Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hot for Teacher

It has been a couple of years since I took Mark's grandma to sit in on one of his classes. For no particular reason I decided to call up one of our wonderful Respite providers to watch the girls and attend an Intro to Polisci lecture with Dr. Mark S. This semester they had run out of regular lecture halls, so he's in a 900 seat recital hall built in 1917. It is complete with an organ, mahogany walls, a balcony, and is on the national register of historical places. Makes for an interesting setting for a class of 270 students.
terrible quality cell phone photo

much better official photo
Mark has made quite a reputation among the student body. He's a visiting professor and has been at this gig for 2.5 years now. Most likely this will be the last year as he's been on the market for a tenure track position and is currently interviewing. His students love him. They show it by giving him an excellent ranking in nearly every single class that he's taught. His classes fill up a speeds that baffle the admins. "You have to take a class with Dr S. before you graduate" is the word on campus. That has resulted in classes traditionally taken by underclassmen to be filled by juniors and seniors, and not just polisci majors. He's received recognition from the Greek system. Most recently he has received the Student Senate Student Choice Award for teaching excellence. There is a reason for this. Mark was born to be a teacher. It is his passion and he is really, really good at it. This is one of those rare cases when a career, skill set, and passion match up.

It has been a long hard road though. Salaries for a visiting prof are dismal and are made even worse when furlough days are implemented due to the State being broke and not paying their bills. Some people mistake furloughs (or as I call them F-Us) as just a day off. They're not. Although he is required to take a day off each month, the work load is no less. It's less time to do it in for less pay. Awesome. Yet, he still has a job, which is more than some of our friends can say in this economy, and we are grateful.
another official photo
So, there I sat, down near the front watching my man do his thing and do it well. Once in a while I would sneak a peek at the hundreds of students who actually appeared to be paying attention, taking copious notes and laughing at his jokes. It occurred to me that if we were to just meet now, instead of years ago while working in the record store, that I might actually be intimidated by this man. That thought makes me laugh. At the same time, I'm so proud of him and all of the hard work he's had to do to hone his craft.
After submitting over 250 applications in 4 years, Mark is interviewing next week (2/4) and any good thoughts you could send on his behalf would be appreciated.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Polly's 2nd Brain Surgery 1/21/10

Let's all lift our friend Polly and her family up again as she heads into her 2nd brain surgery tomorrow for Moyamoya. Follow their journey on their blog HERE.

*UPDATE: Surgery has been postponed as Polly has been ill all night. I will update soon.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Spread the Word to End the Word™ 3.3.10

It is time we Spread the Word to End the Word™ and build awareness for society to stop and think about its’ use of the R-word. That R-word is something hurtful and painful – “retard” or “retarded.” Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. This word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur.

Did you know that by casually using the word “retard(ed)” to refer to an action as less than ideal you are making someone with an intellectual disability feel less than human - whether you mean to or not? Demeaning any of our fellow human beings by using inappropriate words toward any population negatively impacts all of us.

The date for the 2nd Spread the Word day has been set for 3.3.10. Please visit the Special Olympics site HERE for all the resources you'll need to join this campaign. If you have questions, please email or call 1-800-700-8585.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm on the Maddy Band Wagon!

The girl has soul and great pipes, but it's the way she speaks so beautifully of her 4 brothers with Down syndrome that has made me a fan. I'll be rooting for Maddy on American Idol.

Want more American Idol videos? Click here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Cake That Wasn't

This post can also be entitled "Jen and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Morning," or "Mark Goes to the Grocery Store." It was a comedy of errors. In the end Alexander had a very nice 5th birthday, complete with a party with friends at an indoor playground. Pulling it off, well, that's the real story.

Party prep was in full swing on the day before his birthday. I ran out of vanilla while baking cookies, so I sent Mark to the grocery store. After he returned, I put a batch of m and m cookies in the oven for a full minute before remembering that I hadn't added the vanilla. Having my first Homer Simpson moment, I was thinking "it's still good, it's still good." I pulled the pan out and dumped the balls of not yet melted cookies back in the bowl and added the vanilla. I could not use beaters to mix it in as they would have crushed the m and ms, so I kneaded the dough by hand as best as I could.

We filled goodie bags with cookies, popcorn, and m and m's. Later we would we tie a balloon to each bag. They served as both decorations and a thank you gift. However, we ran out of the candy, so I sent Mark to the grocery store for m and m's and pinot grigio.

Baking the cake came last. The plan was to bake a giant cupcake to serve the parents and regular cupcakes for the preschoolers. The giant cupcake cake pan has 2 parts. It takes more than one box of cake mix, so I like to use chocolate for one side and vanilla for the other. I then use the remaining batter to make regular sized cupcakes.

A few hours (and glasses of wine) later, I decided to do the frosting the next day. In the morning Mark drove Alexander to preschool while I got out my supplies. The regular cupcakes had been covered and were fine. However, I had left the giant cupcake out, unfrosted and uncovered. It was hard as a rock on the outside and not fit to be served. It was now 9:30 and we had to be gone by 12:30. The giant cupcake takes and hour to bake (plus time to cool). So, I called Mark and sent him to the grocery store to pick up 2 more boxes of cake mix. Just before he arrived home I realized that I was short 1 egg, so I called Mark and sent him to the grocery store. The giant cupcake was in the oven by 10:20. At 11:20 I took it out, flipped it upside down on a pan and put it in the garage to cool (so it wouldn't be eaten by squirrels outside). We had saved the day.

That's when I saw the grocery bag. The grocery bag that contained the eggs I had sent Mark to the grocery store to buy. The carton of eggs stared back at me mockingly and my heart sank. I had baked the chocolate cake with NO EGGS!

I ran to the garage and grabbed the cooling cake, still in 2 parts. The white cake was fine as I had remembered the egg(whites). The chocolate cake, well, not so much. This is when my 2nd Homer Simpson moment occurred. Did you ever see the episode where Homer BBQs a whole pig complete with an apple in its mouth? Lisa gets angry and sends it down the hill while Homer chases it shouting, 'it's still good, it's still good!"

I began cramming the eggless chocolate cake in Mark's mouth. "Is it ok? It's still good, it's still good?! So, it tastes different, it's crumbly and kind of fudgy. Maybe an eggless cake qualifies as a vegan cake. No none will have to know! I'll frost this puppy and it will be fine, right?"

I like to put a layer of frosting in between the base and top of the giant cupcake. The chocolate cake was the base. It was too crumbly to spread the frosting, so I lopped it on with a spoon. It still looked ok and I left the kitchen for a second. The weight of the frosting was too much for the cake. (see photo below) After discovering the disaster, a maniacal laugh rose up from deep within me. Mark cautiously came into the kitchen with big eyes. He saw the cake and heard me roaring and demanded that I stop laughing as I was scaring him. His eyes grew even bigger and he backed slowly out of the kitchen.

Whatever. It's now almost time to go and I was still not ready, though thankfully I had at least showered. With no time to do a thing to my hair, I pulled it back into a ponytail and SNAP, the band broke. "Ok, ok roll with it." I put on a clean shirt and looked in the mirror only to discover huge deodorant streaks on the dark brown shirt. With no time to change, I grabbed the hand towel and tried to wet it down, which only left me with a deodorant streaked, watermarked shirt and a bad ponytail. I was HAWT I tells ya!

Soon we were loaded in the van, Mark had picked up Alexander from preschool and McDonald's for lunch. As we drove to the party I checked the bag and discovered that they had forgotten to give us the kid's chicken McNuggets. Seriously. So I looked at Mark and sent him back to McDonald's.

end part 1

the eggless chocolate cake

what it should look like (taken at Alexander's b-day party with family in IA)

Another example, Sophie's 2nd birthday cake

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sledding in Waterloo, Iowa

Off Uni on Fletcher, December 30th (I think). Just the right size for the little ones and one of the only days that it wasn't dangerously cold. Even still, I took Sophie to the van after every ride to warm up as she does not handle extreme temperatures very well.

Christmas 2009

This year, for the first time, we did not travel for Christmas. Santa came down our chimney. Thanks to all the grandmas and grandpas, it was a very merry Christmas indeed.

We hope your Christmas was merry and bright!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter's Majesty, Images of the Frozen Cedar Valley

On this day in Iowa the actual air temperature (not wind chill) had dropped to 19 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. At the time these pictures were taken, it had climbed up to 14 below. Mother Nature can be at once beautiful and brutal. I imagine you can almost feel the frigid air set against the crisp backdrop of this winter wonderland. Locals will recognize the Cedar River in Cedar Falls, IA, the Ice House Museum, the one room school house, and the train bridge.

With freezing shaky hands and a camera battery that was rapidly draining, Mark managed to capture some pretty stunning shots. You know its cold when you see water vapor like this coming off of the river. I can't help but think about the resilience of our species on days like this. I wonder about how people could survive before having warm comfortable homes to hunker down in. It's a miracle, really.

As always, you can click to enlarge the images, taken by Mark on January 2, 2010.