Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Garden, July First

I'm sharing some pictures of the garden, but just so you remember, here's the picture I took in early June.  (I was a little late getting things in.)

Here's the same area now!

On Monday, I had two broccoli plants doing well.  On Tuesday morning, they'd both had their tops taken off and away. 
I don't know quite what to do about spinach.  I had some there, and took the leaves for a while until the plants started doing the seeding thing.  So I pulled them, and then planted a couple more seeds.  (They aren't up yet.)  Anyway, things are growing and I'm happy about that.
There are also plants on the deck.  A friend told me you could put a pumpkin in a planter and then grow it up a trellis and support any pumpkins with pantyhose.  We'll see.

And there are a couple of tomato plants because they're usually pretty easy to grow and success is good.

And finally, there are artichokes.  I have two plants that survived the winter, and three new ones.  And four of these are growing little chokes now!  (The two winter survivors are at the back, starting in the black pot.  Each pot except the center one has a little choke starting.)

Imagining Benefits

Back before the latest budget crisis, our union, the one that's not allowed to bargain collectively on our behalf, sent out a questionnaire about benefits.  Basically, they were asking what benefits we union folks would want the union to argue for.

The thing about benefits is that they cost money, along with salaries, and so the balance here has been that we've had lower than average salaries (compared to our peer institutions in the region) for pretty decent benefits. 

We're all mutually subsidizing our basic health insurance, for example, to the tune of $650 or more a year (that's the last number I remember, but it's probably gone up), though we also pay for our health insurance.  Similarly, we're all covered by basic life insurance at the same rate, and only pay more if we want higher coverage.  We also have a state pension (which we contribute to), and have access to a 403B plan (which the state organizes and makes available, but doesn't contribute directly to).

Some benefits are only available to some people, and so the rest of us subsidize those benefits.  People who have a spouse or children covered on their health insurance pay a higher rate for that coverage, but it's still mostly subsidized.  (That is, instead of the university putting in $650 for the second person, it puts in $550 or so.  The second and more people added cost another $150 or so for the employee.)  Those of us who don't have spouses or kids don't benefit, but we're contributing.

There's also subsidized daycare (more subsidy for students, less for employees), which only people with little children use.  And so on.

Employees can also get spouses and kids a campus card so that they can use the facilities such as the swimming pool and such, and also take city buses that the campus pays the city so that campus people (students, employees, etc) can ride "free."

The list of imagined benefits the union suggested were mostly things like free or reduced tuition for kids and such.

Now I don't usually think about what benefits I'd like beyond health insurance, but here goes:

What benefits might one wish for?

Are there benefits one might wish for that would be accessible to everyone, and not just people who have spouses or dependents?

My idea would be to give every employee a "pot" of benefit money after basic health insurance and such, and let them decide which benefit to fund, health insurance for a spouse or dependent(s), day care, or a contribution to, say, a 403b type account or to paying off student loans.

Let's imagine that the additional money averages out to $400 a month.  People with spouses or dependents could put that towards health insurance, though they'd have to also put in more than they do now.  But people who don't have spouses or dependents and who now subsidize those who do could instead get help with student loans or retirement.  (And for single people, who won't have a potential second income to help with such things, that can make a big difference.)

Monday, June 29, 2015


I had a pretty much perfect weekend.

It started Friday afternoon, when I read that there's a Northern Mockingbird nesting in the area, and went to see.  A couple other birders were there, and they helped me find it at first, and then I walked around and saw the parents feeding the kids.

Here's a parent with a face full ready to go feed the kid.

A friend of mine emailed about taking a bike ride, so we met on Saturday for a ride, starting from a point a bit out of town, and going further out, so that she'd see a new part of the local trail.  We were chatting along, and talking about a sort of local famous author's place of birth, so we decided to go in the afternoon.

It's about an hour drive away, near a place where I sometimes go to ride my bike up a road to a bakery (weekends only) and then back.  Along the way, we passed the turn off to a really great pizza place out in the middle of farms, and we talked about how good it is.  We went to the little author museum, and then drove to the bakery, but alas, it was closed.  Then we went to the birth site and looked around.

We talked about getting ice cream at a creamery not far, and then I had this idea that we could skip the ice cream and go for pizza (and get ice cream there if we chose).  My friend thought that was a good idea, so off we went.

And it was a very good idea.

This is the back of the pizza place.  Behind the camera is a corn field.  Off to the left is a field.  Off to the right is a mowed area for kids to play.  And all around, farms.  But this place is packed.  And the reason it's packed is because it's so amazingly good.  The pizza has this amazing thin crust, and the toppings are light (at least on the pizzas I prefer here), and they're delicious and practically melt in your mouth with goodness.  (I hadn't been here for at least a year, and they've added more covered areas, so there's more shade for eating.) 
I think they open at 4:30, and by the time we got there at 5pm, we were #40 on the order list.  And before long, I saw a person with #80 pass.  It's a fairly long wait for the pizza, even though each takes about two minutes to cook, because they can cook only two at a time in the wood fired stone oven.
That was Saturday.
Sunday, I was sort of frustrated by this dirty carpet in my living room.  What with having plants in there all winter, it was gross, and you can see the gross because it's basically off-white.  So I decided to do the carpet cleaner thing.  I used the cleaning solution twice over the whole area, and also did clear water twice, and by the time I finished, the rinse stuff the cleaner pulled up into the container was less gross than it had been, but still, I bet I could have cleaned it twice more and rinsed it twice more, and there still would have been dirt.  But it looks a whole lot better than it did!
I'd finished the carpet and was sitting and relaxing, when a couple of friends stopped by out of the blue, so we went out to dinner, and had really yummy Mexican food at a place I rarely remember but really like.  This couple lives a few small communities over, about an hour away, so I don't see them often, but it's always nice to see them and chat.  So it was an unexpected pleasure for me.
Today I've made a huge list of stuff that needs to be done before I go away on vacation.  I'm sort of stressed, but I think it's all do-able.  And having the carpet cleaner makes me feel a lot better about things for some reason.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Rainbow Explosion

My facebook feed is full of rainbows today.  What an amazing thing, eh?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chasing the Light

The other night, folks were reporting seeing the Northern Lights in the upper Midwest.  And so, last night, when the viewing was supposed to be likely to be good, a friend and I went out to a rural area to try to see them.

We didn't.  We did play with our cameras and do some timed shots.  And we played with timed shots with a flashlight moving over a parked truck.

Then my friend went home, and I drove about 30 miles north, and got out from cloud cover, but still didn't see the Northern Lights.  I did see lots of stars, but even with a slow, slow shutter speed, my camera shots are just black space.

Here's one of the ones we played with, though:

(I've edited this to black out the license plate.)

Someday, I'll get to see them!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Challenge, Part Two

I posted here when I was thinking about making my Intro to Lit course include all authors who are people of color.  And thanks to all your helpful suggestions, I'm going to do it.

As a result, I've been reading some recent works and enjoying the heck out of them.  I think I've finally settled on Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie for the novel, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi for a graphic novel.

I've been reading Alexie's more recent work, but it's more short stories, and for the novel I want a more connected piece, and I like the way Reservation Blues will let me bring in a Robert Johnson CD or two. 

Reading these novels reminds me of why I originally thought I'd study recent novels.  But that got short circuited when I took two novels courses and a Shakespeare and a Chaucer course in one semester, very early on, and the novels courses (one was American, one British) were sexist and white guy oriented, and the Shakespeare and Chaucer courses questioned sexism and white guy orientation in exciting ways.  And here I am.  Now, of course, I realize that most of my colleagues' novels courses question and challenge in exciting ways, too.  Literature of all sorts has become way more interesting for me than when I was younger and thought I could only be interested in one or two things, you know? 

I was talking to one of my colleagues in a different program about my idea, and she wondered aloud if students would complain in evals about my literature choices.  The thing is, even if they did, the Personnel chair in my department this coming year is a strongly supportive person of color and the general attitude of my department would be that a complaint like that means I've done something right.  The department-world has probably changed a lot since I was a student.

I'm going to use a bunch of the poetry suggestions you've made in the earlier post, and would appreciate some additional short story suggestions, please.

Monday, June 22, 2015


I went to our local Juneteenth celebration on Friday.  I hadn't gone before, but this year it seemed important to go, so I did. 

The emcee started by talking a bit about the Juneteenth organization, and how this celebration got started, and how it represented work by community members to change the community for the better, because we aren't so far from Charleston. 

There was a prayer by a local (white) preacher, who started with a "blonde" joke, which he tried to pre-excuse by saying that he'd been blond as a kid.  I don't know if he doesn't understand the genre (which he introduced as a "blonde" joke) as denoting blonde women, or if he's more aware and trying to sound stupid.  The joke would have worked just as well as a "my buddy Joe" joke, maybe better.  So that was a bad start, and it got worse; every third word in his prayer was "Lord" and not all of the placements made grammatical sense.  And then he ended by praying that those of us who don't have a Christian relationship with his God should get one while there was time before we go to hellfire.  So much for inclusivity, eh?

Then a teenager read the Emancipation Proclamation, which was really, really interesting, and a local officer from the campus ROTC read a document from a Union officer in Texas starting to enforce it at the end of the Civil War.

A local (white) state assemblyman came to talk a bit, and gave a well thought out speech calling the Charleston murders terrorism, which was apt, and talking about what the community broadly needs to do to be more inclusive.  (He was the main speaker.)

A (white) county supervisor talked stupidly in that "white liberal I don't mean to be racist but I'm skirting the edges because I don't know how to talk about such things as racism" way.

A (white) city councilmember talked blandly.

The (white) chief of police talked about improving relations since he came (about two years ago) and then called up an African American woman to do this weird promise thing (he's promising to her that the police will do X, and so on).  None of the promises was bad, but it was weird calling her up.  And then she took the mic and said that as the representative of the community and the campus, she'd be keeping an eye on things.  Also weird.  She's a faculty member, but it's weird to claim to be the campus representative or the community representative.  (She's very involved in all sorts of ways, so maybe it makes sense.  But it still felt weird.)  Still, the police chief was there and saying things that sounded right.  (Some of my friends thought it was inappropriate that he had a gun with him though he wasn't in uniform.  I didn't notice the gun.)

Then the emcee invited other local politicians up to introduce themselves and what they do in the community, which gave a couple of older white men a chance to talk too long about themselves without actually saying what they're doing or what they can help with.  (I give them props for being there, at least.)

And then there was the picnic.  I ate with a couple of colleagues.  I'd say about 15 faculty folks were there that I knew, and some staff folks.

And that was Juneteenth up in the Northwoods.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Summer Project: Cleaned Garage, check

According to my fitbit thing, I walked about 8000 steps cleaning the garage today.  I mostly emptied it out, swept, then threw a couple of buckets of water down, swept more (the water helps get rid of the road salt left over.  I actually do it a couple times in winter, too, when it's dry, but not with as much water.)

I took this while the water was drying.  Once it was dry, I put the stuff back in, including my kayak and car, and now it looks less tidy than it did, but still way better than when I started.

When I was a kid, I used to hate it when my Mom would declare it time to clean the garage.  But as an adult, I get to a point where it's just time, and I just do it.  It takes a couple of hours, and then I feel way better about it.

People have parties in their garages around here, and also sometimes have TVs set up in them.  Where I'm from, I don't remember people having parties or TVs in the garage.  Do you have parties or a TV in your garage?

Other people can't park their car in theirs because there's lots of stuff.  (Often it's kids stuff; kids acquire lots of stuff to put in garages!)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jour Sans

That's the biking term for when you have a day when you're just not riding well.  (It's French, of course, and means basically a day without, usually without the energy or speed or whatever that bike riders want.)

That was my ride today.  I chose a route with a fairly hard start, and then an easier finish.  I barely (and when I say barely, I mean barely) made it up the hard start hill.

I was ready to be done five miles out, riding back against the wind.

I don't know why.  I'm reasonably rested, ate decently, drank plenty, and it wasn't especially hot out (about 80F).

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Assessment Dance

This summer, I again said I'd help with an assessment task.  It's basically the same task I blogged about here and here last summer.

Remind me not to say I'll help again next summer, please.  Except the extra money certainly helps with summer.

Some things are better.  The design for entering data is slightly better, maybe two fewer clicks. 

And the way they've organized the work.  Last year, everyone had to have their first 40 pieces done before the organizers reshuffled and we did the next (and last) 40 pieces.  This year, they're pre-shuffled and it's set up so that once the person I'm paired with has clicked that she's done with her part, I can do that same one and then enter the data and be done.

And they've also cut the days they're giving us to do the project so that we have a week to do each set of 40 pieces.  Last year, it took well over a month start to finish, so I was rushed because they hadn't told us about the second half when we signed up.  And, of course, some people will put off the work until near the deadline anyway.

So, today marks a week since we started, and I've completed my first set of 40 and half of the next set, and I'm going to work on the next quarter of the next set (which my partner has already finished) later today.  The first set is due today, so if I get with things, I should be done totally by tomorrow morning.

Since I'm an English professor who teaches comp (about half my load), you can probably guess that I'm reading a lot of essay type stuff to do these assessments.  It's a LOT faster than grading, in part because you don't have to give any feedback or explain stuff to the writer, and in part because you pretty much have no emotional investment in the writing.

But, holy cow, there are certain topics that students seem to love and I just don't get it, and a couple of these topics they just can't seem to wrap their heads around in useful ways.  (If you're someone who teaches writing to first year students, you may want to turn away at this point.  Or maybe you'll want to commiserate.)

Social Media.  Students always want to write about how bad social media is.  But if you ask them, they love using social media.  And they can't seem to get that they need to think about why they love it, because they're getting something from it that's satisfying or whatever, and that means that it's meeting some perceived need, so it's not all bad.  (I think of it like, say, cookie dough.  I know cookie dough is bad for my health, just in sugar alone.  But I also know I like it, and that if I've had a horrible day, eating cookie dough makes it feel less horrible.  So if I were writing about cookie dough, I'd want to write about the benefits of eating cookie dough for my morale.  Cookie dough eating would make more interesting writing projects.  Just saying.)

Bodybuilding.  The students who choose to write about this seem to be already into body building, so they always use their favorite body building websites.  And then they moralize about how bad steroids or other naughty stuff is.

Food.  These seem to be driven by one or two faculty who focus on the evils of eating animals, so the projects are predictably about the evils of meat production, without recognizing the complications of meat production, food pricing, and so on. 

Princess-type Topics.  Whether it's Disney or kiddie pageants, these tend to be really shallow and blah.  One I read sounded like it was an excuse to rewatch every Disney movie the student had loved as a kid.

Favorite Fandom.  Enough said.

Disease of the Week.  These are pretty variable, to be honest.  They tend to use WebMD type sources, and most really aren't scientifically informed enough to read actual science papers, so they never get very deep.  I think they could do okay with flu, but they don't pick flu.

Surprisingly, I've read a couple topics where students seem able to dig in and do well.  I've seen a couple projects on issues about paying college athletes that were well done.

So far, none of the projects are on abortion or legalizing marijuana, and the one on gun control was actually pretty okay.  I haven't had any on tattoos or piercings this time around, thank dog.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Contingent Faculty in Underwater Basketweaving

I'm trying to think through how the Berube and Ruth's proposal might work here in flyover country, where most of our contingent faculty are good teachers with non-terminal degrees.  (That is, they have MAs in, say, history of underwater basketweaving, rather than PhDs in that, or MFAs in underwater basketweaving.)

How would they fit?

Currently, tenure track underwater basketweaving faculty teach 4/4, with about half of each person's load being either largish underwater basketweaving appreciation type courses or introduction to underwater basketweaving courses.  Then they teach a first/second year course in their area of underwater basketweaving (often for majors and GE), and a third/fourth year course mostly for majors.  (The department does a ton of GE service, as you'd guess.)

But contingent folks teach 5/5, with a steady diet of introduction to underwater basketweaving, and only the occasional intro of first/second year course, depending on their "specialization" and the curricular needs. 

Would the teaching intensive folks retain the 5/5 load and add service and advising requirements?

Would they retain the focus on intro courses?

Let's put it another way: typically, English departments are responsible for composition courses.  Is Berube willing to teach two comps a semester once a year so that the new teaching intensive tenure track folks in his department get to teach in their field some, since someone will have to teach those composition courses?  (I'm not trying to be pissy about the comp thing, but I'd be looking at two comps a semester probably once every year or two if we switched things up to be more equitable, and I think I'd be in serious mental health jeopardy if I did that.  About half my teaching load is comp, and I work really hard to teach it well, but it's very hard to teach, and teaching it means that I have to spread my intellectual energy from upper level early modern to lower level intro lits, to something very different.)