Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Marriage Accomplished

Life leads us on odd, but often interesting paths.

Almost four years ago, one of my dearest friends, a brother now, really, asked me if I’d be willing to officiate his wedding service. I thought he was joking. A person just didn’t become a minister overnight. You needed credentials, training, religious and/or political authority.

Or not.

As it turns out, you don’t need very much. You need Google, of course, and about ten dollars. After that, and with very little worry, you can perform marriages in a variety of states, cities, and municipalities within the U.S. Nifty, huh?

My friend footed the bill, and on 8.9.2010 (get it?) I officiated a wedding for the first time. Since then I’ve performed two other weddings. One here in Maryland for very dear friends, and now, most recently, in Cincinnati for Fox’s cousin.

Public speaking doesn’t make me nervous anymore. I suppose I’ve taught often enough that I’m good so long as I’m prepared. I think I’d be a bit shakier if I had to go all impromptu, but I usually enter into speaking engagements with at least some notes. For Fox’s cousin’s wedding, I knew that bride and groom wanted a relatively short ceremony, and I hope that is what I gave them. I chose a few key quotations, some lovely bits of J.R.R. Tolkien’s musings on matrimony (the bit about soul-mates is perfect), and, of course, my favorite – 1.Corinthians 13 - no greater passage about love exists in all of scripture, and perhaps not in all of literature, although some Shakespearean sonnets give Paul a run for his money.

They had the wedding in Cincinnati’s Bell Event Center – a cavernous and gorgeous place, full of, well, bells, and stained glass depicting apostles, scenes from the New Testament, and a variety of symbolic lambs. Yes, lambs.

The boys behaved themselves, and now I wait for the next wedding request. No more marriages on the till, but you never know when someone will need a reverend, minister, or Grand Poobah.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Birthday Boy

Trains are cool. But trains with tigers are awesome.

Sometimes you lose

Lily, our dog, died this past weekend.

We arrived at my in-laws' house on Saturday morning, boys and baggage in tow. Lily has lived with Fox's parents for nearly two years. She has been in our world for eleven, almost as long as Fox and I have been walking Cupid's Grove. We entered the house through the garage, but when we met my mother-in-law at the door, we knew something was wrong. She was holding Lily, wrapped in a blanket, snuggled in her arms.

"Her foot is broken."

We asked how, why, what happened. You know, the usual questions, spoken too quickly because as much as you want the answer, you really don't. Mom-in-law and dad-in-law were taking Lily to the vet for an exam. After speaking with dad-in-law, we confirmed that he did not think it was a break. Lily is tiny - a chihuahua/dachshund blend - and it would be fairly easy to check her bones for obvious breaks. If it was broken, it was a hairline fracture. Her main symptom - she did not seem to be able to move her back legs.

That detail brought back a shadowy memory. In the early winter of 2000, I was just completing my first semester as a freshman at UMBC. My parents had come to Maryland to usher me back to NY for Christmas, and my sister was at home getting the house ready for this and that. We'd just crossed the bridges into NY when mom got a phone call. It was my sister, and there was something wrong with our collie, Sheena. She was lying on the floor, not moving, and crying softly. When we got home, we saw that Sheena could not move her back legs. Up we carried her, into the car, and right to the vet. Her diagnosis was grim. Sheena had had a stroke. Her legs were paralyzed. Worse, the damage was moving up her spine. She was gone in less than 24 hours.

Seeing Lily move like Sheena did - that half-step lurch, that stumble, that utter incomprehension that you, a human, are mute to explain. Memories flooded back, and it took great effort, and the distractions provided by the boys, to keep my mind afloat.

Lily went to the vet. The diagnosis did not, at first, seem as grim as Sheena's. It was not a stroke. She seemed to have something wrong with her spine, though, perhaps a bulging or cracked disc. The local vet said that she needed a trip to a neurological specialist. Mom-in-law and dad-in-law decided to do it immediately. Off they went to Leesburg. Fox and I were attached only by the tenuous line of cellular connectivity. We waited. The inlaws returned without Lily, because the tests would take all day, and perhaps last into the following morning. The first up (and the most important) was the MRI.

We got the call sometime after 8:00 PM on Saturday. Lily had degenerative disc disease. There had been only a 5% chance that that was her particular affliction. But it was the worst possible diagnosis. There is no cure for the disease, and all treatments are only minimally effective. As a family we had to decide Lily's life. I don't think I have ever agonized so much in so short a period of time.
What do we do? Do we bring her home and potentially increase her suffering? But what if she does recover? What if she doesn't? Couldn't she live in a box, a crate, or a cage? We could carry her everywhere. We would need to keep the boys away; they wouldn't understand. We love her. We aren't ready to lose her. She was supposed to live longer. She was a mutt. Don't mutts live longer? She was so feisty. She is all alone in that hospital. Can we make this decision?

Fox and I had made the decision before we went to bed. It is how we are. We don't sleep on much. We couldn't imagine Lily living in a box. She was a dog of life and verve, and anything we did to prolong her, we concluded would be for us and not for her. Unwilling to do that to her, we decided to - as they say - put her down. Rose took the phone call. She saw it as her responsibility. As always, when I grieve, I did not cry, but I think it would have been good to do so. It hurt so much. Flashes of Lily jumped in my eyes.

The day my eldest son was born, Lily was with me. We were snuggled warmly in bed. Fox woke up both us, and asked me to walk Lily. I did not understand at the time. It was very early in the morning, and Lily did not seem to understand either. She looked at me with bleary eyes. Then it dawned on me. Rose was in labor. Lily walked, quickly. And then we were off to the hospital.

Lily was with me so often. She was my friend, and I loved her. My baby girl. I can remember her smell, her warmth, the feeling of her heartbeat in my hand when I held her. I remember her growls, playful and grumpy. She was the Queen of her demesne. I miss her. I miss her more than I have ever missed anything. I have had several dogs in my life, but none were my Lily.

For love of the Queen...RIP.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Flipping My Classroom

Academic media is atwitter with discussions about ‘flipped’ classrooms. Most of my students, of course, have never heard of it. I was not immediately crazy about the idea. I like my lectures. My students tell me they like my lectures. What would teaching be if I gave up on lectures? Of course that is a gross misunderstanding of the flipped classroom. The lecture is still there. And, in fact, it has a more active role than it might in a traditional course. For the next few weeks I am going to write about my first attempt at “flipping” a class. My department offers Classical Mythology twice in the summer semester. I complete the first of those courses on Thursday. The second, which begins Tuesday, is a hybrid (half online, half in person). This hybrid course will also be flipped. Below I’ll outline what I mean.

1. Lectures for the course are posted online.
2. Because my students are unlikely to sit and watch an hour long recorded lecture, lectures have also been carved up into mini-lectures (10-15 minutes; many are shorter).
3. Class time will be devoted instead to working back over the lecture material, and, most importantly in a class based on the reading and analysis of ancient texts, on the working through of those same texts.
4. Assessments will live both online (discussion boards/blogs/journals) and in class (quizzes).

I’ll post parts of my syllabus this weekend as I gear up toward getting this new, hybrid myth off the ground.


A good link: http://flipped-learning.com/