Agile for Families

I’m taking a Project Management course for my library degree. We’ve learned about the agile project management approach called “scrum,” which is featured in the video above. Scrum is a very quick and dirty way of fostering accountability and addressing change within a group.

On Saturday I was surprised to hear about this Ted Talk where Bruce Feiler describes how by using scrum through short family meetings, empowering children and sharing family stories (the latter isn’t scrum) can make families healthier.


Learning from Ben

After watching Thomas Frank’s wonderful video on doing your homework faster, I saw this video on Ben Franklin’s daily plans. I’m definitely going to start clearing my desk each night and choosing an intention for each day.

What do you think of using Ben Franklin’s ideas in your life? Are they helpful? How would you tweak this for the 21st Century?

Sepia Saturday

Sepia Saturday 343 Footer

Each week Sepia Saturday bloggers post images and text on a particular theme. This week the theme is Work & Play. Flickr Commons has numerous photos of people who worked hard in mines, mills, factories, farms and more. Here’s just a few.

You might ask, “Where’s the play?” Well, my searching didn’t yield much. Life was hard in the early 20th Century.

I bet some did find good Work and Play images.


Irish Mill, Waterford, 1901

If you want to see more of this week’s posts, go to Sepia Saturday.


U.S. South, Farmers, circa 1900

Mr. Selfridge, Season 1


That sign is the spitting image of Marshall Field’s sign

I never saw Mr. Selfridge last year. I’d left the US and just didn’t get hooked. Friends thought it wasn’t up to Downton Abbey and no one I knew followed it. From the promos the show seemed more brash, than Downton so I wasn’t drawn to it.

However last year I loved The Paradise, a period drama covering the same exciting era of the development of department stores, which affected women’s rights and freedoms. Shopping was revolutionized (a mixed blessing) as now it wasn’t just a task, but a creative, imaginative endeavor. With a lull in programming for the Anglophile who likes history, I gave Mr. Selfridge a try.

At first I really didn’t like it. Though he was inventive and a caring employer, Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven)  is a womanizer, drinker and a bull in a china shop. Though he’s married to a beautiful, smart woman who is portrayed as having no problems in the bedroom, he prefers to frequent girly shows and pursue Eva Love, a burlesque singer. Granted this girly show is PG by our standards, it wasn’t then and it’s hard to get drawn into a show about a pig, after watching Downton Abbey where high standards predominate.


I’m not sure why, but I did stick with the show and liked it more as time went on. The female characters in this era of suffragettes and working women drew me in. We’re supposed to identify with Agnes (Aisling Loftus), a shop assistant who gets sacked for letting Selfridge behind the counter in the first store she worked in. The stern floorwalker saw this and saw her exchange with friendly, American Selfridge and gave her the sack saying “We’re not that kind of store.” Out on the street, unable to find another job with a younger brother to support, Agnes summons the pluck to ask Mr. Selfridge for a job. Pluck’s Selfridge’s life’s blood and he hires her. In the first season Agnes’ growth has been as compelling as watching Selfridge succeed. She’s been promoted to lady’s fashion, fallen in love (though she doesn’t call it that), escaped a drunken, abusive father and shown her talent for design and retail. She’s not as interesting as The Paradise’s Denise, whom I think has more spark, but her rags to riches story entertains.

In the first episodes it was hard to watch Rose Buckingham Selfridge (Francis O’Connor) put up with her philandering husband. That hasn’t gotten easier, and I cringe when Rose gets too close to a starving artist, who later tries to come on to her teenage daughter, but Rose’s scene when she puts Harry’s lover, Eva in her place showed grace under pressure. Rose is complex and it can’t be easy to be married to Harry, not just because of his carousing but also due to his personality.

Like Downton Abbey, subplots and secondary characters like the sophisticated, conniving Lady Mae Loxley (Kathleen Kelly) who arranges Selfridge’s financial backing when his first partner pulls out, Mr. Grove the head of staff who’s wife is an invalid so he’s got a thing going with the strict head of accessories, Miss Mardle. I will criticize Mr. Selfridge for trying to spice up history for the sake of ratings. While infidelity is nothing new, it’s rampant in this drama and it comes across as a play for ratings. One philandering character is enough for an hour’s television. Give other characters other problems. (I doubt that request would be heeded.)

Henri Leclair (Grégory Fitoussi of Engrenage fame) lends savoir faire to the store as he’s a master of window design. He’s also a pillar for Selfridge, a loyal colleague and friend from their days in Chicago. He adds romance as towards the end of season 1, he turns to innocent Agnes to replace his French lover, a modern woman who always wears a tie and who works for J. Walter Thompson. I was sorry to see how Agnes got left and didn’t quite buy how stoically she let him off the hook.

The show’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. It could be better, but I guess I’m on board for another season. Some critics have pointed out that Piven’s not good with nuanced emotion. Close ups should stop. They fall flat. (Downton doesn’t use them.) I think that would help. That’s probably valid, still since Selfridge puts so much of his heart into his store, his work family.


Word of the Week: Nivel

This one just had an odd sound~

nivel, v.
[‘ intr. To look downcast; to grimace, or wrinkle one’s nose; to snivel.’]
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈnɪvl/, U.S. /ˈnɪv(ə)l/
Forms: eME nifle, eME niuel, eME niwel, ME neuel, ME nyuel, ME nyuyl, 18– nivel Eng. regional (south-west.); Irish English 19– nivel.
Etymology:Origin uncertain; perhaps the reflex of an unattested Old English verbal derivative of hnifol brow, forehead (of unknown origin). Compare Old English snyflung snivelling n., and later snivel v.
Now rare and Brit. regional.
intr. To look downcast; to grimace, or wrinkle one’s nose; to snivel.
?c1225 (▸?a1200) Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. (1972) 158 Ha schulen ham seolf grennen & niuelen [a1300 Caius niwelen] & makien sur semblant for þe muche anguise inþe pine of helle.
?c1225 (▸?a1200) Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. (1972) 176 Ha drinkeð þet drunh ne beo hit nese bitter..Hwen hit is al ouere. spit & schakeð þet heaued. feð on forto niuelin & make grim chere.
?a1325 in W. Heuser Kildare-Gedichte (1904) 171 (MED), I nese, i nappe, i nifle, i nuche, And al þis wilneþ eld.
c1400 (▸c1378) Langland Piers Plowman (Laud 581) (1869) B. v. 135 Now awaketh wratthe with two whyte eyen And nyuelynge [v.rr. neuelynge, sneueling] with þe nose [c1400 C text a nyuylynge nose] and his nekke hangynge.

1890 J. D. Robertson Gloss. Words County of Gloucester 104 A boy asked the meaning of ‘disdain’, when Goliath disdained David, answered ‘He nivelled at un.’
1996 D. Ó Muirithe Words we Use 15 Nivel means to turn up the nose in disdain.

My First YouTube Video

Yesterday some of the teachers and a couple students had a concert for the Freshmen. The occasion was the upcoming National Day, China’s Fourth. The video above is an emotional ode to the Motherland.

We also had several songs including Edelweiss, which was done twice, and a skit about food safety and the hazards of buying candy outside of school. (I kid you not.)

Chicago Public Schools Strike

Years ago I read a story in the Chicago Tribune about a Chicago Public School teacher who reprimanded a student for not having his homework or not paying attention in class. She hadn’t been sarcastic or unprofessional in her choice of words, yet the boy felt embarrassed in front of his peers. I think we can all remember times when we did or didn’t do something in school and we got called on it. We were in the wrong, but it still felt bad.

This boy sought revenge. He wasn’t going to let this incident go so he took a hammer to school and when he had an opportunity, he hit his teacher again and again. This Chicago Public School teacher suffered permanent brain damage. Her family lost the woman they knew and had to adjust their lives as a family who’s father is a cop and he’s been shot or beaten. At least though, the police officer would have been trained and armed to defend himself.

Do you see why I side with the Chicago Public School teachers as they strike for a professional wage and object to accountability standards that are unrealistic given the challenges they face? Before the Chicago Public Schools test out merit pay and such new measures, Skokie, Glenview, Evanston and Waukegan and other communities with fewer challenges should see how it works first.

It does look like the parties will soon make a deal. I don’t think missing a week of school isn’t educational. I think, if they examine the situation, older students will certainly learn something quite important.

I Hate Bureaucracy

Anyone else?

I planned to continue working in China while taking an online library science course through my state university. I thought it would make sense to start slowly and not rack up student loan debt. I’ve taken online courses through my community college and that went fine.

I was too optimistic, too practical.

I have spent a week signing up for the four, count ’em four, computer log ins I need. I have no idea why this isn’t integrated. Are there that many feuds with in the faculty and staff? I had to email three different people, wait for them to email people, and call the computer center before this could be straightened out. If someone told me that this was all a scheme to keep people employed, I’d have more patience and be rather sympathetic.

Okay, I figured I’d now be able to sign up for a course no problem.


There are two foundational courses. One isn’t offered in the fall and the one that is requires a day on campus in October.

That’s impossible for me. I can’t make it from Jinan to Champaign, IL for one day. The airfare is about $1800 US.  I shouldn’t miss classes and I won’t know my schedule till September.

My friend who’s in this program now says the school puts a lot of weight on this day. A woman in her course came all the way from Egypt for this day. I wage she’s either wealthy or her work paid. Maybe she had a fellowship.

I’ve sent an email to the instructor to see if there’s a way around this. It’s just silly that there’s this one day on campus. What can be accomplished in one day? Friendship? Is that the role of a professional program? It’s a nice plus, but leave that to the student.

The woman from Egypt probably isn’t expecting to make friends with her classmates.


I had a weird experience in class on Friday. As I was teaching, a young woman with big pink glasses walked into my class. She told me she needed a native speaker to review a speech she was writing. I asked her who she was and she replied, “Daphne” and mentioned that she wasn’t a student here.


I said I had no time at all that day.

She then asked if I’d refer her to another teacher. I said that since she wasn’t a student here, she’d have to pay and that I thought most teachers would expect at least $50 a hour.

She got real huffy and indignant. “What kind of teacher are you?!”

Rather than define “professional” for her, I asked her to leave reminding her that the 30 students gawking at her were in fact in the middle of a lesson for which they had paid. She didn’t want to budge. I told her I’d call security and she left sputtering and insulting me.

So are all Chinese students shy? Of course not, though few have this audacity.

I now won’t leave my door open no matter how hot the room gets.

Maybe She’ll Blossom

Sadly, I doubt you can make someone blossom

One new aspect of this job is a new person in the Foreign Affairs Office. Let’s call her Sophia since I don’t want to use her “real English name.” She functions as the second in command as I think she’s the only other full timer. Whenever I make a request, I feel I’ve lost the lottery, big time, when the task falls to Sophia. Sophia’s first move is to find a way to convince you that you don’t need what you need. When that fails, she’ll do the job poorly in hopes the people she is hired to support stop needing her.  Though she’s been working for awhile, some coaching’s been needed to get her to put her name on emails.

At first I thought I’d avoid Sophia by sending my requests to Sophia’s boss and hoping either that woman or one of the part time student workers would handle that. Somehow Sophia got these requests and she always put her stamp of disinterest on the job. She’s terribly abrupt and careless. It doesn’t occur to her to bother to contact teachers with questions. So she got m 61 copies of a page that just said “Extensive Reading” and had nothing else on it. (The first page had an extra space and the header created a second page.) When another teacher called to report a broken toilet on Friday afternoon, Sophia told her she’d have to wait till Monday for repairs. Think that through Sophia. Do people do that? Of course, a second call up the chain resulted in a humane and logical call to a plumber who made the needed repairs.

My current plan was to give Sophia lots of work to do,  i.e. ordering copying so that other people would have to do the few more complex jobs.  This isn’t working as Sophia’s just ignored the copying to stick her thumb into other pies and muck them up.

I will say it’s wonderful to have such petty complaints after last semester with the sinking ship that is Coastline Community College’s Xiang Jiang High School program.

How I miss Rae. She worked here a couple years ago and started out fumbling along and in over her head. When her supervisor took some sick leave, Rae blossomed. She became competent, organized and responsible. A glorious transformation.

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