This weekend, I worked a lot, but in my garden and not grading.  I put in a drip line for my garden.  I have about 2/3 of it done, and it works!  It only took me five trips to Home Depot (no kidding) to pick up extra parts.  I planted some of my seedlings–cucumbers (lemon and pickling), summer squash, whatever squash seeds came up (either acorn or butternut, I can’t remember which end was which in my tray), zucchini, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe, green beans, collard greens, arugala, lettuce (I am not sure which variety it was), cabbage, okra, and Brussels sprouts.  I also planted potatoes (purple and blue), beets, and garlic.  I put out some spinny things to try to keep the birds from picking at the garden.  We’ll see if that works!  In the remaining rows, I am going to plant more collards, okra, Brussels sprouts, sunflowers, radishes and cucumbers.

I have one more section to put drip line in for–the section with the pots.  I am going to plant tomatoes, onions, peppers, and tomatillos.  I also have some strawberries to plant that will either go in the tires or in the pots.  I haven’t decided yet.  I am going to wait a couple weekends to finish that part, though.  I have plans to pick up tomato, pepper, and tomatillo plants at an organic farm that is having a sale in a couple weekends.  I have used plants from there before, and they did really well.

All in all, I am hoping to have a booming garden this year.  We shall see!

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Spring Break

I haven’t blogged in a while.  I haven’t had the energy for it, to be honest.  It has been an eventful few months.

In late November, my grandmother died.  She had had Alzheimer’s for the last ten years and was in really bad shape at the end.  My dad faithfully visited her every day for the last few years of her life.  I think he has really felt her absence in his days since she died, even though we all know it was a relief for her to finally be at peace.

In December, my mom started having some strange symptoms and went to the doctor, where she found out in January that she had endometrial cancer.  It was scary.  She had surgery a couple weeks later, and she was very lucky.  They got it all.  She got the cancer-free declaration just before my birthday.  It is the best birthday gift I have ever gotten.

At work, we have been writing curriculum guides like mad people.  I sort of love that, actually.  We are designing our classes and our degrees.  It is neat to be at a school where we have the opportunity to decide what we want our students to know, what we think is important.  I am really excited about how our creative writing program is going to look.  It is going to be awesome.  Our students will get an introduction to creative writing class, three genre classes, and a genre intensive one-on-one class with a professor in the genre of their choice.  Then they will do a capstone course where they will revise, apply to a program (hopefully), and do a reading in their chosen genre.  They will also do an internship, either by taking the literary magazine class or by doing a program in the community.  They will be incredibly well-prepared for their four-year degree program.  Four of us have been working really hard at putting the program together, and it is pretty much finished.  We have only a couple more classes to send through curriculum committee, and then our entire degree will go through, as well.  Lewis and Clark State is super excited, and they really want our students.  They are visiting classes after the break to advertise their programs.  A lot of our students will probably end up at Boise State because of the location, but it’s wonderful that they have options.

This week is Spring Break, and it has been a busy one.  A dear friend of ours lost her kind husband right before the break, and we went to his funeral on Sunday.  He was a minister at a few of the UCC churches in Idaho, and we always loved visiting wherever he was preaching.  He blessed five of our cats at a blessing of the animals service out in the little community of Payette.  He had been ill much of his life and was a fighter.  I always thought of him as having nine lives because he survived so much and rebounded so many times.  I remember him always talking about the “great cloud of witnesses”.  I think he is one of them now.  I think my grandmother is, too.  I have really felt that since she died, too.

On Monday, Bernie Sanders spoke at Boise State, and I went and stood in line for over an hour to be able to hear him.  It was super exciting.  I have spent a lot of time reading about all of the candidates, and even though I voted for Hillary Clinton when she was running against Barack Obama, I adore Bernie Sanders.  I like his positions on everything (seriously, everything), and I appreciate that he is addressing issues that are so vital to young people.  If Hillary ends up getting the nomination, she will need to do a lot of work to earn those votes.  In my students, I see immense stress because it is a rigged system.  I would like to see student debt, cost of education, cost of living (including minimum wages and labor rights), and healthcare (with the expansion of the Affordable Care Act) addressed.  These are the issues that impact Millennials like many of my students.  It isn’t the same world that I grew up in anymore.  Whoever gets the nomination needs to deal with that and listen to the young people.  The Guardian had a fantastic series on this recently.  I was very irritated at the caucus when the mayor of Boise implied that young people only vote for Bernie because it’s the “cool” thing to do.  (Seriously, you’re going to grow a “hipster beard” if he wins?  You better start listening to your younger constituents instead of trying to mock them.  I will have trouble voting for you again after that display).

So yes, we went to the caucus on Tuesday.  The most polite thing I can say about that circus is that it was indeed a circus.  That type of event, where people have to wait outside in line for up to four hours, privileges those who can wait in line outside for that long.  Those who have to work and either can’t or can’t afford to take time off, who have health problems or disabilities, who are old or who have young children had trouble participating.  It’s an issue of access.  If it hadn’t been spring break, we would have had trouble going, too.  My mother-in-law, had she lived here, could not have stood in the cold that long.  My mother just had surgery and could not have stood in line that long.  My dad has a bad back and could not (or should not) have stood in line that long.  The doors of the caucus opened at 5 p.m.  We got there at 5:15 p.m.  We followed the line four blocks away, past where it split into two different lines.  The doors were supposed to close at 7 p.m.  We were still in line at 7:30 p.m., and the volunteer who gave us a ballot was grousing about the fact that we would still get to vote because the doors were supposed to be closed.  I was unimpressed.  They acted like it was a privilege that everyone in line by 7 p.m. would still get to vote.  Um, no.  That’s the law.  I hope they go to a primary system next time.  It is a more just system.

On a completely different note, I have been working on weeding the garden and getting it ready to plant.  That is quite a job.  It hasn’t been planted in a couple of years, so it has become quite overgrown.  I enjoy the weeding, but it is very slow work.  I appreciate my friend Patti’s recommendation of a garden claw because it has made the work a lot easier.I am going to install a drip system for the watering.  We have a soaker hose that was left by the previous owner, but I think a drip system would be a lot better in terms of water conservation.  I am going to plant radishes, onions, carrots, and beets on one level.  I’m going to do all of the greens–collards, different types of lettuce, arugula, chard, and a bit of kale–on another level.  I’m putting in two raspberry bushes and a marionberry bush in the back of the garden.  Then I’m going to have a big area that I’m going to plant purple and blue potatoes in another area.  Then I’m going to have a viney area, with lots of squash, melons, pumpkins, and hopefully cucumbers (I have never had any luck with those.  I am taking my friend Jessica’s recommendation and trying lemon cucumbers this year).  We also have a big area just for tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos.  If I am remembering right, there are spaces for 36 plants in that area.  I may not fill all of those this year.  We also have tires in the garden, two of which that are filled with rhubarb.  The rest are going to have strawberries.  So it is going to be huge, but it is also a huge space.  If I have good luck, I figure we can donate leftovers to the food bank, because goodness knows they need fresh veggies, and to the soup kitchen.  That’s if I have good luck, though!  First I have to wrestle the infestation of goatheads and vineweed out!

Book-wise, the book I have enjoyed the most in the last few months has been Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  I have had trouble finding another book that I have enjoyed as much as that one.  I loved The Beet Queen by Louise Ehrdrich.  I am currently reading The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths.  I like murder mysteries, but this one has been obvious in who did it.  I am not even 100 pages into it, and I have it figured out.  So I’m bored.  I do sort of like the characters, though.  I am excited to read Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley.  His first book was awesome, and I have been looking forward to this one.

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Book(s) #SPCStarFollower

I read a lot.  Here is my current selection from the public library, in the order I need to return them:

Death in Salem by Eleanor Kuhns

The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Dryland by Sarah Jaffe

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

What am I actually reading right at this moment?  More student essays than I dare number aloud.  Pray for me.

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Work #SPCStarFollowers

Today’s theme is work.  I spent a lot of years working multiple teaching jobs just to make ends meet.  My very last semester as an adjunct (last fall), I had three different jobs and was teaching 25 credit hours.  I look back and don’t know how I survived.  I was hired full-time a year ago at College of Western Idaho, and it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

For many years, I considered going into the ministry.  I wanted to be able to help people in a way that they could not help themselves, and ministry seemed to be a logical fit for that.  Then I started teaching at CWI in 2010.  I haven’t felt that pull into the ministry since then.  Community college is my ministry.

One of my favorite things about my job is how incredible the students are.  Most of them don’t realize how utterly brilliant they are.  Many have been discouraged in their education in the past, many were high school dropouts, and most work full-time and are full-time parents, often single ones, as well.  And they come to class with this drive to learn and better themselves but often without the confidence that they can do it, just the hard-fought desire.  And they can do it.  I spend a lot of my teaching time quietly cheering my students on, because they are already smart enough to make it through the classes.  They just need to trust that they can, in fact, do it.

In fact, I have intentionally shaped my literature class around this idea.  My students may not be aware of this.  Each week, I have them informally present their reading responses to the class.  They have to make some sort of argument about what they read, complete with a thesis statement.  They do beautifully.  I love it each week when I get to say, “That is actually one of the major debates about this piece that critics talk about.”  They didn’t need to read about the debate to observe it.  They already see it.  Then in small groups, we look at four major questions or themes, or critical lenses sometimes, on the text, and they come up with as much as they can as a group on that question, building off what other groups have observed.  They do so beautifully with this.  I feel like I leave each week with a “runner’s high” because of how amazing they are.  The small groups also make it really hard to hide, so they all get validated each week, not just the more outgoing folks.

This may seem very “un-Christmasy”, but isn’t part of Christmas giving hope?  That is how I see my job.  I am in the hope business, and I am all the better for it.

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Listen #SPCStarFollowers


This year at Southminster Presbyterian Church, we are doing reflections each day during Advent and Christmas.  Each day has a word or phrase for that day to use as a springboard for reflection.  Today’s is “listen” obviously.  This photo is a stock photo from KTVB from the day same-sex marriage was legalized in Idaho, October 15, 2014.  The hands are mine and my wife’s.  What I remember most about that day, apart from the joy, is the noise of the people all around us, cheering and celebrating.  Justice had arrived.

My understanding of the Christmas story is based on social justice.  God chose the unlikeliest of characters–the unwed teenager, the shepherds who existed on the margins of society, the foreigners who came from a different land to see the child, the lonely travelers who became parents in a stable and then refugees.  It is really a remarkable story–God arriving among the least of society and bringing hope to those who listened, a place at the table for the excluded. Justice had arrived.

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Welcome to the Fall

It’s hard to believe we are already in Week Two.  The semester is starting off fairly well.  I am teaching three 102 classes, English Literature 1, Poetry Writing, and CWID, our new first-year experience course (sort of an introduction to college course).  It’s an overload schedule, but it has been fine so far.

The class I am having the most fun with so far is English Literature.  We meet for an almost 3-hour class on Fridays.  Since it is such a long class meeting, I have been exploring ways to keep things moving and changing.  I have been bringing in videos, creative activities (acting, drawing, and translating, so far), a rotating small-group discussion, scholarship, and music so far.  It has been one of the most fun classes I have ever taught, and I think they are learning a lot.  We have only met once so far, but I have great plans for tomorrow!

My poetry class is going well.  It is small and has a very wide variety of students and abilities, which keeps it interesting.  I am having them do presentations on poets, and I am having them bring in song lyrics to consider as poetry, as well.  They have only written one official poem so far, but their next one is due next week.  They did very well with the first one.  I have been having them do silly writing activities in class, but they seem shyer about sharing those with each other so far.  I think I am going to have them just share with the person sitting beside them next week.  Maybe that will take some of the pressure off.

My 1o2 classes are great.  We have a new edition of the textbook I use this semester, so I have had to switch some of the readings. The new ones for me this past week were by Dorothy Allison and Cheryl Strayed.  They loved the Strayed one.  The Allison one made them think but also made them uncomfortable, which is not a bad thing.  It talked a lot about class, which is something that most of our students can relate to, so it is a valuable piece to bring in.  It is quite long, though.

CWID has been an adventure.  It is probably the most basic class I have ever taught, but I think it is an important class for students to take.  So far, we have talked about how to get financial aid (they met with financial aid folks), how to keep track of assignments for classes (we made schedules!), how to get involved in clubs on campus, why we value the things we do, and then spent one day talking about our topic–media literacy.  It seems like students need these discussions, so I feel good about it.  They are a lot of fun and ask good questions.

Projects I am working on right now include finding a poet for our inaugural reading series and figuring out how to get a grant for laptops for our Plus students.  I have an idea to expand the reading series that I have not yet pitched to the department.  We can afford to bring in one poet and one fiction writer.  We also have a lot of writers in our own faculty, though, and it would be cool also to have a faculty reading in each genre.  The music folks did a faculty performance last year, and I thought that was a neat idea and one we could adapt to English.  We have three full-timers with fiction MFAs.  I am the only poetry MFA, but we have at least two adjuncts with poetry MFAs, too, and it would be fun to feature them.  I also think it would be neat to have at least one student reading.  One in each genre, including nonfiction, would be even better.  We offer classes in all three genres, and I think there are classes in all three this fall.  We could even do an end-of-the-semester reading for all three classes, combined, for interested students.  It could be neat.

For the laptops, a colleague and I are in the very beginning stages of trying to find funding or an in-kind donation of laptops for each campus.  Our developmental writers need both the writing time and some more support with computer literacy that laptops could provide.  We want a cart of 12 or so at each campus (and I think we narrowed it down to four or five campuses) that faculty can reserve for class use.  This would be a huge deal for our students.  So many developmental students test into developmental classes because of access and socioeconomic issues.  We are also searching for funding or grants for low-income students to get internet access at home.  Many places have wi-fi anymore, but many of our students have small children and work 40, 50, 60 hours a week.  Going to a coffee shop (and being expected to purchase coffee) is not realistic for many students.  Our department is exploring low-cost/free resources for students to use online instead of a textbook, so they could get a cheaper computer for the price they would have spent on textbooks instead.  It could work well if we can find a way to fund it for students.

The other project that interests me but that I haven’t yet figured out how to pursue is finding a way to create safe bathroom spaces for non-gender-conforming students.  I have a few this semester, including students who do not identify with either gender.  I also have students who are single parents with kids who are the opposite sex.  They sometimes bring their kids to campus when they are just meeting with a professor or picking up something or that sort of thing.  There should be a gender neutral bathroom for these students.  There is not one on any campus.  It is something I am going to suggest for the new Ada County Campus plan, but it is something that we also need to solve for the other campuses, too.

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And Now It Is Summer

I haven’t blogged for a while.  I got busy and lost track of time.  This is what has been going on:

  1. We bought a house.  It’s a great house.  It was built in 1955 and is on the West Bench.  It’s small (1500 square feet) but with lots of storage and is the perfect size for us.  It has a magnificent yard, which is what convinced us it was the house for us.  It has a huge place for a vegetable garden in the front, already raised and the whole nine yards.  It has a Japanese garden in the back, complete with small pond, which we are still trying to figure out.  It’s a very relaxing space.  We have a big porch with lots of room for gatherings if we want to have them and just relaxing if we don’t.  We have just been relaxing so far, which has suited us perfectly.  We eat dinner out there most nights.  Right after we bought the house, in April, before we moved in (we had until June 1 to be out of our apartment), my wife decided to rip up part of the carpet to see what was under it, with the hunch that it had hardwood underneath.  She was right.  It’s beautiful.  We redid it ourselves, renting a sander from Home Depot and then staining and sealing it.  That was incredibly time-consuming.  We also repainted part of the house.
  2. I have a new job, which I’ve already talked a lot about.  It’s wonderful.  I could not be happier working there.  The people are fantastic, the students are great, and I love my coworkers.  Our meetings are fun and supportive!  This semester, I had several small projects I worked on.  I was part of the Scholarship Committee (super fun), I took a leading role in organizing the English major gathering and dinner (and am going to start doing it every semester), put together an email list for English majors (which will need to be updated every semester, obviously, but provided a great way to reach students), took the CWID training (it’s our new first-year experience class that we are going to start offering in the fall, sort of a “welcome to academia” class), got accepted to present at CWPA (Council for Writing Program Administrators, which is taking place in Boise this summer), presented at an ESL conference (this one was postponed from our snow day in November), advised the poetry students for the literary magazine (also super fun), and I think there were other things, but that is all that is coming to mind right now.  I got to participate in graduation, which was awesome.  My favorite part was that we got to surround the students at the end, as a faculty, and then confetti fell from the ceiling.  We then got to congratulate everyone as they filed out.  It was nice.
  3. I completed the literary criticism class.  Yay!  I got an A.  I had mixed feelings about it.  I learned some, for example that literary theory has changed tremendously since I took it 15 years ago as an undergraduate.  What I learned then was hardly recognizable in the new theories.  However, I also felt like we read more actual theory as an undergraduate than we did as graduates.  My biggest feedback on the class, though, was that it would be better if we had a choice–either literary criticism or linguistics.  Both would satisfy similar ways of thinking about language.  And I would have found linguistics to be much more useful to what I am actually working on.  I can’t imagine I am alone in that.  My other feedback is that there are a lot of very weak writers in the graduate program right now, something I never noticed last year.  I was not impressed.  I also think that there is a need for teaching how to write a literature review in English 500 (which I have not yet taken) because this is the second time I have been required to write one and there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding among students about what that is.  I learned as an undergraduate how to do one, but apparently that is not something that is being taught everywhere.  It almost makes me want to teach it in my survey classes, but I’m not sure that it would fit there.  I may consider it, though.

This summer, I am teaching two online classes, English literature and English 102.  It is the easiest summer I have had in years, to be honest.  Last summer, I taught four classes.  I have typically been teaching three.  This feels like a major break so far.  And it is giving me time to garden, which is nice.

I am just now putting in my garden, which is late, I know, but it has taken us this long to get organized.  I have tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in right now and am going to put in some greens, probably tomorrow.  I am still weeding out the back patch where I want to put viney things, so that will take a few more days to get to.

I am also going to swim a lot this summer.  I am hoping to start this week.  We live near a pool that has lap swim three times a day during the week.  That’s perfect for me.

Our major trip this summer is to Yellowstone for our five-year wedding anniversary.  We are staying in a cabin in the Roosevelt area, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid.  It’s actually our 7th anniversary overall and not quite our first legal anniversary, but that gives us extra things to celebrate!

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