Friday, January 31, 2014



If you were in the area tonight and happened to see the spotlight drawing people to an event at BYU, just wanted to let you know it was Roger's doing. He has a Very Serious Job, promoting all kinds of fun programs and events. Like BYU Night at the Museums, a progressive dinner sponsored by four of the museums on campus. Initially they were hoping for 200, but more than 2,000 people came!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

When Lives Are at Stake

Wonk that I am, it's exciting when something is currently happening in the real world that I can use in the classroom. And in this case I got a two for one!

Our legislative season just started here in Utah. One of the bills I am following is HB 11 Overdose Reporting Amendments, which is intended to encourage people to get medical help if they believe a friend has overdosed. All too often, people don't do that out of fear that they will get in trouble for illicit activity themselves. Thing is, lives are at stake.

Here's the carrot per the bill as it stands today: Calling for help, remaining with the person who may have overdosed, and cooperating with responders will be taken into consideration when it comes to prosecution.

I brought it up with my students at the jail this morning while we were discussing how the political system directly affects them and how paying attention to it can empower them, and I brought it up with my students in my university class this afternoon while we were discussing how to construct arguments to effect change.

The consensus of all of my students, both at the jail and at the university, was that as long as the "good Samaritans" are still subject to arrest, most will not call for help. The bill as written falls short. Not good enough when lives are at stake.

Some of my students were particularly insightful, and I asked them to write up their ideas for me so I can quote them in a letter I'm writing to the sponsor of the legislation.

Can I just say how utterly satisfying it is to employ the rhetorical technique of using input from two of the main target audiences of the legislation (known drug users and college students) and then turn around and use that as an example to illustrate a useful rhetorical technique in a writing class? And can I just say how utterly satisfying it is to not just encourage people caught up in the criminal justice system to get involved, but to actually use their voices?

Yeah, I'm wonky.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Made Up

Jack's friend Gracie sent me these old pictures today. I remember the day Jack came home from her house covered in makeup. He thought it was funny until we had to scrub his face!

Does anyone else miss the old versions of their kids as much as I do?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rabble Rousers

I just came home from visiting with a 90-year-old neighbor who is determined to live in her own house as long as she can. Tuesday is my night to take off her pressure stockings, one of the few things she can't manage on her own. Mostly, it's a good excuse to hear her stories. She grew up the daughter of the couple who owned the local pool hall and knew everyone in town.

Another neighbor had taken her to spend the afternoon in the Springville High School gym watching the girls' basketball team play. She gushed and gushed about how much fun she had, how many friends she saw, and then reminisced about her years at Springville High.

She had played clarinet in the band, but was tapped to twirl the baton by a new drum major, fresh in from California. The drum major dressed the twirlers in short pleated skirts and cowboy boots, creating quite a stir up and down the Wasatch Front.

She also told me about her late husband who had played the trumpet in school and then well into his adult years, traveling around with dance bands. Sometimes he'd play in Carbon County, through the canyons southeast of Springville. She said it was against the law for bands to play and people to dance on Sundays in Utah then. That meant things were supposed to shut down at midnight on Saturday. But Carbon County, she said, made up their own laws, and people there danced into the wee hours.

I love our neighborhood.

Monday, January 27, 2014

My Wish Today

I wish that everyone who has fought so hard to undermine the implementation of the ACA's private health insurance exchanges could be in the room with me when an inmate at the jail asks about how to sign up. Usually they are dealing with some pre-existing physical condition like diabetes or, more often, an ongoing mental health issue. I pull up the website and start to demystify Utah's marketplace and the options they have now that individuals are part of a bigger risk pool. I watch them become more hopeful as they realize a piece of their intractable puzzle could be within reach.

That is all.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Just Like Tonight

Tonight, I went to Facebook to ask my friends for suggestions on something to write about in this post. All of the topics swirling in my head are complicated and serious, and I don't have the mental energy to think them through right now.

One of my friends suggested writing about the best part of owning an independent bookstore.

As you can imagine, it's impossible to come up with one best part. Something that I especially loved, though, was the stream of people who came in and the conversations we had. I picked up all sorts of news and information and ideas, and often passed them along to other customers.

I went through some serious withdrawal after we closed up. I teetered on the edge of depression for a long time, struggling to find my balance. Feeling so disconnected was one of the challenges I faced.

Something that helped save me? Totally not kidding: Facebook. My friends there are my virtual stream of people full of new and information and ideas that I pick up and often pass on.

Just like tonight.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Carpe Diem, Part Two

I stayed up late last night watching Dead Poets Society to the end. I'm still not sure what moved my friend to tears--there are many possibilities--but I do know what was especially moving to me, watching it at this point in my life.

(Spoiler alert.) A student at an elite private school tragically ends his own life. After an inquiry that doesn't uncover the truth, some of his classmates are told to sign a document that puts the blame on their beloved poetry teacher or risk expulsion. They sign it. Then in the last scene, the teacher comes to the classroom on last time to collect his things, and one of the students, who is painfully shy, stands up to defend him, defying the headmaster, bravely proclaiming the truth as he saw it.

Synchronistically, I decided to read the full text of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" today and came across these passages:

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's greatest stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice . . . I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

Sometimes I use my voice in the face of injustice, but I fear it is only when the risk seems minimal or nonexistent. I need to use it more often. Carpe diem.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Carpe Diem

Curled up under a blanket watching Dead Poets Society tonight. I've only seen it once before, when I was in my 20s. I went with a friend who cried as he watched it, and not at the points that made sense to me to cry. He never said a word about it afterward, and I didn't know him well enough to ask.

I have no idea why he cried. Now that I'm re-watching it, older and wiser, maybe I'll understand something new. 

And now back to the show . . .

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Inextricably Linked

I'm teaching in the Sparks Automotive building this semester at UVU. The school tucks required English classes into pretty much every corner of campus because they have to offer so many sections.

This is my path from the parking lot to the building. On the left, I pass by the entrance bays to the automotive shop where students work on diesel engines and auto body repair. On the right, I pass by campus security and all of its associated vehicles, including one ominous looking tactical incident response truck.

It's awesome that the trades and the humanities are inextricably linked in this space. Because they are in the real world, too. More than people realize, I think.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Out to Lunch

It's very nice to go out to lunch with friends. I do it sometimes. I should do it more often.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Seeing Red

I could share a photo of the bloody knee I got when I stumbled down some uneven cement steps in the dark tonight. But what arrived in the mail today for Jack (bought with Christmas money after months and months of wishing), is way more fun to look at.

We've got a Dr. Who fan on our hands, my friends.

Monday, January 20, 2014


For my freshman composition classes at Utah Valley University:

I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

For my transition skills classes at the county jail:

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. - Alice Walker

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Una necesidad no sólo una falta

My sister just recently moved to Coyoacan, Mexico, where my grandmother lived as a child. When I was a junior in high school, my parents, my grandmother, and my aunt Mary went to Mexico. Dad recently dug up some of his slides of our trip to send to my sister.

Here we are in Coyoacan (left to right: Mom, Grandma Jan, Aunt Mary and me). I believe this may be the place my great grandparents taught school.

I need to buy a plane ticket and go visit my sister.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Better Him Than Me

Of his own volition, Jack went camping up the canyon with the scouts last night. Roger and I went out to dinner and a movie with a friend. After the show, we drove up the canyon to see what the thermometer in the car said. At 10:00 p.m. it was in the low 20s and dropping. We drove home and bundled under warm blankets for the night.

Sorry, Jack. Glad it was you and not me up there on the cold, hard ground in a tent full of teenage boys.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bright Lines

When I arrived at work this morning, I learned about a tragic family murder/suicide involving a former colleague with the sheriff's department. I didn't know him. At most, I crossed paths with him a few times.

Last night, our presenter at the library spoke about the shift in early detective fiction from an assumption that crime is rooted in societal ills to a depiction of criminals being inherently evil. Did the shift result from our wanting to believe that we are always fully capable of rising above our circumstances? That we are not capable of committing a heinous act, only others are?

I call false choice. Isn't it usually some combination of the two? If we put all the blame on individuals, we risk losing our capacity to empathize. If we put all the blame on society, we risk becoming disempowered as individuals.

When a case like this happens--when a law enforcement officer who is held in high esteem by his peers becomes a most heinous law breaker--what do we make of it? Do we draw a bright line and say we are not him? He likely had drawn that very line for himself when he worked with inmates at the jail. And yet, in the blink of an eye, he crossed it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Raising the Bar

Tonight at the ongoing "So You Want To Read" series at our local library, we hosted a BYU visiting lecturer who talked about the genesis and progression of classic detective fiction. She did an excellent job, but one of her friends set a new standard for the series. She made party favor "Evidence Bags" to hand out, stamped--not even ironically--with a detective's mustache.

    Inside the bags:
    • A little red notebook with a fortune cookie and a tag that reads "Red - In honor of the Chinese New Year - Brings good luck - Thus, it is elementary a great detective elude the misfortune of bad luck."
    • A couple of gumballs with a tag that reads "What kind of gumshoe are you anyway?"
    • A little bag full of Swedish fish with a tag that reads "This is fishy!"
    • A bag with black and white candy with a tag that reads "It's not always black and white."
    • A little bag full of cashews with a tag that reads "Our thief may be crazy! You know . . . nuts!"

    Bless the people who are not Pinterest impaired!

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014


    Just before Christmas on an icy walk home from school, Jack slipped and landed on the corner of his saxophone case. His rib hurt. We told him to keep us posted, but even if it was broken he'd just have to wait it out. The last few days it started to hurt a bit more so I took him to the doctor today. Fractured. And, of course, nothing to do but wait. At least there's an official record now.

    Tuesday, January 14, 2014

    In the Morning

    Since Winter Solstice the days are getting longer, but the sun still isn't up until after I take Jack to school. This is what we see in the mornings these days: the eastern tip of the highest peak in our view bathed in light, all the rest in the shadow of the mountains.

    Monday, January 13, 2014

    Tell Us About Yourself

    I spent the entire day on a panel interviewing people for a job opening in our community. It's amazing how much stamina that takes. Phew!

    Anyway, we started out each interview with the classic open-ended "Tell us about yourself" to see what kinds of things applicants focused on when left to their own devices.

    A few years ago when I was putting together the transition skills course I teach at the jail, I went to my then 95-year-old neighbor for some advice. She had spent her entire working life in human resources, and one of her main tasks was to conduct job interviews.

    I asked her, "How did people typically blow their interviews with you?"

    Without hesitation, she replied, "I hated rambling. On and on and on. Ugh. If I asked people to tell me about themselves and 45 minutes later they were still talking, they didn't have a chance in hell of getting hired."

    I can see that.

    Sunday, January 12, 2014

    A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

    This picture that I posted on Facebook a few years ago just resurfaced today when one of Jack's friends found it and tagged it. The neighborhood kids are taking a break from a water balloon fight on a summer day.

    When Roger and I got married, I told him that I wanted to live in a house in a neighborhood so that our kids would have days like this. I had missed that growing up on Main Street, not being able to ride my bike with the heavy traffic until I was older and always having to depend on someone to get a ride to a friend's house.

    It's worked out just the way I hoped.

    Saturday, January 11, 2014


    What I discovered on the way to work: The most awesome life size window displays at a plumbing supply store on frontage road.

    What I discovered at work: What a "lumper" is. I was meeting with an inmate and showing him the online job search feature on the Workforce Services website. One of the job listings was for a lumper. I said, "I've got to click on that one to find out what it is." He said, "Oh, it's a mover. Loads and unloads trucks. I know because I had that job once."

    Every day, something new. It's one of my favorite things about life.

    Friday, January 10, 2014

    A Plug

    The Springville Library presents an
    ongoing series for adventurous readers

    So You Want to Read
    Classic Detective Fiction
    Thursday, 16 January 2014, 7-8 pm
    with BYU’s Liz Christianson

    So You Want to Read
    Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro
    Thursday, 20 February 2014, 7-8 pm
    with BYU’s Bruce Jorgensen

    So You Want to Read 
    (Not Your Paul Bunyan) Folklore
    Thursday, 20 March 2014, 7-8 pm
    with UVU’s Ronda Walker Weaver

    So You Want to Read Hemingway
    Thursday, 17 April 2014, 7-8 pm
    with UVU’s Mark Pepper

    Each month we explore
    genres, authors or specific works
    you may be thinking about diving into.
    Let us convince you to go for it!

    Thursday, January 09, 2014

    Poetry and Pose

    The other day, my cousin mentioned that her 7-year-old daughter Jessie was learning about personification by studying Carl Sandburg's classic poem.


    The fog comes
    on little cat feet.

    It sits looking
    over harbor and city
    on silent haunches
    and then moves on.

    Last night, our house was enveloped in fog. Roger bribed our cat Doublestuff with treats to pose for this picture to send to Jess.

    Wednesday, January 08, 2014

    A Milestone

    Last night's post was my 1,000th post on this blog!

    I googled "1,000" to see if there was anything clever to say about it and discovered that Wikipedia actually says this: "1000 or 1,000 (one thousand) is the natural number following 999 and preceding 1001."

    As if that would help clarify things for someone who isn't exactly sure what 1,000 is.

    Tuesday, January 07, 2014

    Good Omens

    After spending the past two days scrambling to deal with some unexpected and aggravating logistical problems with my classes and schedule at UVU, I jumped in the car and drove to The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City for a nice change of pace.

    My cousin Tracey and her husband Josh are literary agents (Adams Literary), and Josh had decided at the last minute to fly west to help Sara B. Larson, one of their authors, celebrate the release of her first YA novel, Defy. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Josh and meet Sara.

    On the way, I realized that while I'd brought my purse, I'd forgotten my wallet, which was still in my school bag at home. Then I remembered that earlier, I'd noticed a $20 bill had fallen out of my wallet into my purse. It was still there! Which meant that I could buy a copy of Sara's book. With tax, the total came to $19 and some change. Serious serendipity.

    I'll tell you, though, it was a bit hellish hanging out in that fabulous bookshop without being able to buy anything else. What is it with me and books? Where did that visceral need come from?

    Anyhow, Sara gave a lovely and funny presentation in the art gallery a few doors down. I asked her later if she had intentionally color coordinated her outfit with the cover of the book. She did.

    During her presentation she talked about how the genesis of her book was rooted in the illness and death of her cousin's husband. I thought to myself, "I am sitting next to my cousin's husband." But he looks pretty good, no? I choose to take it as a good omen. Here's to a long, healthy life, Josh!

    And thanks for the fun, unexpected treat tonight! I'm looking forward to reading Sara's new book, bought with a $20 bill I was darn lucky to have with me. Good omens all around.

    Monday, January 06, 2014

    Shifting the Lens

    When we talk in my university writing classes about coming up with interesting ways to approach a topic that can be more useful than rehashing oversimplified arguments, I use this idea from the text: play a thesis against its antithesis to reveal new angles. Here's an example.

    Thesis: We should ban guns.
    Antithesis: We should not ban guns.

    I ask my students what the underlying motivations are for each position. Someone suggests safety as a primary concern for people in both camps. People who want guns banned want to minimize the chances that firearms will be handled irresponsibly. People who want to own weapons for protection have a vested interest in maximizing responsible handling of firearms.

    What could help minimize irresponsible gun ownership and maximize responsible gun ownership? Gun safety education, my students say. And, boom, there's a new angle on the topic.

    We dig a little deeper. Why would anyone object to gun safety education? It could be too much of an infringement on the rights of gun owners if it's required. If it's offered in schools, it could entice kids into wanting to handle weapons.

    Hmm, I think. Those sound a lot like the objections people have when it comes to sex education and counseling women who are dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Except the camps are typically reversed.

    A thesis juxtaposing gun safety education and sex education, shifting the lens through which we view entrenched positions just enough to shed new light? Now that could make an essay worth reading.

    Sunday, January 05, 2014

    Three Bags Full

    Extremely pleased that Jack not only finished his Christmas vacation project of "spring" cleaning his room, but that it resulted in getting rid of three garbage bags full of stuff. This was no small feat for a sentimental boy who has a hard time parting with anything.

    Saturday, January 04, 2014


    A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

    Once in a while I think about pursuing my dream of becoming an architect that began when I took a mechanical drawing class in junior high. I love thinking about how we interact with the spaces we're in, and how valuable good design is whether we're aware of it or not. I even fall asleep at night designing or redesigning spaces. Then I remember that I haven't taken a math class since high school.

    I also remember that I'd need to figure out how to compensate for a critical weakness.

    When I was in college, I took a drawing class. Sometimes we went on field trips to the agriculture department, where we'd sketch sheep. I had an extremely hard time making my sheep look like they were in proper proportion with their feet firmly planted on the ground. Seeing something in three dimensions and rendering it in two was challenging.

    I also took an anatomy class, and every week we'd have a lab period with cadavers. We'd study two dimensional illustrations in our text book, then be quizzed on the body parts the lab instructor had stuck pins into. It was really tough for me to relate the two dimensional drawings I'd memorized with the three dimensional cadavers (though dissected they were actually more like 2 1/2 dimensions).

    Architects have to move easily between dimensions in their heads. Of course, nowadays we have computers to help. But I'd still have to catch up on an awful lot of math.

    It's pretty doubtful at this point that I will ever go back to school to become an architect. But don't be surprised if I end up scratching that itch somehow. If there is anything I've learned walking the crooked path of my life, it's just a matter of the right dream percolating to the surface at the right time.

    Friday, January 03, 2014

    Known and Unknown

    The other day, I wrote a post about ten books that I read before I was twelve that have stuck with me. I cannot even believe that I forgot to include Harriet the Spy. Seriously. How could I have forgotten about the girl who wrote all of her honest observations in a notebook and then experienced her life imploding when her classmates discovered it? Oh, it was painful. And she only barely started putting it back together at the end of the story.

    When I was a teenager I discovered Danielle Steele romance novels. According to her formula, the protagonists are always beautiful, demure women whose lives are tragically imploding when we meet them in the opening pages. And they always wear cashmere sweaters and woolen trousers and strings of pearls. Demurely. And beautifully. After their lives implode, they build walls to keep people out. But there are handsome, good-hearted men who are drawn to them despite their walls. Eventually, patiently and gently, they break through and give the women the hope and joy and love they'd lost.

    I couldn't imagine being a Danielle Steele protagonist. I couldn't imagine that if I built a wall, someone would even see me behind it, never mind tear it down to get me. So instead I was an open book. But I had also learned an important lesson from Harriet. You can't write down everything you think on the pages.

    Thursday, January 02, 2014

    (Don't) Give Me a Hand, Please

    A few months ago, one of Jack's friends gave him a plastic severed hand. It first showed up in the refrigerator. It made me jump. And made me laugh. Now it's a running family joke. Whoever finds it hides it for the next unsuspecting soul to discover. 

    This morning Roger hid it in the sleeve of Jack's coat. Tonight Roger found it peeking out from between his pillows. 

    I can't believe it still makes me jump. And laugh.

    Wednesday, January 01, 2014


    Last year, I thought if I eased up on blogging, I would make more progress on a major writing project. It didn't work. My focus dwindled to making a few notes from time to time.

    Last year, I thought if I worked mainly on blogging my Fifty Physical Feats project, I would be more fit and have a bunch of very cool adventures. It mostly didn't work. Yeah, I've had some health set backs that I am still struggling with a bit, but to be honest, I just lacked discipline.

    This year, I'm going back to posting something here every day. And hopefully future posts will be more imaginative than this one. Gonna get my groove back.