Friday, October 31, 2003

Pumpkin Guts
Happy Halloween (and if you're Andrew, Happy Birthday)!

Interestingly, this Halloween has some similarities with last year's, in that I was once again teaching a bunch of Asian students about why people started wearing costumes. I didn't have to go into the history of jack-o-lanterns, though, because Amy did that with them in their Reading/Writing class in the morning. The classroom was very festive when I came in today. I was told that one of the pumpkins was carved to look like Jack, the bright guy who always sleeps, because it had three wrinkles carved into its forehead. He then modeled the look for me. I was amused.

Actually, I taught them about costumes yesterday. I even dressed up. Don't you wish you were in my ESL class? I was a vision in purple velvet. To be more precise, and possibly less scary, I was dressed in a vintage outfit I bought a few summers ago at the antique mall when we were helping my Grandma Ritchie move her booth from one side of the mall to the other. One of the other booths had this purple outfit hanging there for something like $6, and my mom insisted I had to try it on, purple being my color. It's a skirt and fitted jacket with turned-back cuffs, and it fit well, so I bought it. The frightening thing is that it was listed as the size it was probably 30-40 years ago when someone made it, and as I recall, the tag said something like 10 or 12. I currently wear a size 4. This says something unfortunate to me about the trends in commercial sizing of women's clothing in the US. But that is beside the point. Back to my costume. By combining the purple velvet outfit with a pencil through my bun and an 18-inch ruler, I became... the scary schoolteacher! Or so said one of my students. That is, by the way, the last time I teach that class in high heels.

Today, though, I taught them about the Day of the Dead in Mexico and among Mexican-American households. We're starting a unit about Hispanics in the US, to answer their question of why so many people in the US want to learn Spanish. To be thematic, I wore my Costa Rican embroidered vest, but after yesterday's outfit, I'm not sure they noticed. I couldn't really compete with Amy's devil horns and tail, and certainly not with Alison's rainbow wig, rainbow shoes with electric pink knee socks, and witch's hat. Interestingly, the Japanese students describe O-Bon as being very similar to el día de los muertos. I think the students were more interested in the activity where I had them watch the "Night on Bald Mountain" part of Fantasia and then describe the story to work on past tense. I think I should use more videos. Less work for me.

Disappointingly, our apartment complex is lacking in trick-or-treaters, so all the costumes I saw on people were on the waiters at the restaurant we went to tonight. The hostess was a pirate, our waitress was a bag of leaves, and two of the bartenders we could see from our booth were Oompa-Loompas, a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That was kind of weird, because they were both female, and some guys at the bar started hitting on them, which just seemed... wrong.

Of course, if we get no trick-or-treaters, I get to eat all the candy. Mmmmmm...

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Food of the Gods...
Now with antioxidants!

While we were in Chicago, we kept seeing billboards and hearing radio ads for POM pomegranate juice, which is apparently the latest, greatest thing in the way of antioxidant-rich health crazes. If you do not live with my father or someone else heavily into vitamins and health supplements, you may have never heard of antioxidants. If not, and you are of an insatiably curious nature, click the link. If not, and you do not care, it's a supposedly wonderful healthy thing found in vitamins C & E, and in fruits and vegetables. Mm, mm, good.

Yesterday, we went to the grocery store. As we passed the organic/vegan/vegetarian section of the store, Mark paused and said, "I hate to admit it, but their advertising campaign has been effective. I'm curious about this stuff now." So we got some. Mark got straight pomegranate, and I got pomegranate-cherry.

Mark's conclusion: "It sure does taste... healthy."

My conclusion: I thought it was pretty good. It doesn't get all the seeds stuck in your teeth the way real pomegranates do, also.

Both of us agree it comes in a very spiffy bottle. I'm hoping we can find some plants that grow in water, so we could see the roots growing inside the bottle, and perhaps dye the water neat colors. Of course, neither of us is very good keeping plants alive, but we can always try. Our little tree thing, named Ferguson, has been alive for nearly 3 months now. He leans pitifully to one side and needs a bigger pot, but he's alive and still growing taller. Or sideways. Growing, at any rate. So we'll see. Maybe bamboo would work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Night School
I just enrolled for all my classes for next semester. I am not so thrilled with my schedule. On Tuesdays, I have class from 3-6 pm again, and then on Mondays and Wednesdays, I have class from 12:40-2 and 6:30-8:30 pm. Given that class schedule for myself, it means I'll probably end up teaching in the mornings. I may end up with 12 hours days. Ugh.

This latest dissatisfaction brings home again how irritated I am with this program in the first place. I have decided that when I was trying to find the right grad program for me, I answered my own question wrong.

I: What do you want to learn about?
Me: I want to learn about how people learn languages!

What I meant was, "I want to learn about how people's brains take in and process the acquisition of second languages."

Had I answered the question in the more detailed manner, I would have ended up in a different program most likely. Something like psycholinguistics or straight-up applied linguistics, with none of the pedogogical influence dealt with in TESOL. Yes, understanding the techniques people have been using to teach students in the classroom is important, and very important in some kinds of SLA research. It is important to explore the efficacy of various techniques, to try to understand what students actually take away from various teaching methods, etc, etc. Lots of research is being done in this now, and that's great for the growth of the field.

Unfortunately for me, I don't find teaching techniques interesting. I don't care about how people are being taught in the classroom. I am currently taking the Methods of TESOL class, and we spend all sorts of time learning about how foreign languages have been taught through the past 100 years, how they are being taught now, and the various techniques teachers use for past and current vogues of teaching. In the end, though, the basic consensus is that teaching methods and style all come down to the teacher. If a teacher really likes using recasts, or explicit explanations, or pair work, or any of the other buzzwords, then that is what the teacher will do in the classroom. New techniques may get incorporated as fashions come and go, but it all comes down to the teacher's choice. I'm a teacher in the classroom currently myself. I know it's true. And I do not care.

I really find pedagogy boring. I've known this for a while. I knew it in Japan; I knew it before that whenever anyone asked me if I was going to use my Spanish major to teach Spanish in high school. I don't want to be a language teacher in the schools. I want to study how people acquire languages. I want to do research. Everyone in the TESOL program assumes, (rightly, I admit), that I want to be a language teacher, and I find the classes very frustrating because for me, they are concentrating on the wrong thing. Argh!

What's more, the program is easy. Grinnell seems to have left me somewhat over-prepared for graduate school. The readings are easy, the writing isn't terribly demanding, and I am not engaged with the material in most of the class discussions, at least not to the same intensity or depth that I was in classes at Grinnell. I spoke to an MSU undergrad in the SLA class, and she said that even at MSU, this class is not so challenging. Perhaps it's because of the incredible number of international students in the program, leading to a different standard for writing assignments, etc. It kind of makes me wonder what my papers for my professors in Chile were really like, and how much slack they were cutting me.

The news isn't all bad, of course. Supposedly, after next semester, I will get to take more linguistics classes, including the 9 credits that will overlap with the applied linguistics MA I hope to double with. I just have to get through this year first, with all of what I consider to be the annoying requirements. Oh, for the days of a college without core requirements. Grinnell spoiled me.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Deja vu, All Over Again
This weekend, Mark and I sojourned to the great city of Chicago, for a big Grinnellian (mostly) reunion of sorts. It was really just people that we know, rather than all the Grinnellians in the area, but it was still a big group, as the midwest refuses to release its hold on many a Grinnell graduate. For a run-down of the cast, there was me, Mark, Heather, Matt, Erik, Ann, Mike and his girlfriend, Amanda, Kevin (Mark's ex-roommate) and his wife, Jana (non-Grinnellian), Brandon and his Czech girlfriend, Lucie (non-Grinnellian), Will (honorary Grinnellian), and two Chicago natives, John and Kate (not a couple, which is somewhat unusual in this list, as you may have noted.) Another of our friends, Rob, who works at the Field Museum, was originally going to be there, too, but had to go out of town, so he manifested his spirit by getting us 15 free tickets to the Field. It's good to have connections.

We left Michigan after I got off work, and our drive began pleasantly, through bright fall weather, so I got to look at lots of colorful trees on the way. It was kind of odd. I could tell when we had left Michigan just by the colors of the trees along the road. Michigan really is a lot more colorful than Indiana and Illinois, at least the parts on the way to Chicago. (Of course, almost anything is more colorful than Gary.) My final conclusion about the color difference in Michigan is that the trees have a lot more pure, bright yellows, oranges, and crimsons, which are extra-striking because they do not fade before they fall off the trees. I really liked seeing all those bright, firey trees mixed in against the larger, darker, solid oaks, with their thick brown-black trunks and green-brown leaves, as if they were protecting the more fickle, smaller, bright ones. Then again, maybe I was just happy to be out of E. Lansing.

The drive became much less pleasant, as always, when we actually entered Illinois and hit the Skyway. What good, I ask you, is an expressway, if you reduce it to just one lane? None, I tell you, none. When we finally reached the hotel, we discovered that it was 1) huge, and 2) hosting a boxing match, which meant 3) it had no open parking places in the $9/day lot. This somewhat biased me against the hotel, until we got in, got situated in our room, and went down to the sports bar area to meet other people. Because, then, you see, the strangest thing happened.

I knew where I was. As we walked through the back hallways, threading our way through boxing fans and past boxers' dressing rooms, we got to more of the main hallways. And then I saw the etched patterns on the glass windows lining the hall side of the bar. I had been here before. This exact hotel. The only hotel I have ever previously stayed in in Chicago. This was the Ramada where the JET program put us for pre-departure orientation, just before we got on the planes to fly to Japan. It was eerie.

On Saturday, a bunch of us headed off to the Field Museum. This took a bit longer than anticipated, due to having to find everyone at the airport, then find the El station there, and then make our way actually into Chicago. Of course, all the time on the train gave people a chance to talk, large herd that we were. Large groups of Grinnellians don't really have problems finding things to talk about. After lunch, and phone calls with the people who weren't with us already to find out if they wanted to meet before we went to the Field (where would we be without cell phones?), we finally made our way to the actual museum.

The Field is really neat. We had 4 hours there, but I'm sure we didn't begin to really see even half of it. What I'm fairly sure we saw a lot of, in depth, was Sue, the largest and most complete T-rex skeleton ever found. Upstairs, they have Sue's actual skull, it being too heavy to attach to the rest of the real skeleton, and there are all sorts of explanations of how they got the jaws apart, as well as a time-elapsed video of the construction of the skeleton on the ground floor. Over to the side, there are windows to see into the Fossil Preparation Lab, where the real live paleontologist work with microscopes and itty-bitty tools, complete with a sign, "Please Do Not Tap On The Glass."

The museum closed at 5, though, and they were very eager to kick us out, as they were preparing for a party with 900 guests. A few more sessions of phone tag got us on the El again, on our way to a restaurant to unite our group in its entirety for dinner. We enjoyed a lot of Chicago-style pizza and basically took over the entire side of the restaurant. It was good to see everyone there, even if the size of the group didn't allow for conversation with everyone at once. Some of them I hadn't seen since I graduated, so I had fun.

After dinner, everyone but Mark, Kevin, and Jana went to Kate's apartment. Her cat, Maggie, is huge, very hairy, and very friendly. She also brought out lots of yummy treats left over from her housewarming party, like licorice, meringues, and dried fruit. Mmmmm, good. The only house rule was that we were not allowed to feed meringues to the cat, because she would eat them all. The cat also kept stealing Kate's chair whenever she got up. It was very amusing.

On the way back to the hotel, we ended up with a half-hour wait at one of the transfer points to change lines. We were amply entertained by a musician, though, who was playing a guitar and violin simultaneously with the heads tied together with a bandana, while whistling and wearing tap shoes. It was very impressive, mostly Spanish in sound, and it really sounded like far more than one person playing. Eventually the train came, so after 3 trains and a shuttle, we made it back to the hotel to finally go to sleep.

After all that, Sunday was was lowkey. Various people needed to leave earlier that others, for farther drives and whatnot. Erik, Ann, Will, Kevin, Jana, Mark, and I went to lunch before going our separate ways. The drive back to Michigan was much shorter than the drive to Chicago, and we were home in time for dinner.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Evil, Evil Bugs
Another one of the TAs, Alison, spent the last 5.5 years working for the Entomology department. She is also a Michigan native. I said something about how awful my allergies had been since moving to Michigan, and she immediately said, "Oh, it's the lady beetles." Apparently, many people are allergic to those evil Asian lady beetles that bite. The allergy seems to mostly affect people's eyes. This makes me feel somewhat better, because now I know my pollen allergies haven't gotten inexplicably worse, but that I have some other allergy that isn't totally weird. This does not, however, make my eyes feel any better. I realized the freakiest thing the other day: it's not just the eyelid that swells up, it's the white part of my eyeball. Not something you expect your eyeballs to do. The other thing that didn't really make me feel better was when Alison said that she's just grown up used to suffering allergies 9 months out of the year. Nerg. At least I can look at the gorgeous, flaming trees and not feel like I should be wishing them all horrible deaths again. It's those evil bugs that need to die.

Sugar Added
I found yogurt raisins in the grocery store the other day. I rediscovered yogurt raisins while I was in Japan, because I could find them in Muji, and I enjoyed them a lot. Thus, I was pleased to find them here again, reminding me of elementary school snack time. But they're not the same. Yogurt raisins in Japan are just raisins dipped in plain yogurt. Here, they are raisins dipped in super-sweet, fake-vanilla-flavored yogurt, and they just are not as good. If I wanted sugary raisins, I'd get the ones covered in chocolate. Much as I like candy, some things are just better without extra sugar added.

Possessing the Printer
I have found a fun way to freak out Mark. We have a wireless network set up in the apartment, which also networks all the computers to the printer. I frequently take my computer into the living room to work, leaving Mark in the office all alone. The printer sits right next to him. Every time I press "print" on my computer in the living room, it starts up the printer in the office, and every time, Mark jumps and says, "Aaahhhh! That is so weird!" heeheehee

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

There's something about wandering around in an antihistamine haze that takes me back to middle school. I've been feeling very nostalgic lately, and wishing I could relive my childhood. A lot of that is probably because I really liked getting to stay home on sick days or vacations, because I really didn't have to worry about anything on those days. Now, if I stay home sick, I have to catch up on homework and find someone to cover my classes for me, which is often more trouble that just going and teaching while feeling miserable.

In the past week, though, I've found myself watching Jeopardy in the evenings because it is so strongly reminiscent of spending time at my grandparents' house when they still lived in Raleigh, or visiting them in Florida. I finished one book that I had been reading, and when deciding on a new one, I found myself in the mood to read the fifth Harry Potter book that my mom saved for me while I was in Japan. I read it in far less time than the sci-fi book about half its length that I had read previously. When I finished Harry Potter, I immediately picked up the vintage Carolyn Keene Dana Girls mystery that I found this summer in Virginia.

One summer during my middle school years, my brother and I spent almost the whole time at our grandparents' house. I thought it was great. They would take me to the library every week, and I would check out about 10 books at a time. I spent the whole summer reading all of the original Nancy Drew mysteries, in backwards order, from #114, I believe. I was solving all the mysteries before Nancy after reading about 5 of the books in a row, but that was okay. I was still having fun, and with such an extensive series, I didn't have to worry about running out of books to read before the summer was over.

My other grandmother was an elementary school librarian, and both of my grandmothers are bibliophiles, (gee, I wonder where I got it from?), so they saved all their children's books long after their children grew up. As the grandchild who actually lived in the same city, I spent the most time at their houses, so I got to pilfer from the bookshelves. Now that I've moved into my own apartment with ample bookshelving, I can finally see all my books in one place, and I realize that I have nearly an entire shelf of vintage children's mysteries from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

I started with the modernized version of the Bobbsey Twins, but then discovered the original series, with its more lengthy and interesting volumes, in Grandma Ritchie's basement. I stole them, one by one, from her shelves and combined them with the ones my mother had kept at home. Then I discovered the wonderful tomboy Trixie Belden, who lived in idyllic 1950s-era sunny summer days, went swimming in ponds, found hidden diamonds in vine-covered clubhouses, and rode horses. Alas, the library's collection of Trixie Belden was not as complete as Nancy Drew, even though she was the more interesting character, as were her friends and relatives. I didn't bother to pilfer the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys from my grandmothers because they were so common and easy to find.

But then I found a wonder. A delight. A rare gem. And it literally had my name on it. The Dana Girls were the lesser known Carolyn Keene creation, from the same era as Nancy Drew, but again, in my opinion more interesting. They were two orphaned sisters who lived with their maiden aunt and unmarried uncle, who was a boat captain. Usually, though, they were at the all-girls boarding school, Starhurst, which seemed to me to be exactly that place where girls in black and white movies went to school, where the sisters had a two room suite, one room of which was a sitting room, and where all the girls still wore full skirts and ironed blouses. I guess I never outgrew my childhood romanticism of that era in American history.

I found 3 Dana Girls mysteries at Grandma Ritchie's house, which makes sense since she had two daughters to collect books, whereas my Grandma Watson's shelves only turned up one, from my aunt Janice. And then I hit a dead end. The library had never heard of the series. Bookstores certainly didn't carry them. I had well and truly gone through all the books at my grandparents'. I kept an eye out at yard sales, but it was rare to find books that old. I mostly gave up on finding any more.

But then this summer, while in Luray for the family reunion, I found another one in the rare bookstore. It has rekindled my acquisitional desires. Now that I live in the internet age, I ran a Google search and found that I can have them all, I can! At least, I can if I have the money. Some of them are expensive. I found one first edition for more than $160. Most of them, though are under $7. And there are only about 25 in the series. I think I've found my Christmas gift suggestions for the next several years.

Mmmmm, books.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Today I was teaching my class about moods and such related vocabulary. As an activity, I had them make dialogues in pairs that had to contain at least one mood word, following the examples in the book. I told them to be as creative as possible. One pair came up with this:

"Did you buy many things at the outlet mall?"
"Yes, I did. I bought winter boots, a knitted cap, and a bag."
"Oh, you found many things."
"Yes, I was very joyful."

I had described "joyful" as meaning "more than just happy or cheerful; very happy." What do Japanese speakers immediately think would be a joyful situation? Shopping, of course. There were two other groups who used joyful in that context as well.

I thought it was funny until I realized it was contagious. The desire to go "to shopping" is like a virus that pervades the very air you breathe in Japan. The most popular activity to do on a date is go wandering aimlessly in the major shopping areas with your significant other. The most convenient place to arrange to meet someone is in the shopping area downtown. All social life begins to center around consumerism, even if you are not Japanese, nor are you meeting with Japanese people. It becomes the norm. You get sucked in.

And it was true. When I lived in Japan, I regularly indulged in consumer therapy. Feeling irked about school? Time for a new pen from Muji! Tired of pondering what to wear when getting up on those frigid, "I can see my breath in the house" mornings? Get a new sweater from Uniqlo. Bored during lunch? Go across the street and peruse the new silly snack foods.

They were never big things, or truly expensive things, or even really lots of things, but I have no doubt that I shopped more in my time in Japan than I ever have before in any other 12-month period of my life. Since I got back to the US, I've been to, ummmm, the grocery store and Meijer (think Target, but more northern). The first and only time I have been in the mall was on a whim last Wednesday because Mark took me to lunch at a restaurant across the street from it. Shopping in the US holds no real glamor or excitement for me. It's a chore, something that could more efficiently be done online or via catalogue.

I'm not Japanese anymore.

That's kind of sad.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

That is just incredibly annoying. Every time I log in now, Blogger changes the formatting of the "edit" page. Even if I log in on the same day, within half an hour. And it has stopped recognizing special characters in my blog title and description, so I had to replace them with boring old plain English characters. There are times, I swear, when having an American keyboard is quite an inconvenience. Grrrrr....

Christmas 361 Days a Year
Yesterday, I took Mark on a field trip with the ELC students. Every year, the ELC organizes a trip to the Birch Run outlet mall, (170 stores of consumer goodness for cheap,) so that these poor, unprepared Asian students can buy winter clothing before it snows for the first time. But first, they take them to a very special place, a place you can only go in Michigan, a place of wonder and joy and glitter and lights.

They take these unsuspecting students to Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, where it is Christmas 361 days of the year, and the store holds over 4 acres of Christmas-y goodness. As Mark put it, when I finally found a place to park and we went to find the busload of students, "I think I saw a bunch of slack-jawed Asian people over there." I'm not sure that all that many students bought much stuff there, but they sure did wander around taking pictures. Pictures in front of the life-sized nativity outside, pictures in front of the fake and decorated Christmas trees inside, pictures in front of the color-coordinated ornament displays. (I didn't get to buy anything at all, because we were only there for 45 minutes, and I spent most of my time trying to find people. Unlike Mark, I actually like Christmas.)

Then we moved them into the town of Frankenmuth, where the picture-taking recommenced in front of Zehnder's, the gigantic "Bavarian" restaurant, right across the street from the Bavarian Inn, which mark the starting point for the main drag of Frankenmuth, the "Bavarian" town in central Michigan. The streets are all marked with "Str." (Straße) on the signs, and all distances are given in kilometers. It's really funny when you turn off the main street and see all the normal Michigan houses, and then nothing but Midwestern farm fields, but still have signs in kilometers until you are completely out of the jurisdiction of Frankenmuth.

Apparently, after lunch the students were taken to Birch Run outlet mall and turned loose for 4 hours. I would have thought 4 hours more than enough time for outlet mall shopping, even with 170 stores. According to Pat, the organizer of the trip, though, they had all complained they wouldn't have enough time. Fortunately, I drove my own car rather than going in the big bus with all of them, so Mark and I were able to be along our merry way much earlier in the afternoon.

We had to get back early anyway, because Mark's mother and step-father came over for dinner. In an interesting switch of the usual roles, Mark impressed his mother by cooking and showing off the apartment, while I somehow ended up holding forth in the verbal entertainment arena. I did have a bit of a impact on the decor and neatening before they got here, as I dug out my Peruvian table cloth and found it just big enough to cover our dinner table. Mark's mom brought us another plant, so we now have two actual growing things in our living room now, and amazingly, neither has died yet. All in all, it was a successful evening of entertainment, and a very full and interesting day.

(PS - I promise to write more this week. I had things to write last week, I just didn't actually sit down and write them.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

It Matches the Couch
Mark and I have made our first true effort at home decoration. Truly, it changes the whole look of the living room. It makes quite a statement. A large statement. A bold statement. A statement loudly proclaiming, "Geeks live here."

Yes, it's true. One entire wall of our living room is now taken up by a gigantic map of the world, as seen here. Please note the hammer, held in my own lovely hand, offering real life scale. To see it with the rest of an actual human being for scale, see Mark. For those who like to know the exact details, it is 70" x 49".

The scale of the map itself is 1:20,000,000. It has time zone clocks across the top. It has every country in the world color coded and all cities are labeled in their native language, (although country names are still in English.) Soon, I will add little pins of all the places I've been. Heeheehee... I suspect I am having too much fun with this. It pleases me greatly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

It's Medicinal, Really
Honest, I swear, we had to get the coffee machine for my survival.

If I were a caffeine addict, that statement would be funnier than it is. As an allergy-induced asthmatic, on the other hand, I am quite serious. I am on my second week or so straight of being on antihistamines, thanks to Michigan's lovely Indian summer weather, which has confused all the evil plant life into dumping all their allergens into the air on overdrive. I hate all growing things right now.

The coffee machine is another coping method. If you are not blessed with the presence of an asthmatic in your life, here's a helpful tip: caffeine can alleviate morning asthma symptoms, and in a pinch, can substitute for a missing inhaler during a not-too-serious asthma attack. The only reason I learned to drink, and like, coffee was for the caffeine in case of asthma attacks. Decaf coffee is an unspeakable evil in my opinion. For the past 5 years, thanks to living in places with non-reactive allergens, I have been able to drink coffee or not, as my fancy struck, for the simple pleasure of it. Ah, those were the days.

Now, though, anyone visiting me and Mark in Michigan can rest assured that there will be good, properly caffeinated coffee in the mornings. Our coffee machine is no simple glorified filter. It grinds its own beans. It turns itself on in the morning. It makes up to 10 cups, and keeps it warm for you. I have yet to figure out how to get it to clean the kitchen, but so far, I'd say it's earning its keep. My asthma has been far, far less of a problem than my sneezing and itchy eyes, so I bow down before the healing powers of my morning coffee, and try to hasten the oncoming of winter while I down my morning cup.

To quote one of Mark's favorite book characters, "Winter is coming."

Not soon enough.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Fall Colors
Today, I finally succeeded in prodding Mark enough to make him put on his rollerblades and skate to campus with me while I rode my bike. We spent the whole late afternoon there, on a picture taking expedition. It was a beautiful day, bright sun, just slightly fall-like temperatures, all the trees changing color, ducks swimming in the river, lots of other people out walking and taking pictures too. I took Mark across the bridge behind the administration building where he usually dropped me off when he drove me to work in inclement weather, so now he's actually seen the building I live/work in, as well as the actual TA office. I had fun showing him around, and it was an excellent day to just be wandering around campus.

After we took all the pictures we wanted to, we decided to have dinner on Grand River Ave., which is the main college strip. We ended up going to a cute little restaurant called "Flats," which does pseudo-Tex-Mex, has painted pressed tin ceiling tiles, and flashing Christmas lights. My grilled vegetables sandwich was very good, but I was disappointed that I didn't see they had Stewart's Key Lime Soda until after I had already ordered. I haven't tried it yet, but I like their Orange Cream. (I am also amazed, in googling for that image, how many places you can buy bottled beverages online and have them shipped to you. How odd.) After that, we went to Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream before heading home. They always have a huge line, so this is the first time we've successfully been there since my parents left me in Michigan.

But now, for your entertainment and delight, a presentation of pictures from today's expedition.

Me with my lovely bike, in front of Wells.

Wells Hall, with ivy.

My corner of the office.

The tree I see everyday crossing the bridge.

Crossing the bridge.

See the ducks?

Me with my bike, again. A good one, actually.

Looking down the river.

A tree with a pretty reflection.

And as a bonus, proof that Mark doesn't starve me, and what's more, takes pride in presentation. Pretty salads.

All the rest of the pictures, if you are so inclined, are here.

Friday, October 10, 2003

I just got my official permanent Michigan driver's license. This means I actually have to take the NC license out of my wallet and add it to my collection of out-of-date IDs. It is quite a collection now. In cronological order:

*March 30, 1993 - "Author ID" from my 7th grade English class, proving that I wrote a children's book to send to a needy elementary school for a class project. It was about different breeds of dogs staying in a kennel. I illustrated it myself.

*March 25, 1994 - My first official picture ID, issued by the State of NC, so I could present ID when our family went on a cruise for my grandparents' 50th anniversary.

*1994/95 academic year - W.G. Enloe High School ID card. The first year my high school had photo IDs.

*May 19, 1997 - May 18, 2002 - United States Passport. With this passport, I went to Costa Rica, Taiwan, Chile, Argentina, and Peru. It served me well. Chile has the most colorful stamps.

*July 19, 1997 - August 3, 1997 - ILISA Instituto de Idiomas ID. My ID with my host family's address and phone number in case I got lost while I was at the intensive language school in Costa Rica for 2 weeks.

*August 1998-August 2001 - Grinnell College ID. My first college ID, with my first-year picture on it. It has lines worn through the picture from being scanned for 2.5 years at the dining hall.

*February 2001-July 2001 - Universidad de Chile, Alumno Libre Internacional. My student ID from la Chile, during my semester in Santiago. I only took one class with that institution.

*also February 2001 - July 2001 - Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile, Credencial Universitaria. My student ID from la Católica, where I took my other 3 classes in Santiago. Ah, the memories of the giant, welcoming, modern art Jesus at the entrance to the campus.

*August 2001-May 2002 - Grinnell College ID. While I was in Chile, Grinnell switched to new ID cards that had more scanning functions, so I had to get a new one when I got back. This one features the new, short-haired me.

*January 2, 2002 - Capital Area YMCA. I finally got around to getting a new Raleigh YMCA card. Not that it's done me much good since then.

*Summer, 2002 - Beloit College ID. From the intensive Japanese school at Beloit's Center for Language Studies.

*1998-2005 - State of North Carolina Driver License. I had the background of the Wright Bros. plane. It even had a good picture. Up until now, it was the only license I ever had, from the time I was first licensed to drive at the age of 18. *sniff, sniff*

This whole collection would be complete if they'd let me keep my gaijin (foreign resident) card when I left Japan.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Something New Every Day
Today I discovered a whole new area of MSU's campus. Why? Because I also discovered that it is only convenient to have a parking permit if you can actually find somewhere to park. As a result, I ended up kind of driving around on the curvy campus streets south of the river until I found an employee lot that actually had spaces. When I first got to MSU and was supposed to be proctoring exams, I did the same thing, which is how I know where the health center is. As Danola would put it, "Hey, I've been lost here before!" It is a tried and true method of navigating Japan, so why shouldn't it work here? At least Michigan has street signs, so I only need to be lost once in the same place before I can claim I know where I am, as opposed to lost repeatedly in the same area, time after time.

So anyway, now I know where all the sports fields are, and how all the little streets between Wells Hall and Harrison Ave. connect. The walk to and from my car was rather lengthier than I had intended, but I got to see all the gorgeous trees changing color. There's one outside the stadium that has a brilliant gradation from pale green at the bottom on one side, to yellow, to orange, to flaming red at the top.

Oh, this also reminds me that I haven't said anything about one of the primary joys of working in the building right next to the stadium. In the afternoons when I am usually leaving campus, after teaching my class, is just when the marching band is usually practicing. It's neat to hear them playing so loudly so near by, and then they stop when the band director starts yelling at them through the bullhorn. This is not to say that I've actually seen the MSU marching band, but at least I've heard them. I am so full of school spirit. Rah, rah, rah.

Two other interesting things happened on my way home. I saw, for the first time ever in real life, two girls pushing their friend's car down the middle of a very busy street. They were wearing flip-flops. I bet they wished they hadn't been. There is a lot to be said for wearing practical shoes. Finally, I had to get gas for the first time ever in my "new" car. (I haven't driven it very much at all.) It is so sad. The poor little thing only holds 10 gallons. I also keep expecting it to have the same engine as my old Camry, now my brother's, and it really just doesn't. The things we only learn to appreciate in hindsight. Ah, well. It does shift nicely, at least.

The Animal Kingdom
Nature has been very busy here lately. Specifically, yesterday. Yesterday, though it was a beautiful Indian summer day, I was inspired to finally go get my parking permit, all because of nature. What part of nature, you ask? The new bits of nature that have invaded the midwest: Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetles, otherwise known as evil giant orange lady bugs that bite. They are everywhere, they land directly on people, even faces, and they bite. And they just appeared here yesterday. People in Grinnell had been complaining about them for about a week, and then Ann in Madison mentioned them a couple of days ago, too, and now they have invaded Michigan as well. I can't sit out on the itty bitty porch and read, because I'll get bitten to death. I can't walk from my car to the building where I work without dodging bugs and inevitibly bringing some of them in with me on my clothes. They're in the elevators, the hallways, all over the cielings of our office because apparently our windows are not worthy of screens.

But! When I got home last night, I happened to glance out the window at the pond, and it was full of geese! They just covered the pond! Mark says he counted them when they landed, and he came up with 49. I say there must have been more, and when I counted I got to 46 before my view was blocked by a tree, so I say an estimation of +/- 50 is about right. Lots and lots, in any case. They were gone when I woke up, but seeing them last night was very neat. The duckies are probably less intimidated now, though.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Salud, Dinero, Amor
It's allergy season! What joy there is in once again living in a state with all my good old familiar pollens. Please note the sarcasm. For 5 years now, I have escaped the scourge of full-blown allergies by living far enough away from all my allergens that they couldn't touch me, but also carefully not living in those faraway places for long enough to acclimate to the allergens there. There are few enough trees in Iowa, and I don't appear to be allergic to corn, so I was fine in college. Sendai certainly had some similar plants to NC, such as kudzu, but they don't seem to have been the plants that hate me. Florida, I know, is a state I should only visit for extended periods if I have a deathwish. (I guess that would make it not a very extended period, after all, if my asthma killed me.) Anyway, I have rediscovered, here in Michigan, the lovely, ever-so-alert feeling brought on by antihistamines. Mark finds me to be absolutely scintillating company.

Given that my frequent activity lately has been sneezing, I thought I'd muse on the different cultural approaches to sneezing etiquette. In Japan, no one says anything to the sneezer; instead, the sneezer is expected to excuse themselves. In Spanish-speaking countries, people say "salud," which means "health." "Gesundheit" means the same thing in German. In Chile, I was told that for the first sneeze, you say "salud," the second time, you say "dinero," or "money," and the third time, you say "amor," or "love."

In English, though, we traditionally say "bless you," and there is actually a reason. It was believed that when you sneezed, your soul became vulnerable to the devil, and thus, someone had to bless you so the devil could not gain power over your soul. I suppose this means that for allergy sufferers, allergy season could quite literally have been hell.

Monday, October 06, 2003

The Importance of Pronunciation
My mom always said that she thought I should be good at learning languages because I was able to accurately imitate sounds and accents from a very early age. She has a very cute story about me being able to perfectly make the sound of the baby goat that our neighbors owned, until someone told me how humans were "supposed" to approximate goat noises, and then I couldn't do it anymore. Now, though, I have proof that she may have been right in her theory. In doing my reading for class, I came across this:

"More recent studies have suggested that phonological STM [short-term memory] may be involved not only in lexical acquisition but also in the acquisition of grammatical rules... Ellis and Sinclair..., for example, found from their study comparing the effects of learners' phonological rehearsal of Welsh utterances on elements such as comprehension, metalinguistic knowledge and acquisition, that learners who repeated utterances clearly outperformed those prevented from doing so. They concluded that 'individual differences in STM and working memory can have profound effects on language acquisition.'" (Mackey, Philp, Egi, Fujii, Tatsumi, 2002)

So really, all you need to do to find a language you'll be good at is find one you can pronounce, right? Maybe. The theory is neat, anyway.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Organization, Finally
It actually happened. Only more than a month and a half after moving in, we finally got all the boxes either unpacked or declared unimportant and put away. All the empty boxes even got completely thrown away, out, out of the house! The living room looks so spacious. I can walk across it in multiple directions. I have a clear path from the doorway to the rest of the house without feeling like I have to walk sideways or dodge at any point. I am no longer in danger of stubbing anymore of my toes.

What spurred this fit of organization and cleanliness? Inviting guests over, of course. We invited Heather, Matt, and Gene over for dinner. Mark is the oh-so-proud owner of a grill now, and wants to show off his cooking talents to people other than me. So they came over yesterday afternoon, to watch the U of Mich. football game, (which I have the suspicion I ought to think a heretical act in my house, being an MSU student and all, but then, I am the product of a mixed UNC/NCSU marriage, so I guess it's okay,) and we did actually eat dinner as well. And we ate many, many snacks. Mark sort of went nuts on the chips and dip aisle. 3 different kinds of chips, 4 kinds of dip, all in little bowls of their own.

The high point for me, though, was that Matt actually brought me all the rest of my stuff from Japan! Yes, those 7 boxes I had shipped to myself more than 2 full months ago. I hate shipping companies and customs agents now. The boxes had been in Detroit and mostly ready to pick up for at least 2 weeks, at $10/day, but I couldn't get them because the storage company needed something from the shipping company in CA, which couldn't give the release order until they got a piece of paper I didn't have from the shipping company in Japan. Now that I actually have my stuff, (thank you, thank you, thank you Matt for picking it up!,) they can all die.

The interesting thing is the effect having the apartment finally organized is having on my state of mind. I actually felt like doing work today. I no longer have the constant feeling that I should be unpacking something, or organizing things, or trying to find places for more things to go. I can actually concentrate on my life in the house again. I sat down this morning, in the clean, clean living room, and graded 2 weeks' worth of homework assignments, plus the latest quiz. I'm in general much more cheerful. And perhaps I will also now be less allergic, and thus, all around more pleasant to live with. You should all pray that it is so, for Mark's sake.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Rubbing Elbows with On High
This afternoon, after teaching, I went to a talk by *ahem* one of the most recognized names in second language acquisition (drumroll) Michael Long. He delivered an hour-long talk on the effect of recasts on language acquisition. Since we had just read one of his more recent papers on it for SLA class, everyone there was pretty familiar with the topic.

For the uninitiated, though, I will clarify. Recasts are instances where the more experienced language speaker involved in a conversation with a language learner, be that experienced person the instructor, a native speaker, another student, or the far more general designation of interlocutor, provides a correction of a mistaken utterance by rephrasing (or recasting) it correctly, but in the course of normal conversation, rather than by drawing the student's attention to the mistake. To get all technical, this is known as implicit, as opposed to explicit, feedback. The focus of the conversation stays on the meaning or content of the conversation, but a correction of the grammatical or lexical mistake has been provided for the learner's mind to take notice of, if it registers.

There is huge debate over the efficacy of recasts as a form of correction in the language classroom. Michael Long is very much of the opinion that they work, and work well. The highly amusing thing about his talk was that he structured basically all of it around refuting all his colleagues who have doubted the effects of recasts. "She's a very dear friend of mine, and a lovely woman, but she's wrong." "He usually does very solid research, but in this case, he just has such blinders." "The study had no pretests to establish a baseline, so..." His points were very convincing, but it kind of reminded me of being in history class, being told that the best way to come up with a thesis was to find something to disagree with, and then finding lots of evidence to back up your own opinion.

Afterward, there was a reception at the ELC, where I talked to another one of the other ELC instructors, Matthew, who has been out of grad school for several years. He said it had been a long time since he heard a talk like that, so much information packed into one sitting, and it reminded him of how tired he had been all during grad school. He marveled that Long could rattle off such long lists of authors and studies. I pointed out that he either co-wrote them, knows all of the authors personally, or supervised most of the others as their MA or PhD thesis advisor. So he's in a much better position to remember all the studies than us lowly grad students. As are our professors. Prof. Gass, for example, edits an SLA book series. She knows everyone in the profession because she either co-publishes with them, or edits their work. Ah, specialized research subjects. It's a small world. Perhaps someday *I* will be so blessed.

The best part about the night, though? For me, it was being able to out-jargon Mark at dinner.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Elementary School
Yesterday, I took my students to teach a special class of elementary school children. The ELC is working with the Holt county elementary schools on a series of Wednesday afternoon programs about countries around the world. My class was the first class of ELC students to go to the school.

For the past several weeks, Pat and Alissa, instructors in the ELC, have been preparing the elementary kids. They made "passports" for the kids, complete with pictures and having to fill out pretend applications for travel visas. Apparently, the kids were rather disturbed by the idea that some countries require you to get shots, and didn't want to fill out any more applications after that. After our visit with Pat and Alissa, it was pretty obvious that they don't really have much experience teaching children. Their standards of attention spans and group activities are very much set at the level of high school and adult ESL learners. There is most certainly nothing wrong with that; teaching to each demographic has its own challenges. But it still made me smile, thinking about my summer at the daycare center, working with preschoolers.

My students were going to teach a little bit about their own countries and languages. When we started the project, our class had representatives of 5 different languages and 4 countries, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and French and Bambara from Mali in West Africa. (I say "when we started the project" because the very next week, both of my Malian women got moved up to Level 2, which made practicing for the presentations something of a challenge, with two of the group leaders no longer in the class. *sigh*) We had two weeks to get ready, and for Level 1 students with limited time, they did a good job. They were supposed to give a very brief and general overview about their country, and then teach greetings, introductions, and numbers 1-10.

ELC students don't usually have classes on Wednesdays, but we are required to give them another 5 hours outside of regular classes. This was my class's first 2.5 hours. We met at the classroom at 12:30, got the minivans from the MSU transportation office, and off we went. We successfully made it to the school, amazing all the Japanese students by driving on the highway for such a short trip. We trooped into the school just in time to start getting the room set up before the kids started arriving. We only ended up with 6 out of the 8, but this is apparently not unusual.

The general consensus afterward was that it was good the Korean group went first, because no one's standards had been raised too high. My poor Korean guys were somewhat hampered by not having any girls in their group to help them relate to the kids or make their visual aids very spectacular. They did, however, have handouts, which none of the other groups did, and which the kids seemed very appreciative of. Their bit of cultural interest was to tell about Ch'usok, or Korean Thanksgiving.

Next up was Sansanee, my new Thai student. She did an excellent job, all on her own. The Thai script is very intricate, and looks very decorative. Sansanee is also a very personable, and came well supplied with Thailand information, including a book with pictures of the water-splashing holiday. I think it also helped that Thai is easier to speak that Korean.

Then came the star group, Japanese. All of the girls in this group are from Nagoya Women's University, and I think most of them want to be teachers. They really interacted well with the children, plus had very colorful visual aids. They had made origami namecards for each of the children, and then showed each of them how to write their names in katakana. They had even written out a simple greeting and introduction script for the students to perform in pairs.

Then the kids got a short snack break. Pat and Alissa had brought them little flavored gelatin cups and seaweed rice crackers from Japan. The gelatin cups were a hit, but the idea of seaweed on a salty-sweet cracker was not so appealing.

After the break, it was time for Kadi and Marthe to take the stage about French and Bambara. The other students in their group had made lots of visual aids for the French presentation, and perhaps could have taught it on their own, with the script I corrected for them. However, they didn't have the native speaker aspect, so Kadi took over the French part. They did get to teach numbers, though. Marthe and Kadi together taught about Bambara as the final language, but I think the lack of visual aids let the kids get too distracted by the idea of the romantic French language.

After the elementary kids left to go home, we took the ELC students on a short tour of the school. I think they found it very interesting. It was quite new and modern, on a sort of sprawling, single-story floor plan, and certainly very different from what any of my students in their countries. Then we drove back to MSU, whereupon Pat and Alissa decreed themselves exhausted, but said that the kids had been the most attentive ever.

Today in class, the 9 students who went to the elementary school told the other 6 Japanese students all about it. The other students are from Hosei University and their program has them very highly scheduled during days when they don't normally have ELC classes, so they had a different extracurricular activity they had to do that day, namely a tour of .Greenfield Village. Unfortunately for them, the weather was crappy, and they went to the Henry Ford Museum instead. Now, when I was 11, my grandparents took me to the Ford Museum, and I found it fascinating. I didn't want to leave. Japanese college students, though, apparently do not find historical American cars and appliances to be very fascinating. They all wish they had gone to the elementary school instead. Neener, neener.

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