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Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Binoculars

A Christmas gift of binocular lenses from my brother and his wife and family is making a big difference at the beach this New Years' weekend. 

In life as in all things, it makes a big difference to have the right tools. The right tools can change the way you do things, but more importantly, they can change how you view the world.

Four of us went birding in Laguna Madre bay yesterday with Captain Scarlet of Fin2Feather of South Padre Island.

Things I saw with my new binoculars:

A thousand shorebirds, egrets, cormorants, gulls and cranes. 

A tugboat that a local retiree uses to feed fish each day to pelicans and there must have been a hundred birds aboard his boat in line for a handout. 

We pulled in to the shore at several tiny barrier islands covered with mangrove that were exposed during our low-tide full-moon morning visit. On them were oyster beds, sand pipers, and most spectacular for their size and preternatural beauty,  the fully recovered population of pelicans and the colorful and stately Roseate Spoonbills proving that God is not only an Artist but someone with a sense of humor.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"I will not be just a tourist in the world of images," proclaimed one of my favorite writers, Anais Nin.  She told us so much about her life and loves in her diaries, displaying with a scientist's precision her heart's revolutions around the earth and the ideas she courageously explored.

Thinking this foggy December morning of Anais Nin and her life, the diaries she published and what she did and did not reveal about her experiences, I remember well receiving at my Laredo home a letter from her. She wrote to anyone who ever sent her a letter, her way of connecting in a personal way with the fans she gathered over the decades of her diaries and their publication. I was a girl of 17 and her letter is with me today, more than forty years later. She wrote of the heart, courage and the creative life. 

This morning the horizon is covered in a soft veil of clouds, an image that Nin might agree represents our experience: the present, our flesh and blood, here and now, infused with our past, with images and memories that stream behind us  like ribbons in the wind. The future is before us, a misty ambition, a dream we march toward, one step at a time, eyes squinting to see more clearly, listening to faint voices that say: 'move on,' and they remind me this morning to not be just a tourist in any of what this world holds, ideas, images, challenges and dreams. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What are the chances?

What are the chances a dentist who I met 30 years ago would make such an impact on my heart with the fine art of telling jokes?

No one likes going to the dentist. I didn't grow up going to a dentist, and only met my first one at the age of 20 when my wisdom teeth began giving me Big Trouble.

When I met Dr. Michael Weintraub I was about 25. I went to him on the recommendation of his patient, Ann Silver Rain, and immediately fell under his spell of comedy-- for the rest of his life-- and through a good amount of preventive dentistry for the life of my teeth.

When I received his regular letters to his patients, I would read every line, happy to learn about a new hobby: the violin, computers, golf and more golf. Each letter was beautifully written, full of details and ideas that were so alive I could hear his voice as I read them.

Last July when I saw him last, it was when he showed up standing tall next to the chair I was in having my teeth cleaned. I looked sideways to greet him with my eyes and was so pleased to see him brimming over with pride and joy as though to say "There is another happy mouthful of healthy teeth, and I am at least partially responsible!"

I can't remember any of the hundreds of jokes he pummeled me with over the years, but I wish I had the great memory to keep such a treasure in my brain and make so many people laugh as much as he did.

I went in for a cleaning yesterday and the assistants in the office were not the happy crew that usually greeted me. I assumed there was a problem, but simply said 'good morning' and was about to sit to wait to be called in when Laura, his long-time receptionist said "Doctor died last night, Linda." A massive heart attack took Dr. Weintraub from this plane, and the office, his patients and, most of all, his family are reeling from the loss.

As he would have liked, the cleaning I had gone in to receive was performed, and I left the office in a stunned state, not seeing his new Mercedes that his son gave him this year, of which he was so proud but not a fraction of how proud he was of his son.

I drove to an outlet sports apparel store about four miles away and bought some last minute Christmas gifts. As I was paying, I said to the clerk, "It's been such a weird day. I went to my dentist's today and learned he had died last night." The clerk didn't skip a beat and answered as he bagged my purchases, "I know, we were golfing together last week, his son and me. He comes in here all the time to shop."

Small world. What are the chances two of doctor's friends would meet in such a random way to share in our loss? What are the chances?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

End of Semester Notes

Ten Things I Learned In Fall 2012 Term

1. Less is More. After discussions with my Department Chair, Edgar Garza, this past year, I trimmed content and worked with Cynthia Franklin in Distance Learning to scaffold my projects. The results are deeper learning and more engagement. Students may have to watch "All the President's Men" and "The Most Dangerous Man in America" and learn about the history of the First Amendment later or for extra credit.

2. Critical Thinking is Critical. We focused on 5w's and h, the media literacy questions and using the library's databases for research. Each of the projects had these components and the student projects at the end of the semester were the best on record.

3. Teams Teach.  Time after time, I see students stepping up to complete assignments and go the extra mile for their teammates even when I fear they might not do so if working individually. Team projects need roles, time-tables, project plans and accountability, but the pay-off can be surprising and inspiring.

4.  Step-by-Step to Success.  Scaffolding, stair-stepping, breaking down projects into smaller assignments that build on each other help students to reach their goals. Some students see the big picture from the start, while others don't, but with small steps more students complete projects and realize the scope of their explorations in media presentations if the steps are laid out well and topics are important to them.

5.  Wesch is Right.  Michael Wesch, a Kansas State University Anthropology professor whose students study media's impact on our culture thinks it is vital for students to use media to study topics they identify.  Students are more engaged in exploring topics that are important to them while using relevant technologies, including social media.

6.  Can't See the Media For the Screens Before Our Eyes.  Like the trees that seem invisible for the forest around them, we humans in the 21st Century are nearly oblivious to the impact of technology and media on our lives, families and society. Activities and exercises that force us to calculate and quantify media's role in our lives are important to becoming media literate.

7.  Seth Godin is Right.  Students need to prepare for careers that are Internet-based, digital in nature and teeming with potential and possibility.  The days of punching a clock and collecting retirement are now officially in the museum of the industrial economy. Creativity, invention and innovation are the traits and characteristics required of people in the new information age. 

8.  Beauty is our Birthright.  Language, art, design, color, beauty and images are the tools we use to craft messages and to tell our story. Students have too long been passive recipients of television and YouTube. It's high time they start talking back and discovering their own voices and ideas.

9.  Time is Worth Studying.  Bill Gates has as much as I do, not a minute more or less. We often use or misuse the precious resource of time without considering the enormous and powerful force of mass media competing without rest for the valuable real estate of our minds, our eye-balls and our time. $300 billion is what advertisers spend each year to capture our attention. Let's at least be aware of what we might be doing instead of saying, "Sure, here's my time. Let's watch some mindless TV tonight again."

10.  Facts are Facts.  The more students question their own assumptions and opinions, the more they question the messages that are aimed at them from media outlets. Learning and working with journalism principles help to create in our students better thinkers and writers. Learning to quote, cite and paraphrase dense information, understand, collect, analyze and display data, and present complex ideas in clear language is the hardest work they can undertake.