Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Singular Solution to an Extraooordinary Problem

All the long way home from Wyoming to Michigan, we kept ourselves sane in the car through a time-tested method: story-telling. However, it was not we who told each other stories. No, we let Garrison Keillor, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain do that. It's amazing what you can get for free if you troll the internet. We especially appreciated the surly Russian dude who announces the disk headings at After a time or two, we half expected him to say "audio-books-for-free-dot-comrade."

The Sherlock Holmes mysteries were our favorites. None of us had ever read any before. "Why are people so crazy about mysteries?" I have always wondered. Now I know. After a while, we all started to adopt the speech conventions of Mr. Holmes, especially the word "singular" which seems to be used for every occasion. We liked the way Holmes can take one look at a person and then astound them by telling them their entire life story: "you are near-sighted, you type for a living, you have recently been to China, you left home in a hurry this morning, your financial situation has recently deteriorated, and you take two lumps with your tea." This serves to freak out the client so that they will do whatever he says.

I began to think I should use a similar approach with my students when they come to see me in my office: "I deduce from the circles under your eyes that you have been up all night working on my paper. However, I note that you consider perfect nails, hair, and make-up more important than running a spell-check. From your bibliography, I deduce that you have never set foot in an actual library, you are in the habit of IM-ing while you do 'research' on the internet, and you drink lattes. Note the stain. Now, about that grade..."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Everything changes, everything stays the same...

While taking a tour of Yellowstone's "Thermal Features," our guide was keen to let us know that the park is constantly changing due to alteration in the volcanic plumbing below the surface (he must have said this no less than 17thousand times).

But it seemed to me that nothing has changed in decades and decades. Just like every other American family's trip to Yellowstone National Park for the past umpteen years, ours included the following:

1. Old Faithful doing its faithful thing

2. Complacent Bison blocking traffic

3. Purple Mountain Majesty

4. Scuzzy campers enjoying sticky s'mores

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Learning Never Stops...

Things we Learned at Yosemite National Park:

1) We like waterfalls and trees and mountains WAY better than cactus and rock formations and carved-out canyons. (That's our evening picnic site there to the left).

2) The trail to the Vernal Falls is called the "Mist" trail for a very good reason.

3) When they label a trail "Moderate" difficulty, what they mean is "You will probably survive, if you can avoid the bears and the slippery drop offs into the raging river surging through the vast chasm below." Oh yes. And the "two hour" time estimate? Ha. Fortunately, we're not in any kind of hurry.

Next up: Yellowstone - where the water goes up instead of down.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


The house is finally empty, the moving truck is quite full, and we are on our way. Hooray!

Next stop: Yosemite!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yet More Awards

***Warning: This is an equal-opportunity bragging post.***

A couple weeks ago, we boasted shamelessly about Miriam's school awards and Jacob's violin playing. Well, now it's Philip's turn. And Jacob's again.

Philip had his first-grade award assembly last week and we are pleased to report that he received the highest award in his class: Crusader of the Year. It's hard, as a parent, to know how to feel about this. Of course we're proud of him for winning the award that honors both high scholastic achievement and excellent classroom citizenship. But are we pleased that our child has turned out to be, according to his school, a good crusader? How do we explain this to Muslim friends??

Meanwhile, Jacob completed fifth grade, an event celebrated last week at "culmination." Amid a frenzy of red, white, and blue decorations and a flurry of patriotic songs, about 120 fifth-graders completed their elementary careers. We gritted our teeth through this blatant and unqualified blending of religion and patriotism (take-away message: Good American = Good Christian), until at last they announced the big award winners for each of the four fifth-grade classes. Jacob narrowly avoided winning "crusader of the year" this time (he won it last year), but he did win the award for highest academic achievement. This came with a nice little scholarship -- $250!! If he keeps this up, we'll have little to worry about when it comes to his college tuition.

But of course, we found out the next day that this scholarship will be denied us because we are moving. Thanks, people. Thanks so much. Well, at least we are rich in pride.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Prof. Pay Day!

None of the official Fuller curriculum-guidance documents require a final exam for any of classes I taught this quarter (Homiletics, Worship Theology & Praxis, Crafting Language). So I haven't given any. It ends up being a win-win: My students don't want to take one, and I don't want to write or grade one.

But there is a huge payoff, I discovered this week, to doing some sort of end-of-the-quarter assessment. That payoff is in finding out whether or not my students have learned anything in the past 10 weeks -- well, more specifically, whether anything they learned had anything to do with what I hoped they might learn.

And the miraculous, grace-filled answer is that they did. Did they ever! I spent a few hours -- really precious hours, as it turns out -- prompting a course review in each class, and then listening to the students identify the things they found most valuable in our reading and writing and thinking and discussing and praying and sharing. Stuff I was sure had sailed in one ear and out the other instead came right back to me in better form than I gave it out. Book recommendations I'd made off the cuff turned out to catalyze all kinds of other things they were learning outside of our class. Seeds I planted (seeds I myself received from others) are starting to bloom and these folks showed me their gardens. Woot! It's a good crop!

I left my last class thinking about the rewards of teaching. Yep. That's why I'm doing this. Good to get a reminder once in a while.