Moving Pictures (2)

As mentioned in the first post in this series, my subconscious has been having a bit of fun with me as I grapple with the maddening process of moving from my old home to a new one. Because the brain-noise hits keep coming, I’m sharing those oddball dreams here.

Dream 2: Monday Avenue

It all began with furniture.

My mother and I were selecting and arranging a sofa and some chairs in my new house’s living room. It was fun, actually, and a little surreal — the sofa unexpectedly turned out to be a convertible sofa-bed, and the randomly appearing chairs coordinated with it no matter what shape or color it took. Then, for no reason at all, the mirror above the fireplace mantel disappeared and was replaced with a sort of hole, inviting (we thought) the purchase and placement of a television.

Obviously, we had to go find one, so we trotted off into the night down Monday Avenue to find a pawn shop.* Also: for some reason, we were not going to the pawn shop to buy a television. We were going because I suddenly needed a part-time job.


The pawn shop we found was small. When we entered the single front room, it was decorated like someone’s idea of an old saloon — red cloth-textured wallpaper and too much mahogany combined into something faintly lurid. The proprietor and another man were talking at the counter, both using an exaggerated Boston Southie dialect. When I told them why I was here, I was given a sort of test to see if I knew what I needed to know to properly value the objects brought in to pawn. I noticed that behind the counter, there was a carefully secured shelf full of books that I instinctively knew to be nearly worthless — damaged middle volumes of unpopular old series, worm-worried journals, assorted artsy novelties, and a middle-grade literature textbook from the 1940s that seemed a bit water-damaged.

Water-damaged page from A Specimen Book of Types of the Athenaeum Press (1907)

It occurred to me that things might not be as they appeared here.

Just as the proprietor was about to tell me when to start working (apparently, I passed the test), two young men with old guns entered the shop, shouting angrily. My mother and I thought that this would be a good time to leave, so we hustled out into the night on Monday Avenue. On the way back to my house**, we suddenly detoured into a gigantic church full of people (mostly women and children) who seemed to be waiting for something. We waited, too, until we stopped waiting and ran off into the night again.

We never did get that television.

*I have no idea where Monday Avenue is, or why it featured so heavily in my dreaming mind.

**My new house is not on Monday Avenue. I have no idea why my brain kept insisting that it would be, or that it might be nearby. There is no Monday Ave in the town to which I am moving, as far as I know. There is, as it happens, a Monday Ave in or around Mount Airy, NC, which is the town where Andy Griffith grew up (the model for Mayberry). Make of this odd little fact what you will.

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Moving Pictures (1)

Moving to a new house is often a bit nightmarish. It’s a lot of work managing the innumerable details of the process (selling or ending a lease on a house, buying or renting a new one, packing, finding a moving solution, changing addresses, changing banks, dealing with utilities and other service providers at both ends, cleaning…). It can be stressful and expensive, and I don’t know many people who do it for fun (although fun can be had along the way).

With my own move coming up alarmingly fast, I find myself having actual nightmares (or at least very weird dreams) about it. I’ve decided to share them. That’s what they say about nightmares, isn’t it? The more the merrier?*

Dream 1: The Wrong House

“A Beautifully Furnished Dining Room”
(screenshot of image from Hazel H. Adler, How to Choose Colors and Furnishings for Your Home (1926), p. 10., courtesy of the Internet Archive)

I woke up in the wrong house.

That is, it was my house. I knew it was my house — I was lying in my own bed, my dogs were in the room with me, I was surrounded by my own stuff — but once I left my bedroom, it was abundantly clear that everything about it was wrong. The layout had changed and expanded in unexpected directions. Outside, the yard was still fenced, but differently — just a small bit was confined by a fence in a style quite unlike the one I expected to see.

“Alcove Breakfast Room”
(screenshot of image from Hazel H. Adler, How to Choose Colors and Furnishings for Your Home (1926), p. 11., courtesy of the Internet Archive)

There was an old woman inside with her daughters (I’m not sure how many — they seemed always to hover in the background, busy at some chore or other). She didn’t seem at all alarmed to see me, although she insisted the house was hers, and not mine. She cheerfully led me through ever-increasing halls and rooms and corridors, insisting that she knew just how to help me.

“Cheerful and Tasteful Farmhouse Dining Room”
(screenshot of image from Hazel H. Adler, How to Choose Colors and Furnishings for Your Home (1926), p. 10., courtesy of the Internet Archive)

As we traveled, I noticed that slowly, terribly, inexorably, every room was becoming a dining room in some historical period decor or other. The old woman’s cheerfulness began to wear a little thin when she noticed (I think it was the weirdo fuzzy white 1970s dining set that nearly broke her). We moved as quickly as we could, but we could never escape it — every turn led to a table and chairs and a sideboard, and we knew that we didn’t dare stop to rest, or we’d be waiting forever for dinner.

*Obviously, no, they do not say this about nightmares. Nor should they, whoever “they” are.

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A Journey in Five Pictures

This weekend marked an end and a beginning, embodied in one last, long trip across familiar ground toward something new.

There were signs along the way, including the always incongruous guidepost of a light across the corn (nowhere near the water).

From above, the vast scale of Iowa’s farmland — across which a guiding light might indeed be helpful — became visible in its winter uniform of browns and grays and faded greens, not yet covered in the snow to come.

There was a lot of water on the way, though, and the amazing sight of Chicago in the winter haze on Lake Michigan…

…and a bend in the river between Illinois and Indiana under a dramatic sky.

And finally I arrived at a new home, the site of my new adventure, with a holiday-bright holly tree growing in the wooded yard.

This is only the beginning of the real journey, of course — there are moving boxes and a million details in my future, and the frightening fun of starting a new job in a new place with amazing new people — but I already feel like I’m ready for this to be home.

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New Construction: Epilogue

Long, long ago, I started a little series here on the ol’ blog about using the ACRL Information Literacy Framework to design my Fall 2018 Introduction to Philosophy syllabus. The course was built with the Information Creation as Process frame as a guide for doing a wee bit of backward design magic to generate outcomes and then fill in tools and methods for instruction and assessment.

The time has come at last, as this semester staggers off into a snowy sunset, to take stock of the success (such as it is) of my attempt. In this post, as promised back in September, “I’m going to take a look at likely problems and issues worth taking seriously in consideration of this course as a model for applying the Framework.”

The Best Laid Plans…

A palace on paper (one floor of a plan for one, anyway), courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art via the Internet Archive

The course I designed (built specifically to meet the needs of intro-level non-majors with varying levels of prior writing experience and no other acquaintance with philosophy) was fairly straightforward: students would read a general audience-friendly set of texts, take regular quizzes, a midterm, and a final exam to demonstrate their comprehension of the assigned reading, write two essays to practice identifying their own positions and making their own arguments, and learn some basic research and reading skills through a regular end-of-unit article collection assignment.

Under ideal conditions, this course setup would result in (I hoped) a class of students who could at least dip a brave toe in the waters of proper philosophical argument and analysis, having acquired some of the necessary reading, thinking, writing, and research skills for doing so. They would, at minimum, leave the course slightly more able to find and analyze information and slightly more practiced at developing their understanding and presentation of that information. The Process would be more familiar to them, and they could take what they learned in this class to other disciplinary areas and put it to good use. 

Of course, the class wasn’t actually run under ideal conditions. Some things got edited in mid-stream to fit changes in the schedule. Quizzes sort of…disappeared, late in the term, because I fell behind in creating them. The research assignment turned out to need more tweaking, mostly to account for tech and accessibility problems. Still, I think that when things did work, they worked well, and for the most part when they didn’t, it was because I wasn’t keeping up as well as I would have liked, not because the plan itself was faulty (so: execution errors, not design errors, were the major issues here).


Bran Castle (6)
Into every castle courtyard, a little snow must fall…

Let’s break this down by assignment type:

Quizzes and Exams

The quizzes were all short — 5 questions, 2 pts per question, a mix of multiple choice and short answer/short essay tasks. While I had originally intended to confine myself to multiple choice questions (mostly to save myself grading time), I discovered that the short answer/essay responses told me a lot more about where the students were in their comprehension of the reading material. The accomplished what I used to use pre-meeting online discussions to do: getting students to generate their own explanations and arguments. If I were ever to teach a course of this kind again, I’d spend the month before start of term rewriting the quizzes; even with the increased grading time needed to manage short essay tasks like this, it would be worth it.

The midterm exam (really more of a Supersized Quiz) was written right around the time I realized I needed to lean on essay/answer instead of multiple choice, and turned out to be a reasonably good indicator of who was “getting it” and who wasn’t. The final (to take place in a couple of weeks) will be much the same, I expect.

Essay Process

I was most happy with my essay process, even if I did find myself tweaking and changing details up to the last minute for each one. The process for each of the two essays began with a set of questions meant to help each student to identify her own position and think about its advantages and potential shortcomings. Then students generated outline-shaped drafts of their papers (filling out a template that I gave them), and posed questions and offered comments to each other in a discussion forum for the purpose of peer review. Finally, taking on board both their peers’ comments and mine, they revised their initial outline drafts into a final paper. I ended up quite liking the results — the students who entered into the process in good faith and put some thought into it got pretty reliably decent results (nothing I’d send on to a conference, but solid work demonstrating a grasp of essentials nonetheless). When it went well, it went very well, and students did a good job of actually engaging their peers’ critical notes and suggestions.

Research Assignment

This went…less well. I set my class up in Zotero and arranged for them to contribute a set number of articles (one per unit, typically) in a Group there. I showed them how to use the system to generate correctly formatted citations for their own papers, how to tag and organize, etc. We talked about what constitutes an appropriate source for this assignment (i.e. STOP LINKING SEP AND WIKIPEDIA ENTRIES, DARN IT, AND GO DO FURTHER RESEARCH!). Some of them really got into it and used the system well. Others didn’t seem to grasp the relationship between the information they entered, linked, or created and the information the system put out when they tried to generate citations. We struggled, early on, to manage some tech issues. I admit that I didn’t always find the time to comment and correct work on this assignment as much as I can now see that I should have.

The in-class discussions of the articles we found reminded me, too, that a) I needed to ensure access to material much earlier to make sure it got read — I hadn’t allowed enough time, and b) I would have been better off picking articles and only requiring the class to address short sections of them, perhaps with some specific reading comprehension agenda in mind. 

This one was fine for a first try in Intro, but I’d definitely do it differently now that I’ve seen how it goes. I would certainly budget more time early on for learning to find materials, learning how to evaluate them, and learning some reading comprehension tricks. I would also budget more time for learning the Zotero tools, and perhaps set up a couple of small introductory quizzes or tasks to check student understanding of the system.

Final Thoughts

Was this a successful use of the Framework? I think, on the whole, that it was — or that it at least came close to it. If I were in the position to regularly teach this class again, I know exactly which things to change to make it work better. As a model for others, I would suggest it not as a tried-and-true template for a course, but rather as an example of the kind of thinking it might be worth doing in order to create a class in which information literacy instruction is built into the whole thing rather than added as an embellishment or optional feature.

Posted in Adventures in Teaching with the ACRL Information Literacy Framework, Library Business, Philosophy | Tagged , , , ,

Conversations With Small Dogs About Sin and Repentance


This is the look of a repentant dog. It is also the look of a no-account canine liar who regrets nothing.

Me: Buddy, we need to talk about some of your recent behavior.

Buddy: Pretty cool stuff, right? Right?!?!

Me: Um…I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. What do you think you did that was cool?

Buddy: Well, let’s see — yesterday, I did that amazing trick with the butter sticks, and this morning I pre-soaked those paper towels for you. Awesomeness is me! Do you happen to have a cookie handy?

Me: [sputtering for a few moments in disbelief] The “trick” with the butter sticks involved you stealing a whole box from the grocery bags, hustling out to the back yard, and eating as much of it as you could before anyone noticed!

Buddy: I know, right? AMAZING!

Me: [sighing heavily]: No! No, “amazing” was not the word I was looking for. And that’s nothing compared to the “pre-soaking” bit. Why on earth did you just walk over and pee on the new package of paper towels?

Buddy: I thought I’d save you some time.



The true face of Buddy, Canine Menace To All That Is Good and Decent In The World



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The Unexpected Gift of Annotation

The fun thing about the Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms is that in addition to their more spiritual gifts, they sometimes also contain other things.

While it is generally considered an urban legend, I can say with complete confidence that finding money in a Gideon does happen — I found this dollar in a motel Gideon in Ames, IA some years ago, tidily marking a rather unremarkable place in 1st Chronicles (not the most exciting of scriptural locations). I have no idea who put it there or why — usually, if you find something that looks like money in a Bible, it’s a bit of fakery for the purpose of proselytization, and not real money at all. In Ames that day, though, the Lord and/or a previous resident of the room provided a dollar when I needed money for the vending machine, which was certainly nice!

As it happens, money is not the only thing people leave behind in nightstand Bibles. Sometimes (as I discovered in my hotel room in downtown Denver, CO recently) you get advice:

It’s a funny sort of thing, that annotation. There’s a story or three in it, to be sure. “You need help?” It seems to ask, before telling the reader (sadly? angrily?) to “Put this down and find your own way.” Is this the wisdom of someone who tried both ways, or the exasperation of someone tired of being sold what this Bible offers? Has anyone else found the annotation, and availed themselves of its suggestion to find their own way? It’s hard to tell on that last point — like most hotel Gideons, this one looks shiny and new. Other than the annotation, it’s pristine, as if the only other time it were ever opened was the occasion of its being annotated. This little written competition for the traveler’s soul also suggests a small, nearly invisible move in an ongoing cultural and political dispute about the nature of hospitality to the needy, to the traveler, etc. One wonders if its message (its many messages, really) has ever reached or will ever reach the person it’s all meant to help.

Also, frivolously: While I’m happy enough to find my own way, a small donation to the vending machine cause never hurts…

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Time: Some Examples

A little while back, I wrote a post about the John Margolies photograph collection at the Library of Congress Flickr stream. It is a fascinating collection, documenting the architecture of the (now nearly forgotten) highways and byways of the United States, freezing and preserving a moment in the lives of the towns that line those roads. Some of the towns documented in the collection were photographed in the process of dying, as early as the 1980s, their populations shrinking and their visitor traffic similarly diminished. The buildings, though, even then stood as a reminder of an undimmed and  ambitious civic imagination.

As it happens, Margolies photographed some buildings not far from where I live. When I saw them in a recent upload to the LOC stream, I got an idea: why not go out and photograph some of those buildings as they are today (assuming they still stand)? So I hopped in the car and took myself on a little morning road trip, out here in the slowly-emptying fields and fading towns, off to find Margolies’ subjects in 2018.

In Storm Lake, IA, for example, the G. Witter building still stands tall on Erie St. :

The image on the left is the photo John Margolies took c. 1987; the photo on the right is the one I took in September 2018. While much remains the same — the basic structure of the building, originally constructed in 1888, is largely untouched — significant elements of the facade (especially the windows) have been altered. I was amused to notice the parking meters back in the 80s photo — all parking is free in Storm Lake now! The change to the doorway in the building just to the north is very recent indeed (as in “perhaps late August/early September 2018” recent). The G. Witter’s restaurant and bar operated in Storm Lake at least through the early 2Ks, although by 2002 or so it had moved across the street to a different building. The Witter family were kind of a big deal in and around Storm Lake, and owned rather a lot of the former farmland on which residences north of Milwaukee Ave. (IA7) now stand.

Just up IA7 from Storm Lake in Aurelia, IA, the Honsbruch Drug Store (photographed in the 80s by Margolies, on the left) has been replaced by…well, Lots ‘n More:

As you can see, there have been changes to the awning and the panels above it, as well as to the doorway next door that goes into the rest of the building block. As nifty as the original storefront was, though, I think the whole building the store occupies is actually a more interesting subject, whether in the 1980s or in 2018.

Lots 'n More

The former home of the Honsbruch Drug Store in Aurelia, IA

The cool bit (the odd bit) of the building is on the right side of the photo — a (fake?) cuckoo clock, over an architecturally incongruous entrance. I find myself curious about what this building was originally meant to be, given all of the things it is now.

Somewhat further away and to the south in Odebolt, IA, there’s a bank building that probably wasn’t operating as a bank even when Margolies encountered it thirty-odd years ago:

The differences between the Margolies photo on the left and the one I took on the right are actually kind of interesting — I encourage you to click the links and head over to the versions of the images hosted on Flickr, where it’s fairly easy to zoom in and look at the details in each shot. Sometime before Margolies encountered the structure in 1987, someone had covered up the bank name (Farmers Savings Bank); I know it operated as a bank under that name at this address at least as far back as 1929, but by the 1980s at least one bank (possibly more than one) had failed in Odebolt. Now, the name of the bank is restored, and many of the damaged pieces of the facade have been cleaned and repaired. Windows have been replaced, the door painted, an air conditioner added. One of the buildings next door was demolished years ago, now replaced by climbing ivy or creeper, while the other appears more or less unchanged. The structure is located in Odebolt’s historic district, an easy few steps across the street from the Iowa Rural Schools Museum and the Peterson Pioneer Home among other things, well worth a visit if you’re wandering the back roads and end up there.

There’s more to see, of course, but my little morning tour had to be cut short (I had other obligations that day). Still, it was a beautiful trip down quiet old highways, with harvest-ready fields warm and ready under the sun — a reminder of what a road trip could be, in a slower world.

Posted in Americana, Iowa, Library of Congress Flickr Stream MAGIC, photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,