April, 2012 Archives

Um, Yah, Yah!

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April 29th, 2012

Not only did our daughter Skye fall in love with St. Olaf, but they fell for her too. photo by Rodney CurtisOur dear, darling daughter has finally made her collegiate decision, but it was not without fits and starts. We visited colleges from sea to shining sea over the past few years. Who knew she’d […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcSt.Olaf_.jpgNot only did our daughter Skye fall in love with St. Olaf, but they fell for her too. photo by Rodney CurtisOur dear, darling daughter has finally made her collegiate decision, but it was not without fits and starts. We visited colleges from sea to shining sea over the past few years. Who knew she’d end up on top of a remote hill, in the middle of rural Minnesota?

Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of St. Olaf. Most of her friends haven’t either. They say, “Skye? …. Saint? We never would’ve thought you’d attend a school whose first name is Saint.”

It’s not like our daughter’s a rampant sinner or diametrically opposed to anything religious. On the contrary, she’s very spiritual. It’s just people make certain assumptions about things based on names alone. For instance, you wouldn’t expect Conservatives to be conservationists.

During our college visits, we’ve seen a lot of campuses and taken a whole bunch of tours. No Admissions Department was as incredible as the one at St. Olaf. They’re known for courting the whole family; I realized this as I munched on duck empanadas at the president’s shindig for prospective parents.

Another dad I met there mentioned this was his fifth event so far. He told the story of being wined and dined with other Chicago-area parents at a lavish affair on the Magnificent Mile. They then all strolled down the street to an enormous cathedral and were ushered into the front pews of a standing-room-only performance of the St. Olaf choir. He contrasted that with a meeting he had at another college where a harried Admissions officer met him at a back table of a crowded Panera and he had to pay for his own coffee.

As other colleges showed varying degrees of interest in our daughter, St. Olaf phoned and wrote and offered scholarships. They even revised their awards upward after hearing about our financial concerns. In separate meetings on campus, everybody seemed to know Skye already. Kathy Ruby, the Financial Aid guru laughed and quoted one of our daughter’s notes verbatim. And Brian Burgemeister (yes, his name is one letter shy of that guy in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town) deserves a medallion for dealing with Marci and I.

Skye loves them and they love Skye. There’s nothing more important.

It’s a very incongruous college. The tiny town of Northfield, Minnesota hosts two incredible schools of higher learning. On opposing hills, flanking their main drag, Carleton College sits to the East and St. Olaf to the West. Thus, Northfield’s motto, emblazoned on their official town signs is “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment.

Any small town, though, that has a great Indian restaurant, has my vote. Cows, Colleges, and Curry for me. Not to mention Malt-O-Meal, but I’ll get to that.

A student named Bjorn (what else would you expect at a college named after a Norwegian King?) told us if you don’t like reading a lot, then discussing what you’ve read, don’t come to St. Olaf. Skye was hooked. She immediately applied for and was accepted into their Great Conversations course, which meets for two years. Basically, you live with a bunch of other students who love to read, read, read then talk about what they’ve just read, read, read.

Voted amongst the top ten nationwide for college cuisine (see duck empanadas above) I know my kid’s going to eat well during those cold Minnesota winters. I realize I’m sounding like a brochure for the school; can you tell I’m trying to sell myself on her being so far away?

I did my research though. I was worried about a lot of different things. Some rational (is it really a dry campus in the middle of a cornfield?), others totally irrational (yes, in fact they keep a thick file on ghost sightings in the cool, fun olde tyme buildings). So in my quest to ease “your” minds about the college in the middle of nowhere, I compiled this list of extremely pertinent facts.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcGatsby.jpgFUN ST. OLAF FACT #1: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby dropped out of St. Olaf after only two weeks because he could not bear the janitorial job with which he was paying his tuition.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcGoldenGirls.jpgFUN ST. OLAF FACT #2: Betty White’s character on The Golden Girls came from St. Olaf.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #3: That honey badger narrator is a graduate of St. Olaf. The internet meme has been viewed more than 43 million times.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #4: Their fight song, Um Yah Yah, is the only college fight song in the U.S. that’s a waltz. They also chant “Um Yah Yah” fourteen times in the song, which is fourteen times more than any other school in the world. Click on the link if you want to sing along. (The tipping point for Marci were their amazing Um Yum Yum cookies).

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcWindturbine.jpgFUN ST. OLAF FACT #5: An enormous wind turbine that dominates their “skyline” saves the school a quarter million dollars in electricity costs every year. They were the first liberal arts college in the nation to construct one for the sole purpose of providing energy to the campus.

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #6: They make Malt-o-Meal, the delicious warm breakfast cereal, about twenty steps from campus. The smells waft over Carleton or St. Olaf, depending on the prevailing winds. (subfact: this blogging software can be horrible with lining up graphic elements, depending on the prevailing winds).

FUN ST. OLAF FACT #7: Their national-award-winning Rube Goldberg team has more girls on it than any of the other national Rube Goldberg teams. They made this fun ad for Target.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcKeillor.jpgFUN ST. OLAF FACT #8: And last but certainly not least, there is a long history between Garrison Keillor and the school, including this past fall when he broadcast Prairie Home Companion from their Skoglund Center Auditorium.

My mentor, Bill Palmer of Alma College, has helped me come to terms with actually sending my kids away to college instead of keeping them locked under the stairs. He says St. Olaf has a wonderful reputation among educators so I’m loosening my clutches, albeit hesitantly. Even stranger yet, I found out during our conversation that Bill thinks I would make a good spokesman or Admissions guy for a college I believed in.

Maybe I can get a job there and move the whole family to join Skye. Are you listening Mr. Burgemeister?

Um Yah Yah!

Spring Eternally Hopes

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April 24th, 2012

Sitting quietly, patiently outside my window, our continual companion stays in soft bloom between Winter and Summer. photo by Rodney Curtis I sometimes sit staring outside, wondering what became of Spring, or the fake, funny, vernal tease we had a month ago. It was an enjoyable prelude to things that will come. I’ve taken it […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcPurpleTree.jpgSitting quietly, patiently outside my window, our continual companion stays in soft bloom between Winter and Summer. photo by Rodney Curtis

I sometimes sit staring outside, wondering what became of Spring, or the fake, funny, vernal tease we had a month ago. It was an enjoyable prelude to things that will come. I’ve taken it as an allegory for my current, present, now.

The purple tree out front has been holding onto its blooms for what seems like a month or more. Frozen in mid-transformation, it’s a cryogenic specimen of life waiting to spring eternal. For some artistic, mythic reason it has paused in its most beautiful and elegant form.

Normally, the temporary swing from Winter to Summer feels fleeting. The rebirth in all living things wants so desperately to spring forth, that their foot race to fruition blurs past us. I am honored to watch and enjoy the stop-motion photography taking place all around me.

This may not be a first — this lengthy, prolonged Spring — but it’s a first for me, sitting in my armchair as witness. I haven’t had the space or maybe the inclination in the past to sit still and see the stopwatch click on and click off.

Buds and bulbs push forth from me too. And as is happening with our climate, so too do the fits and starts keep me guessing. But it progresses nonetheless. Hope springs eternal and Spring eternally hopes.

I Forgot To Write About My Memory Test

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April 18th, 2012

Beth Gourley puts Marci through her paces like a rat in a maze or a wife on a deck. Perhaps the very first thing you want to do, when it comes to taking a memory test, is remembering that you took a memory test. There might be something else, but I’ve forgotten it. Marci and […]

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcMemoryTest.jpgBeth Gourley puts Marci through her paces like a rat in a maze or a wife on a deck.

Perhaps the very first thing you want to do, when it comes to taking a memory test, is remembering that you took a memory test. There might be something else, but I’ve forgotten it. Marci and I were part of a clinical study a month ago, but I simply forgot to write about it.

As a bone marrow transplant recipient, my body has played host to many different oddities. Not the least of which seems to be my … my cognitive …

I have word retrieval issues, which isn’t a bit scary, being a writer and all. Apparently I’m not alone. So much so, that a team from Eastern Michigan University is testing the phenomenon which — until recently — I’ve pretty much just chalked up to Chemo Brain.

But no, even though Chemo Brain is real and affects a large portion of cancer patients, apparently those of us who’ve invited someone else’s stem cells to take up residence and play euchre in our bodies, have all had memory issues as well.

When I got an email asking if I lived within a few hundred miles of EMU, had a transplant, wanted to be part of a study, liked getting $25 for being part of a study and have never wittingly engaged in extra-marital affairs with a conch shell, I knew they’d found their patsy.

They wanted to study my “caregiver” too, so Marci and I had “the discussion” about shellfish love vs. un-shellfish love. Yes, she was clean too, but it’s always nice to check. So we invited the team over to our house and were a bit nervous until Beth and Natasha showed up.

Beth Gourley, a Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student and Natasha Fleming, a Masters Student in the Clinical Behavioral Program at EMU brought two different testing methods with them, computer-based and good old fashioned analog, 1970’s psychology exams.

DISCLAIMER: No electrodes were used in the study of Marci and Rodney, much to my chagrin.

While Beth took me outside to test my memory, Natasha stayed indoors to test Marci. Then we flip-flopped. I won’t bore you with all the crazy things we had to do. Some tests included remembering a geometric pattern, repeating a list of random words, tapping buttons in an increasingly complex order (much like that old Simon game) and trying to fit together shapes with our non-dominant hands.

I told them I wasn’t comfortable hunting for cheese in a maze, so instead they sent me to get some brie at Krogers, but told me to go a different way.

Okay, the shellfish and brie things were made up, but if I were doing a memory test, I’d definitely include them. Maybe that’s why I only made it to my sophomore year as a Psych. major.

The two women couldn’t have been more gracious and accommodating. We even had a mutual connection as our good friend had shot one of their weddings and lives down the street from them. It only took a couple hours and we have two, brand-spanking new Target gift cards and a blog entry as our payment.

If you are about to get a bone marrow transplant or have had one in the past few years, Beth would love to come to your place and study you too. I know that sounds creepy, but you can contact her here.

DISCLAIMER: Never mix shellfish and brie if you expect to live to tell the tale.

This View

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April 7th, 2012

NOTES FROM LONDON Looking at London, from the vantage point of ten stories up, has brought music to our stay here. I hate these sounds; stuffing of bags, crunching of paper, “hey, where’s my _____,” it means we’re packing up and heading home. Tinny music blaring from an iPhone, cupboards and drawers being searched. An […]

NOTES FROM LONDON

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcOurViews.jpgLooking at London, from the vantage point of ten stories up, has brought music to our stay here.

I hate these sounds; stuffing of bags, crunching of paper, “hey, where’s my _____,” it means we’re packing up and heading home. Tinny music blaring from an iPhone, cupboards and drawers being searched. An old instrument rolling around in the tub … What?

Skye found an ancient baritone at a street market today and after bargaining it down to £25, she’s giving it a wash and polish. Ah the sounds of packing, Curtis-style.

We’re going to miss jolly ol’ London town. Yes, we visited the home Marci lived in when she was a child, so the continuity of then and now can hold us over. All the ladies want to move here. Their slightly more reasonable father points out that with the price of homes, the closest to London we could probably afford to live is maybe Wales.

You can tell you’re smitten with a place when — like you feel with a lover — parting leaves you wanting so much more. Oh, we didn’t get to the Olympic village or out to Oxford or do that silly four-of-us-strolling-across-Abbey-Road thing that I was planning on. You’re welcome, everyone.  But my legs and feet tell me we did so much, much more and really, seeing five shows in the West End eats up a lot of time (and money, although the discount ticket booths really helped).

But there’s a part of this trip that I might miss more than anything else: that view. We found a cheaper than normal apartment for these previous 11 days. And it came with a spectacular view of our beloved city. The panorama grabbed me during the day, at sunset, late at night and early in the morning when everyone else was asleep, but I arose to swallow my ever-present medicine.

Thank you, view. I put coins in all the musician’s cases as a way of repaying you. But you brought jazz to my trip. Your enormous London Eye ferris wheel winks back at me to let me know we’re karmically cool.

The laptop needs to go night-night now. As we do the final sweep, our bags are noticeably heavier. Luscious London candy along with cool clothing, gifts and trinkets weigh us down. And also, we’ve added to our quartet. A funky brass instrument is tucked in amongst the socks and bras and underwear.

We’re bringing some of the jazz on home with us.