Monday, September 26, 2011

I will be a hummingbrid

Wangari Maathai passed away. And the world lost a beautiful hummingbird. May we all aspire to be like her.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seriously Etsy Sellers, WTF?

I love buying handmade items. I appreciate the hard work that goes in to making beautiful, one of kind (ok, semi-one-of-a-kind) things. That means that every now and then I'll buy something from Etsy. Mostly I like what I buy, but I've had some shopper's remorse lately. And because it's an online store, and it'd be a hassle to go to the post office and return items, etc. I usually just shrug and go, "well, it is what it is" and I'm generally happy that some hardworking handicrafter has my money. You know what I mean?

Recently, two purchases didn't work out perfectly. In one, the item didn't match the photo. And I totally take full responsibility, because I picked a fabric with a big print and the maker didn't include the bits I liked. My fault! I left a "neutral" feedback with this comments: "I foolishly hoped that it would look more like the photo, but the cut of fabric was different. I should have known better. Still, it fit beautifully and works great. The person I gave it to as a gift liked it!" My second purchase didn't fit, but they were still awesome, and so I've decided to gift them to my friend. Again, here is my "neutral" feedback: "Turns out my wrist is too small for these bangles (they come off). No worries -- I'll give them to my best friend for her birthday!"**

The part that makes me go "Seriously? Are you kidding me?" BOTH sellers messaged me and asked me change my comment to positive!! And both sellers already have 100% positive comments (we're talking on the order of 200 positive comments to every 2 neutral and 1 negative comment). The other amazing thing, for the bracelets that didn't fit, the comment right above mine, from another customer, read: "Wonderful bracelets! I adore them! The rose gold are a little stronger and thicker ... I have a bit of trouble getting them over my hand, but they are beautiful!" That's funny, right? Because that's exactly the opposite of what I said. What did the second person give as feedback? That's right. It was positive.

So here's what irks me. What the HELL is the point of feedback if the sellers are coercing "positive" feedback behind the scenes? And why am I left feeling like a shady person for actually saying how I felt? I will purchase from both of those sellers again because in general they make good stuff, but those emails: MAJOR CUSTOMER TURN-OFF!! And I told both of them as much, and no, I did not change my feedback. It turns out that this is a pretty common practice amongst online sellers, which is very disheartening. However, I've only encountered it on Etsy. I did, however, learn a valuable lesson, which is: if you are unhappy--even in the slightest--with your purchase, contact the seller because they will go to great lengths to avoid a "negative" or "neutral" review. Also, then, the lesson is this: just because they've got 100% positive feedback, doesn't mean it's all true.

** Let's not judge too harshly that I'm still giving gifts I'm not 100% happy with, or gifting things I originally intended for myself (but never wore!). 'K, thanx.

Modern Quilt Guild: Where to Start?

I'm putting this out into the universe of blog-land. How does one go about starting a modern quilt guild? I'd like to start one in the town where I live, not because I know a lot of quilters who have a modern aesthetic but because I'd like to get to know quilters and I'd like to help people get started as quilters (not because I'm expert, nosiree).

So here are my questions, Blog-land:
1) How did you collect your people? I'll email the Mothership (Modern Quilt Guild) and see what they have to say.
2) How do you find a space and a time where everyone can come (and it still be free/cheap and not inconveniently at someone's home)?
3) How do you decide on challenges, etc.?
4) How do you keep the Guild from eating your life, but still use it as motivation to stay on task, be productive and create beautiful things?

Oh, I hope someone has the answer to my questions....

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Photo

{this moment} Playing along with Soule Mama. Although this picture was taken a few weeks ago. Shannon's wedding quilt took a little trip to the Lost Coast for a photoshoot.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Graduate School & Teaching

I was recently asked to participate in a panel about teaching in graduate school. Our moderator asked us a series of questions, and we took turns answering and discussing with one another. I knew several people on the panel, and one of the panelists was a former student of mine. She is now getting her Masters in education (I was pretty stoked to see her). Sadly, not many people were in the audience (Saturday morning! It's was be expected). Here are some of the best questions and my responses...

What's the best advice you have for getting started as a TA?
Just do it. You will not gain experience teaching unless you actually put yourself in a position where you have to think carefully about how you are interacting with your students and helping them learn. Teaching and learning (they go hand-in-hand, after all) are very humbling experiences. You have to be prepared when you enter the classroom and you also have to be prepared to reflect on your experiences once you leave. Keep a teaching journal, or at the very least be organized and keep track of your practice so that you can build on your experiences.

Look beyond the walls of the classroom: teaching and learning does not have to occur in a formal setting with desks and a chalkboard. You may find opportunities to teach by volunteering your time, tutoring or sitting down with a group of graduate students and discussing what goes on in your classroom. Most importantly, be thoughtful about what you do, how you do it, and what it means for those around you.

How do you make sure to teach the "right" class to build your CV?
I don't view teaching experience in graduate school entirely as a CV building activity. My goal is to master a set of teaching skills that I can apply to any class I choose to teach in the future. My personal goals are to understand how to measure student learning, how to interact with my students personally and intellectually so that I help them acquire transferable skills for life long learning, and I want to capture and analyze my teaching practice to that I can share my experiences with others. I want to treat my teaching as a craft, not a job: one suggests joy and internal motivation, the other suggests, well, a job.

How do I find a mentor?
Identify people who are doing things that you want to do someday, then introduce yourself, buy them a cup of coffee and pepper them with questions. I do not have one mentor. I have several, because each person excels at something different, and collectively they provide me with a unique perspective on what it means to teach in higher education. Ultimately, though, I have to take in and filter advice that is pertinent to my own vision, but I am only able to achieve this by asking questions. Lots of questions.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Not surprised

I am teaching an upper division ecology course this term. It's a class I've taught before and it's one of the best ones I get to teach. The two professors  allow me to run the discussion section autonomously. The rest of class is conducted in a typical lecture style with some interactive moments.  I often find myself sitting in the back of the room thinking about ways that I would change the delivery of lecture and the content. I'll be giving a guest lecture at the end of the term; this is both generous of the professors and also one less lecture they have to prepare for.

There. I've set the stage. It's a good class. The objective is to help students learn ecology. All of the emphasis I've added is on purpose. For the first exam, the professors gave the students 50+ essay exam questions to study from and said "10 of these questions will be on your midterm." They also, at the beginning of the term, emphasized how important it is to learn together, to work together to learn. However, when the students collaborated to create a G-doc in which they shared their answers for the exam questions one of the professors was appalled. How could they possibly learn from creating a repository of "answers"? he blustered. This is not what we meant when we said "work together"! This cannot happen again. We have to make a change!

Luckily, they asked me what I thought (and I am appreciative of them asking for a TA's opinion). I said, first, the students did exactly what you told them to do. They answered all of the questions and they worked together. And they did it in a highly technologically advanced, creative and positive way. Yes, there may be some free loaders, but those individuals who read (and trust) the answers that are given to them will not gain anything. Second, the syllabus you give your students at the beginning of a term is essentially a contract. Any changes you make later in the course ought to be agreed upon by both parties. Therefore, it's easier to make changes that benefit your students, but changes that redirect the class are problematic. And three, hello! Teaching is a learning process. And this incident is your "learning experience" and you can change how you teach the class in the future, as a result.

And I went home silently applauding my students for working collaboratively,  communicating with one another and grappling with tough ecological questions. That's what learning really is.


One of my greatest challenges as an instructor is to maintain perspective. I may find the subjects I teach to be fascinating, if not riveting, but as I look out across the classroom and I see students with their heads down, buried behind a computer screen, or trotting in late to class, it gives me reason to pause. Have I not made my classroom expectations clear enough? Am I really that boring? But I have to remind myself to stop short of asking: Who the hell are these people? Don't they know this is important?

I came across this post recently and had to pause yet again. I have to strongly disagree with the blog's author; the scenario as it's laid out is not about email etiquette, or about student ethos, this is a scenario about professors/instructors taking a moment to ask a question: What else is happening in my students' lives? What choices do they have to make and to what extent am I prepared to help them?

In this particular case the student is asking permission to go on a hunting trip. But it just as easily could have been a student asking for time off for a shift at work, taking care of a sick child, or no longer being able to pay for the bus fair to campus to even attend class. I sympathize with the bruised ego of the instructor (Why should I do extra work so you can go on vacation?), but I blister at the idea that the student doesn't care about class. I would argue the contrary, a student that communicates respectfully, who suggests alternatives and asks for help is the one who does care. Life is complicated, and messy, and volatile for both students and instructors. It's a matter of perspective.


I consider myself to be a highly self-motivated person, who appreciates a good coach. I respond well to being bossed around (but nicely, and within reason). In recent months, however, as I've been fighting my way out from an avalanche of responsibilities and projects that are not directly related to finishing my dissertation I've had to revisit my personal values and find, anew, my center.
In theory, this is what a disciplined me would look like:
  1. Go to bed: Setting a bed time (10pm or 10:30pm) and not using my laptop in bed. Reading something non-academic is allowed.
  2. Wake up: Waking up at a regular time every day (7am), and being speedy and efficient as I get ready for my day.
  3. Eat right: Pack a lunch, something healthy, something filling. Saves time and money later on.
  4. Exercise: See #2 and do it at the beginning of my day.
  5. Make time: for things that are important, and set aside one day a week where no school-work is touched. Or two half days. Whatever.
  6. Reward myself.
I can't say that I've already failed miserably, but it hasn't been pretty. I naturally appear to get work done at night, and I naturally prefer to exercise first thing in the morning (something to do with one shower a day, saving water, wackadoo), balancing my sleep schedule with my work schedule is rough. Oh, and I've already rewarded myself, prior to accomplishing anything (what? The boots were on sale!).

Graduate school, especially in the midst of field work, data analysis, teaching, etc., can start to feel like a grind. Wake up, work, sleep, repeat. Having a routine, a schedule, and self-imposed boundaries helps set a pace, a rhythm and a trajectory that I am once again interested in pursuing.