Tuesday, June 30, 2009

8 Miles

That's how far I needed to bike today to finish 500 miles for the month. So, I did (a bit more, even).

It's the furthest I've ever biked in a month, jump-started by my Yellowstone trip, of course.

I went swimming for a bit yesterday, after all. Janice was right about goggles; fortunately, my friend had an extra pair. It's pretty cool being able to see under water, but I couldn't get used to opening my eyes, after so many years of having them closed. I also couldn't get a good rhythm for breathing doing the crawl, but I'm guessing I'd get that back with some practice. Mostly I did the sidestroke and froggy-backstroke (Bardiac, queen of not-quite-real swimming strokes), and a bit of breaststroke.

And it was pretty nice. Semi-fun, but felt good even though I was tired.

And everyone was right about the no-one looking thing. The few people there were either chatting (the very pleasant lifeguards) or swimming themselves. It was a different world from the rec pool where I went to college, which we called "the meatmarket" with good reason.

I'm thinking swimming a couple times a week, maybe, to get a flow again, and then maybe more in winter when I can't bike? It would help keep me active when it's not good biking or skiing weather.

I'm off to have lunch with a couple of friends now. Mmmmm. This lunch place is really, really good.

Monday, June 29, 2009

To Swim or Not to Swim

One of my friends has been swimming lots lately, and has been urging me to come have some fun.

I found my swimsuit today, and tried it on. It's okay fitwise, and I didn't notice any problematic holes.

I used to love to swim. I probably spent half my summer days in the pool from the time I was three to fifteen or more. I was never particularly fast or anything, but we played in the pool a lot. I used to spend so much time in the sun that my swimsuit pattern would tan through the light parts; one year I had an anchor on my front when I took the suit off. (Alas, it was the sixties; skin cancer is probably going to hit my generation hard.)

My big specialty was that I could swim for a LONG time under water without taking a breath. I gave a lifeguard a good scare when I was about six, and there was a competition (run by that same lifeguard) at the local pool. To qualify, we had to swim the length of the big pool under water. No problem. Then the main contest was we had to swim that, turn against the side, and swim back as far as we could; the one who could swim furthest won. I was about three-quarters of the way back, looking to the side to see if I'd passed where the other last person stopped, when I was suddenly jerked up from the other side by the panicked lifeguard who was convinced that I was about to drown. I wasn't. But I guess they never did THAT contest again! (I won a candy bar!)

And I swam in the river sometimes when I was in the Peace Corps (no Piranha where I was!).

And then having not swum in a pool for ages, I swam in a pool, and realized that my years of painfully, itchily dry skin instantly returned when I swam in a chlorinated pool again after having been not so bad for a number of years.

I'm wondering if maybe if I shower right after I swim, the chlorine won't be too bad?

The other thing: I started wearing contacts when I was 20, and pretty much always wear them. That means I either need to take them out to swim or not swim under water (at least not with my eyes open). If I take them out, then seeing is a problem.

And finally: I'm pretty self-conscious about my body. Yeah, patriarchy sucks and I've internalized and blah blah.

Dear Local Weather

It's in the mid-60s today, windy and supposed to rain.

Where I'm from, we have a word for weather like this: "winter."

Small Town Summer

One of the music folks here organizes a concert series during the summer, and I've been trying to take advantage of my free time this summer to go. Yeah, I often ponder the relative lack of cultural activities here, but the university does a pretty good job filling the void in some ways. And the community does stuff, too. The void is probably best filled in terms of music.

This concert series is mostly soloists or small groups. One week there was a woodwind trio, another a classical guitarist, and this weekend a string group with flute or oboe (changed that person out).

One of the things I'm really enjoying about the small groups is that I can hear instruments that are in bigger groups but I don't really hear them. Yesterday, the viola was the instrument I heard more than usual, and it was lovely, full, warm, and balanced with the others. There was a piece where the melody got passed, first the flute, then the violin, then the cello, then the viola, and I loved getting to hear each of the instruments fill the moment.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Long Weekend

I woke up this morning and couldn't believe it was only Sunday. Usually weekends fly by, but not this one.

It made me think about the longest weekend I've known.

To give a little context, I was 23, in the Peace Corps, and living in a small city at the end of a dirt road that was pretty much always under construction. (It's paved now!) The road ran along the side of a big ravine, and took about 3 hours to get up to the "big town" on the bus, which was where the bus turned onto paved roads and headed either north for the Capital, or south for the south. There was another major road (also dirt) that ran north to another small city, from whence one could also get to the capital.

Because the ravine was deep, the road narrow, and the construction messy, the road was pretty much closed weekdays. You could, if you really wanted, get on a bus that would take you to the construction area, walk across (however long and muddy that was), and then meet up with a bus doing the opposite, get on, and go on up. But mostly people didn't. Mostly we waited for the weekend (see below), when the road would be opened, more or less (though sometimes that also meant a hike through the construction zone, if there were problems). Or you could take the other route, which added an hour or so, I think.

The provincial folks had decided that the best thing to do was to run our whole province on a different schedule from the rest of the country. Basically, we worked Tuesday through Saturday, and had a reduced schedule on Saturday so we finished at 2pm (with no lunch break). Saturday mid-morning, Sunday, and Monday the road would be open, and you could go up and transact business in the capital or whatever on Monday, and get back to work on Tuesday. It worked out pretty well, mostly. (Though the PC office never figured it out, apparently, and so never warned PCVs who were moving in or even doing site visits.)

The mail came in by motorcycle on Saturday, pretty much as soon as the road was open, but because it was motorcycle, they didn't bring packages. And then they'd take whatever mail had accumulated in our city mail office out.

So, you either got mail once a week or didn't. It sucked when you didn't. But there was no point in checking the post box during the midweek, so no one did.

Now to my long weekend. Every year, PC Volunteers were required to have a physical up in the capital. (If you said "no" you went home, simple as that. I didn't say "no.") A couple of weeks later, on Saturday when I went to check my mail, there was a telegram waiting for me. (Yes, telegram.) The telegram said, "Pap positive; call the nurses' office." But, of course, the PC nurses' office worked business hours, M-F, 9 to 4:30 or whatever.

So I spent the weekend fretting. I think I drove the other two volunteers in town nuts that weekend, because I was terrified. I didn't know if I should pack all my stuff, in case I was going to be med-evaced to the US for surgery or chemo or whatever. I just knew I was really, really scared.

On Monday morning, before 9am, I went to the phone company office, stood in line, filled out a form to make a call, and sat down to wait. You could wait a long time for a line, an hour easily, but I got lucky and didn't have that long to wait. Then the phone company clerk called me to a booth, and I picked up the phone and waited for it to ring.

I got the PC office, and then got put through to the nurses' office, and waited for it to ring. Finally, it rang and one of the nurses answered.

I said who I am, and said that I'd gotten a telegram saying that my Pap smear was positive, and to call the office. Long pause. The nurse said she had to check the file. Long pause.

Finally, she came back and said I had a bacterial infection, and I needed to go to the local pharmacy and pick up some antibiotic (because mailing it to me would take weeks).

I breathed a huge sigh of relief before I told her that I thought pap smears were a cancer check thing, and I'd thought I had cancer. But she said no (sounding like I was the stupidest thing to walk on two legs), I had a bacterial infection, and hedged around the what paps test are for thing. (Yeah, I'm still unclear.) I think I may have mentioned that a bit better communication was in order next time they sent out a telegram like that, because the extra words ("for bacterial infection") surely wouldn't have caused a budget meltdown.

I suppose I should have known exactly what all the tests were about, but I didn't have the resources to look such things up (even if I'd had a computer, there was no internet, and the high school library was minimal and my language skills inadequate to reading about medical tests).

That was my very long weekend.

This weekend is actually feeling lots shorter now.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Liveblogging my Mammogram

I thought I'd liveblog my screening mammogram this morning.

I've got my appointment early, so I'm dosing up with a couple Advil. I wish someone had taught me the Advil thing when I started having orthodontic work. I may have been a little stupider than most, but since I had my first "appliance" installed when I was 7, I don't think it's shocking that I didn't know to take something ahead of time. And my parents' response was pretty much, "Stop whining! The orthodontist says it doesn't hurt." Can I just say, anyone who thinks that having your bones moved around in your face doesn't hurt needs to have some bones moved themselves.

I think women would be a lot less hesitant about? inclined against? mammograms if they involved, say, recreational drugs. If I could go in sloshed, maybe I wouldn't find the whole thing so... Or better yet, if I could get good and high, I'd probably even enjoy the experience. I could contemplate my increasing sagginess along with dog tails and the meaning of life. Maybe the mammogram center should provide special brownies instead of offering coffee? It would certainly ease my stress levels.

On the other hand, if I were drunk or high, and the technician weren't, then I'm guessing I'd be really irritating, and I hesitate to irritate someone with a vise on my breast. And if the technician were drunk, I'd be even more hesitant.

The mammogram center. Does there have to be so much effing pink? And flowers! It's "country crap" to the point that I'm going into saccharine shock. How is this supposed to make me comfortable? (Where are the special brownies?) (It would really suck to be a male and have to come here.) Doilies on the arms of the chairs. Doilies.

The waiting women all look at each other with that "does she have cancer" and "I hope I don't have cancer" look. Fear mixed with sympathy mixed with curiousity. No one talks.

I get called in by my real name, which I hate and don't use, and so don't recognize right off because I'm not quite checked in yet even though I arrived 8 minutes early because my insurance changed. And oops, yes, that is me, I guess. Only an idiot doesn't recognize her name. I should really change it to what I use and be done with what I detest.

The changing area's got room for about 12 women to change all at once, and little wood cabinet looking "lockers" that don't actually lock. The technician starts to tell me I should bring my purse with me, but then realizes that I don't have a purse. Already, I am failing the tests.

And so I take off my t-shirt and bra, and put on the stupid half gown thing, with pink pastel tiny flowers. I'm supposed to clean off any deodorant, but I knew that from before and didn't use any after my shower. The other woman in this waiting room has a purse the size of Kansas and looks as nervous as I feel. And then I wait for the technician person to come get me to go to the mammogram room.

She sticks on paste ons, one for each nipple, with a little metal ball on it. Humiliation. I can't help thinking about Gypsy, which is as much as I know about stripping, and as much as I want to know (I was in the pit orchestra in high school). At least there aren't tassles. I have this skin tag, so I get a different paste on for that, too.

The technician's giving me this look. The thing is, I'm a mammal. I have body hair. And unlike some women, I choose not to shave my body hair. So the look, yeah, because in our culture, choosing not to shave means a woman's despicable and dirty. So, yeah, the look, but no comment. I really want this person manhandling my breasts into the vise. Not.

Test your patriarchal reaction: when you read that just now, did you think, "eww"? Did you think "mammal"?

Or did you think, "shaving has nothing to do with the patriarchy. I shave because I like scraping my flesh with a really sharp blade"?

If you're female, and you shave, have you ever thought about not shaving? Because if three people do it, three, can you imagine? They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine 50 people a day, I said 50 people... and friends, they may think it's a movement.

If it weren't for my mammalness, of course, I wouldn't need a mammogram. If I were avian, I wouldn't be here this morning. Even without pot, I wish I were a kestrel and busy flying around and eating bugs this morning. I could devour my time and not languish in his slow-chapt power.

(Pathetically, I considered shaving my pits just for this, as I will consider shaving my legs and pits for my well-woman exam in a couple weeks. I can't escape the patriarchy in my own mind, even.)

At this point, I'm wishing I'd cancelled the appointment or never made it. But, as I'm told, "as we get older blah blah blah" so I'm supposed to do all this preventative stuff.

The "as we get older" thing is hitting hard this morning, because I heard yesterday that Michael Jackson died of a heart attack or something. NPR was on about it over and over this morning. Jackson was just a bit older than I (and a bazillion times more talented in so many ways). Usually I think of heart attacks and all being something that happens to people who are considerably older than I am, but now that's changing. Mortality is on my mind.

The thing is, a heart attack seems like it would be fairly fast, and that seems good, compared to all sorts of things that kill slowly with a lot of pain. I'm really not good at pain. Back to the kestrel again.

Right first, top down squish, hold still with my neck craning, and my feet twisted, and don't breath. I don't think I could breath without pain, must less move for real. Seriously, I'm pinned to the world by my right breast (pinned, but not wriggling on a wall, not sprawling, certainly, and alas, not etherised). Where are the recreational drugs? And why isn't Advil stronger?

Have you ever noticed when you're standing and supposed to not breath or not move, you become super aware of all the tiny movements your leg muscles make just keeping you balanced? Please don't make this blurry because I don't want to be mashed any more.

Meanwhile, the questions about family history and such. Oops, I almost missed one. It can't be as bad as not recognizing my name.

Now we do the left breast. Equally uncomfortable.

Then we get the slant view, right breast first. This is when the whole saggy overweight thing is more of a problem, because really, not pleasant. I get to hold one out of the way. There's something especially awkward about holding my breast in front of someone I'm not intimate with. It's a slab of meat, but culturally, it's not.

Rinse and repeat on the other side. And then wait to see if the images look clear enough. Clear enough doesn't actually mean good or bad, so of course I'm trying to read the technician's face; I guess that anyone with the training to do this can tell a really scary mammogram when she sees it, but of course she isn't allowed to tell. But that doesn't stop me from staring because I'm really scared.

Then she wants another view of my right breast, a different view. I try to think about what that means. What I think of is really bad. Or it's just my fat in the way. Or bad. I want to throw up there in the room. But she doesn't say anything commital.

I'm not sure why I should be scared, but I am. I've felt it in my gut for the past two days, growing, making food taste wrong, making the inside of my nose itch. I didn't sleep last night.

Now there's the joy of taking off the paste ons; it hurts. Why they put industrial adhesive on my nipples, I can't say, but ouch.

She takes me back to the changing room and gives me the call back handout, the flowery thing with the number to call back if I get called back. Logically, I know from the stack that everyone gets one. But after the extra view, I don't feel logical.

Then I get to change again. The mammogram center provides little deodorant thingies, which the technician offers me as if I really, really need one for my disgusting dirtiness. I used one of the thingies once (the year before last, I think), and it smelled like really nasty fabric softener. So I'm not going to use it. I'll just have to stink if I stink.

So now I wait.

The form says that the radiologist will read my mammogram this afternoon, but the technician says maybe Monday, so I should hear next week if I need more views.

I'm lucky, and haven't had any problems with mammograms before, but luck can change.

Our culture does this huge thing about how scary breast cancer is, and how we have to get mammograms every year after a certain age, and then when you worry people say not to worry because it's usually nothing. There's a disconnect there. The level of fear the whole pink ribbon thing works up doesn't go away because someone says it's usually nothing.

It's 8:30 am, and I'm thinking that I could go buy some bourbon at the store and start in. It would ease my anxiety, maybe, for a little while. And then I'd feel crappy. Instead, I call a friend and leave a message, telling her that my bike is inviting her bike out to play.

Besides, I wouldn't be able to type a fake liveblogging thing. Seriously, it seems like that could be pretty irritating to the technician, and I think I've mentioned that it seemed just a tad unwise to irritate someone who's going to put my breasts in a vise a couple times each. So, no, I didn't take my laptop in and type while she pressed my breasts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The other day, I was walking out of the food co-op, and saw a colleague I barely know from the music department. "There's a really great concert tonight!" he told me, and invited me. So, I went. And it was absolutely incredible. The musician was just amazing.

And there was another concert this evening, with the same musician playing a different instrument, and some others playing, too. All of them were pretty much on instruments that look semi-familiar, but are "early" sorts of European instruments, and not necessarily what they look like.

Tonight's concert was early music, and it was really great stuff. I don't know anything, really, about music, but this felt much bolder and more interesting than I expected. And one of the pieces was English.

You know where I'm going with this, right? I got thinking: "Hey, I could use some music in my death class!"

So during intermission, I asked one of the music faculty sitting nearby, another person I've chatted with once or twice, but don't know well, and it turns out, her main specialty (which I wasn't familiar with, since she also teaches other stuff) is the history of early music! I asked her about some music for my class, and she said she'd be happy to help me with some ideas.

I'm so jazzed (hee!). Seriously, I hadn't thought at all about music, but she'll be able to help me learn something, and that will add a totally new and interesting dimension to the class.

I love that my school gives me the chance to make connections I don't expect, and that sometimes those become really fruitful.

And I got to hear a couple really amazing concerts, too!

What Summer Should Be

It's about 8:30 am on Wednesday, and I have an important decision to make.

Play bike, or no, or wait?

My bike playing pal doesn't feel great this morning, so she's a no go. Which gives me an excuse to be totally lazy.

On the other hand, I love my bike. (And then there's the whole exercise/weight part.)

And it's not too warm out so far, but it's going to be hot today. And then it will maybe rain.

Now I could wait til this afternoon, and brave the rain, because I usually ride with a Wednesday afternoon women's group, and it's a lot of fun. But if it rains, I'll be too lazy. And if it's too hot, maybe I'll be too lazy.

Back to bed is sounding sort of good. Or I could go weed another section of garden. It really needs it.

And there are about 30 books I need to read, and soon.

See, this is what summer is supposed to be!

+++++ Bonus Material Added! +++++

I went for a ride and took my little camera along to entertain myself.

Here's a barn I really like. It's round. Well, the back one is round; the other is a more traditional squarish shape, though disproportionally tall compared to many barns. The house is off to the right, and also plenty picturesque, but it was garbage pick-up day, and that wasn't picturesque, alas.

Here's County HH. You can see the traffic's a bit heavy this time of the day for around here.

I stopped at the store after my ride and got some diet tonic water. Tonic water is one of the best things on a really hot day. It's better with gin, but pretty darned good all by itself, too. (Even though it's after 5pm somewhere, I do actually want to get some work done today.)

This one's County W. It doesn't look like much, but it's a hill when I'm on a bike. The only good thing about the hill is that when I come back, I get to go down, and as you can see, there's not much traffic, and no cross-traffic, and it's pretty darned straight and nicely paved.

One of my friends says that riding bikes with me, it's clear that I don't have a kid. But I have been voted most likely to need to be scraped up off the pavement at the bottom of a hill.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Doing the Math

The meeting today was surprisingly pleasant, considering the bad news. It was more of a "the state informed us to inform you folks" meeting than a "what do you want to do?" meeting. And the administrators seem every bit as beaten down by the economic news as anyone else.

I was sort of surprised by the turnout. There were 13 of us in the room, from the headmaster, a couple assistant and associate submasters, some human resources and legal folks, and the faculty from the committee. I think one faculty member was missing of the committee members, and I don't think any of the faculty folk are on contract now, so we were there on our own time.

Part of the meeting was to talk about how many different sorts of employees we are on campus, and what groupings such as classified and unclassified, exempt, non-exempt, and so forth mean in terms of the legalities of labor law. It's messy, and the legal eagle and the human resources folks are putting in a load of extra time these days trying to figure out how to work things out.

For teaching folks, furlough days are supposed to be taken on days that don't impact instruction. For our adjuncts, who are teaching 15 credits, teaching 5 days a week, how does that happen?

And for me, okay, say I have a Thursday non-teaching day, no scheduled classes. So legally, I'm supposed to take a furlough that day and NOT work. The state is very specific about this. You aren't supposed to work, or at least you're supposed to sign a piece of paper saying you aren't working, on the furlough day, because otherwise the state is worried that someone will sue.

So on Friday, do I just walk into my classes, face down 30 or more students and say, "I'm sorry but I didn't prep today"? Really? Do you think that's going to happen? Do you think any teacher is going to not prep or grade or whatever needs to be done because it's a "furlough" and s/he isn't being paid?

You know how I mentioned that all but one of the faculty members was there today, on our own time, NOT on contract? That's how being a faculty member works for most of us. We work pretty darned hard because that's been our habit; that's how we got our PhDs, our jobs, and (if we're in the right place at the right time and all), tenure. We mostly respect what we do and try to do good work; we mostly respect our students and colleagues and try to work well.

A DMV worker who stands in front of the public to do his/her isn't going to work from home on furlough, but teaching folks will prep and grade and so forth.

The headmaster wanted our responses, and I said that I want the university to keep track of all the extra time people are spending on trying to figure out how to make the furlough thing work, and see how much that costs us, and let the state know.

There were 13 of us there, all for an hour, and let's pretend several people had spent an hour prepping (the legal eagle had, the headmaster, and the human resources head). So 16 hours. That's two furlough days worth of work. But the state wasn't paying some of us! So does that mean we owe the state for letting us come to a meeting over the summer without being paid?

I bet that the costs to the state of figuring out all the legal mess of furloughs for all employees cuts pretty deeply into the "savings" from the required furloughs. And the hurt of the paycut for some state employees is going to be deep.

I'm not badly off in any sense of the word, but the sample math I saw today made me really realize that the money off the top of my paycheck is going to be noticable.

Blood Pressure Rising

Stupidly, I checked my email this morning. There was a note from someone on campus, saying that the headmaster has requested a meeting with members of a committee I'm still on (until September), and it's going to be at noon. I checked the date. That's noon, today.

I'm guessing this is going to be an unpleasant meeting with bad news about budget stuff.

My seemingly peaceful week has suddenly gotten less relaxed. I made an appointment yesterday to get my car's oil changed (after the long trip) and the air conditioning checked (for this afternoon). Usually, I don't worry about car air conditioning because I'm a dog at heart: I prefer to have all the windows open and sort of put my head out with my tongue and ears flapping in the breeze. But my Mom is coming to visit, and while we never had air conditioning in our cars as kids, and she poohpoohed our desire for such, now I'll hear endlessly if I don't have it in good repair. ("Why don't you get it repaired?" "Because I'm a dog at heart and like hanging my head out the window." Just doesn't make it...)

(We took a vacation once which involved driving our un-air conditioned car across a high desert towing a trailer. The car was overheating, and you know how to help a car with overheating issues? You turn on the heat, full blast. So we drove across the desert with the heat on, a canvas waterbag hanging on the front bumper [haven't seen those for a long while], and wet towels on our faces as we hung out the windows to get what breeze we could.)

So, yeah, I invited my Mom to visit for a week. She made reservations to visit for 10 days, because "it's hardly worth it to fly across country for less than a couple weeks."

There's a sort of disconnect where she doesnt' quite believe that I shouldn't just up and drop everything to spend time with her. She wants a full week at Thanksgiving, and just can't quite buy that I have things to do in addition to attending my classes. And she wants to watch me teach. Imagine, for a moment, your parent going to watch you at work. (Do other parents expect this? Is it a teaching thing, or do lawyers' parents watch them in court or consulting with clients?)

So, yeah, a full 10 days. And it's my own damned fault.

Fortunately, my sister-in-law is a goddess, and we're going there for a weekend. And it looks like my niece will be coming to visit me for part of the visit, so that should give my Mom something to focus on besides the failure that is me.

I have another meeting on Thursday (to get help teaching The Latehomecoming) and an appointment on Friday because it sucks to be a middle-aged female in oh so many mundane, boring, unworriesome but mildly painful ways.

On a more cheerful note: we had a good ride yesterday, finding our way to this little town in the middle of nowhere, though not far from our small city. It had gone from mid-70s to high 80s or more while we were out, so we were drinking a lot of water. And there, in the middle of nowhere was a bar. So we went in, and the bartender kindly refilled our water bottles with cold water, and the locals were friendly (in nice ways). We commiserated about the heat. And when we left, we were glad to be outside in the heat rather than inside in the smoky air conditioned bar.

But, I bet we gave them something to chuckle about for a while, two middle-aged women in lycra on a hot day walk into a bar.

I'd better shower. We're headed for the 90s today, so I'm going to wear shorts to the meeting. It's summer!

Monday, June 22, 2009

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I got my teeth cleaned today. That's how I spend my summer vacation, getting teeth cleaned.

Add to my list of jobs I'm glad I don't have: dental hygienist. It's not nearly as high on the list as "person who gives Brazilians," but it's on there somewhere. I don't think my mouth is nastier than average, but I bet there are some pretty nasty teeth needing cleaned, and I'm glad I'm not the one who has to clean them.

Now I'm going to go play bikes with a friend.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

One Big Bird

I'm sitting in my sunroom, which is where the laptop and the TV live, and suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I see this. It's the closest I've seen a Pileated Woodpecker (this one is male, according to the book I have), and holy cow, that's one big bird. (I didn't get the best picture ever, because I was fumbling with the camera, but I bet I see it again now that it's found a yummy food source.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Conflicted, or, It's All About Me

We've been trying to do a common text in our first year writing courses for the past couple of years; the idea is to have faculty and students reading the same book during a fairly early part of the semester. The hope is that students will see each other carrying around the book and start talking about it even though they're in different classes. An auxiliary hope is that faculty will sit around the lunch room and chat about a book.

We don't, and neither do our students. We don't because we don't have time, and because there's plenty else to talk about.

The book chosen for the coming semester is Kao Kalia Yang's The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, which I just finished reading. I'm torn.

On the one hand, it's a really interesting book, and I learned a lot about Hmong experience in Laos, Thailand, and the US. So that's good. I can imagine most of our students learning a lot by reading it, and that's also good.

I was troubled trying to think of how to teach writing using the text, but one of my colleagues has generously offered help, and I think she'll be a great help. So I think I can do that.

But, well, the end of the text involves a funeral thing, and is very sad. It's really sad. It's hard to teach sad stuff that's close to home. Every semester, it seems, I have some student whose parent, close friend, or sibling has died within the past year. And this book is going to be hard for those students, I think. (I'm really lousy at touchy-feely teaching. My idea of touch-feely is to pass out recipes for the end of Titus.)

On the other hand, the funeral thing and ending of the book strike me as overly simplified in some ways, not in terms of the rites or whatever, but in terms of the family relationships. Everything seems so clear and untroubled. Now maybe that's the case, but that's sure not anything like my family relationships.

I'm not talking about people being on their best behavior for a funeral; my family can pull that off. I'm talking about the way Yang talks about her relationship with her grandmother, parents, and siblings. She acknowledges that her father is growing older and less well in the epilogue, where she talks about working on this memoir. And the conflicts of the teen years are hinted at, but barely. She talks about worrying that her parents will treat her differently once her baby brother is born, but then says, nope, it's all the same, yay. But there's something I'm just not getting about the relationships.

Maybe I'm totally screwed up and most people feel totally unconflicted about family relationships. Maybe most people don't resent things from the past, and I'm totally immature and in need of some sort of intervention.

Or maybe there's a sort of model minority set up at work here? Or the author is really young, and so hasn't sorted through the conflicts enough to write about them? Maybe they got edited out?

And the more I think about it, the less I get a real sense from the book of the people she's talking about. It's more and more this happened and then this happened and then this happened. But I'm not getting a sense of how people develop or change. And it feels like she's minimalizing the difficulties of racism in some ways (she mentions some incidents, but I don't get a real sense of living the life). Contrast this with something such as Warriors Don't Cry, where I did really get a sense of real experiences of difficulty. I guess I'm trying to say that maybe she's being less fully critical of US culture than she might be, maybe in hopes of not alienating a white audience that she wants to reach?

I'm not really articulating my response well yet because I've just finished the text and need to think about how it works as a text and teaching it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The New Edition Blues, part the second

I emailed a colleague I respect a lot to ask her why she wants to change editions. Is it, I asked, mostly the MLA changes, or have you seen the new edition and it's way better? (Because the last time we changed, it wasn't tons better.)

And she said it was mostly MLA.

We emailed a bit more, and then she said that she's also bored with the old edition.

And that struck me as important. I can't think of a time I've been bored by the material I'm teaching. I get bored grading plenty. But bored by the text(s)?

I think I don't get bored by using the same comp text because so much of my teaching changes constantly and is totally in my power to change. I can't imagine being bored by Shakespeare, or early modern culture.

But if I had to teach intro X out of a textbook, or methods in underwater basketweaving out of a textbook, then I can see that any problems or boring parts of the book could be really irritating after a while.

So, I'm thinking of going comp textbook free next semester; I'd order a handbook for students to purchase (a good idea in any case), and Graff and Birkenstein, and then the common text many of us are planning to use. I have to think about what I'd really miss from the comp textbook.

I'm sort of feeling liberated.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The New Edition Blues

I got an email today about ordering a new edition of the comp textbook. If your students buy texts every semester, then you're pretty much stuck ordering whatever edition is available, and that means as soon as a new one's available, that's that. It's in the interest of publishers to put out new editions fairly frequently, so that students don't just buy used copies. I'm sure there are some fields where a new edition every two or three years is really important, but first year comp doesn't seem to be one of them.

But, with our rental system, we can order an edition, and use it for several years. Students pay a set fee to rent however many books they need for the semester (though some are purchase texts, depending on what's available and the professor's choices, and such).

Still, when a new edition comes out, the publisher wants us to change. One way to push this is to make it impossible to get desk copies of the older edition. And that's what's happened here. Someone is teaching this edition for the first time, and thus needs a new desk copy. And that means to keep confusion from being overwhelming with two different editions of the "same" comp text, the publisher is pushing the bookstore to switch over. So the bookstore is pushing the department folks, and they're sending out the email.

And here my laziness becomes apparent. I don't want to use a new edition because I have really good notes written up for the edition we've been using, and using a new edition means I have to revise the whole class to take it into account, and the write a whole new set of notes. See, I'm lazy. Except the difference is that I can quickly review notes and pull out a quiz for a chapter before class, while if I have to read a chapter, it takes significantly longer. And if I'm going to use a text more than once (as is usual for comp texts), or if it's an important text for me, I try to take really good reading notes so I can use them again.

For example, for the second day of my comp class (the first day for which they've had a reading assignment, and thus expect a quiz), I give a reading quiz. My quizzes are open notes, closed book, so students who take good notes have an easy time. And then after a few minutes, I stop them and ask them how many feel confident about their quiz. Most don't, so I tell them I won't collect it, and then I hand out a copy of my notes for the chapter, which are six pages long (for the current edition). That's a wake up call for the students, whose notes usually consist of a few lines, because they haven't been really taught about notetaking. Then we talk about how to take notes, and tricks of the trade (like putting page numbers, bibliographic info, a date, using arrows and boxes to mark important stuff, etc.).

Taking really good notes on a reading for the first time probably triples the time it takes to prep that first time. And then cuts the time at least in half thereafter. So it's worth it, but I don't want to do it this coming semester. I'm especially reticent because we're teaching a new common text AND we're being treated to a combination of furloughs (aka pay cut) and increased class sizes. Talk about a disincentive to add work.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brainstorming Class

I met with a colleague today to brainstorm a course outline for a new course for the department. The idea is that lots of people would be able to teach the course, but we (as a department) really want to accomplish fairly specific goals with it.

I had a bit of trepidation about it, but it went really well. We kept the outline really open as far as texts, and fairly specific as far as assignments to help students learn what we want them to learn. I think we did a really good job giving the course time to teach the skills and then have the students do them, rather than expecting them to learn well by doing some assignment on their own.

My colleague was really great to work with; she had good critiques of some of my ideas, and good ideas of her own. We were able to incorporate the things the department folks had asked us to bring in pretty darned well.

The outline feels coherent and flexible, and I can imagine different colleagues using it successfully with their own take on the flexibility.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bardiac's Yellowstone Adventure, Postlude - The Books

I'm one of those people who loves to have a book on CD/tape going when I have a long drive; the longer the drive, the more I appreciate the entertainment. And this drive was going to be long, so I took a number of books out of the library.

Barbara Kingsolver - Prodigal Summer - good reader, and mostly a really nicely done story, though the ending felt a little rushed or just not quite finished. Have you folks noticed how often in Kingsolver's fiction some woman gets kids without doing the whole pregnancy/birthing thing? This book made me notice that, though it's a primary premise in The Bean Trees as well. Have I mentioned that I only recently (re-listening to The Bean Trees) realized they're Wisteria? Yep, I'm that slow.

Anyway, I liked the twisted plot, though it took me a bit to follow it. I find plot twisting harder to follow when I listen to a text than when I read it physically. I think my visual memory helps me get stuff when I read.

Toni Morrison - Jazz - good reader, but a little hard to follow at times while driving. Still, Morrison's prose is so good, just chewy and flowing in the right places. This book left me wanting nothing.

And then, because the selection in the adult section seemed a tad slim, I went down to the kids' section. I didn't read much kid lit when I was a kid, so I have a lot of catching up to do, and they're publishing lots more all the time.

Kate DiCamillo - Because of Winn-Dixie - really excellent reader. Good story, just magical enough but also simple. I would have loved this as a kid. (A dog and its girl! What could be better?)

Lemony Snicket - The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room - Tim Curry is an incredible reader, but the coughing thing got irritating. I love the attention to language and wordplay, and the humor. This is a smart series, and I'm definitely going to try to listen to the next ones as well. There are female characters, and while the characterizations are a bit clunky at times, they actually have brains and participate in the action. Yay!

Jenny Nimmo - Midnight for Charlie Bone and Charlie Bone and the Time Twister - well read, and the plotting is okay, but big foreshadowing. It's like you just want to say, "that's your Dad, Mr. Pilgrim" but of course you can't anymore than you could warn John Wayne that he was riding into an ambush. On the other hand, I like that plot components will carry over from one story to the next (I expect). I'll maybe listen to the next book or so, but compared to the language fun of Lemony Snicket, this is more plot stuffs.

I think the start of this series made me think a lot of the Harry Potter series (I'm not sure which came first). Very special boy who has lost his dad vs very special boy who has lost his parents but really focuses only on his dad. Very special boy goes to British boarding school, amongst others, some of whom are also very special, while regular folks muddle on alongside. Female characters are pretty minimal, and not nearly as important as male characters.

Of course, Opal in Because of Winn-Dixie has an absent mom.

Absent parents have been a staple of kids' lit since forever, but I really got thinking about it because of the importance of it in these texts. It's not like "the parents are absent, let's have an adventure because no responsible adults are preventing it," but more like "the parents are absent and we're going to have an adventure and try to make a connection back to the absent parents somehow because parents are really, really important." And, yes, they are. But somehow that plot device started feeling more contrived to me than in, say, Dickens.

In the Harry Potter and Charlie Bone series, there's also this fantasy world of magic, which just isn't part of the Unfortunate Events series, or of Dickens. I guess I go back and forth on liking the magicalness. Let's face it, the world could do with magic, but, alas, if there's real magic, it seems to be missing where it's most needed in this world.

I'm also really tired of boys' stories. Winn-Dixie was good, but not nearly as full as the series of boys' stories out there.

But, I'm wondering, are boys reading more these days, or are these boys' stories being read mostly by little girls who are learning their "proper place" as adjuncts to male stories?

Are there good series with female protagonists who actually do stuff?

So, that's the adventure for the summer. Back to regularly scheduled early modern stuffs soon!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bardiac's Yellowstone Adventure, part 4

After leaving Yellowstone, I headed out towards Cody, WY. I'd heard there's a great Buffalo Bill museum there. What I didn't know was that there was also a small mountain range, and it was fairly socked over with fog, so it took me a whole lot longer to get to Cody than I'd planned, so I was too late for a museum. But it was about 6pm, and was going to be light until about 9pm, so I decided to go on to Sheridan. And what I also didn't realize was that the Bighorn range was between me and Sheridan, and was also pretty socked in with fog.

Before I hit the fog, though, I saw a couple of moose, looking like they were working on a set of antlers.

I hate driving in a heavy fog. I'm reasonably decent at it, because I'm willing to drive really slowly, but it's stressful.

Happily, the next day was a tad rainy, but I seem to have escaped the fog and found my way to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. They've marked where the soldiers died with white markers; Custer's is specially marked. And they've recently added markers for the Native American warriors who fell, too. It's really sad to realize how willing people were to die to take over the territories of Native Americans. And yet, I'm guilty of not wanting to move back to whichever parts of Europe my ancestors came over from. Still, the battlefield is overwhelmingly sad with all the markers around.

They've also added the most beautiful Native American memorial with a theme of Peace through Unity. It's this sort of mound thing, but hollow, so you can walk on the path in, and there are listed the names of Native Americans who died in the battles in the area. It's very moving. And above, the mound is this incredible sculpture that looks almost like stained glass against the background.

Here's a series of closeups moving from right to left, from the front of the line of horses to the last. I should have gone back to my car to get the non-telephoto lens so I could take the whole group in a single shot with the sky behind it. Alas, I didn't.

Still, these shots give you some idea of how beautiful the sculpture is. I was struck by the final figures, where you can see a woman reaching up to the man on the horse, maybe handing him something?

The museum down below talks about the women who were camped nearby, and who were attacked by the cavalry soldiers. It's one of the few mentions of women (except for Custer's wife, who donated a bunch of his stuff, some of which is displayed at the museum, too) at the battlefield site.

Before I left, I drove up the road a bit, and saw some birds. Yes, you knew it would have to end with some birds, didn't you? These are my very first Sharp-tailed Grouse. I've never seen grouse of any sort before, so I was pretty excited. There were a bunch of them, but I only noticed one at first, and then it took me a while to notice the others.

Next up, a few thoughts on the books I listened to while driving.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bardiac's Yellowstone Adventure, part 3

After five days of biking, we ended up back in Bozeman. A couple of us went out to dinner, and I made plans to start back for home. But I was in no real hurry, so I decided to take an extra day and drive back through Yellowstone, specifically through the Lamar Valley area, then out through Cody, a visit to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (I've been to Rushmore and the South Dakota badlands, but not Little Bighorn).

The Lamar Valley was worth the visit, for sure. Here's some of what I saw.

This bison pair was sauntering up the road, and I took the picture out my car window, being very glad that I was IN my car and not on a bike. You really get a sense of how huge bison are when they walk by so closely. And this is a female with calf. The males are way bigger.

For this one, you'll have to right click to embiggen, and look at the grey dot in the center. I stopped on the side of the road, and then some other folks stopped near me. I saw a coyote. They apparently saw a wolf. And they seemed very excited about it, too. The thing is, I really wanted to see a wolf, and thought for the first instant that it was. Then I got my binoculars on it, and saw the ears. But still, I've longed since reading Farley Mowat to see a wolf. And yet, I've only ever seen three coyotes, including this one, and they're absolutely wonderful in their own way, so I was still celebrating seeing the coyote. Being able to get a picture made it all the more special, somehow. (See The Daily Coyote for GREAT coyote pictures!)

It was across a field, and stopped to look our way for an instant before trotting on.

For those who live on the coasts, Pelicans aren't that hard to see these days, I suppose. But when I was a kid, we were excited to see them. I gather their populations have recovered a fair bit, but it's still a treat to see them this far inland. This one was having lunch; while I watched, s/he snagged something. Yum!

As you drive through Yellowstone, sometimes you'll see a whole crowd of cars stopped, so you can see that folks are looking at something. Then you stop and add to the crowd to see what there is to see. The funny thing is that there was a small cluster of folks with high powered telescopic looking setups on tripods looking out to the left, and about 50 feet to the right of them was this bighorn sheep, wandering slowly towards them. They were, I gather, looking at a Mountain Bluebird (which I only saw when it flew). I saw several Mountain Bluebirds on the trip, usually while I was slowly biking along, close enough to get a really good look, but not able to get out a camera and get a picture. Still, it's really thrilling to see the MBs AND a bighorn!

At another crowded area, I got to see my first badger ever. When I was an undergrad and took a mammology course, our lab had a variety of skulls and such that we were supposed to learn to identify for exams. We had a badger skull and a wolverine skull. While a skilled biologist could tell the difference by looking at teeth and structures, I could tell because the wolverine skull had a big bullet hole through it. No wonder my zoology career left something to be desired.

There was a badger den/hole, with baby badgers around, but I couldn't get a clear picture of them, alas. Here's my best try, though. You might find it helpful to right click, and look just to the right of what looks like a clump of dirt. The clump is the den area, and to the right are a couple of badger kids.

You'll definitely need to right click on this, and then look at the tiny black dot in the center. There, there, is the star of my Yellowstone visit, a wolf. You can tell quickly that the coyote is a coyote when you see the wolf; the coyote is all ears and fluff in comparison, and slim and svelte, while the wolf is totally different. This one was way across the valley, but with binoculars, I could see it fairly well. That sight totally made my trip. It was wonderful before, but the wolf was just great!

You can just imagine this little guy saying "what's this water stuff?" can't you? He's all fluffy and cute. And not far away, Mom's trying to get a bite to eat and wishing she could hire a babysitter so she could get a moment of peace without wondering where the kid is wandering off to.

And here's Mom, looking a bit scruffy. A lot of the big herbivores looked pretty scruffy, so I'm guessing there's spring molting of winter coats going on. I wouldn't want to be between her and the calf, though, because she's absolutely HUGE. In height, she makes the bison look modest.

That ends the pictures from the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. That entrance to Yellowstone is pretty tiny feeling compared to the others I saw. I left Yellowstone at about 3pm. But the adventure continues tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bardiac's Yellowstone Adventure, part 2

My bike tour started in Bozeman, so I headed there the day before, and the Roaringgrrl came to meet me! It was great to meet her and her pal, J. And she came up before taking off on her own cross-country trip (even longer than mine!). They also took me to lunch at a great restaurant.

Then the biking started. You've read about that. It was great, despite some rain. But we didn't see as many critters as I'd hoped. Here's some we did see:

That's a couple of elk. They seem a whole lot bigger when they're not behind a fence up here in the Northwoods being ranched!

I saw a few elk, but no others nearly so close as these.

I also saw a number of bison, some fairly close up. You'd think I'd have taken a dozen pictures, right? The thing is, on a bike, the first thing on my mind when I see a bison on the road is to get out of its way. Our guides told us that getting on the far side of a car was a good idea, so that's what I did instead of taking pictures. (This is a picture I took later, NOT on my bike.) The good news is that I didn't get stomped by any of the bison I saw.

Mostly, I didn't see a lot of wildlife while I was biking. I saw trees, and the road, and lots of scenery. I had a small camera with me, but my binoculars and big camera were in the van (I pulled them out for the elk, though). The small camera was fine for basic pictures, though.

At our final hotel, a bit outside the park (Chico Hot Springs)did give me an opportunity for one wildlife close-up. This is a Cliff Swallow hanging out on a nest. I wasn't nearly as worried about this guy stomping me :)

And finally, on the last day of riding, we saw an Osprey nest right close to the road, complete with an Osprey who took off and flew around while we hung out on the other side of the road watching. So this is a picture I took with my smaller camera. As you can see, it's a lot less telescopic than with my bigger camera, but if you right click to embiggen, you can still see that there's a bird there.

So that's the bike trip wildlife. Tomorrow, I'll show you some of the pics I took driving around through the Lamar Valley.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bardiac's Yellowstone Adventure, Prelude

Before I went to Yellowstone, I stayed with a friend in Montana for a few days. She took me out to the First People's Buffalo Jump State Park, a sort of mini-butte area where Native Americans from different tribes could hunt bison by "pushing" them off a smallish cliff.

In an effort to help myself get used to the altitude (about two thirds that of Yellowstone), I took a little walk up the park, and my friend went to pick up one of her sons and then picked me up at the top.

Along the path, which was nicely tended, there are these information placard things. You can see one a bit in the distance in this picture, right here. See it?

As I was walking up, maybe thirty feet away, I saw something move under one of the placards. Now, I try to be at least minimally aware of movement around me, especially in an area where there might be snakes, especially rattlesnakes, because I sure don't want to step on one or put my hand up next to one. It's not like they'll be out hunting me; I'm way too big to be prey for anything but a big constrictor-type snake, and they aren't around Montana so far as I know. But still, I try to be aware. So I walked closer, determined to give it a nice wide berth (there was plenty of room to walk safely away on the trail).

And then I realized, the movement was a head, and a head WAY too big to be any rattlesnake that would be there, and besides, a rattlesnake would be sunning, and not hanging out in the shade, right?

That's no rattlesnake! That's a baby Pronghorn Antelope, doing it's Obi-Wan "You don't see me; this is not the prey you want" thing, lying very still, barely moving its head to watch me as I walk along.

I skirted around, as far away as I could while staying on the trail.

I'd seen an adult-looking Pronghorn as I started out, but there was no adult in sight, and I sure didn't want to scare this little guy if I could help it. (These are taken with my zoom lens, so they look closer than they really are.)

How's that for a fantastic encounter?

My friend also took me out to Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge, where we drove around slowly, trying to avoid being prey for ravenous mosquitos while looking at lots and lots of amazing birds. I did my best to engage my friend in my nefarious plot to take over the world with people looking at birds and playing bikes. (But I didn't take any pictures because the mosquitoes were just too thick and unpleasant, and I'm a total whuss.)

We saw, among other things, Northern Shovelers, Wilson's Phalarope, Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, Hooded Merganser, Common Tern, Marbled Godwit, and Killdeer. I really got a chance to see more Phalarope and Godwits than I ever have, which helped me gain a little confidence in identifying them.

Finally, I biked a little along the Missouri River, on the wonderful River's Edge Trail. It was a short ride (15m), but gave me a little more confidence about riding at a higher altitude.

All in all, a fine prelude!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Bardiac's Yellowstone Adventure, part 1

Yes, this is me, riding my bike, up a hill, very, very slowly. And, yes, the road is wet, and I'm in my rain gear, including a shower cap on my helmet, given to me by another very kind and encouraging rider with lots more experience. And yes, my feet are totally wet and cold.

And yes, I had the best time ever.

I was, by far, the slowest rider on the trip, but it was okay. The guides were fantastic and encouraging, and after the hardest climb, two of the other riders were at the gathering point cheering me up the hill.

How high was the hill, you ask?
This is the first crossing we made of the continental divide that day. The second is higher.

We climbed 3000+ feet that day, over 17 miles, and dropped 2000+ feet over another 17. It was my hardest day riding, but I was so happy I actually made it!

Critter pics soon!