Thursday, January 31, 2008

Snow: Nature's Monkey Wrench

I was planning to take the highway over the Santiam Pass tomorrow morning to head to our condo at the beach.

These cars?

Are stuck, due to an avalanche which closed the highway.

We go to Depoe Bay every year at this time. The problem this year is, the route to the coast is laden with snow-covered mountain passes. Even the coast range has snow, and the coast range's summit (on Highway 18) is 793'. Woot.

I'm not a person who likes winter driving adventures. This is really cramping my style. I had prepared for it mentally. I was all psyched up for going out in my front-wheel drive car with studded tires and a week's worth of water and snacks plus a wool blanket. While my brain said "You can do this!" my inner Girl Scout said, "But bring plenty of provisions, just in case."

Too bad it's not quite Girl Scout Cookie time. I could use a box or ten.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Doesn't Play Well With Others

I know that's an over-used phrase, but appropriate when applied to me.

College is interesting. The people in class with me, what an amalgamation of people! For instance, there's a girl in class who talks too much but she doesn't know it. When the instructor says something rhetorical, such as, "Fractions, they are our friends, let's work on that problem." this girl says, "They're my friends!"

No one says what we are all thinking, and that is, and are they your only friends?

That was mean. Let me explain. Small talk with this girl looks like this: she begins to talk and then swivels her head completely around slowly and in a complete circle to see if she can make eye contact with anyone and therefore be engaged in "conversation". This conversation, I might add, is one-sided and requires of the second person only that they listen. The second person's comments are not necessary whatsoever. I know this, because I fell for this once and only once. The next time I heard her start to talk, I pointedly studied whatever paperwork happened to be in my hand at the time because who does this? She who does this, I dub thee, TalksToHearSelf.

One day, TalksToHearSelf's cell phone rang during class. She got up and walked out of the classroom to take the call, letting the phone RING THE ENTIRE WAY. Silence the ringer? That's for the well-socialized. So, she goes out into the hallway, and just then, someone opens the door and walks into the classroom. The entire class hears TalksToHearSelf say, "I AM in class, mom!!!"

You've got your assortment of advanced-agers, which I mean is anyone over 24. Then there's the young; the dew-skinned and fresh-eyed 18-year olds. Boys, girls, men, and women, all assembled to ponder the impenetrable world of trinomials and linear equations. And, by the way? There's a test on Thursday.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ask the Coed

What is it like to go back to college at age 34?

In a word, intimidating. It's been a long time since I've had basic classes - like Algebra! - so I'm always afraid I'll look stupid because I won't know something elementary, such as the First Chief Justice of United States Supreme Court.

Maybe that particular example would not be something recalled by the typical person, including myself, and I realize it has nothing to do with Algebra. Tell that to my self-conscious imagination, who thought it might be on the long list of required knowledge one must have at the ready in order to enter the classroom on the first day of class, like a secret password to a backroom, illegal poker game. A list, by the way, which looks suspiciously similar to another list titled "Stuff I Used to Know But Have Forgotten in the Intervening Four Hundred Years Since I Was in High School and Had Time to Study That Kind of Thing".

P.S. John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I had to look it up, just in case.

What classes are you taking?

Class, actually, because it's just the one Intermediate Algebra class.

How is that going?

Very well, so far. I mean, I had to do a LOT of review of basic algebra skills the first weekend of classes, but once I did, it all (mostly) came back to me. Do you remember FOIL? Because I had to review FOIL. And exponents. And how to deal with parentheses and negative numbers with exponents and parentheses. It's just not information I retained. Thank goodness for the internet, specifically, the existence of which meant I did not have to buy an Elementary Algebra textbook at $77 million dollars from the college bookstore.

What do you like about being in college again?

I like the feeling of being extremely focused. I have lived a little, and now I know what I want to do. It means that every class is relevant to my goal and so I don't take them for granted. I do all of my homework and have it done early, unlike the last time around. Also, I like the feeling that I am not wasting time anymore.

What is your goal?

I want to complete my Bachelor's Degree in the Classics, and then a Master's in the same. Ultimately, I'd like to complete a Ph.D. in the Classics and teach college. Unfortunately, I can't take Classics courses in Central Oregon. In the interest of time I will complete a Bachelor's with a minor in History and also possibly Literature. I can get a Master's of Arts here and then teach high school. When we live somewhere that does offer the Classics as B.A., M.A. and Ph.D., I will happily pursue this ultimate goal.

I guess I am one of those people who like school, which makes sense that I want to teach. What a weirdo.

Thank you for your time. It has been most enlightening. Also, did you know you bear a striking resemblance to Drew Barrymore?

You're welcome. And thank you. I think that likeness is especially apparent if one were to stand 20 yards away, close one eye, and hop up and down....but I appreciate the compliment.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must open the latest wine club offering and do my homework.

I just thought of another benefit to being a 34-year old college student, and that would be the ability to buy one's own booze. That's not to say that alcohol isn't plentiful and easy to come by at college when you are underage, rather, the benefit comes in because it completely removes the fear of there being rufies in your glass.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Now With Photographic Evidence

I'm an enjoying my new gig as Paid Writer. I still can't believe I write things that people publish, and then they pay me for it. I can't say I'm all that bright, however. My first paycheck came in the mail, and at first, I thought it was a sweepstakes check. I wondered what I had won.

The chance to write another article, apparently.

It's not going to pay the bills at the current earning power of $50 per month, but, it's an opportunity to improve my writing skills. It's better than no earnings. I have a deadline and a purpose to write, which is incentive to push forward and write more. And hopefully, I'll learn how to construct better sentences, preferably those that do NOT end with whatever part of speech the word more is. Oops, there was a preposition. Try again:

...with the word more, whatever part of speech it may be.

Ha. Now the sentence is better, but you know for sure that I am full of it.

I can say with authority (such that I cannot say in other areas, like math) that I am now an accomplished knitter, due to having more than scarves in my repertoire. See this hat? I made it, with my own two hands.

I made the kid underneath the hat, too.

Look, Ma, new teeth!

Kitty Kola says, "I am not your monkey."
What was that, Dakota? I couldn't hear you, your voice was all muffled.

Not too shabby.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Soul of a Reader, With a Side of Lemon Butter

Lord Peter Wimsey said, "Books...are like lobster shells. We surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development." I couldn't have said it better than Dorothy Sayers's perspicacious English sleuth in "The Unpleasantness at the Bellonna Club."

Reading is one of my favorite activities. Growing up, I especially enjoyed the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, which feature the Quimby family: Ramona, older sister Beatrice (affectionately nicknamed Beezus); mother, father, and the family cat, Picky-picky. There is nothing special about this fictional family; nothing particularly funny or strange. They don't live at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, or homestead the great western frontier. The Quimby's live in a quiet, residential Portland neighborhood.

Their ordinariness was perhaps what was most endearing. I identified with Ramona, a seemingly mischievous and annoying child. Time after time, she proved to have perfectly good reasons for behaving the way she did. These reasons were often best understood by children, as adults found them trifles. There was the time in first grade when Ramona's class made owls out of paper bags, decorated them in any way they wished. Ramona noticed that her neighboring classmate, Susan, had copied Ramona's work. What was worse, Susan's owl was held up as an example for the class to admire and praise when Susan was nothing but a copycat! Ramona was furious, because now that everyone had seen Susan's owl, they would think Ramona had copied Susan. Her teacher doesn't see the cause of Ramona's frustration, and injustice ensues. Beverly Cleary has the ability to portray childish indignation without disdain.

Lest it sound overstated, this is not Greek tragedy. Nonetheless, my nine-year-old self found the storytelling memorably engaging. Ramona could be sassy in the face of authority in a way that I dared not be. She is frustrated by her inability to articulate her position to the adults in her life. I understood that frustration. I can't count how many of our experiences were similar. Ramona was misunderstood, and really, who isn't?

Beverly Cleary and I have parallel lives, except, in the reverse and then several decades apart. She lived in Yamhill, a small community in the foothills of the coast range, until the age of six. At this time, the family moved to Portland. Their Yamhill Victorian home is still a private residence on the edge of town. The parallel - in reverse - is that I was born in Portland and lived there until the age of six, when my family moved to Yamhill.

This proximity to the real life of a beloved author turned the process of reading books — which were already enjoyable — into something meaningful and deeply personal. It was as though I, alone, was privy to secret information. I knew the Quimby's were named after a street in Portland! I recognized the Marquam Bridge which was mentioned in the story about taking the girls for a professional haircut! My parents were good people, but like every parent they didn't always understand me. It felt good to know someone else knew this particular brand of loneliness.

My mom took me to meet Beverly Cleary when I was eleven. She was speaking at an engagement at the library. I was so excited, with no idea what to say. I vaguely remember I managed to say something about "liking your books" and then smiling and wishing I could be more articulate. Rather, I wish I had been able to express how much her books meant to me. Reading about Ramona made me feel like someone understood my youthful plight. I would have liked to discuss the many ways in which our lives were similar. Even though I wasn't able to communicate all that I wished to Mrs. Cleary that day, I was fortunate to have grown up in her shadow with her wonderful books at the beginning of my reading journey.

Lord Peter Wimsey — or, Dorothy Sayers — has it right. The books one reads as a child do linger, even as one grows and leaves behind beloved chapter books in favor of English mysteries and the . Look around; the shells of books past are there.

Reprinted with permission from the Redmond Spokesman, December 12, 2007.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Partying Like It's 1899

For Christmas, OC received a My First Sewing Kit. We had a chance to open it up recently and found it contained an instructional booklet, extra patterns, and a couple of pre-cut, felt chicken shapes. These chickens are to be sewn around the outside and then stuffed, an easy first project when you have everything to learn about sewing, such as how to thread a needle and who knew a needle had an eye?

She chose the thread color, threaded her own needle, and got to work. As she worked to sew together the two pieces of chicken-shaped yellow felt, she exclaimed, "Mama! I'm doing it! I'm just like the old people!"

Another thing we've begun doing is reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. OH and I take turns putting her to bed and reading the pioneer stories. A few nights ago, it was my turn to read and it happened that the story was to the part about hog-slaughtering time. What a way to end the evening! I couldn't leave her with that image so I read through until we got to the part about Pa playing his fiddle.

I'm glad OC is excited about sewing, just like Laura Ingalls Wilder. And all the old people.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What Have I Been Doing?

Friday, already? What have I been doing that the week has escaped so quickly? It's not like I've been watching "Shrek" in 3-D or anything. These two did that:

The library is full of wonderful, questionable things. "Shrek 3-D", for instance.

I remember Christmas. That was two days after OC's birthday, when she acquired an impressive array of new toys and art supplies, followed by more new toys and art supplies:
For which we are eternally grateful, lest the child desire to interact with us. Now mommy can drink more, which is, coincidentally, my New Year's Resolution.

Christmas kitty Sable sez, "Wherez my noo stuff? Want katnip! I can has katnip?" (purrrrrr)

Sadly, Christmas kitty Sable did not receive catnip, possibly due to the fact that Santa saw him poop on the carpet. Naughty kitty! Instead, Christmas kitty Sable must endure bow-on-the-head related torture, to the delight of the humans - especially to the one who cleaned up the offending poop.

Let this be a lesson to you naughty kitties out there: SANTA IS WATCHING WHERE YOU POOP.

There. You're caught up through December. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some Algebra homework to do.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Math Part is the Least of the Torture

I decided several months ago that now is the time to complete my Bachelor's Degree. I am two math classes away from entering as a Junior. This gives me winter term and spring term to complete the math, then start full-time next fall.

I applied to the only game in town, was accepted, and received a nice letter on December 26th which contained strong language about this hideous lack of math. It went something like, Welcome! We're glad to have you in our school! However, if you don't take some serious, college-level math classes, we might be forced to drop you from our enrollment out of shame over your mathematical stupidity. P.S. Don't forget to join a sorority!

(It didn't really say that last thing, and for the rest, I was paraphrasing.)

I could not enroll before classes began because the letter arrived during the holidays, when offices were closed. I didn't have my student information, all those secret codes which allow you to accomplish something on the website. But here was the kicker: all new students must attend a student orientation before they can register online or the fantastic software blocks you out of the system. I was in Boise during the student orientation which was held on the Sunday before classes began. I had five days notice about the orientation and I had already purchased my plane tickets. Upon my return, I talked to my advisor, who lifted the orientation hold on my account which meant I could register, but! Classes had already begun. I would need to pick up an Add a Class form - also known as form A29j62411 - from one building, go to class and have the instructor sign it, then take the now-precious and worth-its-weight-in-gold form to a different building than the first and the process would be complete.


Except, it snowed earlier in the week and classes were cancelled the first day. I went to the next day of class, which was supposed to have been the second day of class but wasn't, due to snow, and spent time searching for a parking space which required no permit since I had no parking permit. You cannot purchase a parking permit without student ID. You cannot get a student ID without registering for a class. Classes have begun, so adding a class requires attending a class and getting the instructor to initial your Add a Class gold form A29j62411, so you might as well start shoving knitting needles into your skull since doing so would accomplish as much as I had.

I bought the textbook and took my form to class only to be horrendously late, (snow, parking, stupid) so I waited until class was over to speak to the instructor. She said that as long as I was comfortable with the material and two people dropped the class, which she said was very likely, I was in.

Great! It would seem. So, no.

I spent the weekend studying math. I found a basic algebra site online and went through the lessons in order to refresh my memory. I haven't had an algebra class since, oh, 1994 or so, so it was a little rusty.

By late Sunday afternoon I was feeling good, so I emailed the instructor and told her how much review I'd done, that it was all coming back to me, how determined I am to take this class and succeed, blah blah blah. She wrote back quickly, saying she was sorry, but there were five students over her limit of 40 students and I should find another class.

*choking death cry sad WHAT!?!? I emailed her to say that when I talked to her after class last week what she had said about coming back to class after doing the review, and the part about needing two people to drop the class. What changed in three days??? No reply yet.

The good news is, I learned a lot this weekend. I spent hours and hours doing review, then completed the Prerequisite Quiz, which covered every algebraic concept known to Algebra I and II students. If you added it up, that's a lot of review just to complete eleven questions the Prerequisite Quiz contained.

I wrapped up the Quiz on Sunday afternoon, just in time to start the homework which is required but not graded. That is not to mention the homework quizzes, which are in addition to the Prerequisite Quiz and the homework, but which IS graded. Also, I need a graphing calculator which I will go buy today, and also the knowledge to use it, which I don't think I can buy, ALL BEFORE TUESDAY.

It would be nice to have a parking permit.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Outcome Based Meeting

The school year has resumed and I asked OC how she liked her new classroom. "Good," she said. (FYI: This is a rave in OC-speak.) I asked her if she liked it better or the same as her previous classroom. "Better!" she said, emphatically. I asked why. "It's so much quieter." I know my kid. Who knew??? Other than myself, I mean?

If I had to rate the second meeting we had last year solely on the merit of its outcome, I'd say it was a smashing success. I'm thrilled she is in a classroom that suits her. The process, however, was wrenching and I think it was unnecessarily so.

If I heard one hundred examples of children whose teachers were not the best but the kids turned out fine, I could then hear one hundred examples in the reverse. The point of the whole thing is that this is here and now. My child has one chance to do the first grade - one hopes - and the teacher has a career with many first grade years. What is more important? And, if I heard a story about a parent whose child was not in the right class, would it behoove anyone that nothing was done about it? Or would it be best to change?

What I don't understand is why the reaction on the part of the principal was not this: can this be fixed within the current classroom? No? Okay, then what are the numbers in the other classrooms? Can she be moved without upsetting the balance of things in a significant way? Yes? Okay. She can move classrooms, end of story.

Straightforward. Logical. Based on clear, logical, straightforward, rational steps. Silly me for thinking that is the way it should go.

Today was anxiety-ridden for me, I couldn't help it. I went it, was nice to everyone and smiled. I helped in the new teacher's classroom, and aside from spilling my coffee on one poor child's work, everything went well. I read with the SMART kids, one of which is from OC's old classroom. When I went to drop him off at his classroom, I smiled at the teacher and she smiled back.

I feel like I did something big, and for the better, and while I don't care what anyone thinks I also feel an undercurrent of....something. Power? I have a hand in things? Something like that. 'Don't worry,' I want to tell the school, 'I will only use my powers for good and not evil...but just to be safe, don't piss me off. Kisses!'

P.S. I felt so bad about the coffee spilling. I had a travel mug with lid but somehow it leaked! What an auspicious introduction. Hello, I am your new classroom helper, Inept Coffee Spiller. I can destroy drawings and writing with a simple flip of my travel mug. Oy...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

From Boise, Idaho

Happy New Year!

We're here visiting my mom and family. In an odd twist of events, I forgot to pack underwear for both OC and myself. I have no explanation for this, nor do I want to explore the implications. Luckily, they have stores in Boise.

I like being here, to see people, but also to see pictures and things from childhood that mom has saved and displayed. She has a miniature ceramic lighted Christmas tree, some goofy craft projects of mine when I was a kid, and old and new family pictures among other things. Oh, and books. She has so many books that she could open her own small bookstore. I love to look through and see what there is. She has a way with decorating and arranging things in a way that makes sense and that no one would have thought to do. She can make anyplace look nice. I can't do that. It's nice to be here.

We fly home tomorrow just in time to go back to school on Monday and to OC's new classroom. I don't know what to expect from the new teacher (anger at me, or what?) so that promises to be an adventure.

Today we are going to Eagle, where there is a yarn shop among other places to check out. We can do that now that everyone is properly attired.