Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring? Biking

So...Bicycling Magazine is hosting a contest: submit 100 words about your favorite ride  (I take that quite loosely) and a photo. I submitted a couple weeks ago, and TODAY (two days before contest ends), I read that I can submit ONE entry EACH day! Holy buckets.
So here's today's entry:

I ride to breathe in the seasons: I watch snow melting, mud emerging, the grass and tiny corn plants sprouting, and foals standing on toothpick legs. Geese honk, winging north, and the baby calves bawl. I smell rain coming, lilacs blooming, mown grass, baled hay, and grain drying in bins. I’m in my upper 50s. I ride so I only have one chin and so my thighs don't rub together. It doesn't hurt if I can beat some people 30 years younger than I am either.  Somebody asked me what I use on my face. I said, "Sweat."

: )
Photo by Steve Pottenger

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University News

Big News at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University--what a time to be going to South Africa!

For the first time, a degree will be offered in Human Settlement Development at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Big News at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University: Human Settlement Degree launched

Amazing that we will be visiting NMMU this spring. Amazing that we can visit this school named for Nelson Mandela when we are in Port Elizabeth in May.

Whenever I teach literature that brings such conditions to light--like Apartheid and its legacy--like the Rwandan genocide--like the conditions in diamond mines--like the children forced to be soldiers and turn against their parents in Uganda and Sierra Leone, the students and I always come to an impass: so now what? Now what can we do, now that we know about this injustice? We can keep it, in every way possible,  from happening in our corner of the worlld, but what else can we do?

Maybe this is our answer.
Scott Fee from Construction Management--how ironic is that--and I are partnering with Chris Black-Hughes in Social Work to travel with students to South Africa in May and early June. Now it feels as if there is another purpose besides understanding the culture. When we read about the atrocities during Apartheid--and its enduring legacy in South Africa, all roads lead to the Townships and the Homelands, where poverty controls life. We will be visiting Townships.
The word "Apartheid" means apartness or separation--which is what the Nationalist Party incorporated. Black Africans were separated into their tribe of origin, and forced to live in the appropriate "Homeland," or in urban areas, in townships. In one instance, 500,000 people lived in five square miles. Both situations provided atrocious squalor and threat of imprisonment, violence, or death. Their vestiges still pervade life in South Africa.

So now, the stories, the knowledge we've been accumulating to understand what has happened in South Africa leads us here.

With this new degree, with a plan to groom young people to change these living conditions, where do we fit in? What can we do to be part of the change instead of--if you remember the film Hotel Rwanda--the reporters said to Paul Rusesabagina, "Oh, [Americans] will watch the news and say, 'isn't that too bad,' but they won't do anything." We are coming to South Africa at a crucial time. I am proposing some books to Capstone about Apartheid and its legacy in South Africa, but that in itself isn't enough, either. We can join this movement and maybe, maybe, maybe we can be supportive in a way that makes a difference.

Info about Homelands and a bit of history

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The rewards of teaching...yes, they are there

Sometimes...sometimes I get frustrated because I never, ever have enough time to write. School takes so many hours a week between grading papers and preparing for class that writing gets squeezed into flat spaces that never materialize.

Spring break was a gift. I got hours of writing done.

And then days happen like today. Good discussions, fun stuff happening in all my classes. We talked about understanding people from vastly different backgrounds, within the context of Apartheid in South Africa.

In Humanities, we talked about the French Revolution and the oppressive aristocracy and need for revolt and change. We had a great time watching and laughing with Sister Wendy as she looked at art born from that Revolution.

Tonight, my Comp class read and analyzed Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from the Birmingham Jail (a longish excerpt), and everybody  got it. They understood that an absence of equality and justice within a calm segregated society may be peaceful but  is what MLK called a negative peace.  They understood that tension had to be created in order for justice to come to fruition. They worked hard to understand all of MLK's analogies, and the UNDERSTOOD that MLK was happy to be called an extremist, considering the company it put him with: Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, Amos, Martin Luther, and Thomas Jefferson. Days  like this make me glad I'm a teacher, make me glad I get to do what I do. I am grateful.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kasota Prairie walk

Kasota Prairie Walk 
Freya and I went to the Kasota Prairie on a cold but melty March Day.
We saw a hawk (who as actually huge though it doesn't show up in the picture).
We had fun romping. 

And we saw this weird ice formation:
Water rose and froze, then dropped and left behind ice sheets floating in the air, attached to weeds, fences, and twigs.

South Central Service Cooperative Young Writers' Conference

Yesterday (March 13), I presented at the SCSC Young Writers' Conference for 7-9th graders. I did the keynote opening program about "From Here to There by Way of the Zoo," subtitled, "Prairie-Dogging Your Way to a Story," using animal metaphors to talk about patterns of writing to completion, and how we can use odd things we find in everyday life to weave together a coherent whole story. I think it went well--at least the auditorium full of junior high students was attentive the whole time.

Somebody threw up, but otherwise it went smoothly. :)  At leas I had fun. That should count for something, right?

Then I did three sessions on creating a character out of thin air, using an exercise I do in Creative Writing class. Each student makes up a story element (character, setting, problem, twist), puts it in the appropriate bucket, and then draws an element from each bucket. Weaving these different elements together is always the challenge, but can make for some delightful storylines.  It was fun, and nearly every single student in each session had a great start on a story by the time they left the class.

I did meet a lot of wonderful young teens, many of whom are excellent writers!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Young Writers' Conference

At Bethany College on March 13th, I'll be keynote speaker for the Young Writers' Conference.
"Prairie-Dogging Your Way to a Story"

My Workshops will be "Creating a Character Out of Thin Air"

Thursday, March 7, 2013

African Folk Tales

When Joseph Mbele visited our class last week, one of the things he talked about is how folk tales can be so very valuable in learning about a culture. He said that's a way to understand what's important and what a culture sees as valuable and moral.  It made me very happy that I had already planned to make (force?) each student in my Humanities of South Africa class to present a South African Folk Tale to the rest of the class.

Joseph Mbele has a book of folk tales himself, which I am purchasing as soon as I get my next paycheck: Matengo FolktalesThese folk tales are from Tanzania, and I can't wait to read this.

Since we're studying South Africa, however, I found this book:
 Each student will get one folktale to present to the class through any means they choose:
a skit (collaboration is encouraged)
a video/film
a powerpoint with appropriate pictures while telling...maybe even reading in that case
anything else they can think of.
Some of the stories include the following (Aren't the pictures spectacular!!??)

Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales was published by W.W.Norton&Company in 2002.
I can't list all the contributors or artists, but the book is worth checking out.Everything is copyrighted, so I only gave you a little sampling here.
I can't wait to see what my students do with these stories! 

Monday, March 4, 2013


Our class, "Culture and History of South Africa,"  read Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences last week. The author, Joseph Mbele came to visit us on Tuesday. It was unanimously considered a DELIGHT.

The book is a fast read, and Joseph Mbele writes in a converational, welcoming style that sucks you right in, keeps you laughing, and keeps you reading. 

In person, Joseph proved to be one of the most brilliant, funny, warm, and gentle human beings I've ever met. My students loved him; the two hours with him flew past.

Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural DifferencesAfricans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences by Joseph L. Mbele
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the most delightful read about the differences between Africans and Americans and how we relate to each other. My students loved it, found it fascinating, and flew through it.

If you have students, friends, neighbors, classmates, ANYBODY you know from Africa, this book is for you. If you are traveling to Africa, like my students and I are, it's a MUST.

Best part? Now whenever I am late (no, that never happens), I can say I'm on AFRICA TIME.

View all my reviews

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dog in the ditch

Dog in the ditch
Please don’t chase me
I’m tired
I can’t outsprint you

I spent all day pulling students,
A paceline toward understanding
the Harlem Renaissance.
They drafted,
I pulled. We got there but
And I’m tired.

You carve a parallel
path through the snowy ditch,
I rise on the pedals,
Sprint over muddy
Icy gravel
Legs remember
Miles in the bank
I race you
And win

You trot home
Through the snow
Good dog
To remind me
Why I am out here
On this inconsequential gravel road
on my heavy winter mountain bike
And no longer tired