Sunday, December 16, 2007

Love and Joy come to you...

This time tomorrow I almost certainly (barring some kind of horrible delay) will be on a train headed to my parents' house.

That makes me very happy: to be away, to return to people I love and who love me, to put most of my many responsibilities aside for a short time.

I really have little I must do tomorrow before heading to the station: finish a bit of packing, wrap up a few loose ends on campus, pay a couple of bills that will come due while I'm gone.

To all of you: if you celebrate Christmas, have a joyous and blessed Christmas. If you celebrate it as a predominantly holy day, may the love of Christ bless your heart and your home. If you celebrate it predominantly as a holiday, may you find what your heart desires tucked in a stocking.

If you don't celebrate Christmas, at least have a happy New Year. And if you get time off from work, enjoy it. (And if you're a non-celebrant who offers to fill in for people who are [as I have known Jewish doctors and nurses in hospitals to do for their Christian colleagues on Christmas]: bless you. You are doing a very kind thing.)

As the old song goes: love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too, and God bless you and bring you a happy new year, and God bring you a happy new year.

I will be back early January.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wonderful Life

"It's a Wonderful Life" was on last night. This is one of my favorite movies, ever, and my opinion of it was reinforced last night (and I got to see the whole thing, from the start, without interruptions - in previous years, I've either forgotten it was on and come in a bit late, or got a phone call in the middle of it, or I was working on something like grading during the movie and couldn't really pay full attention...)

The movie does make me cry a little at a few points - at the end, of course, but also at the beginning when you hear all the prayers everyone's sending up for George Bailey (would that it would be so for every person who ever finds himself or herself troubled). And at the point of "realization," where George realized that Bert the Cop knew him - that he was back and had been born after all.

I realize the plotline has been used a lot over the years (and there have been a couple made-for-tv remakes), but in this movie, it seems fresh and surprising.

I also realize that there are people who view the movie with a cynical eye - the people in it who are good are TOO good, that people wouldn't really do what they do at the end to "save" George, that in real life Mr. Potter should have got the tar kicked out of him for what he did. But you know, I kind of like to wave my hand and ignore those things.

Yes, maybe the people in the movie are "too" good, too upstanding. Maybe the working class really is more like Mr. Potter's description of them than George Bailey's sense of them. But I love the movie because it portrays people as being good - that it portrays people as being able to be grateful for the help they were given and able to pay it back when it becomes necessary to.

For me, one of the "purposes" of art or entertainment is to uplift me, to make me believe that people can be better than what we see 24 hours a day on Fox News or CNN. To believe that people have that spark of the Divine in them that pushes them to do what might not be in their best self-interest in the most selfish sense, but which reaches out to a fellow human being and makes their lot better.

It's a good antidote to the hundred little news stories of "bad stuff" that nibble away at my good will - people looting the homes of folks in shelters during an ice storm, kids vandalizing the Christmas decorations at the home where a developmentally-disabled kid lives, people pushing and shoving and being rude and snappy in the stores, the whole gimme gimme gimme mentality that tends to come out this time of year.

At the end of the movie, through my tears, I said, "I'd like to step into the frame of the movie and live in Bedford Falls." Oh, I don't know how I'd fit in there - I'd probably wind up as the spinster librarian that Mary Hatch didn't become because George Bailey was born. And maybe, as some cynics have suggested, there's bad stuff lurking behind the pretty exterior - I know in the era the movie was made there was more overt racism and sexism and xenophobia (and I admit that even in the movie, the Martinis do border on being caricatures), and things like antibiotics and most childhood vaccines didn't exist (otherwise, George Bailey wouldn't have lost hearing in that ear). But I want to believe that the world of the movie would be better - maybe not more luxurious, maybe not more easy, but BETTER - than the world of today. Because of the people. Because most people are hardworking and good, and the ones who are bad (Potter), you know they're bad - they're not someone who hides their venom behind a smile and who then shocks you after you've been friends with them for a while.

And when you're down and out, people pray for you, and then, when they learn of something concrete they can do to help you, they do that. (And Clarence gets his wings at last.)

It's not a movie, I think, that would be likely to be made today, at least in the same form it was made then. I think there is too much cynicism in the world (or, perhaps, it's believed there's too much cynicism. Maybe the fact that the movie is loved by so many people puts the lie to that). And, certainly, the movie makes faith a bigger feature than most mainstream movies would today - the Martinis are seen crossing themselves, people pray, even Joseph and his "boss" (St. Peter, I assume?) are portrayed as talking to each other. And I don't think the ending would be the same.

(I know there is, but I have never seen, a Saturday Night Live skit where the townspeople gang up to attack Mr. Potter and exact their revenge. Perhaps it's a funny skit, but I have to admit another thing I love about the movie is that the townspeople do not exact revenge on Potter [well, he's probably never found out, that HE got the $8000 by mistake and just kept it]. But they show they are better than he is - he keeps money that he knows will break the Bailey Building and Loan; they dig into their pockets to save it. And that fits in with my worldview: when there is a problem you can do something to fix, you do it, you don't look for someone to blame or beat up on instead.)

The other thing that's striking about the movie today is how self-denying George Bailey is: he gives up his dream of traveling, his chance at college, even his lavish honeymoon because there are things he can do (either with his time or money) that help other people. And he does them. Oh, there's regret - he doesn't immediately jump cheerfully to do those things (when his newly-married brother comes home and George finds out that Harry's probably not going to want to take over the Building and Loan, the look that passes over George's can see the wheels turning in his mind, going through the various stages of mourning for his dreams - but then he puts on a good face and goes along). George is a grown-up, and that's something that is striking, watching the movie today. He doesn't whine. (Oh, yes, at times he gets angry, he gets fed up. But most of the time he does what he knows is right - even though it might not be what he really wants - because he knows it is right). That might be another reason the movie wouldn't be made the same way today - I think society is different and a George Bailey figure might be viewed (by some, at least) as a chump rather than the hero he really is.

I guess that is why I love the movie so much: it reinforces my worldview of how things SHOULD be. Of how people (well, Mr. Potter excepted) would believe if they generally listened to their better natures.

(I also have to admit a little curiosity about the whole "what if you had not been born" thing. I doubt seriously I'd leave a "hole" like George Bailey did...but I'd like to believe that maybe there'd be differences...that the world is better with me in it. Of course I will never know, but the movie raises that tantalizing question - what have you, specifically, done to make the world a better place?)

And maybe that's another good thing about the movie - perhaps on some level it challenges people to act in a way that they would be missed if they were not here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

laughing instead of crying...

I heard on the news this morning that in some communities affected by the ice storm, where people have been driven out of their homes (because of no power and no heat), thieves are breaking into the houses and stealing stuff - including Christmas presents.

This is the kind of thing that makes me frustrated with humanity and steals my good will - that someone could do this kind of thing.

And then I thought, well, tomorrow is Friday so you'll have Emily's FFOT to post it on.

But I realized that no mere four-letter Anglo-Saxonism is enough to describe how I feel.

And then I got to thinking and thought of something that made me feel better, because it made me laugh a little instead of crying (which one could just as easily do).

I imagined these people caught, in handcuffs, and brought before a tribunal of Villains of Christmas Past to hear their opinion.

First up, of course, would be Mr. E. Scrooge, Esq. He would stand up, lean on his cane, and stare long and hard at the criminals. And then he would quietly say: "I cannot believe you did that. That is remarkably depraved. And I am saying that as a man who fired his only employee, and one with six children, on Christmas Eve."

Then, Mr. Potter would wheel in. He'd glare at the people in the dock, and then snarl: "If I had come up with a scheme like that, as God is my witness, I would have jumped off the very bridge young Bailey was contemplating throwing himself off of."

The Grinch would stand up, say nothing, spit in their direction, and stalk out of the room.

Heat Miser and Cold Miser would approach the microphone, each pushing the other to try to get there first. By virtue of his longer legs and slimmer physique, Cold Miser would reach the mike first, shortly followed by his brother:

Cold Miser: "Dudes, that's WEAK. Seriously."
Heat Miser: "And I agree with him on that!"
Cold Miser: "And we've never agreed on anything ever before."
Heat Miser: "It's totally true. We're always fighting."
Cold Miser: "But we agree on this."
Heat Miser: "Totally."

Next, Burgermeister Meisterburger would step up to the mike and say, "I am issuing a decree throughout the land, so that all may know how much you SUCK!"

A huge bird would be hanging around the back of the courtroom. Finally, prompted by other tribunal members, it would come forward:
"AWWWWWK! I am EON. This is not even my holiday! But you are despicable! Never in my long live have I seen losers bigger than you!"

Suddenly, the door would burst open and an immense, toothless abominable snow monster would rush in, grab the criminals, pick them up, and try to gum them to death...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I want one!

I just saw an ad for a new demolition tool (it's kind of like a crowbar).

It's made by Stanley. It's called the FUBAR.

Best. Tool. Name. Ever.

I want one - not because I currently have anything in need of demolition, just because it makes me laugh with delight that they named it that.

(In case you live under a rock or something: Fubar)

wee little etiquette lesson

So, I gave two exams today. And because my life is now officially Teh Crazy, I had a meeting that started before the first exam finished (I'm on another department's search committee and it was moderately important I was at the meeting - they were doing conference-calls with the references of one of the two top candidates; the next set is Friday).

So the secretary was kind enough to take over for me.

When I came back - less than 1/2 hour before my next exam, thanks to one reference who rambled ON and ON and ON (oh, and here's another wee little etiquette lesson: if you are called to be a reference for someone who has applied for a job, don't talk about YOURSELF, okay? The search committee is probably pretty pressed for time and doesn't want to hear it. I know we were all making those rolling-hand, "wrap it up, wrap it up" gestures as he talked).

Well, anyway, I raced in the door, thinking, "Maybe I can machine grade the first final AND gulp down the yogurt and grapes that is passing for my lunch today in the next 20 minutes." I stopped off to see the secretary to see if everything went okay.

Um, not totally okay.

One girl in the class - well, she's not really a "girl" as she is married and has kids - who showed up late (and cursed when I asked her whether she had a machine-grading form, and then left to get one) and didn't hear my announcement was kind of snotty to the secretary. "Well, then, when is she going to have our exams graded?!?!" she demanded.

This is someone - I described her to the secretary and she agreed it was the person - who has been demanding All. Semester. Long. (And she doesn't even have the grades to back it up. She got a D for the semester, and that just barely).

I went off to my next exam.

At the end of that, one of the students (the last one to finish because she's very meticulous) came up to me and said, "Might you have the finals graded by tomorrow morning? I really want to know if I hung on to my A."

I had been grading their finals as they were handed in (not the best practice, I admit, but I'm so pressed for time this week. And by that point there were so few people and they were so scattered I know no one was cheating). I was almost done with the exams that had already come in, so I told her: come back to my office in a half-hour and I'll see if I have it done.

See, she asked politely.

So I had the two sets of exams - I ran the machine-graded ones through the machine quickly, and then had the grades for the other class' exams. And I thought: I gave the machine-graded exam first; by rights I should enter its grades first and total up the grades for that class first.

But then I thought - but that person was snotty to my secretary. Theirs can wait.

So I did the exams for the class with the student who asked politely first. (And she did come back, and was happy to learn that yes, she hung on to her A.)

The thing that so rubbed me the wrong way about that one student is this: she was one of those people who acted like the universe revolved around her. She acted like she was my only student (not by a long shot, honey. You're not even the only student in that class, and that class is not my only, nor is it even my main, priority). And yet - she failed to hand in a lot of assignments. She showed up LATE to the final without a vital piece of equipment (the machine-grading form). And I had announced that several times when she was in class (heh. One of my friends said, "You should have said, 'Oh, I guess I forgot to announce it to YOU when I announced it to everyone else'") and it was on the final-review sheet.

So you know? Acting entitled but being kind of sloppy about how you "do business"? Not a good combination at all.

At least - she got a D. Which means she's done with that class. (D is technically passing, here.) And since she's not majoring in my field, I will almost certainly never have to deal with her again. Oh, I'll have to deal with others LIKE her, but at least I won't have to deal with HER.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

beer n legos

This is for Bingley, Ken, and all the other beer-fanciers out there:

It's the kind of thing that makes me laugh like a crazy monkey. Drunken lego people, the March of the Toreadors, and a chicken.

I love the Internet.

"That's my son, the drunken manly stud. I'm proud to be his bud."


I held extra-special-bonus office hours today. I told the students: I don't NEED to be here, but I WILL be here between 9 and 11. This is your best shot to come in and ask questions before the final. (I did this specifically for my non-majors class; their final is at 8 tomorrow morning).

How many people showed up?

Exactly 0.

How many people called me?

1, but it was someone wanting stamped into an "instructor permission" class I teach next semester.

How many people e-mailed me?

None, if you don't count spam and the back-and-forth involved in planning the meeting of a search committee I am on.

So - the way I look at it, people have abdicated their right to complain that they didn't understand anything. I'm goin' out to lunch. (I have to be back by noon to stamp in the guy who needs in to my class; he works so noon to 1 is the only time he has free.)

we'll see if this works.

I just called my local paper to have them "hold" the papers for me, starting next week, while I am up at my parents' for Christmas.

The last two times I have asked for this, I have come home to a yard full of newspapers, some still in the plastic bags used on wet days, some soggy messes. Clearly the person who delivered the papers either never got the message, or ignored it entirely.

My complaint is twofold: first, it's kind of nasty and awful to have to pick up five or six inundated newspapers from your yard. And more seriously, a pile of papers in the front yard can be kind of a beacon to thieves. Now, I live in a low-crime neighborhood and my house is small and modest (kind of telegraphing, "Not a lot of real valuable stuff in here," but I still do have a tv and a vcr and jewelry and other probably-easily-pawnable stuff), so I do worry a bit.

(When I ask for my mail to be held? It's ALWAYS held. Never a problem there.)

I told the person in the Circulation department specifically about the problem and she said she'd do what she could. But as they have a really hard time (it seems) keeping carriers, maybe the carrier doesn't give a flip about the requests. (However - if the papers do keep showing up in my yard while I'm gone, and IF my house were to be broken into? That's going to end my relationship with the local paper. Which is kind of cheap and crummy and sad anyway - they don't run any of the "good" comics (which I suppose are expensive to run), they have frequent "howlers" even in the headlines (One recent one was "Ground Broke on New Facility." Meaning, that ground was broken for the construction, not that the ground was in some way faulty before construction began).

And no, I've not tipped my carrier. Maybe that's the secret - it's a little extortion racket. But as some days my paper doesn't show up at all, and others it's thrown into the neighbor's yard, and on wet days it's not always in a baggie. And that happened even back when I *was* tipping at I kind of feel like it's not worth tipping if I'm still having problems. I thought tips were a reward for good service, not a bribe to get service at all.

I don't think it's so HARD to ask someone "don't deliver papers to this house for a couple weeks" but maybe it is. (I know, I could ask a friend to pick them up. But you know? I should not have to. I should not have to encumber my friends with that request. I pay for the paper, I should be able to request its stoppage.)

So I don't know. If the paper still winds up being delivered this time, I may just cancel my subscription (regardless of the status of my house re: burglary) when I get back, because it aggravates me that I can't leave town and trust that my paper will be stopped.

a letter

My church women's group's Christmas party was last night. It's mostly "fun" without much "serious" - we have a potluck dinner and do a white-elephant gift exchange (where you never know if the gift you choose will be something nice-but-something-that-particular-person-couldn't-use or something awful - there are a couple of "awful" gifts that make the rounds every year).

But we do have a devotional. I particularly liked the one this year. I do not know if the person who did it wrote it herself or if she found it published somewhere.

It was a letter. She described it as a letter that could have been written on the first Christmas, or any Christmas after that.

It started out, "My dear children."

It went on to say, "There are people in this world who are here to deceive you. They will try to convince you that you are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not good enough, that you've broken too many promises, that you've lived too many lies..." through a long litany of things that people use either to beat themselves up or to beat other people up. The letter writer (who it is supposed to be I am sure you have guessed by now) goes on to say, "You do not belong to those people. You belong to me. And I love you, you are precious to me."

The letter writer adds "I have given my all for you, to show you how much I love you."

I have to admit I was fighting tears during part of the letter (okay - in case you didn't guess, the conceit is that it was God writing the letter to humanity). But I do that SO MUCH, telling myself I'm not smart enough or good enough or whatever. I let people's criticism of things I do become evidence to me that I'm NOT good enough (and not that I need to improve that one particular thing, or that that particular event didn't go as planned, or that the person is just lashing out and it's not me, it's them). I let the mistakes I make be proof that I'm not worthy to hold down the job I do, or do the things I do, or whatever.

So it's something I need to hear, and something I find almost surprising, to be reminded of. That although I may screw up, there's still something worthwhile in there.

I find myself thinking of all the crap I've taken over my life - as a kid, I was called "retard" (which still puzzles me). I was told I was ugly, I was told I was stupid and a "spazz" and all kinds of things. And I think people do internalize that stuff, especially as kids. (I still think I'm kind of a spazz but I also think there are some silly/positive connotations to that - you can be a spazz because you're really enthusiastic about something, for example)

(And yes, I know, "spazz" used to be a very horrible insult to people with certain types of motor defects. By the time I was on the scene, it was pretty much used as a synonym for "nerd" or "geek")

And as a teenager, I believed myself - for some reason - to be hideously ugly. (I'm still surprised and taken aback when someone comments positively about my appearance. I was in a wool shop over Thanksgiving break with my mother and while I was looking around, I overheard the owner say to my mother, "she's a pretty woman." Which surprises me, a little).

As an adult, I was essentially kicked out of the first grad school I attended (because I didn't have a good enough research plan). I was criticized roundly and (I think) unfairly by a supervisor my first semester of being a teaching assistant when I went back to grad school. I get nasty comments on evaluations from time to time. And every one of those things is like a little coal burning in my heart - it hurts, and I have no good way to put out that hurt. I tend to dwell on it and when I'm lying awake in bed at night I return to those criticisms and use them as evidence - almost like I am on trial - of why I'm no good.

I wonder if anyone really believes themselves to be "good enough" or if everyone is carrying around some sense that they're messed up - either generally messed up or messed up in some very specific way.

And yet, my faith teaches me that despite my perception of messed-up-ness, there's still something valuable there...there's something worthwhile.

I once read an essay that surmised that our lives are kind of like a tapestry we weave. And because we're human, mistakes get woven into that tapestry. But at the end of our lives, the writer suggested, when we see God, God takes that tapestry and either fixes the mistakes - so it's complete and whole and we can see what it was meant to be - or else somehow transforms the mistakes so the tapestry is whole. And you know, that's something I kind of hold on to. Something I kind of hope for - that the things I screwed up in this life will either be undone (so they don't matter any more) or will be changed so that although it may have been a mistake at the time, it comes to be an integral and good part of the whole.

I don't know. But it's funny, in such a self-esteem obsessed world that at least some of us seem to be walking around a lot of the time feeling like we're not good enough.

(And I do see a difference between accepting yourself as a child of God - and therefore valuable to God despite everything you know about yourself - and having a sort of false self-esteem, where people tell you that everything you do is perfect and wonderful. I'm just not very good at articulating what that difference is...perhaps it's the difference between flawed-but-still-valuable and I-don't-believe-I-have-any-flaws).

Monday, December 10, 2007

One down

...the first of the three finals I give is over.

This one is given as a take-home exam because it's in my computation-intensive class. I make up four different versions (well, the essay questions are the same; I feel I must do that for fairness' sake).

One student never handed his in. He still COULD but as there's a precipitous drop of points once the deadline is passed (and for every hour thereafter), it's getting to the point where it might not be worth it to him. (And not worth it to me to grade).

I am kind of put out because the three amigos I had in that class (sat in the back, chatted, ignored me, didn't always hand in homework, were sometimes disrespectful of other students) showed some evidence (but not provable evidence) of copying on the exams (as in: they got the same things wrong in the essay questions). Whatever. It works out in the end. They did badly on the test.

I will say on a happier note that two separate people thanked me in person for the class, said they learned a lot and enjoyed it. (They both earned As. I don't think they said they enjoyed the class BECAUSE they earned As; they probably earned As because they put in the effort and they cared about it, so they learned the stuff. One of the guys also aced the final, which is kind of rare.)

I also got a Christmas card thanking me from a student who, though not an A student, did work hard in the class and I could appreciate her hard work.

So, three people out of 19 thanked me and thought the class was worthwhile. That's a new record. I'm not going to worry about the copycats because of that. (I kind of say to myself, when I suspect a person of cheating but can't "prove" it well enough to justify flunking them: "Well, it's THEIR soul." No, I don't think their cheating will consign them to one of the rings of Hell [even one of the upper, less-nasty ones], but I do tend to think that that kind of thing can come back to haunt a person - as in, they don't have the chops when it comes to doing the thing on the job, or they get caught out some time in the future.).

I will say that because of my lowering some of the cutoffs a bit (something I had agreed to do after looking at the pre-final exam grade distribution), some people may have done a bit better than they strictly deserved. (Well, the girl who tried hard and got a C would have just barely missed getting the C under the old cutoffs, so I guess I can feel good about that). Then again - some of the "problem" people will get Ds instead of Fs, which will keep them from having to take the class again, but won't unnecessarily pad their GPA.

Very bimodal distribution in the class - almost no Bs, almost no Cs. A good number of As (and As who came about it honestly: the cutoff changes didn't really benefit them), a lot of Ds and an F or two. But that's how it always is with the class: if you pay attention, do the work, and pay attention to the questions on the exam, you can generally pass. If you work hard and come in to talk to me when you don't understand something (which all of the A students did), you can often pull an A. It's the people who only read half the exam question and then go answering something I DIDN'T ask who wind up with Ds or Fs. Or the people who don't do homework. Or the people who find their back-row convo SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING than what's actually going on in the class.

So, whatever. What goes around comes around. The people who earned As should feel good; this is not an easy class or easy material although I try to make it as understandable as possible. The person who earned a C thanks to the new cutoffs will probably be happy - she was in last week asking me what she had to make on the final to "pass" (meaning, get a C. D is technically passing but most of our more concerned students do not consider it so). Normally I hate that question - because it's a question a "slacker" tends to ask, someone who hasn't tried all semester. But this is someone who tried, and just had some problems (not entirely caused by class material; she's an RA and there's been some bad drama in the dorm she's had to deal with). We figured it out, and I was happy (when I graded her exam) to see that she JUST made it, with the new cutoffs.

Yes, it makes professors happy when students get As, or when they manage to pull off a grade they didn't think they could. Regardless of what some students believe about us.

Friday, December 07, 2007

a moment of levity

Maybe this will help.

I got a spam message this morning listing as the sender, "Your Doctor."

You think I'm HOW stupid, now? Like I'm going to open an e-mail because it claims to me from "MY" doctor.

That's like something Homer J. Simpson would do: "But Marge....The computer said the message was from MY doctor! I had to open it!"


Ken: someone actually said "He did it because he wanted to go out in style"?!?!

That utterly and completely floors me. If I were not the sort of person who generally abstains from cursing (especially on this blog), I'd probably be dropping a string of four-letter words and body-part and bodily-function references to refer to that person.

"Going out in style" in my book amounts to something like saying, "Either this wallpaper goes or I go" before you breathe your last. Or picking out your best pimp-suit for them to put you in for your wake. Or maybe doing an Isadora Duncan.

But one doesn't make a statement by taking innocent lives. That's terrorism. I don't care what the statement is, how important the terrorist thinks it is, how global or how personal.

Saying that this creep did that to "go out in style" is not unlike commenting that under Mussolini, the trains ran on time.

People f-ing amaze me.

Of course, if we didn't have the concept in this country that getting on television and saying something makes you "famous" (no matter how imbecilic that something is), or if the bottom-feeding newsgrubbers didn't feel the need to cram a microphone in the maw of every Joe and Jane Sixpack out there when some tragedy happens, we might be spared this kind of idiocy. (Of course people might still THINK such betises, but at least the rest of us are spared listening to them.)

And the local radio news is all talking about "stepped up mall security." Good thing I wasn't planning on going shopping any time soon. (I wonder what that will amount to - frisking customers as they walk in the door?)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What can you do?

So the big news story now is the mass shooting in the Omaha mall. I have a friend who lives in Omaha (she and her family are all okay) so I paid perhaps more attention to it (at least at first, before I knew they were okay) than I might otherwise.

Because these are the kind of news stories that make me need to turn my television and radio off.

Because there is literally nothing (well, aside from praying for the families who lost loved ones) I can do in this situation. It's one of those random events that makes life scary if you think about them too much.

I know the talking heads will come out, and the topics that will be addressed will be:

1. Gun control
2. Gun control for people with mental issues
3. People with mental issues (and, of course, they'll be VERY VERY careful to point out, "We're not implying that everyone who is depressed will become a shooter" but in some cases that disclaimer may become a bit hard to swallow given the way the newscasters then hype things)
4. The issue of "community." (Has the guy been branded a "loner" yet? That's another thing that always comes out in these things and it makes me twitch because I'm kind of a loner yet the thought of shooting a person* makes me want to vomit)

(*with the exception of self-defense or defense of a person or people I loved very much. I could probably shoot to kill if, for example, someone was threatening my mother's life)

5. Shopping malls (Oh, don't laugh. Someone will surely blame "American consumerism" in some way).
6. The idea of "security" (Will shopping malls acquire metal detectors and TSA-like screenings for people coming in? I'm sure some will call for it. I will say if that comes to pass, all of my shopping will be internet-based.)

And the truth - at least as I see it - is that NONE of those issues may help that much. The kid who did this was a screwed-up individual who apparently read an article in the newspaper about some other mass killer and thought "this is a good way to become famous right before I kill myself" and he went and did it.

Random, and sad, and horrible.

But I don't think making women subject to purse-searches or diaper-bag searches or subjecting men to briefcase or man-bag searches before they enter the mall will help at all. Oh, it might LOOK good. But I don't think we'll necessarily be any safer - and it will make the whole process a little less comfortable - instead of being able to walk in with the convenient fiction of "This is a mall, it's a safe place" we will get, right in our faces, "You are never safe in any public place ever."

And you know? That takes a toll on the psyche, I think. I'm relieved that after the Virginia Tech shooting, my campus didn't knee-jerk and order metal detectors or require all faculty and students to walk around with our ID tags on little leashes around our necks...because that kind of thing says, to law-abiding citizens, two things:

1. We don't trust you not to do something horrible
2. And not only do we not trust you, but we don't think the campus is safe.

And the thing is? If some sick f*ck wanted to come to campus and take a bunch of people out, having us walk around with our ID tags on would be useless. Maybe worse than useless if said sick f*ck had a beef with the university, he'd know exactly who to aim at.

I don't know. There's a horrible randomness to things that happen, but sometimes I think trying to make things "safer" by abridging the freedom of lawabiding citizens. (And while it's true that if I have* a concealed-carry permit, I'd never carry the gun into a store, never carry it in my purse, etc., still, I'd object to having to hand my handbag over to some minimum-wage wanna bee cop to rifle through).

(*being purposely vague. Even though I don't think anyone who knows me reads this blog)

It's hard for me to explain it make a good cohesive argument against people who would have that done. I guess it boils down to: I like my privacy. I like the fact that if I'm carrying feminine hygiene products in my purse, no one has to know. Or if I have a bottle of medicine in there, no one needs to see the label and learn what it is. And I'd hate having to give that up every time I walked into a mall, or my office building, or the library. (If it came down to that? I'd probably buy one of those travel-pockets that you can wear inside your waistband or brassiere and use that as my "goin' to the mall" purse. Because I just don't like the thought of someone rifling through my stuff.)

I guess the other objection is that, 99.99%...of the population never causes harm. And yet, when new regulations come down the pike, they are the ones who have to comply with them. And the criminal element, the people who would do evil - they can find a way around regulations and laws. (The point of being a criminal is that you break the law! If you have no compunctions against shooting innocent people, you're going to find a way to get a gun in a supposedly-secure building.)

So I don't know. I guess my perspective is this: It's sad and it's horrible. But sometimes sad and horrible things happen and they cannot be prevented. And that there's evil in the world, and sometimes that evil does evil. And there's not a lot you can do to regulate or legislate evil away.

My prayers are with the families of the people who lost loved ones, the people who were injured, and the people who are afraid. (I know my friend talked in her e-mail to me about how it was "scary" to think of such a thing happening in her hometown). But I think - kind of like how I think about terrorist attacks - really, the best way to get past this is for people to go on living. Not to hole up in their houses. Not to require strip-searches before you enter a wal-mart. Not to try to ban guns (because again: you ban 'em, outlaws will get 'em.).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

rudeness: we has it.

In one of my classes, the students are doing presentations this week. I enjoy that (I'm off the hook from talking, and also, some students who don't do that well on exams do excellent presentations, and that makes me happy - it makes me feel like, "well, this levels things for them a little bit").

But one guy today was having a hard time. His project just wasn't that good (and believe me, I tried to help him choose better) and he just wasn't presenting very well.

The smartass of the class (sits in the back row, has a big ego, constantly talks about the high grades he's getting - they're really not all that, but I let him live because he periodically says something so FUNNY in response to one of my questions that I actually crack up in front of the class) started whispering with the two girls on either side of him. Whispering about how the presentation "sucked" and all that.

Now, I ask you: These people are, like, 20 years old. We are in a classroom that is, at best, 25 feet by 15 feet. Does he not think the guy knows what's going on? Especially when I've stopped him mid-comment throughout the semester to ask him if he "has anything to share." Or do they have no tact? Part of the reason the guy up front was having a hard time was that he was un-used to presenting and was nervous.

I turned around and glared at the guy and his "lady friends" and they shut up, but I felt like that was something I should not have had to have done.

Sometimes my college students are as immature as my youth group kids. And that's saying a lot.

(And speaking of youth group: I have a problem. Several of the kids have cell phones and I'm getting INCREDIBLY SICK AND TIRED of having to remind them to a. turn the dang thing off during the lesson or group time, b. not play loud raunchy music on them when they're waiting for dinner, and c. not text each other at dinner. (I ask you: they sit across the table from each other and text each other. Either they're sending off-color jokes they don't want me to hear, or they're just so dang addicted to it they can't stop.) I've contemplated confiscating the cell phones until the end of the evening when they're abused, but I'm a little afraid of getting an irate call from a parent over it - some of the parents are incredibly protective of their kids' stuff. If it weren't so expensive (and so hard to get permission), I'd build a dang Faraday cage in the Youth room to block signals.

It's like - I spend all this time talking about community and caring for one another and not closing people out of the circle, and here they are, heads down, texting. Or calling people not in the group to tease them or claim that "J. likes you!" while J. protests in the background "I don't and you suck!" Or something.

I'm beginning to feel that cell phones are more of a detriment than a benefit to our society. I went to the post office today and saw the signs they have up all over the place - "Please Refrain from Using Cell Phones While Talking to Clerk." and I thought, "what a screwed up society that we can't figure that out on our own; that we can't take 30 seconds of our life to actually interact with the human being who is serving us, because we think we're so important and our conversation with the person on the other end is so important."

It makes me profoundly sad sometimes, and it makes me wonder where we're going to go from here. I don't like endless rules and regulations but honestly, the way some people act, I fear the 90% of people who use consideration and follow the unwritten rules of etiquette are going to get regulated to death because of the 10% who are too clueless to consider the feelings of others. And of course the 10% will continue to violate the rules, and we'll just get more rules heaped on our heads as a result.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

oh my word

Well, here's how I used approximately the past 6 (really 7, now that I think about it - I used one hour earlier this afternoon to start) hours (with a break to eat, a break to go on here to check my e-mail and whinge about people who think "Field and Stream" and Encarta (yup, someone used Encarta even though I told them they couldn't) are acceptable sources):

Read 20 student papers through once for flow and content
Read the same 20 papers again (in a different order) and applied comments to said papers.

And one reason why I REALLY like the good papers, the ones where people followed the directions and did good background research and proofread them carefully? I don't have to write very much on them. It's the poorly-done papers that take the most effort on my part to grade, mainly because I feel the need to justify every point I take off. (I wish I could use "general sloppiness" as a catch-all reason, but I can't).

And one thing that frustrates me? When otherwise intelligent people (people I KNOW have the smarts and skills to do a good paper) don't, either because they're lazy or because they procrastinated.

I'm wiped out - and I still have to do the point tabulations and apply grades. But that's for tomorrow morning.

I just hope some of the folks read the comments I put on the paper. I try really hard to show, you know, "If you were re-writing this, this is what you'd want to change." Part of the reason I offer rough draft editing is because then people actually have a chance to put those kinds of comments in practice where it will actually affect their grades - where it is clearly practical.

If I were... adviser to the high muckety-mucks running NCLB?

I'd suggest they incorporate "Being Able To Follow Directions" as a main directive at every grade level.

I am trying to grade research papers here and some (about 1/4) of them make me want to beat my forehead into a bloody pulp on the edge of the desk:

1. You canNOT do a valid experiment with sample sizes of one. I have talked about that. I have pointed it out ad nauseum. Just because you want to do it that way does not make it right.

2. You canNOT write a paper over experimental research you did and leave out the results and discussion. That does not a research paper make.

3. "Field and Stream" is not a peer-reviewed resource.

4. "and so on" or "et cetera" are TOO vague for a scientific paper. We went over that.

5. I issued a list of instructions for writing the paper, referred to that list, READ most of it aloud one day in class, put it up on the course website. Why did you not follow it when I had in big honking letters on the top "FAILING TO FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL CAUSE LOSS OF POINTS"

6. Trying to make me laugh with your clever writing and puns will not endear you to me. This is a SCIENTIFIC paper. Please be appropriately serious.

7. Do not hide things. Label the abstract "Abstract" so I know it's that and not just a poorly-organized bit of introduction. Don't make your tables obscure. Remember ricki's rule for college success #1: do not piss off the person who is grading you. After reading the first 10 papers, having to search for ANYTHING is going to piss me off.

8. Wikipedia is not a peer-reviewed resource. We went over this quite a bit in class. It may be wonderful for settling bar bets or gleaning information on old episodes of Scooby-Doo, but it is not a valid scientific resource.

All of that said, some of the papers are pretty good, and I had a record number of people this semester hand in rough drafts (I have a deal - if they get me a good draft of the paper 10 days or so before the due date, I will read it, comment on it, but not grade it - basically give them a free shot at correcting stuff I'd take points off for on the final paper).

But it's that two or three where I read them and go "the Hell?" that get me every time. There's not enough strong hot tea and dark chocolate in the world to make those papers go down well.

Five things

Michele has a post up about five things she doesn't like about this time of year. (And if you read A Big Victory regularly, you probably don't need me to issue a "language alert," but I will, for the more meek souls who are blown out of their chairs by f-bombs and the "s" word).

I have to admit I kind of agree with her on the people-whose-worst-instincts-come-out-while-shopping and with the "OMG! They said "JESUS" in public discourse! It's a THEOCRACY here now!" folks.

But there are an awful lot of things I totally adore about this season, so I'm going to focus on those:

1. Crazy, over-the-top light displays on houses.

Yes, it's tacky as heck. Yes, it raises people's electrical bills for the month of December and makes Mama Gaia cry even more than farting sheep do. But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the crazy, overdone, Griswold-house light displays.

I just do. I can't really explain it but it makes me crazy happy to drive by someone's house at night and they've got it all lit up, and maybe a plastic Santa and reindeer on the roof, or those fake plastic snowmen with a light inside them (which look really odd here in the South, because it almost never snows, and it was close to 80* yesterday).

The town where I used to live, the local newspaper columnist had an annual contest that was for something like "Most outrageous Christmas display." And people totally got into it - it was amazing how much work people went to (especially considering the prize was like a gift certificate to a local pizza place).

I think part of the reason I love it is because it's so does nothing to advance the person doing it (in some cases their neighbors even look down on them for it), but they do it, by and large, out of the love of doing the thing and the pleasure it gives to people like me who laugh like five-year-olds when they see a house all lit up.

2. There are special "treats" to eat.

My local Mart of Wal is selling "orange sticks" right now- apparently only for the holiday season. These are those jelly candies (like the jellied centers in Bridge Mix) dipped in chocolate. I can't find them any other time of the year.

So of course I buy a box or two and enjoy them throughout the season. Because they're just something I like: the really intense orangey jelly candy (it must have real orange peel in it) and the sweet milk chocolate. Mmmmmm...arrrggghhhh. (Homer drool).

And people make cookies that only get made this time of year.

And people share "traditional" things - people in my department, they kind of shyly bring in this cake or some appetizer or something and go "We have this every Christmas." And I love that, both because of the sharing aspect (and I learn a little more about that person, I get a tiny insight into who they are and where they come from), but also because, well, it's free food. And it's food different from my usual yogurt-crackers-fruit trifecta that makes up most lunches.

Myself? This is the only time I ever make roll-out cookies because they are such a mess and such an effort otherwise. But it is Christmas, so it is "right" to do them, and they don't seem that much of a pain to clean up after this time of year. Whereas in, say, June, they would.

3. Regardless of all the bad mall-behavior and mis-behavior at parties and such, people DO tend to be a bit nicer and kinder.

Yes, I really do believe this. I really do think this is true. People who might not write a check to a relief organization any other time of year will throw some spare change in a Salvation Army kettle. Or people may stop and remember what time of year it is before they chew out some underling. Or people are more willing to let others' imperfections slide - they're more willing to be forgiving. Because, you know, it's Christmas.

I don't know if it's some atavistic remnant of "Santa Claus is watching you!" or if it's a still-felt impulse not to dishonor the birth of Jesus by behaving like a heel, or what. But for every person playing Death Race 2000 in the Wal-Mart parking lot, there's someone else out there trying to reconcile with someone they hurt over the previous year.

4. Church services. I realize that this isn't part of everyone's Christmas experience or anticipation, but it's a big part of it for me - going into the clean bright church, newly decorated with greenery and red bows and candles, and hearing the same old good news I have heard every December since I was old enough to remember. And seeing the Advent candles lit, and singing the good old familiar hymns, and the anticipation, and the planning...even the reminders that we need to make ourselves spiritually ready, that we need to do a sort of housecleaning of the soul (which, I suspect, in some people, leads to the reconciliations I talked about above).

It's the start of a new year in church, and new years are always filled with hope. And hope is a good thing. Next year will be better. Things will turn around. This coming year will be really good, with lots of growth and love and understanding. This is the year we'll really understand what Christ meant, this is the year we'll really serve Him as he should be served.

Oh, come the end of the year, I may feel like I often do: "Get lost, old year. Don't let the door hit you in the backside on the way out." But at least for a while, there's enough hope - enough wonderful, crazy, irrational (by the world's standards) hope that it spills over into the other areas of my life.

5. The gifts. (At least I'm honest). Yes, I like the whole process of getting and giving gifts to people. It is fun. It is a way of showing someone that you love them. It's a lot of fun to go out and shop for people you love - or at least it is for me.

Now, granted: I don't experience the malls much this time of year. I tend to do Christmas shopping starting in the summer, when I'm traveling, when I'm new and different places with interesting things to buy for people. By the time the crappy "executive gifts" (usually some kind of chrome-plated monstrosity that he's "supposed" to keep on his desk) come out, I'm long done with my shopping.

And I also have the good fortune that I pretty well love everyone I buy gifts for. Mostly it's my immediate family, plus a few friends, plus some more distant family (which I usually do food gifts for: nothing for them to store, and it's something everyone can share - most of my more distant relatives are big families where I never know which adult kids are going to be home for the holidays). I don't have the pressure of having to "impress" anyone with my gifts, there's no competition in my family that way. I usually spend more than I "should," or at least more than I start out intending to spend....but so often I see "just the perfect thing" for someone, and of course, because it's "perfect," it will make them happy, and I love making people I buy it for them. And readjust my plans for everyone else's gifts accordingly.

The best moment of course is watching someone unwrap your gift (at least when they like what you gave them.)

I also like, I have to admit, getting gifts. I have an amazon wishlist that my family has the address to, and my parents ask me (and my brother and sister-in-law) to write down lists of things we want or could use (plus information like sizes). And then we get a few things off that list. (It's not as mercenary as it sounds. It's not like Sally on Charlie Brown Christmas asking for "and bring as many as possible. Or if it's easier for you, send money - preferably 10s and 20s."). I try to ask for mostly small stuff, and maybe one or two more expensive items. (Mostly it's books, although this year I put on some dvds, seeing as I now have a dvd player...)

It's fun to sit in the living room the day or so before Christmas and see the wrapped gifts stacked up, and wonder at what they's a tiny little window to being a child again, when there was some toy that you felt you would DIE if you didn't get, and a box shows up under the tree that is just about the right size...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

a farewell to a 70s icon

Evel Knievel is gone.

The Nightfly: Happy landings

Evel Knievel was one of those memorable figures from my childhood. He may not have occupied as central a place as the Muppets or the Greatest American Hero did, but he was THERE, and he was cool (I commented on Nightfly's blog that he was "badass before we knew what badass was"). His job was doing dangerous, as a child, I knew that was just cool. Even if I didn't want a job like that myself.

Nightfly also refers to the little friction-powered toy of a mini-Knievel on his motorcycle. The kids across the street from me had one, and I remember how much fun we had setting up more and more hazardous jumps for it to attempt. (I think the toy finally met its demise when one of the older kids tried to set up a flaming hoop for mini-Knievel, which he unfortunately never cleared)

Knievel may have had his problems (he described himself as being an alcoholic, and he was in poor health towards the end), but in his glory days, he was awesome.

All the "extreme sports" types of today owe a debt to this man.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmas music

Considering that there's a month, tops, that I can play it without looking too much of a loon, I own an awful lot of Christmas music. So I'm going to talk about some of my favorite songs and "albums" (what do we call these now? Do we still call them "Albums" in the CD age? And yes, I realize that the fact that my music is in CD (or tape) form and not MP3 form puts me a bit behind the curve, but whatever).

Sacred music (hymns or songs explicitly mentioning Christ's birth):

Silent Night. This is my all time favorite. I love this song dearly, for two reasons: first, even someone who's a non-singer (like me) can sound fairly good singing it; it doesn't require too much vocal calisthenics and there are really no "not in this lifetime" high notes, even in the soprano part). I also love it for the legend of how it came about: a mouse had eaten part of the leather bellows of the pipe organ in the church Father Mohr served, and so he and Gruber composed a song that could be performed on guitar. (Some sources doubt the veracity of this legend). But whether or not the legend's true, I love this song. My two favorite versions are the Bing Crosby version (straightforward and traditional) and a more recent song by a group called the Thorns, about whom I know next to nothing, but their version of it was on a compilation album I have. And it is beautiful - three or four male voices, singing in harmony, with just an acoustic guitar accompanying. Pretty close, I guess to what Gruber and Mohr intended. It fills me with great peace to hear the song, particularly the Thorns version.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing - another old one I love. I like the melody (by Mendelssohn) but the words (by Charles Wesley) are the real treat here: the theme of reconciliation, of good news, of glad tiding. My favorite version, probably, is the one at the end of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" - a youth choir, it's not perfect (it goes a bit off key at the end), but to me that's the version of the song I first think of.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day (link provided because it's a less-familiar carol). I love a lot of the "old" carols - the pre-1900s ones, the pre-Victorian-sentimentalization-of-Christmas ones. This particular carol is so old (I presume) Wikipedia provides no time period for it. It basically tells the story of Christ's life. Presumably it is Christ "narrating" the song. I love it for these lines:

"To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love"

I love it because of the image of dancing (which I spoke about once before); also the image of Christ calling us all his "true love."

Someone somewhere made the comment that this song takes the traditions of the ballads of troubadors - about courtly love and such - and adds the whole extra layer of faith on top of it - that it's no more about the sort of love that takes place in aristocratic courts, but now the sort of love of the Heavenly court.

The version of this I know best is on a CD (one of my favorite Christmas CDs) called "What Cheer" by the Gloria Dei Cantores. It's mostly Medieval and Renaissance carols, mostly a capella or with a little bit of accompaniment that would be appropriate to the time period.

I'm also fond of "Ding Dong Merrily on High." That's another fairly old carol (or at least the tune is; it apparently came from a dance tune). It's written in a self-consciously archaic style (until I looked up some information on it I thought the text was much older than it actually is), and you know? I like things that feel kind of archaic, that carry a tiny whisper of Christmas-in-the-manor or cold dark castles with choirs singing.

Another ancient-sounding carol: "Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel." In my experience this is the typical first-Sunday-of-Advent carol - it is not yet time to rejoice over Christ's birth, and although this song alludes to it, it's also kind of minor-key and meditative and plaintive.

Another old, old carol I love - that's kind of in the plainsong mode - is Of the Father's love begotten. It's heartcrackingly beautiful when it's done the way it was one year at my church - a couple of men with good strong voices, standing up in the balcony, and singing it, a capella, in unison, as a sort of prelude. (It's another carol that you don't have to have a particularly broad range to be able to sing fairly well).

I'm also deeply fond of a lot of the traditional British carols, like the Sussex Carol. Part of it is that they were on albums I grew up listening to, but I also sometimes wonder if part of it is some kind of "genetic memory"? (Most of the ancestors on my Mother's side were British and Scots). I like the Sussex Carol, though, in part, because of its lilting tune. And because the words are joyful and true.

"Good King Wenceslaus" is another favorite, but it occupies an odd position: it's not really a Christmas hymn, as it doesn't really explicitly speak of Christ's birth (King Wenceslaus was, I guess, a Czech or Bohemian king who exemplified Christ's love and service). St. Stephen's day is the day after Christmas (Dec. 26), also known among the British as "boxing day" (the day gifts were given to servants). Again, it's a carol where I thought (when I was a kid, at least) that the text had to be incredibly old, but it's really just from the 19th century (the tune, though, is older). I like this one because I remember singing it and wondering at it as a child.

I think I'll save my commentary on my favorite "secular Christmas songs..." for later.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


It's been a nutso week (students almost crying in my office when they realize it's the end of the semester and all the work they've been slacking off is coming back to haunt them, people needing REALLY REALLY REALLY LIKE I MEAN I WILL GIVE YOU MY FIRSTBORN NEEDING to get into a class that's already over-full, the youth group kids being 100% insane last night [seriously - some comic once said that by adult standards, kids could be declared insane. I think he's wrong; most of the young kids I deal with seem pretty sane, it's the teenagers who are whacked out])

But this makes it a little better. The next season of "24," as brought to you by the good people from LOL-Industries, INC. ("Captioning cats for your enjoyment since 2006!")

I love the person who did this so much.

(Yeah, I know CTG had it first, but I also had to put it up here.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some days...

...all you can say at the end of them is, "Thank you, God, for getting me through this day in one piece."

It was one H of a day, that's for sure.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

cannot remain silent

Last week, the NYT online ran an article about the new "green crusaders" trying to make their mark on their family's Christmas celebrations. I read the article with some dismay.

I think one of the things that frustrates me about the modern world is how so many people have to make everything about themselves (she says as she writes on her blog).

When I was a kid growing up, it was kind of understood that at family gatherings, you didn't talk about politics, or religion (in my family we have Catholics, lapsed Catholics, Protestants of various stripes and degrees of devoutness, agnostics, people who would list their religious affiliation as "none" but who express a certain love and veneration for pop-religion figures like the Dalai Lama...). You tried to avoid subjects that would upset people.

Why? Because it was the holidays. Because it's nicer to spend time with people when there aren't hurt feelings or animosities. Oh, it can be hard. And there are people who sometimes violate the code and say whatever they damn well please. But the general unwritten rule in my family is: Thou shalt not make a pain of thyself.

So it bothers me that there are people who think it's perfectly okay to "reform" their families (or try to) by being somewhat unpleasant about it.

There was, for example, a person who was planning on giving each of their loved ones a CFL bulb (and, presumably, nothing else). She also comments about a relative who works in a field related to "nasty, old-style fossil fuel stuff." Nice. If her relative read the story, it should make for some interesting convo around the dinner table come Christmas.

Look, don't get me wrong: I'm in favor of conservation. I make an effort to limit my driving and to plan trips carefully, both to save money on gas and reduce the amount of pollution I generate. I turn off lights when I leave a room, and when I need to buy new appliances, the level of energy efficiency is part of my decision. It makes good fiscal sense to conserve energy and resources, and it does cut down on pollution.

I even recycle, at least items where it doesn't cost more energy to reprocess them than it would to produce new items "from scratch." (It's my understanding that plastic recycling at this point is not terribly efficient but that's neither here nor there because there's nowhere in my town to recycle plastics anyway. And I almost never drink pop or bottled water, so it's not like I'm a heavy producer of plastic waste).

But I draw the line when it comes to spewing my beliefs to other people. I don't walk around going, "You really should recycle that" or snapping off the lights in a room someone just left and glaring at them (I may snap off the lights anyway but try to do it in an unobtrusive way).

I guess I feel about conservation and such about the way I feel about my faith: if someone asks me what I believe, I'll share with them. Or I will try to quietly model the tenets of what I believe without talking about them. But I won't walk around telling everyone that they should do as I do, or telling them about the dire consequences they will face if they don't.

And I kind of view Christmas as a chance to relax things a bit. I eat things at Christmas I normally wouldn't eat (another thing I hate with a passion? All the news stories about "OMG everyone is going to gain 5 pounds this Christmas !!!11!!"). I do things I normally don't do.

I think perhaps in this country of plenty, we've forgotten the old meanings of "holidays" and "feasts." In the early days - in Medieval times and up to the 1800s, most of the year was kept as fasts or at least a time where not having all your desires fulfilled was the normal state of things. Christmas was a little foretaste of Heaven - where you were warm enough and had enough to eat and got to play a little and got to sing a little and maybe drank more than you should...

Nowadays, those of us in the Western world (or at least those of us in the middle-class and above) live as if every day is a feast day. And so we maybe don't know what to do when a holiday comes around. (Which may be why there's recently been a spate of advertisements for things like cars and diamond pendants as Christmas gifts: having to do more and more). And some people rebel against it, and see the time as a big time of wastefulness, and so appoint themselves as Saviors of the World (hrm...) and have to go around telling others to mend their wasteful ways.

I don't know. I live pretty frugally (by most North American standards) most of the time and I like being able to relax a little at Christmas - buy stuff for people that I know they will like, make cookies and cakes, spend more time socializing, put up strings of lights - all those things. And I don't like being told that what I'm doing is wrong and I should not do it.

Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with dialing back on materialism. I have to admit I'm a little nonplussed by the adverts that suggest buying a new car or a lavish vacation for your beloved for the holiday (or for the ads suggesting that risky, high-interest "payday loans" be used to shop). But there's a difference between a family deciding as a group, "This is what we are going to do" and then treating it as a foregone conclusion, and a person taking on the role of the proselytizer, where they have to constantly talk about it.

(Again, it reminds me of the Bible verse admonishing those who would fast against walking around looking sad and drawn and talking about how much they are fasting in front of other people. It's not just spiritual aggrandizement, it's also wicked annoying to the other people. It's kind of like the person in the department who's on a perma-diet and cannot shut up about it - who, every time there's birthday cake or cinnamon rolls or something, instead of just smiling and saying, "No, thank you" or avoiding the breakroom altogether, has to sit around and mope about their "terrible" diet and how they 'cannot eat those things' [or worse, say "I can't see how YOU can eat THAT"]).

I also think if one person is swimming against the tide of family tradition, it kind of behooves that person not to be unpleasant about it. If I were in the petroleum industry, and I had a "greenie" relative that I knew was going to harangue me at the dinner table, I'd probably make other plans for the holiday and explain to my other loved ones exactly why. Or if someone insisted on giving donations to causes in place of presents (which I have to admit I'm not totally on-board with but if someone asks me to do that for them instead of buying them a gift, I will), I'm not going to pretend to agree with them that "this is what we ALL should do next year."

I guess I still kind of am in "child mode" when it comes to Christmas: I want at least one of the gifts I receive to be "for fun" instead of "what I need." (Books count as "for fun," as do dvds or cds. Craft supplies count as "for fun." Stuff like nice tea or chocolate or nice soap or bath products count as "for fun") If gifts are too practical (socks and underwear, or "carbon credits" which I suspect are the new "socks and underwear"), then Christmas becomes little more than a festival of "I'll do your necessary shopping for you, and you do mine for me." And I'd rather pick out my own underwear, thanks.

(I bought different kinds of games - card games and board games and such - for a lot of my loved ones this year. A lot of the people I care about really enjoy playing games and I think I found a few new good ones. [And there's a slightly selfish motive: I will get to play the games, too, after Christmas.] I think games make a good gift. And also books, if the person likes to read.)

Maybe I'm wrong here, but I feel that all of the propaganda being put out - the "wrap your presents in old newspaper if you must wrap at all" or the "serve broccoli florets instead of pigs in blankets" or "give gifts of donations to good causes instead!" are as much of an attack on Christmas by those who would deny the holiday as are the (often inflated in the imagination of commentators) attacks coming from those who would deny the origin of the day - the One for whom the holiday is named.

I don't know. It seems to me there's so much bad news in the news that it's not necessary to go further to make people feel bad - laying on guilt for eating things that might not be 100% healthful during the holidays, or spending a little more than they might have planned, or using the "old" type of light bulbs instead of new "energy-efficient" bulbs, or whatever.

Leave Christmas alone, please, fearmongers in the media.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I can has extra credit?

Yup, it's that time of year.

Last two weeks of the semester, the people who have been in 'sleep' mode all semester long suddenly wake up and freak out.

I had a pile of e-mails either "explaining" (in some cases with a valid excuse, in others, not) why the person had been absent so much. Or asking for help. Or asking to hand stuff in late. I had one e-mail that was in all lower case with no punctuation and in sort of that stream-of-consciousness run-on style that I believe Burroughs perfected (and if you're not William Burroughs, you should probably not use). The writer was informing me he needed for me to accept his homework late, as he was in a car 'reck' and 'i couldnt get a ride but im trying' and that he would - if I interpreted the e-mail right, as my brain tends to shut down in the absence of punctuation - get it to me first thing tomorrow.

(An aside: this is a student who wrote a paper, and turned several of the homework questions around to, arguing the legalization of pot. Now, I'm generally for allowing people to do what they will provided it doesn't hurt others or themselves too much, but I get a feeling from some of the discussions I've had with him, the pot use I suspect he indulges in is probably hurting him.)

All of these e-mails came in while I was in my last class of the day. After that class, one of the young ladies wanted a little input on the paper that is due next week (she had a rough draft for me and I had read it so she wanted to discuss it). I walked into my office and saw all the e-mails with student addresses on them and kind of sighed something like, "Well, it's that time of year" (the student who was with me, while not an A student, is someone with a strong sense of personal responsibility). I made some comment about how probably half the e-mails would be asking for extra credit and she kind of laughed and said, "I'd just delete them and claim they never arrived. I don't think I'd be able to put up with that junk."

Well, I can't do that, but I do (politely) respond saying extra credit is not an option at this point. (I refrain from observing that there is copious REGULAR credit during the course of the semester for a person to do a C or better, even if they're not a rocket scientist, but that ship has kind of sailed at this point).

I'm reminded, though, of this exchange from my beloved SpongeBob SquarePants:

(Mrs. Puff, wanting SpongeBob out of her boating class forever, has tried to give him extra credit so he will pass by the skin of his teeth):

Mrs. Puff: (as I remember, laughing sub-manaically) "You pass! You pass!"
SpongeBob: "But, Mrs. Puff, I don't feel like I really did anything."
Mrs. Puff: "That's how extra credit is supposed to feel!"

On a happier note? I'm grading a batch of exams from my most difficult class and they're markedly better than the last set. I guess people actually woke up and studied after some people received 30% or below on the previous exam.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I'm back. I'm tired and kind of sick of traveling and still trying to adjust to alone-time. (It takes a couple of days. As much as I love living by myself, spending time around people I care about makes me a little lonely when I return).

Once again, traveling (and spending time in stores shopping with my mom, etc.) makes me wonder at people. Coming up on the train, it was kind of late, and I and one other woman were the last ones in to dinner, the diner car was empty at that point other than a few train employees taking their meal.

I have to say at that part I was just relieved: relieved the train finally got there, relieved I was on, relieved that there was still time for me to get a meal. But my dinner companion just wasn't happy: everyone on the train was rude. The meals weren't very good. It used to be better. Her car was too warm. Et cetera, et cetera.

I didn't really say anything. Because what do you say in that situation? At one point I think I managed, "Still, it beats flying?" (Which for me, it does - even with the delays, even with the long time spent on the train. The nearest airport to me is a nightmare to get to, and I'd have to change puddlejumpers mid-trip to fly directly to the town where my parents live, and then there's the whole "put your right foot in, put your right foot out, take off your shoes and turn all about" bit that flying has become today.)

The next day, the train was still late, and my lunch companions were out and out rude to the (overworked) car attendant - one of them claimed that he had purposely avoided us because we were a table of all women. (Maybe, but I didn't see evidence of more than "it's all hitting the fan at once and I'm being pulled in fifteen different directions"). I don't think being rude to someone in a situation like that helps at all. (Generally, being rude doesn't help at all in any situation, is what I've observed).

I also think I'm about ready to see more stores ban cell phone use outright. We went to several small stores - a gourmet shop and a bookstore - in the town where my parents live and both my mother and I were nearly knocked down by the "racers" - people with their Bluetooth firmly implanted in their ear, chattering away, with only the goal of the pound of coffee or the new Ken Follett in mind, and totally ignoring other people. It concerns me that a sizable minority of people seem not to SEE their fellow human beings - it's like there's a little bubble around them.

(I was also distressed to see the reports of minor fights and pushing and shoving before the stores opened on Friday. That kind of behavior is almost enough to make me eschew the more secular, gift-giving-aspects of Christmas, if that's how people behave about it. It's just STUFF, people. It's not worth shoving some stranger over. So your kid doesn't get a Wii for Christmas - or your hubby doesn't get a cheap big-screen tv. One of the lessons that can be learned is patient waiting or living with the little disappointments of life.)

Dave asked what place I considered to be home. Honestly, at this point, I think of where I live now as home - that's where I spend the vast majority of my life, it's where I work, it's where I've put down roots (as much as a single childless person puts down roots).

The town where my parents live now - while I said it was "familiar" - is not the town I grew up in; my father retired early some 20 years ago and took a new job in Illinois, so we moved away from Ohio where I grew up. I've actually not been back to the town where I grew up since then. (Interestingly enough - I talked with a man on the train at breakfast - a businessman originally from New Zealand but now based in Cleveland - and he knew the little town I lived in. He said the historic downtown was still much the same, but that there had been tremendous sprawl and that there were a lot of mini-mansions build up on the edges of town. Which actually sounds typical of some of the folks that lived there. I grew up there but outside of the church I belonged to, and to a lesser extent the private high school I attended, I never felt 100% at home in that town. It was very much a conspicuous-consumption town and my parents, while probably not any worse off than many of the families, did not believe in buying designer jeans or taking expensive ski or Bermuda vacations - so my brother and I were somewhat looked down upon as "poor kids" even though we weren't literally poor. I don't think I'd fit in there even now; I don't golf or carry a Bermuda bag (those were the big, big thing when I was about 14) or care much about clothing labels or particularly want to do the 'gracious living' thing if it means wearing uncomfortable clothes and not being able to leave the stack of books you're currently reading out on the end table or having to entertain a bunch of people from work who really actually kind of grate on your nerves).

So anyway. I feel welcome in the town where my parents live but it really doesn't feel that much like home, at least not in the way it did when I was living there during grad school. (It's also changing a lot - lots more building, the little downtown area is being torn down and replaced with pretentious new buildings that will probably sell things at pretentious prices, a lot of the old favorite restaurants have closed, the old favorite apple orchard closed down and was sold for a housing development).

I know, I know - stuff changes. But it's less disconcerting to see the changes in progress, as you live in the place. It's kind of unsettling to come back after a six months' absence and go "Can we go to Benny's Bakery and get some donuts?" and have my mom say, "Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you - Benny's was bought out by a Starbucks franchise" or something like that.

And people seem ruder on average up there. I don't know if it's a big city vs. small town thing (my parent's city is probably 100,000 people or more at this point; my town is about 14,000) or if it's a North vs. South thing, or if it's a socioeconomic thing (lots more Yuppies and old-money types in my parents' city). Or maybe it's a political thing, I don't know. (Political correctness is kind of rampant in the town where my folks live, and sometimes I think when that's carried to an extreme, people kind of forget to see other people as individuals with individuals likes and dislikes and worries and hopes, and see them as part of some label-able group)

This morning in church, several people remarked to me, "Welcome home!"

And you know? I think they're right. As much as I love my parents, as much as I love getting up there for visits, as much as I love there being a yarn shop and multiple bookstores and several quilt stores and some really good restaurants within a 10 minute drive of where they live, the place where I'm at right now is my real home.

It's where I've made friends on my own merits (without the friends coming "attached" as it were, as friends of my parents). It's where I earn my bread. It's where I have responsibilities and am seen as a good citizen. It's where people know me for me, primarily, and not me-as-the-daughter-of-my-parents. (My parents lived in the town for about 5 years before I moved back there for grad school, so a lot of the people I knew from church or from the university there knew my mom and dad first - and that carries a little baggage. It is kind of freeing to realize that the people who know me here know me not because of my mom and dad, but because of me.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanks (and Thanksgiving!)

Thanks everyone.

Cullen, the headphones are a good idea, but I think I'd find them hard to try to sleep in. I had several friends here tell me "Call the police nuisance line on them!" but my gut feeling on THAT is that it's solely to generate fodder for the "a cross section of calls to the police center" section for people to chuckle over in the newspaper - I've never known ANYONE here who filed a noise complaint that the cops actually checked into.

The good news? Dang dog started barking last night, but then it either quit, or its owners caught a clue and took it inside.

When it first started barking around 10 pm, I was lying in bed imagining whether I could track down someone I used to know who did work on large game animals and if he'd loan me a tranq gun and some kind of dog-safe tranquilizer darts. (Although that would probably cause more problems in the long run than it would solve in the short run.

Ultimately, someday, when I have the money and know someone who does decent work, I want to get the drafty old windows in my drafty old house replaced, and I think that might help cut noise, too. (The biggest hurdle is finding someone who won't punch out my old windows and then wander off to do another job for the next 3 weeks...I live in the land of ADHD contractors; their union motto is "We need to finish this.....let's ride bikes!")

At any rate, the dog can bark its brains out tonight for all I care; I will not be here. If all goes well, at 5:15 this afternoon I will be getting on a train, and midmorning tomorrow I will be in the town where my parents live (which is also the town where I went to grad school, so it's pretty familiar to me). I'm really, really looking forward to seeing them, and really, really looking forward to a few days off.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My night, last night

I was sitting at my desk this afternoon, really tired, when I remembered why.

This was my night last night:

Neighbor's dog: "bark. Bark. Bark-bark-bark. Bark. Barrrrrrrk. Whine."

then about 30 seconds of silence.

Then: Neighbor's dog: "bark. Bark. Bark-bark-bark. Bark. Barrrrrrrk. Whine."
Neighbor's dog: "bark. Bark. Bark-bark-bark. Bark. Barrrrrrrk. Whine."
Neighbor's dog: "bark. Bark. Bark-bark-bark. Bark. Barrrrrrrk. Whine."
Neighbor's dog: "bark. Bark. Bark-bark-bark. Bark. Barrrrrrrk. Whine."

(I could write a GOTO loop to basically give the full effect).

It's also been HOT here again - and that is WRONG. I had to get up and put the ceiling fan on.

And then I got up and dug out a set of the earplugs I bought for traveling. I hate using them at home because I'm always fearful that if my house catches fire, I won't hear the alarm in time. But sometimes you just have to balance the minute risk of being immolated against the pain of not sleeping.

They helped, but not as much as you'd think.

I don't know what to do about the dog. I am not 100% sure which neighbor it is - whether it's the one directly north of me (the cop and his family), or the renters across the street from them (they have a puppy they often stake out in the yard during the day) or Domestic Dispute Couple in the house behind me (I call them that because just about every time I've been out in my backyard this summer, they've been yelling and cursing at each other. If it's their dog, there's probably nothing I can do, because I suspect it's ill-advised to go over to a couple of people who have no problem with using the "m.f." word at each other (and the man using the "c." word to the woman) in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday and ask them if they'd consider taking their dog indoors because when it's out at night, the barking keeps me awake.)

I'm kind of to the point where I can't do much more - I am INSIDE my house, with the windows shut, with the ceiling fan running, with a white-noise machine running. And I can still hear the blasted thing. (I tried turning the white-noise machine up, but as soon as it's high enough to cover the barking, it's so loud I can't sleep).

I don't know. I hate to say it but if this sort of thing continues, my only solution may be to put my house on the market and buy a couple acres out in the country, build a house smackdab in the middle of my land, and hire a builder who knows well how to soundproof.

But why - WHY - are people so inconsiderate? If you can hear your dog, surely other people can hear it, too? (Yes, I know, maybe the people were out for the night and had to put the dog out in case it had to pee). But I'm such a bad sleeper to begin with that any kind of "irregular" noise (as opposed to something like a white-noise generator where the noise is steady) keeps me from sleeping - boom cars, people yelling outside, dogs.

I'm sure I'm not the only one. One summer I had to move into my guest bedroom because of loud neighbors on one side (I'd do that now, except my neighbors on that's two men and one of the guys' wives...have got a band started up. So far it sounds like the only thing they know how to play are the first seven chords of "Smoke on the Water" but what they lack in virtuosity they make up in volume and repetition).

I think this may be an extension of what I am now calling "Living-room Bubble" syndrome, where people think there's a huge bubble around them where ever they are, and whatever they do doesn't affect other people, or the effect it has on them doesn't matter - kind of like the loud cell-phone talkers with the TMI conversations.

People bug me sometimes.

Right way, wrong way

The other day I blogged about the guy who did a less-than-half-assed job on an assignment, and then wound up getting an extension. He represents the "wrong way" to get an extension:

1. Don't think about the assignment until right before the due date
2. Disregard the instructions
3. When you hit a wall, come and complain/ask the instructor to do the work for you
4. Get an extension because the instructor is fed up with your shenanigans but isn't feeling ballsy enough to throw you out of class.

There is also a right way to get an extension, and I didn't mention it:

One of my students - he's slightly older, I'd say he's at least 30 - came to my office before class on the due date. "I'm really sorry" he said. "I have an article but I don't have it written up in a good way yet. I'll understand if you don't accept it late, but let me explain: both my mother and my aunt were in the hospital this weekend and I honestly thought I could get the thing written while I was sitting around waiting."

I said I was sorry to hear he had relatives in the hospital. And I asked: "Could you have it done Wednesday?"

"Oh, certainly!" he said. "I'll understand if you need to take points off."
"No, that's okay" I responded - this is someone who's always been on time, always had the work done before, who comes to see me if there's something he doesn't understand.

He had it done today - typed, even (I didn't require that but it does help). He came to me before class to hand it in and thanked me again for the extension.

So that's just a lesson: right way, wrong way. Wrong way is to always be demanding and to do the bare minimum, then complain that you need more time. Right way is to have a generally good record, to explain the reason for the problem, be willing to accept consequences. And showing gratitude when you get what you need helps too.

I will refrain from commenting that wrong-way dude is probably 22 or under and right-way dude is, as I said, at least 30. (Well, actually, I just did make that comment...)

pre-Thanksgiving stupid spam

Yup, got one today:

"Bigger d*ck is not an illusion"

Oh, so many things one could say:

"It's all done with smoke and mirrors"
"Maybe, but Smilin' Bob's happy wife is"
"Even The Amazing Randi says so!"
"Things in mirror are closer than they appear" (Which is also one of my favorite Far Side gags ever)
"Paging David Copperfield" (That joke, I almost don't want to make)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hockey halftime show!

Nightfly, this one's for you:

Yeah, I know it's air hockey and not REAL hockey, but I think that's as close as LOLcats are ever going to get.

Monday, November 12, 2007

small vent

I am so )$#(*%$ sick and $_)(%$ tired of people thinking that they can do the crappy bare minimum of work and that should be enough to pass them and get them a decent job.

I require students in one of my classes to get scientific articles out of a journal, read them, summarize them, and critique certain points of them. I lay out pretty clearly what I want. I gave them several weeks to do it.

I had a few people come to me saying, "Can you help me search" and I did, of course, and most of them went away with an article they could use.

But this morning, I had one guy come up (they were due today) with a poorly-printed abstract and ask me "Where do I find [point A], [point B] and [point C] you asked us to write about?"

I took a deep breath and fought down the urge to say, "That was YOUR job. Not mine. You need to do it YOURSELF." I looked at the abstract- which is all it was - and said, "You can't find them because they're not in the abstract. You need to get the entire paper."

"But..." he said, "They asked for a login and password to see the paper in this journal."

(Note that this is all happening DURING class time. I do not know why but I have a couple people this semester with "boundary" issues in that, if they have a personal problem, they just walk up to the front of class as soon as they come in - even after I've already begun class - and demand my time)

"Then you need to find another article. There are a lot of articles you can get for free through the library databases on this topic. Take until Wednesday [yes, he won, if an extension was what he was looking for, but at this point he's failing, so it doesn't matter] and bring me another article."

"Well, if I can find a website that refers to this article and tells me points A, B, and C, can I just write them down from the website?"

"No." (because, I was thinking: he'll pull something out of his ass and claim it was off this mystery website) "I need to see a copy of the article. GO FIND ANOTHER ARTICLE."

So, I'm probably his bitch-of-the-week, but you know? I'm fed up with this. If I did work at the level people like this chap think they could get away with, I'd never have gotten tenure - hell, I'd never have gotten my contract renewed after the first year. And I continue to work over and above the call of duty. And, y'all? I'm TIRED. I could have been nicer to the guy but I'm just TIRED. Tired of being nice, tired of people assuming I will do things for them that they're supposed to do, tired of the attitude of "let's rush through this assignment so we can go out and fish."

Okay. And before anyone in some other profession says, "Then why don't you quit and do something else if you hate it so much?" I don't hate it. What I hate is the attitudes of a few, isolated individuals who seem to think that either the universe revolves around them, or that they have some special dispensation to slack off and still get grades equal to those of the majority of the students who do the work.

It's the bad apples that spoil the whole barrel, as the saying goes. It's the bad attitude people I tend to notice and need to complain about - because if I don't complain about it HERE, the bad feeling slops over into my other classes, and I don't want that to happen. So this is kind of a safety valve.

But I'm still ticked off at that guy. He had three friggin' weeks to find a suitable paper, and from what he had done, it looked like he probably tried to do it late last night.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I'm starting to get excited. Because of a rare convergence of events, I can take a week plus off at Thanksgiving this year (no classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus another surprise day off).

I am going to travel to visit my parents. Normally this is a big pain, as normally I'm in the immediately-pre-Thanksgiving crowd of people - and there are few things that can deflate my happiness faster than a cranky, immediately-pre-holiday crowd of people. But this year, I'm traveling a whole week before (and I have a compartment on the train, so even if there ARE cranky people, I get to avoid them). And I have enough time off that I don't have to turn around and go back just as the tiredness from traveling up has worn off.

I really like Thanksgiving. It's one of my favorite holidays. These days, it's kind of a "forgotten" holiday, a little speed bump between Hallowe'en and Christmas. (I would speculate that that is because they can't push a lot of "buy buy buy" for Thanksgiving, unless you're talking about food for the feasts - not many people really decorate a lot, and you don't give gifts, and there aren't costumes, and it seems there's less pressure - in my circle at least - to give a real, over-the-top party for the holiday).

Thanksgiving is fairly simple. Ideally, you get together with people you care a lot about, and you eat a big meal, and you talk about what you're grateful for, and maybe you watch a little football or "Miracle on 34th Street."

Even if you don't have a lot of good close people - or can't get to them - I think MOST people can conjure up thoughts of at least a few things they're thankful for. (Even if it's just a day off).

Oh, I know, in some families the day's probably fraught with drama. In my own family, my brother and his wife are a little conflicted because her mother REALLY REALLY WANTS (read: using guilt as a weapon) for them to come for the day. But they only get one day off - Turkey day itself - and it's just too far for them to travel reasonably. My parents are closer, but they're even kind of far for my brother and sister-in-law to come to (and besides, it would cause some bad feelings if her mom found out).

But at any rate: my immediate family is pretty sane and low-key about stuff (I know my mom's a little disappointed they can't come, but she understands), and so getting to see them is good. Getting to be with them is good.

I realize that cooking the big meal can be kind of a production. My mom's never complained about it - I do help, doing stuff like chopping vegetables and washing pots and pans as needed, but I leave the difficult stuff to her - she's better at making piecrust and rolls than I am, and I'm not sure I could stuff a turkey that well. And she's never complained, and when my dad offered to take us OUT for the dinner, she insisted that she didn't want that, that restaurant food was "not right" for Thanksgiving (and I have to admit, I silently agree. If she had wanted to go out, I wouldn't have said anything, but I'm happy she wants to cook.)

I guess I'm still in kind of the "kid" role, as I don't host the dinner - most of the big responsibilities are off my shoulders; I don't have to pick out the turkey or make the pies or really do much other than what I would have done when I was 10 or 12. And you know, I have to admit, I kind of like that sometimes. Being a responsible adult is very nice and is important to be, most of the time, but it's also nice to be taken care of a little bit sometimes. (And my mom is good at taking care of people.)

I have some pretty rigid ideas of what I "want" to do on Thanksgiving: get up early with my mom and help her start stuff, putting the chestnuts on to boil and such. Then watch the parade. I love the Macy's parade even though they've made two alterations in recent years I'm not so fond of: first, the insertion of scenes to "sell" Broadway plays to the folks watching at home who just MIGHT be traveling to NYC in the holiday season*

(*And I wonder what the stagehands' strike will do to that this year, if it's not worked out by then)

I don't care for it because it slows the parade down - and frankly, I cringe at the dancers out there in their tiny costumes. It's usually cold in NYC that time of year (and that early in the morning) and I wonder if anyone gets hurt from exerting in the cold. (I assume the singing is pre-recorded? I can't imagine someone who is in a show wanting to risk their voice singing in maybe 30 degree weather). And I don't have the kind of life where I can whisk off to New York to see a show during the "holidays," so it's kind of wasted on me.

I'm also sad that they have to practically ground the balloons now. Oh, I know - it's for safety's sake (so much of the loss of good things of my youth seems to be "for safety's sake" these days). Yes, I know, there was a bad freak accident a few years ago, and they have to protect the people watching (and their assets). But it's not the same as it was when I was a kid. (And if it's real windy, there may be no balloons at all. And really, the balloons are WHY I watch the parade.)

So anyway. I still watch the parade even though I kind of go into eye-rolly bored teenager mode when the show-pieces come on, or when the hosts go through their litany of excruciating puns. (I like puns as much as the next person, but here's a clue: puns are funny when they are unexpected. When they're tortured into being, they're just painful and embarrassing to watch).

And if either "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 34th Street" (the 1947 version, and preferably un-colorized) is on after that, I generally want to watch that, too.

Because part of my love of Thanksgiving is that I see it as the Gateway to Christmas. (Oh, yes, I know - those of us who are practicing Christians have that strange split-personality this time of year - in church we celebrate Advent, which is in some ways Lent Lite, where we search our souls and prepare for what is to happen. But in our "outside," secular, social lives, there's a whirl of parties and gift-obtaining and decorating and things that are rather un-Advent-like. But I enjoy both, and I hope my love of putting up decorations and baking cookies isn't biting too much into my contemplation of the Divine).

When I was a kid, the day after Thanksgiving was the day decorations went up. Not just in the stores - on the town square in the little town where we lived. The fire department's bucket trucks would be out, putting up the lights on the spruce trees and putting the big mouse on the clocktower (one of the famous and memorable holiday decorations in my hometown was that a large mouse - a re-enactment, I guess, of Hickory Dickory Dock - was placed on the clocktower at Christmas. Funny, how somehow nursery rhymes and fairy tales seem to be brought out at Christmas...I never thought about that before).

Now, of course, it's a lot earlier (it's a real mental disconnect to walk into a Hobby Lobby on a 101* day in August and see Christmas trees up), but I'm able to kind of ignore the decorations and stuff - I'm not one of those people who complains about being "sick of Christmas" when it comes. (It helps that I'm usually so busy between early October and Thanksgiving that I don't really do much shopping). But at Thanksgiving, I let myself start thinking about Christmas, noticing the decorations, pulling out my (many, many) CDs of Christmas music and listening to them.

At any rate - Thanksgiving is, in my mind, partly the doorway into a lot of good things.

But Thanksgiving is good in and of itself. I think it's important for us in modern-day America to set aside a day when we think about all the good things we have, all the things we should be thankful for. I tend to think that gratitude and a sense of entitledness are mutually incompatible - that if you feel one, you're not going to feel the other. And I do think we need more stopping-and-thinking-and-feeling-grateful in our culture.

So many things. So much to be grateful for.

I think I recounted the story before of how once, in a Thanksgiving get-together with a group of friends, we were going around and listing things we were thankful for. And I said "indoor plumbing" and everyone laughed. But it's true - have you tried living without it? It is such a great blessing to be able to turn on a tap and have clean, safe water - and, for that matter, water heated to a desirable temperature if you're going to bathe.

Really - indoor plumbing is one of the things I'm most grateful for. I'm serious about that.

And then there's the meal. My family is very traditional; we have the same menu (pretty much) that we've had my entire life: turkey. New England-style bread and chestnut stuffing. Mashed potatoes and gravy from the turkey (not giblet gravy; I think my dad's the only one who likes giblets and my brother and I actively detest them). Sweet potatoes and/or corn. Brussels sprouts, for those who like them (the sweet potatoes and/or corn are for those who don't). Homemade dinner rolls. Cranberry sauce. Pie, either pumpkin, apple, mince, or two of those three. Tea after dinner (milk or water with dinner - or, if we're dining apart from a very temperance-minded friend who we have been inviting in recent years, wine, for those who want it).

And it is something I look forward to every year. I am not one of those foodies who wants something innovative - innovation is fine at other times, but Thanksgiving is when I want what I've been having for years. And don't talk to me about the calories or fat content - it is just one day out of the year. (Yes - the little mailer from my health-insurance plan came the other day, and one of the "feature stories" was "OMG do you know how many calories are in Thanksgiving dinner OMG!" Thanks, Captain Bringdown. [Though I would argue their portion quantities are off - I NEVER eat 6 whole ounces of turkey; I'd think I consume closer to 3. And a half cup of potatoes rather than a full cup. For me, the point is to have enough room to enjoy EVERYTHING and I know the limits of my appetite] But still - we hear the tired old drumbeat of "calories bad, carbs bad, fat bad, food bad" every day of our lives - can we have at least ONE day off where the idea is "just enjoy; this is only one day out of the year"?)

At any rate - it will be a good break. A break I really feel like I need. So I'm counting the (few!) days down to this Thursday, when I get to go to see my family.

And, oh, there is SO much I have to be thankful for this year.