Posts tagged ‘Utah’


Half of my students are currently getting a D or an F in one of my three classes.

That’s 11 out of 22 grades, exactly.

This makes me really upset.

Any time a student is doing badly in class, there are only a few possible reasons: 1) the student is not applying him- or herself, 2) the student is not capable of completing the coursework accurately, or 3) I am not teaching the material well.  Realistically, it is often a combination of all three.

Do my students apply themselves?  Sometimes students are genuinely lazy and they don’t want to do their homework.  Maybe passing with a C or a D is good enough in their book.  Often, they never learned good study habits in high school, they are accustomed to having assignments and deadlines spelled out for them repeatedly, they simply don’t stay on top of their work.  In a 12-week term, there is often time to catch back up.  In a 6-week term, it’s a lot harder.  You don’t check the syllabus, you fall behind, and suddenly, the class is done.

For reason number 2, I originally phrased it as “the student isn’t capable of learning the material,” but most of the time that really isn’t the problem.  The reasons why they can’t complete the work are legion.  My students often work 40+ hours a week, have children to raise, partners and family members to spend time with, household chores to do, and on top of that they are trying to get a degree.  So often there isn’t enough time to get everything done.  Add to that the fact that, in my computer classes (which account for 19 of my 22 students), many students don’t have regular access to a computer at home, or the Internet, or both.  They are expected to do 2 hours of homework outside of class for each hour they are in class — that would be 16 hours of homework each week.  And many of them need to do it on a family member’s computer, or a friend’s mom’s computer, or at the public library, or during the few hours they have on campus just before or after class.  If they have a computer at home, they may not have Internet to allow them to email me their homework assignments.  They may not know how to install the trial software that comes with their book.  Even if a computer is readily available, I have students who don’t speak English as their first language, so the directions, “Point to the Title cell style in the Titles and Headings area of the Cell Styles gallerty to see a live preview of the cell style in cell A1” is extremely confusing.  Even I find it confusing!  Hell, despite the fact that I have walked them through the process at least one time per class, I still have students, on Day 8 of class, who don’t know what to do when we are in Word and they need to send me their assignment as an attachment to an email.  They can’t remember how to open Internet Explorer and navigate off the home page and go to their online email provider.  I have students who have had so little exposure to computers during their life, they can only type roughly 10 words a minute.  So whether it is because of a lack of access to computing resources, or reading comprehension skills, or previous exposure to computers, many students are unable to complete the work I assign them.

But I always, always worry that the real reason my students are failing is because I am not teaching them what they need to know.  I know that computer classes are difficult to teach in a large group setting.  I know that I have students of all skill levels in the class, so some are surfing between steps during demonstrations because they are so bored, while others are completely lost.  Knowing those things doesn’t make it any easier when you see your students failing, and you don’t know what you can do to help them.  When there are dozens of zeroes in my grading spreadsheet, is it because they are too lazy to turn their work in, they can’t do the work, or because they don’t understand what they are supposed to do?

I don’t know.  And without knowing why they are not turning their work in, I can’t help them.  And that’s the worst feeling of all.



Whatcha doin', Ma?

Our German shepherd, Diezel, is a bit of a nut job.  Due to overruse of a laser pointer when he was young, he is completely obsessed with the movement of shadows and “flashies.”  There are several things that he immediately comes running for, because he associates them with flashies that he can chase: opening a CD case, pulling out the tin foil, doing dishes in front of the kitchen window, opening the back door (since light from the window runs across the wall as you open and close it), and picking up a camera will all result in a big dog standing at attention on your feet, ears up, tail wagging, with a big doggie grin on his face.  And shadows are fair game too — you can spend hours waving your arms around like a flight controller and wiggling your fingers to keep him entertained.  And even when the flashy or the shadow is gone, he will still spend an hour or more at attention, waiting for it to come back.

Cara isn’t the least bit obsessive about that kind of thing, but she will get in on the act for a real laser pointer, or a flashy, if it is bright enough and persistent enough.  The thing that drives her crazy is flies.  We’ve had several in the house recently, and she will stand or sit on alert, totally still, ears cocked, waiting until the fly gets close enough for her to hear it again before she lunges towards the sound in an attack.  She can barely get her back legs off the ground when she jumps, but there are lots of jaws snapping shut on empty air during the assault.  And the funniest part of this is, for some unknown reason she is very concerned about the flies landing on her butt.  She keeps her tail clamped down, and sits down hard, tucking her butt up against the furniture or one of us, to make sure that it is protected, and she constantly looks back at her butt to make sure everything is okay.  Diezel also trys to snap up flies, but he’s not as determined or energetic as Cara is, and he doesn’t worry at all about butt defense.

One of the reasons for all the flies is the fact that I have been grilling a lot lately, and so there’s a lot of trips from the kitchen out the back door, which sometimes gets left open when my hands are full of cutting boards, tongs and plates.  And a fair amount of time has also been spent recently just hanging around next to the grill.  And I have noticed that, for some reason, we have a ton of dragonflies in our yard.  They zoom all around the yard to Diezel’s delight, but he doesn’t actually chase the dragonflies — instead, he chases their shadows flying over the grass.  We only have three saplings in our yard, and one of them was dead when we moved in, so there is plenty of sun to cast dragonfly shadows.

As I was waiting on my steaks to grill a few nights ago, and watching Diezel run hither and thither, I realized that our dead tree had become the perfect dragonfly perch.  It was like a little candelabra of dragonflies!  So I snapped a whole bunch of pictures.

And when a dragonfly zooms past Cara?  Well, she comes and sits down hard, right next to me, making very sure to protect her butt.

36 and 1st

T and I had a great weekend, where I got spoiled silly.  Saturday was my birthday, and Monday was our first wedding anniversary, but because our schedules would keep us from seeing each other on Monday, we decided to celebrate a little early.

On Saturday morning, T took me out for breakfast, so that I could get my favorite, eggs benedict.  Then we went shopping for a birthday present for me, a nice tote that I could carry my teaching materials in.  After hitting every store that sold luggage in the mall, I decided on the cheapest and best-looking one of the bunch, one we had seen at Burlington Coat Factory, and we headed home.

We got a gift certificate as a wedding present that we decided to use on Saturday night. I was thinking of it as an early anniversary celebration, but I think T still considered it part of my birthday.  So after leaving the dogs in the capable hands of T’s dispatcher’s son, we headed up Provo Canyon to the Sundance Resort on Saturday evening.  On the way, we stopped and had dinner at Carrabba’s Grill in Provo, which was the restaurant we chose for our rehearsal dinner.  They always have amazing Italian seafood dishes and great service, and we even tried their limoncello bread pudding for dessert.  Yum!

After dinner, we continued up to the resort, where we checked into our “room,” which was the bottom half of a little cabin in the woods.  I tried taking a photo, but my cell phone was out of battery, so visiting their website’s photo gallery will have to do if you want an idea of how beautiful it is.  There were flowers blooming all over the place — purple spikes of lupine, cobalt batchelor’s buttons, and at least 6 different colors of columbine.  Our cabin had a fireplace, a tiny kitchenette, a big flat-screen TV and a nice deck to sit on.  We relaxed, read on the deck, listened to the birds in the trees, and got thoroughly scolded by a young red squirrel as he ran up and down the trees around us.  The room had lots of nice rustic touches, like Native American tourist arts pieces and photographs, and board-and-batten panelling on the walls.  The bed was half pillows, and was very comfortable.  We had a wonderful night.

The next morning we got up and went down to the Foundry restaurant for their Sunday brunch.  There was a wide variety of excellent gourmet food — asparagus, lamb, made-on-demand omelettes, potatoes, pastries, fruit salad, bagels with lox and shmear, and a whole table of desserts, including banana split cheesecake made with fresh strawberries and banana chips.  The tab was a little steeper than your average breakfast buffet, but it was definitely worth it, and we got to sit outside on the patio, which was lovely.

We headed home in early afternoon, waved goodbye as we passed our dogsitter on his way out, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at home.  T and I collaborated on a yummy dinner of marinated pork loin, pasta, and shredded cabbage.  Then for dessert, we unwrapped and thawed our wedding cake topper.  I was afraid that it was going to be dry and terrible tasting, so I decided to make some blackberry ice cream (more on that later), in the hopes that at least part of our dessert would be tasty.  I got impatient waiting for the cake to thaw, so I cut two wide slices, found the center was still icy, and then popped them into the microwave.  I was also being impatient about letting the ice cream set up, so we had soft-serve with our cake.  As it turned out, the ice cream was tasty, but the cake was still moist and absolutely delicious!  It was lemon cake with strawberry filling and royal icing, and while the icing was falling off the cake, it was amazing!  Cakes by Dawna definitely did an amazing job on this cake. (The two layers of cling wrap and about 10 layers of tinfoil probably didn’t hurt, either.  *smile*)

(we didn't feed each other this time around)

How I Ruined Our First Married Christmas

I jinxed us with the Christmas letter I wrote.  I should have known better.

I was being all positive, counting our blessings, claiming we were both happy and healthy, but I went that one step too far by stating flat out that the “only bad news of the year” was Cara’s recent injuries.  I should have waited until January 1st before I wrote something like that.  I was tempting fate, Murphy’s Law, and the Evil Eye with that one.

Christmas morning, I woke to a husband who had been dealing with abdominal pain and vomiting all night.  He hadn’t slept a wink since 2:45 am, when his gut suddenly started hurting.  But he insisted the pain would go away soon, and I should go ahead with my family’s traditional Christmas conference call.  He thought soaking in a hot tub might help, so I got a bath drawn with him resting in it, and then headed downstairs to take turns opening packages over the phone with my parents (in Massachussets) and my sister (in North Carolina).  A crazy tradition of ours that started in the last few years, but adorable too.

By the end of our call, T was lying on the couch next to me with his eyes closed, but definitely not sleeping.  He agreed that it was time to head for the hospital, but he needed time for the nausea caused by coming downstairs to settle down before he could move.  While we waited for that, he drifted off and slept for about 15 minutes, but the pain woke him up again.  So we headed for the nearest ER.

Fortunately, not many people want to go to the ER on Christmas, so there was no wait.  They got him into a bed, and doctors and nurses were taking his personal and family medical history, blood pressure, temperature, and blood for lab tests within a few minutes.  He had pain that started at the sternum and radiated down his right side, just under the edge of his rib cage.  By the time we got to the ER, it was starting to radiate down his left side as well.  The doctor thought it was either gallstones, since he was showing the classic symptoms, or possibly an ulcer.  T was betting on an ulcer.

To make the diagnosis, they used a few techniques.  First, the ER doc used a small bedside ultrasound to look for gallstones.  He also gave T what he called a “GI cocktail,” basically Maalox and a numbing agent, which if it provided temporary relief might point to an ulcer.  But the mini-ultrasound seemed to show gallstones, so they shipped T off for a full-scale ultrasound.

I went with him, and got to see parts of my husband I’d never seen before.  Like his kidneys, spleen, lungs and gallbladder, both lengthwise and in cross-section.  (The tech was captioning her images as she went, otherwise I’d have thought we were having a boy.)  When the tech was finished and stepped out for a minute, T swore it was an ulcer, since his stomach was feeling much better with the GI cocktail.  But as she wheeled him back to the ER, she let us know she’d definitely seen gallstones.

While we waited on the doc, T was given some anti-nausea medication and a touch of morphine.  He was buzzing a little, but still quite coherent when the doc came back and said he needed his gallbladder removed.  He said he’d called the surgeon in on Christmas, against his will, but it was necessary.  When the surgeon finally came in a little while later to talk to us, he said people can have their gallbladder removed in the morning and be home the same afternoon.  T asked if we could put off the surgery until the next morning, since he didn’t want to ruin a whole surgical team’s Christmas day.  The surgeon thought that was very generous of him, and didn’t think there was any risk at all from putting the surgery off, so they scheduled him for first thing the next morning, at 8 am.

Later, T asked if I was okay with the delay.  I said I’d rather have it out and know he was ok and on the mend sooner, but if the surgeon didn’t mind, then I could wait too.  T then divulged his real motivation, and proved once again that he’s smarter than me: he really didn’t want the team rushing through the surgery to get back to their families, and wanted to wait so that all of their attention could be on him the next day.  With this rationale, I was more okay with the wait.

So they admitted him that evening, gave him a liquid dinner, which was better than nothing, and kept him comfortable on morphine during the night.  I went home, fed the dogs and myself, called my folks with the news, watched Avatar to keep my mind off things (probably not the very best choice, given the ending), and then took a Benadryl so that I could actually get some sleep that night.  It kinda worked.

T told me not to worry about getting to the hospital before his surgery, just to be there when he woke up.  He sent me a text around 7:45, just before they took him into surgery.  I got to the hospital around 10 am, and he wasn’t out of recovery yet, so I waited in his room.  When they finally wheeled him in, he was holding something kinda bloody in a little plastic specimen jar.  I was afraid it was his gallbladder, but no, instead it was “the largest gallstone the doctor had ever seen.”  (This piece of information was repeated several times during the course of the day, with pride, but since he was looped up on drugs I forgave him the repetition.  I also promised to tell all my girlfriends he had the largest one the doctor had ever seen.)  He was still pretty woozy from the anaesthesia, but he was definitely feeling much better than he had been before the surgery.

The rest of the day was just a waiting game.  T slept, ate some solid food, and did a lap up and down the hallway to prove he was recovering well.  I sat in the chair by his bed and watched him, watched TV (Airplane! and Cliffhanger), played Piccross on my brand-new Nintendo DSi (thanks Mom and Dad!), and read my latest copy of Mental Floss (a great magazine that everyone should go check out).  T kept trying to get me to go home, but I wasn’t budging.  Finally, around 5 pm, he convinced me to go back to the house, get some dinner (the hospital cafeteria was worse than most, I’d discovered at lunch), feed the dogs, and he’d give me a call as soon as he knew he was good to go.  I got home and only got halfway through dinner before he called and said I could come pick him up.  We got him into the car, stopped at a pharmacy for some prescription pain meds on the way home, and he was at the house by 8 pm.  Only 12 hours after having a whole organ removed.  He was even feeling well enough to open his Christmas presents that night!

He mostly slept on the couch that night, and I got to re-dress his incisions the next morning.  Since the surgery is done laproscopically these days, he has four small incisions: one vertically just below his belly-button, one in the center of his chest, and two high on his right side.  None of them had stitches in them, and in fact, all they had used to close the wounds were little X-es of skinny surgical tape!  I was able to dress each of them with just a square Band-Aid apiece.  Talk about the marvels of modern medicine.  He needs to stay home for a week, and then he can only be on light duty (no heavy lifting or scaffold climbing) for a second week, and then he should be healed up and good to go.  The surgeon even confirmed that he should be completely unconcerned about scuba diving in March on our honeymoon.

Lakeview Hospital, Bountiful, UT

All the staff at the hospital were great, and if you ever find yourself in need of care in Bountiful, Utah, don’t hesitate to go to Lakeview Hospital.  (Just don’t eat the food if you can avoid it.)

And even though I jinxed us, I can definitely say this is a Christmas we’ll never forget.  And of all the things I got for Christmas this year, a healthy husband was by far the best one of all.  *grin*

Winter fun

It’s a week later, and I am finally getting the time to blog about what my family and I did while they were here for Thanksgiving.

For the most part, we sat around in the warm house, watched TV and movies, cooked and ate lots of good food, and played with laptops and video games.  But despite the bad weather for most of the weekend, we did venture out a few times.  My sister was the inspiration for the first adventure.

Althought we grew up in upstate New York and are no strangers to snow, my sister J has been living in warmer climes for almost 10 years now.  So she really wanted to go sledding.  We went and picked up a few cheap plastic saucer and toboggan sleds, and then tried to figure out where to go.  T called a few coworkers with kids, but didn’t get much info, since most of them live well to the south of us.  So my fearless mom walked up to total strangers in the parking lot and got directions to a sledding hill that wasn’t too far away.

When we got close, we saw a family carrying sleds and followed them to the hill.  There were a couple of slopes behind an LDS temple for us to choose from.  We had the dogs with us, since they love the snow, so we decided to take a slope that no one else was on.  The last thing we needed was to freak out some parents if a giant, playful German shepherd decided to chase their kids down the hill.

Since my sister was the instigator here, she definitely took the most runs.  There were a couple of jumps built into the hillside, and she even went over them a few times.  But my mom and dad and I hit the slope too.  We had a great time, and the dogs thought it was a lot of fun to chase us around, and try to “fetch” snowballs.  Finally, even though T’s back was acting up, he decided to take a couple of runs with the dogs.  He could only convince Cara to get on the toboggan with him once, but it was hilarious!

The only photos we got were on cell phones, so the quality isn’t great, but we definitely had fun.

J heading for a jump

landing jumps hurts!

me and the dogs

"That was fun Mom!"

Dad going backwards

T and Cara on the sled, with Diezel chasing

A few days later, I was trying to get us motivated to get out of the house again.  For some reason, my family and I decided to go visit Antelope Island.  It’s a small island in the Great Salt Lake, that was historically used by the LDS church to herd sheep, horses, and other animals to raise money to help LDS settlers come out west to Utah.  I’d been out there last spring with my mom, and several family members had gone when they were here for the wedding.  Nowadays, there are bison and pronghorn antelopes on the island.
There is an 8-mile causeway across the lake to get to the island.  Once we got to the island, the roads were snowy and not very well cleared.  We drove around a little bit, and got to see several small groups of bison grazing in the snow.  There were several different species of raptors and other birds flying around, too.  We drove around a bit, eventually stopping at a lookout spot.  There were a few bison and a bevy of ground birds, either partridges or chukkars, right nearby that I managed to snap a picture of.

snowy wonderland

Those are the bison, just past the edge of the hillside

After just a few minutes out in the snow and wind, we decided it was time to head home.  On the way back across the causeway, we saw an open area in the lake where several flocks of wild ducks and seagulls were swimming around.  There was a canid of some sort standing on the far bank, hoping to get close enough to snag a duck or two, although they were definitely keeping their distance.  With J the zookeeper in the car with us, we had a long conversation about whether it was a coyote, a gray fox, or a Mexican wolf.  His tail looked too thick for a coyote to most of us, but I thought he looked too big to be a fox, and he had the wrong proportions for a wolf.  We drove a little further along the causeway, and spotted another of the canids, really close to the edge of the lake.  After doing a little research on canid species in Utah and looking at some photos, I am pretty sure what we were seeing was a coyote in his thick, winter coat.
All in all, I think we had a really good time while my family was here.  Good thing my dad knew how to drive all over an isolated island in a minivan in the snow.  *smile*

The Days After

If you looked at my Facebook wall, you wouldn’t guess that this election was “a referendum on Obama’s policies.”  Nearly all of my friends bemoan the fact that so many people voted against those policies before they really had a chance to get off the ground.  Does this mean I have a skewed view of what “most Americans” think these days?  Perhaps.

But one of my friends took a different view of the situation.  She blogs under the name Mom In A Million, and her post on the true effects of this election really got me thinking.  (She usually gets me thinking, which is why you should read her blog every day, not just this post.  But I digress.)

I’ve never been much of a political activist.  For years I didn’t follow any news outlet other than word of mouth — no email, no TV news, no daily paper.  As it became easier to get access to news on the web, I started with regular visits to  Then I met T, who insisted on watching both the national and local news each night, which got me a little more informed.  Then I started a job with a 90 minute commute during prime NPR news programming.  Suddenly, I have become much more informed, and also much more engaged, regarding politics in this country.

What MIAM’s post reminded me of was my recent experience with my current Senate representative.  I am a fairly liberal Democrat. I now live in Utah.  My Senator is Orrin Hatch. I pretty much figured I was screwed in this state, in terms of having my voice heard over the rest of his constituents in this state. But I have to say, when I have contacted his office, he has always responded.

When I wrote to say I’d like universal healthcare, he responded with a letter that essentially said, I’ll do what I think is best for my state, and that was OK. I am sure he got a lot more letters from his constituents telling him the opposite, and his job *is* to represent the majority.  They’re the ones that vote him into office.

But I also contacted him when Kyrgyzstan was in turmoil, urging him to let the State department and Hillary Clinton know that we should be helping them out. (It’s a little country that almost no one knows about, but I lived there for over 2 years, I know people who live in the south and in the areas where ethnic fighting was the worst, and I actually care.) I quickly got a letter back from Senator Hatch, saying he’d talked to Secretary Clinton about my concerns, and would keep me updated on developments. I was impressed that he claimed to have talked to the Secretary of State for me, but wasn’t going to hold my breath on a follow up.

And then one came. Seriously.

A few months later, I got a cover letter from him and an enclosed letter from the State Department with *my name* on it letting me know what the US decided to do to help Kyrgyzstan out.  I was very impressed.

So even a representative with fundamentally different beliefs than mine listened and did something on my behalf.

I guess the point of this is to say, if we stay engaged (something I have never done before), we can still have influence over the people who represent us in the government.  Even if we didn’t vote for them, even if we are disappointed that they won, when the fights begin again over legislation, we can pipe up.  We’re not limited to action just in election years. 

And these days, it’s so easy!  Just hop online, Google your representatives, and send them an email via their web pages.

I admit, I’ll never be one of those people who is dedicated enough to go door to door, or try to get petitions signed, or volunteer for a local campaign.  But I can send a quick email on the issues I find the most important.  And you can too.


I have some more photos from the Paria River canyon that I took to be artsy, and just wanted to share.  I’m half thinking of taking some of the abstract ones and printing and framing them as a triptych.  Enjoy!