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So . . . I'm really enjoying my classes this semester. It feels good to be back teaching the same group of students over a period of a few months--I missed that in Norway when I'd have students for just a day. There's just so much more I can do with students when I get to know them and what they need.

I have two classes this semester. I'm teaching a Popular Fiction class for the first time. This is only the second G.E. class I've taught in a regular semester--and because I've never taught the class before, I'm still figuring out what I want my students to leave the class with. I know I want them to enjoy reading, to be willing to make forays into unfamiliar genres, to make competent and informed analyses of literature. I think we're doing that so far, but it also seems like I should be giving them a deeper understanding of genre and the history of literary production. I'm still working on these. So far, we've read a detective novel, In the Woods by Tana French, and we're in the midst of reading a Western, Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage.

The students were really engaged with the French novel which has an unreliable narrator who is also a detective. We had great discussions about whether we could trust anything this narrator told us. And the ending of the novel lent itself to discussing the expectations of the detective novel genre and the ways that French subverted those expectations. It totally worked--and I'd love to teach this novel again.

The students aren't quite as excited about Zane Grey--but they are willing to explore and analyze the novel. They've asked good questions and excelled at character analysis. I think this novel will work all right--and it's a great example of an early novel which set the path for future Westerns. I'm loving these students and their willingness to participate and try out new genres.

The second class I'm teaching is one I've taught for years: English Teaching Methods and Materials. The majority of the students in this class are doing the first part of their student teaching, so they are motivated to learn how to teach English/Language Arts. The class this semester is enthusiastic, funny, a little whiny (students in this class always are, so that's okay), and intelligent. I love teaching this class. Today, I switched gears in the middle of class because a student said that she wasn't really getting the chance to try out the ideas she was learning in this class. Because we were discussing an article by Marty Nystrand on dialogic discussion, I was planning to do a Stop and React activity with a chapter from Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street--and I realized that I could have some of my students lead the discussion. I explained the activity to them, then asked for volunteers. With the first two students I had to intervene frequently to help them frame appropriate questions (they wanted to be much more directive than they should in this activity), but students quickly got the hang of how to use more open ended questions. I had to bite my tongue a lot because there were things I would have asked or ways I would have responded--still, I liked that this activity gave my students an opportunity to practice how to create a more dialogic classroom. And afterwards, a student waited quite awhile (lots of students asking questions) to tell me how much he had learned from the class and expressed the hope that we'd do this type of thing again.

Today, it felt so good to be a teacher. I love my job.

On Thursday, I attended one of the events commemorating the Fresno Feminist Art Movement. In 1970, Judy Chicago, whose collaborative work "The Dinner Party" is one of the most important feminist art pieces, taught for a year at what was then Fresno State College. 15 students studied art in a collaborative setting, resisting the "genius who works alone" model that is such a prevalent practice in art. Many of these students followed Chicago to Cal Arts to continue their studies . . . and many have made their career in art.

The first presentation I attended was by Vanalyne Green. Green's current project focuses on "provisional moments of utopia"--she has interviewed the chaplains for both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate . . . and she has interviewed people about which days' prayers they would like to read. She also went to a cemetery in Chicago where different Wobblies and activists are buried under strident and still confrontational gravestones. It was a fascinating presentation.

Nancy Youdelman began as a costume designer and has continued to create art using dresses. Especially interesting was her work incorporating letters written by 30 different women to one man, Allen Watkins. Youdelman talked about how they share a narrative arc: love, insecurity about why the man hasn't responded, and finally anger. I love that she uses materials bought on e-Bay in her work. Youdelman also showed pictures and told stories about "A Studio of Their Own," the Fresno State studio where she worked with Judy Chicago.

Both these women made me think about artistic production--using non-traditional forms and materials to produce thoughtful responses to the world. I love what YouTube has done to expose the work that even amateurs do to pay homage to or even parody the contemporary world. I love the use of found objects in all kinds of artistic production. I love texts that experiment with how to tell a story. I love that all kinds of creativity have expression right now.

Make it new!

Last week in my Popular Fiction class, I decided it was time for my students to shape more of our class discussion. Before that point, I'd come to class with questions or prompts for the class to discuss. But this is a bright class, and I felt they would be able to come up with good questions themselves.

First, I asked the students to write down as many questions as they could about the assigned reading for that day. Students flipped through the text jotting down questions. Next, I asked the students to get into groups of 3 or 4 to share their questions. Their assignment was to come up with the 6 to 8 best questions for the group and write them down. As they did so, they began to do a lot of analysis and interpretation of the text. Although they were only assigned to talk about questions, they ended up talking a lot about the possible answers to the text.

At the end of this section of the class, I asked the groups to choose the question they most wanted to discuss. This was difficult for them, because they are really interested in this book (Tana French's In the Woods). Almost all of the groups wanted to talk about the emotional stability of the narrator, who is one of the lead detectives in the case. This was one aspect of the text that I really wanted them to look at, too--so they did a great job of identifying a key problem in the text.

My students really enjoyed this class period . . . and so did I. They taught each other and learned (or at least began learning) about how to analyze literature through asking questions.

When John B. came to visit me in Oslo, we spent some time at the National Museum of Contemporary Art. It's an interesting juxtaposition: the cutting edge art work in a staid old bank building. We really enjoyed many of the pieces, and two in particular have stayed with me. One was a series of photographs taken by Sophie Calle, an artist who worked as a maid in a hotel. She took pictures of and created captions describing the detritus that travelers leave behind in the "safety" of their hotel rooms. The photos and captions provide a cautionary tale for travelers, but they also invite the voyeurism that has become such a prevalent part of contemporary society.

Another interesting piece was created by Jenny Holzer, an artist known for her combination of text and art. Holzer's piece was a lengthy list of adages or truisms that invite the viewer to read, ponder, and wonder. I found myself laughing at some of the statements that I might have taken seriously in a different setting. There was something so incongruous about reading this representation of received "wisdom" viewed in an art gallery where we are more accustomed to viewing shapes and forms.

Recently, I've been talking with an art professor about co-teaching a class on art and text. He referred me to the Korean group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries who create internet-based presentations that pair music with words. I've watched a couple of their pieces--they have made me laugh, wonder, and think. I don't love them, but I admire this group's innovative high tech/low tech approach to art.

I'm looking for more artists like these, if you know of any.

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The necessity of universal health care has become a very personal issue for me. Two years ago, my then 16 year old niece had kidney failure--her family didn't have health insurance. A year ago, she experienced a failed kidney transplant and was in the hospital most of the summer (accruing enormous hospital bills which, again, would not be paid by insurance since she had a pre-existing condition). She pulled through, managed to graduate from high school, and is currently waiting a three-way exchange of kidneys that will involve her mother donating a kidney to someone else while my niece will get a kidney from a complete stranger. Because my brother and his wife are educated, understand systems, and dogged in their determination to get help in paying the medical bills, I think their family is going to be okay. However, they have had to expend a lot of energy worrying in addition to doing a lot of paperwork to make sure the bills are paid.

Moreover, my favorite neighbor, a single mother who works part-time, has to worry about paying for expensive prescriptions to treat a thyroid condition. Her insurance company wants to use an alternative drug instead of the medication that has proven successful in her treatment.

I don't understand why anyone would think that either of these conditions is acceptable. All human beings should have access to treatment for illness; health care should not be available only for those who have enough money to afford it.

I recently read an article which cogently articulates what the U.S. can learn from other countries. It's worth your time to read:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/21/AR2009082101778.html?referrer=facebook

Every time I teach Teaching Methods, a class for students who have a B.A. and are starting their student teaching, I begin the semester by having my students read a chapter from Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This chapter compares two approaches to education, "banking concept" and "problem posing." Freire critiques the banking concept approach in which teachers feel they have all knowledge and that the student's role in the classroom is merely to memorize and regurgitate what the teacher knows. Each year, my students have a passionate discussion about the article and Freire's ideas reverberate throughout the semester.

This past week, I taught the Freire chapter for the first time in two and a half years and, again, my students responded passionately and articulately. This time, several of my students resisted Freire's ideas to some degree, one asking why Japan's educational system which, according to this student, takes a more banking concept approach but is successful and another student defending standardized testing. Both questions came from thoughtful, intelligent students (from what I can tell so far). And both questions reflected a willingness to question the teacher . . . which is what ought to happen in a problem posing classroom.

More than anything in this class, I want my students to become reflective thinkers and practioners. I want them to question me and decide for themselves what good teaching is. Sure, I hope that they embrace more student centered, constructivist pedagogies, but, ultimately, I don't want them to be my clones. I want them to be their very best teacher selves.

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Last year, I realized that I was seeing more of Norway than I had of even the state I lived in--and I vowed to explore California when I returned. So far, I've stayed true to that goal.

Just a few weeks after I returned, I traveled to San Francisco with my friend Lixian. Okay, that doesn't really count in some ways because I go to San Francisco several times a year. Still, Lixian and I went to neighborhoods I hadn't visited for quite awhile. We really loved exploring the Haight area; my favorite thing there was shopping at a thrift store, buying a pair of $7 jeans that I put on immediately because I was sooooo cold (when in the Fresno heat, I have a hard time believing I'll be cold anywhere else, so I packed inappropriately). We also spent a few hours in the Beat Museum near City Lights. I'd never been to that museum before, and I really loved seeing the pictures, artifacts, and explanations of the Beat era.

Kathee and Lixian at Ideale Restaurant
Kathee and Lixian at Ideale Restaurant

On another weekend, I went hiking in Sequoia National Park with my friends John and Alex. John promised an easy hike; instead, we hiked to the top of Moro Rock.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park
Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

The view was spectacular from the top--we could see the impressive Great Western Divide where John hiked the following week. I was glad I'd overcome my fear of heights to go to the top, and John kindly helped me hike down in the places where there was too much view and not enough space on the path.

The Great Western Divide, Sequoia National Park
The Great Western Divide, Sequoia National Park

Another weekend, my neighbor Lori and I traveled to California's central coast. We drove through Morro Bay and walked on the foggy beach at Cayucas.

Beach, Cayucas
Beach, Cayucas

After a yummy lunch in Cambria, we drove to the sun-drenched, windy Elephant Seal Beach, named after the enormous seals that hang out there.

Elephant Seal Beach
Elephant Seal Beach

I've loved California beaches since before I lived in Huntington Beach way back when, so I'm always happy to be back by the ocean. And this drive was such an easy one. Lori and I plan to return soon.

Today, my friend Lin and her son Jason were visiting. My house isn't well equipped for kids, so we decided to go to Chaffee Zoo today. I'm embarrassed to admit that in the 10 years I've been in Fresno, I've never visited the zoo. We really enjoyed the day there--although I always feel sorry for the animals trapped in zoos, Chaffee tries to create inviting natural environments for its animals.

Elephant, Chaffee Zoo

But my favorite part of the zoo was going to the Winged Wonders Bird Show. This show was choreographed carefully instead of relying on clipped wings to control the birds (rather, the zoo attendants gave treats to the birds when they flew to the correct spots). Birds swooped just over our heads as they moved from an enclosure and a tall tree to spots scattered throughout the amphitheater. The narrators of the event, Rhonda and Chris, were funny and ad-libbed when necessary--e.g., when the macaw wanted to do his own thing instead of flying to Chris and showing off his vocal prowess. I loved seeing the horned owl, watching the emu strut its stuff, and hearing the parrots talk and sing. It was such an enjoyable show.

Emu, Chaffee Zoo

Horned Owl

I've enjoyed seeing new parts of California--and there's more of the state I want to see. I still haven't ever been north of San Francisco, so I have the whole upper half of the state to explore. And I hope to have different experiences in each place I visit. More hiking, yes, but I'd also love to eat at some of California's great restaurants, do some kind of a retreat in a more rural area, or ???. I need more ideas.

This year, I plan to try many new things. I want to make sure that my year isn't anti-climatic after the excitement of Norway.

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It's true . . . my blog has been down for over a month because the person who owns the server moved and then had to transfer stuff from a broken computer. I'm so grateful that he was able to save my stuff--and so glad to be back online.

A lot has happened since I last posted. Although I've been back in California for almost 2 months, I've traveled almost every weekend: a trip to San Francisco to hang out with my friend Lixian, a visit to Utah to see the family, 10 days in Arizona. I have vowed to stay put for the next three months--not counting day trips (like hiking in Kings Canyon and traveling to the central coast).

I've also already finished this year's Summer Institute--we had a really nice group of teachers. I loved watching their growth over the course of the month. One of the cool things was that many of them wanted to get involved with some of the other things we sponsor. I'm glad they see the value of the Writing Project in terms of support and professional development.

So . . . that's my summer so far. I finally had time to start working on syllabi today . . . I have a lot left to do in the next week or so. My Fulbright year is coming to an end and "real life" is returning.

One of the things I've noticed over the years is that American Mexican food varies from one state to the next. I suppose that's due to the regions from which each state's immigrants come. In any event, I tend to love the Mexican food from Arizona and New Mexico. Although I love fish tacos, a lot of the Mexican restaurants here in California don't much excite me.

A week or so ago I was in Arizona--joy! I was able to have two delicious Mexican meals.

Meal #1:

My ex loved a restaurant in Tempe called Someburros, and I grew to love it, too. I especially loved their shredded beef tacos: the tortilla was fried with the beef tucked inside. Lettuce and cheese finished the taco--and each customer could use as much sauce/salsa as desired. Since leaving Phoenix 11 years ago, I've searched for a similar taco. And I've failed at finding it. Sadness.

On my way to Tubac, I decided to swing by Someburros to see if their tacos were as good as I remembered. I walked into the familiar restaurant and ordered two tacos at the counter, then nestled into a booth. As I munched on the chips and salsa (good, but not quite like I remembered), I looked around the restaurant at all the chubby (thanks, Robert), white, middle aged patrons. I feared that there was no way that the taco would be as good as my memory.

Quickly, my tacos arrived. I squeezed a little bit of sauce into the taco and took my first oily bite. Nirvana. I'm serious. I love this taco! It's crunchy and flavorful and the beef tastes so so good. Now I wish more than ever that I could find a similar taco in Fresno.

Meal #2:


Ron, Joanne, Natasha, Tanya, Amy, Chris, Karen?, Chad

Most of the time that I was in Tubac, we dined at the golf resort. But one night, a large group of us went to Wisdom's in Tumacacori, Arizona, just south of Tubac. We finally found the "life-sized chicken" (note to self: "life-sized" means people sized, not chicken sized) and took our seats. The guitarist from Uzbekistan rocked, playing everything from Earth, Wind and Fire (our table's favorite) to Eric Clapton.

I ordered a chile relleno and a cheese enchilada with green sauce. The chile relleno was crunchy, unlike any I had ever had before. I liked it! The cheese enchilada was good, too. Wisdom's was definitely a success in my book.

Alas, Cafe Poca Cosa in Tucson was closed for the month. I need a return trip so that my Arizona Mexican food experience will be complete.

Someburros
101 E. Baseline
Tempe, Arizona 85282
480-839-TACO

Wisdom's
1931 E. Frontage Road
Tumacacori, Arizona 85640
520-398-2397


Entrance of The Parlour

Yesterday at dinner, Tom said that the test of a good foodie city is that one can find good mid-priced food, not just good expensive meals. My eating experiences yesterday illustrate the progress Phoenix has made since I moved away 11 years ago. There are so many places where one can find delicious, reasonably priced meals.

Yesterday, I met Jamie for lunch at Switch, another of the new "sleek, urban" restaurants in downtown Phoenix. Jamie loves this restaurant because of their "recession buster" meals; the restaurant highlights one dish that costs just $5. Jamie ordered this month's recession buster: shrimp crepes with a salad, which she loved both for the price and for the quality of the food.

I was really intrigued by the gallettes, so I ordered one with roasted vegetables: zucchini, artichokes, onion, mushrooms, and tomato topped with mozzarella, basil, and a chipotle aioli. Wow. I loved this dish! The vegetables were perfection--and so well complemented by the slightly spicy aioli. I also enjoyed the flaky pastry crust that the vegetables were nestled in. I think this was the best dish I ate in Phoenix.

Jamie and I also enjoyed hanging out in this elegant restaurant--we hit it just as the lunch crowd was dying down and sat and chatted for almost 2 hours. What a nice place to spend a hot Phoenix afternoon.

Last night, Tom, Andre, and I decided to try a restaurant that has been open just 2 months. Tom has been driving by the Parlour for months and has been intrigued by the renovation of this old beauty parlor on Camelback. We were amazed that the place was packed on a Monday night. Obviously, word is out that there's a new, really good restaurant in town.

We started our meal with a couple of appetizers: the cauliflower gratinata and the frito misto. The cauliflower was divine: roasted cauliflower with breadcrumbs and white cheddar. There was enough cheese to be a little gooey, but not so much that it overpowered the taste of cauliflower. I love cauliflower anyway, but this may be one of the best cauliflower dishes ever. The calimari was also really good: thin slices cooked to perfection and served with a romesco sauce. We were pretty sure that the rest of the meal would be great after these two stellar appetizers.

Tom and Andre shared a pepperoni pizza: nice thin crust with good quality pepperoni on top. Although they agreed it wasn't as good as Pizza da Mimmo in Oslo, this was still good pizza.

I ordered a roasted beet salad that was served with baby spinach, fennel, onions, avocado, and a walnut encrusted goat cheese. The beets, were small, heirloom beets--and the whole combination was just what I wanted last night.

We also decided to try the desserts: plum crostada, tiramisu, and chocolate cake with candied Italian cherries. All three were quite tasty, but I was especially taken with the chocolate/cherry pairing. Yummy.

I think I'll want to return to both of these restaurants next time I'm in Phoenix.

Switch
2603 N. Central
Phoenix, AZ 85004
602-264-2295

The Parlour
1916 E Camelback Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85016
(602) 248-2480