Archive | April, 2008

Brainy Mama at Work…

24 Apr

I’m taking a short hiatus from my blog while I enter Finals week.  After having enjoyed the “summits” for awhile, I am now “down in the valley” as I struggle with essay tests, papers, and exams in Philosophy and Psychology. These lines from Coleridge sum up my feelings today:

A grief without a pang, void, dark and drear,

A drowsy, stifled, unimpassioned grief,

Which finds no natural outlet or relief

In word, or sigh, or tear.

Thanks for checking in. I’ll be back after I make it through this morass!

Vocal Point Concert

16 Apr

This past Saturday night, we left the little boys with a babysitter while my husband took me and my two daughters to Colorado Springs to see Vocal Point, BYU’s outstanding a cappella men’s ensemble. They were absolutely fabulous! The group opened the concert with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Watching nine nerdy white guys in ties doing some of those characteristic dance moves we all associate with that song was highly amusing! For over an hour, we enjoyed good, clean entertainment and professional talent. My older son would have definitely enjoyed the five-minute long demonstration of b-boxing by one of the singers (which for those of you who don’t know, is the skill of making percussive sounds with the voice). 

Unfortunately, the fire alarm went off toward the end of the program. The bemused audience exited the auditorium and huddled together outside the building while a spring snowfall enveloped us. Without missing a beat, Vocal Point jumped up on some concrete benches and entertained us with a rousing rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” until we had the all-clear to go back inside.

We thought about leaving to go home at that point, but I’m glad we decided to stay for the finale. The last song was “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire (one of my personal favorites). One of the Vocal Point members yelled out, “Don’t fight the dance!” just before they started singing. And before long, the entire audience was up out of their seats clapping and dancing in the aisles–myself and my daughters included. We just couldn’t resist the beat. It was so much fun to get out, enjoy some great music, and have some daughter-parent bonding time with with our girls.

Another Little Summit Reached…

15 Apr

Okay, this is just one of those “ka-ching” kind of weeks when everything good seems to converge all at the same time.

Yesterday afternoon, I was honored at an awards ceremony for placing second in the English 122 Essay Contest. This is me with Dr. Lewan, the head of the English department and one of my favorite professors and mentors. She has been such a great encourager and champion of my writing since I took her online English 121 class my very first semester at ACC. She read parts of my winning essay aloud and I will post it below in its entirety for anyone who would like to read it. Along with the lovely certificate, I get $25! Yahoo! For someone who never has pocket change, $25 is a windfall! And guess where that money is going? Yep–into my walking tour of England fund.

 

Reading: The Key to “Critical Literacy” in the Digital Age

 

“Where is the wisdom we’ve lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we’ve lost in information?”

—T.S. Eliot, “The Rock”

 

Like a homing pigeon returning to its loft, I find myself circling back through the doors of my local library again and again. From the age of four, I have sought out the comforting companionship of books, gleaning from their open pages insights into life’s marvelous complexities. Reading has always been an integral part of my life. For me, books are so much more than just wood pulp and ink. They provide a mental lifeline, an intellectual retreat, and a continual source of knowledge that nourishes my rich, inner life and keeps my mind active, engaged, and invigorated.

Unfortunately, avid readers such as myself, are becoming an anomaly in modern society. Recent surveys conducted by the National Endowment of the Arts show that less than half of American adults read anything literary (i.e. fiction, poetry, and drama) and that “the rate of decline for the youngest adults, those aged 18 to 24 was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population” (NEA “Literary Reading”). Even as young people are opening their minds to the vast possibilities of the Information Age, they seem to be closing their minds to the ageless wisdom available only through the medium of books. However, young adults cannot afford to neglect literature if they are to have the critical thinking skills needed to compete and be successful in the 21st century.

Dan Gioia, chairman of the NEA, believes this declining interest in “active and engaged literacy” is not only a “national crisis” but a tragedy as well (NEA “Reading at Risk”). He claims there is a causal connection between the rise in electronic media usage and the declining literacy rate among youth. “Reading a book requires a degree of active attention and engagement,” he says. “By contrast, most electronic media…make fewer demands on their audiences…[requiring] no more than passive participation…Even interactive electronic media foster shorter attention spans and accelerated gratification. To lose such intellectual capabilities…would constitute a vast cultural impoverishment” (NEA “Reading at Risk”).

Although today’s young people are able to adapt to ever-changing technologies, assimilate information quickly, and multi-task efficiently, the internet generation is in danger of losing the important “intellectual capability” of critical thinking. Today’s youth, comfortable with the seamless integration of technology in their lives, may not understand why older generations are concerned about the impending “cultural impoverishment” that threatens our society if this trend of declining literacy is not reversed. Many educators are seeing that “fast-paced lifestyles, coupled with heavy media diets of visual immediacy, beget brains misfitted to traditional modes of academic learning” (Guterl).

Chris Ransick, an English professor at Arapahoe Community College, agrees that the explosion of technology and the internet over the past twenty years has led to a rapid cycle of social change. Ransick, a passionate supporter of media literacy, says that over the years, he has noticed the steadily declining work ethic and ability to think critically among his students. He believes strongly that “you either use media or get used by it and there is no middle ground” (Ransick). The one question he asks all of his students at the beginning of each term is: What is the last book you read? For Ransick, this question is the litmus test that determines which students are educable and which ones are not.

Even though young people are adept in the area of “computer literacy,” many people question whether the rising generation, who has never known anything but the influence of technology and the mass media, will be able to acquire the critical thinking skills necessary for successful leadership in the future. As the world’s problems increase in scale and complexity, the minds of our young people are unfortunately inundated and overwhelmed by the immediate and insignificant. Distracted by a plethora of technological gadgets, glitzy advertisements, and entertainment options, our young people habitually opt for the path of least resistance.

In response to a feature article in Business Week about the lifestyle of the internet generation, a young anonymous person said, “…its great to hear people complain about how my generation…[is] too focused on technology…But honestly, what do you expect? In a world where everyone…wants the next new gizmo…you wonder why we do anything else. Why are we going to call a single person a few miles away when we can hold multiple conversations with friends all over the country? Why go shopping in a single store when we can shop in six at once?…Honestly, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. But technology is only going to grow, and it’s only going to get bigger. Do you expect us to resist? No, we’re moving with [the] progress of the times” (Hempel).

Indeed the lure of technology is difficult to resist, particularly for young people who, according to a study conducted by The Kaiser Family Foundation, “spend an average of six-and-a-half hours a day online” (Paulos). David McCullough, one of America’s most literate personalities, decries the fact that Americans have approximately twenty-eight hours per week to watch television but claim they have no time for reading. He laments, “The greatest of all avenues to learning—to wisdom, adventure, pleasure, insight, to understanding human nature, understanding ourselves and our world and our place in it—is in reading books…Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent, as a good book” (McCullough).

Yet young people, seeking for connection, entertainment, socialization, and expression prefer to turn to electronic devices for that sustenance. “Reading is harder than watching television or playing video games” concedes writer Andrew Solomon. “It requires effort, concentration, attention. In exchange, it offers the stimulus to and the fruit of thought and feeling” (Solomon). Solomon believes that Americans would readily “exchange easier for more difficult pleasures” if they understood “that those more difficult pleasures are more rewarding” (Solomon). Because the rewards of literacy may not be as tangible or apparent as the instant gratification proffered by technology, many young people overlook, ignore, or avoid books altogether. Most do not even realize that literature is far superior to technology when it comes to meeting these basic human needs.

Nevertheless, the benefits of active and engaged literacy are real, satisfying, and long-lasting. Books offer a multi-dimensional look at humanity that technology does not. Unlike the preprocessed information available through the mass media and the internet, the concepts presented in books invite thoughtful analysis by the reader. One idea at a time, the reader makes personal connections to ideas based on the context of his or her experience. Unlike technology, books build a solid foundation of character within the reader and create a greater capacity for complex thought. During the confusing and stress-filled years of young adulthood, when monumental and life-altering decisions about career and family hang in the balance, literature can provide a foundation of principle and needed illumination for youth navigating through those turbulent years of change and growth.

If the internet generation has the perseverance and attention span to master video games and endlessly changing technology, they have the attention span and capability to develop a taste for literature. Although today’s young adults can read, they choose not to. “What is the point of having a population that can read, but doesn’t?” Solomon asks. “Readers…are active,” he says “while nonreaders…have settled into apathy. There is a basic social divide between those for whom life in an accrual of fresh experience and knowledge, and those for whom maturity is a process of mental atrophy” (Solomon).

With access to millions of books, I know that my education never has to end. I have learned that literature can always be customized to my ever-changing circumstances. Always available, portable, and economical, reading accommodates every season of life. Every time I leave the library hefting my oversize tote bag filled to the brim with books, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction, expectation, and gratitude. I am the richest woman on earth because I have ready access to information that enriches, empowers, encourages and shapes me, granting me the limitless freedom to grow and soar. The realm of inexhaustible possibilities keeps me coming back for more, week after week.

“As more Americans lose this capability [of active and engaged literacy], our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose” Gioia says (NEA “Literary Reading”). In order for today’s young adults to successfully navigate the challenges of the 21st century and solve the problems of their time, they must find a way to reverse the declining literacy rate.

Clearly, technology will continue to shape our lives in unpredictable ways. The challenge of our time will be to regain the balance we have lost and find ways to reintegrate a more substantial literary focus back into our cultural landscape. If more young people would replace a few minutes of mindless web surfing with attentive reading each day, they might discover that the immeasurable impetus of ideas found only in literature may hold the key to reversing the impoverishment and malaise of their generation.

 

Works Cited

 

Guterl, Fred. “The End Of The Word As We Know It; If you think kids don’t read now, wait until the visual media really take off.” Newsweek International (Sept 26, 2005): 95. General Reference Center. Gale. Arapahoe Community College. 24 Sept. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=GRCM&gt;.

Hempel, Jessi. “The My Space Generation.” Business Week. 12 Dec. 2005. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_50/b3963001.htm&gt;.

McCullough, David. “No Time to Read?” Perspectives on Contemporary Issues: Reading Across the Disciplines. Ed. Katherine Anne Ackley. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. 333-34.

National Endowment for the Arts. “Literary Reading in Dramatic Decline, According to National Endowment for the Arts Survey.” National Endowment for the Arts. 8 Jul. 2004. National Endowment for the Arts. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nea.gov/news/news04/ReadingAtRisk.html&gt;.

– – – . Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America Executive Summary. Washington D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, 2004. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nea.gov/pub/RaRExec.pdf&gt;.

Paulos, Leah. “Multitasking madness: are you always online, downloading music, chatting with friends, and sending text messages? If so, you’re being trapped by your own technology.(Health).” Scholastic Choices 23.1 (Sept 2007): 10(4). General Reference Center. Gale. Arapahoe Community College. 30 Sept. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=GRCM&gt;.

Ransick, Chris. Personal interview. 24 Sep. 2007.

Solomon, Andrew. “The Closing of the American Book.” New York Times. 10 Jul. 2004. 27 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nytimes.com/&gt;

 

Sheer Joy

13 Apr

Back in 1923, the famed British pioneer climber George Leigh Mallory was asked why he wanted to go back to Everest for a third attempt at the summit. He replied: “There is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain, and goes out to meet it…The struggle is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever upward. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.”

This past Thursday was an adventure of “sheer joy” for me–a “summit” moment if you will.

I was invited to read my “Wonder Mold Mother” piece as the opening speaker at the 2nd Annual Arapahoe Community College Foundation luncheon at the Invernness Hotel. When I accepted the invitation, I had no idea I would be reading in front of 200 people or that I would be the kick-off presentation for the afternoon. It was a bit unnerving to hear only glasses and forks softly clinking as I stood at the lecturn baring my mother soul to a mixed audience of business and academic leaders. Addressing large groups of people is something completely out of my element, but amazingly, I felt composed and was filled with a sense of serenity knowing that figuratively, I was being supported and upheld by the positive thoughts of dear friends and family members, none of whom could be with me at the event.

Later in the program, keynote speaker Jake Norton, asked the audience if any of us would be where we are without the help of others. He talked about the importance of teamwork and as he did, I thought about the great network of support I have been blessed with. I thought about my good husband who has allowed me to go back to school during this extremely demanding phase of our lives. I thought of my oldest daughter who babysits for me and holds down the fort when my husband is out of town. I thought of the encouraging words of friends and family members, of other mothers who have traded babysitting with me so I can go to class, of professors who cheer me on and stretch me by offering me plenty of opportunities to grow.

Jake also asked us “What is your Everest?” and “What crevasses stand between you and the summit?” I thought of how just three days earlier I was ready to throw in the towel on school–to give up on my dream of working toward my degree. It seems like every mid-semester, I hit that point when it feels like I just can’t continue on. My husband and I had arrived home at about 9:30 p.m.–me from my Monday night Philosophy class and him from a business trip. My oldest daughter had uncomplainingly watched the kids all night but the house was a mess and she had forgot to put away the crock-pot lasagna I had made earlier for the kids. It was now burned in the bottom of the slow cooker. Although neither my husband or myself had had dinner, we tried to reassure my daughter, put the house back in some assemblance of order, and get the younger kids off to bed.

As I was kneeling on the floor picking up Matchbox cars and wooden Brio train pieces in my sons’ room, I tried to hold back the tears. I was hungry and tired–tired of the fight, tired of trying to do everything, tired of spreading myself so thin. I thought to myself “It’s just not worth it. It’s just too hard to keep doing this right now at this point in my life. Maybe I should wait another 3 years until Sam is in Kindergarten and then resume my scholastic career. Certainly mothering and housework alone should be enough to keep me occupied and content.” Occupied yes, but not entirely fulfilled. Don’t get me wrong–I love being a mother, but cutting myself off from intellectual stimulation and my studies would be a death warrant to my soul. No–I had to keep going. And so I went to bed and woke up the next morning ready to face my challenges once again.

Jake said, “…joy doesn’t lie in the summit snow cone, in reaching the top and checking the goal off our ‘to do’ list. Rather, the true joy in climbing our Everests lies on the sides of the mountain, in the myriad of challenges we find ourselves working against. It is only by pitting ourselves against a seemingly indomitable foe in life that we realize just how far we can push, just how much we can accomplish. It is the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. But, in the words of Robert Pirsig, without the top, we can’t have the sides.”

I’ve come a long way since my first reading in front of 20 people last September. I made some amazing contacts at the ACC Foundation Luncheon and got to sit at the head table with Rubi Nicholas, the “Funniest Mom in America”, the President of the college, Burt Glandon, and Jake Norton. I celebrate my summit moment knowing how ephemeral it is. Soon it will be time to descend and go back down to the sides of my mountain where the growth is.  Soon it will be time to set my sights on new summits so I can keep climbing “forever upward,” and discover yet again the joy in the struggle.

 

Bring on the Bulbs!

10 Apr

Every spring I suffer from “tulip envy” because I’m the one who never remembers to plant bulbs in the fall. While everyone else has colorful flowers cheerily adorning their yard, I never do. But believe it or not, this year, I actually remembered! Ahoy! I garden!

This is a really big deal for me because generally, thinking in advance is a bit of a challenge for me. I’m lucky if I can plan dinner each night let alone plan a flower bed months in advance. But last October or November, I drove over to Home Depot with my daughters and bought hyacinth, tulip, and daffodil bulbs. The bulbs were all picked over and the selection wasn’t that great, but the important thing was that I remembered  (just in time) to plant them. Now, we have quite the show of blooms in the front yard and I’m rather enjoying being the one in the neighborhood everyone else is envying for a change.

It helps, too that we now have a southwestern exposure which gives us the distinct advantage of our bulbs blooming earlier than everyone on the other side of the street. (Not that this is a competition or anything…)

Look at these gorgeous tulips…(I love the pink blush color!)

(Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh!)      

 

 And these radiant daffodils…

  (Oh yeah, yeah, yeah!)

Irises, bleeding hearts, and day lilies are coming up, too. And around Mother’s Day, I’m planting my favorite flowers–roses. They’ll love soaking up all that sun in the front yard. I can’t wait!

Overwhelmed mother that I am, I love any plant I can just stick in the ground and that knows what to do without too much extra attention from me. Yep, I’m a lazy gardener and proud of it!

Discovering Jim Brickman

6 Apr

 

Okay, where have I been all these years? I’m a pianist and have just discovered Jim Brickman for the first time. Usually, I stick to classical music, but about a month and a half ago, I discovered two pieces of his entitled “Where Are You Now?” and “Valentine” among the sheet music I inherited from my Aunt. I wanted to hear more Jim Brickman so I checked out his CD “Picture This” from the library and instantly fell in love with his restful renditions. Even though this particular album is over ten years old, Brickman’s New Age music is absolutely timeless.

Then of course, I had to do my “Lisa” thing and ordered the sheet music so I could learn to play these pieces for myself on my own Baldwin 6’3 grand piano. I have been working my way through the book and have found that listening to and playing Brickman’s compositions has been a great antidote for when I’m feeling strained, dejected, or melancholy.

My particular favorite is a wistful and tender piece entitled “Sound of Your Voice.”  It’s so comforting to my soul–like the feel of a warm blanket around my shoulders, or the gentle sound of rain pattering on the roof, or the loving reassurances of a good friend who believes in me.

I find that I turn to my piano for solace a lot these days. I think I could play all day long if I had that luxury. Instead I have to settle for playing whenever I can, which is usually in random moments and snatches throughout the day.

As soon as my toddler is strapped in his highchair and engaged in eating a meal, I slip into the next room and make a dash for the piano. Many times though, my piano playing most resembles a three-ring circus as I try to tinkle the ivories, juggle a toddler climbing up on my lap, keep my five-year-old from pounding on the keys alongside me, and answer my nine-year-old’s question about her homework. When I’m in this position, I often think of runners who train by running on the beach. The resistance of the sand makes their muscles stronger and when they switch to running on pavement, they can run faster and with less effort. I don’t know exactly what I’m training for, but I know that motherhood has made me a better musician–more intuitive to the subtle nuances of musical shading and interpretation that I certainly didn’t have when I was a young Music Performance Major without any life experience to draw upon.

In fact, I often get so immersed in what I’m playing that only the sound of a crash or a child crying in the next room can bring me out of my reverie. These days, I play as if my inner life and sanity depended on it–because it does. It breaks up the monotony of my days and gives me an outlet for positive self-expression. In fact, I’m having a yearning to play right now. Like a magnet, my piano pulls me toward it and I’m finding it hard to resist.

A Little Bit of Wanderlust…

3 Apr

This is Lily, an American Eskimo that was our family pet for about a year. Well, she was more like my dog, actually, and among her many “issues,” she had a problem with wanderlust. Whenever she got the chance, she would dart out the front door, run down the street, and sometimes scoot under a neighbor’s fence and out onto the golf course. No matter how hard I tried to coax her to come back, she would look at me with those black, impish eyes and then run the other way, her white, furry coat a blur of motion against the pavement and manicured lawns.

lilly.jpg

Lily’s behavior used to really aggravate me, but lately, I’m beginning to identify with her need to roam and have exciting adventures. Usually, I’m quite the homebody, but lately, I’ve got really itchy feet. I’ve had fantasies of running away–of just getting in the car and driving somewhere, anywhere just to be alone!! In my 40 years of life, I don’t think I’ve ever had that sublime experience of going somewhere by myself. I seriously think it’s about time!!!

One of the prizes for a writing contest I recently entered includes a weekend at a writer’s retreat. I’m praying to win…I desperately need the solitude! I don’t care that the “retreat” is just a tiny one-room cabin in the middle of nowhere. It sounds absolutely heavenly to me! And if I don’t win, I think I’m just going to have to go anyway…

Another opportunity I have to get away is in the middle of June. That is if I can figure out how to make arrangments for five kids for six days…As the new Vice President of Scholarship for Sigma Phi (ACC’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa), I’ve been invited to attend the Honors Institute in San Francisco. Ah…intellectual stimulation, leadership development, a chance to explore San Fran. What could be more refreshing?

Then there’s the temptation of the ultimate getaway that my book club girlfriends just proposed. In the fall of 2010, just after my graduation from Arapahoe Community College, we want to go on a walking tour of England together. Again, another fabulous experience I am dying to have–to go traipsing across the moors Jane Austen style, with flowing gowns, petticoats, and bonnets. Well, maybe we’ll forgo the period costumes, but not the traipsing part. I am seriously in on the adventure. In the meantime, I’ll save my pennies and hopes while I try to restain my Lily-like tendencies to bolt.