Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Walk (Run?) Down Memory Lane

It really started a few years ago, when I drove to Logan, Utah to watch my brother Keith run the Top of Utah marathon. It wasn't his first or his last, but standing at the finish line waiting for him changed me. I watched a Marine cross the finish line, having carried a full-sized American flag 26.2 miles. I watched countless people cry as they crossed and I watched one guy jump impossibly high in celebration, on what must have been completely spent legs. I watched my brother cross and by then I had been crying for some time. Never had I seen such a concentration of human triumph.

Up to this point, I had been running a little (all on a treadmill, all at the gym and only 2-3 miles in a go). After this point, I determined to try and run a 5k. So, I kept running, registered for the Strawberry Days 5k in Pleasant Grove, and pushed myself a little harder at the gym. Jeff ran the race with me and we both came in around the middle (beating out the senior citizens and the people with baby joggers--yeah!) and it was around this time I started getting to know Kay. I mentioned to Kay that I wanted to start running (like, really running) and she offered to be my running partner. We were a little unevenly matched, she the Arabian purebred and I, Ol' Glue Stick from the pasture.

Kay is very patient.

She pushed me through the summer to prepare for the Provo River Half Marathon. We completed the race in fairly good time (for me, not her!) and I was amazed, even while running, that I was able to run so far. Afterward she asked, "So, a marathon next summer?" And a year ago next Saturday, we ran the St. George marathon together.

Getting ready... like 3 in the morning!

It was freezing last year. We wore pants and jackets up to the starting line, where they had bonfires and hot cocoa.

I wasn't sure if Kay would want to run the whole thing with me, since it was my first time and I was so much slower. But, in her words, "We train together, we run together!" And I love her for that!

This is mile 21? 23?, where we finally saw Jeff and smiled for some pictures.

In the last mile of the race, Kay kept saying, "It's just around this corner. The finish line is just around the corner." So we finally rounded the corner, and WAAAAY down the street was the finish line. That was the hardest distance of the marathon for me; the last quarter of a mile.

Kay and I have a million inside jokes, now that we've gone so many miles together. I never could have done this without her. She was the best coach/motivation/friend.

I thought maybe I'd cry when I finished- but I didn't. I was just happy- and pretty tired. I wore my medal for the next two days.

P.S. Kay is running St. George next weekend and hoping to qualify for Boston. Good Luck, Kay!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Am NOT Addicted...

It all started out August 22nd at Jeff's niece's wedding luncheon. They had those little snack bags with, among other things, orangey, cheesy, delicious, crunchy Cheetos. I'm not talking about those puffy, air-filled ones. I'm talking about the stelagtite-shaped, crispy-crunchy ones. So, I grabbed a bag with my lunch.

Mmmm...nom, nom, nom.

I quickly found that one bag was simply not sufficient. For, I wasn't even a quarter of the way through my meal and my Cheetos were gone. So, seeing the supply was plenty, I grabbed another. Elaina, wishing to be done with her meal and not having touched her Cheetos yet was for the first time ever, relieved from having to finish everything she'd dished up for herself. Bag #3 was just as wonderful as its predecessors. Bag #4 was procured by similar methods, donated by one of my newly favorited nieces. Ah, my stack of shiny, orange bags with Chester Cheetah grinning up at me. Ah, sweet cheesy fingertips, stained in reminder of my snack.

But I am NOT addicted. They were just really, really good and I haven't had them in a really, really long time.

Next, I was flying to San Diego. For me, as soon as the plane starts taxiing, I start thinking about my snack and my drink. Really, come on. It's the only diversion I have in there. I'm waiting and waiting for my bag of nuts or perhaps a cookie, when the lady sitting next to me (who took my window seat, but I was an adult and didn't give her a hard time about it) produces from her handbag a huge, family-sized bag of Cheetos. So I, from the aisle, watch as she takes each cheesy, crunchy walking-stick-looking snack from her enormous bag and munches them throughout the flight.

Cruel, nasty window-seat-stealng...

Weeks later, there is a carnival at the kids' elementary school and they have, oh yes- Cheetos in little, snack-sized bags. However at this venue, quantities are monitored and the kids weren't so gracious. So what was I to do when, as I was walking through the aisles at Costco, there was a gigantic orange bag of seemingly bottomless Cheetos? What was I to do?

I'll tell you what I did- I bought them for the first time in my life! I bought chips which, besides the tortilla varieties, I never do. And then, I sat on the front porch with my friend Chelsy and we ate them. Not all of them, but many. And every day since I have eaten many more.

The other day Elaina spotted me with my beloved bag and, raising it in the air, she put her hand on her hip. "Mom," she said in a very disappointed tone.

"What?" I asked, defensively.

She just looked at me, shaking her head. "Are you addicted?"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

WARNING: "Boring" Alert

Here is a bit from my presentation. I started with an intro and the various formal definitions of the word "liberal".

Let me start instead with the final definition, namely, an education based on the “traditional arts and sciences” or liberal arts. These include the study of arts, literature, languages, mathematics, science, history and philosophy. As a language and literature girl, I don’t see the value of mathematics in any education, but that’s another subject for another day. Based on this definition of the word “liberal,” do these things have place in a conservative environment? Is there value in science, in history, in philosophy and yes, even math? I should hope that the answer to this question, particularly in light of this definition, is yes.

Another definition of the word “liberal” has to do with attitudes supporting reform and progress. I would wager that, within this explanation is the very essence of Utah Valley University. Without reform and progress we would not be a University, would not have the new facilities, the expanded degree and course offerings that we have presently. Reform allows this institution to maintain its core values, building on them even as the school identity shifts and adjusts to the demands of change. This is re-FORM, with emphasis on the word “form,” and not a disassembling or a destroying. It is taking the existing materials and adapting them, reforming, reshaping. Is there a place for these types of liberal ideals? Of course.

For me, perhaps what is most defining in terms of my exposure to a “liberal” education on this campus is as it is presented in quantifiable terms. Namely, as liberal is defined as “giving freely” or “generous in amount.” I see a “liberal” education as one that tries to answer the questions, fill in the gaps, find holes in knowledge accepted and perhaps taken for granted. Does it mean that I accept everything I am taught? Of course not. No one here would. But the education is there, in all forms, for me to choose or not. In this definition of a “liberal” education, there are opportunities for expanded knowledge. There is an environment for critical thinking, for adding to established knowledge and perhaps making a contribution to various fields of research.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities defines a liberal education thus: “Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.”

Most often, when confronted with the term, “liberal,” there are other definitions that we place upon it. The political notions of progressiveness are sometimes the first and most readily-associated, contrary to many of the definitions we’ve encountered here. Often the term in itself can call to mind a certain way of thinking, a certain pedagogy that many, in this local climate of conservativism, might approach with caution. Likewise, those labeled “conservative” are often pitted against these liberal notions- forcing some kind of opposition, a line drawn in the sand where one is either of the liberal camp or the conservative one. Really, the fact that these labels exist at all should, within the definition and aims of a “liberal” education, be troubling.

I, myself, can identify with many of the views shared by so-named conservatives. However, I have also learned, as I have studied out the implications of the word “liberal,” that I’m not entirely comfortable being placed in a position opposing it, either. In fact, as I have attended Utah Valley University, a University I have just described as being “liberal,” I have had to reconsider many of the views and beliefs I had before entering the school. Through my “liberal” education I have been taught to think critically, to learn and to test boundaries, and to challenge “liberal” and “conservative” views alike.

So now, let’s return to our original question, namely, what is the value of a “liberal” education on a “conservative” campus? Let’s remove these formerly-held labels that I have discussed, which deal in preconceptions and misconceptions. Let’s not limit one another, or the campus in general, to the supposed terms of reductive identities, and let’s allow one another to move freely about, questioning the validity and legitimacy of either and all arguments, ideals and traditions.

It should also be the concern of students and educators, in all facets of this argument to consider the implications of a “liberal” education, or one in which critical thinking, question and inquiry are championed. You could say a “liberal” education fosters an atmosphere in which students are challenged, where boundaries are reconsidered, and where beliefs are examined. It is important to notice that I use the words “challenged,” and “questioned,” and not such words as “belittled” or “threatened.” I don’t believe that inquiry has to threaten beliefs or traditions, to destroy any previously-held ideals, in order to be challenging.

I will conclude with what a “liberal” education, as I have come to understand it and as I have experienced it here on UVU’s campus, has been for me. I have received liberal, or generous helpings of viewpoints and attitudes, beliefs and ideals. I have been taught to examine them critically and to sort through them in order to discover my own answers and sets of truth within them. I have been taught to find my footing in an atmosphere that fosters development, social responsibility and, to quote the AACU, “strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.”

When we remove labels, notions of “us” versus “them” or “attackers” versus “the attacked,” when we strip away such reductive and destructive behaviors, education can take place. A true and truly “liberal” education can take place.

Monday, September 22, 2008

AmShaZam will now take your questions

Ethics Awareness Week 2008, Utah Valley University

Before this, I thought giving talks in church were intimidating...

Over the summer, one of my professors wrote to me, asking if I would participate with her and a few other faculty members on a panel for the Ethics Awareness Conference that UVU holds each year on campus. This is where dignitaries, faculty, community members and students come to hear presentations which would raise our ethical awareness. Our panel was to address the very loaded question, "What is the value of a 'liberal' education on a 'conservative' campus?"

So, for our panel, Dr. Anderson presented first, followed by Dr. Wager, who was followed by Dr. Hamblin, and then (not Dr.) me. Intimidating? Uh, yeah! I gave my 10-minute presentation and then the floor was open to students, faculty and other audience members to engage in some Q&A. In the end, you'd have to ask someone who was there how it went, but I felt pretty good about it. I also fielded some questions and have lived to tell the tale.

Anyway, it was a good experience and best of all, is over! Phew!

(Picture coutesy of UVU's Department of Ethics and Values.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sunny San Diego

Jeff and I just got back a few days ago from a fabulous trip to San Diego. His company sends him there for a conference each year, so I tag along. This year we visited the San Diego zoo, and I was amazed. For those of you who haven't been, the above picture is from the zoo. The whole place was like a jungle, only they try to replicate different jungles from all over the world- like an Asian jungle with bamboo and pandas, or an Indian or African jungle. It was gorgeous. And I've never seen happier animals in captivity. Really. They looked happy!

We also went sailing on the bay, and I spent a day at the spa. If I didn't miss my kiddos so dang much, it would be hard to come home after a trip like that.

Oh- and now that I'm back, I'm dropping my French class! Thanks to all of you and your sound advise, I have the strength to say "no"! Hooray!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Quick- what does this picture remind you of?

If you said, "Oh my gosh- Full House!" Then yeah. It reminded me of that, too. This picture is also descriptive of what's been happening at the Watson casa. "Full House," indeed.

As many of you know, our house has been a "halfway house" of sorts for family members since we moved in about four years ago. We've had brothers, sisters, cousins friends and married couples staying with us continuously from the beginning. Well, for the past few weeks we've had Jeff's brother Jeremy and his wife living here and wouldn't you know- as soon as they get all moved in, they find a new apartment. So it looks as though, starting this weekend, we won't have any tenants. It will be so strange and quiet around here.

So, if anyone is planning a trip to Utah, make sure you stop on in and help us fill the new void in our lives. We're really excited to see Joe and Melissa in October!!