me come home: 3

Monday, November 1, 2010

My kind of town

I've loved Atlanta ever since I can remember.

Growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Atlanta was our big city.  It was two hours down the interstate and a cultural world away, but it was the default choice when we needed more than our burg could offer.  (Knoxville or Nashville, you say?  Nashville was a longer drive and required going over the mountains; Knoxville wasn't any more cosmopolitan than home, or so we thought.)

And so we went to Atlanta regularly, several times each year.  The youth group loaded up the bus and went to Six Flags Over Georgia.  The family loaded up the car and went to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to see the Braves play.  The teenagers went to concerts.  The college students went to clubs and restaurants and the Olympics and Stone Mountain and the laser show.

Atlanta has drawn me back throughout my life.  I lived half an hour away for five years and made the trek into town for food or music or sports monthly, sometimes weekly.  I married a man who was born in Atlanta, who loves the Braves, whom I met while living in Athens in the city's shadow.  Now I go to conferences that regularly stop in Atlanta on their multi-year circuits of the country's convention centers. I'm an officer of an organization that is headquartered in Atlanta; the direct Delta flight to Hartsfield-Jackson gets my patronage more frequently than any other route.

Atlanta tries too hard but has a good sense of humor about itself while doing it.  Atlanta parties hard and smiles the next morning.  Atlanta eats too much and sleeps like a baby.  Atlanta stands tall today and tries to stand taller tomorrow.  Atlanta makes spaghetti out of its interstates and parkways out of its major roads.  Atlanta sprawls and soars and saunters.  It's crass and cute and cultured and courteous.  Atlanta always feels young.  Atlanta is new every time.

Atlanta, I love you.  And I'll be back soon.