Friday, October 31, 2008

Early voting

My state is one that has "open" early voting (meaning, you do not have some kind of reason to vote early - it is not like absentee balloting).

I decided to vote early, because I figured the polling places would be tremendously busy on Tuesday.

If early voting is any indication, there's going to be record turnout here. I waited in line for just over an hour to vote early.

For early voting in my county, you go down to the county election board building. It is a low-slung, older building in a quiet residential neighborhood. The building looks almost as if it could have once been a doctor's or dentist's office; there are a number of small rooms off of the main hall.

There was already a line when I got there. It seemed kind of long but I figured, well, I have nothing else I need to do this afternoon - nowhere else I need to be. So I just waited.

One woman came out, waved the novel she was carrying, and said, "I got an hour of reading time in!" Some people in line kind of gasped (it didn't look that long outside the building).

So I reached into my bag and pulled out the sock I was knitting on. I had been to some off-campus meetings earlier in the day and it was one of those situations where I was dependent on someone else to drive, so I figured it was best to plan ahead in case there was downtime. (I also tend to take some kind of small, time-occupying thing to do anyway when I travel on the university vans; they are unreliable enough that I could envision being stuck for a goodly number of hours at the meetings while we waited on an alternator repair or something).

So anyway - I had my sock, I can knit just fine while standing (they're just simple, all-stockinette ones; I don't have any fancy cabled or lace ones going right now, which is just fine).

The line moved slowly. I glanced apprehensively at a few hornets circulating around (we're in Indian Summer here - it's been cold, now it's warm again, and that always brings the stinging insects).

One of the Election Board workers came out and handed those of us "new" people clipboards with forms that we needed to fill out and sign, certifying our addresses and that we had neither voted in an absentee ballot nor would we try to vote on Tuesday. I filled mine out, handed him the clipboard and pen back, tucked the form in my bag (pulling out my driver's license and sticking it in my pocket in case they needed I.D.), and started knitting again.

I'm sometimes a little apprehensive about what some knitters call KIP (knitting in public); I don't like drawing attention to myself. But I figured I'd wait much more happily with something to pass the time, and I tend not to be the talkative sort.

A few people commented that I was "smart" to bring something to do.

The line kept moving, slowly. Sample ballots were posted next to the door in but I just barely glanced at one; I had seen one earlier and taken the time to read up on the different candidates and issues so I knew how I wanted to vote.

I finally moved into the building. An older lady, who had hip or knee issues, was sitting on one of the chairs they had set up. She saw me knitting and watched for a few minutes, then commented to me in wonder that I could knit without even looking at it. (Yeah, I suppose that's a skill not everyone has. I've trained myself to do it because I sometimes knit while I proctor exams, and I also knit while I read sometimes.)

The line kept moving (there was a row of chairs so the lady could keep moving with her "spot" in the line.)

The building, though it was kind of warm to stand around it (it was an older building and I don't think it had central A/C), was kind of nice. They had it decorated for fall/Halloween with garlands of silk fall leaves and tiny orange lights.

One thing I have to say - NO ONE in the line complained. NO ONE got angry. No one tried to line-jump. No one seemed to care that it was taking a while to get in to vote. People chatted quietly - once in a while it would turn out a couple people near each other in line had some connection, either their families used to be neighbors, or one person taught at the school that another person had recently retired from. So there was a lot of the friendly sort of small-town small talk that happens. Talk about the weather, talk about the local high school football team, talk about jobs and traffic and new businesses in town. Reminiscences of how things used to be.

And I felt kind of happy standing there. It was almost a Norman Rockwell moment - all these people out to do their civic duty and exercise their right as citizens. And everyone was so pleasant. I don't often just get out into the community - the campus is, as I said, kind of a place apart and we tend to be a little hothouse (and sometimes that's not the best of things). So it made me happy to be there, it reminded me I'm a citizen of this town and I have things in common with the other citizens.

And the line kept slowly moving.

There were maps on the wall of my town and my county, showing it divided up different ways - into the different districts, into the different townships and ranges. I looked at each map and mentally located where my house is. That's a funny little quirk I have...almost a bit of a Rain Man behavior; I always like to look where my house would "be" on a map of the area. There is something I find comforting about it.

The line kept moving. And then we saw why it was a little slow - instead of using the voter-roll books like they usually use (where you sign next to your name), there was one person looking each voter up on a computer to verify them. So OK. That was the hangup.

But I was very close.

I finally got up to the woman (and, heh, the "computer" was one of those old, old IBM clones (I think it was even a Zenith, like one of the first computers I learned on) with that green-on-black screen). But she found me in the rolls, filled out the rest of the sheet, and the woman next to her tore off one of the big paper ballots (we use optically scanned ballots, which work really well), and handed me a marker and pointed me to one of the booths.

So yay, I voted. As I said, I had already checked out a sample ballot and done some reading so I knew who and what I wanted to vote for, so it didn't take me too long.

So I turned in my ballot and got my sticker.

And you know? It's still important to me. This is, I think, the sixth Presidential election I've voted in. I still feel like it's something important and special and grown-up to do, even if I'm not super super enthusiastic about the people I have as choices.

I remember as a child, my parents taking me with them to the library or the local school or where-ever it was that they voted (and of course, most years, I was IN school when they voted). But it seemed like one of the Mysteries of Grown-Up-Hood, being able to help choose the President or the Senator or whoever. And I still kind of remember that now. While there are some things about being a grown up that kind of suck (paying taxes, making your own dentist appointments and then going to them) there are also some thing that are frankly pretty cool. And I regard being able to vote as being in that class of Pretty Cool things. (And really, Pretty Cool is very much an understatement of how I feel about it...)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More teaching and a question

Thanks, guys. I probably need to keep a link to that post somewhere, and look it up periodically, just to remind myself.

I did have something weird happen today. It was lab, which means the dynamics of the class are kind of relaxed. But I had a student make a TOTALLY inappropriate (like, sexually inappropriate) joke right in front of me.

I mean, REALLY inappropriate. Not like blush a little and move on inappropriate (and though I am a prude in some ways I can also appreciate a good raunchy joke), it was more like Oh My Goodness My Jaw Is Hanging Open I canNOT Believe You Said That And Do You Kiss Your Girlfriend With That Mouth? inappropriate.

All I could do was kinda go "Uh...buh..." and change the subject.

I think he realized that he had crossed a serious line because one of the women over near him smacked him, and then he got bright red. But still - one of the more bizarre moments I've experienced.


And (how's THIS for a non sequitur), here's the question:

We are talking about doing another Youth Movie Night in a few weeks. Do any of you with teen and pre-teen kids (boys especially) have good but fairly clean (this IS church group after all) movies to recommend? PG rating would be ideal, PG-13 is ok provided the 13 isn't for too many sweary bits or too many nudie bits. (And the less taking-of-His-name-in-vain, the better).

I'm thinking one of the sports movies that's come out over the past few years...I suggested "Miracle" (the one about the 1980 Olympic hockey team) but I'm afraid that as this group is all too young by 15 or so years they might not get into it).

I've seen "Remember the Titans" and I remember liking it, but I was (a) exhausted and (b) trapped on a shuttle bus at the time, so I don't remember whether there was much in the way of "inappropriateness" in it.

Also it would be ideal if the movie was less than 2 hours long, so the Lord of the Rings epic, though it might be well-received, is probably out for this particular movie fest.

I showed National Treasure a few years ago and the kids seemed to enjoy it but I've seen the sequel and wasn't that impressed. And Apollo 13 didn't go over as well as I'd hoped (and it also had more, um, questionable bits in it... I know the kids SEE worse on a regular basis on TV but I do like to keep some standards considering it's Youth Group.)

There are a lot of cartoons or kid-movies I like, but as these are teen boys, it's not "cool" for them to like such movies...even if they really, deep-down, do. Which is why I was thinking some kind of good sports-movie might work, especially if it has some subtle or not-so-subtle message like "don't be mean to the Black guys just because they're Black" or "Sometimes you can succeed at things that people tell you you won't succeed at if you work really hard" or even just "Teamwork is cool"

Monday, October 27, 2008

THIS is why I do it.

I needed to be reminded of something like this, especially after my crummy summer class.

A student in my class - the one where I have them do an independent research project - asked to be let into the lab today so she could put some of the plant matter she's collecting in the drying oven, so she can then get the biomass and (later) the calorie content of the forage (by burning it in a calorimeter).

As I was showing her were all the stuff she needed was, she said, "I'm so excited to be doing this! This is so neat. I've never had the opportunity to do anything like this before; I've always had to do labs where we kind of knew what the result was going to be even before we started and where we knew that hundreds of people had done the exact same thing in prior years."

Yup, that's it. That's why I require the independent research project. To give people like her the opportunity to do this thing - and hopefully enjoy it and learn from it.

I'm not doing it for the people who might cheat on their results.
I'm not doing it for the people who phone it in and then are jerks to me when they didn't get the grade they thought they should get.

I'm doing it for the people who give a damn.

Now, if I can just remember that all the time...

Why I have... internet radio turned up to "11," even though it hinders my working?

One of my hallmates is listening to, what sounds to me like, ads from MoveOn on his computer.

Can we please just get this election over with? I want to barf.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


This is another one of those "little slice of my life" posts.

I was ironing off some quilt fabric today. And I realized why I enjoy it - for one thing, ironing "simple" stuff (where there aren't collars or buttons you have to worry about) is easy and, on a cool day, kind of pleasant. Meditative.

I also realized that it reminds me a bit of ironing my dad's handkerchiefs when I was a kid. This is how a lot of girls first "learned" to iron - maybe that's not done any more, I don't know. I've read references to having little girls iron handkerchiefs in books from the 30s through the 50s and I wonder sometimes if this is just another way that I was sort of a generation to a generation-and-a-half behind some of my friends - a lot of the things I was into, a lot of the things I learned to do, seemed to be stuff that my friends and their families seemed to regard as obsolete. (Of course, it also might have been a function of being an academic family in a town full of, mostly, executives and small-business owners, and of having parents who, if they hadn't exactly KNOWN poverty growing up, had certainly heard it rattling the doorknob.)

I also had friends who, when they expressed a desire to learn to sew or crochet or something, their moms were like, "Why do you want to do THAT?" as if they were wasting their time, or setting the women's movement back 30 years (and that's not just my imagination; I've read other people who have said that some of the more feministy moms in the 70s didn't want their daughters to learn to cook or sew, thinking that somehow made them more "independent." Well, I can cook - and cook darn well, if I say so myself - and I can say I'm "independent." I'm certainly "independent" of having to depend on carry-out or frozen dinners...)

But I do think my being a little out-of-step with my generation cohort may be a function of the fact that the three generations of my mom's family (me, her, and her mother) span back over 100 years - my grandmother was born in 1897, "during the Spanish-American War" as she used to say. She grew up on a farm and married to get off the farm - her husband was an accountant in the lumber camps and from what my mom's said, there was never a whole lot of money, but they made do.

My mom was a late-in-life baby. She was born in...well, heck, she doesn't read this and I don't think she'd be offended if I reveal it, but she was born in 1936.

Yup, my mom is the same age as "too old to run" McCain. (Which is why I give a pretty hostile stare to anyone who makes old jokes about McCain. Say what you will about the man's policies, or temper, or whatever - but don't dismiss him solely because he's the age he is. My mom could run the country (though I know she would never WANT to) without her age being a factor (and she could probably do a damn sight better at running it than some folks who have tried for the office, and possibly a damn sight better than some folks who've actually HELD the office).)

And I was a late-in-life baby (well, not by today's standards, for sure. My mom once remarked, I think, that she was irritated by one of the doctors branding her a "geriatric mother" because she was over 30 when she had her first baby).

So sometimes I think the reason I'm less technologically plugged-in than some of my peers, the reason I like swing music and doo-wop more than most of what passed for Top 40 when I was a teen* may be because of my family background. (I also adore classical music - and am enough of an aficionado to want to say "classical sensu lato there - because my parents always had Mozart or Beethoven records playing in the house, and I used to listen to "Adventures in Good Music" with my dad).

(*though that might just be because I have better taste. [joking, not dissing anyone who likes mid-80s pop...])

Anyway. Back to the quilting. One thing I'm wanting to do this fall is go through some of my fabric "stash." (and wow, do I have a LOT of fabric. I've been buying it for nearly 20 years - I've been a "for reals" quilter since 1990 or so, and even as an impoverished grad student would by a half yard now and then just because I liked it and it made me happy). And I want to organize a lot of the fabric I have into groups based on fabrics I want to use together.

I have lots and lots of different color combinations. One of the reasons I enjoy quilting is the opportunity to play with color and pattern. It's my artistic outlet. I have a colleague who writes short stories and poetry (I think he's even had a few published) and who is working on a novel...I've told him the quilts are like my poems; I just need to express myself some way that is non-verbal.

I have fabric from a lot of different "lines." For people who aren't quilters - there are a number of different fabric companies out there (Moda is one of my personal favorites). They have different "lines" that are made by designers - for example, Mary Engelbreit will design a "line" based on her illustrations - they will all go together, will all have similar colors and be of a similar style.

The good thing about using fabric from the same "line" is you know it will all work together well. The not-so-good thing, in some cases, is that it's very "matchy" (it can make a quilt look almost too "commercially made") and sometimes the fabric colors don't contrast well. So I usually use fabric from a couple different "lines" in a quilt, it makes it more interesting to me. And sometimes I will find two fabrics I bought at different times and realize they look really good together, and that I want to use them together - which is part of the purpose of the sorting and stacking this weekend; I want to line up some projects where the fabric's all washed and ironed and ready and I can just start cutting when I figure out what pattern I want to use.

So I've been ironing off fabric and stacking it up. The part that made me think of ironing my dad's handkerchiefs is ironing the fat quarters. (For non-quilters: fabric comes by the yard. You can buy any increment; a yard would be 36" long by [typically] 40 to 44 inches wide. A half-yard then would be 18" by 42", a quarter-yard would be 9" by 42". Except quarter yards cut that way are long and skinny and hard to work with and they tangle up when you pre-wash them before sewing with them and they're just generally not as fun as fat quarters. A fat quarter is half of a half-yard - that is, 18" by 20" to 22". There are dozens of patterns and a good number of books out there with patterns specifically designed for fat quarters. Most quilt shops have stacks and stacks of them - so you can buy fabric without having to wait to have it cut, if you just want little pieces for a scrap quilt or a fat quarter quilt).

So a fat quarter is not that different in size from the big handkerchiefs my dad used to carry (and still does, in fact). I used to iron them and fold them when I was a kid and was "helping" (under my mom's watchful eye and with the iron not set TOO high). I fold the fat quarters the same way today, which is what made me think of it.

Yeah, my dad carried handkerchiefs. The big plain white kind, some kind of fine fabric (lawn, I think) with a rolled hem and those little stripes that were worked in a heavier thread. (If you've seen the type I'm talking about, you know what I mean). He always had one. When I was a kid, if I had a sneezing fit or a crying jag, he'd quietly pull out the handkerchief and hand it to me. If I found a neat rock and I wanted to take it home, he'd wrap it up in his handkerchief for me. A few times as a young teenager, when I had little money for birthday or Christmas presents and couldn't think what to get him, I got him new handkerchiefs, and he used them, and I felt good about it, because I had picked a gift he actually could use.

So I smile as I iron and fold my fat quarters and think about that. And I'm grateful that I was a kid with a "good dad." And a "good mom," for that matter. (And I'm also grateful that I still have both my dad and mom.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

a thought...

When campaigns end and the campaign ads go away, they are replaced by Christmas ads for The Clapper and Chia Pets and such. There isn't any similar "replacement" for CNN and FOX and all of the "local" news outlets.

What are folks in the news media gonna spend their time on when the campaign is over?

(Oh, I'm sure they'll find something/make something up).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Seems to be working

I am happy to report that my verbal announcement that my office is a "politics free zone" and that I don't even want to DISCUSS politics this fall seems to be working.

My most politically-motivated colleague, who has been sending all kinds of campaign crap to other folks in the department, hasn't sent me any. I've had no one coming in and electioneering (Well, I suspect since I'm very NON vocal about my politics, they assume they know who I am voting for and it is the same person they are voting for. They would be wrong, but they don't need to know that).

So I can work in peace. I can write my exam reviews without someone popping in to share the latest Palin joke. I can grade papers without having to be the audience for someone's froth about how "stupid" Republicans are. (Interesting...if that person made that claim about ANY OTHER GROUP he'd see how offensive and prejudicial it is).

I don't feel like fighting any battles over politics. One reason is that, quite frankly, I have a promotion to think about in another year or so and I don't want to do anything that might jeopardize it. (Oh, I know: people probably wouldn't vote based on purely political reasons. But they might find excuses to judge me more harshly). The other thing is, I can tie myself into knots over politics and it won't change what happens. I can vote but I have one vote - ONE - and that's all the power I have.

While I may not go all Serenity Prayer and "accept" the things I can't change, I do realize that I can keep from letting the things I can't change destroy my equilibrium. I'm a lot happier right now than I was a few weeks ago when the whole meltdown/bailout/mortgage mess was first happening. Because, largely, I realized that THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT. I can be a bit more careful with my money, I can decide not to have anything extra invested right now (though then again, this might be a time to buy if you plan on holding). But realistically, the Dow closing down a few hundred points doesn't mean there's no supper on my table at night, or that I have to shiver in a cold dark house.

I'm doing OK.

And I will probably continue to do OK regardless of what happens in what, 12 days? I mean, barring some kind of really awful conspiracy-theorist Oliver-Stone-movie-grade event, which I totally don't expect to happen, things will be OK.

So I'm trying to avoid not just the frothers on the Left, but the frothers on the Right - the ones who are saying that an Obama presidency will mean bye-bye Bill of Rights. (Seriously. They can't do that.) Or it will mean that my bank account will be confiscated in the name of 'spreading the wealth.' Sure, my taxes might go up, but heck...I've been there before. I can manage. I may have to cut back on my charitable giving or not buy so many books, but I'll manage.

As I said yesterday - I have a job to do. My immediate work is more important and more, well, immediate than anything going on in Washington.

So I'm avoiding letting myself get dragged into a vortex of gloom or worry or anger or snideness by those who are already there.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I was walking across campus this morning - I had to take something to one of the offices across campus from my building.

(I kind of welcome that, the opportunity to get out of my office and walk a little bit.)

It was a nice fall day, a little overcast. A lot of leaves have come down already, though more because we've had such a long dry spell than because it's gotten very cold yet.

The mockingbirds were singing a little - not as much as they do during their breeding season, but I could still hear them calling a little. And I could hear the jays squawking as they foraged for acorns under the big oak trees.

I could also hear the marching band practicing off in the distance.

And I felt a sense of peace and timelessness. I could close my eyes (so I didn't see the cars and the way other people were dressed) and I could imagine myself in 1958 or 1978 or some time in the past.

And you know, that's partly why I like college campuses. There's a feeling of continuity about a lot of them. A feeling of almost being a little insulated from what's going on in the outside world.

I suppose a lot of the comfort I have on campuses is that I've been on them for so long. My dad was a prof when I was a kid, I used to go to campus with him sometimes to either go do schoolwork in the library or to hang out in his office. Walking across campus with him...somehow it felt right, it felt like a college was where I belonged. All of the things related to it - the football games on crisp fall Saturdays, hearing the marching band, the mysterious practices of the Greek system (I am more jaded about that last, now, but when I was a kid it seemed much more funny and innocent). The bookstore. All of the students and faculty walking across campus, it all seemed so PURPOSEFUL, so much like here were all these people who knew what they were doing and why.

(Cue Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture." Heh. That piece of music always reminds me of my romantic childhood imaginings of what college life was like. It's actually considerably less romantic and sometimes not as amusing. But at its best it's still pretty good.)

Campus always felt like a place apart - on the campus where my dad taught, the crime rate was lower than the surrounding city. There seemed to be a sense of respect of it as a place of learning. And it seemed like a safe place to me - somewhere where a lot of the ugliness of the outside world didn't intrude.

Probably the fact that I was a bookish kid was a big part of that - I loved learning, I loved libraries, and I loved the idea that there was a whole institution devoted to learning. And that one day I'd get a chance to go there and spend time at one.

So to me, colleges do have kind of a timeless, insulated feel - like a lot of stuff in the outside world is sort of "checked at the door." And while I may complain about how clueless some students can be about current events - you know, not being so very plugged into the news can actually be kind of a GOOD thing, where you focus more on what you're learning and less on what's buffeting you from the outside world.

Oh, don't get me wrong - there are a lot of politically active students. There are competing Obama and McCain signs around campus. The outside world does impinge on campus life.

But there are a lot of times when you can imagine it doesn't. And I love those times. I love the feeling of being a little world apart. It's a feeling not unlike what I feel in church - where there is a bigger and more important truth, and what's going on in the outside world is a mere distraction.

Because really - to come back to campus - no matter who resides in the White House come January, there are still things that will need to be done. My students will still need to learn to calculate a t test. Or they will still need to know how to make up a life table from cohort data. Or they will need to know how to test the texture of soil. There is work to be done; there are students to be prepared for their eventual jobs. And really, by and large, no matter what goes on in the world, those things remain constant.

And there is a sort of peace and comfort in that. In knowing that I have a role to play - that I have things to do despite what is happening "out there" around me. That I can make my own little corner of the world better by striving to teach well and to be compassionate (but appropriately compassionate; tough-love when it's needed) to the students.

Once in a while I have a student come back, either from grad school or from more advanced coursework and thank me for the preparation I gave them. That makes me feel like what I'm doing is worth it, like I'm doing the right thing. (I once had a young man - he wound up having to take one of my classes twice because he just struggled the first time - he worked really hard but just couldn't make better than a D that first time - come back after he got a job and tell a class full of my students, "Now you listen to her! She can teach you what you need to know to succeed!" Ha. It still makes me smile to think of it - this big rough-tough Backwoods Boy telling the students to listen to me.)

So I walked across campus and listened to the marching band and the birds and the wind in the trees and felt peaceful and blessed that I have such a good job, a job where (on the best days) I do something that makes someone else's life better. Because I really have all I want - enough money to survive, a little free time now and then to do what I want to do, and the feeling that I'm doing something to leave this place a little bit better than it was before I got here.

For Ken...

Ask a question, get a LOLanswer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

more stupid spam

Just got one with the header, "Chase Dick."

And you know, they're right. He kind of was one in the second season of House. Cute, but really arrogant. (Those fun-to-look-at but not-fun-to-know types bug me. It doesn't seem fair that someone good looking turns out to be a jerk. Then again, it doesn't seem fair to me that someone not-so good looking turns out to be a jerk.)

EPIC-most UR doin' it WRONG

Just received a piece of spam with the subject line, "Reality P0rn"

Um, isn't kind of the point of that genre to cater to total UNreality? At least that's what I've heard.

Besides, any pr0n spam directed at me is a FAIL, anyway. As is any spam, really.

What ARE they teaching them in those schools, anyway?

A few weeks ago at Youth Group, I made some kind of offhand comment about The Little Red Hen. (I think it was related to the fact that one of the older boys was working to prepare the game for the rest of the kids, while they just stood around like lunks and didn't help).

I was met, by and large, by incomprehension.

Do kids really NOT know the story of the Little Red Hen? I heard it all the time growing up.

In a nutshell (to review, or if you're one of the generation who never heard it): Little Red Hen (hereafter LRH) decides it's time to make some bread. So she realizes she has to plant wheat. She asks her barnyard friends for help...they all have some excuse. "So I'll do it myself" said the LRH.

Then, she has to harvest and thresh the wheat. And no one would help her. So she does it herself. And take it to the mill. Again, no one would help her. So she does it herself. Then, she had to bake the bread.

Again, no help.

(So what happens, children? Repeat after me: SHE DOES IT HERSELF.)

But let that bread come out of the oven, let the LRH comment that it's time to EAT the bread....and suddenly all those mooching animals are there, wanting a slice. Which they didn't help to produce one bit.

And while I suppose you could take a more political view of the whole thing, I tend to look at it more personally.

My friends, I AM the Little Red Hen. I have actually grumbled, "I will do it MYSELF" under my breath in a few instances lately, when someone who agreed to do something poops out, or when I ask someone for help and they suddenly realize they are "too busy."

I'm the one who does the volunteer work that the Youth Group Kids are supposed to do, but they suddenly "have to do" something that Saturday morning. I'm the one who will be showing up to man the fund-raising yard sale EVEN THOUGH I observed I will have to bring my grading and teaching prep with me to work on during the slack times. I am the one who picks stuff up, even after pointing it out to the people who dropped it. I'm the one who sticks around extra long on campus in case people who haven't come in to speak to me about their research paper well before it's due decide they NEED HELP NOW the day before it's due.

Frankly - and I realize this is sending totally the wrong message - sometimes it is easier to just DO the job you asked the pre-teen or young teen kid to do fifteen times and they haven't done yet. While it's true that they have "won" and that they have learned that intransigence wears you down to the point where they don't have to do it, still, it is FRUSTRATING AS ALL GET OUT to ask someone (someone you are technically in a position of authority over) to do something 20 times and have it still go undone. (And I can't leave some stuff undone. I can't leave empty pop cans out on the tables we share with several other groups. I'd be the one to get in trouble.)

And it's the same way with some college students. I have a majority of people who, upon having given an open-ended assignment, run with it - they ask minimal guidance, and then they go. They figure out what needs to be done. They plan their time well. They work mostly independently but do come for help when it's really needed. In other words: they're adults.

I teach a fairly advanced-level analysis class where the students are expected to collect data and analyze that data. Eighty percent of the class is doing great - they're working through whatever problems they encounter, they're learning as they go along, they're figuring stuff out and then helping other people figure out what they need.

But the remaining 20% just shut down. They whine. They say they don't know what they're "supposed" to do (funny, all of the rest of your colleagues figured it out, and you have this thing called a "syll-a-bus" that explains it). They slack off. They take the phrase "Use this class period to work independently on your project" as an opportunity to (a) complain they don't have anything, (b) harass the people who are working, and (c) leave the class early - with nothing done.

I've already warned my co-teacher that if these individuals come back in mid-November, crying poor about how their projects aren't working out and they NEED us to help them RIGHT THEN, I am not giving any help. I am tired of this. I am tired of other people's failures to plan leading to their perception that it is a crisis for me.

Because I work hard. I work hard in teaching - I do extra office hours, I make myself available to assist people. I work hard on the weekends at my volunteer gigs, even when there aren't many other folks there.

I do a lot of the scut work, the dirty work, the crap jobs, the hard labor. And I don't hate it. I actually enjoy cutting brush and stacking it and picking up trash and doing all that kind of good stuff. I just mind that it seems like a lot of people can make excuses for why they NEVER help, and it seems like it's always the same 8 or 10 people who are otherwise really, really busy in their lives that do it.

I really do not mind hard work, provided that one type of hard work is not pulling me from something else I must then finish on my limited "free time." Because few things suck harder than coming home after a long day working outdoors just to realize you've got 20 student research papers to grade.

But by and large, I do not mind the work.

What I do mind? Whenever there's something good, people flock to it. I can guarantee I will receive plenty suggestions on how we "should" spend the proceeds of the garage sale.

I'm doubly sensitive to this because we're sharing the work (and splitting the proceeds) with the day care that works out of the church basement. And I DO NOT WANT the Youth Group to look like slackers or parasites, where the day care folks do the majority of the work. But I also do not want to spend all day Saturday working the garage sale. But when I asked the kids for a show of hands of who would be there Saturday, they all kind of looked away. (And I don't think it's that they had other commitments; they are quick to observe when they have soccer games or stuff and can't do things).

So I feel like I'm forced to go and do the work to make a decent showing for my group. Maybe I should just say "forget it" and let the day care folks get irritated and then observe that they deserve most of the money because they did most of the work, and then just concede that to them, then later tell the youth group, "Sorry, but we aren't getting Guitar Hero or a new ping pong table; we didn't do a big enough share of the work so I told the day care that they could have 90% (or whatever) of the money because that's the proportion of work they did."

I don't know. I do think we should be teaching the Little Red Hen story - the idea that it looks quite shabby for you to show up at the kitchen door, palm outstretched, when the bread comes out of the oven, if you made excuses for why you couldn't help when that grain was being grown, ground, or kneaded into bread.

I have no problem with providing bread for those who, shall we say (to keep the metaphor going) have arthritis and can no longer knead bread. Or those who are too young to safely scythe the grain. But when there's some great galoot of a dog or cat hanging around playing Gameboy and not lifting a finger to contribute to the production of the bread....that's when I have a problem. I get very tired of people who are "takers." I do not mind being a "giver," but I get frustrated with learned helplessness, laziness, and ingratitude...which are all things I see in the various situations where I do do hard work in my life.

So, let's bring back the Little Red Hen. I know, some people think it's overly harsh. I'm sure some people will view it suspiciously as a tool of the libertarians or even the Ayn Rand followers. (Ironically enough, it probably originated in pre-Revolutionary Russia). But I do think we need to remind people that if you've got the capacity to work, it's really ultimately more fair - and ultimately more rewarding to YOU - to pitch in and help out rather than sit on your butt waiting for the bread to come out of the oven, and then expect the Red Hens of the world to give you some.

Because you really, really don't want to piss off the Red Hen. Anyone who can sow, raise, thresh, and grind grain, and then bake it up into bread is someone you want to be on the good side of.

no flak for you

I totally agree, Alli.

I feel like this election has been going on for a decade. I'm ready for it to be over. (But not ready for the Monday-morning quarterbacking that will inevitably happen on Nov. 5, and the anger, and possibly the retribution that people of the losing group might commit against people of the winning group.)

(It occurs to me that politics is becoming more like sports. While we haven't seen cars turned over and set on fire yet following a big political win (or loss), I expect it's coming some day.)

Okay,, a bit more of a political post. But this is the last one:

I'm telling myself - because otherwise I worry too much - that whoever is elected probably won't affect my life too greatly. I'm trying to ignore the "ZOMG you will be taxed to death," or the "But the New Tax Rebate For Health Care means your employer will stop offering it, and because you're Teh Fatz, you won't be able to get insurance on your own!" thoughts. (Which, yeah, is one of my real concerns about McCain - the whole health-insurance plan he has sounds like it will give employers a good excuse to just drop offering it as a perq - to stop offering it altogether, and leave the companies free to cherry pick only the people they want. And yeah, I know, it used to be that everyone paid for their own health care, but it also used to be that most people who had cancer died of it pretty fast.)

Part of the reason I'm backing McCain, I have to admit, is that I like gridlock in Washington. And though a McCain presidency with this current congress would be less gridlocky than some R presidencies, still. I don't like it when the Congress and the Pres are too sympatico; then people start getting clever ideas like, "Hey....we could make lots of revenue by taxing single childless people and calling it the They Can Afford It Act." or "You know what would be cool? Requiring people purchasing ammunition to write their initials on every bullet with a Sharpie at the point-of-purchase, because then when they dig the slugs out of someone, they will know who shot them!" or "Let's make a National Law banning trans fats so we can protect The Children!"

In other words: unless you're dealing with some very unusual people, a Congress and a President that work well together often lead to expansion of government. Probably not as insane-in-the-membrane as I've talked about above, but still.

And my biggest issue (well, after national defense) is not making government any dang bigger or more intrusive than it is now. (Unfortunately, it seems that neither presidential candidate will be very good at that. So as a default, I vote for the one most likely to be at loggerheads with Congress, or at least with its more "Hey...let's do this because it will Save People From Themselves" members.)

But yeah, it feels like this campaign has gone on way too long. The sad thing is, I bet the folks thinking about 2012 are figuring they will need to start even EARLIER. I honestly expect to see in my lifetime, a time when people start campaigning for the next presidential election before the current one is even over...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oh, dear.

I know I said I would not wax politic on this blog, because of my pure and unadulterated disgust with what has happened to political "discourse" in this country.

But I have to report something rather sad today.

Mr. McCain is dangerously close to losing me.

(No, I don't think I'd vote for Mr. "Wealth is like Nutella; best when it's spread around." I'd just stay home. Or I'd ask for a write in ballot and put down Wilma Flintstone or something).

Why? Why am I considering sinking my vote?

Because Mr. McCain lists "Sweet Caroline" as one of his top ten favorite songs, that's why.

I find the fondness for ABBA frankly amusing; Neil Diamond I can sort of forgive, but seriously? "Sweet Caroline"?


I'm really not sure this is the man I want leading my country.

(I'm joking. And it makes me sad that I even have to SAY that, but considering that some people get all het up over stories published in the ONION - a known humor mag - I feel I must).

In all seriousness, I wonder whether we'll ever see a candidate again who admits to liking, say, Bach, or if that's considered to square and elitist.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Extremely wrong but also extremely funny.

And not for the easily offended...

Groovin' Granny sings about "big gazongas.". (Check out the "Shaft" parody about midway through).

This actually makes me (and my "sweater bunnies") feel better about the hearty dissing we received at the hands of Kohl's on Thursday.

(Warning: there may be pop-ups. The AD kind, I mean...what were you thinking?)

Friday, October 17, 2008


I did some shopping yesterday. Most shopping, for me, winds up being an expedition, because I live in a small town that has a wal-mart and a Lowe's and a few other things, but not some of the things I want.

One of the things I wanted to do was replace some of the long-sleeved plain blouses I have. I try not to buy too many clothes, and I try to wear the stuff I have for a long time...some of the blouses I have now are going on 10 to 12 years. So for some of them, it was time - the cuffs and hem were getting tatty, the sleeves had "mystery stains" where some chemical from lab leaked through the sleeve of my lab coat.

So I went to a Kohl's. Now, in the past, Kohl's has been my go-to place for clothes - they have stuff that's not too expensive, but which is a cut above most discount stores. It used to be that when I needed something, I could find it there.

Kohl's has changed. (Mentioning the frustration I am going to document here in a phone call from my mom last night, she agreed that Kohl's had changed).

Now, granted: whenever I go shopping with a specific item in mind, it's likely to come to grief. I have very particular ideas of what I want in clothes, and very often, it seems that when I look at my wardrobe and go, "Oh, what I need here is a plain navy blue straight skirt" it will be the season where the designers have decreed the in colors to be citrus yellow, mauve, black, and sage, and navy blue is to be found nowhere. Or, the designers decree that it is the Year of the Broomstick Skirt (again) and there are no plain straight non-boho skirts to be found. Or it's all pantsuits. Or something.

So, setting out with an idea in mind means that there's already a strike against finding what I want.

Well, I was pretty disappointed in Kohl's. For one thing, the tops they had were mostly ugly. I mean, U-G-L-Y. The in colors: dark, dark purple. Weird burnt pumpkin. Mauve (seriously: wtf? Mauve?). Black. White.

Okay, those last two are pretty much a classic and a given...but when all the other colors look like an Emo kid puked on the need SOMETHING a little bright and happy.

Not one of the colors (the purple, pumpkin, or mauve) was one that would look good on any of the female complexions I know...certainly not good on pale Irish/German/Scots me, would not look good on my olive-skinned Italian friends, not good on the Black ladies I know, not even good on the Hispanic ladies or those with Native ancestry...I literally cannot think of a single skin tone those colors suit.

The other thing, a lot of the tops were just droopy - big droopy cowly necks, gathers in weird places. They looked sad and icky hanging on the rack, like they would transform any female body into something lumpen and ugly.

(I have to make an observation here: if this is the standard fashion for this fall, and the clothing stores start crying poor, that the bad economy is spanking them...well, it may not be entirely the bad economy. You bring out ugly clothes, women are less likely to buy them. ESPECIALLY if they're watching their dollars.

I like my clothing to be either professional and tailored or cute. Or, preferably, both. [and yes, it is possible for it to be both]. None of the things I saw were remotely close to either. It was almost like the designers were trying to express the sense of gloom about the economy and our general future that the media is promoting, only in clothing form.)

I DID find a few (like, three different styles in the WHOLE HONKING STORE) of the plain longsleeved cotton blouses.

But then I saw how they were sized:

S, M, L, or XL.

Ruh-roh. So what the designers have done, is taken women whose bust sizes (at the largest point) might range anywhere from 32" to 44" and thrown them into one of four bins. Not good. S, M, L, or XL might work for pajamas, or for something like a t-shirt where fit is not as important. But for a "work" blouse? No.

At any rate: I grabbed a couple Ls and a couple XLs and went to the fitting room.

Now, maybe the Obesity Police have gotten to Kohl's. That's one possible explanation. And they decided to make L "Loser" and XL "eXtra-Loser."

Because the blouses did not fit. Oh, they fit in SOME places but not in most places. The one that fit the best was all ugly and bulgy over the bust, and it pulled on the shoulders - I could not raise my arms without risking a She-Hulk maneuver.

And I put all the blouses back on the hangers. And felt very, very defeated. And began to wonder if the Ninja Fat had found me...because seriously, I don't remember not-fitting-into a misses' Large before.

So I walked out without buying anything.

I was headed back to my car, but then I saw the Lane Bryant farther down in the strip. And I decided to go in, even though it felt like a defeat.

(This is a not-very-nice thing about me, but I always used to say, "Well, I may be fat, but at least I don't have to shop in the plus-size stores.")

So I went to Lane Bryant.

As soon as I walked in, the three ladies there greeted me. (Now, granted, I was the only customer but). In Kohl's, I couldn't even FIND someone to ask for help, and on previous trips, when I did find someone, they either didn't know squat ("I'm sorry, this isn't my department" Then why are you hanging around the counter here?) or they didn't seem very interested in helping.

They asked what I was looking for and I explained. One of them showed me the choices (far more than Kohls, even though the entire store was smaller than the size of the misses' section alone at Kohl's). They went back in the back to try to find out if they had a 14/16 in a blouse that was only in 18/20s out on the racks.

One of them helped me find an alternate in my size when they didn't have that one.

So I took four blouses...including one that was on sale for $15...back to the fitting room. I was apprehensive because if they DIDN'T fit, then I'd really feel horrible, and I'd probably take it as a symbol that I need to DIET IMMEDIATELY and then go home and throw every piece of good tasting food I had into the trash. (Oh, it's happened before...)

I put one on.

It fit perfectly. No pulling through the shoulders. (That's a big issue with me - I have broad shoulders for a woman and often a blouse will fit everywhere BUT the shoulders). The sleeves were perfect. I could raise my arms in them. I could write on a chalkboard in them. I could reach up to grab the handle of the pull-down screen in the rooms where I teach in them.)

It also fit through both the waist and the bust. This is another issue with me - I have a much smaller waist than bustline. Unfortunately, many designers either do not recognize or do not care that there are some women shaped like that...and so to size up a blouse, they just cut the whole front bigger. And you're stuck with something that's either like a tent at the waist (where you maybe take it to a tailor and pay them to take the waist in...which is irritating, considering you had to buy the blouse in an ill-fitting state and then PAY more to have it fitted), or you settle for something that pulls across the bustline and gives the dreaded Gaposis.

But these blouses had the miracle of bust darts.

One thing I learned fast, back in the days when I actually had time to sew some of my own clothes, is that bust darts are very much my friend. They alter the topography of a blouse, converting it from something that is flat (and so, would best accommodate a woman with less than 3" different between her bust and her waist) to something that has a SHAPE to it, and can fit in both the waist and the bust.

So the blouses, aside from being comfortable on, looked GREAT. They fit where they were supposed to fit! They weren't too baggy (If I have to settle for either too baggy or too tight, I always go for "baggy."). They looked like a proper professional grown-up, instead of looking like "Daisy Duke prepares for her interview with Administaff."


Kohl's: FAIL.
Lane Bryant: Full of win!

I'm going to try them when I need jeans, I think...though these days I tend to be closer to the "standard sizing" on the bottom than I am on the top and often don't have too much trouble finding jeans or pants that fit.

But seriously, Kohl's: WTF with your blouses? Why the horrible ugly colors that flatter no one? Why blouses designed to make women with chests cry and feel fat and ugly and rejected? I mean, it's not like the trend is for women to have tiny go back to the flapper days and have everyone wrap Ace Bandages around their ta-tas.

You may THINK it's 1929, but we're sure as hell not DRESSING like it is.

So anyway: Kohl's gets a big FAIL, as I said before.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


(I hate when I can't come up with a good post title).

I was going to apologize for it being so long since I wrote a post, but I realized that chronologically, it's actually not been that long. It's just seemed really long to me because I've been so busy. I wrote two "simple" exams, and three "complicated" ones (take-home, computation-heavy exams, where they have to be essentially "equal" but have different problems on them - it's an attempt to circumvent cheating; I make sure to give different forms to the people in that class who are related to each other, and to the group of guys that are buddies - and, as one of the women in the class described them, "And they're hooligans...")

I also graded a lot of labor-intensive papers (they were journal article critiques.) And graded some other stuff.

The reason I did all this is that I have a couple of days off - we get a short break in the middle of October. I know some faculty grouse about how it cuts into what they're doing right now in class, but I NEEDED this break. I was getting to the point where I was beginning to feel like the "me" was disappearing - I actually grumbled, I think it was Tuesday morning, as I walked into my office in the dead pre-dawn dark (I still haven't forgiven Congress for extending Daylight Savings), that I could probably disappear of the earth, and the only time people would start going "Where's ricki? What happened to her?" would be when the stuff I take responsibility for started not getting done.

I go through cycles. For a while, I'll feel happy and productive and I won't mind the responsibilities. But then something will happen - in this case, it was a situation where someone assumed I'd be HAPPY to take on a certain responsibility on a certain day WITHOUT asking me first - even without checking to see if I wasn't already "spoken for" - and then I start to feel taken-advantage-of.

And I don't like feeling that way.

I'm not a confrontational person by nature but I did have a little heart-to-heart with that person about just "assuming" I'm free on weekend days because I don't have a family. (And that is something I hate with a white-hot passion: there are a few people, all of them long-married and most of them with several small kids, who seem to have come to believe that single people spend their weekend in some kind of despondent funk if they don't have someone to "rescue" them with an offer of work. Now, maybe some of the more extraverted people DO, I don't know, but I do know I NEED at least a few hours in peace and quiet and not around other people each weekend if I am going to make it through the next week.)

Anyway. On to the youth group stuff, just to clarify a little:

I do have one other helper who is always there. (I would never, ever work with kids without another adult present. Both for the "control" issues, and also, I hate to say this in this day and age, but for the "accountability" issues - while it's a little different for a woman than a man, still, being alone in a room with a kid that's not related to me - if that kid were ever to get funny ideas into his or her head - well, it could be a very bad situation. So I insist on having at least one other adult in the room, just to back me up if wild claims are made.)

She is fairly good at controlling the kids but I think she doesn't know what to do about Rude Boy either. He's the oldest kid in the group, he's completed high school (we don't have a college-age-and-other-young-adult group), and he thinks he's hot stuff. The younger kids look up to him and he doesn't quite seem to get that his behavior affects the group, so he should behave well whether he likes it or not. (Or maybe he does get it but revels in the attention).

Actually, it strikes me that the "whether you like it or not" is one of the fundamental rules of becoming an adult. I joke that I knew I was an adult when I started making my own dentist's appointments without being pushed to. Now, I HATE going to the dentist. HATE it. Even when it's just a checkup and cleaning. But I know it's better to have any problems taken care of I make the darn appointments, whether I like it or not.

I'm the same way about saving money. I had some big expenses this summer. So, I'm scaling back and not buying some things I'd thought about buying. And I decided this morning to scale back enough that I could chunk $250 ($500 if I can manage it) more into my savings each month, to serve as a cushion against who-knows-what. Whether I like it or not. Because I know having a big savings account is preferable to not having one if something happens - like a couple years ago when the transmission died on my car - I was able to just take the couple grand out of savings and pay the guy to fix it - without needing to set up a payment plan or put it on my credit card and pay crazy interest on it.

But anyway. Back to Rude Boy. He's not grown up yet, and it makes it hard. Because in a lot of ways, a not-grown-up-yet 19 year old is harder to deal with than an immature 12 year old. At least a 12 year old you can say, "I'll just have to call your parents, then" and it actually has some traction.

Anyway. My co-leader said she'd put some pressure on Rude Boy and on the boy who invited him and see if either (a) Rude Boy expresses some willingness to shape up or (b) he really doesn't need to be with us.

I hate kicking someone out of Youth Group, but sometimes you have to do it. Sometimes people destroy the group dynamics.

It makes me wonder what Paul would have done. I know they had something akin to shunning (but not as severe) in the early Church. The motivator though was that the person would want to come back, would want to be a productive part of the group. And I don't get that vibe off of this guy. The vibe I get is that he's looking for an audience.

Anyway. I don't know. I'd love to get one of the men there to help but it seems like they're always busy, or they volunteer and then don't show up. (Does every group have problems with a few people who say they'll do something and then flake? That is such a foreign concept to me - I am far more inclined to say, "I really don't know if I can commit or not" or actually outright say, "I don't think I have time" and then either show up or call the person in charge right before the event and say, "I have time after all; do you still need me?" Interestingly, the answer is almost always "yes." And frankly, if you think you won't be able to show for something - or if you think you'll be "too tired" or "there was a game on" or something like that - DON'T COMMIT. Because some of us still take "I'll be there" literally.)

I don't know. Maybe I'm being too perfectionist about the whole thing. (That is usually a pretty good bet). People tell me that I'm doing a "good job." Maybe this is one of those things where showing up is most of the game, and they're just happy to have someone who hasn't run screaming the other way yet. (I know my plaint last week of, "If they could find someone who could do this better than me, I'd happily give it up" to the minister basically got the response of "I don't think there's anyone would could do it better than you." Oh, maybe there is, but I think my willingness to do this has got me the job for life.)

It may be that I just have to weather these few weeks - maybe we'll get some new kids, some people who will shift the group dynamics back to where I want them to be. Because I'm doing all I can...just like classes at school, the way this class goes isn't 100% on me. I can only control so much of it. The kids have to put something in to it. If they don't, I might as well be talking to the wall.

Maybe we need to have a talk about that. Maybe I need to see if I can find a few Bible verses that touch on the idea of "what you get out of a group/class is related to what you put into it." I wonder if the Jesus-and-the-fig-tree-that-won't-bear-fruit verses are too harsh for this situation?

Monday, October 13, 2008


I don't quite know what to do. I feel as if the Youth program - at least the one I do, for the older kids - is getting nowhere.

There's one guy in the group - he doesn't come regularly, but when he's there, he's decided that it's his "thing" to be cute-rude, to compete with me for the other kids' attention.

Last time, I had to stop the lesson because he was making those under-the-armpit fart sounds and making the younger kids giggle.

I feel like no one is learning anything - that it's all a big joke to them, that it's a chance to get out of the house, get a dinner that's (usually) more fun/more junky than what their parents serve, and socialize.

I had to get after a group of the younger kids last night because during the activity time, they claimed they were going in to play the piano in the Fellowship Hall (two of them are taking piano lessons) but then ducked out and went somewhere else. This is not the first time they've run off; last summer, while there was a "diversion" (one of the little bitty kids fell down and got hurt), they decided to take off for the Dairy Queen several blocks away.

OK. So they don't respect me. I don't know what to do with them. There's only so far I can "lower the boom" as I'm not their mom. I don't want to just throw up my hands and say, "That's it - we are not having junior high and high school youth groups any more because the kids are too rude and disruptive."

But I really don't know what to do.

I think part of it is frustration over the fact that a couple of the kids - the ones I really felt I was "reaching," the ones I felt were showing some improvement - well, their parents divorced (and it was UGly), and they moved away with their mom and her new man.

And the kids I have left - a small group - are a group of brothers who feel like they "own" the church because their family's been in it so long, the rude-cute guy, the girlfriends (Well, not romantic girlfriends, I don't think...I think they're just girls he likes to hang out with) of one of the boys, and then once in a while a few other kids who are kind of quiet and non-responsive (except when Rude Boy is making his jokes).

And I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels. I have people tell me, "Oh yeah, I'll be there tonight to help you" and they never show. Or I announce some volunteer work where the church needs help and none of the kids ever show.

And I'm starting to feel taken for granted. Like a part of the furniture. Like what I'm doing really doesn't matter any more, the kids are going to go on their own path regardless of anything I do.

The biggest frustration is the activity time. It used to be we'd rotate activities - kickball, or volleyball, or other games. And everyone would take part. But now, it's like everyone or every pair of people wants to go off and do their own thing - there are two kids tossing a football back and forth, and a small group playing dodgeball (with a soccer ball, which made me cringe. Luckily no one got a shattered ulna), and another group wanting to roam the neighborhood.

And I've explained until I'm blue in the face that THAT IS NOT THE POINT. The point of being part of a group is to - nominally at least - do things as a group. Not to go, Ew, I don't want to play kickball this week and run off, leaving too few people to make effective teams. Or to break loose in the middle of a game and start playing your own game.

But I don't know what to do. I was telling my co-leader last night that if they could find someone that the kids would respect more - maybe someone closer to their age and not as square as I am, I'd happily relinquish the leadership of the group.

But I'm afraid that there's no one currently in the congregation like that. (And even if there were - well, we have a sizable chunk of people who don't do much around church. Leaving a core of people to do all of it and to get kind of burnt out, which is happening to me right now).

The thing is, the little kids program is going really well - they usually have 3 times the kids we do. And everyone LOVES the little kids - they're cute, they're funny, if they run around in the fellowship hall or throw balls indoors it's no big deal - but the older kids...well, if one of them gets into a game with a little kid and throws a ball indoors, if one of them runs a little bit - the adults are coming down on ME for not "controlling" the kids better. (What would you have me do? Most of them are taller than me and at least one of them outweighs me).

I literally do not know how to make them listen to me. I've tried being kind. I've tried explaining why things are not done, or why it's a good idea to behave a certain way. I've tried yelling at them. Nothing works.

I think part of it is the isolation in our culture - when we're hanging out before the lesson, unless I yell at them to put them away, each kid is off on his or her own cellphone/PDA/whatever textmessaging or wirelessly going online or something like that. There's just not a lot of interaction, or at least not interaction with the rest of the group. And I feel like, if the group doesn't want to BE a group, what's the point - why not just disband and, I don't know, have "weekly verse e-mail" or something like that.

I don't know. I really wonder about the upcoming generation. It seems like they often CAN'T work together, CAN'T play together without some kind of electronic device between them and the other person. Or that doing things away from the cell phone is "lame."

The problem is, I can't ban the cell phones out right - a couple of the kids are in situations where their parents might need to be able to reach them fast (one has a not-well set of grandparents). So I can't quite do the "Put the cell phones in a box until the end of the evening" thing.

So I'm just kind of tired and sad. I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job. I'm actually tempted next week to bring some kind of a small prize (or heck, even hold up a $5 bill) and say, "The first person who can tell me ONE of the Bible verses we studied last week gets this."

The problem is, they'd probably come to expect that and I tend to be morally opposed to bribing people for things like that.

I really wish there was someone else who could take this over; I feel like I've run out of ideas. But whenever I approach someone with that concern, they're all "Oh, you're doing such a good job." No, it does not feel that way to me. And I suspect you're just saying that to try to keep me from quitting.

I wish I felt like there was ONE person in that group who cared about what I had to say, but recently I haven't felt that at all; it's been like talking to a wall.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Something light...

Because there's too much heavy stuff going on.

This is a video I saw linked on someone else's blog. I don't know (and I don't care) if there's some underlying message (other than Go Out And Be Not Afraid To Be Silly).

it's a guy, dancing. All around the world. The same dance every time. And sometimes he gets other people to join in.

I particularly love how the little kids all around the world are happy to dance with him - how uninhibited they are about it, how they mug at the camera and grin and are silly.

Friday, October 10, 2008

jack in the box, you are ON NOTICE

I posted this over at the FFOT, but I also wanted to go on record here about how much I hate - with a blinding blazing hate that really should be reserved for things like cancer and terrorists - the new Jack in the Box ad.

If your television runs the ads, you'll know the one.

Two men - adult men - are in a giant-sized stroller (like one of those twin stroller things). Pushed by a woman. (It is unclear what relation the woman has to the men. She is far too young to be their mother, too well-dressed to be a nanny, and my mind doesn't want to go to the psychsexual places that the other options lead).

Anyway, they are discussing some presentation or something when one guy's bottom lip starts to quiver. And then, in this TONE* he starts crying.

(*You've heard the myth of the Brown Note, no? Well, this is like that only instead of the effect expected from the Brown Note, what it does to me is makes my blood pressure spike 20 to 30 points. Fortunately I have borderline low blood pressure to begin with).

And then the other executive starts crying.

And then the woman stops. And gives them a snack. Because that's what they're crying for.

Oh my stars and garters I hate that commercial. I hate it on the simple level of the sound is UNBELIEVABLY ANNOYING. I have a hard time putting up with children crying, and I understand that sometimes children cry in that way because they have no words to express what they need. But to portray grown men doing it...well, not only is the sound ten times more annoying but there is also that anger of "They should be able to get their own damn snacks."

And then there is the "let's all hate on men" stereotype.

I happen to like men. The men I know don't behave like those men, not even in jest. They'd be embarrassed to. I wonder how many grown men find that commercial grating and insulting. I generally hate all the "let's portray men as idiots" commercials. It's not "empowering" to women, it's not "funny," it's not "cute." I'm ready to be done with it. It's like the women-drivers jokes of the 50s, just applied to a different gender. Turnabout is NOT fair play.

And then again, there's just that SOUND. Thank goodness I have a "clicker" and I can change the channel...the first few times I got caught by it and had to hear that sound, I wanted to dope slap the guys. And then I wanted to take the actors out of character and pimp slap them for taking such a stupid part. And then I wanted to line up the entire ad agency that made the commercial, run down the line, and slap every person in it. And then I want to find the Jack from Jack in the Box and slap him until his stupid unnatural freakish round ball head spins around on his neck like Napoleon Dynamite's tetherball.

And I am never, ever buying anything from Jack in the Box again. (Not like I ever really HAVE; fast food has started to taste like Bad Idea to me. And it has started to taste like Why Didn't You Go Home And Fix a Nice Boiled Egg and Some Toast Instead? But you know what I mean.)

Next to the political commercials, this is the most annoying thing on television right now. And that's saying a lot, because Nancy Grace still has a show.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ways in which "Mythbusters" is applicable to everyday life, #465:

The news is telling me that the economy is dying. The news is telling me that Americans are facing bad unemployment. The news tells me people are losing their homes at record rates. The news tells me no one can spend money on anything and everyone is terrified they won't be able to afford both food and heat come December.

I have a good job that almost certainly is not going away. I'm losing money in the stock market, but it's not a "real" loss because I'm not selling stocks. I have a good sound roof over my head, one that is paid for. I'm doing OK financially, and I'm really not worried about eating and heating this winter.

So, to quote Adam Savage: "I reject your reality and substitute my own."


Yeah, I have to admit it, I'm not nuts about either candidate. (There was another LOLebrity, but that didn't fit the theme I'm goin' with here, of Gary Cole - from Office Space - saying "Yeah, if you could just find some other presidential candidates, that'd be greeeeeat.")

So maybe we need to let the Muppets run the country for a while.

(I do not know, nor do I care to know, about whatever Jim Henson's politics may have been. So if you do know, kindly do not elucidate. KTHX.)

Or maybe we shouldn't:

(Perhaps this guy was in charge of the bailout):

The bad thing is, whenever he laughs, instead of thunder and lightning, the stock market drops.

I think I have to agree with Beaker on the situation our country faces in the coming months:

Honestly, I miss the halcyon days when Sesame Street and The Muppet Show were my main exposures to what was going on in the wider world.

(And here's another one, added especially for Sheila, who once had a wonderful post on Cookie Monster and why it was important he continued to be COOKIE Monster...:)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


This is why I am so uptight about having things done well in advance (I wrote Friday's exam last Friday). Because sometimes something comes along that knocks you on your keister.

My friend Dorothy - she was somewhere in her late 80s - the first person who ever welcomed me here, the first person who ever made me feel like I was something other than this Yankee stranger who talked funny - passed away last night. She belonged to the same church as I did and was also a member of my AAUW group.

She had had a bad fall and probably broken her back. (Ladies: do your exercise, get your calcium, don't diet excessively and don't drink too much soda or eat too much red meat!). She was in a nursing home...she wasn't expected to return to her home but I assumed that that meant she was going to spend the rest of her life (perhaps a couple years) there.

I had plans to visit her this afternoon. Even dug out some back issues of a travel-related magazine I get that I thought she might enjoy looking at.

(I'm glad I got the e-mail rather than just driving out to the nursing home and finding out once I got there.)

I'm really sad. As I said, she was my first "friend" here. The first person who made me feel like I didn't make a huge mistake moving here, that it wouldn't be best for me to just turn tail and move back home.

Part of that may have been that she was an "outsider" herself - she grew up in California (wow, she had some great stories...she remembered the Pearl Harbor attack, she remembered learning to drive and driving some fairly large machinery partly because most of the men were off at war). She moved here with her husband back in the 50s or she knew the culture here but also remembered being an "outsider" well enough. She kind of took me under her wing and I really credit her with part of my decision to stick it out, rather than to resign after my first year, move back in with my parents, and teach night classes at the community college near them.

She cared about the research I was doing and asked about of the few people outside of my department who did.

She could be kind of..."rude" isn't quite the right word, maybe "brusque" or "abrupt" is better...with people who were foolish. She had high standards and if you didn't live up to them, she let you know.

But she also respected other people...and her high standards were PART of that respect. She expected good things out of people because she believed them capable of such.

But she was also caring...she could show great sympathy when, for example, I was frustrated by university politics or by the foolishness of some people.

I'll miss her. I hope she's reunited with her husband now, all pain gone, her hearing perfectly restored. I hope she's getting the answers to all the questions she had during her life (she was a tremendously curious person, both about scientific matters and about matters of faith).

She's going to leave a giant hole. a GIANT hole. I had kind of "adopted" her as a surrogate grandmother (even though she was probably protest she was a bit young for that) as both of my grandmothers had passed years before. And she reminded me a bit of my maternal grandmother, with the opinionated quality and the exacting standards.

They're asking for prayers for her family. But if I might, I'd also like to ask for prayers for me, because she was a really, really good friend of mine, and I'm very sad right now.

He said, "emo," not "Elmo..."

Language alert! (I've asterisked the really "bad" words)

Your result for The Personality Defect Test...

Emo Kid

You are 14% Rational, 14% Extroverted, 0% Brutal, and 14% Arrogant.

You are the Emo Kid, best described as a quiet p*ssy! You tend to be an intuitive rather than a logical thinker, meaning you rely more on your feelings than your thoughts. Not only that, but you are introverted, gentle, and rather humble. You embody all the traits of the perfect emo kid. You are a push-over, an emotional thinker, gentle to the extent of absurdity, and so humble that it even makes Jesus puke. (And Jesus almost never pukes, being immortal and not requiring an act of puke to dispel toxins from his corporeal manifestation.) If you write poetry, you no doubt write angsty, syrupy lines about depression, sadness, and other such redundant states of emo-being that go something like this:

life is a spike / upon which i have impaled myself / *** you dad

So, your personality is defective because you are too gentle, rather underconfident in yourself, decidely lacking in any rational thought, and also a bit too inhibited. Plus, your poetry really upsets your father.

I probably made you cry, didn't I? ****ing Emo Kid.

To put it less negatively:

1. You are more INTUITIVE than rational.

2. You are more INTROVERTED than extroverted.

3. You are more GENTLE than brutal.

4. You are more HUMBLE than arrogant.


Your exact opposite is the Smartass.

Other personalities you would probably get along with are the Hippie, the Televangelist, and the Starving Artist.



Be sure to take my Sublime Philosophical Crap Test if you are interested in taking a slightly more intellectual test that has just as many insane ramblings as this one does!
Take The Personality Defect Test at HelloQuizzy

No, you didn't make me cry, you screwed-up idiot.

I will say I find it somewhat annoying being labeled an "Emo Kid," but it's better than some of the other designations, I think....

Monday, October 06, 2008

Something I don't like...

I don't like it when I dream about someone who has passed on, and I'm there in the dream, happy because they're alive and OK, and then suddenly my brain goes, "Wait...they shouldn't be here; they're dead" and then I wake up.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sunday Stupid Spam

So I get one that says, "Enlarge your cock up to three inches."

Great. But what am I going to do with a 20 inch tall rooster? I'd think that would kind of scare the hens.

"Don't poke the crazy"

One of the online communities I belong to has a saying - poking the crazy - that is used to describe a situation where someone deliberately posts something that will cause opinionated people to come out of the woodwork and voice their (generally emotionally held, not well informed, and not well supported by evidence) positions. On one of the sub-boards someone asked the other day, "Should I 'poke the crazy'" and provided a link to something that was intended as irony, but which could possibly be interpreted as serious by a particular type of person, and upset them. (The general consensus was, "no").

I've kind of adopted the term. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a tiny bit uncomfortable with the use of the word "crazy" as I've had relatives with mental-health issues. But really, I tend to think of "crazy" not as a derogative (huh, firefox's spell checker doesn't know that one) term for someone who has mental health problems, as I think of it as someone who needs to make Drama a daily part of their life, or someone who flies off the handle easily.

I've also found that "poking the crazy," at least in my life, seems to happen inadvertently - I don't like the response that comes from the pokage, so I avoid things that poke it. (Which is why I stopped talking politics in my day to day life.)

An example: I happened to mention, early in my career, that on SOME issues SOME of my political leanings tended to be more little-l libertarian than anything.

Well, you might have thought I said, "I like to pick up fieldmice and bop them on the heads" from the response I got. Good grief.

(And yeah, I realize that some big-L libertarians - at least some of the ones I've seen - tend to be the Crazy that gets poked. I'm not like that, honest. I just prefer that the government not tell me what I can and cannot do in the privacy of my own home, provided I'm not hurting anyone more defenseless than I am. And I don't like city councils that do things like regulate what color one's shutters can be, or how early on the night before trash-day it's OK to put out the cans...seriously, in my parents' town, a person can be fined for putting them out before 6 pm on the day before trash day.)

In everyday life, sometimes you Poke the Crazy. When it happens to me, it's unintended, and I usually back slowly away from the conversation if I can. (I once had a woman start telling me about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. I still cannot figure out what in our previous conversation told her that it was OK to share that then.)

Online can happen there too. One thing I've noticed - and this is sort of an observation about how some people write online - is that The Crazy often comes without capitals and punctuation:

so people write like this when they tell you all the things that bother them and they dont bother to put in stops or rests like commas or periods and whenever they use the pronoun i they dont capitalize it they just use it as i and that kind of thing kind of bugs me to be honest because to me it feels like an affectation that someone is using but maybe i read too much poetry written in the 1960s.


One thing I was told - back in the Usenet days (wow, Usenet was kind of the Wild West now that I think about it) - was that when you joined a discussion group, you "lurked" for a month. Didn't post to threads, didn't start new topics. You just read. Kept your eyes open, so to speak, and your mouth closed. You learned the tone of the board, what its conventions were, and then, after you'd picked them up, you posted.

Oh, chances were you'd still get flamed as a newbie, but at least you could take comfort in the fact that you didn't really deserve it because you didn't commit any of the unforgivable sins like TYPING IN ALL CAPS or using some catchphrase that wasn't used on the board.

(And if you had an address, you'd probably get flamed anyway, that seemed to be what I saw, but whatever.)

But one thing I've noticed with online bulletin boards is that people don't seem to do this any more. Or, people decide that THEIR OPINION IS SO IMPORTANT AND ZOMG I MUST SAVE THESE PEOPEL FROM THEMSELVES (and yes, that variant spelling of people, along with TEH for the, is a common factor), that they don't bother to pull back.

It's kind of like the person with the hobbyhorse at the meeting. For example: there is one person on a campus who really, really wants "spousal benefits" extended to live-in partners (of either gender). So every time there's a meeting, if the word "family" comes up, this person has to jump in with their prepared speech about how it is not FAIR that the (comparatively minor) spousal benefits are not extended to him and his live-in girlfriend. (And I'm sitting there thinking, "And you choose not to get the piece of paper why?" Oh, I realize that's insensitive but I think it's insensitive of him to waste my time at the meeting.)

In a way, it's kind of like a really bad drinking game, only instead of taking a shot when the buzzword comes up, you launch into a tirade.

It seems that, in online communities at least, there are certain things that Bring the Crazy. Politics, of course, does it. (On the boards I read, surprisingly enough, religion usually does not, unless someone who had a really bad experience with religion growing up happens to show up and decides to tell all the Christians and Jews how they're deluded fools to believe in the Magic Sky Person and oh, they probably abuse their children, too).

Mentioning "vaccinations" can do it. The anti-vaccination crowd, while small, can be pretty rabid. (Yes, snark intended there.)

Mentioning any issue having to do with frugality brings it - brings the people who apparently live in a box with a computer and an extension cord and who SAVE MONEY BY BUYING OUTDATED FOOD AT THE DEPOT!

Mentioning any environmental issue immediately brings out the holier than thou types who are, as we speak, generating the electricity to power their computer by riding a stationary bike, and why aren't the rest of use parasites on Mother Gaia doing the same?

Threads talking about how a person had to deal with someone who was a mean jerk can also bring it - on one board I read, there is at least one person who is apparently has a certain misplaced sympathy for autism and Asperger's patients and who will immediately jump in and say that the person complaining about the bad treatment is unjustified, because "maybe that other person has Asperger's!" Um. I've known a person who was high-functioning Aspergers. I've observed autistic children. In the situations where someone is high-functioning, one of the things they want to do (at least in my limited experience) is learn the social conventions that the rest of us have internalized. There is a clear difference between having Asperger's and being an ass, and sometimes people just are asses.


Actually, given a large enough diverse enough group of people, ANYTHING can bring it. I've actually seen something like a fight break out online over whether or not it is OK to use acrylic yarn. I'm serious. The amount of snark thrown about was amazing.

In the right mood, it can be kind of entertaining, in the "sit back, make some popcorn, and crack open a soda" kind of way. But I'm rarely in the right mood for that; I tend to find it somewhat distressing. In my bleakest moods it makes me wonder if we are not becoming increasingly unable to understand, empathize, and listen to each other. Seriously - some day might we have a civil war between people who think it's OK to shop at big-box stores, and people who think it's evil (even if your other option is, literally, a couple hundred miles away).

It's like everyone is in their own little echo chamber, and instead of opening the door to hear what other people are saying, they're so content hearing their opinions in their own voices, that they don't want to hear any other opinions or voices.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

'Nother game

Not a game of my youth, but a fun one nevertheless.

A couple of Christmases ago, my brother and sister-in-law brought their copy of Apples to Apples to my parents' house.

It's a fairly simple game, but very clever: every person is dealt a hand of "word" cards. One person (a different one each round) is the "judge," they pull a different sort of "word" card (in the game, there are green apple cards and red apple cards).

Then, each player looks through his or her cards and selects the one that they think goes best with the card the judge has picked. They anonymously submit their cards, the judge reads each one, and picks the one that they think goes best.

The game can be absolutely freaking hilarious. With the right group of people, there are all kinds of crazy combinations, there are people playing to the judge (for example, you would use the "George W. Bush" card very differently if the judge were a known Republican, a known Democrat, or a known BDS sufferer).

It is one of the few board games where I can say I have laughed so hard playing it that tears were running down my face. Now granted, that was partly the company - my family all get along VERY well, and both my brother and sister in law have wonderful, crazy, senses of humor. But it's a really fun game, easy to play, and one I highly recommend.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Childhood games

Something fun for a change.

I happened to see a commercial for the "Hungry Hungry Hippos" board game on the television today. I hadn't seen one in years, and hadn't really thought about the game. My cousins had one, but we didn't play it very much, and I think by the time they got it I was a little old to enjoy that game.

I'm trying to think of the boardgames we had in my family.

We had a lot of the "classics" - I particularly liked "Clue," both because of the logic aspect and because of the gory background. And we had Scrabble, but didn't play that a lot, because my brother and I were not that evenly matched as kids, being five years apart.

We had Monopoly and played it by our own, somewhat eccentric, house rules. For example, if someone landed on a property in the early rounds of the game, and didn't want to buy it, it just went unsold - we didn't do the "auctions" like the "Official" rules suggest. I think we had some other differences...I think we had no limit on number of houses or hotels on a site, though usually we never got that far in the game...we'd get bored, someone would propose "calling" the game, and we'd either just quit, or declare the person with the most money at that point the winner.

We had other board games, I'm sure...I think we had one of those with the "pop o matic" dice, where they were under a little dome so they wouldn't get lost.

Oh, and we had "Sorry." I liked Sorry, too. I particularly liked getting to send people back to Start. (But you have to say, "sorry!")

The games I mostly remember playing as a kid, though, were the outside, running-around-type games. I lived across the street from a large family where all the kids were close in age (there was one set of twins and the rest were stair-stepped). We used to play hide and seek a lot (which was awesome back behind their house because it was a big forested area and had lots of places to hide). And we played something like Hot Potato, as I remember, but I don't remember how we did the timing. (Maybe someone borrowed their mom's kitchen timer?)

And we played HORSE, which I was never very good at (I'm still not, as my youth group kids will attest.) (Does everyone know HORSE? This is a basketball shooting game where you get "letters" if you miss, the first one who spells HORSE is out).

And we played four-square, but again, the rules we followed were very idiosyncratic and were different from how kids play it here.

And we played Smear the....politically-incorrect-term-for-a-gay-person, except I didn't know what that meant back in those days. (Actually, Smear is a pretty fun game as long as everyone's about the same size and no one's so fragile that they're likely to get hurt).

The best games though, in my opinion, were the ones that required hiding or being able to sneak and then run fast. We played hide and seek, or, more commonly, the Kick the Can variant (where people would hide, It would either go seeking or hide somewhere near where the can was, and the goal was for one of the hiders to sneak in and kick the can - "freeing" everyone else and condemning It to another round as It). Or we played Capture the Flag, which, if you have a big group of people and a large area to play it in, is a really really fun game. (I remember that mostly from camp, where we had groups of 20 or more people and a huge lawn to play on)

We also played sort-of a pickup version of flag football (with bandannas in the back pockets as flags) but usually we didn't have enough people to have real teams. And mostly not a big enough place.

There were also the games we tried once, or the games that required specific conditions. Like flashlight tag - you have to be allowed to be out after dark somewhere that's dark, and everyone has to have a flashlight.

I guess we also played Freeze Tag some, I had forgotten that.

I'm sure there are others I'm not thinking of. We also did the typical kid stuff - water balloon wars, and trying to set toys on fire, and making things like obstacle courses that then the other people had to run through.

What games do YOU remember from childhood? What were your favorites?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

oh, that's HAWT.

I go through periodic bouts of skin problems. Mostly something like allergic dermatitis; while I'm not one of those people who can only use unscented glycerin soap, ever, or who has to avoid nickel in any of its forms, I do periodically get bouts of itchiness.

It's often related to ragweed season. It's ragweed season now. Yay.

So I'm itching. But worse than normally. I was actually getting welts the other day where I was scratching. (I know: "don't do that." It's really hard not to).

So I'm having to take steps to fix things. One thing is putting skin lotion on. The one I have smells like coconuts mixed with mint. And it's very gloopy. Oh, that's HOT.

(But it does have vitamin E and it does stop the itching).

And I bathed the other night in baking-soda water. Yeah, HOT. (I don't know about the medicinal quality of this, but my mom suggested it, and it seemed to work).

And now, I am off to bathe in something called colloidal oatmeal, which the campus nurse recommended. Oh hot hot hot. Just take my panties and call me Paris Hilton.

I swan, at the rate things are going, I WILL be the female version of Felix Ungar (with a little Niles Crane thrown in for good measure) before I hit 40.

I've also been told that stress could be aggravating it. YA THINK? So maybe I need to go into the place where Bureaucracy Wench (the one who made me cry the other day) works and scratch all my dry skin off onto her floor. Yeah, that'd be HOT too.

Seriously, I'm glad I don't have a totally buff boyfriend because it would be too much for me to keep up with right now with my oatmeal and coconut encrusted skin and my weird flakes and welts. He'd probably run screaming the other direction.