Monday, June 30, 2008

Retirement Books

One of my colleagues retired this spring, and is emptying out his office. When O started out, he studied Old English, medieval lit, and linguistics, but in recent years, he's moved into a newer field of study, one he would probably have chosen at the first if he'd had the opportunity. So he hasn't used the old Chaucer texts for a while, and invited me to come pick out whatever books I thought I might want. He also gave me a bunch of various Chaucer editions to share with students in my class this fall.

It was nice. O has been one of those colleagues who I could turn to for help with medieval Latin (because I have no Latin beyond a few tag phrases) or some question of this or that, and he'd cheerfully help me. But I don't know O very well because he's been mostly involved in this other field, and their offices aren't very near mine.

But every year, I would see him at a big get together, and it's always a pleasure. (And there's dancing and food and music!)

I like when colleagues give old books to newer folks. It's like the knowledge, the love of learning, and the caring about old stuff continues. (Maybe that only works well for those of us who study older periods?) So even if I won't use some of these books much, there's a kind of continuity in having them in the office, or in passing them along to students.

It seems I'm now the medievalist, since my other early period colleague has decided that she doesn't want to teach Chaucer at all, ever, or anything else medieval. (I can't imagine not wanting to teach Chaucer or Shakespeare, really.) It makes me sad to be the only person around who does, though, since I feel inadequate and want to ask other folks questions all the time, or toss around ideas about how to teach this or that. It's lonely in the earlier periods, way more lonely than at bigger or R1 type schools.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Reading Spaces

Last year, the college of my kind of studies had a retreat at a local men's club. Yeah, supposedly they have women members, but the name is still [Something]men's Club.

Something about having the college meeting at a men's club rankled. Partly it was the whole "let's discuss diversity issues" that didn't even acknowledge we were at a men's club? There aren't many alternatives, none that are as cheap, anyway, in the area. The thing is, men had the resources to organize clubs with a fair bit of land, big buildings and meeting areas, and women met in the church basement or something. And so we have men's clubs with big meeting areas, and women's clubs, I guess not so much. I've never seen a building labeled "women's club" that I recall. (Okay, the Three Arts Club?)

This being a midwestern men's club, it had loads of dead animals on the walls, mostly trophy deer heads with antlers. But there was also a deer rear. And that struck me as odd. So, you know, I looked. No testicles so far as I could see.

Of course, some male animals don't have really obvious testicles, especially not in breeding season. Maybe deer are like that? I have to admit, I've never tried to take a close look at that end of a deer.

I sort of understand the point of displaying a buck/antler trophy--the desire to say, "hey, I killed this thing, aren't I hot!" But what of a (female?) derriere?

Of course, I thought of Sir Thomas Wyatt's "Whoso List to Hunt":

WHOSO list to hunt ? I know where is an hind !
But as for me, alas ! I may no more,
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore;
I am of them that furthest come behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer ; but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow ; I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt
As well as I, may spend his time in vain!
And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck round about;
"Noli me tangere ; for C├Žsar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame."

Hunting women is like hunting deer: both are property of a sort (at least they both were in early modern England), both involve violence, etc. I'm a lit person, and these are the sorts of connections I make. Displaying the deer rear then works as a sort of sexual conquest metaphor. It's like a sporting way of displaying a nude female on a calendar, posed suggestively holding a chainsaw. It's not like most humans are "above" looking at an animal and thinking about sexuality (most of us just don't act on those thoughts).

Other women at the retreat noticed the deer rear, too, but none that I spoke with are involved in hunting culture, and none of us really knew what to make of the thing. And so, we went on with our petty little lives.

Until yesterday, when I went to the college office to fill out some paperwork, and learned that once again, our retreat would be at the same men's club. A male deanling was there, and I mentioned that the men's club was a bit weird as a meeting space, what with all the dead animals on the walls, and what was with the deer's rear end? He said he hadn't even noticed, and gave me one of those looks that says, "Don't be all feminist and piss on our cornflakes over something I can't control?"

And there are, of course, bigger fish to fry. But a deer's butt might be blogworthy, right?

So in preparation for writing this little bit, I thought I'd try to figure out just how big a deer's testicles are (no clue, still, though googling showed me all sorts of recipes), and if there's a hunting culture point to displaying a trophy of a deer's rear end. And this is what I found: (Source on Amazon.com)

Yep, it's a gag thing (though a real deer). Here's what the ad blurb has to say:
Looking for a little tail? FINALLY, there's a butt worth kissing! No fear, the Deer Rear is here! Now, I know I've offered plenty of unusual gifty items before, but this one is surely to be dear (er, deer) to us hunter types. It symbolizes the trophy wallhanger that got away. You know... the one your macho hunting buddy almost bagged. Be creative. Have your mounted deer trophy on one side of the wall, and line up this baby on the other side to look like a full deer. Of course, the Deer Rear makes an unforgettable conversation piece for your den, deer shack, trophy gallery or the office. Right now, my volume buy shaves big bucks bucks off! More: Real whitetail Rear is mounted by a professional taxidermist for long life. Approx. 12 x 12 x 15" h. (size will vary slightly). Weighs 2 1/2 lbs. Has wall mounting hardware. Nab yours ONLINE! Deer Rear (Source on Amazon.com)

And here's a customer review:
This is absolutely perfect for those lonely nights when your wife is gone. Order one if your wife takes long trips and there are no good places to get hookers in your area. (Source on Amazon.com)

Both comments start with the sexual connection; I suppose it's good to know that I'm not the only one with a dirty mind.

It doesn't make me a whole lot happier about having a day long meeting staring at a fake deer ass in a men's club. But I'm willing to bet the good old boys at the club really think it's funny in that good old boy way. And good old boys rule the roost here and everywhere.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Heart, Lungs, Legs

Flipping through the internet news the other day, I saw that a famous singer in her mid-20s, Amy Winehouse, has emphysema. Emphysema is, to paraphrase my Nana, something you wouldn't wish on a dead dog you didn't like. It's sad to think of.

I rode out County C this morning. County C has a hill that's about a mile long (yes, I've checked it on my bike computer), not very steep, but a good workout for me. In Tour de France category terms, it's somewhere along the lines of "bunny slope," but I'm not riding the TdF, and it's a good hill for me. Getting back into riding since coming home, I haven't ridden many hills yet, and I wasn't sure I could make it. But I inched my way up; it's a good thing the hill is right at the beginning of where County C leaves town.

County C, I figure, makes sure that my heart, lungs, and legs are all doing their job. They were, such as it is. I figure I lost at least a mile/hour of speed when I started back this June compared to last summer, but I'm picking it up slowly.

I wonder at the luck that's kept me out of having some problems. Let's face it, no one with half a brain offers a Shakespeare person crack coke to smoke thinking they're going to make millions on future sales; it's not like I could afford the habit, you know? Nor does anyone want to "get close" to my fame and fortune. So it's not necessarily good judgment or wisdom that's kept me from that particular hell. Trust me; I haven't always been a paragon of good clean living. But I've been lucky with the things I've done or not in a lot of ways.

When I was in the Peace Corps, my roommate (who was interested in local shamanism) somehow acquired some ayahuasca, a plant used by local folks in spiritual contexts to run with the jaguars. I remember us looking at it, and deciding not to try it because we didn't know what the heck we were doing. So we didn't. We put the root in a cupboard, and there it sat until I left. (Nowadays, we could look up a recipe on the internet! Too late!)

I did know a volunteer who ran with the jaguars, though, and had a good experience; he had a shaman guide, his father-in-law to be.

But I didn't. I was too afraid to try something I didn't "know" at least somewhat culturally. (Yeah, so if I were the last human alive on earth, I probably wouldn't find the magic herb to solve all problems.)

Fear can be a good thing, I guess. On the other hand, I hit 35+ mph going down that hill today, and it didn't kick in, so I better not count on it too much. (For comparison sake, the TdF guys hit 70+ going down hills, I've read. 35 is probably what they do on uphills.)

I went 25 miles today, and I'm nice and tired.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Community

Hilaire over at Clashing Hats blogged recently about having a migraine, and most especially, being still new in her area and feeling that she really didn't have anyone to call. I think that feeling is pretty common for academics, especially those of us who've moved pretty far from family and college pals. I know I've felt it before.

The other day, I biked from the trailhead, and then did errands, and along the way, I stopped at a retired friend's house, just on the chance that she would be in. She was, visiting with another neighbor about a craft project, so I chatted for a while and we got caught up. I had several reasons for wanting to visit, including catching up, but also asking her for a garden consult.

So thinking about Hilaire and the who to call thing: last year this friend had surgery, and in the days following, I hung out reading while she napped when her partner couldn't be around, so that she'd have someone there if she needed help getting up or if something bad happened. Mostly she slept, which was fine, and of course nothing bad happened, but you know how it is, you just feel better knowing someone's around just in case, and if that's me reading for a couple hours, that's fine? That's how I felt, anyway.

I was thinking about that and Hilaire, and realized that if something happened to me here, now, I actually do have a community to call on. And I'm glad to have realized that. Even if what I need is only a gardening consult, I have friends to call on. It's a really comfortable thing to realize, after feeling sort of alienated in this community.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Academy Economics

I was listening to a lecture on industrialization the other day, learning how much more and stronger steel could be churned out with a new process in the mid 1800s, and learning how much more textile could be woven, how many more cigarettes, and so on.

I sometimes hear that a big thing that's helped the US economy in the past was increasing productivity. It's hard to increase productivity in academics, though. On the most basic level, people don't seem to learn the really important stuff any faster than 200 years ago.

I was thinking about it, and yes, using computer search engines is faster than the old bibliographic indices, but there are also ever more papers to read. Being able to read a text on EEBO is lots handier than having to travel to the British Library or something (though probably less fun, too), but reading the text takes probably longer because of the computer screen and stuff. Email's a wash: some things are faster, but there's more stuff to get through.

And then I thought, of course, the word processor! Think how much faster it is to edit essays, dissertations, and book manuscripts.

And then I remembered all those book acknowledgement sections, thanking the wife for typing up the book. So basically, better word processing has made us more efficient at doing labor that used to be done by someone getting no pay and no credit. I mean, women are getting phuds rather than typing the Putting Hubby Through dissertation, getting tenure rather than typing someone else's manuscript. But since the powers that be never acknowledged (or paid for) the typing skills and time, to them, it looks like we've gotten less efficient now, doesn't it?

Argh.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Found on Fuji

On the last trip before I left Japan, we visited Mt. Fuji, which was, as you'd expect, cool. As you might not expect, given the season, we actually SAW the mountain pretty well. This well, in fact.

There was still snow on the ground at the place where our bus stopped, a sort of half-way point from which many walkers start. But I don't think the mountain was open yet, and there was still a little snow around even where we were.

I also saw this:
You're probably thinking that it's a plant. And you're right. More specifically, it's a Larch (related to the Larch or Tamarack we have up in the upper midwest). Imagine my delight to see Larch trees, lots of them, up there on Mt. Fuji!

I've been taught to think of Larch/Tamarack (I think of them as Tamaracks because that's the name I learned first) as bog trees, but I've since been told that even the American Tamarack does okay in different areas, it just can't outcompete pines and other stuff in most areas in the American range. So it wins in bogs. But on Fuji, the Larches were everywhere, and in late May, just starting to green up.

When I first moved to the Northwoods, I bought a house with a Tamarack in the back. It was August when I moved in, and I liked the soft needles, which were a little different from the pines and spruces around. But then in September/October, my tree turned yellow, and I freaked out and thought I'd somehow managed to kill it off! I was worrying out loud about it in the office one day when one of my colleagues asked if it wasn't a Tamarack, and then told me about Tamaracks turning yellow and losing their needles. So that was my introduction to Tamaracks. The best part of Tamaracks is greening up in spring; they get these little bud things, and then gradually the needles start poking out. They only get an inch or two long, but they're a wonderful green, and I love watching them get started.

They're probably my second favorite tree (and my favorite doesn't grow around here), so imagine my joy when I saw all of those Larches up on Mt. Fuji!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Coolest Thing!

Back a while, I talked about listening to lectures on podcasts. One of the lecturers talked about an assignment, and the assignment sounded really interesting, like it would work GREAT with a few modifications for teaching some research skills.

So I emailed the instructor, and she sent me a copy of the assignment. How cool is that? Totally out of the blue, I email someone, and she shares an assignment! And it's even smarter written up than it sounded on the lecture. I'll have to do some planning to make it really work for my class, but then, I have a feeling this is going to be a great assignment! I'm excited!

And it turns out we have a school in common. I just had to grin!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sap

That's me!

I went to the office the other day to take care of a few office things, and could overhear a colleague doing incoming student advising down the hall. It brought back a flood of memories of my own incoming advising. I remember meeting with an advisor, a professor I eventually took for numerous classes, and one of the profs I really appreciated, even then. We talked about what I had planned to take: chemistry, calculus, a foreign language, and something else? (What was the something else? I can't remember. A Geology class, maybe?)

I remember thinking I wasn't signing up for enough, yet having the sense that Professor R thought I was signing up pretty much for what I could do. And he was right. But also, I got the sense that he was sort of bored; I wonder how many of the same old, same old incoming student schedules he saw with chemistry, calculus, and something or other else? Probably just about every one, with maybe a pre-calculus for variation. Later, taking his classes, I never got sense that he was bored in the least, not when he lectured, not when I asked questions in office hours, and certainly never on our field trips.

I walked over to the English department to get some paperwork done so that I wouldn't have to take the composition class. I never saw the English department there again. Seriously. And that was just the first of many mistakes I made in college. Yes, I had passed whatever preliminary test let me "get out of" taking the writing class, but I would have benefited greatly from actually taking a writing class. (And it's fairly common, if you think about it, that the people who teach college writing never took the class they teach. I guess the same thing is true of folks who teach various lower level math sorts of courses in colleges? I did sit in on a semester writing class when I was doing a certificate in teaching college composition, which is a lot more than most folks, I suppose.)

I remember being so excited, looking at the catalog, thinking of the things I could do. There was a full quarter class offered at a research area, and I dreamed of being able to do that, but never did. (I also never did SCUBA, which would have made sense there. I'd still like to, someday.) And a class on evolution and ecology, which I did end up taking, and loving, probably the single most exciting class in my undergraduate career.

I can't help thinking, when I think of our incoming students, that I hope they love college as much as I did. But I also hope they learn to study more quickly than I did!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Showing Pictures

I went to visit a friend this evening, and took a CD with some pictures to show. It took a while and a few false starts, so the CD wasn't exactly what I'm after as far as showing pictures, but I learned something about making the CD thing, and I think my friend enjoyed the pictures.

I'm trying to think of a good number of pictures to put on a CD (with labels), and then actually get printed into regular prints (because sometimes you don't have a computer, right?). So, wisdom of the internet, how many pictures would you put on a CD to represent your 5 months away?

I'm thinking of a few from Borneo (orangutans! sunset!), a few of Host University and the apartment (for some folks who would find that interesting), and then the bulk of various places I really loved visiting, people, and cherry-blossom viewing.

But what's a good number. I don't want to bore folks. But there's a LOT to choose from! So how many?

My Sibling got our Mom a digital picture frame thing a couple years ago. You put a flash drive or memory stick or one of a number of other computery things in it with pictures on it, and then when you plug it in and turn it on, the frame shows a slide show of the pictures. I loaded it up with some of the pictures from our trip together, and it was pretty cool. So maybe I should think of doing something like that? (But I'll get some prints made, anyways, since prints are fun.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Check Up

Last year, I thought about retirement issues and actually went and talked to the campus retirement person. I've waiting until I got home to do some more thinking about my retirement preparation, and it seemed to me that one scary thing is that my mortgage (a 30 year, quite conservative mortgage with a fixed rate) was slated to run well into my 70s. (I say "was" because I've made a practice of paying a bit extra on my mortgage, and so it won't quite run that long. I switched that off for my Japan semester, so that I'd have the extra cash if I needed it. Now I want to decide whether to use that extra for my 403b, the mortgage, or ? Yeah, I'm a wild woman about a little spare money.)

I was a little older going in than most academics, but I probably came out with fewer student loans than most. At best, though, with the average time to degree in English running about 8.4 years, your average English phud is 30 before s/he starts earning a basic salary. That's basic, as opposed to six figure. So then there's time to pay off the student loan(s) and save for a down payment. (Remember when Bitch PhD was talking about trying to get a house loan without a down payment, and coming up against the tough reality that even with a six figure household income, banks weren't welcoming?) I saved a full ten percent of what I thought my first house would be before I talked to a bank or thought about looking for a house (and, of course, I was looking at GI Bill houses in the midwest; seriously, the ultimate starter house in a neighborhood with streets named after the heroes of WWII and various presidents). It was GREAT to be able to look for a house that way, too.

Unlike most(?) folks, even academics, I'm single, so I don't have a double income to help with mortgages and such. (Nor do I live in the double income neighborhood near campus. My neighborhood has single moms, and families with one income producer and one person doing childcare--usually a woman, but sometimes a man--and some retired folks. And me.)

What I'm getting at is that academics are often (1) late getting started building equity and retirement and such, and (2) earning not great money, and (3) need to do some serious planning for such things.

On the other hand, I earn a pretty darned good income if you compare my income and lifestyle to the average American family. And I live in an area where housing is relatively inexpensive (though heating costs suck big time). Seriously, that's something to keep the whining in check, isn't it?

I set up a mortgage calculator on an excel spreadsheet the other day, so that I can see pretty closely (and easily make changes) what happens if I add an extra amount to the monthly mortgage payment, and what happens if I move some money from the emergency savings account to pay off the mortgage, and so on. It's really helpful to be able to see the results of an extra hunk of money every month 20 years down the line. I'd really like to be able to pay off the mortgage by the time I'm 65, so that if I want to retire then, the mortgage won't be a worry. But then there's the question of paying later with inflated dollars, except that my state's pay plan hasn't managed to actually keep up with inflation for some years now, so inflation really hurts more than otherwise.

I'm thinking about moving some money from my savings (the savings that covers emergencies when I have one), and trying to decide how much I should keep in that account, as opposed to elsewhere.

I really should go find an investment counseling person, but it's embarrassing. Of course, it will get more embarrassing, won't it?

I'm listening to a book on CD from the library lately, Min Jin Lee's Free Food for Millionaires. It's about a young woman recently graduated from Princeton, finding her way around Wall Street, and such in the early 80s. (Her parents are from Korea, which is important, but way less exotic than the whole Princeton/Wall Street, money thing.) It's weird, how much money she's talking about these folks throwing around. (I'm not really impressed with the book, though. It seems contrived, in ways that irritate me. For example, I'm about a third in, and suddenly, after following this character for three or more years, there's a golf thing, and lo and behold she's some sort of semi-great golfer after picking the sport up in college and not playing for many years, because, hey, that's handy!)

Me? In the early 80s, about the time this book was set, I was living in a rain forest community in South America on a stipend of about $80 per month, and doing well on that, too.

And that's important, because I really value my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I value what I do for a living, and how I enjoy my life. I don't want to obsess about the whole retirement thing (because the way I ride, I could fall off and break my neck this afternoon, and the whole retirement thing would be silly). I want to enjoy life now (because I finally have the income and freedom, or at least the perception of both), and also be reasonable about saving for retirement and such. It's a hard balance!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Retrospective

I've been reading Chaucer again, with my old book, and got to thinking about the regional university where I first took English classes. I was able to take at least 3 medieval lit classes there, a Canterbury Tales class, a Troilus and Criseyde class, and a Medieval Drama class. There were three medievalists teaching four classes a semester. Yes, each taught the basic medieval survey classe, but I didn't take that there. (I did sit in on a survey class as a PhD student, just for the background.)

Wow. We try to teach a Chaucer or medieval class every other year here. There's no real medievalist.

I think this is mostly a numbers thing. My RU was three times the size of NWU, and so could offer a wider array of all sorts of programs. And the lit staff didn't teach comp (there was a separate comp staff and program), so they taught more lit than we do here. (And 4/4 is hell, of course!)

What an opportunity they gave me there. Really. If I die and end up leaving money, I'm leaving a chunk to that school because it really does provide amazing opportunities despite tremendous budget difficulties.

The faculty at RU was encouraging, and good teachers. Some of them had written some fine books, too. When I look back, I have great affection for RU and gratitude for the opportunities they gave me to study and learn, and for the encouragement.

Thanks, RU.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Home!

The best thing about being home is catching up with friends. I do okay travelling and all, but it's a real pleasure to visit with a friend, enjoying her company, relaxing, chatting. I should keep that in mind more often!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Layers

I started rereading The Canterbury Tales yesterday. I'm teaching Chaucer again for the first time in four+ years, so I have some serious rereading to do. I'm also rereading some criticism, and reading some for the first time.

I know, all of you who don't get to call it "work" when you read great literature are wondering how you can get in on this plush gig!

So, I'm reading along, through the worst sentence in the whole work (okay, there MAY be something worse in Sir Thopas, but you get my drift), which happens to be the first sentence. Let's just say, it's doing all this work, and wound up around itself in ways that aren't exactly inviting. Maybe some people know about Zephirus and his "sweete breeth," but I have to look it up. And the running of the Ram? At least I have a vague memory of the atrology stuff at this point, and don't look it up. (And how pathetic is it that scholars still study bits of astrology in order to read stuff? At least I'm not a Simon Forman fan!) The first sentence, by the way, is 18 lines long, so that by the time you get to "Thanne longen folk to goon on pigrimages," you're ready for a breath and a new start. Happily, that's when the sentence gets fun. (Well, except that the bit about nature pricking the birds in their "corages" is fun.)

It reminds me of the opening sentence of Paradise Lost. Get students through that (only 16 lines, because Milton was a whuss!), and you can get them through the whole 12 books!

So, as I said, I've started in, and I notice a handwritten note. It's miniscule, so I must have written it before I started wearing reading glasses. Oh the day! I've translated "holt and heeth" to "grove and field" in the margin, copying the gloss from below. (It's something you'd only do for the first lines, or your margins would be covered in re-glossings.)

And then I get to this, at line 16: "3 syl"
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende

And at line 22: "3 syl"
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage

And at line 27: "4 syl"
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.

Yes, at some point in my past, I decided to note the number of syllables you'd use for the word "Canterbury" in order to make the verse come out "properly" decasyllabic. (Yeah, it LOOKS iambic pentameter to me, too, but real medievalist verse types will tell you that it's not; it's something something decasyllabic verse. Yet more evidence that I belong to the early modern period: I no longer remember what it's supposed to be called, but I'm pedantically anxious enough to worry about it.) Now, if you're like me, you did the finger count thing with the syllables, touching fingers in order as you say the lines. My students see me do this all the time in class, and seem to think it's funny that I can't count without using my fingers.

So, there's all sorts of assumptions there about the whole ten syllable thing, but I'm trying to remember if I should make the schwa sound at the end of the lines or drop it. (If I say it, it's basically feminine rhymes. But I seem to remember that Chaucer was already dropping lots of word ending schwa sounds.) And now I'm feeling truly inadequate.

My Chaucer is a Riverside Chaucer, printed back in 1987, and purchased not long after when I took my second Chaucer class, a class on Troilus and Criseyde. So we've been through nearly 20 years together, off and on.

The first layers of notes (in Troilus) are in thin black indelible ink pen, the kind I used after learning to take field notes in it as an undergrad. The alternative was pencil, which I switched to when I started grading and indelible was a disadvantage, and erasable vital. (Because how often have you written something on a student's paper that just wasn't worded right, and had to reword?)

There's an ink note referencing line 76, wondering why the knight's tunic is "besmotered" (a word I absolutely adore and would love to use in day to day conversation, as in "my goodness, [dog name,] you're all besmotered!")

Then there's a later pencil note about Saint Eligius being famous for refusing to take an oath (referencing line 20, where the Prioresse, we're told, swears her greatest oaths "but by Seinte Loy"). Where did I get that bit of information?

Later pencil notes actually cite some sources of information (Muscatine, for example); I think those come from once I started teaching Chaucer and needed to be able to explain where I was getting ideas.

My most recent layer of notes are in larger, more reading glasses friendly sizes, from the last time I taught Chaucer, probably.

You'll be glad to know that once again, the pilgrims decided to have a story contest on the way to Canterbury! Today, I begin the "Knight's Tale"! You may laugh, but I'm smiling as I type this and plan my reading for the day!

And inevitably, I'll pencil in a few more notes, in even bigger writing. Another class on Chaucer, another layer of notes. What could be better?

I'm also getting a book from the library. Chaser highly recommended David Treuer's The Hiawatha, so I couldn't resist asking my public library to borrow it from another public library in their consortium thing for me!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

From the Garage

Old Bike: Hey, you're back. Where were you this winter. I was cold and lonely!

New Bike: Good to be back! I was stuck on my seat, upside down, in the house, all alone! Then today, all of a sudden, she fills my tires, lubes my chain, and off we went.

Old Bike: How was it?

New Bike: Even slower than before, but she kept singing to me. And we got going decently on a downhill, and she started laughing. And then this guy passed us like we were going nowhere. I need a stronger motor!

Old Bike: Jeez, I wanna go for a ride!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Searching Stupidity

I've been frustrated all day that I just can't find John Heywood's Fair Maid of the West plays ANYWHERE. doh.

Happily, I've had better luck finding Thomas Heywood's Fair Maid of the West plays (even when the early modern printing uses two Vs!) in a few minutes this evening.

Do you think I can pretend that I'm still jet lagged or something?

I'm not good at jet lag, I'll admit. It wasn't at all bad going to Japan/Malaysia, but I think that's because I slept a lot on the plane over and then went to a hotel room and slept some more. Heading back wasn't as easy.

Meanwhile, I've been getting caught up: got the car oil changed, paid a late bill (oops!), signed up for internet access and yes, cable tv, lubed the bike chain and went for a short ride (my sit bones are out of shape!), mowed, bought and planted summer potted flowers, started reading a so so book on Renaissance humanists writings on the Ottoman Empire. (It's so so because it's focused earlier than I'm aiming, and I could use more summary and less detail. But some moments of detail are pretty interesting.)

So far, things are going really well, shockingly well even, with one stupid exception. Grrrr. There are two ways to deal with this, and I have to decide which works better for me. Grrrr.

Meanwhile, I've also been eating: grilled cheese from my favorite cheese place (foodgasm! I burned the top of my mouth, but it was so worth it!), a chocolate malt from my favorite chocolate malt maker (who is open again after being closed most of last summer! Life is worth living again!), and a steak with bleu cheese sprinkled on top, all melty. And oatmeal with raisins for breakfast.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Spectacularly Bad Movie

On the flight home, I saw a couple movies (because I couldn't sleep), one of them so bad it was almost good. Remember that Frank Zappa song about monster movies where you can see someone pushing the monster across the set with a piece of plywood? Yeah, that bad.

In this movie, a white cave man with bad dreadlocks sort kills a mammoth, up on some frozen north. Okay, I can be down with that. He set a spear and the mammoth basically ran into it, and got deaded. Okay, so getting a little less convinced, but better than the original plan which was to net the mammoth somehow.

That night, the "camp" gets raided by a bunch of men on horseback, who take many of the people, including the one twoo love of our hero. So he follows the horseback crowd with a couple of his best pals. (The sound was sort of bad, so I never did catch names if there were any. Fortunately, the sound for Horton Hears a Who was significantly better.)

He follows the horseback guys for several days, amazingly without visibly carrying any food or really stopping to forage. Neat that. And they go from the mountainous, snowy country to a hilly near desert, where, lo and behold, he runs into a sabre-tooth tiger looking giant cat. And helps it escape a trap. So it takes a good sniff at him and goes away, sort of like that old story about the lion and the mouse and the thorn in the lion's paw?

Then our hero and his intrepid pals run into a group of black men carrying spears, and threatening them. Fortunately, the sabre-tooth tiger jumps into the scene, and almost everyone backs away in terror, except our hero, who gets nothing worse than a faceful of sabre-tooth breath (think about that a moment; you know how bad your cat's breath is? Imagine a really huge one that eats something other than dried Friskies.). The sabre-tooth leaves without taking a single bite, and that convinces the tribe of black men to decide to go with our hero and his intrepid pals to follow the horseback guys who have, coincidentally, also stolen people from the black group. Fortunately, the black folks know where they're headed.

Where they're headed is, apparently, Giza, as in the Great Pyramids at Giza, because they're going to sell the people they've captured into slavery to help build the pyramids and sphinx. And so we get to see the pyramids and sphinx being built, complete with the help of mastodons (which must be just a little warm in the heavy fur coats in the warmth of Egypt, but hey, who am I to say?)

(So, yeah, we went from the snowy mountains of a place with white folks--Europe?--to a semi-desert place with black folks--central Africa--to Egypt, all without crossing a big body of water, and all in a few days walk. They must walk faster than I do! AND, it was economically feasible to transport slaves across these distances, rather than really completely enslaving more local populations.)

Our hero, we learn, has been missing his father for a long time because his father left the tribe. That's important later, so don't forget.

The hero, his intrepid pals, and the black spearmen guys then decide on a plan to let the mastodons loose, spook them, and watch the fun as they run over the bad guys, all in an effort to free the slaves. They're successful, it seems, but the Egyptian slavemaster guy knows our hero is after his twoo love, and holds her hostage. But our hero won't give in, and (I forget quite how), somehow grabs her, kills the bad guy, but not before his twoo love gets shot with an arrow and killed. He kills the "god/king?" with incredibly, scarily long fingernails and all the slaves go free. (So somehow, now we know why the sphinx looks unfinished/broken! It wasn't Napolean's army doing target practice, it was prehistoric cave guy looking for his twoo love and freeing the slaves! And the pyramids never got finished either! FREEDOM!!)

The movie ends with the leader of the black spearmen guys realizes that he knew the hero's father, and has a present for our hero from dear old dad. The present is a handful of corn. Not "corn" in the old sense of any grain, but corn as in the stuff grown in mass quantities in the midwest. As in stuff native only to the "new world" and not known in the "old world" (or Egypt, even) before the 15th century.

Can I just say, the corn was the final fun, and then I wished I had slept instead of watching it.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I came home to ...

This! (Hawthorne tree blooming!)

Dogwood in bloom.

Bleeding Heart, too!

Yellow German Bearded Irises (well, something like that)

And a single purple Bearded Iris! There are bunches almost ready to bloom, too. And the Siberian Iris is full of almost flowers!

It looks like spring in my yard, and it's nice to be home! I've lived in my house about 4 years now, and put a fair bit of energy into planting trees, bushes, and flowers. And this year, they're really looking like they've settled in much more.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Random Notes from the Tourist Bus

We were on a tour with 30+ folks from the US. Most were friendly enough and easy to get along with.

However, I'm surprised how many people complained (and how often) about folks here not speaking English. I've been overall surprised at how well many people speak English, and how willing they are to help me despite my VERY minimal Japanese.

I imagine a Japanese tourist in many areas of the US would be hard pressed to find even one person who could help them in Japanese. Nor would they find much signage available in Japanese.

On the tour bus, much complaining was heard when we were planning to walk more than 15 minutes to get from the parking lot to some sight-seeing spot. (Some of these folks were well-along in years, but they weren't necessarily the ones complaining.) But folks were quite happy to decide to sit on the bus and wait, so that worked out well, it seemed.

I get really irritated by the "little girl" references to adult women (usually a salesclerk), and big generalizations about the whole of the Japanese population.

I was impressed by our tour guides, who did a good job giving some background information for each of the sights we went to see. But yeah, we spent a lot of time on the bus getting from one place to another. Riding a bus that way gets you to and from places, so you get to see a lot more in a lot less time. But it seems like an odd way to experience a foreign country, doesn't it?

That Book Meme

You've probably seen this all over the place. If not, here goes.

The top 100 or so books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users.
Bold the books you have read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish. I'm marking the ones I've listened to on CD or tape with an asterisk.

It seems weirdly weighted, doesn't it? Many of Austen's novels are there. I adore Austen, but there's a lot of Austen on the list. And she's one of VERY few women.

My depressive teen 19th century Russian novel reading stage pays off well for this sort of list, too. I think I was supposed to read several of those Dickens' novels in high school. My eyes may have passed over some of them, but other than Oliver Twist, I don't think I actually read them. I do distinctly remember failing a quiz about the time a clock was stopped in some house, though. I also failed the Julius Caesar quiz in high school. (If they'd asked me to read 19th century Russian novels, I would have done so much better!)

It's a very white list. VERY. And very novel heavy! And 20th century heavy. (I haven't even heard of some of these, but then, I'm 400 years behind in my reading!)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
Catch-22
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Ulysses
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
*Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
Emma
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations (My eyes may have passed over it, for school, but...)
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
*Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlesex
Quicksilver
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
Middlemarch
Frankenstein
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
1984
Angels & Demons
Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Dune
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
Cryptonomicon
Neverwhere
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Dubliners
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Beloved
Slaughterhouse-five
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion is this
There is Confusion
Lolita
Persuasion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Back and Off Again

This is the Daibutsu, Great Buddha, of Todaiji Temple, in Nara. The statue is 45 feet tall, and lovely beyond compare. It lives in the largest wooden building in the world.

We made it back safely, and with reasonable peace between us. We actually treated each other really well for the most part, and had a good time, mostly. And for the parts that weren't great, I'm working on not caring about certain things, and that sort of helps.

But can I say: I'm a healthy, middle-aged woman. Sharing a hotel room with my Mom for 8 nights was too long. 'nuf said. Heck, probably too much said.

I'll be in transit for a couple days, and then home for real. It will feel good and bad. I'm actually looking forward to being able to read packages in grocery stores a lot. I don't think I've ever adequately appreciated that!