July 30, 2002

'Tis better to have loved and lost. . .

The cat is gone.

Sunday night, we put up a bunch of posters around the park. Monday morning, I called the pound and gave them a profile. Monday afternoon, I got two phone calls, one from a family whose cat took off after the new baby was born eighteen months ago and another from a Cupertino woman who had just lost a boy kitty named Max. Then, today, John called. Within ten minutes of that phone call, I had a flamboyantly colored man (mostly green and yellos)in my living room, complimenting my decor and and thanking me for being such a "darling angel." I asked what the cat's name was. He said "Cat." That explains why it was answering so well. . . .

In the meantime, I have discovered that there is a whole subculture of lost pets out there, if you're willing to look for it. Also, I learned that Stanford has a non-profit organization dedicated to the management of its feral cat population (why can't dogs ever be feral?) In fact, I have learned that, thanks to the Internet, there is a subculture for just about anything -- searching for how to determine a cat's sex led to some pretty interesting sites, even with filters turned on.

Fun fact of the day (thank you, Al): a roasted pig should be ordered two to four weeks in advance.

Posted by Meredith at 07:40 PM | Comments (2)

July 28, 2002

The heat is on

Not only did we pick up a strange cat, not only are my eyes permanently welded shut, not only does this cat walk on our heads every night but. . . .

this cat is in heat.

Yes, that's right. Whoever kitty previously belonged to 1) didn't believe in collars and 2) wanted hundreds of more kitties. Or, perhaps, these things just slipped her owner's mind.

How do I know this? The cat keeps "presenting" herself to me. Whereas normal cats like to have their chins scratched, this one constantly wants her rear end and tail touched. She kind of bunches herself down onto her front paws and launches her bottom into the air, almost as if she's going into some kind of superpounce. According to my reading, this means that kitty is looking for some action. Since we are not actually interested in acquiring an entire litter, this also means that kitty is now officially an indoor creature.

I suppose I should be honored that the cat has chosen to honor me with its affections. In the meantime, we put up "Found Cat" posters all over the park with three different color photos (ah, the joys of digital photography). I'm calling the pound tomorrow to see if anybody's reported a kitty missing. We walked by the park again today and discovered that it backs up to a creek, an empty lot, and two different school playgrounds. If you were going to abandon a kitty, that'd be a great place to do it. If we don't get a phone call in the next couple of weeks, it looks like "Curious Kitty Goes to the Veterinarian." We are, for sure, a no kitten household.

Posted by Meredith at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2002

they thought she was a goner, but. . .

We have adopted a cat.

Those of you loyal readers who know us well will be surprised by this for several reasons. 1) I have been begging to get a cat ever since we got married 2) Mike has said no, ever since we got married 3) I am so allergic to cats that they make my eyes swell completely shut (unlike mustard, however, I have never had to ride in an ambulance because of a cat (see earlier blog for details).

Here's what happened.

Mike and I went out for ice cream after dinner (in an obviously unsuccessful attempt to eat healthier, we have stopped keeping ice cream in the house). We walked down to Baskin Robbins, which is just past the park on the other side of El Camino. Afterwards, as is our way, we went for a walk while we licked our cones into oblivion. Since we were already on the other side of El Camino, I proposed exploring a new neighborhood. Mike agreed, and off we meandered.

In our meanderings, we explored the Little League fields. It had been years since I'd been on a real baseball field, and it felt like a good place to eat ice cream, talk of memories past, and generally look wholesome and all-American.

It was there that we met the cat. She first approached us on the baseball field, followed us to the snack stand, followed us to the bleachers, and followed us to the back fence. Unlike most cats, she approached us. And, unlike most cats, she carefully alternated her attention between me and Mike. This is an egalitarian cat.

We pet her for a while, then stood up to go. The cat followed. We walked to the fence of the park. The cat followed. We walked out of the park and down the street. The cat followed. We crossed the busy street and headed back toward El Camino, thinking that surely the cat had reached her territorial limits.

The cat followed.

At this point, we are sensing a moral dilemma. If the cat continues to follow and tries to cross El Camino, it will quickly become a cat pancake. We decide that this cat is going to follow us no-matter-what, so we pick the cat up and carry her right across El Camino.

The cat freaks out.

We put her down on a side street across El Camino. She is still freaking out. She has no idea where she is, and she no longer trusts us. We decide that we have made the wrong choice, and that we will carry the cat back across El Camino back to the baseball diamond where we first found her.

After much scratching, hissing, and biting (and you should have seen what the cat was doing!), we get the cat back across El Camino. We cannot successfully carry her right to the park, but we figure she is close enough to navigate her furry ass back home. We start to walk back home.

The cat follows.

Unbelievable. At this point, we decide it is a done deal. We send Mike home for the car so we do not have to do this hissy fit thing again as we cross El Camino. Although my heart is breaking, I continue trying to walk her back to the park. And I do! I get her right back to the original baseball diamond. Hallelujah. Mike arrives with the car, and we start back on the way home, broken-hearted but pleased with ourselves that we have done the right thing.

The cat follows.

The cat climbs in the car.

We drive the cat back home. After exploring the house and eating some shredded sandwich meat, she calms down considerably. We let her sleep outside, until we hear pitiful mewing. I let her in, and she curls up on the rocking chair. We go back to sleep until we hear pitiful mewing. I let the cat out. We go back to sleep again. We let the cat in, wake up, and open some tuna fish.

So, if you know anybody in Mountain View who's missing a rather daft, if loyal, kitty cat. . . . well, I'll leave the moral dilemma up to you. I can't quite see clearly about this anymore. My eye is swollen shut.

Posted by Meredith at 11:22 AM | Comments (3)

July 26, 2002

adventures in carwashing

I got my car washed this morning at the Shell station in Redwood City. I was all set to go through the automatic washer (one of my favorite things to do since I was a kid) when a woman came up to me with a coupon. Apparently, this Shell station now has a fancy-schmancy soft cloth car wash, where the washing, drying, detailing, vacuuming, waxing, and air-freshening are all done by hand. Or, more accurately, about ten different pairs of hands. Anyway, after throwing a bunch of paper junk in the trunk (which is, incidentally, my favorite euphemism for people with large behinds), I propped myself up against the gas station wall and watched people take over my car.

Now, the Shell station is on El Camino, and since I was in Redwood City and not in Los Altos, there were about ten men, mostly Spanish-speaking, lined up on either side of the gas station hoping for day labor. It was about noon, and it was clear to me (and, I suspect, to most of them) that most people looking for gardeners and construction hands had long since come and gone. Deprived by this new car wash of my childhood joy of watching giant scrubbrushes try to soap me, I started to watch the day laborers. I imagined what it must be like for someone, instead of going to work every day, to walk down to the gas station and take his chances. Four or five men walked into the gas station, taking off their hats. I figured they were calling it a day, but they bought some Gatorade and went right back out to the corner, some squatting on tiptoe, some sitting down on the curb, others leaning up against a pay phone. I thought to myself, "It takes a lot of guts to do that every day."

At this point, a young woman (about my age) came striding across the part of the parking lot where people were washing cars. To get to the gas station, she had to walk past the day laborers. She walked straight up to me and whispered in my ear, "That was so weird, having them all watch me like that." She whipped a cell phone out of her Armani handbag, called her boyfriend, and talked to him about how many meetings she had had today, asked if he was still at work (this was noon), and told him how frightened she had felt by the day laborers' "harrassment."

Sigh. I have seen the best minds of my generation, warped by the materialism of life in Silicon Valley. This shouldn't surprise me anymore. But it does.

I got to thinking, after this incident, about work. I started off, watching people work (hard!) washing my car in the hot sun, but the real drama of my morning unfolded as I watched people who, by choice or by happenstance, weren't working. As a teacher, I'm not working this summer either. When I am working, it is only part-time, a choice I continue to question. The men at the Shell station weren't working, and I suspect it was not by choice. Armani chick wasn't working, although she made damn sure that everyone at the Shell station knew what an important person she was, anyway.
Why do people assume that their job defines who they are?

Two years ago, I was the musical director for an adaptation of Studs Terkel's book, "Working." In this book, Terkel interviews over a hundred people from all walks of life about their work. Do they like it? What do they do on a typical day? Why do they do what they do? And, most importantly, what does their work say about who they are?

I don't know what my work says about who I am. I worry sometimes that, by teaching only part-time, I am only a part-time human being. I also worry that, if I return to a full-time job that I hate, I will become a person that I hate. More and more, I am convinced that Terkel was right: working is more than just making a living. It's about making a human being.

Posted by Meredith at 03:45 PM | Comments (1)

July 23, 2002


My loyal readership,

How honored I am by Al's blog comment, as well as Marty's earlier sympathies about how her plums upset my tum. It's good to know that your audience is listening. Now if only my blog had a purpose. . . .

I went out to a new Italian restaurant in my neighborhood last night, since our usual choice has been overusing the microwave lately. We sat across from a lonely-looking thin man, sitting at a table of four with a dozen pale pink roses, a cellophane-wrapped bottle of champagne, and a giant Minnie Mouse balloon. He sat alone for almost an hour while we ate, pausing once in a while to use his cell phone. I felt sad. I wanted to tell him how pretty I thought the flowers were and to laugh at the balloon. Here, I thought, was someone whose heart was in danger of breaking.

Finally, the person he was waiting for walked in. She was Kate Moss-thin, about 40, and she was followed by another plumper 40-year-old woman and a 5-year old boy. Heartsick gave Kate Moss the flowers and a kiss on the cheek. Then, the group sat down to dinner together, and for the rest of the night, except for the 5-year-old boy, DID NOT SMILE OR SAY A SINGLE WORD TO EACH OTHER. They just ate their food and looked grumpy.

Where is the love, I ask you?

In that spirit, here's what I wrote during my teaching demonstration today about what my summer at Berkeley has been like:

July 22, 2002 What the Summer Institute has been like for me

When I came here, I was very nervous. I was interviewed late, admitted late, and I felt like the candidate who just slipped in under the cracks. I felt like I had been given an expensive present that I didnít deserve. I was excited, though, to be in a roomful of teachers, my people, but coming from all different perspectives, just like my students do. How often, in my life, do I get to talk to brilliant teachers, practitioners at the top of their craft, who range from kindergarten to university in their levels? The Summer Institute has been a freeing experience for me. I have written earlier that I felt like something opened up inside of me, like there was somehow more space than there was before. I felt like my heart has grown bigger, more expansive. Before, I would never have dreamt of sharing my writing, personal or professional, with anyone else. It was too threatening, too invasive, and it couldnít possibly be good enough. Now, I feel like itís not having to share that writing, itís about getting to share it. Itís like my writing group has given me a gift, and I know that my presence is a gift as well. They have given me the gift of a bigger heart.

Posted by Meredith at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)

July 18, 2002


The nice thing about BAWP is that Thursday feels like Friday. A guaranteed three-day weekend almost offsets the exhaustion of eight straight hours of soul-searching.

(Note to self: do something completely shallow this weekend. Perhaps involving the show "American Idol.")

I am trying to continue to blog. Also, I am trying to not get sick from Marty's plum galette (it was marvelous, but I don't think plums agree with my tum).

To quote my colleague MikeL, "I like soup. Does anyone else like soup?"

Posted by Meredith at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2002

writing a blog

Thank you, reading public, for your lovely comments. Aren't you impressed that I came up with that schlock in ten minutes? Anyway, today's blog is online. (Al, note that I am blogging and that I expect a comment. Mike, note that you need to link me to mohea). But I digress. What I really want to tell you about is: Meredith's Visit to The Emergency Room Unlike Curious George, I did not get into the ether that the nice doctor provided. Like Curious George, I am fine. So what happened? Here's the deal: I left Berkeley at about 3:30 yesterday afternoon. By about 4:00, I noticed that I had a sore throat. At about 4:15, I noticed that my tongue wasn't working very well. By the time I got home at 5:00, my tongue and throat were starting to swell shut and I couldn't really talk. Mike came home, and we called the nurse hotline. They told us to call 911, so we did. Within about ninety seconds of calling, three firefighters in a shiny red engine showed up at our front door. They threw the coffee table out of the way, and spread equipment out on my living room rug, hooking me up to oxygen and a heart monitor. My blood pressure was slightly elevated, perhaps from the shock of three burly men appearing in my living room within a manner of minutes. They recommended that I ride to the hospital in an ambulance, just to be sure, so two paramedics arrived, put me on a gurney, and wheeled me into a shiny ambulance that took me to El Camino Hospital. As I rode, I looked out the window to see Mike tailing us in the new car. Who knew I married an ambulance chaser. Once we got to the emergency room, they wheeled me into a curtained-off room and the world's most underpaid, overworked nurse took my blood pressure for the billionth time. I felt fine by this point, so I spent most of my time observing my fellow patients. One man had to have a lot of blood taken, and a nurse accidentally spilled some on the floor. She looked at the blood, mopped it up with a towel, then went on about her business. Remind me never to touch a hospital floor again. It turned out that my family doctor was actually on call, so he stopped by, looked at my throat, and, like everybody else, determined that I had had an allergic reaction, who knows to what. We figured it was spicy mustard, strawberries, or almonds. The whole thing took about an hour and a half, and it was quite the adventure. The only disappointment was not getting some ether. Perhaps, next time, I will make Mike wear a yellow hat.

Posted by Meredith at 02:00 PM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2002

Plagiarism? Hmmm . .

This is a tough issue with language learners, because they often use other writer's words as part of their language learning process. Before students can produce language, they can understand it. They can often point to the main idea in a piece of writing more easily than they can put it in their own words, so they steal the language directly, hoping to survive the assignment, which is often too hard and not developmentally appropriate.

I remember one 12th grade ELL student, Vinh, who plagiarized his research assignment. Almost the entire thing appeared to be his copy of a website. I confronted Vinh, asking him if he could define certain words in his essay. He could not. Since this was the fifth time Vinh had done this, I asked him to stay after school to rewrite that essay, thinking if I could see him write, i would know he was using his own words. After a lot of grumbling, he agreed to stay and he rewrote the essay, which I graded. Vinh had no idea what he had researched. His sentences were barely readable, and it was clear that he didn't know what he'd done. Even though I gave Vinh a second chance, I still gave him an F.

Was that the right thing to do?

I'm not sure. I know that the assignment I'd given was too hard for Vinh, but I also know that no other teacher had ever called him out for copying his assignments from websites. In fact, that strategy had gotten him successfully all the way to 12th grade. By letting him get away with it, nobody was teaching Vinh to write. I wish I had been able to do that for Vinh, but by the time he showed up in my class, it was already too late. Vinh did the same thing on the writing competency test. He failed the test, failed my class, and failed to graduate.

The question I'm left with: did I fail Vinh?

Posted by Meredith at 02:00 PM | Comments (1)

July 01, 2002

Teaching Can Be Tough

Teaching can be tough. It can be especially tough if the student has no interest in the teacher, the subject, or for that matter, the world. The question that comes to my mind is "Why is this student reluctant to learn from me?" There have been so many answers to that question over the years: I look too much like mom, the student didn't eat breakfast, the student can't read, the student can't read in English, I am the class right before lunch. You name it.

The first step in teaching, as in the writing process or scientific method, is to figure out what the problem is. If I look too much like mom, that's a very different problem from my student can't read in English. Next, I'd start to generate possible solutions to the problem (i.e. approach the student gently, start speaking Spanish, apply brute force) and one by one, start trying them to figure out what works.

I am reminded of Ruthie, a seventh-grader I have known since she was in diapers. One summer, I was Ruthie's piano teacher. It was summer. Ruthie was tired, hot, and ready to go swimming. She was not ready to learn how to read music. When I walked into her living room, Ruthie sat down at the piano bench, but sometimes, she would sit facing away from the piano. Sometimes, she would hide under the piano. And sometimes, she would start running around the piano. Anything to avoid a piano lesson.

After several weeks of disastrous lessons, I started to zero in on the problem. At first, I thought it was that Ruthie hated the piano. But then, some weeks, I would walk in and she would be picking out tunes. I knew it wasn't that she hated me, because she would come bounding down the stairs to hug me each week. As I kept observing her, I noticed that when Ruthie made a mistake in the music, that's when the running around started. The problem wasn't that piano was boring. The problem was that she was scared of failing.

Okay. Possible solutions. I tried lecturing Ruthie about the importance of making mistakes. We even developed a gesture to show how we didn't care -- every time she made a mistake, we blew it off the piano keys and waved goodbye so it wouldn't bother us anymore. That lasted a week. Finally, after more trial and error, I decided that the best approach was for Ruthie to play whatever she wanted. Piano lessons weren't about getting things right or wrong, they were about making music. So that's what we did. Some days it was "Do Re Mi" and some days it was Britney Spears songs, but we played.

And that's how teaching works. It's about playing, tinkering, but most of all, enjoying what happens along the way.

Posted by Meredith at 10:00 AM | Comments (4)