Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Back to Reality

It has been six weeks since my surgery, and I will have to return to at least some portions of my real life. Here are some of the things I will miss about recovery:
  • Getting dressed whenever I want, if at all
  • Watching The Doctors and Everybody Loves Raymond reruns (and really guilty pleasures, the occasional Bewitched or Beverly Hillbillies rerun)
  • Flowers, cards, gifties like tea, candy, and stuffed animals to hold on my belly, getting taken to lunch (some overlap in attention here in that my birthday occurred during the recovery period)
  • Getting asked how I feel all the time
  • Permission to be self-centered
  • Playing with my scrapbook stuff (did not get many actual pages done, but played with my stuff a lot...organizing photos and supplies, cutting out things for future projects)
  • Doing silly things like decoupaging wooden tissue boxes
Here are things I won't miss:
  • Not being able to play with my dog
  • Pain, soreness, discomfort
  • The inability to find a comfortable position to sit or sleep
  • Not being able to watch a comedy special or a funny movie because it hurts too much to laugh
  • The Creeping Weepies
  • Boredom!
So right now I'm in the middle...have not been officially "released" yet, but know I will be soon, and feeling well enough to participate in some, but not all, the stuff of life.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

On the Mend

Tuesday will be the five-week mark for my surgery. I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I am so, so, so happy I don't have to return to work right now as many women on my online support group must. I drove for just a short distance Monday night, to the mall, which is very close to my house. In better times (and better weather), I have walked there. I usually don't, though, for shopping, in case I have to carry something back. I met a friend there for coffee/dinner, and we walked around the mall a bit.

Friday I drove my husband to the car repair place to pick up his car, then I stopped at a nearby shopping center and drove myself home. That was a bit more of a challenge because my seatbelt was putting pressure on my incision area, and checking my blind spots was a bit uncomfortable. It was also more exhausting then I thought; when I checked the time in my car, I was surprised I hadn't been shopping much, much longer than I had.

The issues now, then, are discomfort more than pain, a lack of flexibility (I was distressed to discover that what I wanted at JoAnn's was on a bottom shelf and I would not be able to look the items over without help), and a lack of stamina. However, I had about 15 sensation-free minutes this morning in which I forgot I was "Surgery Girl" or "Recovery Girl" as one of the ladies has described it.

I went to a Halloween get-together last night dressed as my interpretation of a Mad Men character, "an unnnamed employee of Sterling-Cooper." Not only did this give me a chance to pay homage to one of my favorite TV shows, but also to wear the silly bouffant wig I found at the costume store. I so admired the puffy hairdos my older sister and her friends wore, but when my time came, straight hair, then Farrah hair and hideous perms were the trend. (I regret to say that I often went the hideous perm route.)

I was proud of not only going to that get-together, but pulling together a costume (of sorts) that involved putting on a wig and false eyelashes and struggling into pantyhose twice (I discovered the first pair had a run). Spending time at a party really helped me to feel more normal, I think.

I will return to my practicum in about a week-and-a-half, I think (I also completed and turned in an online assignment for the practicum seminar this past week). I am preparing items for the project I will do when I get back, and tomorrow I will re-enroll for the scary tech class I have dropped twice (let's hope the third time is indeed a charm.) I'm glad to be slowly returning to real life, but I am especially glad to have the opportunity to take it slowly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Gypsy 24-hour Design Challenge Project by Susan Edwards

Please vote for my very talented friend Susan's project so she can win a trip to NYC. She is an amazing scrapbooker and paper crafter, among her many other talents. Voting ends tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28 at 11:59 p.m.

The Gypsy 24-hour Design Challenge Project by Susan Edwards

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Weepy Day

Everything is going on and nothing is going on. There is, of course, my aforementioned surgery, from which I am still recovering. This appears to be "weepy day" in the recovery process. As I also mentioned before, I have a bag of hormone patches, but whenever I have been tempted to use them, I start to wonder whether my issue is a result of the surgery itself, which is a pretty big trauma to one's body, or the new issues created by the surgery, for which the patches are intended.

Complicating that, I just collected a batch of early birthday cards from the mailbox. This will be my 50th birthday, so most of the cards mention that. I am fine with turning 50, but before this surgery came up, I had grand ideas about how I might spend this milestone. One idea was a special trip, maybe to Germany. However, before this surgery came up, I knew I would be enrolled in the scary tech class, so a trip was out. I had a variety of other ideas, but now just getting something like "dressed" is kind of a victory (stretchy high-waisted exercise pants and tops that cover my hips). So now I guess I will be doing next to nothing to mark this milestone.

It's not that I am being ignored. I have been receiving cards. Earlier this week my new phone arrived, a nice new phone I've been asking for. My husband also got a phone. We have been sharing one relatively basic cell phone for years, so this will be nice, especially when I can figure out our plan and how to use the various features on my phone without unintentionally running up a huge bill.

As I started writing this, my husband was in the basement trying to finish a scrapbook cabinet he has been making for me, so that's certainly nice. Then he came up and saw I was upset, and I explained the cards and said, "This is going to be a sucky birthday." To his credit, he said, "Yes, it is."

But then he said he had been thinking it's also kind of an opportunity. Because I will be taking the next session of work off (my recommended recovery period goes well into the session, so I just decided to ask to take it off and make myself available to sub when I feel better), we might be able to take a mini-vacation when I'm feeling up to it.

I feel a lot better now.

(By the way, the other upside is I had an excuse to postpone the scary tech class again, even though I am still doing my practicum. This will delay my graduation one semester, but, hey, i've waited this long to get that degree.)

Saturday, October 03, 2009


I debated with myself about writing about this, but since this blog is ostensibly about my mid-life victories and trials, it seems appropriate.

A few days ago, I had a Total Abdominal Hysterectomy/Bilateral Salpingo Oopherectomy (TAH/BSO), which basically means that entire diagram/illustration you saw in your high school biology book is gone. (Well, not that diagram/illustration; just my stuff.) Apparently this sends me into surgical menopause. I have a handy-dandy little bag of patches I can use should this start to give me any trouble.

This did not come as a total surprise. (Somewhat) less invasive means of dealing with my issues had been tried. I don't want to go into big details right now, but mostly I agreed with this to make sure I did not have ovarian cancer (I did not, for which I am so thankful.) If you don't know, ovarian cancer remains a difficult cancer to diagnose in its early stages, so even though the possible markers were slight and subtle, I did not want to wait on this. There were other issues (the ones we tried to deal with before) that were increasingly interfering with my life as well, although they never got to the point they have with some other women, who are made quite miserable with these problems.

I feel very positive about having done this. I am aware of the statistics surrounding this surgery...a very high number of American women have this surgery and some people feel too often. However, every woman I talked to felt positive about having done this (some to the point of glee, I think.)

It helps that I'm almost 50, so this was not traumatic in a way it might be for some younger women. When I found out I would be having this surgery, I Googled and found a wonderful Web site called HysterSisters. It gives information and offers an online support group. It is enlightening to see the varieties of hysterectomy and the reasons women have them.

My surgery had to be the old-fashioned kind, with a vertical incision. (I already have a "bikini" scar [yeah, right] from my Cesarean section when my son was born.) However, nowadays there are a lot more options for hysterectomy surgery if you are able to use them.

It was not as bad as I thought it would be. I was kept as pain-free as possible, and my nurses and docs were very attentive. (Everyone appeared to be about 12 years old, though,
especially the med student who had been at my surgery and came in to talk to me.) I had a semi-private room which was a tad claustrophobic, but I liked my roomie. She had surgery the day before me, but she was having some issues. The biggest discomfort, then and now, was trying to get in a comfortable position, both because of the surgery and because there are staples in me.

I got to stay in the hospital for two nights, which is just about right. After that, it becomes intolerably noisy and depressing. I got to order my meals from a "room service" menu. My roommate, who was having trouble with food, was always asking me to tell her what I had enjoyed. (Bad: Scrambled eggs; Good: Grilled cheese and tomato soup. The apple spice muffin was not too bad. The salad was mediocre.)

Now my husband is taking amazing care of me, and I am getting very spoiled. I get meals in bed, propped pillows, and pretty much anything I ask for. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to being comfortable (without the aid of medicine) again.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

We Will Not Be Who We Were Part 2

As the auto industry reorganizes in my state and elsewhere, other places and pursuits fall with the factories. I am not employed in the auto industry, but my husband was before he retired, as were (and are) many relatives and friends. I am employed at a community college that I was proud of before I was ever an employee there. I am a strong believer in the community college mission: a well-run community college is a great equalizer, giver of second chances, and picker-up of slack in the system. It is also a trainer of first responders.

When I am walking on our pretty little urban campus and I see future EMTs rehearsing emergencies or nursing students discussing their assignments or field work as they stand in a lunch line, I think about how these are the people who might be the ones to save my life if necessary before I ever see a doctor. I took the Legal Assistant program at the college myself and met lots of very sharp people either already involved in law and some who were trying to make their Bachelor’s degrees more marketable. I didn’t see so many of the people who were being trained for a more high-tech auto industry because that was located on a new campus on the other side of town close to the new factory.

I was very proud to be doing what I do as well. It is a bit tricky to discuss one’s current employer in a public forum, but here is why I feel compelled to write about this: I am the kind of person who needs to process losing the old thing before I can commit myself to the new thing…so here’s what happened. Because a community college obviously depends on public funds, and because the economy here has been bad for some time and no one is predicting a quick recovery here, there were a number of job losses (retirements, layoffs, non-replacement of people in vacant positions). Several departments were reorganized or eliminated, including ours.

I was part of a lovely department called International Programs. That eventually merged with our Multicultural Programs, and we had several Study Abroad Programs designed to enhance our curricula and to serve our students (who because of their nature or circumstances are very budget-minded.) We also hosted folks visiting from other countries a few times a year, and one year I got to be a part of that, teaching a little English/American Culture class and hosting a couple visitors. Mostly what I did and do though, is teach English to students who are preparing for academic programs in the United States. Now the department is gone, but I guess I should be thankful that our group was assigned to another department.

We will lose our workspace, which I have since discovered, shared and cramped as it sometimes felt, it was actually quite luxurious compared to other adjunct workspaces. We had places that we sort of adopted that became “ours” (you knew which desk to find someone at on certain days of the week. My de facto deskmate and I are friends, somewhat equally messy and tolerant of each other, and now that will be gone. We will be assigned workspace and work time, and will have a drawer to store our stuff. (After eight years there, I think I will need some serious space at home to store the stuff I have accumulated).

Because our students meet at the same time, many members of our department are close and we do a lot of informal collaboration. Many of us have strong friendships outside of work as well, but seeing each other at work in spite of busy lives at home helped sustain those relationships during big life changes. And I was part of someone’s dream: my original boss (now retired) created this program many years ago, and it was quite remarkable. He is from Korea, and once received a medal from the Emperor of Japan for improving Korean-Japanese relations. I think those of us who worked for him always felt we were part of something very special, like in our own little contributions, we were promoting World Peace or something like that. It was much more to us than a part-time job to help pay the bills.

Now we have been made part of another department. I like our new boss very much, and where we are centered is pleasant enough. Now, though, it feels as if we ESL faculty have no “home.” There is no place to build our little work nest.

And finally, though we will have international students, and they might have more of a chance to interact with domestic students, it seems like there will be fewer opportunities for our domestic students to have international opportunities. There will be a liaison with the nearby university for Study Abroad, but our programs were geared for our students.

I will be positive eventually, and my friends all love what we do and we will make it work. But, as in Part 1, we will not be who we were, and that just feels sad right now.

We Will Not Be Who We Were Part 1 (And yes, there will be a Part 2 this time)

First of all, in the overall scheme of things, I probably have no right to complain. There is still plenty to eat, the bills are getting paid, and there is some money for fun. My community has lost factories and jobs, but has a shiny new one and a still-standing older one. We still produce vehicles that sell here, and will have another model. However, when I start paying for my own vision and dental care, and perhaps mammograms or however the overall insurance aspect plays out, there will be less of that discretionary income, and that’s the point where others start going down with us, I guess.

The hard thing is this: people don’t understand Who We Are, and the media has tried to convey this, but not very well, because they choose mostly folks who fit their Central Casting stereotypes: Clueless High-Level Auto Executive and Salt-of-the Earth Union Family (3 generations), for example. Of course, those folks exist, but there are so many others. An auto plant is like a little city: there are line folks, people who sweep the floors, carpenters, millwrights, plumbers, electricians and various departments such as paint, trim, body, and so on. My husband had various positions throughout his career, starting on the line and ending as a planner and getting to work overseas.

What I learned over the years is all of these are complex operations. I also met a lot of people (or heard about a lot of people and personalities). There are, for instance, college graduates who worked on the line or in skilled trades because the money was good. I have met some very smart, funny, clever people in the industry over the years, and I did not see these people on TV. I have met folks who are passionate about cars (perhaps with an old beloved model in their garage that they love to tinker with) and loved being in the auto industry. I did not see those people, or if they were on TV, certainly not with the frequency and emphasis of the others I mentioned.

What I did like about the three-generation family is what they conveyed-- this is what we do here. Grandpa did it, Dad or Mom did it, and I was hoping to do it too. The majority of people I have known in my life work or are supported directly or indirectly by the auto industry. Even though I have never worked for it (but am fed by it), I consider it part of Who I Am. This is what we do here.

I will certainly admit there were some problems, but stereotypes and prejudices exacerbated some of those problems. When service awards were being won and models were winning awards and receiving high ratings, we weren’t hearing so much about that. Because my stepson was involved in the launch of one of those award-winning vehicles, I am somewhat aware of the blood, sweat and tears that go into making that happen.

I have been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and found myself astounded to be sympathetic to a passage in which she remembers a college party (“one of those intensely conversational gatherings of the utterly enlightened”) at which people were discussing the “evils of tobacco.” She asked: “What about the tobacco farmers?” (This had been her family’s livelihood) Somebody asked: “Why should I care about tobacco farmers?” I would not have understood at all a year ago, but now I know what she means when she writes:

I’m still struggling to answer that. Yes, I do know people who have died
wishing they had never seen a cigarette. Yes, it’s a plant that causes cancer
after a long line of people (postfarmer) have specifically altered and abused
it. And yes, it takes chemicals to keep blue mold off the crop. And it sends
people to college. It makes house payments, buys shoes, and pays doctor bills.
it allows people to live with their families and shake hands with their neighbors
in one of the greenest, kindest places in all the world.

Now I am the last person on earth who will defend tobacco. However, what she captures in this and subsequent paragraphs is that when we gleefully celebrate the demise of something like tobacco (or logging, or the auto industry or whatever), there are more than evil Snidely Whiplash corporate executives finally getting their comeuppance and the deliverance of their clueless pawns. There is the loss of a way of life, not only financially, but of having a way to think of ourselves and What We Do. And it hurts.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Unsettling Junior Boomer Kind of Day

First of all, I must explain that I have never identified too much with the Baby Boomer label, even though I was born in the time period that covers. The older members of that demo had the VietNam War to contend with as well as the massive culture shift. By the time I reached my formative teen years and young adulthood, there were just not the same issues. I also graduated from college as a recession was ending and the Senior Boomers already had most of the jobs. However, I have two Senior Boomer siblings and a spouse, which often makes me feel younger than I actually am. morning started with my radio alarm going off. I had forgotten I had set it to a classic rock station. So I vaguely hear..."first live recording in 1967...during...the Beatles All You Need is Love...with Mick Jagger and Donovan among the members of the chorus..." Blah blah blah, I'm still half asleep. Then I hear something like..."This classic rock moment has been brought to you by the Burcham Hills Retirement Center." Boom! I'm awake, thinking "That's the wrong commercial for this demographic." I used to visit an elderly lady from my churh at Burcham Hills (which also has an assisted living center.) And then I realize, "Oh my gosh. It's not. It's exactly right. My husband is retired."

Then after returning to work after lunch (I had come home to feed the dog and let him out) I heard that Farrah Fawcett had died as I was parking my car. I sat in the car and listened to the story.. As I got out of the car, tears just inexplicably started rolling down my face. I was not a fan of Charlie's Angels...not my kind of thing, plus it was known as a "jiggle" show and I was developing my feminist sensibilities, such as they are, at that time. However, I always thought she was beautiful and had amazing hair even in the magazine shampoo ads in which I first noticed her (pre-Angels.) I also thought she did great work in The Burning Bed, which I paid special attention to because it involved people in a town near where I lived at that point...the case was frequently discussed in the local media. (It was a good movie, but I always wondered why the Michigan people had Texas accents. Most Michigan accents are more like Chicago-lite or Canada-lite or Sarah Palin-lite, depending on the combination of where you live and your parents are from.)

I was thinking about how in my college dorm so many of the young men had that Farrah poster in their rooms. Seriously, it was everywhere. I had to stop in the rest room and collect myself before I went to teach my class; I did not know why this was affecting me so.

And then later as I was reading something on AOL, in the more often than not extremely stupid comments, someone said something about Michael Jackson being dead. I thought it was a Mikey pop-rocks, Wikipedia false info planting kind of thing, then the local news said "TMZ is reporting..." (And I thought "Really? TMZ?") and then finally, Brian Williams was saying it.

I have two Michaels in my memory: Michael, the boy my age with pictures in Tiger Beat magazine who sang with his brothers, then Thriller Michael whose video "world premiere" I watched with my husband and stepkids before I became a mother myself. The much later Michael was definitely disturbing but I always wondered why no one seemed to be helping this clearly troubled man who pretty much had his childhood stolen from him.

I feel sad and old today.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I don't remember when I started wanting a dog. I know it was some time after my cat died because while I missed my kitty a lot, I sort of enjoyed being pet-free for a while. However,once I started campaigning for a dog, my husband wasn't quite ready. He likes dogs, and had one when he was younger. I had them as well. We tried having two dogs when my son was very young, but neither of those worked out. There was a beagle who liked to run all the time and was always burrowing under the fence and escaping. We sold him. Then there was a German Shepherd, a gift to my son, and he chewed up everything...carpets, remote controls, you name it. When we put him outside he would bark incessantly. I'm sorry to say we "surrendered" him. If we knew now what we knew then, we probably would have been able to work with him effectively.

I think the thing that intensified my wanting a dog and led to my husband's agreeing to it was watching The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic channel. If you have never seen it, it features a man named Cesar Millan who works with problem dogs. He is amazing with dogs, and has a very compelling story of his own. My husband started to say we could perhaps get a dog once he retired, then as that grew closer, that maybe we should wait until a year after he retired to see what our life was like. Then, this past year, he said we could perhaps get a dog in the spring.

The dog we ended up with was completely different from my fantasy dog. I thought I'd like a little bichon frise that I could pamper and dress in silly dog clothes and let sit on my lap. I was going to buy one of these from a reputable breeder at some point, but I have two friends at work who are dog lovers. One gently and persistently scolded and made me feel incredibly guilty for thinking about buying a dog, encouraging breeding, when so many dogs in shelters needed to be adopted. (She and her husband have had three rescue sheepdogs.) Another friend has a second job at the local Humane Society, and often talked about the little friends she fosters to save them from being euthanized.

I started looking for bichon frises on rescue sites. They were available, but often had some kind of big problem or weren't good with children. I learned though, that Petsmart had an adoption event the first weekend in May (this is a nationwide event that takes place at lots of pet supply stores, shelters, etc.) I had my husband pull in at a Petsmart when we were on the yuppie side of town buying wine, and Tad was the first dog we saw. We played with him for a while and liked him a lot. He was no bichon frise, though. He is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix (another part of the mix, being dachsund, we were told). My husband thought we should look around some more, including at the Petsmart on our side of town. I agreed, but couldn't stop thinking about Tad. We looked at other dogs, but I just really felt that Tad was our dog. It almost looked like it wasn't going to happen, but by the next Wednesday, he was home with us.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happily putting off the inevitable

I decided to drop the Client-Based Website Development class for the summer and take it in the fall instead. Even though I will now have to take it at the same time I'm doing my practicum, I am absolutely convinced I made the correct decision. I will have a much better idea of what to expect (particularly that first week); I have the textbook, so I can preview. I have a set of DVD's which explain the program we were going to use. Even if they change a few things, I will have a chance to familiarize myself with concepts.

One of the things I found intimidating was the amount of work and the speed at which it was expected to be completed. At the same time, there was an expectation stated that we were to do everything possible to find our own solutions (in the lectures, videos, readings, of course) and do some research on our own. It became clear that, for me, this class was going to be a full-time summer job.

I kept looking at my pool as my husband opened it, the neighborhood parks to which I have been taking my new dog Tad (more about him in another post), and some of the lovely days we have been enjoying lately. I decided I had no desire whatsoever to spend my summer chained to my laptop. Summer is short, and even shorter where I live. My job will start up again in a couple weeks, but now I will have some time to enjoy the down time. I can also spend some time to set my life up to accommodate the enormous workload I am anticipating in the fall.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Things that agitate me #1

Perhaps it's because I just got home from vacation last week just to start fighting a nasty cold, but there is much that is on my nerves lately. The first thing is something that has always annoyed me, but is particularly unbearable now. I know it's really silly, and maybe I unknowingly do it myself, but I really hate when people say "Look" in a conversation or when they explain something on TV. It's sexist, I know, but I particularly hate when men do it. It seems needlessly aggressive. I feel like in their heads, they are immediate following it with "moron" or "a#*!ole."I just want to shout back, "No! You Look!" I'm not saying this is sane or anything. It just is.

Another thing is when people (again, especially, but not exclusively, men) gesture with their index finger. I had a student do that to me recently who was challenging me on when I had said something was due. I was willing to concede he might be right, but then all I could see was that finger pointing at me, filling me with white hot rage. Fortunately, I'm pretty-self aware and can keep fairly calm, and just asked him to please not do that. I also think it might be that he is from a culture which, fairly or unfairly, is not considered particularly woman-friendly. However, this student has always been respectful to me, and felt bad that he offended me, and I felt bad I had not waited until after class to say something. I tried to explain in class that this is not necessarily an American thing but more of a Mary thing. And again, I'm not sure if I do it too sometimes.

I think it would be helpful if there was some way I could get in people's heads and see what their intentions are...or get inside my own and see why these things are so bothersome.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recovering from vacation (or a virus)

While we were in San Diego, we visited the zoo, of course, and toured an aircraft carrier that is now a museum. Mostly, though, we just relaxed and walked around town a lot, doing things like visiting farmers' markets. Hubby and I were on the same page about what we wanted from the vacation (change of scenery, do what we want, when we want, if we want) and that always makes it nicer.

It is nice to be home, but I'm dizzy and I don't know why...several theories--jet lag, Dramamine withdrawal, perimenopause (sorry), or something going around the area...a Facebook friend has been reporting three days of head-spinning on her status, so maybe it's some kind of bug. I wish it would stop, though, because I'm having trouble with any activity that involves standing up, and I need to do things to get ready to go back to work.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vacation day 1

Last year, we used some of the frequent flyer miles my husband had gathered while working overseas to go to Austin, Texas. A friend of mine had gone there for South by Southwest a year before we went and it just sounded like a great place. (We went the week before S X SW when we went, but there were still all kinds of fun things going on.) Since Ron was, by this time, retired, and I was on spring break, when they asked for people to volunteer to be bumped, we waited for a good offer. We were in no particular hurry, after all, and got vouchers for a round-trip flight anywhere in the contiguous 48. We tried to think of someplace warm(ish) to go this year and that would be expensive on our own.

We arrived in San Diego last night. (Neither of us have ever been in this city before.) We have a great hotel room on the 12th floor, right across from San Diego Bay. This morning, while we were sitting out on the balcony, my husband spotted a whale in the bay. Later, we went out on one of those excursion boats to watch whales, where we saw three (well, mostly their tails.) We also spent some time watching the "wayward" one.

When we got home, we looked out the window and saw a lot of people gathered on the Embarcadero in the vicinity of where we saw the whale. There were also two news trucks, so we turned on the local news and they were talking about it.

So far, this seems to have been a good choice.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kid Books

I'm having lots of fun reading books for my "tween" and YA Lit classes, but it's more time consuming than I would have guessed. I'm a little bit more willing to read Fantasy and Science Fiction now, but I've discovered (by reading reviews of some things I have enjoyed) I might not have the best taste in it. I am being kind to myself and assuming that's because I am not as familiar with the genre as those who love it, so am still learning its conventions, much like children will read formula fiction as they become comfortable with understanding how a novel is constructed. (This is a Thing I Learned.This should probably be a Thing I Know, but teachers of reading have a somewhat different approach to reading than librarians...another Thing I Learned.)

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to when I can read more Books for Grownups, although I think some of the YA stuff can be such a thing, just marketed specifically. More about that another time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mrs. Wiggs

The first assignment for my tween lit class (4th to 8th grade) was to read a childhood favorite. The first one that came to mind was Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, which I read numerous times when I was a kid. After my stepdad died in 2002 and I was staying with my sister while we were preparing to go to his funeral, I discovered that my niece (then 31) still had the book in her room, and in fact had been reading it, and I think she had also read it several times when she was younger. She got it for me; it was quite dilapidated, with some pages falling out. I think it was something my mom might have picked up in a bargain bin, perhaps having been one of her childhood favorites (It was originally published in 1901). At any rate, everybody in my household (my mom, sister, niece and I all lived together until I left for college) has fond memories of this book.

I discovered it had been digitized on Google Books, so I read it there for the assignment, and I was both delighted and disturbed. The narration is pretty clever and witty sometimes, and I now have more understanding of the references (e.g. the chapter entitled "The Annexation of Cuby" which escaped me in childhood). Mrs. Wiggs has a positive attitude similar to the one my mom tried to project in difficult times, and that really is reassuring when you are a kid.

The disturbing part was that I had forgotten there were about half a dozen racial or ethnic slurs or stereotypes (including The Big One at one point in Mrs. Wiggs' dialogue). I can't remember if it appeared in the edition I had, and if it did, I would have mulled that over. It is a book of its time and place, and it probably would have been authentic for Mrs. Wiggs to say it, although Mrs. Wiggs makes a lot of linguistic miscues; I believe it would have been out of ignorance rather than hostility on the part of her character.

I started feeling kind of guilty for liking this book, and started looking around for more information. There was a paperback edition published in 2004, and a copy is available at Michigan State University. It appears to be beloved by those who are familiar with it, although the person who writes the preface in the 2004 edition (the part that's available to read for free online) acknowledges problems, such as a sometimes patronizing attitude towards poor people.

I have to give a booktalk about this, and I'm trying to think about how to approach it. There is much to recommend it (being aware of others, service, interdependence). Obviously there are people besides me who think it is worthwhile to keep it circulating. Although I loved it as a tween, it was not really originally intended as that kind of book. While certainly no Huck Finn, is that the kind of approach to take in a booktalk? To say, look, this is how it was in that time in that place. And, of course, unlike Huck Finn, I don't think the intention is to satirize that behavior. That's not good, but there you go. And sometimes, if you protect kids from that, they don't understand Now.

The areas of my concern are not really a major part of that book, but as a young student, particularly a member of one of the slurred or stereotyped groups, I might perceive them as major. At the same time, it's a very sweet and funny book, even if somewhat melodramatic and old-fashioned by today's standards.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Working on a fresh year

Winter break is winding down and next week it will be time to get back to work teaching, as well as taking my own classes. I'm excited and not excited at the same time. As far as work goes, I think I'm coming to a time in which I will have to think differently about it one way or the other. I like my work PLACE, and I like my students. However, I have been doing pretty much the same thing for almost eight years now, with variations here or there as time, circumstances, and class dynamics permit. There is a lot of pressure to stuff down a lot of info in a short amount of time, and that, for me, is not conducive to a lot of creativity. Maybe, though, this malaise will inspire me to solve that problem.

Relationships are also different. One thing I have always enjoyed about my job is the collegiality and friendship. Peoples lives have changed quite bit in the past few years, though, with the births of children, marriages, and so on, so the time people can spend together has been affected. Also, underlying conflicts between some people have become more pronounced, making socializing more awkward in certain circumstances. It still happens, but less often, and between fewer people. There has been a change in leadership in the past few years, and two programs have merged, and like most workplaces nowadays, people are doing "more with less." I can't help but think that has also affected the social dynamic.

I'm excited about the classes I'm taking, particularly since I have one online and one face-to-face (which hopefully won't get canceled due to too few participants). That's my favorite combo because I enjoy that there is a certain degree of autonomy in the online classes (even though there are still due dates and such), but I still get the social aspect of the face-to-face classes. The class I'm particularly excited about is the YA literature class because I will get to read books I like to read ...usually, except for some weeks which will not be my favorite genres. I know this is heresy in the online world, but I'm not a big fan of science fiction or fantasy, although I think if I can consume it in graphic novel form (another week's requirements) I will enjoy it more.

I remember feeling so excited two years ago when I started the program. I knew I would take more than two years to finish because the plan was to take one or two classes per semester, including summers. It will probably take me one more semester than I planned because of availability of local or online classes. This program has on-campus, satellite, and online classes, and there have been experiments and changes with that since I started. I'm at the point where people I started with have graduated, even though I noticed one or two familiar names on the face-to-face class roster. Like at work, I'm feeling a little leftover and stale.

I know it is up to me to take steps to freshen things up. I'm just not quite sure how to go about it yet. I'm thinking new shoes will help. New shoes fix everything.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Again, it's almost noon, and I am still in PJs. It's the second of January, and time to start transitioning back to "real life." I have this very weird relationship with the Christmas season. It's a lot of work, and frequently makes me cranky and mean. Then in between and immediately after the holidays, I enter a state of extreme laziness involving staying in my pajamas and reading for hours. But it's still fun, and I love it, and wouldn't have it any other way. (Well, I would have fewer mean and cranky spells.)

Stuff I got for Christmas: My big surprise from my hubby was a new iPod Nano (pink!) to replace the one he got me two years ago, which I then misplaced or lost a year or so later while he was gone...then a bunch of stuff that was on my request list. I got new PJs, cuddly soft ones I'm wearing as I type, matching booty slippers, the novel The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, the soundtrack from the film Cadillac Records (have not seen the film yet, but wanted the music), a ladies-who-lunch purse from my stepson and his wife (it's a summer purse, and I'm going to buy a Jackie Kennedy kind of sheath dress and two-tone pumps to match when the time comes to use it, for it is that kind of bag) and also a fancy bracelet/watch from them, Starbucks & retsaurant gift certificates from another stepson & wife, beautiful gold grosgrain ribbon/quilted pillows to match my bedroom that my stepdaughter made for my husband and me, and a bunch of other nice, fun, and/or useful stuff.

I love presents, both getting and giving them, and must constantly head off the forces that want to inappropriately (in my view) alter or eliminate this custom. Spending limits are fine, and even reducing the complexity and expense by name-drawing, etc. When you search for or make a present for someone, though, you have to think about them, what they're doing now, what they like, who they are at this point in their life, and that's why it feels bad when I discover I have given them the wrong thing. But when it's the right thing, and they appear delighted, there is no better feeling.

I have also observed that when the present exchanging falls off, so does the making a point of connecting during the holidays. In my family of origin, we have a post-Christmas get-together among siblings, nieces, nephews, etc. The exhanges are mostly modest ones, but still fondly anticipated. I think we all know most of the items are purchased at deep, post-Christmas discounts, and that's actually part of the fun.

Now, though, Ron has started putting away Christmas things, and I must get dressed and become involved in this because I like it done a certain way (until I get tired, and then it's just random).