30 September 2009

Genetic Engineering

David Sedaris has an essay called "Genetic Engineering," and in it is a line to the effect of "I still don't understand how a man could father 6 children with whom he has absolutely nothing in common." We just read it in my English 1101 class, and it's a striking concept. I pondered this kind of thing more when V was smaller, but until yesterday hadn't thought of it again in some time. She's just V. She likes things, she doesn't like things, she freaks out, she learns to handle stuff, she loves us, she gets mad at us, she makes up words and songs and stories.
But her father and I are so different from each other. What will that do to her? Will she love sports and TV and video games? Will she love words and crafts and bluegrass music? Or all of the above? Or none of the above?
Seeing a human unfold before our eyes is the greatest privilege of parenthood, and one I had never even considered before she was born. Maybe that's good, because it's such an immense world. I somehow thought she would just be a sum of our parts; Jen plus Shaun equals V. But she's so much more. She's my parents and his parents and all our grandparents and all that swedish/irish/ german/dutch/norweigan mess that we've become. She's a child of the millenium; as the class of 2023, she will grow up in a world so different from the world of our childhoods.
May it be gentle with her, and with all of us.

24 September 2009


I can't leave that downer of a post at the top of the blog any longer. I'm trying to focus on the stuff I love in this world instead of the stuff I don't.

This weekend, Shaun and I are going to Duluth again, just like we did last year. My sister and her family have graciously agreed to take V for the weekend (I must think of a way to repay her, and not with shoreline rocks from Lake Superior this time, either) so we can have two. consecutive. nights. together.

Getting away together is even harder than it looks for me. I feel guilty leaving V, and I feel I'm imposing so much by asking anyone to care for a four year old for 48 hours. Last year I had to take deep breaths all the way to the hotel; by the first morning, though, knowing we had a full day and night yet before returning home, I was feeling much, much better, and so thankful to have a break. Shaun's been good at making dates and getting me to go child-free for hours, sometimes days, at a time. It really helps us to reconnect when there's not an insistent four year old at our elbow. I'm just so thankful that I have a sister who rocks so hard.

What should we do while we're in Duluth? Any suggestions? We went to Glensheen last year, so we won't go again this year. I haven't been to any other attraction in Duluth for 15 years or so: what's good? What's cheap? What's not worth our time/money/thoughtful reflection? I wish leaves could be closer to their peak , but it's lovely there anytime of year.

Ideas are welcome. I can't promise postcards, but I'll think of you fondly on my mini-vacation...

21 September 2009

Sorry I blew up

I didn't mean to leave such a mysterious post up all weekend. I wanted to share some pretty photos, or thoughtful reflections, but the weekend got busy and because I can't legally share all the craziness that was Thursday, I didn't say anything.

But now it's Monday, a new week, and I can tell you part of what happened. On Thursday I caught a cheater. Sadly, this isn't a surprising thing in the life of an English teacher, and since I've been doing this for twelve years, I've caught more than I care to count. But on Thursday, this student cheated in a way that I had never seen before, in a way that I never would have thought of, and I'm so deeply disappointed in him, and in the twenty students who witnessed him cheat and didn't tell me, and in humanity in general. I feel disillusioned about my work and about the world.

Okay, I know I'm over-reacting. He's just another punk kid who thinks I'm stupid, and I'll flunk him like I've flunked all the others. Shaun laughs at me because every time I catch a plagiarist or a cheater, I'm shocked and upset by it, even though I've caught at least one every semester since 1998. Yet every single time it feels like I'm being slapped in the face, or kicked in the belly, or spat upon. Or all three. You'd think I'd be used to it by now.

But I'm not. I go into every semester believing in every single one of my students: I believe they want to learn, and that they are good at heart, and that I can help them see why writing, reading, and learning in general will enrich their lives. If I didn't, I don't know how I'd stand in front of them every day and try to teach them things they think don't matter.

I love my students. Each of them comes to me with an amazing life story, each so different from my own. I love watching their faces light up when they finally understand something they'd never thought of before. I love seeing their writing grow and flourish each week of each semester, and I love how many of my students learn to love to read again through my class. It's very rewarding work, sharing the power of language with people, particularly people who never noticed it before, as so many of my students haven't.

But then this fool comes in on Thursday and disappoints me, and I just want to yell at all of them. I want to stomp my feet and gnash my teeth and say "Do you know ANYTHING about integrity? Do you know what college IS?" I want to call his parents and ask why they unleashed such a moronic child into my classroom. I want to call his future employers and tell them to think carefully before hiring a cheater.

But I won't. I'll treat him like I've treated the others: I'll speak to him alone, in my quiet, angry, teacher voice. I'll look into his eyes, and show him the syllabus, where my policy on academic integrity is clearly printed. I'll remind him I read him this syllabus just three weeks ago. I'll ask him what he thinks I should do, and point out that I could have him expelled for what he's done.

I'll flunk him. And I'll feel awful about it, and I might even cry when he leaves the room. Because catching cheaters is not why I choose to teach. It is the antithesis of it, really. Hopefully I can still have an open heart each day of class, believing that my remaining students will never slap me in the face. Because if I lose that, if I begin to expect this behavior, then I'll need to find some other kind of work.

18 September 2009

Lunar planning

Just for the record, I think all colleges should be closed the day before and after a full moon.

Because my job was totally, batshit crazy on Thursday, and I can't take much more of this.

16 September 2009

Lake love

This past weekend, we visited my lovely in-laws at their lovely lake. And a heron, some seashells, and a sunset showed up, too.

Along with the fabulous company, it was an excellent weekend, indeed.

14 September 2009


On her fourth birthday, a week ago today, V Elizabeth got to do her favorite things.

She got a colorful bunting banner hung up in her honor.

She played Candy Land with Grandma.

She got a new birthday crown (made from the pattern in Living Crafts Fall 2008 issue)
She confirmed that her mother will not give up her day job to become a cake decorator. (It says "Happy Birthday V". And it's a 2 layer cake with butter-cream cheese frosting, in the colors V requested. And this IS its best side. back off).

She opened presents.

So many presents. (actually, it wasn't as bad as it has been. God bless the recession).

And she danced to music with her cousin Emmy.

I felt guilty not having a passel of kids over in her honor, but I don't think she'd like that much, anyway. She gets overwhelmed being the full center of just our family's attention some days. Plus her birthday was Labor Day this year, when most folks are getting in their last lake weekend of the year. She did let us sing Happy Birthday, quietly, and she ate a healthy dose of cake, as did her grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. Well, Auntie Jess didn't, because she doesn't like chocolate cake (I don't know what's wrong with her. Don't ask).

It warms my heart that everyone at this party was also at the hospital in 2005, waiting for her arrival (except Will, who was there in utero, at 38 weeks, and Emmy, who was still kinda far off on the horizon). I hope we have many more parties like this one. It was a sweet, simple celebration of the most amazing 4 years I've ever known.

I love you, Sprout. Hope 4 is good to you.

13 September 2009

Mushrooms 2009, part deux

Let's begin with the least pretty mushrooms I think I've ever seen. Lookit these. They're like giant ears. I should've put my thumb there for scale: these are the size of luncheon plates. Giant Ear mushrooms don't strike me as particularly appetizing, even if they are edible. And I don't know if they are. So don't go nibbling.

This one reminds me of our honeymoon in the Wisconsin Dells. It's very weird to touch, too: firm and cool. Like a mushroom, I guess. Go figure.

Here's the underbelly of the Honeymoon Mushroom.
Underneath, someone (a gnome? a fairy?) has written "V". Of course. Can you see it? It makes me happy.

I took more photos of this cluster of mushrooms than any others. There's a big old clump of these, right between two tree stumps, and I just love the texture: even the stems are ruffly. The color reminds me of banana cream pie, so I'm calling these Meringue Mushrooms.

These are on one of the tree stumps near the Meringue Mushrooms, and I think I might be in love with them. They're so striking next to the dark brown bark and green moss, they almost seem to glow. I would call these Diamond Mushrooms, but then I'd have to find children to harvest them and exploit them extensively (the children and the mushrooms), and I'm just not into that.
This mushroom appears to be...dead. I mean, I'm not a mushroom expert, but it just didn't seem as perky as others I've seen. But I love the colors and the texture underneath. If it's not dead, it's obviously a Zombie Mushroom.
V came out to see what I was doing and found me laying on my belly on a hill, so she squatted down to see what I was looking at. I know the mushroom here is blurry (I have better ones of this beauty), but I like this view of her gently touching, almost petting, the fungus. Do you think fungi can spread swine flu? Wait...don't answer that. I need to go Purell a 4 year old quick.
Finally, I am completely crazy about this mushroom. I know I said it last time, but I mean it this time: I think I need a tattoo of this thing. It's a freaking bonnet mushroom! How sweet and round and ruffled and perfect it is! I want it to live in my pocket.
Believe it or not, I pick and choose carefully through dozens upon dozens of photos to bring you these selected mushrooms. I hope you find them savory and pleasant, and aren't too startled with my clear and sudden adoration of this kind of flora. I am continually surprised at how many different types I can find in just one yard (these are all from a lake lot in North-central Minnesota). I feel compelled to learn more: how many kinds are there? What are their real names? What ones can I eat? But maybe if I knew all that stuff, I would see them all differently, and right now I'm finding the discovery is the best part.

11 September 2009


I have to be honest: This was not my own idea, but it's one of those cases where I followed a link through a link on someone's home page to a link someplace that led through to something somewhere, and I saw this lovely idea of star-shaped post it notes+a child=kinda neat, and instead of bookmarking it like a smart, responsible person, I just ran to Office Max, bought some stars, came home, took pictures, and it wasn't until I was ready to write about this process that I realized I had not done a good job of keeping track of my sources.

If I were my student, I would show myself no mercy, and insist that I find the source or take an F for cheating. I just...couldn't....post without proper credit. And I like these pictures too much to not post them!
I tell you all that to tell you this: I looked for over an hour two separate times, and finally found my sources (see also the original inspiration here and here). I tell you this because I could've just posted and said "I saw this idea someplace." But for once I did the right thing. And I'm proud of myself.
So there you go. What did you do this weekend?

06 September 2009

Back in 2005...

Four years ago tonight, I was just beginning my first (and so far, only) hallucinogenic experience. In my mind, everything was Crayola colored, and the toys of my childhood (Big Wheel, Sit-n-Spin, CandyLand) swirled together, danced across my eyes, and turned into Muppets and back to toys. It was breathtaking, exhilarating, exhausting. Which is ironic, since the nurses had administered it to help me sleep.

I was on our third attempt at inducing labor, and we (our doctor and Shaun and I) had decided to stay overnight this time, in the hopes that an overnight Pitocin drip would make the magic happen. But nobody in labor really sleeps all that well, so they gave me Stadol to help. As soon as the medication hit my IV, the wallpaper started moving, just before Shaun left to go let the dogs out. I kissed him goodnight and got the giggles. For the next six hours, I swung from awe at the images I was inventing to sheepishness: everytime the nurse came in to check my blood pressure, I felt like a drunk kid stopped by the cops who had to pretend she was sober when she obviously wasn't. Mostly, though, it was fun. I knew that it would wear off in 4-6 hours, and my nurse said I could have another dose then, if I wanted. For the first 5 hours I was sure I would savor that second dose. I hadn't been able to take anything stronger than Tylenol in 41 weeks, dammit.

The nurses made it clear that whatever it did to me, it would do to the fetus, and when I wasn't having technicolor Tonka trucks spin through my brain, I tried to figure out what she must've been seeing in her psychedelic experience. Was she reliving her zygotehood? Did she have fond memories of that Thai food we ate at week 28?

By 3 am, the excitement was wearing off, and a kind of paranoia set in. I felt guilty for enjoying myself so much when I should've been just trying to get this baby born. So I lied to my nurse: I told her I slept beautifully and didn't need more rest. By 4 am, I was back to feeling contractions, and waiting for our daughter to agree to come out.

She held out for another 15 hours, until the doctors went in after her. Of course, that's a story for another day.

But that last night before I became a mama? It was a helluva ride.

Pets o' my friends

We don't have any pets of our own, and their are none in our foreseeable future, either. So I find myself thinking often about the animals with which I do get to spend my time.

This is Cat. He's not really 4 feet long. It just looks that way.
My sister and her family just aquired him through the purchase of a lot next door to them. He's very sweet, very laid back, and very much an outdoor cat. Anyone with any suggestions on how to turn an outdoor cat into an indoor-outdoor cat is welcome to send them my way. Because this big fella has fallen in love, and I think they've all fallen back.

This sweet boy is Riley O'Riley. You may remember him from here (scroll way down), when he was very wee.He's much bigger now, but still adorable, and the day this photo was taken, he had been recently neutered. Can you see the newfound edge in his eyes? The wisdom? The reserved strength? The... I don't really know what dogs learn from neutering. So nevermind. Anyway, this pretty girl is Ramona, and once a long time ago I forgot her name, and could only remember "It's something like Desdemona. But not quite..." Oh, my mind is such a steel trap. She's a labradoodle (which apparently doesn't look spelled correctly. Ever) and you can see her here, as well. Riley and Ramona are both very sweet dogs. Except when they're together. It's all play, but it looks mighty fierce on film, doesn't it? I'm not sure, but you probably shouldn't piss him off.

03 September 2009

Nature photos

I'm pretty sure this hummingbird had some sort of traumatic brain injury, because it didn't leave this feeder for about 5 minutes. Or maybe it was just the laziest hummingbird on earth. Either way, it was not hard to take pictures of this slug of a bird.

The chickadee-dee-dee was harder to photograph. I love these little birds: they look so concerned all the time.

And then they fly away.