Monday, January 18, 2016

And Now I Shall Write Somewhat Concerning the Love a Heavenly Father Has for His Children

Tuesday evening a little girl ran away from home in our Stake. It was like 15 degrees out and she was last seen in a pink hoodie. She was ten. A gazillion people searched for her until 2:00am. She was found the next morning after hiding at a friends house all night. Here is what I learned from that: little girls can make big mistakes, and one little daughter of God disappearing in your neighborhood--who you don't even know--can cause you to be so unable to sleep that a week later you still remember the fear gripping your heart as you listen to the helicopters swinging back and forth over the neighborhood for hours.

Here is how a search like that works on the ground. You decide you are going to help. You go to the house where the people have mobilized and they have you sign in and give you a map. You don't meet many other people. You just see a few people at the sign in table and a few people coming back for a new map. Otherwise--you have your area. It's very cold and it's very lonely and it's emotionally exhausting. But somewhere back in that house are parents so unimaginably grateful that you are doing that work for them. Because with you helping search for the missing daughter, there is that much greater a possbilitity that the child will come home.

This little girl has some emotional issues. When she was found she was not grateful, not remorseful--she was defiant and angry. But she is still a child (or perhaps, because she is still a child--it's not like she has anything like adult executive thought functioning yet) and she still has her agency and there may be a time when she does realize some small portion of the love that was expended on her behalf and she may repent and if she does it will cause a mighty change in her. (That's what repentance is--a mighty change of heart.)

And that is being a missionary, to me. You go get your papers. You hunt for someone you have never met out of a love you don't really understand and you meet people who are unrepentant and defiant and rejecting of your love.

But then sometimes you meet people like the fellow Elder Hults baptized last week or the one who just committed to a date in February--or the person I was at 19--who is repentant and searching for his/her Heavenly Father's love and if someone hadn't been there to guide and direct--might not have found his/her way back. 

If you are a missionary or returned missionary or just a person who sometimes opens their mouth and answers awkward and difficult questions about their Faith in the hopes that it will benefit the person who is asking--I want you to know how very proud we are of you and your work. It's pretty freaking hard and cold at times, I imagine, but there are Heavenly Parents desperate for us to find more of their children and return them unto them. And I am so crazily grateful that you chose to be part of the search.

And that is all I have to say about that.

P.S. This is adapted from a letter I wrote on the spot for Max just an hour ago when we learned that he DID have access to a computer today (Family History Center) when we thought he wouldn't because we thought he would be at the library which would be closed today. On the upside, this led to the closest thing we have ever had to an email conversation :) Chris was on his laptop and I on mine (which is totally crazy, because I almost never bring it home from work in order to avoid doing work at home) and the three of us tossing letters and pieces of letters back and forth at each other for a little bit. It was actually awesome.

P.P.S. If you want to hear some missionary stories, go to where more than 18 months of weekly letters from State College (PA) Ward missionaries are collected from young women in Ukraine, Russia, and Germany. And also our very own Elder Hults in Nevada (Spanish speaking). They include the range of emotions, including funny, sweet, sad, and mundane. There are plenty of photos (especially from Germany and Nevada) and they make me love humanity even more. We have one Sister and our own Elder still in the mission field and posting weekly letters.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Oh, the Places You Will Go

We are still getting used to the difference being in Provo means for friends and family visiting. It is, apparently, easier to get here and easier to get away than when we lived in Pine Grove Mills, PA. We have enjoyed the steady stream of visitors from State College, PA and the visit from my Father and Step-Mother. There are plans in the works for a future visit from my Mother, and a tentative plan to head to CA for a weekend or so in mid-August with stops in the Sacramento area and the East Bay (and what the heck--maybe we can catch a Heller-Simon at home in SF).

Recently I received a letter from a dear old friend on the Rez in Arizona asking me to pin down specific dates to come visit her and in looking at the map we realized that the window of opportunity she was offering us was a) right about the time the Spring semester would be ending, b) right about the time Max would be released and c) right about the time it starts to get really hot in Provo, Utah. (Okay, that last doesn't really factor into it, but it would be a tender mercy as far as I'm concerned.) At any rate, it's likely that picking up Max would be easily on the outward bound or home bound route.

Sometimes friendships spanning many decades can settle into a level of comfort that makes it okay for long periods to pass without seeing each other. You write. You update each other on the mile stones of children and grandchildren. You worry over their daughter with pneumonia and they celebrate your son's graduation from afar. This Spring and Summer I had a gradually increasing fear of not having heard from her, so much so that I tracked down her daughter's email address and phone number and left messages with her. It turned out that my friend had a bit of a health crisis that summer (with a happy ending), but it helped me realize that it had been too long and it was time for me to go back to the Rez for a visit with one of my favorite women on the planet. She has been part Aunt, part older sister to me. In a sudden realization just a few days ago, I realized that she wasn't the age I thought she was. She was frozen for me in her mid-fifties because that's about what she was when I was her teacher and she was my principal in the very early 90's.

So now we are waiting to hear from Max's mission president when Max will be released (there is a question between two Wednesdays right about that time in June) so we can find a way to combine those trips to go get him and to go spend a few nights in a recently refurbished Hogan soaking up the humor and energy and generosity of my friend. It will be a summer of many reunions I think, and these two will be the first. I'm glad my Department Chair talked me out of trying to teach a summer term course. That's not where I am needed this summer.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

New Semester, New Students

One thing I imagine that non-teachers think about teaching is that when you teach the same class--in the same day or from semester to semester--that it must get completely boring.

It does not.

I admit I have a certain amount of restlessness in me that appreciates the opportunity to teach new classes. If I do get the chance to teach a new class, I jump at it. Recently I jumped so high that they gave me a new class to teach in a big way--but that won't kick in until next Fall. More on that in the future.

In the meantime, I am teaching the same class I taught last semester and EVERYTHING is different about it. Mind you, this course is a LOT like the course I taught every spring for five years at Penn State. Not exactly--I'm always tweaking it. But over time there are things I got rid of that I brought back in because the course needed them and things I used for a long time that I got rid of and found I didn't really miss. That's kind of the point of teaching it for a long time--it should evolve into a rich and interesting course where students tell the next incoming group to take the class--that they're going to love it.

Last semester was my first at BYU and I taught the course twice a week for 75 minutes each time, which is exactly like the format at Penn State--except at 2 credits instead of 3 credits, the course ended weeks early. That was weird. But I had 28 super terrific students and we had a good time figuring things out, learning to think about some things in new ways, and coming away having grown and changed a bit--all of us.

This semester is my second at BYU and I have the same course, but I tweaked it considerably in response to two huge factors. The first was that my favorite textbook had been rewritten and is better than ever with new expanded sections on bilingual education and translanguaging and other greatness. So that meant moving some things around and using it as an anchor text. I'm not usually so textbook oriented. But I love it.

The next issue is that I have the students for the whole semester this time, but only 110 minutes a week. This is causing chaos in terms of how and when I cover certain ideas. In the end, I'm covering more topics--but with less time spent on each. We'll see. The first day was not a strong one. Too much time on the syllabus and not enough on the reading. Next week will be better.

But to get back to the thing that non-teachers don't know....each class is its own entity. They have a feeling, a personality, a way of moving together and being together and thinking together that makes them unpredictable and exciting--and sometimes frustrating and nerve wracking. Every time you get a new class--you are meeting a new group of students--but you are also beginning to get to know the entity that is that class. I'm tempted to name this winter's class, but I'd have to let them pick the name and that would be weird. "When I talk about you on my blog, what you like me to call you?"

I am currently reading the class's first reading memos. The class discussion was not particularly helpful this week (normally it's a very large part of the information for the week) because it was getting to know you week and syllabus week and also key information about ELLs week. So mostly they got that last part from the reading and not from me. So one of the things I'm discovering about this group is that they are very smart. They have, collectively, excellent recall of their multicultural course. They are already making connections to previous courses they've taken. After I gave my speech on improving their academic writing--many are already using proper APA citations and reference lists.

I'm happier than a rescue pup who finds themselves adopted by a dog-food manufacturer for the purpose of being one of their 200 dog-food testers. (They really exist. And there are people whose job it is to wrangle the doggies all day--big open dog park time, smaller open rooms for quieter times, kennels at night.)

I only have 23 students this semester and it may drop to 21 (no sign of two of them yet). If that happens, I'm making it my goal to learn ALL of their names by week 6. That would be a personal best.

Regardless, the semester is off to a good start. This is a good class--and you can research and write and all that good stuff--but if the teaching doesn't go well, it's not a good semester. In the end, at least in Teacher Education, it has got to be a good class. I have one :)

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

That Moment When...

That moment when you're working along and a subject line from an incoming email flashes on your screen and out of the corner of your eye you see it has Bakhtin in the title. So you click over to your email only to find it was Barack. I love my President, but I was hoping for an email from Paolo Infante--scholar extraordinaire--not another fundraising plea. 

Sunday, January 03, 2016

How to Make Banana Bread: The Long Way

Banana Bread involves the use of three bowls. In bowl number one you'll put dry goods. Flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. In bowl number two you'll cream butter and sugar together and then gradually stir in eggs. Do this with the mixer so you don't hate your husband for not eating all the bananas in a timely manner. In bowl #3 you'll mix the actual bananas, some milk, and some cinnamon together. Eventually, you'll combine the contents of the three bowls, pour the resulting batter into bread forms, and bake the batter for well over an hour, spearing it at least three times before the spear comes out clean. This is making banana bread.

Then, there's Alaska's New Year's Day banana bread. It goes like this:

Look at the 14 bananas that your husband has forgotten all about because it's break and there's a lot of chocolate and gummy lifesavers in the house. Normally he's a reliable banana eater, and I'm not sure how we got SO MANY bananas to begin with, but nonetheless, there they are.


Recall him beg for the third time for banana bread in the last two days and recall your promise that you would make it before the bananas turned liquid.

Reluctantly pull out have the kitchen implements in preparation. There's a turkey in the oven, so you can't add the dry ingredients until just before the loaves go in the oven or it won't rise. Then again, there's a turkey in the oven, so there's nothing to do for the next three hours anyway. Except the dishes, and I'm no fool.

Look over the recipe and realize you're going to have to triple it to use just 9 of the bananas. Decide you can live with that. Check the butter. One is completely soft. The other two not so much. In the bowl that the sugar and butter go in, toss them and three cups of sugar (decide to do a mix of white and brown because, recipe, you're not the boss of me). Set this bowl aside until the butter is feeling more cooperative.

Now the bananas. Ick. I don't eat bananas. Okay, peel the (ick, ick) very ripe bananas and start mashing them with a fork like the (ick) recipe says. Decide this is just too gross. Note that the recipe says 1 T of milk. Look in fridge. Notice egg nog. Hrm. Egg Nog season just about over. Okay, egg nog in banana bread could be good (You're not the boss of me, recipe.) Look at expiration date. It's earlier in December. Sniff it. Seems fine. 3 T is close to 1/4 cup. Add a little more because egg nog is way thicker than 2% lactose free milk, which is kind of what the recipe called for. Don't actually look at the recipe. Add the aged nog to the not much smooshed bananas and pull out the electric hand mixer. Remember that you're supposed to triple the recipe. Add another cup of egg nog. Add cinnamon. You know what goes well with cinnamon? A little ginger and cloves. Can't find any cloves. Add a pinch of ginger. Use the smooshing fork to break up the bananas enough for the hand mixer. Puree the heck out of that stuff using the mixer. Note that the whole thing looks awfully liquidy.........


Realize you tripled the "milk" and then squared it.

Consider your options. Pull out the strainer and try running the puree through it to recover some of the banana. Watch it go RIGHT through that strainer. Great mixer, that. Stop thinking about the mixer and salvage the last bit of puree. Don't measure it. Looks around a half cup or so. It'll do.

There are 5 bananas left. Go back to the butter and sugar bowl. Fish a stick of butter and a cup of sugar out of the bowl. We're doubling now. Toss the sugar. Set the butter aside. It will be perfectly good in the stuffing. Add the remaining bananas to the remains of the first puree. Toss in some more cinnamon. Grab something else from the spice cabinet. Add it to the bowl. Oh! Nutmeg. Not ginger. That was lucky. Coulda been lemon pepper or something.

Consider how much worse this could be if you weren't a member of the church and were trying to do this with a bottle of wine at your side.

Fish the bottom of the hand mixer out of the sink, wash it, make a new, less runny, puree. Decide it LOOKS ok. Leave it all alone for a bit until it's had some time to think about its behavior.

Now hook the softened butter and sugar bowl up to the Kitchenaid Crusher 5000 (that's what Chris calls it). Whip it. Whip it good. Sing that line outloud for a bit. It's all you know of the song. When the butter and sugar look like they might kind of be fluffy if you hadn't added brown sugar, add the eggs in (doubled, not trippled). Decide that looks like it went well. Make a third bowl with all the flour and baking soda and baking powder in it. Add the salt. Remember to double everything.

Mix it all in together, pour into batter pans (I had enouh for four mini-loaves and one regula one). Bake. Remove. Cool. (Some.) and eat. Tasted like a pretty decent banana bred, actually. Nice and moist. Plenty of spice, but not overwhelming. Great with cream cheese. Competely unrepeatable and unrepentent.