Saturday, January 31, 2015


My bookbag

As a student, books are essential to the learning process.  Let me show you the difference between then (1981-82) and now (2015)   


My memories of college textboks were singular: they were so expensive that no one could afford their ridiculous price.  So ridiculously OVERPRICED, most students (including myself) would buy used ones instead of the costly new one.  Who needs a good cover when all you need is the content that some professor is forcing you to read?  I used to love this concept and it was my first taste of bargain shopping.  When I was forced to buy a new textbook, the first question I’d ask the bookstore is “Will you buy it back?”


I have four classes.  My textbooks cost so much money I am ashamed to say how much I spent .  I must now tell all who read this that the REASON I could buy them in the first place is because I am married to a man who finished college and makes a very good living.

American River College has a good campus bookstore, but NOW I am a seasoned bargain shopper and I know it’s not the best place to go if you want the best deals. 

Most of my texts I bought used – I have five books for one of my classes – I am “renting” one of them from amazon.  Don’t believe me?  Here's the difference in rental vs. purchase price of my history text -  Check out this link:

This text is WONDERFUL!  I have never enjoyed a history text so much, but do you see that sticker price?  I once bought an encyclopedic Bible for seventy dollars, and that was my combined birthday and Christmas presents.  I refuse to spend that much money on one book – no matter how good it is. (I should say now that the Bible is not a book – it’s life.  It’s much more than a book to me… and I wouldn’t buy one for the cost of this text.)

Renting is just one of the new options available for students.  An affordable option, like leasing a car.  If the book isn’t going to become one of your close friends (I bought all of my English texts) it’s worth it to consider renting a textbook.

My Political Science class required  a textbook that is brand new – it wasn’t available anywhere USED, so I had to buy it from the Beaver Bookstore.  It is an amazing work – Keeping the Republic by Barbour and Wright.  It is as beautiful as it is well written, and I don’t think I’ll sell it back when the class is over.  The big bonus of this is that it has an e-book I can access on my computer.  In the e-book there are links to historical documents and videos.  There are sample tests and quizzes.  I love the incredible accessibility of information that comes with it.

Here is a link to an article on nationalizingfacebook (a SLATE article – more of a jab to attack the  privacy infringement facebook has). 

Books used to be – well, they still are -  one of the best parts about going to school.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


A view of American River College from the Library's Patio

I survived the first week of class and now I’m starting my second.  I vacillate between feeling excited and overwhelmed.  I think I can do this, but it’s all so new.  Everything I forgot about school is now coming back to me.  Why didn’t I finish?  Why did I find it so easy to drop out?  Was it the work?  Was it the time in my life?  What was it?

Today, I remembered. 

As I walked the halls of the school, I felt lonely.  The feeling was a familiar one – I felt it a lot when I first attended college.  For me, there aren’t a lot of reasons to connect with fellow students other than to join clubs or study groups (no, thanks).  I walk from class to class purposefully, not meandering in common areas – there is no reason to. 

I have four classes:  American History (honors); Political Science (honors); Composition (ENGWR 300) and Early American Literature.  The first three are on Tuesdays and Thursdays – and I have a long break after Poly-Sci.  Today I ate lunch in my car, and then walked to the library to study. 

I remember loving the library; I still do. 

When all of my comfort zones are stripped away me, I find comfort in books.  They are predictable joy, always delivering something perfect: a song, a story, knowledge.    I went outside to take a couple of calls (one from my friend, one from my sister).  There,  on the roof patio, I saw a lot of young kids studying and talking.  I never had that in my first college experience; I don’t know if it’s necessary for me.

In my life away from school, I have Mario – my love and my best friend.  I have great relationships with my kids and my family.  I have tons of friends who are awesome.  On campus, I’m a girl on a mission.

And I have God.  Today I remembered.  That’s what was different  before.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The hallway is crowded with students, most dressed in jeans and sweatshirts.  I’m leaning against a wall and tapping this on my phone’s notepad waiting for the professor of my first class to show up.  Davies Hall is a three-storey building and we students are choking the hallways of the second (this includes me, the 52 year old).  Doors open one by one; the grey industrial carpets are clearing, feet entering classrooms and exiting students heading for the stairs.  The exchange is quick; a rhythm similar to passengers on an elevator.

Our class is the only one waiting for our professor.  I love my fellow students already.  They look nerdy, comfortable with silence; intent on being here. 

I contemplate sitting in the back of the class, hoping to observe the classroom and learn how it works for the first couple of weeks.  My thoughts are disrupted by a voice coming down the hallway:

“I’m here,” he says.  I look up and see a man: fit, but limping and using a cane.  “I’m sorry I’m late. I’ll eventually get here, thanks for your patience.”  

I recognize the face as my first instructor, Professor Rudy Pearson – the one who will instruct us in American History (one of the honors courses I have).

Class is an eye-opening hour.  The professor seems like one I’d genuinely enjoy – one who has even been to Africa.  The students took turns introducing themselves – we are all from different walks of life.  I can’t help but feel old – the average age is about 26. 

My second class is downstairs and I end up waiting in the hallway again.  This time, I recognize a young girl from my history class and we start talking.  She is the mother of a seven month old daughter.  She shows me pictures of her baby, who she “hated leaving today” – and I show her pictures of Scarlett Star, my granddaughter who is the same age.  We talk about family until class opens.

Our Political Science teacher is maybe forty and is already acting, well, eccentric.  She takes roll then introduces herself and hands out a syllabus.  She sits on top of her desk and swings her legs beneath her as she tells us her opinion of honors education.  Fifteen minutes into class she drops her first f-bomb and I can’t help but laugh.  There is a lot of colorful language from her and it makes me wonder what’s in store for us this semester.

The students all seem used to the idea that the first day of class involves  the instructor introducing themselves, coverage of a syllabus, a Vanna White of the texts and an early dismissal. 
After the second class, I head over to the bookstore to pick up the texts I missed the first time around.  The expense of school is weighing on me. 

After that, I scoot over to the honors course coordinator (I have begged her to allow me into her honors writing course)and see if I can squeeze into a writing class.  The bad news is, she’s late.  I open the plastic that wraps the new texts together and read the syllabus in the hallway.  There are other students waiting for her, all reading like me.  I hear her voice:

“I’m here!  Sorry to keep you waiting!”

I turn around and see her, a woman my age.  She’s walking toward me and I smile, proud of her.  She is a college professor, coordinating the honors program for students who will shape the future.   She remembers me and ushers me into her office.  I follow her in and we quickly target a writing class that has a few drops and a short wait list.  She tells me to go there and try to get in; she assures me I have a good chance. 

The writing class is not an honors course, but I attend because it makes it possible for other writing courses to come.   That’s the plan; that’s the dream.  The instructor looks like my cousin; is dressed like Mario.

As I try to find a seat, one of my former Sunday School students greets me: “Miss Janet?” she says, all smiles.  “No way!  Really??”

I hug her and laugh.  “Lara!”

“What are you doing here?  We have to work together!”  I end up moving forward a bit just to sit by her.  Her presence reminds me of the disparity between the generations in the classroom and I have to force myself to stop thinking this way.  I am a student; I am equal… there are no separations except the ones I put here…

Since I’m  adding  this class at the last minute, the instructor asks for proof that I can be here (I have to have a pre-requisite or assess highly).   I provide him with a copy of my assessment score and a letter from the college congratulating me on an honors placement. 

“Oh,” he says, looking it over.  “This explains that you probably belong here, but I need your scores.  Did you get them?”

I left them at home; I’m disappointed.  “Yeah,” I say, weakly.  “I’ll bring them on Thursday?”

“Alright,” he says.  “Until then, you can’t have a syllabus.”  Then he spends the rest of the class time to go over the syllabus; I am trying not to roll my eyes.  It’s hard.

I came home to Mario, my welcoming warm husband – he wants  to know how everything went.  My dogs wag their tails, hoping for a walk.  After bubbling over with excitement and joyous zeal, we sit down to dinner.  I am home….

After navigating the campus first day of class and a possible wait for class placement I feel like a river rat hanging on to a log.  It seems as much of a bureaucratic accomplishment to be enrolled as it is a major life decision.

 I return here, to my blog.  The constant support of a place I can come and write with no questions asked.  No deadlines, other than the ones I give myself.

I am off to bed now, with a text that I may or may not enjoy reading.  Here comes the required stuff; it leads to the elective stuff….

At least, that’s the way it used to be.  

Monday, January 19, 2015


We Americans worship heroes we barely know.  We follow athletes because of their sports statistics rather than their character or what they stand for.  We elect presidents because they can argue persuasively in debates, even when we don’t know much about their lives or lifestyles.

Martin Luther King is an exception.  He is an American hero that wanted to be known.  He had the most incredible family roots and beliefs that he communicated powerfully through the written and spoken word.  While he was known for his letters and speeches, there is still enough about him that remains a mystery.  I wanted to celebrate his birthday by this blog that will tell you what surprised me about Martin Luther King; these facts about his life make me smile. 

God kissed this man.

1.  Martin Luther King was not his real name.

Michael was born in Atlanta in 1929, named after his father, Michael Sr. When he was only two years old, Michael Jr. (our beloved MLK) went with his family to Europe. Michael Senior was so profoundly affected by the person of Martin Luther, the great reformer,  that upon his return to the States changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr.  and his son’s to Martin Luther King, Jr.

2.  He came from not only a spiritual family, but a powerful one.

His parents were both ordained Reverends and respected leaders in the Atlanta community.  They shared a home with his maternal grandparents - the Reverend and Mrs.  A.D. Williams.  

While the Kings were known for their virtue, they were also seen as radicals, embracing equality not only among the races, but among the sexes.  The King men were staunch believers in the power of Jesus Christ and the Bible and believed in living according to the word of God, which teaches nothing less.  

They led Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, right down the street from their home. 

3.  His call to stand up for the civil rights of a nation may have been started in childhood.

As a black child, Martin Jr. was introduced to the world his own black parents had to live in – a world that was racially segregated.  It really didn’t matter that his parents were educated; the American south had enforced laws about the separation of blacks and whites. 

Etched clearly in King’s memory was  a family trip to buy new shoes.  Little Martin was excited at the prospect, only to enter the store and be immediately ushered to the back exit. 

“No coloreds.” The store owner said to them, angrily.  

Martin learned on that day, he later recalled, that blacks were not allowed in restaurants, at the beach or swimming pools.  They couldn’t drink from the same water fountains as white people and couldn’t use the same toilets. 

These experiences were commonplace for all blacks in the south.  It started a fire in his heart that eventually led Martin Luther King Jr. to his passionate crusade for equality.

4.  He graduated high school at 15. 

Martin skipped both 9th and 12th grades (some historians have him skipping the 11th), and enrolled in Morehouse College, a prestigious private, all-male, black university in Atlanta. He graduated with a Bachelors degree in sociology at age 19. 

5.  He thought his wife was brave for taking him on.

After Morehouse, King completed seminary and was introduced to Coretta Scott, a woman whose wit and vigor was an incredible match for his. 

As much as Martin is celebrated, Corrie (what he called her) was as well.  A brilliant thinker, gorgeous in physical appearance and social graces, Coretta was also known for her voice: a mezzo-soprano.  Her voice, Martin said later, was angelic and worshipful. 

On the night they wed, the newlyweds were denied entrance to their hotel (supposedly booked knowing it was a whites-only place).  The couple decided to spend their wedding night at a Black-owned funeral home.  

It was only the beginning of many stands for justice they took together.

6.  He’s called “Dr. Martin Luther King” because he was one  - the title was not honorary.

After marriage, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was twenty-five years old.  He then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. degree in 1955. 
He was just getting started.

7.  Rosa sat down and Martin stood up - in that order.

On a December,1955 evening in Montgomery, Rosa Parks rode the bus home seated in the fifth row, which was permissible.  It was, after all, the first row of the "colored section".

It was standard practice that when the bus became full, the seats nearer the front were given to white passengers.  This happened and the bus driver asked Parks and three other African-Americans seated nearby to move: “Move y'all, I want those two seats!"

Three riders complied, but Parks did not.

The bus driver threatened to have her arrested, and Ms. Parks said he had every freedom to do that.  She wasn’t breaking any written law; she was just uppity and he called her bluff. 

Upon hearing of the arrest, King and his colleague (Ralph Abernathy) organized a city-wide boycott intended to cripple the financial legs of the bus companies.  A staunch devotee of nonviolence, the men were adamant that no one should lose their cool.

Martin wrote to the city with the organized plan of protest: Black passengers should be treated with courtesy. Seating should be allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis, with white passengers sitting from front to back and black passengers sitting from back to front. Negro drivers should drive routes that primarily serviced Negroes.

On Monday, December 5, 1955 the boycott went into effect – it was the beginning of organized non-violent protests across the south.  Martin was at the forefront of a revolution. 

8.  He was a man determined to be seen and heard.

From 1957 until his death in 1968, King gave over 2,500 speeches; he traveled more than 6 million miles; and  he wrote five books and countless articles published in newspapers and magazines.

Upon seeing him deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, John F. Kennedy was open mouthed before turning to his chief of staff and saying, “Damn, he’s good!”

My favorite writing of his (besides the PERFECT “I have a Dream” speech) is  the letter he wrote from an Alabama jail to the surrounding clergymen.  The portion of it that resonates the most in my soul is this one:

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience…” 
9.  MLK "set his face towards Jerusalem."

Martin had two heroes:  Jesus Christ and Martin Luther.  Both men were killed in the middle of their ministry, for their beliefs.   Martin seemed to recognize the same would be true for him.

After many, many death threats and his own people warning him to “go underground for awhile” Martin eventually made peace with the destiny he had – to die for the cause worth dying for.  On April 3, 1968 (the day before he was assassinated), he preached at the at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee:

“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about a thing. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

10.  Martin’s heart betrayed a life lived at full speed.

King was assassinated in Memphis when he was 39, after two other attempts on his life.  The details of the assassination are sketchy, but it alleged to be a conspiracy.
 At the hospital, one of the attending doctors noted during his autopsy that King “had the heart of a 60-year-old."  A heart that was tired; overworked and stressed – beating in the man that championed respect and nonviolence.

Martin, we hardly knew ye…

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


A collection of my favorite books - only one of them is on my new reading list.

If you are a returning student,  the State of California mandates that you be assessed in Math and English.  I knew I was above average in one – below in the other.

The (predictable) bad news is that my math scores reflected major negligence on my part of math disciplines and practices.  The good news is that my assessment test didn’t score me as the village idiot.  Because of this, I was placed in “Introduction to Algebra” – a class that makes me tremble with fear and apprehension.

I qualified for the Honors Track in English and the Humanities (such is the dichotomy of my brain, reasoning and life).  The counselor encouraged me to take honors English, but the class was closed.  Instead, I was slotted into “Honors American History” and “Honors Political Science”.  I rolled my eyes.  Politics in college… here it comes.

The bookstore was swarming with  a ton of folks who, like me, were starting the spring term in a few days and needed a reading list.  The only one who was my age was the cop behind the counter, who  told me I couldn’t take my coffee mug (that I brought from home) and my copy of Marcel Proust’s complete short stories (also from home) past the metal detectors. 

“You can put it in one of those lockers,” he said, pointing to the row of metal lockers on the wall.  They had keys with blue plastic handles, like the cheap ones at the gym.  I wondered if I could use the padlock I carried with me (for the gym) to lock my contraband away. 

I knew I didn’t have a quarter. 

I dug around in my purse and came up with four shiny nickels (Jefferson looks amazing on the new nickel) and five pennies.  Mercifully, the man exchanged it for a quarter and I locked my stuff in #52.  Just in case I forgot which locker it was I wouldn’t forget how old I was… hopefully.

I made my way around the store – I have NEVER felt lost in a bookstore…until this one.  It was disorganized enough that every student needed an intern to help them.  Mine was a young man that reminded me of David, my son.  He had a full beard, glasses and a quick wit that made me smile, despite the sticker prices on the books.

“Is this dollars?” I asked, stuttering.  “Forty dollars for a USED book?”

“You don’t need that one,” he said, moving on to the American Literature section.  I saw very little of what I would call American Literature there – until I saw the empty shelf of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. 

“I have it,” I said as the intern tapped the empty shelf. 

“Good!” he said, then moved to a stack of a new novel – one called “The Infinite Tides” by Christian Kiefer.  The book looked interesting and I could tell by flipping through it I would enjoy it (it reminded me of my second novel’s subject matter – kind of).  It wasn’t until I read the author synopsis that I saw the writer was a professor at ARC.  I couldn’t help remarking. 

“Look, the author is a Professor here,” I laughed.  “Hell of a way to sell your book – put it in your class’ required reading.”  I wondered if I would enjoy the lower division forced reading. 

That was just the beginning.  The math book (at 160 dollars – one hundred and sixty dollars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) came with a lab included, like I was supposed to say “Oh, I see, the lab is included, then that’s a good price.  I’ll take that after all!” 

Ronal Dahl’s classic How Democratic is the Constitution? is the only book (besides Hawthorne) that I recognized.  The others were:

Freshman Orientation: House Style and Home Style, The story of Rep. Joe Schwartz's first term in the US House of Representatives.

The Kitchen Debate and Cold War Consumer Politics: A Brief History with Documents

Harlem Renaissance

The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People Volume 2 (to rent it for a semester is 20 dollars and change.  To buy it is an unthinkable 90 dollars).

The Triangle Fire: A Brief History with Documents

Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism: A Brief Biography with Documents

The good news is that I had a beautiful case of buyers remorse when I got home and I decided to return the Algebra book.  I’m not a mathematician, but the sticker price is not worth becoming one.  I’ll figure out how to do this math class by next semester. 

For now my schedule is gentle and will ease me into courses as follows:  

US History and Political Science T/THU 12-3
American Lit Wed. night 6-9

I swear, I'll take math at some point!

Monday, January 12, 2015


I was trying to find the elusive student center, where I was supposed to get my ID card made- a pass that would identify me as a student at American River Junior College.  I randomly asked two beautiful young girls if they knew where it was on the map I was holding, and they quickly let me know I was walking straight toward it – the same building to which they were headed.

“You go here to study, eat and hang out…” the girl with long black hair told me.  Her blonde friend just nodded and smiled.

“I need to get my student ID card,” I said.  They both looked at each other.

“Do you have a California ID?” the blonde asked me.

“Oh, yeah,”  I patted the purse at my side.  I noticed that neither one of them were carrying one. 

Before entering the office, a heavy-set girl with long, flowing blonde hair greeted us.  She was wearing a green vest that identified her as a student helper, assigned to help with traffic flow into the building.  She asked us the following questions:

“Are you registered for classes?  Do you have a class schedule?  Do you have a zero balance on your account?  Do you have valid ID?”  All of us in line nodded and she waved me in, where I was greeted by another student intern working behind the desk.

“Do you have your student ID number?” she asked me.  She was sparkling and pretty and I imagined my granddaughters growing up and doing what she did.  I hadn’t yet memorized my number, but was able to read it off of any of the documents I had compiled in the last week.

“Ok!” she said, warily.  “You have to go take care of your balance at the financial desk…”

“I just did,” I answered.  I didn’t mean to snap, but she looked up at me in repentance.  Back in 1981 when I was a first-time student I didn’t have much money and registering for college was a stretch.  I went to work instead and was happy when I had checks I could write figures on to pay for things.  Whether or not those figures matched the amount of money I had in the bank way back then was another story.  Today I used a credit card – backed by my awesome husband’s salary.

“Do you have your receipt?” she asked.

I produced a pink slip of paper and handed it over.  She smiled at me, “Good!  This is what I need!”

After this, she asked me to sit down on the cushion across from her.  It was then I remembered that I rolled out of bed and  not put makeup on.  Did I comb my hair?  All I could think of this morning was “I have to get there early so I can beat the 10:00 student rush!”

“You look great,” she said, sweetly reading my mind.  I was grateful for her, making me feel like a fellow student instead of an old cow that didn’t belong there.

I sat down and looked at her. 

"Look at the camera," she said - then she snapped it. 

Now I’m official.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


The month of January is named for the Roman god, Janus – a figure depicted by the ancient Romans as having two faces: one looking forward and one looking back.

January is not only a month of new beginnings, it is also a month that forces us to deal with the past year as a block of time that is recently in our past.  As we view 2014, we are aware of a beautiful, fresh year looking back at us.  In enthusiasm and vigor, many of us will follow a path that is familiar; others will reach a fork in the road before we can even start the journey.  There are only two ways to go at this fork:

1.  We Make a New Year’s Resolutions
Our plans for a new year often involve CHANGE – disguised as resolutions.  As a tradition, American people are ready to resolve for the New Year that their lives will now include exercise, eating right, writing or reading more.  We also can resolve to do less of something.  A good percentage of Americans vow to drink and eat less.

2.  We Resolve not to Resolve
Many, Many people have stopped making resolutions because they have disappointed themselves in the past, not being able to live up to the new year’s promises for change.

The term “self-esteem” (as overused as it is) is often misunderstood.  While some believe the term to be defined as “how we feel about ourselves” – a better definition would be “the reputation we have with ourselves.”

Because of our history with ourselves, we might see resolutions as too difficult to keep and therefore don't make them.  Busy schedules, life changes and even our past failures might dampen our enthusiasm and make us shy away from vowing to do anything.

If you want to resolve, it is a brave thing.  An honest look at the status quo of our lives should encourage us to change – no human being wants to stay the same if all is not well.  The most successful resolutions are done with a plan that includes support – no one can change alone. 

This year, I am resolving to further my education – I am frightened and excited at the challenge.  This week I am enrolling in community college courses and getting ready to go back to school at 52.

I’d like to hear from you.  What are your resolutions?  Comment here!!

Blessings and peace on your 2015.