Saturday, May 31, 2008


Congratulations to Sameer Mishra for winning the National Spelling Bee. .

Every year they televise this, I say, "I'm going to sit down and watch" but I never do.

I think part of it was that I was a spelling bee kid myself - I only got as far as the regionals (and didn't go very far at that) - and I remember that horrible, heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed moment that you stand at the microphone, waiting for your word.

Is it going to be one you know in a snap? Is it going to be one you studied? Is it going to be one you can visualize perfectly in your mind and get all the letters in the right order, no problem? Or is it going to be one of THOSE words, the ones with the funny vowel combinations, or with the funky not-from-any-Indo-European-language diphthong that you always screw up?

Or, worst of all, is it going to be a word you've never even heard of before?

So I think part of the reason I don't watch is that my stomach tends to knot up in sympathy for the kids.

But I have watched a bit of the news coverage - noted the words used. And the winning word, if I may boast a bit, is not completely unfamiliar to me - I am sure I've seen it in some of my books dealing with Ancient Rome. (It means something like a prize that a person has earned).

There was one bit of a news clip that I saw that just made me chuckle. Mishra was up for his turn, the "pronouncer" told him the word.

The word was "Numnah," which is some kind of sheepskin product (I had to look it up myself and I couldn't remember the correct spelling without looking at the AP story)

Confusion crossed the young boy's face.

"Numbnut?" he asked.

The pronouncer, not wanting to risk violating the rules, couldn't just say, "No, that's not it." So he said instead, gently, "How about I say it again and you say it after me?"

And then he pronounced it more clearly.

And the look of relief that suffused Sameer's face, when he realized what the word really was (and presumably, he knew how to spell it) was priceless. (I can imagine he was thinking something like, "Wow....that was almost the most epic of epic fails ever." Can you imagine how awful it would be to be the kid who lost the national spelling bee because you thought your word was "numbnut"?)

I have to admit that I kind of love the spelling bee kids. It gets back to the fact that I always appreciate it when someone has that passion, that interest - when they will spend large amounts of time doing a thing mostly for its own sake. I know there are people who would argue (because I've had some in my classes) that spelling in these days of Spell-Check is unimportant, that you should just slap any old spelling down there and let the computer correct it. Or, more insidiously, there are the "language evolves, dammit!" people who sometimes argue that any spelling that people can interpret should be regarded as a "correct" spelling. (Some of these are the same people who would like to make text-speech acceptable for all written communications).

And to that I say no. There is a certain amount of pride, I think, that one can take in doing things RIGHT. In going to the effort to make sure everything is correct. In not being sloppy. (I think I said before that one of the things that irritates me is intellectual laziness - ESPECIALLY coming from people who should know better).

I know there are also people who would argue that being a good speller is kind of a useless skill - that it is not something that will pave the way to a good job, or to fame or glory or anything like that. That it's not like being, say, an excellent hockey player.

And yet - I think there is a certain value to it. It shows that these kids have the ability to focus. That they have discipline - discipline to sit indoors and look at lists of roots and suffixes and prefixes when other kids are out playing. That they care about something and will take the time to learn it and to be excellent at it.

There was an author - I think it was Mark Bauerlein- who was talking on some radio show about how the claims some people make that "The Internet is our collective memory now" (in the sense that learning and education should be "transformed" and changed into something happy and fun where there is never any drilling on times-tables or state capitols or things like that) are false, that having a superficial knowledge of something (or assuming you can look it up on Wikipedia) is very different from KNOWING something, from taking a lot of time with it, from looking at it from a lot of different angles. He used the example of Abraham Lincoln. "Internet era" knowledge, he suggested, would give you the dates that Lincoln served in office and maybe the text of his speeches, or pieces of legislation he passed. But someone who STUDIED Lincoln, who tried to fit him into the larger American picture, who looked at his character, the things he did before he got into office - they would have a much more complete view and in some sense, their characters would be built by learning about the characters of the people they studied. (He said it a lot better than I can).

And I guess that's part of it for me. I am always cheered when someone cares so deeply about a topic that they want to look at it from all sides - they want to LIVE that topic, they want to be able to talk intelligently about it at length.

That may be because that's how I tend to learn about things - when something grabs my interest, I want to read all that I can about it, look at the pros and cons, try to figure out how and why it is important to the other things I know.

And prepping for the spelling bee is kind of like that. I have a little first-hand information - as I said, I was a spelling-bee kid (only for two years, though, 7th and 8th grade) and I didn't get all that far.

I don't remember particularly how people were chosen - it may have been that we had a school spelling bee (with no beforehand preparation) but I kind of remember it as being that we were recommended by our "Language Arts" teachers. (Yeah, "Language Arts." Not "English" or "Grammar" or "Literature.")

Anyway. Those of us who were chosen, and who chose to do the spelling bee thing, would stay after school one or two days a week to train. I still remember my "coach" - she was also my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Turnblacer.

We would sit in her classroom and go over long lists of words. She'd talk to us about the various roots (Latin and Greek) that many words had, and talk of prefixes and suffixes. We also had "homework" - lists of words to familiarize ourselves with.

In some cases, you can break a word down by its component parts and get the spelling that way. But a lot of words - especially words brought in from non-Indo-European languages, especially words that have had to have been transliterated from something like Hebrew or Sanskrit - you can't do that. You just have to learn them. So learn them we did.

I wonder now if that was part of what lead to my having an "enhanced" vocabulary - in that I am the person that people ask, "Hey, what does this word mean?" (And I almost always know it). Then again - I always loved the vocabulary-building and spelling (which tended to be "hard" words and so was more vocabulary-building) exercises in school. And I read a lot. And my mom claims that I used to read the dictionary when I was a kid, though I don't remember that.

At any rate - I enjoyed doing the spelling bee prep. I actually enjoyed the study sessions more than the actual bee, which was pretty nerve-wracking. I think I liked learning all those words because it was orderly, it was precise, it was something that required careful detail work, and I was good at that.

I think I also liked it because - as a non-athletic kid, as someone who wasn't all that good at art, who didn't sing - it was one way of my being able to be recognized for something I was good at. It didn't matter that the other kids thought it was dorky; it was important to me.

I'm not quite as careful about spelling as I used to be - there are certain words I always have to look up these days, and certain words I often misspell. But I do think there was some sort of intellectual or character-building value in having been in the spelling bee, of having taken the time to prepare and study for it. If nothing else, it emphasized my belief (instilled by my parents) that working hard at something is the best way to get what you want in life. (And no, I don't mind that I never got to go to the National bee. I don't know how well I would have handled it; I was a pretty tightly-wound kid and the regional bee was about all the stress I could take).

Friday, May 30, 2008

BAH ha ha ha ha ha ha.

I first saw this on "Right on the Left Coast" (a teaching blog).

I LOVE stuff like this, it makes me laugh so hard. I love that people spend their time doing this kind of stuff:

"So I thought back to Calculus.
Way back to Newton and to Leibniz,
And to problems just like this.
And just like that when I had given up all hope,
I said nope, there's just one way to find that slope.
And so now I, I will derive."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I wish I had...

While I was out of town, Sheila had a post about things she wished she had a lifetime supply of.

It's an interesting idea for a post (gives a person a window into what the writer values and thinks about), so I thought I'd make a list too. Only, I don't think I'll be as diligent as Sheila and provide links for everything.

So, here are some of the things:

Vernor's Ginger Ale. Can't seem to get it West of the Mississippi or south of the Mason-Dixon line. It's the ONLY ginger ale (in my opinion) worth drinking. Target's "Archer Farms Ginger Beer" is close but it's a lot more expensive. (And I don't have a Target that near me anyway). I know you can get such things shipped to you but I'm leery of carbonated products coming through the mail...

Paisley Farms Pickled Baby Corn. Apparently this is made in Ohio. I used to be able to buy it at the Eagle grocery when I lived in Illinois...but then I moved, and then Eagle went out of business, and I've not seen it again. It was better than any of the other baby corns out there because they actually seasoned it - it wasn't just baby corn in a weak vinegar brine like Mezzetta and other brands do. I've played around with buying other brands and adding vinegar and a handful of "pickling spice" but it's not the same.

Green and Black's chocolate bars. I can get these semi-locally, but it means a drive to Target (an hour's round trip) to do so...and sometimes, you really want a piece of chocolate, and if there isn't any on hand...

Garibaldi bars. These are a type of raisin cookie, apparently they are still common in the UK but are no longer made here. I can order them from Vermont Country Store but they are very expensive.

Those lavender dryer sachets. I really like them but they're monumentally expensive so I limit their use to sheets, which seems to be the optimal way of keeping the scent on the fabric for a while.

Toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent...all the cleaning/hygiene staples. Just so I never have to go out and buy them, and so I never have the experience of dropping a jar of tomato sauce at 8 pm and realizing I used up the last of the paper towels earlier in the day. (And, it goes without saying: lifetime supply of "feminine hygiene" supplies. Because it's really oogy for me to be buying Kotex and realize that the guy running the wal-mart checkout line is in my stats class.)

Excedrin migraine. Again - so I always have it when I need it.

Books, although I probably have achieved that now.

Ticonderoga pencils. I've talked about these before - best brand of pencil I've ever used, keep a good sharp point, don't use the cheesy graphite that breaks, have a nice heft in the hand.

Legal pads. The white, regular-ruled, letter-size ones. I use them for everything - making lists, writing rough drafts of papers, writing exam questions, sketching quilt blocks. It's kind of a comfort to have a big big stack of these on hand, it's like "anything I want to do I can because I have enough paper to write on."

Graph paper. I use this more than you might think. I do a lot of hand-drawn graphs as exploratory data analysis but I actually use graph paper more for planning out quilt blocks or trying to chart knitting patterns. (And yeah, I know - there are online sites where you can print out any kind and any scale you want, but I like the physicality of having a big pad of that blue, quadrille-ruled, five-squares-to-the-inch, graph paper).

Stitch markers for knitting. This is a very specialized item - they are tiny plastic loops you can place between stitches on the needles. Helpful if you have some kind of repeated pattern (like a lace pattern) and you don't want to have to count off every repeat. I use these all the time but because they're tiny, I also lose them all the time.

Size 3 crochet cotton in a variety of colors. It's my favorite size for doing thread crochet but because it's fatter than what the "hardcore" crocheters use, few places carry it - so I have to stock up when I make the every-six-months-or-so trip to a place that has a Micheal's craft store.

Thread, both machine-sewing and hand-quilting. Again, this is one of those little things that's a PITA to run out of in the middle of a project. It would be nice if I just had a dispenser on the wall - or something like one of those Star Trek replicator machines - and I could just go up to it and ask for a spool of the particular color I needed.

Lavender hand cream/moisturizing cream. It's my preferred scent and it can sometimes be difficult to find. I'm not too fussy; I'm happy with Bath and Body Work's "Lavender Vanilla" line of products.

Matches. I like candles and I hate running out of matches. A couple years ago we had a minor ice storm and none of the shops around here had matches for like three weeks - apparently everyone went into survival-hoarding mode.

The type of SAS sandals that I like to wear as dress shoes. I had a pair wear out this spring and really missed them while they were at the shoe-repair place. I can't wear most dress shoes because I have flat feet AND my feet pronate (my ankles roll and the foot turns onto its outside - sometimes it used to even make me fall when I was a child). SAS shoes are the only dress shoes I can wear that don't cause pain but don't look like Nurse Ratched shoes.

Underwear. Again, so I don't have to go out and buy it periodically. Also, I seem to be the modal size of women in my area; it is very hard to find things in my size, especially if there's been a sale going on.

So that's what I've come up with. Pretty much a practical "boring" list - many of the things on there I want a lifetime supply of solely so I could avoid having to do the periodic "restocking" that makes for the boring kind of shopping.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not so bad, actually

One of the things I was dreading a little bit (OK, more than a little bit) about the end of vacation was that I had to go in and get a tooth prepped for a crown.

This was the first crown I'd ever had (my mom has lots; I guess she got the British/Scottish bad-tooth genes). Generally my teeth are pretty good because I'm fairly obsessive about taking care of them, but I don't know if this one just had weak enamel or if having the "band" on it when I had braces damaged it or what, but it's been filled a couple times and this time the dentist decided he couldn't fix it up any more; it had to be a crown.

I think what scared me badly was that they first had nitrous treatment down on the list of things. I've never had nitrous, I really don't WANT nitrous, and actually, once I've had the initial anesthetic, I'm pretty OK with the process. (I don't like needles.)

So I kind of freaked out a little when the appointment-set-up person recommended it.

"Is it REALLY that bad?" I asked.
"Well, most of our patients want nitrous. I can take it off if you don't want it."

I told her I didn't - partly because I hate the thought of being out of "control" during what should be a fairly simple medical procedure, partly because I react strangely to some medications (I cannot, for example, take any decongestant - they shoot my heart rate up to dangerous levels), and partly because I'm claustrophobic enough that having someone's hands in my mouth is bad, and having a thing over my nose too would be even worse.

She kind of shrugged and took it off the list of procedures but her attitude seemed to telegraph, "OK, it's your funeral."

So I wondered how bad it really was going to be.

My mother - who, as I said, has had several crowns done - assured me that it was not that bad. Not really any worse than having an old filling replaced, which I've had done (It's not fun, but sometimes it needs to be done). She was surprised they even suggested nitrous. (But then again, she had two babies the "natural" way, and she also doesn't take Novocaine if it's a "small" cavity being repaired).

Another person I talked to that I know who has crowns assured me that it really was not that bad, and that I was wise not to get the nitrous. "I started to get hysterical when I was going under," she said, "I wound up ripping the thing off my face. The most miserable part of the process was the nitrous."

So I went in this morning, not knowing for sure what to expect.

An aside - I think for me one of the real hallmarks of being a "for-real" grownup is doing things you absolutely detest, absolutely DO NOT WANT to do, but doing them because they are important and need to be done. Driving over there, I thought how easy it would be for me to turn off onto the highway and drive far away and blow off the appointment, but I knew if I did that, I'd have to re-make the appointment (and maybe pay a fee for missing - I don't know if this dentist does that but one of my former dentists did - if you failed to show without cancelling, he charged you something like $15 to re-make the appointment). And I figured if the tooth got any worse, it might mean a root canal, which I really didn't want.

So I went in. The nurse (What do you call the assistants who are kind of more than a hygienist but aren't themselves a dentist?) said she was expecting me and showed me back.

(This is the part that, if you're really dental-phobic, you might wish to skip. I won't be too graphic though. Go down to the asterisks if you're skipping).

I reminded her of not wanting nitrous. "Oh, that's fine, that's no problem, you'll be OK" she assured me.

The dentist came in and I started to tear up a little. (I HATE that. I wish I could be totally stoic and calm but the anticipation makes me cry). He assured me I'd be OK, that I was actually pretty calm as patients went (he's done work on me before). He told me that it was really no worse than having a filling replaced, and that he had done that on me before with no problems. He told me there would be a couple of things that were a little different and explained them. (I kind of wished he hadn't gone into detail about the "shaping near the gum line" because that freaked me a little. I don't like anyone screwing with my gums). The nurse swabbed some kind of stuff onto my gum and he gave me the first novocaine injection.

I really, really, really, really do not like needles. I had several bad experiences - both at a dentist and at the doctor's - when I was a young child and even though I don't consciously remember the events, the thought of an injection (more than allergy shots) really bugs me. (I have to do a major process of "gutting up" to even go in and get the flu shot).

"You're OK, you're OK" he assured me. "Worst part will be over soon."

The worst part though was the injection into the roof of the mouth. I know it was necessary, having had it eliminated any pain during the process, but I really did not like it.

Once that was done, I calmed down. The dentist went off to attend to another patient while the nurse prepped me and did the various molds that were needed.


The molding process was actually kind of interesting. First she tried wax - they wanted a mold of the tooth for the final crown. But she couldn't get the wax warm enough to shape to suit her, so she asked me if I was "OK" with them using a gel type stuff (they call it blue mousse) to take the impression.

Well, what I wanted to be "OK" was the finished crown, so I said yes.

It wasn't bad. It was a lot worse when I had the impressions taken before I had my braces. This was little and easy. She also held tooth-color-chips up to my teeth to pick the right color for the crown. (They are doing porcelain. Gold was an option, but meh. I'm not the right culture to go for "bling" in my mouth.)

The dentist came back and did the work. And you know, it really was not that bad. He told the truth when he said it was no worse than replacing a filling - and in a way, it was better, because they didn't have to do the step of putting the solvent in the tooth, which always made me feel ill.

Also, I was glad it was the older guy - there are two dentists in the practice and while they are both good, I think the older guy is a little surer of himself (more years of experience) and also is gentler.

Once that was done they cleaned the whole area up and fitted some kind of plastic junk in a tray onto the area - to make the temporary crown. (That was actually worse than the "blue mousse" because some of the plastic oozed out and was pressing on the roof of my mouth, making me want to gag).

There was a long process of fitting and shaping the temporary, and finally they cemented it in. So I was sent home with a warning not to chew anything too hard or to eat taffy until the final crown is put in, and also to rinse my mouth out with salt water periodically for the next couple days (something about the gums having been messed with, I didn't ask too much detail at that point).

(I don't generally eat a lot of hard stuff - or taffy or caramel - but I will have to remind myself not to chew ice. I have kind of a bad habit of chewing ice if I'm out somewhere and get a drink with ice in it.)

The temporary is kind of ugly so I'm glad it's far enough back in my mouth that you can't see it. It's sort of a gray color, but I suppose that since it's for just 3 weeks, it's not worth using any kind of a coloring agent.

The other thing I'm glad of is that I sprang for the dental insurance when I started working here. It's something like $25 a month taken out of my paycheck but it saved my tail this time - the whole crown process would have been over $1000 if I had paid for it all myself, but with insurance it cost me $350.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I'm back. (More about the trip will come later, when I'm less tired).

But one thing I wanted to document here, before I forgot:

Traveling on trains, you see a lot of graffiti. Much of it is painted on various boxcars/hoppercars that you pass. A lot of it is that "tagging" name style that I find incomprehensible to read.

But. There was one train car that had a much more, shall we say, amateur graffito on it.

A word of seven letters, one letter painted on each panel of one of those hopper-type cars they use to transport grain or gravel:


Reading may be fundamental, kids, but spelling's pretty important too.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

So wrong...

and yet so funny.

Also, one of the cheap-ass Tex-Mex places here has a big sign up advertising "Cheapest Gas In Town." (Their bean burritos are on sale.) I drove by there today and saw someone taking a picture of the sign.

Other than that, I don't got much. I'm gearing up to get out of town tomorrow for a short vacation (and family reunion, and yes, the few relatives I have who drive me kind of nuts will be there). Back at the end of May.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


The speaker this year was considerably better than last year's.

I do not think that is solely because she said things I agree with, but it might be.

I do think she made three points as a part of her speech that some of our graduates needed to hear:

1. Your diploma does not entitle you to a top job, it does not entitle you to a great salary or a plush life. It is up to you to make that happen, if you want it. (And even then you might not get what you expected - but you can make the best of what you get). What the diploma does represent is the fact that you managed to complete something - to take on a goal and achieve it. And it also represents opportunity. She pointed out that by having finished college, they have more opportunity now than many people in this world. (She didn't come right out and say, "....and because you live in the U.S." but I think that was kind of implied).

I remember thinking as she started on that point: "Oh ho, she's taking on the entitlement mentality! Good for her!"

2. Even when you're scared, sometimes you have to do the things you agreed to do. She spoke of taking her first position as a college professor - moving far from the home she had known, the place where she had lived all her life - in fact, the place where her ENTIRE family was and had been for generations. And she admitted that she was terrified. But she knew it needed to be done. And she said, "I didn't know what else to do [to deal with being terrified] other than teaching and doing I taught and did research." In other words: if something scares you, make an effort to do it anyway.

That point TOTALLY resonated with me because I remember a time, not very many years ago, on a late July afternoon, sitting in a crummy "Kettle" franchise with my parents, sobbing because I was scared - I was scared that I wouldn't be able to manage teaching three classes on my own, scared that I would never fit in, scared that I'd never get a paper published and would wind up experiencing one of the worst fates an academic can: not getting my contract renewed.

But there was nothing to be done for it - I had signed the paperwork, I had rented an apartment and moved all my stuff here. It was the natural progression of things, moving out of the family house and taking on my own life (and I had delayed it long enough by living with my folks while in grad school).

So, the only thing for me to do was to go home, open up the textbooks I had chosen to use with my classes, and start preparing lectures and discussion material. That first year was a LOT of hard work...I worked every moment I wasn't in class during the day, worked several hours every night at home, worked Saturdays. But I made it.

Oh, there were difficult points. There was the time my personal laptop broke (and the office computer I had at first was horrible; it wouldn't even connect to the Internet so I couldn't do any kind of grade-posting or any kind of research involving searching for articles or background information for teaching). There were the two Big Tough Conservation Guys who by God didn't think a WOMAN had anything she could teach them, so they conspired to make my life hell in the class they took from me the first semester. There was the feeling that I never had enough sleep, that I was maybe losing who I was, the fear that I'd be 60 years old and still struggling to get all the work done.

But I succeeded. I lived through it. Despite being scared, despite being a little harassed some of the time, despite being tired and sometimes feeling put-upon. It is a lot easier now. That doesn't mean there are not still times when I am apprehensive about things. But with every hard thing you try - everything that scares you at first but that you manage to do - it gets easier in the future.

I will admit as she was talking about her experience, I looked back over my own and thought, "Golly day, she's right. If you had told me ten years ago that I'd be where I am right now - with tenure and everything - I'd never have believed I'd be able to do it."

(It puts me in mind of an old saying involving dealing with big tasks: "Inch by inch, it's a cinch; yard by yard, it's hard." Meaning that if you look at the whole of a task all at once, you just want to lie down and die, but if you break it down into mini-goals, it begins to appear possible.)

3. She reminded the students that work isn't always "fun." That there are things you will have to do as part of your career you don't love doing, but that are important. She observed that when she was a professor, she HATED grading (lots of nodding from us in the front rows) but she loved watching students grow and achieve and she loved seeing them successfully graduate and go on to careers. But in order for all of that to happen - she had to grade. Likewise, she said she didn't love sitting down to write on her books - in fact, she said, she sometimes hated it - but she loved being able to look over the books after they were done and published and say "I did that!"

The point being - nothing worth doing is easy, nor is it fun all the time. And fun isn't even the POINT in some cases - it's the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile, which is a good feeling in itself but which is worlds away from mere "fun."

And yet - even though she talked about doing things that scared you and putting up with un-fun tasks, there was still this sense from her that she loved everything she did, that she had a passion, that it was important to her. Not because it earned the big paycheck, not because it made her famous (I had never heard of her before she spoke today) but because she had aspects of her work that helped other people and made their lives better. The concept of doing something because it is worthwhile, apart from what it "gets" you materially was what she was talking about.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Time wastin'!

Okay, I found this over at Tracey's and had to do it.

56 Superfluous Questions:


There's a little round scar just below the thumb on the back of my left hand. It came after I got a skin reaction to a plant called poison parsnip. (Apparently, in sensitive people, when they get the sap on them and it's exposed to the sun, it makes big nasty water blisters, almost like a burn).

2. WHAT IS ON THE WALLS IN YOUR ROOM? I have some photographs of my family, and a red glittery script "Dream" word, and an angel with a quotation from Judy Garland about it being better to be a first-rate "you" than a second-rate "someone else"

3. DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME YOU WERE BORN? 6:25 am. And yes, I checked my birth certificate for that.

4. WHAT DO YOU WANT MORE THAN ANYTHING RIGHT NOW? Actually, I cannot think of anything I personally want. If I may "bring the room down" by saying it? I want the people of Myanmar to have a government that does not suck.

5. WHAT DO YOU MISS? Having lots of interesting things within walking distance of me.

6. WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRIZED POSSESSION? I still have one of my childhood toys. It's kind of embarrassing to talk about it but it is the one thing I'd think of grabbing if my house were on fire. Because of the memories associated with it and because I've had it for over 30 years.

7. HOW TALL ARE YOU? I tell people 5' 9" but I'm actually closer to 5' 7".

8. DO YOU GET SCARED IN THE DAY? No, unless a Civil Defense siren is going off and it's not a test.

9. WHAT’S YOUR WORST FEAR? Realistic or unrealistic? Realistic: that one of my parents will become seriously disabled and will have no quality of life. Unrealistic: that the government will be taken over and turned into something like something out of 1984 or Brave New World.

10. WHAT KIND OF HAIR COLOR DO YOU LIKE ON THE OPPOSITE SEX? Oh, probably brown, but I'm not all that picky. The only one I really DON'T like is that red-head color that comes with the white eyebrows and eyelashes because the pale eyelash-red hair combo creeps me out. (Now, if he DYED his eyelashes, I'd be ok. I mean, dyed them a normal color. If they were green or something that would be even worse.)

11. WHAT ABOUT EYE COLOR? I don't really care - slight preference for brown.

12. COFFEE OR ENERGY DRINK? Neither. You don't want to see me caffeinated. You wouldn't like me when I'm caffeinated.

13. FAVORITE PIZZA TOPPING? Ham and pineapple. (Yes, really.)

14. IF YOU COULD EAT ANYTHING RIGHT NOW, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Actually, I'm not hungry right now so I can't think of anything that appeals to me.


16. HAVE YOU EVER EATEN A GOLDFISH? You mean the cracker things, or the real goldfish? I've eaten the crackers but the thought of swallowing a whole live fish makes me feel slightly ill.

17. WHAT WAS THE FIRST MEANINGFUL GIFT YOU EVER RECEIVED? The first memorable one was a big set of 36 colored pencils that my dad gave me for Christmas one year. I still have them though some of the colors have been replaced over the years.

18. DO YOU HAVE A CRUSH? Yes, I do. No, I'm not going to tell you his name. You don't know him, anyway. (No, he isn't anyone famous.)

19. FAVORITE CLOTHING BRAND? Um...I really don't pay attention to brands.

20. WHAT KIND OF CAR DO YOU WANT? If it gets decent mileage and if it doesn't break down, I'm happy. When I was younger I loved the old British convertibles like MGs but I've since learned how lousy their repair records are.

21. WOULD YOU FALL IN LOVE KNOWING THAT THE PERSON IS LEAVING? I honestly don't think I could. I can't fall in love with someone who's unavailable (in the sense of "he's married" or "he's already got a girlfriend"), either.


23. YOUR WEAKNESSES? I'm going to assume this means like character flaws. I'm very self-critical, I tend to avoid doing things that make me uncomfortable, I don't like saying things that I'm afraid will make people angry even if they are things that need to be said.

24. MET ANYONE FAMOUS? Not that I can think of.

25. FIRST JOB? Supervising high-school students in a summer enrichment class. They were all boys. One of them was my brother. Actually, I don't know if that counts as a "job" because I actually didn't get paid.

26. EVER DONE A PRANK CALL? Probably did when I was a pre-teen but I don't remember specifics now.

27. DO YOU THINK EVERYONE OUT THERE HAS A SOUL MATE? No. I do not believe that everyone has a soul mate. Because if I did, that would imply I wasn't looking hard enough.


29. HAVE YOU EVER HAD SURGERY? Does wisdom-tooth extraction count?

30. WHAT DO YOU GET COMPLIMENTED ABOUT MOST? My intelligence, responsibility, and leadership qualities.

31. WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY? Peace, love, and understanding. Failing that, a couple more bookshelves.

32. HOW MANY KIDS DO YOU WANT? None. Other people are welcome to them.

33. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? Not that I know of.

34. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST TURN OFF WITH THE OPPOSITE SEX? Guys who have to show the world how "important" they are by being rude to other people. Guys who in general seem to be "compensating" for something by having to have a flashy car or fancy clothes or something like that. You are you. You are not your stuff. If you don't think you're worthy of my attention without your stuff, you probably aren't.

35. WHAT IS ONE THING YOU MISS ABOUT GRADE SCHOOL? Art class. Getting to take an hour every couple of days and play with clay or paint or do something like that.

36. WHAT KIND OF SHAMPOO DO YOU USE? Clairol Herbal Essences, I switch between the one for long hair and the one for curly hair.

37. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? No, it looks like an 11 year old boy's.

38. ANY BAD HABITS? I am kind of a slob.

39. ARE YOU A JEALOUS PERSON? I try not to be but sometimes I am.

40. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON, WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Yes, I think I would. I have a good sense of humor and I am a nice person. I also tend to randomly bake cookies and give them to people.


42. HOW DO YOU RELEASE ANGER? Lately, I've been cutting brush. (No, that is not a euphemism for something else. I literally am removing privet and trimming the limbs on my holly trees.)

43. WHAT’S YOUR MAIN GOAL IN LIFE? currently? Making Full Professor.

44. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE TOY AS A CHILD? Either my Snoopy doll or my Kermit the Frog doll.

45. HOW MANY NUMBERS ARE IN YOUR CELL PHONE? Eight or ten, except two of them are of people who are moving away soon so I need to get rid of those...

46. WERE YOU A FAN OF BARNEY AS A LITTLE KID? Please. I'm OLD. When I was a child, "Barney" meant Barney Rubble. And I thought Barney Rubble was a FREAK.


48. DO YOU HAVE ALL YOUR FINGERS AND TOES? Yes, thank goodness.

49. DO YOU HAVE A COMPUTER IN YOUR ROOM? In my "office" room, yes. In my "bedroom," no. One of the nice things about being a grown up with a house is that there are at least several rooms and they are all technically "yours."

50. PLANS FOR TONIGHT? Watching some tv, doing some test-knitting on a pattern a friend wrote (she wants to be sure there are no errors in it)

51. WHAT’S THE FASTEST YOU’VE EVER GONE IN A CAR? 85. It was on a country road. In Montana.

52. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO? "Ghost Whisperer" is on in the other room

53. LAST THING YOU DRANK? Big glass of water. I mowed the lawn today and I'm still thirsty from it.

54. REPUBLICAN OR DEMOCRAT? Currently more Republican than Democrat but neither party totally blows my skirt up at the moment.

55. DO YOU HAVE A LOW SELF ESTEEM OR A HIGH SELF ESTEEM? My self-esteem is pretty good; my self-confidence needs some work.

56. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING? Right now something called "Mass-Observation in World War II" which is about a group of British citizens who were hired to keep diaries of what their opinions were and what they experienced during the 1939-1945 time period (or at least those are the dates covered by the book; it may have gone on longer than that). It's pretty fascinating to see the wide range of opinions from the quite bloodthirsty ("Let the German civilians have a taste of what we've had" about bombings of non-military-base cities) to more reticent ("I don't see why we have to kill women and children, too.") Also interesting in that until about mid 1943, there was a lot of real concern that the war would be lost, and what life would be like if Germany dominated the Continent. Interestingly, not much complaining about blackouts or having to spend time in Anderson shelters or about rationing - they TALK about it but there's a sense of "this is what we must do now" and not really much bitterness.

so there you are.

Da Probm

(That's my mom's impersonation of how some of the - shall we say, more backwoodsy girls from where she lived pronounced it. "I'm goin' to Da Probm!")

I happened to be a bit late leaving the house this morning - normally I'm over here and at my desk by 7, but I had some bills I wanted to get paid and out, so as I was writing them, the local news I had on switched over to one of those morning shows (I think it was CBS.)

The morning network shows - like the current incarnation of "Today" and such - make my head want to explode. They set themselves up as SO IMPORTANT. They do Very Special Stories on things (like "the rising rates of autism....what does it mean?") and then follow it up with some kind of super-idiotic fluff piece. Or they barely scratch the surface of some story that might be important if it was actually, you know, investigated, and then it's "And next - see what's hot in shoes for spring!"

Well, today, they doing a series on Reliving Their Proms.

Flippin' heck? Reliving your prom? Who does that?

(Wait, wait - don't tell me: "People whose lives peaked in high school.")

Anyway, apparently the anchors (and when I think of Today I think of Brokaw and Pauley; that's how long it's been since I actually watched the thing. I don't know who's running the show now) are reliving their proms.

Except, instead of doing like any other person in this country and sitting around and TALKING about what happened at Prom, they are having the extra-special Rich Kid Birthday Party version of it - one guy got to play baseball with some members of some national baseball team the year he went to Prom (yeah, that's real prom-my), one guy got to dance with the stars of A Chorus Line (I am withholding ALL the horrible un-PC jokes I could make about that), and one woman - and I actually looked up for this, because it said she went to prom in 1987, which would have been the Prom Year for me - got "made over" to look like she did at Prom.

In an eye-searingly electric blue dress and that horrible spiral-perm hair girls used to get.

Now, yeah - I know, I'm being cynical here. But I do think this kind of thing merits a bit of ridicule - they call themselves a "news" show and they are playing "dress up like we did when we were 18." And they're trying to be the Voice of the People and yet they are "reminiscing" in ways that the average person wouldn't be able to afford, if they even COULD get their foot in the door to talk to the people from A Chorus Line or somesuch.

And I'm probably a bit cynical as I didn't go to my own prom. I really had no interest. I wasn't "going with" anyone at that time, and the one guy I would have been interested in asking, by the time I had screwed up enough courage to consider going to ask him myself, I heard the gossip..."Did you hear that Mimi asked Jay to the prom?"

As for going alone - which would have been an option - I didn't want to. For three reasons:

1. I couldn't see paying that kind of money to go alone (And I think they also had a sort of "single supplement" charge, where you paid more to go stag than you would as half of a couple. Which is unfair, but then life is unfair.)

2. Of my two best friends, one had recently been dumped and was very anti-prom, and the other was going with a male friend from another school - and going to HIS prom. So I wouldn't even have had the two most important members of my team to back me up and to joke about the horrible dresses the popular girls were wearing.

3. I figured it looked less pathetic to stay home than to go to the prom by myself. I was very self-conscious in those days.

Honestly? I probably would not have enjoyed myself. I don't like the "music of my generation" (probably a lot of INXS and Depeche Mode got played at that prom - as I remember, they had a DJ instead of a band). I don't like crowds, especially when there are people I sense as being hostile to me in that crowd (i.e., the popular kids). I'm sure a lot of drinking went on both before and after the prom, and I wasn't into that. (Nor was I into the groping and feeling that probably took place, even DURING prom.)

But it does kind of baffle me, someone wanting to relive their prom 20 years or more from the time it happened.

Am I just being churlish, or does it seem that someone who's all down with the heavy-duty reliving (and I don't mean just reminiscing about "remember how we thought Tom and Andrea were going to love each other forever?" or "Do you remember how Max tripped and fell into the punchbowl) is someone whose life hasn't had anything really very INTERESTING happen since they were 18?

I mean, if I were into reliving a part of my life, it would be other parts of it. Like successfully defending my dissertation. Or getting the phone call to let me know I had a job. Or the time period right after I found out I had tenure. Or even just sitting around the lab in graduate school with my lab-mates, shooting the s*** until our adviser came in and told us we needed to get back to work. But high school? Something I'm just as glad is behind me.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Props... our friend Nightfly!

He captioned this photo, and it made it onto ICHC!

I was originally going to post the photo with some kind of comment like, "I love how some of the LOLcats seem to suggest a backstory, where you could almost write a little tale of what happened right before the photo you're seeing..." And then I saw who captioned it!

Well done!

Done (almost)

Gave my last final this morning, just got the VERY last one (a student who is an ESL speaker and had multiple finals on one day - so I offered to let her take mine late, "on her own time").

In general, I'm pretty pleased. Grades fell out where I'd "expect" they would based on past performance. I am very happy with my non majors class - 85% of them took my "you really need to study for this final!" exhortation to heart - and they took notes at the review session I did - and a lot of them did really well.

There was one guy - the guy who asked all the questions, who I talked about before - who walked in there and said, "I sat down and figured out I need to get a 77% or better on this to get an A."

Later, grading the exams - running them through the scanner - I saw he got an 83. I did a little spontaneous dance there in the room where the scanner is (I was alone). It makes me happy when someone takes the effort to learn, when they know what they need to do, and they do it. And this is someone who had kind of a rocky start - he didn't do all that well on the first tests and then decided he needed to work with a tutor. (I could tell that it helped - his test scores went up markedly after he started working with the tutor).

I also had a couple people score in the 90s, which is unusual for a comprehensive exam in a non-majors class. (I'm wondering if it maybe was my review session - I hit all the high points, went over all the important topics, starting from the beginning of the semester and tried to tie everything all together). All of the high-scorers were people who had been there that day.

Of course, there were also people who were NOT there that day, and who in fact probably weren't "there" for a good chunk of the class. One guy (one of my 'football heroes') got a 28% on the final.

He's called me. Twice. First to know whether the posted letter grade was, in fact, the final grade for the class and not just the final exam grade. Then to ask whether he REALLY needed to take the class again. ( got an F? And this is a class required for graduation? I think those two conditions make the answer a "yes.")

I had other folks calling me and finally took the phone off the hook (bad ricki! But I needed the quiet just then) while I was figuring up grades for another class.

This afternoon I'm going home to clean my horribly messy house that I haven't cleaned in too long because I've been busy attending to things like e-mailing back people pleading me for extra credit after the class is over.

And also, that way, no one will be able to call me and harass me about their grade - unless they happen to find my home number (which is in the book but is only in there as Surname, FirstInitial so maybe that keeps them from knowing FOR SURE.)

I'm not sure I like the immediacy of online grades- oh, I would have loved it as a student, being able to know right off what I got in a class. But I am not in love with the fact that someone can call you up crying to you less than 15 minutes after you posted their final grade.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"The DEBBIL, I tells ya!"

I gave an 11 am to 1 pm final today.

They are of the Devil. I am convinced of it. It is the worst span of time in a day to be forced to sit in a room and pay attention. (And it's bad for the person invigilating, as well).

It is too early to eat lunch before the test. And by the time 1 pm rolls around, it seems almost pointless to eat - it's too late.

One thing about me is that I go through different stages of hunger. I seriously do not understand - having read several semi-autobiographical accounts of people who suffered from anorexia - how someone could praise hunger and talk about how it made them feel "light" and "pure" and all of that.

Because me, hunger just makes me uncomfortable. And increasingly angry, if I can't do anything to alleviate it.

(Which is probably why I'll never successfully lose weight. I'm convinced - and say what you will in the comments, and diet commercials say what THEY will - you cannot lose weight without going around hungry a lot of the time, forcing your body to draw on the fat reserves.)

Anyway. I was okay until shortly before noon. (I really should have eaten something beforehand; I had a bowl of cereal around 6 but that early in the morning I'm generally NOT hungry and I can convince myself, "You can make it until the exam's over"). At noon, I started to get hungry. But then, I was still hopeful - many of the students had finished up and I thought that perhaps they all would very shortly, and I could go and eat something and then grade the finals. And all would be well.


I have (had, I guess I have to say now) one person in that class who is VERY meticulous. Has to check everything 3 times. Also writes slowly. Also second-guesses himself. So he kept working as other people handed in their finals and left.

The different stages of hunger began. First, there was annoyance - "I really would like to get out of here and eat." Then frustration - "why can't this guy just finish and leave? He's got an A already!" Then anger - "They ALWAYS stick me with this exam time. I ALWAYS get the schedule where I have to eat at funky times and it screws up my metabolism." Then exhaustion - "Oh, man, I have to grade these AND it's Youth Group tonight; I wonder what my co-leader would say if I called her up and bailed out"

Finally, you reach Bargaining. As in, if Satan himself showed up with a peanut-butter sandwich on a platter, I'd actually consider swapping my soul for it. (Not that I actually WOULD but the fact that I'd actually consider it shows how far gone I was at that point.)

And then there's the sort of out-of-body experience, where you stop being hungry, where you kind of stop feeling everything. That was at about 10 minutes to 1.

When it also began raining heavily, meaning getting out and getting food (I had not bothered to pack a lunch) would be more complicated. Still my Mr. Diligent wasn't done writing.

He finally finished. And as I was leaving, I was accosted by:

1. a student from that class who had missed the exam because of an emergency medical problem
2. a student from one of my other classes who "needed" to take her final early, and hadn't shown up when she said she would
3. one of our majors NEEDING to be counseled into classes RIGHT THIS MOMENT because he was "fixin' to" go out of town.

Whimper. I swear that sometimes it's as if people can sense when I'm in distress - when I need to eat, or when I'm really tired, or when I have to pee so badly I can think of nothing else - and they come to me and they NEED stuff. And they NEED it then.

Well, for #1, I fixed it by telling her there was someone else who had a conflict coming in at a particular time tomorrow, so that fixed it. #3 I was able to farm off onto one of the other faculty (And I will not bother to rant on students waiting until the last possible moment to get course-counseling and then being put out that the faculty member they demand it of cannot help them right then). #2 is taking the exam under the supervision of the secretary, who always brings her lunch.

So I managed to eat. Sonic's "Chicken Strip Dinner," which I am not proud of, but at least it contained protein, which I desperately needed at that moment. (I didn't eat most of the fries. I'm not fond of fries.) Had I gone home for a "healthier" meal, it would have been a salad (ugh, which is the same as what I had last night for dinner) and some of those little low-fat laughing cow cheese wedges. (I really need to get to the grocery but as I'm leaving for a short vacation very soon I don't like to buy much food ahead).

But seriously, I think 11 am to 1 pm exam slots may violate one of the precepts of the Geneva convention. (I'd bring food with me save for 2 things: first, the classroom I teach in is designated a lab, which means it's technically illegal to bring in food, and second, there's the old "did you bring enough for everyone" issue, or, more practically, I don't want to open the door for students bringing tuna fish and foot-cheese sandwiches and all kinds of other horribly stinky things in to eat).

Monday, May 05, 2008

That said...

Despite an email I'd rather not have received (and I sent back a short reply saying I "could not" give extra credit assignments now - and reminding him of the time of the final), today is actually a pretty good day. Gave and graded my first final exam, and a couple people who were teetering on the edge of a B wound up getting it with their score on the final, and a couple people managed to teeter over into A territory. It looks like most of the class studied very hard for the final, which is good.

It's supposed to storm this afternoon so as soon as I finish my (last!) late research paper (and I'm actually relieved to get it - I thought it was one that had been handed in early - I had convinced myself that the student had come and handed it in early - and that I had lost it and I was geared up to apologize a lot to her at the final and offer to give her full credit but now that onus is off me), I'm going home.

I don't have to do anything this afternoon. I don't give an exam tomorrow so I'm coming in to work on research all day long. But tonight, I get to relax - stretch out on the sofa and either knit or sew. I also don't have to be anywhere tonight.

One thing I like about the summer is that the various evening meetings go on hiatus for a couple months. AAUW is over for the summer, this week is the last week of Youth Group, next month is the last meeting of's really nice and really welcome in the summer to be able to come home (especially after the longer, faster, and more involved summer teaching) and just relax - not have to go out, not have to do anything. Just to be. I'm going to try to be disciplined this summer and stay up in my office until 3 or 4 pm each day (I teach from 8 to about 11 four days a week and one day I assist with a lab in the afternoon) and work on research and on revamping one class I need to revamp for the fall.

But it's nice - and easier for me to work - when I know that when I get home, I am HOME and I do not have to go back out.

Oh, and also we are on a four-day week in the summer: Fridays off. I usually come in and work for at least part of the day, but that's OK - it means I can really enjoy my entire Saturday without feeling like I'm slacking off.

(Another nice thing about summer teaching? My "TA" is actually one of the "instructors" in the department. I know her well and have taught with her before - so I know she's good, I know she's diligent, and she's a joy to work with. AND because she is all gradumacated she isn't in classes with any of the students I have so I can farm out my grading to her. And she's happy to do it as she gets paid by the hour for that kind of thing, and with a small child at home - she can grade while she rocks her baby or watches him play in the sandbox.

I don't like to have the usual TAs grade as they are students themselves and I'm always concerned about "distancing" issues from the other students - whether they would fairly grade someone who was a friend. It might not be an issue and I might be less trustful than I could be, but I had a very bad experience when I was a graduate TA myself - I had an undergraduate TA "helper" in the class and she was HORRIBLE - untrustworthy, played favorites (and, sadly, it turned out in grading too) and she undermined my authority. So I'm always a little leery of letting a student grade a class that might have some of their "buddies" in it, but I know J. would never do that, and she has that necessary 'distance' so I can trust her.)

So summer teaching is easier, even if it's in a more compressed schedule. So I'm looking forward to it. (The money is not bad either.)

I can't quite believe this semester is over and I'm looking at a little freedom for a while.

extra credit grr

Okay, so I'm in my office grading and this little gem pops into my mailbox (names changed to protect both the innocent - me - and the guilty - the student):

"How are you doing [dr. ricki] sorry for the disturbance but I was emailing in request of any kind of extra credit I could do to further help me accomplish a C for the course. Please email me at [IknowImissedthelasttwoweeksbutI'] in response to this message. It will be gladly appreciated and I'm willing to do anything, thank you."

(Other than the two redactions, yes, that is verbatim. At least he managed to spell things right even if he seems to be fond of the run-on sentence and his grammar's a little wonky).

Okay, a couple things here.

First off: classes are over. It would be unfair and unethical of me to offer extra credit to this chap alone even if I wanted to.

Second of all: as I alluded to in the faked-up version of his e-mail address, the fellow has missed the last two weeks of classes, a test, and several assignments. Extra credit at this point would be moot as it would not be great enough to pull him out of the hole he is in. For that matter, he wasn't exactly Mr. Diligent during the regular semester. Oh, maybe he had some "issue" but he didn't come and share it with me, so I'm left to assume that he simply didn't take the class seriously and is now freaking out when he sees he's failing.

And this kind of thing - pardon my French - pisses me off. He could VERY EASILY have talked to me earlier. But he did not. He SHOULD have done the class work - but he did not. And now he expects me to come up with some kind of SpongeBob SquarePants assignment so he can get his butt out of the sling that he has single-handedly placed said butt in.

Ethical ramifications aside, it is EXAM WEEK. I do not feel like writing some kind of silly make-up make-work assignment on top of what I am already doing just for this fellow.

I haven't e-mailed him back yet as so far all of the e-mails I've composed in my head have either had rude words in them or been some variant of "Flipping heck, are you SERIOUS?" I'm going to wait a bit and email him back, once again patiently explaining that I cannot do what he wishes for ethical reasons and reminding him that he had ample opportunities during the regular semester to actually take care of business.

Friday, May 02, 2008

stupid spam....IT LIVES!!!

Haven't done one of these in a long time, but I got one today with the odd, cryptic, and probably-written-by-an-ESL-speaker subject line:

"Greetings, brakes a software? Qualitative replacement is necessary?"

And that made me laugh, because it is so weird and so random. And because the first bit of it somehow made me think of LOLcats.

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

There could be a whole future for the LOL-spam hybrid.

i think i broke my brain

Three papers left to slap grades on to. (My MO with these is to read them through once, read them again and apply comments, then go through a third time and do the point-removal-and-justification-of-said-removal).

I. am. beat. Some of the papers were good - which makes grading easy. It is the not-very-good ones that are a pain to grade.

I still don't have two of the papers but at least one person is accepting of the "late deduction" I make.

I kept setting back by 1/2 hour my "if I can be home by" bit. Now I'm thinking I'm going to have to ditch doing the exercise today (maybe I can do it tomorrow morning even though I wasn't planning on setting the alarm) because it's nearly 4:30 pm and I'm still not done. And I have laundry to do at home, and some kind of dinner to fix.

And I'm just tired. And my head hurts and my throat hurts because someone somewhere on this hall thought it was a good idea to buy a baby-powder-scented candle and burn it. Ugh.

I'm still going on my shopping trip tomorrow even though I'm bailing on the de-fattening (Sadly, that's how I think of exercise these days. And not even so much DE-fattening as "this is so you can still eat actual food and not gain weight." I hate my metabolism. And I hate a society that tells grown women they're expected to live on celery and Slim-Fast if they're not under a size 8.)

Update: Success! I got the papers graded and the grades posted. Walked in the door of my house at 7 minutes to 5 so I decided to do the exercise anyway (I felt it would be a good way to 'blow the stink off'). Because it was less humid this afternoon than it's been in quite a while, I was able to exercise at a higher intensity (which always feels like a win, to be able to do the workout without gasping for breath).

The first load of laundry is almost done, then the second goes in the drier and the next load hits the washer. (I have a total of five loads to do tonight: whites, towels, sheets, dark colored things [like jeans], light colored things [which need to be washed on cold so they don't fade out].)

Now I'm glad I persisted because I feel like I "won" somehow - that I set up a goal and managed to meet it even though I thought I wouldn't be able to.

You know...

The more crazy crap I hear from my students-in-relationships, the gladder I am I'm still single.

The latest: a student turning in a lab book (later than I would have liked it but still within the official deadline time). He apologized for not being here earlier but said that "bad stuff went down last night." He didn't explain too much but it apparently involved his fiancee, and her going out drinking, and him having to drive to a place over an hour away to get her because of said bad-stuff (and because she'd been drinking).

Oh, I know, not all relationships are like that, but man. If I were engaged to some dude, and late one night he called me up from far away where he and his buddies had been bending the elbow, and he was drunk and bad stuff was going down, and he said I needed to come get him, I'm not sure that I wouldn't say instead, "Hire a taxi, dude, I'm sleeping." (Or at least I'd say it if it were a regular occurrence; everyone deserves a bad mess-up or two. And if it were a regular occurrence? Not only would he be needing to find a taxi; he'd be needing to find a new girlfriend.)

If you're old enough to be engaged I think you're old enough not to pull crap like that on your intended. It seems - from what I've seen this semester - this guy is well, a little bit whipped, and his fiancee is taking advantage of him.

And I don't know what it is - a fear of being alone, a need to be with someone - but I see an awful lot of people who get involved in these difficult, life-complicating relationships and then it seems like they're always running around playing catch-up in the other areas of their lives because the person they're with is such a time-vampire.

And I really do NOT need that. As I've said before, I'd be open to being in a relationship but only if the chap concerned were sane and fairly independent and someone who didn't need me (figuratively) to tie his shoes and pack a lunch for him every other words, a grown-up with a life apart from mine, who wants to share that life with me. Not someone who wants to graft on to my life because he lacks one of his own; not someone who wants me to give up the life I have because he "needs" me.

A challenge to myself...

There is a town about an hour south of me - let's call it Boutiqueville. It has wonderful shopping - antique stores, a couple of quilt shops, nice places to get lunch, fancy soap shops, gourmet shops - all the lovely little things that my dusty little town tends to lack.

I'm dying to go there again sometime. The last time I went was back in February around my birthday - being busy coupled with the rising price of gas have tended to keep me home.

But I feel the need to get out and blow the dregs of the last semester out of my mind by spending a day on ME. Just me - no one else. (Well, I will pick up a birthday gift for my mom if I see something good). The gas cost be damned. (I think the round trip will take a little under a half-tank).

So I've challenged myself - if I can grade all 24 of my student research papers this afternoon (and do a decent job of it - I'm not going to half-ass things just so I can get out of town), AND if I can work in the hour of exercise I was too tired to do this morning, I am going to go to Boutiqueville tomorrow and have a good day - a day to myself - a day without demanding people demanding stuff from me.

So, go go ricki. Grade those papers. Earn that trip to Boutiqueville.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

How I spend my Wednesday nights...

humorous pictures
see more crazy cat pics

Look, a LOL cat just for me! (well, and for the approximately 3480 other youth-leaders across the nation...)

Gonna be busy tomorrow...

...and besides, it's already Friday SOMEWHERE. (We had that discussion with Emily last week.)

So here's my Friday Bite the Wax Tadpole (again, keeping the language PG as that's the convention on this blog).

the flaming idiots who drive their giant beater boat cars slowly down the MIDDLE of a residential street while they gibber on their fornicating cell phone and fail to obey any of the safety laws (especially when there are small children walking home from school on said street) deserve to have that phone dipped in hot queso and ground walnuts and have it inserted in a particular bodily orifice.

I do not know why it is suddenly fashionable for the young set to suddenly buy up the late-70s model "granny cars" (like LTDs and the old Crown Vics), but they've been popping up in my town. They're usually driven by folks in the 18-24 age group, driven badly, usually there are several guys together in the car, and they're all talking on cell phones.

I don't know if it has anything to do with the similar fashion to have subwoofers and such installed in cars so that when the sound system is turned on, all the people living within, oh, about a 3-mile radius of the car just hear loud, blurry, metal-rattling bass. It is as ANNOYING as STINK, especially in the middle of the night, so those guys who have the stupid autobot-to-noise-weapon transforming cars can also bite the wax tadpole. And the fact that there are at least some chaps who are the intersection of those two very annoying sets, they can really bite that tadpole.

Another thought on cell phones: I generally dislike "creeping legalism" but I'm beginning to wonder if it might not be a good idea to rewrite the traffic laws so that if a person commits a traffic violation or (especially) is involved in an accident, and it's clear that they were distracted by talking on a cell phone at the time, it gets treated similarly to a DUI. Because I cannot tell you how many near-misses I've been in with some gibbering fool who can't hang up their frickin' phone for two minutes to pay attention to traffic - I've had people pull out in front of me out-of-turn at four-way stops. I've seen people run red lights. I've seen people turn at stoplights when I clearly had the right-of-way and if I had been a leadfoot I would have been t-boned by them. I've seen people nearly hit pedestrians. I've seen people weave all over the blessed road - all behaviors that, 30 years ago, would have made a cop wonder if the person were drunk. Now it's all, "Oh, she's on her cell phone."

(And I say "she" specifically. Maybe I am being sexist but about 80% of the really bad near-accidents-involving-cell-phones I've seen have had a woman driver committing the offense. And *I* am a woman driver. But - I don't talk on a cell phone, I don't do my makeup in the car, I don't root in my purse for crap when I'm driving. I don't even play the radio if it's heavy traffic or if I'm driving somewhere unfamiliar!)

Grading.. Argh.

In one of my earlier posts I quoted a prof who said something like, "I teach for free. They pay me to grade."

That's pretty much the shape of it, these days. The grading has been never-ending. (And I get more - in the form of the Big! Scary! Research! Paper! that one of my classes does - tomorrow).

Right now I'm grading quizzes for my non majors class. Some of them are not bad, but some of them- considering that I basically telegraphed to them during the lecture things like, "knowing what blood pressure is and what it means will be on the test" - are not very good.

I held a review this morning. First I asked for questions and got only the usual ("When is the exam again?" "Do we need a Scan-Tron sheet?" "How many points is it?" "Is it all multiple choice?"). So I just launched into a rendition of "The Highlights of General Biology in 45 Minutes or Less." I hit most of the high points and a GREAT MANY OF THE ITEMS THAT WILL BE ON THE FINAL.

So people who skipped are out of luck. People who sat back in the back and talked with their friend (and don't believe for a moment I didn't see you) are out of luck. The person who put his head down on the desk is out of luck.

I was pretty exhausted walking out of there - it was kind of a more high-energy presentation than I normally do, swooping around and waving my arms and writing key words in HUGE letters on the board (people have complained they cannot read the board from the back of the room. Well, my dears, there ARE some empty seats in the front rows, if you only chose to sit there.)

I don't know how well it worked. I never know how well these things work. That's the frustrating part about teaching; feedback really isn't that common. I can't tell if the silent woman in the third row is taking it all in or if she's resenting being there so much that she's directing a silent channel of blind hate at both me and the university. I can't tell if the guy staring at the blackboard with his eyes kind of unfocused is actually daydreaming about Christina Aguillera or if he just has a little astigmatism problem.

I don't know if that's just me; if it's just part of my sub-clinical Asperger's* profile that I can't divine a person's motives from looking at their face, or if that's just a natural part of the human condition. Certainly some of my colleagues at least PRETEND to be more conscious of what their students are thinking or feeling than I am.

(*That's a joke. I think. I've taken the online tests and they claim I'm "neurotypical" but I still have awful problems interpreting body language sometimes)

I will say I had one guy thank me after the class was over. He told me he enjoyed it and I made it "easy" for him to learn. (This was one of my non-traditional students; I seem to be more popular with them than I am with the 18 to 20 crowd). This was a guy who ALWAYS had questions - and I ALWAYS stopped to answer them, even if the other students seemed to be preparing the thank you bat. (the original comic that inspired it is here)Because you know? He gave a crap. And I'm willing to stop class to answer the questions (which really weren't that off-topic) of someone who gives a crap. Especially when I'm having to stop class to get the couple in the back row to stop carrying on a side conversation.

Ah well. At any rate, the semester's essentially done. And I hate to say it, but there are a few people I'm glad I'll never have to have in class again.

I start this gig up again for the summer on June 1. The good news is summer classes are typically better. (The bad news? I'm already getting people calling me wanting to set conditions on their attendance - like "I have a weekly meeting for my volunteer work that will require me to miss an hour of class every Wednesday. Are you OK with that?" No, I am certainly not OK though I suspect that even after I explain why I'm not, I'll have to be...because that's how life works now - people do what they want to do regardless of others' objections [and then complain that they were unfairly treated]. I have to say one of the things that really makes me tired about how academia runs - how it has to run - these days is the people who go "I have to be late" or "I have to leave early" or "I have to miss class on test-day and I need a makeup." And none of them seem to understand that those behaviors contribute to a sort of chaos in the classroom (and with the late papers and the makeup tests - if everyone did that, I'd be doing nothing but playing catchup with people).

I really need some time off. I'd love to go antiquing Saturday but with gas almost $3.50 here and the prime area I'd want to go to some 70 miles away, I don't think I'll be doing that. Sadly.