Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Dear Dominic,

I'm sorry I'm not that mom at the basketball court, the one on the sidelines, wearing your team colors and clanging a cowbell, the one who yells out your name, who yells at the ref, who scribbles out efficient plays on my clipboard.

I'll go to some games, I promise.

But I won't love you because you like sports. I'll love you in spite of it.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Is it possible that the things which separate classes of kids is as simple as braces, the ability to play a musical instrument, and what they do with their spring break?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chance at Free Books!

Shannon O'Donnell over at Book Dreaming came up with this crafty contest.

Check out to enter.

Good luck!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Not So Silent Night

It was a typical Englund Christmas. 33 people at my dad's house in California. We played a Rock Band tournament of "Don't Stop Believin'." Ryan brought his famous eggplant parmesan. Someone tracked deodorant down the whole hallway. A light fell on Pregnant Rachel. The kids opened Nerf swords, Lego pirate ships, and the 2009 version of inchworm. Elf salt-and-pepper shakers on the table were very inappropriate. And Wayne and Garth (Daniel and Steven) delivered their top 10 Christmas Hotties list, with God's baby mama at the top.

Monday, December 21, 2009


"Can you make 100 copies of this?" Dominic asked me. He thrust a paper into my hands on his way to school.

I scanned it. It was an invitation to a new monthly Lego club. At our house.

"Hold on!" I called, as he was halfway down the driveway. "What are you going to do with all these?"

When Dominic said he was planning on posting them around the middle school, I tweaked the plan. I told him I'd make 10 copies, and he could invite that many kids one time.

Ten kids turned into 22 today. The best friends weren't even invited to this one. This one was all about Lego fanatics. If you were a kid, and you spoke Lego, you were in. There were girls and boys, between two and twelve, from eight different schools. And they were all hunched over the World's Biggest Lego pile, constructing castles, inventing airplanes, building bridges.

It was magical.

The kids were teachers. Today was a welcome reminder to be accepting, to be encouraging, to be creative and cooperative, to just get together and have a great time.

The Answers

Tartt claims that man's desire is to live forever, and that the attempt of doing so proves his innate evil.

Maslow would say that man's basic needs for survival -- breath, food, water, and sex (this last one is what "Community" was getting at -- define him.

My friend Wendi tells me that people are good, that it comes down to the choices they make, most of which are right.

My husband, the criminologist, is matter-of-fact: People are good. Statistically, there are less bad people, maybe 2 out of a hundred, he guesses.

Me, I see a lot of greed. But there's also a fair share of hope.

I like to trust the other people on the planet. I'm hoping I'm raising kind kids.

It's the perfect time of year to believe in humanity's goodness.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Essence of Everything

"'Are people born wicked?'" wonders Glinda The Good of the North in the opening song from Wicked. "'Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?'"

Thus begins a fantastical exploration of an age-old debate:

Are humans inherently good or evil? Is personality created through nature or nurture?

From Paradise Lost to Star Wars, art has attempted to provoke answers.

Wicked claims that people are evil, but that it's no doing of their own. To assuage her guilt at being a mean roommate, Glinda befriends the unattractive, hence unpopular, Ephalba. She tries to convince the green girl that the circumstances of her birth were not her fault.

And here's a thought-provoking excerpt from NBC's sitcom, "Community":

Are we really driven by sex? If so, does that make us more evil than good?

Then, there's Donna Tartt's murder mystery, The Secret History, in which the reader considers the true nature of man; a group of elite college students plots a homicide against one of their own. When the group unravels, the question becomes whether the absence of reason is insanity, and if evil breeds evil.

Is the essence of humanity defined by what we want? Or to the extent we'll go to achieve it?

"'...What is desire?'" Tartt writes. "'We think we have many desires, but in fact we have only one. What is it?'"

What is it? And how does it clarify whether man is good or evil?

Do you know?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Invigorated by God's Growing Tired

The latest in a long list of documentaries I've Netflixed this month included a treat called "God Grew Tired of Us." Three Sudanese Lost Boys were profiled as they immigrated to New York and Philadelphia.

The young men's naivety was refreshing. Here they were, the age of most of my students, but with no Play Stations or iPods or even running water. They were infatuated with electricity, were taught not to throw garbage out the window, and ate butter straight, asking if it was cheese or maybe meat?

All were dedicated to working one, two, even three jobs in factories and fast-food restaurants.

They wanted an education, but taught more to the Americans than they could've ever possibly learned themselves. There was no sense of entitlement. Of victimization.

To our afluenzic culture, this is anthropologically fascinating. And also spiritually.

"I feel sorrow for them," one boy said about his community of brothers left behind in the refugee camp. His sending money did not assuage his guilt at having a "nice place" (an apartment in Pittsburgh).

Over and over, each boy empathized with the refugees stuck in Africa.

It made me think about living here. In America, in Ashland. Where folks pull their hybrid Hylanders to screeching stops at Bikram yoga studios and sweat it out in mountain pose, their hands at their hearts.


Here we have everything--running water, electricity, butter--and we have to learn, to practice, to achieve the basic principles of kindness, of understanding, of love.

These boys didn't have much, but they did have that. In terms of everything, that is a lot.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blue-Collar Day

I began my Thursday at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. It was 17 degrees, and some of the sixth graders (the girls) were holding their noses and zipping their jackets over their faces, while other students (the boys) were crawling all over the rails around the pools of poop.

Bill came out and showed us where the waste comes in, and how it's mixed with "good bugs" before being blasted by a UV light, then spit into Bear Creek. Bill had on a baseball hat and a Carhardt coat. His beard froze as he talked about detritus feeders, and the diapers that come through the system. He was a good guy, Bill was, anyone could see it: the kind of guy who worked hard all week and appreciated a 20-ounce Budweiser on a Friday night.

After I had almost thawed out from the field trip, The Husband dragged me halfway up Highway 62 to slap some drywall mud around a woodworking shop. (Yes, Dave had quit. There was a little relapse here. Any drywaller could tell you the craft is a disease.)

My man's Wolverine boots clunked across the floor, as I sat outside with my face to the sun, and gave gratitude for clean water and warmth from walls, and all these workers who keep the world going. I'm telling you, there's nothing like a few hours with freezing BM and drywall dust to take you down a notch from being a college professor.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Big Piece of the Pie

My girl may have been struggling with long division, but she is nailing this unit on fractions!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fallacies (Fantasies)

Before I read a single book on writing, attended my first conference, or crafted a query, I believed--believed--the following:

That if you wrote a book, it got published.

That when it was published, you earned at least a six-digit figure for it.

That after you remodeled the house, you traveled the world, talking about your novel, in places like Bhutan.

That your chances on getting on Oprah with your book was maybe one in three.

That when that book then became an instant bestseller and award-winner, you spit out another masterpiece in no time, then another four or five.

For a while there, I must've confused myself with John Grisham.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Boot in the Door

To community college students, writing persuasively often includes a big, clunky push toward the reader's assention. The Rogerian argument, however, attempts for only a certain degree of agreement, and this is something that's hard to understand. After struggling all term with teaching this concept, I found the perfect vessel the other night.

I had tucked Rees in bed, and threatened him with closing the door all the way if he got out for any reason (long story short, bedtime around here had become a total joke). Of course, he tested me--for a "drink of water"--and I had to shut his door.

When I checked on him later, there was a crack in his doorway; wedged between the door and the frame was a Playmobil cowboy's little brown boot. The crack it made was just enough to assure Reesie that monsters wouldn't get him in the darkness, but not too much to make me realize the door was open.

The next day when I told my students about the boot, they understood the analogy completely. Their essays were strong but respectful.

During the break, I'm planning on rummaging through the Playmobil bin, curious to other teaching tools that might be in there, and wondering how I can use the mummified skeleton.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Role Reversal

It was a Wednesday morning, and I was sitting with Dominic's middle school class, when, seven minutes into the presentation on watersheds, I was overcome with hunger. The clock on the wall showed three hours until lunch. How was I going to wait that long?

My mind began to wander. While the speaker power-pointed feeder streams, I studied everything on the walls: taxonomic charts, quotes by John Muir, lists of prepositions. And after it was all committed to memory, I crossed my feet under the table and tried to listen about groundwater absorption.

I wondered how much longer until we could go outside and actually do something with watersheds.

And when we finally did go out into the morning fog, my hands froze, and my ankles bled from slogging through blackberry bushes, and I wished we could go back inside.

The shovels were heavy. The dirt was dirty. And I thought how lucky the kids in Manhattan were to never have to think about watersheds.

Hungry and hurt, tired and cold, I swept up a pile of ivy leaves. Dominic and his friends yanked vines from the earth with gusto and cheer, as I slunk off toward The Beanery.