Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Buche de Noel (Yule Log)

I have decided to start a new tradition. Every year, during the winter holiday season, I'm going to print one recipe on this blog from my Christmas repertoire. These are not original recipes, but they have become traditions at my Christmas Eve celebration. I printed one recipe before, Gascony Beef Stew. While I shared that in the spring, it is one of my Christmas recipes.

The Buche de Noel has sort of become "my thing" that I also take to work celebrations and sometimes other parties. Like the beef stew, it is from an early 1980's Christmas edition of Ladies' Home Journal which had a feature about a French holiday buffet. I believe I made almost all of the recipes in that article for the first Christmas Eve I ever hosted. This cake seems to be a favorite of everyone, so I believe I have made at least one (and usually more) every holiday season for the past 27 years.

1/2 c. + 2 T. all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
4 eggs, separated, at room temperature
2 T warm water
3/4 c. sugar, divided
1 t vanilla extract
2 teaspoons confectioner's sugar

1 package (regular size) instant vanilla pudding (French vanilla is nice)
1 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy or whipping cream, whipped

Chocolate icing:
1 1/2 bars sweet baking chocolate
3 T. cold water
3 T. butter
1 t. vanilla extract

Cake: Preheat oven to 400 F. Line 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 jelly-roll pan with wax paper; grease paper. Sift baking powder with flour and salt. Set aside.

In large mixer bowl, beat egg yolks and water until doubled in volume and lemon-colored, about 2 minutes. Gradually add 1/2 c. sugar and continue beating until thick. On low speed mix in vanilla and flour mixture, beating just until smooth. In small mixer bowl whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 c. sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and beat until mixture stands in shiny peaks. Fold 1/2 cup beaten egg whites into egg yolk mixture with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. Gently fold in remaining egg whites. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake on center rack 8 to 10 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly pressed with fingers. Loosen edges and turn out onto towel or waxed paper sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. Immediately peel off wax paper from bottom of cake and trim edges (I actually stopped trimming the edges after several years...more cake!) Whi; cool on wire rack.le hot, starting with long side, roll cake up in towel or wax paper in jelly roll fashion. Cool on wire rack

Filling: In medium bowl combine instant pudding and milk. Beat on low speed 1 minute. Fold in whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Chocolate icing: In top of double-boiler (I just use a stainless steel bowl placed on top of a pan of simmering [not boiling] water), melt chocolate with water. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat: add butter and vanilla and stir until butter is melted and icing is smooth. let cool to room temperature, or if using immediately, stir over a bowl of ice.

To assemble: Unroll cooled cake and spread with cream filling. Reroll. Trim ends diagonally. Use one trimming to form a little stump on top of the log (this is how it's traditionally done, but if I'm making these for a lot of people, I just keep it in a long roll in order to provide more uniform, and simply more, servings). Spread icing over log and stump. Score icing with tines of fork to simulate bark.

If you want to be very traditional, you will garnish this with meringue mushrooms, but I gave that up after Year One. I generally use something to simulate snow: coconut or piped white icing around the border (the frosting gets kind of messy so you might want to camouflage the edges of your dish.) Also, I sometimes freehand some piped-icing snowflakes on the top. So far this year I have used coconut, marshmallows, and some snowflake-shaped sprinkles. Do what you want as well, but know this is probably Yule Log heresy.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Finishing stuff up, starting new stuff

I finally have my Web page more or less done. We have another assignment due Friday that we have to add a link to. As much as I moaned and whined, I'm glad I had to do this, and I'm glad I had to write my own HTML, as primitive as mine is. Although I'm pretty sure I'll only do it like this when I'm absolutely required to (for there is one more class like this I have to take, only harder, I'm guessing), I feel proud and happy that I (sort of) understand what it is. Yay for Web publishing software, however, regardless of how evil my instructor thinks some of it is.

I also feel like I could read a book about this and understand it (at least if it is written at a fairly beginning level) and I would also be able to understand what to be careful of.

It felt good this past weekend to take a break from all of that and enjoy Thanksgiving. The next two weeks are going to be a marathon of finishing things up at the same time that I start (or really continue) getting things ready for Christmas.

Today I have to write two tests that I'm giving tomorrow. I also have to study for one of my certification exams that I'm re-taking on Tuesday. On Friday, I have a database assignment due (as a link to my Web site) by midnight, and I also have the party we have every year for our students Friday night, for which I will prepare a Yule log (Oh, sorry--an "end-of-semester" log.) Oh, yeah, I also have a job interview on Thursday (for a job in addition to, not in place of, the one I have now.) It is also the week of my husband's birthday.

Then the next week, I will have to prepare and grade finals, have a rough draft of an exit test done and turned in, and a short paper about how two pieces of technology actually work.

Then I can truly start getting stressed about Christmas (but I really actually enjoy the stressfulness of it, in a very weird kind of way). Then after Christmas, I will spend hours on the couch reading for fun and watching as many movies as I want until my schools start again. Unless, of course, I get that job, depending on when it starts. At least I am rarely bored.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The seemingly never-ending saga of my first html assignment

OK, so I'm whining again, but with the purchasing project, it actually helped me clear my head and do it. I guess this is becoming like one of those reflection journals we often make students keep.

I can sort of write the html, and I feel like I'm writing the CSS, but it won't work. I have been having much more luck with the links on my html resume, but that has to be a link on the original index page. When I upload my index page to FileZilla, I think it's supposed to be on the top, but one of my assignments that I'm supposed to link to always goes over it.

I think I might see if I can get some CSS to work on my resume, then figure out what I did and try to make it happen on the index page.

I keep getting that "why do I have to know this" and "I'm never going to use this attitude" which is very unattractive on a woman my age. Although...I do remember when I was taking another class they let me take at my workplace in order to waive another, when I was using Front Page a young man in the computer lab who was helping me just had me go in and adjust the code when I wanted to change the size of something rather than dink around on the page itself. That was impressive. I guess that's why they make us learn this.

I do think it's kind of cool that people examine this stuff and have standards to make it future-proof and accessible. That kind of thing I enjoy learning. I actually thought this would be fun until I started doing it and was so frustrated. I do not tolerate this kind of frustration well.

I should not be taking this kind of class online, but they put ALL the tech classes online, exclusively, from now on, at least as I understand it. I told my husband the problem is I don't have any other class as I did last time I had an online class. Having a face-to-face class gave me people to commisserate with, and an electronic discussion board just doesn't lend itself to my world-class ability to feel sorry for myself. I need a human who is as horrible as me at this. This is the kind of thing one does not want exposed on the discussion board.

Anyway, back to work.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


I am happy to report that I got a 90 on the assignment I was whining about in my previous post and would have gotten 100 had it not been handed in 5 days late. However, I don't know how I can turn in my now very overdue HTML assignment because it has to be a Web page in progress (final page due later) with one working link and some style (no using Front Page or similar programs, just writing our own HTML/CSS.) I have words on it, but I can't make my photo work and I don't have any style. My professor said there is a typo in my CSS, but didn't tell me what it was, and I can't find it.

I did send an e-mail to the TA to tell her I am working on it and gave her the link to the EXTREMELY minimal material I have.

I bought a book to help me, so hopefully that will be useful. I am happy to report that I now know what that stuff on the top of my posting area means. Maybe someday I'll use it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This is not what I am supposed to be doing

I am supposed to be writing a paper (more of a project, really) that was due Friday at midnight. I can still turn it in, but I have been losing two points per day. The problem is, I don't really have any idea what I'm doing, and I know I should turn in something, but I feel like when I turn it in, it will become clear that I have very little idea of what much the first third of the class was about.

I have some writing and justification done, and it's not bad. I can write about stuff in a general, conceptual way. However, I have to have specifications, and justify each of those specifications. That is where I'm having trouble.

I didn't really blow off the paper last week. I had some physical issues, each one of them not particularly serious in itself, but one piled on top of another in a way that resulted in constant discomfort relieved by medication, and medication does not enhance the process of doing a project about stuff you don't really understand. On top of that, because of the unusual scheduling of the program in which I work, one session ended and another one started the very next day. Last week then, while I was sick, if that's what you could call it, I had to deal with giving finals, grading papers, calculating grades, etc.

I will do it, because my professor and my supervisor and my husband told me I should, but I hate, hate, hate this. I like to think of myself as a lifelong learner, but this project is making me feel punished, which is kind of weird.

I think this class, which I put off taking like I was supposed to do early in the program, has since become kind of a "weeding" class, and I have too much invested to allow that to happen. I believe I can do most of what is required in this class (although not with the success I have had in previous classes), but this particular project has become a real stumbling block. I think I should just consider it a typing/spreadsheet exercise, do the best with the content I can, and cull whatever points I can out of it. Some points are always better than no points.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My 100th post! (A training-by-technology rant)

According to the numbers posted on my Dashboard, this will be my 100th post. Considering that I started my blog just a little over four years ago, that means I average about 25 posts per year. While not exactly prolific, I'm not sure that the world needs to read much more than that from me, at least not in this format.

What compels me to write today is bad videos (and audio) that people create for training purposes. I am now on my second online class, and I have stated before, I really enjoy taking classes this way. While many (but not all) people (in most aspects of life, not just this) seem to be getting more competent with presentation software in terms of design, readability, and so forth, I wish people could be prepared more carefully to make video presentations that are not so painful, and sometimes pointless, to watch.

The worst problem with some of them are that they are incomprehensible. Some people speak so quietly (especially in videos that feature multiple speakers) that you can't hear them. Some people drift off mid-sentence while they are trying to explain something to you. (I am guilty of this in life, and even sometimes when I teach), but I would be more careful in a video because unless it's in real-time and specifically set up for it, there is no opportunity for interaction.

Some people speak so quickly (and this is a problem out in the world too that I will write about in the future) that one can't comprehend sentence one before they have moved on to sentence four, which is very bad in an instructional video. They don't seem to understand that they are giving people new information (or at least they should be) and there needs to be time for it to sink in...at least a few seconds.

I just watched two videos in which a a soon-to-graduate, very competent MLIS student,explains technology concepts for a student orientation. As she explained the differences between computer operating systems, I had to slow down the first video in order to grasp anything she was saying (creating the effect that speaker was drunk or otherwise chemically impaired). In the next one, explaining Mac features, she drifted off in the middle of at least a quarter of her sentences and sprinkled the presentation liberally with "like" and "you know" (particularly before she would cut off a sentence, never to return.) No, I don't know; that's why I'm watching the video.

Another one I watched, just out of curiosity, was faculty introductions. Faculty stepped up one-by-one in front of a green chalkboard, looking very much like they were about to have a mugshot taken. Several of them had that deer-in-the-headlights look. One was completely inaudible. Some spoke in comprehensible sentences but were very stiff. I'm pleased to say the most animated speaker was the professor I have now, but I may be prejudiced. Even though I have never met her, she conveys warmth and affability onscreen, even though she's kind of goofy (in a fun way, making her pleasant to watch).

That leads me to the next thing, though. In our current lesson (Excel spreadsheets, which give me fits) she is telling us what to do, and ostensibly showing us. However, I can't see what she's doing. It's very difficult to comprehend visually. I thought it was just me, but several people posted to the discussion board and mentioned it.

In live presentations like the one with the Mac lady, speakers sometimes ask for questions from the audience. Apparently not realizing the questions are inaudible to the video audience, many speakers do not bother to repeat the question before they start answering it. They should be doing this anyway for their live audience.

I'm not posting this just to be bitchy, but it's a problem. There has been a lot of movement to online classes in the program,for a variety of economic reasons, and I benefit from this in many ways. I assume other institutions are moving this way too. If this is going to happen, though, the people who put these together need to familiarize themselves with some basic production values. For example, why not have the faculty sitting at a table in front of a pleasant background, introducing themselves in a very natural way? The live audience could still see them (and the live presentation should be enhanced with some kind of projection). You can't use old-style presentation techniques with new technology. It's painful to watch, at best, and incoherent, at worst.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The usual fall term frustrations

Classes are now in full swing, both the ones I teach and the ones I take. I agreed to teach a writing class this session after not having taught writing for quite some time. Because it is so time-consuming, most of us in my department tend to burn out on it after several consecutive sessions.

I like to have my students do lots of peer-editing, primarily because I think it benefits the peer editor. I have also been trying to be more conscientious about preparing rubrics so students can both know what is expected of them in their writing, and know what they're looking for when they are peer-editing.

We only have eight weeks, so when my students peer edit, I also edit/proofread their work too so they will have the benefit of whatever expertise I have (I always ask them to bring three copies). However, I have 19-20 students this time (don't ask why I don't know...that is a long and never-ending story, so it is difficult for me to get their rough drafts back to all of them during the same class session. Because of that, this last time I tried to give feedback to those I couldn't in class via e-mail. Because I do not yet know how to have them submit a paper to me electronically which I can then correct electronically, it's twice as much work. I burned out on it after several papers in a row and did not get e-mail back to everybody. However, I tried to get the marked papers back to them via their other teachers (we are a small and specialized department), and was only mildly successful.

I also have some issues with transitional technology. Both at home and at work (and when I take classes at the satellite center here in town for my university) some of the computers still have the 2003 version of Word and some have 2007 (and my desktop has 97, I think). Depending on the computer I'm using, I can not always open up a .docx. In the classes I take, the onus has been on us to put our work in Compatibility mode.(I have 2007 on my laptop at home but not on my desktop because I have lots of quizzes and tests I created using I asked one student to do that I don't remember why he didn't have the rough draft available during class, but when he sent it as a .doc, it opened up as gibberish.

When I told him, he got kind of mad and asked why I didn't download a 2007 reader. That kind of made me mad, and I also wasn't completely sure what he was saying. Because of heavy accentedness, we were having trouble communicating. If he had been one of the students I hadn't gotten feedback to on time I wouldn't have been upset, but he was the one who didn't give me his rough draft on the day it was due. The hard thing to explain is I have to use different computers at work which I share with others, and I tend to be reluctant to download much of anything on them, plus when I take classes, I'm supposed to make sure my work is readable. I had never had problems receiving attachments before when people used the Compatibility feature.

Anyway, then I felt bad and tried to be nice the rest of class. The thing I get frustrated about is I could do a half-baked mediocre job and be very timely, but if I'm going to give them quality feedback, they have to have stuff ready when I need it--and they have to label it properly, and it has to be readable. When I have not been timely, I will give them extra time, but I get very edgy in writing class when students create more complications for me than I already have.

The other complication is that because of some weird scheduling stuff, I'm teaching half-days four days a week instead of full days two days a week, which is the usual process. Not only that, but I started out teaching one writing class but was switched to another when another teacher had a scheduling issue at her other job. I also have decided not to sub in high schools for now as I have done in the past for extra money, because the system has been privatized and it kind of messes up the money which previously went into my state pension fund, which was one of the primary reasons I was doing it before...to build up that tiny, tiny nest egg.

I'm also a bit on edge because I'm taking my required Information Technology class which I have been putting off for some time, and which is now only offered online, AND which now requires taking three certification tests. I'm actually very excited about the class, but at the same time, I'm very nervous about keeping up with the workload and I am somewhat out of my comfort zone. Fortunately, I have loved both the hybrid and online classes I have already taken. I'm just worried about the lack of direct, in-person access to the instructor when I run into problems.

Now that everything has started and/or settled, I will fall into a rhythm by next week, I think, and I hope I will be considerably less frustrated and moody.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cataloging my stuff

I don't know if it's some kind of teacher nesting instinct, but as the "official" school year approaches, I get in a very organizational mood. Because this is not something that comes naturally to me most of the year, at least in terms of "stuff," (as opposed to time, schedules, etc.) I have to take advantage of the mood while it is here.

In previous years, this mood has been very focused on my sock drawer. I guess that's because when cool/cold weather comes, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking for a matching pair of socks. Even in the winter, when I like to wear pantyhose for warmth, I still put socks over them to wear under boots.

This year, however, my efforts have been more expansive. It started over break when I started organizing my scrapbook stuff, including photos. Then I started organizing my bathroom stuff because our new, fancy master bath is almost finished, thanks to my husband's dedication and tunnel vision when involved in a project. He is a very good man, but an example of his focus is less than 24 hours after my (minor) surgery, he asked me,

"Hey, can you help me carry in a board?" (i.e. a giant piece of heavy wood).

"No,honey," I replied. "Remember that piece of paper they sent home from the hospital saying no more than 5 pounds?"

"Oh.Yeah." He thought about that for a few seconds, and said, "How long is that gonna last?"

Because I now have a Jacuzzi tub and a steam shower that plays music, he is forgiven these occasional slips. Plus my response was that it would last as long as I could milk it.

Anyway, back to organization. Here is the problem: I get somewhat befuddled when something can be classified in multiple ways. In going through the existing bathroom cabinet, I discovered I have a plethora of bath and shower gels, scented lotions, body butters, etc. I also have accumulated quite a pile of cosmetics, primarily because I go through periods where my use of them is quite minimal.

I divided the cosmetics into plastic bags of lip stuff, eye stuff, skin coloring stuff (foundation, blush, concealer). Then came the compact mirror. That would go into a new bag classified as "tools." That created a new problem...should the lip brush stay in the lip bag, or should that now go into the "tool" category? Same with the eye makeup brushes.

And do scented body lotions go with "stuff that makes my skin soft" or "stuff that makes me smell good"?

I had run into the same problem with scrapbooking stuff. I had long ago made a macro decision that most of my albums would be chronological by year, with special albums created for special events (big trips, milestone anniversaries, etc.) But I decided to organize my photos in boxes by person and person's descendants. The problem I ran into there was representatives of multiple nuclear families in some of the photos, creating a new subcategory of "grandchildren" or "nieces and nephews." And where do the photos of my now deceased cat go?

Then there are the accessories. Scrapbookers usually have cardstock and decorated paper in various sizes, stickers (pictures, letters, borders), die-cuts (pictures, letters, borders), a variety of adhesives, stacks of quotations on vellum, markers, chalks, stamps, dies for making their own die-cuts, etc, etc, etc. One can easily see the nightmare there. Do I put things together by what they are, and what are they? All stickers together, or all borders together? Or should I organize by theme?

I have actually discovered the cataloging class ("Organization of Knowledge") that I took last summer has been helpful in making this a little less stressful. I realize organization is all about retrieval, but I feel like I will forget my "micro" decisions and lose track of this stuff all over again.

However, that always results in the most delightful part of the organization process, wherein one says happily,

"Hey, I forgot I had this. Cool."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Big Folk Music Scare

I used to listen to comedy albums by Martin Mull or go to his concerts in the late
70s, and he had this line I loved before one of the songs: "Remember the big folk music scare of the 60's? That crap almost caught on!" I've always loved the line, but secretly liked lots of folk music. Like my love of mayonnaise-intensive salads (potato, tuna, egg, etc.) it's a dark secret I don't share with everybody (although I guess I just have.)

However, there are a few instruments that make me agree with the sentiment, chief among them the dulcimer. There is a folk festival going on this weekend in the town where my church is, and there was a folk group performing at the church itself. I love fiddles, harmonicas, banjos, etc. but I do not like the dulcimer!! I had a fantasy of going up and grabbing that thing and heaving it through the stained-glass window! (Not the one with the sacred images, no, no, no. I mean one of the abstract ones that are supposed to represent manufacturing and industry, according to the church historian.)

And of course, I would never, ever do such a thing, being pretty mild-mannered in general. And the windows are too high, and I can't even really throw a ball very well, so I couldn't even if I really wanted to.

I just wanted to express how listening to the dulcimer makes me feel. Clearly, I did not stay for the dulcimer workshop following the service.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A brief entry before I retire for the night

So I said I'd write every day during vacation, but I had to help with a home improvement thing. I really wasn't very much help, but it was time consuming. I just washed the fiberglass off of myself, and now I'm going to bed. We're more careful now since we found ourselves in a bed of fiberglass (not FULL of it, but it doesn't take much) a couple of weeks ago. NOT pleasant.

The good thing is I finished a book today and started another. I hope to keep up that rhythm throughout vacation. And now to bed.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"Vacation" plans (such as they are)

As of yesterday, I'm on "vacation" for a couple of weeks--on the break between classes I teach as well as classes I take.

Except for a brief overnight visit "Up North" to visit our favorite restaurant by the bay on our anniversary, in a lovely little resort town, and gambling a little, I don't have traveling plans. However,I plan to do some of my favorite things: scrapbooking, splashing around in the pool,and spending time with friends.

Since I can't actually go to China to see the Olympics, I'm looking forward to going to an Olympics party hosted by my friend who lives and teaches in China, and who is visiting friends and family here now. She says she's having it not only because she's been inundated with "Olympic fever" for the past four years, but also because she has missed the past four Super Bowls.

I have been getting a head start on the scrapbooking over the past few weeks for two reasons: I had minor surgery which was a piece of cake, but the anesthesia left me with brain fog that left me useless to do anything but play with paper, glue, photos and scissors for a week (even though I had to go back to work and turn in a paper for two days after the surgery). Also, one of my many college roommates got in touch with me via Facebook and she is a scrapbooker. She kept talking about her Cricut, an electronic die-cutting machine. I ordered one on eBay and it is a lot of fun (but I'm glad I got it after the brain fog lifted. There is a sharp rotating blade involved.)

I noticed as I sorted through the "basket o'crap," a collection of ephemera I keep for "archiving" later, that despite my last post, I really did get out a lot. In fact, the collection of tickets, programs, invitations,photos and so on suggests an almost frantic busy-ness. I don't know why I have it in my head that I was such a homebody then. Maybe being home alone most of the time when I WAS home distorted the experience.

I also plan on blogging every day. I have been very remiss. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the blogging seems to complement the scrapbooking because it provides context to photos and such I may have forgotten about, or reminds me of dates or general time frames. Now, on with my vacation!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My virtual social life

Wow! It has been a long time since I've written here. I've thought about things I want to write about, but I don't write them down and then I forget them.

Another reason is that I've been spending time on social networking sites like Facebook and occasionally MySpace. Various branches of family and friends inhabit those spaces and they have actually become a convenient form of communication. I prefer Facebook because it has games and other applications I like. (My son and I just completed the longest game of Scrabulous ever, I think, probably started the last time I wrote here.)

So I guess this is the thing that has been on my mind recently, and these thoughts are not exactly original. They are concerning to me though. Nowadays I can spend entire days in my pajamas and have plenty of virtual company (people I know in real life the majority of the time) and I can do other things too. I just completed my first completely online class and probably have done better than I have done in any class ever.

I have always had a hard time pushing myself out the door except for work, classes, buying groceries, planned social events and other life necessities, but before my desire for human contact would push me out of my comfort zone. When Ron was gone I thought I would seek out more company, and while I planned or initiated a few outings or had get-togethers at my house with others, most of the time I cocooned even more than usual.

Now, though, I can get the kind of interaction I like without having to deal with the parts that I've always found uncomfortable (greeting and leave-taking, knowing when to end a conversation, worrying about my hair, clothes, weight, mannerisms.) I think it is good to work on one's weaknesses, but now I don't have to in order to get what I need. Those issues are not going to improve if I don't make myself work on them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My online class

I’m in the process of taking my first completely online class and it’s actually kind of fun. A couple of things have been helpful. One is that the very first class I took in my program was partly face-to-face and partly online, with one or the other occurring about every other week. (This was especially helpful since the class was out of town..) I got used to going to the course management system and posting on the discussion board, submitting assignments electronically and so on (although I’m grateful my husband hadn’t left the country yet because I needed a little help with the assignment posting function). The other thing I think was helpful is blogging. I have gotten used to putting things out there for all the world to read, as well as commenting on what other people have written, so that has made interacting with classmates and the instructor on a discussion board pretty comfortable.

I also got a new laptop for Mother’s Day (after months of campaigning, whining, etc.) and having a new “toy” has made the class that much more fun. I’m still using the desktop from time to time, though, because I have a lot of information saved on here and my stepson is going to help me with a few things before I transfer some of that information. Also, I can’t find my flash drive right now, but I’m pretty sure it’s not as lost as my iPod. I’ve actually been cleaning and organizing a lot of stuff, and ironically, that’s when things start to disappear.

What I really like about the online class is being able to “attend” class in my pajamas while I have a glass of wine and come and go as I please. What I don’t like is there were some technical problems with getting the course up and running (on the institution’s end), and when organizing due dates for my assignment on a calendar, I discovered it’s one of those accelerated summer courses in which something is due constantly. (My other summer class, a face-to-face one, is longer). The combination of getting a late start on some aspects of it and the short time span means that I have a lot of catching up to do in a hurry.
Fortunately I have a couple more weeks off of work right now so I have time to get caught up, so I guess it’s time to get at it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Still here--update

I have been very busy with work, grad school, and the joys and frustrations of my husband's constant remodeling (I am in a paradise of new appliances, which is particularly pleasant after having several of them decide to go on the blink during his absence. We did not really need ALL the new appliances, but of course the new washer required its matching dryer and so on.) That is one reason I have not posted for a long time.

Also, it's my understanding that generally, one should not blog angry, and I have frequently been angry over the past few months. Not so much angry, I guess, but just one of those extended periods in which I have a bad attitude. As much as I hate to admit it, those things they say about getting enough sleep, eating properly and so on seem to actually be helpful. Cookies are not nearly as therapeutic as they pretend to be at first.

But there has been good stuff...the best being the trip to Austin, Texas that Ron and I took during what my workplace calls "spring" break...which is pretty much mid-winter around here. Except for the day we left Austin, the weather was actually pretty nice there and we had an opportunity to see green grass and flowers...so good for the soul. We visited the State Capitol, the state history museum, the LBJ Museum and the Blanton Art Museum at UT saw a Texas Independence Day parade, went to a comedy club on 6th street and to a State Fair/Rodeo/Concert. I bought some cowgirl boots, too. I can't wait to wear them somewhere, but of course, there will be no horseback riding or anything like that. Nothing good can come of that.

So now I want to move there, but I think this is the pattern now: We will plan another trip, look at some property, Ron will want to make an offer and I will stay up all night and cry and cry and cry about how I can't leave here. Then we'll go to Portland, Oregon, which is my next possible consideration for a new home. Again, Step One: Visit just to relax and look around. Step Two: property search and tears. My feeling is when we find the proper place, a peace we have never known will descend upon us (I know, I know.)

Tonight I am looking forward to some "girl time" with some friends and pizza and wine and chocolate. In a few weeks I will have a couple of weeks off of work so maybe I can work on frustrating loose ends and not have to be thinking in so many different directions. I am hoping to use that time to adjust my attitude and work on a healthy lifestyle (except when there is a pizza/wine/chocolate opportunity) and perhaps do some more blogging.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


For almost as long as I have been teaching the class, I have required my ESL Reading students to do a weekly current events journal. They have to read an American newspaper, magazine, or Web site (although the article itself can be about another country). They then have to write two paragraphs: the first a summary in their own words, and the second, their commentary on it. I want them to read in English outside the classroom, as well as get a feel for various American perspectives. (Understanding American culture is part of our program.)

I realize now that I have probably had a cavalier attitude for how complicated, if not difficult, this is for them.

In my Academic Libraries class (even though I'm specializing in School Media Specialist, my adviser helped me arrange this to expand my options), we don't have a required textbook. Instead, each week, we have a theme such as scholarly communication, personnel,budgeting, etc.We then must look in the professional literature (which can include literature outside the library profession) and choose two articles. We have to write an evaluative abstract of about 250 words for one of them, and give an annotated citation for the other. Sounds simple enough, right?

My database searching behaviors have become more efficient and precise, but I almost always end up printing out more than two articles before determining which ones I will use. I tend to start this assignment toward the end of the week (Wednesday night or Thursday; my class is Saturday). That's because the beginning of the week is spent preparing for work and my Tuesday night class. Similarly, my students have two or three other classes to prepare for, as well as the stuff of life we all have to deal with.

I almost always (well, OK, always) end up finishing this assignment very early Saturday morning. I need to turn the information over in my head, mentally consolidate what I was reading, then try to evaluate and cover the main points concisely. While one gets a little more leeway regarding paraphrasing when writing an abstract, I still like my work to reflect that I have processed the information as well as I could.

Where I run into difficulty is when I get into unfamiliar territory, such as budgeting. The accounting vocabulary is unfamiliar to me, and many articles are quantitative, so I must also deal with the vocabulary of statistics. Paraphrasing and summarizing becomes so much more difficult, and I edit both as I begin to write the abstract in longhand on Friday night (which seems to help my thinking process), and as I edit it on the computer on Saturday morning. It is not quick, though. It's like a stew I have to let simmer for days.

I finally understand that my students probably have a similar process for their current events assignment. They have to search for something that interests them and that they can absorb, process it in a second language, then summarize in their own words and provide some commentary. Because it's fairly easy for me to grade (I read fast and provide comments and minor proofreading/editing), I have been assuming it's not that hard for them to do.

I won't stop requiring it because I think it's valuable. I also enjoy this approach in the class I'm taking. A couple of classmates and I agreed yesterday that this procedure made us feel like "real" graduate students. Although I have had to read lots of professional/scholarly literature specifically assigned or that I found for papers, essentially creating the text as a group by choosing our own theme-based articles (supplementing our instructor's prepared lecture) is quite satisfying.

I will now approach my students' work on their current events journal with much more appreciation of the time and thought they had to expend to do the assignment well.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

America Smells Like..

I like to read books either about Americans living in foreign countries, or about people from foreign countries living in the United States. The former is the most interesting because it's a way to see ourselves in ways we don't usually think about.

One perception of America that is particularly interesting to me is smell, perhaps because that seems to be the strongest of my own five senses. The smell of a country first aroused my interest when I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and one of the characters who comes to America says it's the only country that has no smell.

Also, a few years ago, some of the people I work with invited our boss out for a beer on Boss' Day (which he actually insisted on paying for because he said he made more money than all of us.) He is from Korea, but has lived her for many years, and I believe he is a U.S. citizen. However, he makes frequent trips back to Korea for both personal and business purposes. We asked him which country felt like home, and he said it was Korea. he said Korea smells like kimchee, but America smells like cheese.

Last summer, I read John Pomfret's book Chinese Lessons. He wrote that some of his classmates were worried about rooming with Americans, some of them having heard that Americans smell like butter.

The most recent book like this I have read is Ha Jin's A Free Life. He writes that the first time on the plane to the U.S., many Chinese could not eat the meal served because of an overwhelming, sickening smell that so permeates the atmosphere in the United States that one can even smell traces of it on the fruits and vegetables in U.S. supermarkets.

I was puzzled as to what this smell might be. At first I thought it might be store bread, the smell of which Anne Tyler points out in Breathing Lessons. Upon doing a little Googling, however, I have come to believe that the smell Ha Jin is describing is fabric softener. However, various people on various blogs have suggested french fry grease and other theories. And if you investigate, you will discover there is a lot of conversation about the smell of countries

So now I'm curious. Does America smell more like dairy products or fabric softener? Or does it smell like something else?