Saturday, December 31, 2011


It was barely snowing when I went to the New Year's party at my friends' house, but there was close to an inch on the ground for my drive home.

I saw a car that looked like it had slid off the road into the median thing (on a freeway), but by the time my brain processed the lights in an unexpected place, I couldn't safely stop, so I went home and called 911.

It's the first time I've ever called 911. Happy New Year. I hope the people in the car are okay.

Then I dug out my drive because three inches in the morning is a lot easier than four, right? That's my theory, anyway. I'd rather dig twice, especially when it's wet and heavy as this is. It's also the wet and heavy that sticks beautifully to tree branches and such.

Happy New Year!

The Year in Review

Everyone's doing it, so I am.

1) I lived in a big old manor house. Seriously big. But not so old. (As before, if you can identify this, please don't put it in the comments. Feel free to email me if you want to let on.)

2) I haven't gotten to teach Shakespeare in two years (spring 2010 was the last time). But I will be teaching Shakespeare next semester! Yay

On the other hand, I've gotten to teach Chaucer and lots of other early modern lit. And I'm prepping a seminar on Marlowe for next semester, and I'm feeling really good about it.

3) I ran more than before, and didn't bike as much, but I had a good time.

4) I'm overweight and have the beginnings of high blood pressure so I'm trying to exercise more, eat less, and not drink alcohol. (Though I did have the occasional small cider in the UK, because cider!)

5) I finished a big project at work, and it was okay.


And for the new year, resolutions? Not so much. But I am working on the weight and exercise and blood pressure stuff. And I'm working on a paper. And trying not to be a jerk. (There's my big life goal. It's a pretty low standard, but if everyone aimed there, things would be better.)

My other goal is to watch as few political ads as possible in the coming year. I may have to turn off my TV a lot.


I clicked through a blog I read to a collection of personal finance stuffs. Most of the blogs or sites linked seem to be trying to do their financing through blog ads, often a lot of blog ads, enough blog ads that it's sometimes hard to see what they have to say. (And, of course, they're organized so that you have to click a lot to load a new page to read a bit more content, which I'm guessing means the ad counts as another "view" and so adds just a tiny bit of revenue?)

The thing is, most of what they have to say isn't new to anyone who's been even minimally financially aware.

And then there are the ones who are all about how they're going to get rich by age whatever, but they never seem to give enough information so you can see how they're doing it (except by the numbers of ads on the site). If you're making 100K a year, and talking about putting away 5K, that's way different than if you're making 30K a year, isn't it?

There's something ponzi-ish about these, too. (Not in the illegal sense, because they don't seem to be doing obvious investment schemes, but in the sense that we can't all retire at 30 or whatever given that we need folks who are willing to work just to feed everyone.) That's not to say you shouldn't retire at 30 if you want and can. I'm way past that, but go for it.

In a way, looking at these is like looking at dieting stuff. I need to lose weight, and I'd love to find some magic way to do it, just as I'd love to find a magic way to make my income triple.

One of my cousins did a link thing on eff bee about a weight loss app thing. Unless it makes me exercise or not eat, how is an app going to help? (I think it's one of those keep track of things like eating and exercise, and just keeping track helps you be motivated and such. That probably works well, and it would work even better if it gave you some sort of special powers in WoW or EQ!)

But the basics are:

more in than out = gaining weight or saving money
more out than in = losing weight or going into debt

There you are, Bardiac's theory re first world problems. (Now, if I could sell my body fat, I'd have a perfect solution!)

I'm baking pumpkin bread for a party tonight. It smells GREAT! Too good, in fact. It's sort of torturous how good it smells. (Because, did I mention, I'm trying to lose weight? Pumpkin bread isn't on the diet, either. Alas.)

I'm going out to the coast next week, which will blow both the exercise and eating parts of losing weight for a couple days. Bleargh

I also need to update my CV again. I hate that. I should just do it every time I do something, but of course I don't, and then I have to try to remember stuff. Bleargh!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Typing Fast

When I used to play an on-line game, and even if I chat in eff bee, I often have this weird thing where I'm typing two conversations ahead of the other person. I'll type a comment or question and then wait. (And in eff bee, you get a little message that the other person is typing.) And then I'll get impatient and add another comment or message. And then I'll wait. And then I'll get impatient, and so on.

Maybe it's because the other person is on a slow connection. Or maybe they think before they type? Or they're doing something else at the same time?

I know that I really, really want a response, and that I get impatient without it (until I start putting up a post on blogger).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Genetic Clutter

When I was visiting my brother, I noticed the clutter in his home office. I get so used to my own office clutter that I don't see it, but I'm reminded to look now that I've noticed his again.

We both tend to stack papers around the room. Our Dad did the same thing. It amazed me when I worked for the family business at various times that he could pretty much instantly put his hands on whatever he needed, even if it were part of a six inch pile of paper. It's genetic, I think. My Mom's much neater genes must be recessives; she doesn't clutter nearly as much as we do. And she was always frustrated by our clutter when I was growing up.

I'm not usually that good at finding what I need, alas. When I was a kid, I had this notebook thing to carry my papers, but I kept losing my homework in there and getting in trouble. It drove my Mom nuts! And rightly so.

So today I cleaned much of the clutter in my office at work, yet again. I seem to clean up about once a year, and then re-clutter. I need to clean up my home office, but I've been a lot better about that since I cleaned it last summer (perhaps because I haven't been here to clutter?), so it won't be too bad.

I also got some stuff done for my Marlowe class, so it was a productive day all around!

Anti-Riot Architecture

I walked myself over to the campus library this morning to get some Marlowe books, and on the way, I saw the new student center building. When I left in late summer, they were breaking ground. Now the building looks pretty complete from the outside. And what I could see is beautiful!

It's our first new building here since the '70s, if I recall correctly. Remember '70s campus architecture? It was all about limiting and containing riots. Our other buildings tend to look like big blocks with tiny windows, mostly well out of reach of anyone on the ground.

But this new building has lots of beautiful, big windows. Supposedly it's designed to use passive solar and such when it can (there's not much solar during winter here), and to be quite energy conservative.

Really, it's beautiful. I stared out at it from the upper floor of the library and thought, wow, that's a real improvement!

And then I thought about how many more steps the administrators will have to take to get there compared to the current student center (which is where food and the bookstore and such are available). Currently, they have a few steps across a covered walkway, or if the weather's really nasty, they can go underground.

I wonder if there's a new tunnel being built for them?

Did I mention how beautiful the building looks? It's so NOT anti-riot architecture! Windows!

We're supposed to build a new academic building and our department is supposed to move there in a couple years. I hope it also has beautiful windows! Windows!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Prepping the Seminar

I'm teaching a senior seminar on Marlowe this coming semester, and I'm working on prepping a bit. I've assigned Riggs' The World of Christopher Marlowe, but I'm not entirely thrilled as I think about how it will work for students. It's really dense in some areas in ways that seem likely to be difficult for students. Heck, it's dense for me. (Mostly it's the spy stuff.)

But I like the stuff on educational practices. I'm not sure the students will, though. (I had to order books way back in summer.)

I'm working on a list of terms (people's names, places, etc) to have students do very short (a couple of paragraphs max) papers on to teach each other some basic stuff about the period. I'd be happy for more ideas, please. (I need at least 20 to give everyone one.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Here's a little something for your reading pleasure. And, if you click through (it's a totally work-safe comic), Calamaties of Nature will donate to Doctors without Borders.

Here's wishing everyone a good day.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Stupid Holiday Movies and Connections

There seems to be this genre of holiday movies that involve:

1) A young woman who doesn't have a partner (because he dumped her or she hasn't found one).

2) She finds/pays a young man to pretend to be her partner (and this is fiance, because marriage in the future is a super important part of all this). The young man's pretense also includes pretending to be a high powered business/lawyer type, though he isn't.

3) True love is discovered, with maybe a bonus gay brother coming out. Future marriage is planned.


Message for girls: Having a fiance or getting married is the most important thing ever!

Message for boys: While it's preferable to be a high powered business/lawyer type, you can still get the hot girl anyway because girls are desperate.

Have I just happened to see the wrong channel at the wrong time, or is this a new genre?

I can't help thinking about the coming home scene in Annie Hall, which involves Annie's brother at some point talking about his desire/dream of driving into oncoming traffic, while Alvy looks terrified.

And that reminds me that I'm listening to a book on CD on the road of stories from the New Yorker all of which are mostly about New York. So far, I'm not thrilled. The impression these stories give is that everyone in New York is white (except for a story by Jamaica Kincaid, which is narrated by a young black woman who's a nanny), wealthy (except for the Jamaica Kincaid story, most seem to have trust funds or if they have a job, it's as a director of some foundation or a professor who doesn't actually have to teach), and a jerk. (Sorry, the parallelism sucks there.)

Count me unimpressed.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And I'm Off!

I'm off to visit family. I just have to pack. And take a nap.

I feel like I just got home or something.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We have a program here that matches up really good first year students with a faculty member to do a research project. Last fall, one of these students just happened to want to do a Shakespeare project, and I was happy to work with hir. Zie started out with an interest in a specific play, but (as you'd expect) little idea where to go with that. We'd chat once a week or so, and zie would go off and do a ton of reading. Zie's read at least 30 other early modern plays, maybe more, and we've talked about them. I've given hir a fair bit of guidance in terms of suggestions early on, but less so as zie got more and more into the reading.

This past semester, zie has been working on her own, emailing occasionally, but mostly reading even more. Now, having read a ton, zie has found something that strikes hir as very interesting. And it's something I haven't noticed, nor have I seen other critics noticing it. So that's very cool! We met this morning and talked, and sort of set out the rest of the year so that zie can do the project and present it at the undergrad research day on campus.

So now zie is ready to read some criticism, and going to it.

What a delight!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I've been doing some garden chores. I think I mentioned last spring that one of my two Tamarack trees had died, and the other had half died (the top half). Well, I cut down the dead tree today, and bundled up the smaller stuff into kindling. I have a friend with an outdoor fireplace thing they use during summer, and I'm hoping they'd like some kindling and small wood pieces. (The tamarack had maybe a three inch diameter bole at the biggest part.)

One of my neighbors stopped by to welcome me back, so I asked him about one of my pine trees. A couple of years ago, the top leader died, and two branchings were vying to become the new top, with no clear winner. So it's either cut one of them off so the other will take over, or have a tree that splits. I chose to cut one of them off (not only for aesthetic reasons, either, but because I want more height and less chance of one part getting weak and coming down on top of my or my neighbor's house). And my neighbor handily had a pole saw. I had my doubts, but it was super easy, and about five minutes from walking into the yard with it to walking out to return it, having cut off the less straight leader.

I figure I have a couple hours of yard cleanup, cutting back dead iris stuff and other stuff, and then I need to get some mulch to put on the strawberries and such, I think.

At least I'm grateful for almost no snow in the yard for gardening sake, even if I'm impatient for skiing sake.

I mentioned back a waysthat one of my feet was hurting. Being back, I went to see the doctor about it, and I'm mildly (and probably irrationally) frustrated.

It starts with the weighing thing. Now I know I'm badly overweight. It's not a secret to anyone who looks at me. But I also know that weighing me means that the clinic gets to tick off extra stuff to make my visit more complex and more expensive, even though the nurse laughingly says that I'm getting more for my money. Yeah, not so much.

And then the blood pressure (also adding complexity to the visit), which was way high, higher than it's ever been. And then the doctor is working with a student nurse practitioner, so the SNP saw me first. That's fine for foot stuff, but I'm guessing this is a student at my school, and that means there's some chance that I've had any given NP student in some class at some point (writing or GE sorts of classes). And that seems weird. But for foot stuff, fine.

So she asks me about the pain compared with the worse pain I've ever had. I'll admit it here, I've never had a lot of pain (and said as much). I'm grateful for that lack of past pain, by the way. So then she asked about the worst pain I could imagine. So I'm thinking flaying alive, burned at the stake, broken on the wheel. I have a pretty good imagination, and given that, I told her that my pain was about a point one (same as I'd told the nurse before). I think that was a mistake.

The SNP pokes the foot a bit, and asks me to walk, so I do. And the foot doesn't hurt that day, though it did the night before a little in a soreness way.

Then the doctor comes in, and starts talking about my blood pressure, which as I mentioned is way high. The thing is, it's always way high at a doctor's office. So she measures it again, and it's down by like 30 points on the top part, but still high. I hand her the card that I've been using to keep track, as I was supposed to do (the nurse at the Abbey was kind enough to measure it for me every couple of weeks), and there it's a little higher than ideal, but not nearly this high.

The doctor says she's more worried about the blood pressure than my foot, and I say that I'm more worried about my foot because it's been hurting. It's not that I don't recognize that high blood pressure is a problem, but the foot hurts, and that's why I'm there. Then we talk about the cold medicine I've been on (which I'd also mentioned to the nurse when she asked about medications).

And she does look at the foot, poke it a bit, and have me walk.

The upshot is: (1) I'm not supposed to take cold medications anymore. She gave me a prescription for an inhaled steroid to use for sinus stuff if I get another cold.

(2) I have another card to do the blood pressure thing every couple weeks.

(3) She gave me a choice between trying some physical therapy for the foot or going to a podiatrist, and recommended the physical therapy, so she gave me a referral to the physical therapy department.

I guess I'm frustrated because what I want is to know what's wrong with my foot, and I don't. And I'm frustrated that I shouldn't take cold medications any more, and worried that the inhaled stuff won't help me and will mess up my nose and make it bleed, and then (if I get a cold), I'll be teaching with a nose that's running and bleeding, because I never feel like I can call in sick with a cold and have three classes of 20-35 people fall behind and get messed up.

And I know it's not really reasonable to be frustrated, because if the physical therapy works, then it won't matter what was wrong with my foot. And I don't usually get more than one cold a year when I'm not running around on busses, subways, and trains in a foreign country, so the cold thing isn't that big a deal, and I do know that having high blood pressure is really bad. But I didn't go for that, I went for my foot. I feel like being honest about the pain (and after all, I'm not disabled by it or writhing on the floor) means that she didn't really take the foot thing very seriously. But then, remembering Elaine Scarry reminds me that another person's pain is really hard to comprehend or really worry about.

The final kicker: I can't see the physical therapist she recommended until January 10th, which is after my new insurance kicks in, complete with a percentage co-pay (I think it's like 10%, but I can't remember for sure), so I guess I will need to call the insurance company at the beginning of the year and ask about if I need pre-approval. And then I'll have to call and ask the clinic how much a physical therapy appointment is likely to run, so that I can try to budget for my 10% (or whatever it is, I'll have to ask the insurance company). Then I'll have to try to get estimates for any other visits, which I gather isn't easy.

I think I need to go cut up some weeds or something to destress some more.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Back in the Saddle

I came in to the department for a bit today for a meeting (I was glad I was there and it went well), and I was in the other day just to do recycling and say hi.

And the best part of being back is that people are genuinely glad to see me. I even got a hug from someone who doesn't tend to give hugs.

The picture of junk mail I posted the other day? I had about a third of that amount waiting for me here.

And my computer got changed, so I came in and had to start reconfiguring. And now I need to figure out how to print (I had to email stuff to a colleague this morning because I couldn't figure out).

But it's all worth it to have people welcome me home.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


When I was a kid, and even when I was in college, librarians seemed foreboding.

Nowadays, either I see things differently or there's been a world of change, because all the libraries I've seen in the past few years, and all the librarians I've talked to in the past few years are all about being friendly and helpful, and having a sense of humor while getting the job done.

Our campus library folks put jigsaw puzzles out for people to work on as they pass and bring in therapy dogs during finals for students to pet (the students love that!). And the latest thing: there's a poster up in the library now, during finals week that says,

1% of the semester
99% of the stress

Occupy [Name of Library]
It's brilliant!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You've Got Mail!

The excitement of re-entry. Mostly this is junk mail. I have two big bags of recycling now. And a few things to put in yearly envelops and keep for tax stuff.

It's fairly easy to winnow down, but I'd like to know a way to get companies not to send me catalogues just because I've bought something from them.

I walked around yesterday with a headache, exhausted but not sleepy (does that even make sense) and took care of stuff. I took your collective advice and tried to make sure I drank plenty of water and waited for night to go back to bed.

And now I feel pretty good. I'm not sure how much of my headache yesterday was having a slight cold (stuffed sinuses more than anything) or jet lag, but it's way better today.

Something weird: I got a letter yesterday on city stationery telling me that they'd been trying to get me to change my meter, and that if I didn't arrange to do it by a date in January, there'd be a huge daily fine. So I called and arranged, and they're supposed to come by today.

But then I thought this morning, wait, where are the other letters about this? Because I didn't see any other notices when I went through the mail, and I'm sure I would have noticed.

And then I thought, uh oh, what if there's some scam thing, and some robbers are going to come steal everything I own at 9:30 am, when we have an appointment?

And then I thought, maybe I should call my neighbor and ask her if she's had a meter thingy.

And then I thought, I bet the earlier notices were part of the city bill thing, and the person I had watching the house didn't actually look at them except to get the amount due?

And then I thought, I'd better get dressed before they come, at any rate. So that's where I am now. About to put down the computer and go get dressed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jet Lag

I need a cure for jet lag, please!

My plan was to spend all day yesterday traveling, arriving home in the middle of the night, and then to sleep forever today.

I woke up and was awake much of the night. And I woke up at about 8am with one of those headaches that isn't fun at all. I changed clothes in the washer/dryer, had hot cocoa and instant mac and cheese (someone needs to go to the grocery store), a couple of ibuprofin. I also called my Mom so she wouldn't worry.

And now we'll see if I can go back to sleep for a bit, otherwise I'll shower, dress, and go to the grocery store.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Last Night

Today was my last real day in the UK and in London. And it was a good one. I started off with a ride on the London Eye, and then walked along the South Bank and the market to the Globe and the real Globe site and the Rose site. Then I went to Southwark Cathedral (which used to be a parish church, St. Savior's, back in the day, and may have been the parish Shakespeare attended while in London). Then I went to the V&A and wandered happily through the medieval stuff.

I topped off the evening with fish and chips and a small cider.

Tomorrow, a long day of travel ahead, and then back to the Northwoods. Brrr!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rounding Out

About a week or so after I got to the UK, I caught a cold, a nasty, nasty cold. I remember dripping my nose's way around the V&A the first time, sneezing and feeling droopy.

And a couple weeks after I got to the Abbey, I got the same hacking cough of a cold that everyone else was having.

And now, apparently, I've caught another cold, just in time to get on an airplane and share it with everyone on the plane and in two states. Bleargh. So far I'm at the half a day in, scratchy throat beginning the drippy nose phase. Lovely. I can't wait to get on a plane.

And naturally, my plan is to go back to the V&A tomorrow for a last visit. I may also go to the London Eye, depending on how things feel, to do something new to me.

Today I went to the Tower (I bought a historic palaces membership back when, so the visit was easy), then walked to St. Paul's and spent a long time there, said my goodbye to Donne's effigy. Then I walked to St. Martin's in the Fields, which, by the way, isn't in any field these days. It's right next to Tralfagar Square, in fact, and I should have gone there the other day, since when I got there today, it was already closed for a concert this afternoon. So I visited the shop in the undercroft thing, and then headed back to my room for a rest. And now it's time to go out and forage some food.

This week I've had: Chinese, Fish & Chips, Indian, and tonight I'm thinking kebab. But we'll see what looks good when I walk by.

Friday, December 09, 2011

And Again

Today was a repeat day: I visited Westminser Abbey and said goodbye to Chaucer and Spenser. Then I went on to the Banqueting House, which was a wonderful as before. Then on to the National Portrait Gallery, but this time just the Tudors and Stuarts. (As if there's anything to look at after them!) And finally, an hour or so in the National Gallery to see the Arnolfi portrait, Holbein's Ambassadors, some Reubens and some Rembrandts.

I'm still up in the air about tomorrow. We'll see what I feel like when morning rolls around.

It's really nice to revisit some places. I enjoyed the slight familiarity.

And I'm pretty emotionally ready to go home. (I'm very happy here, but you know how it is when you've been away awhile.)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Vocabulary at the British Museum

I spent much of the day today at the British Museum. On my first visit, I went to see the things I knew I was supposed to see, if that makes sense. I saw the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Marbles, the Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs, Egyptian mummies, and so on.

The second time, I mostly went to the Relic show.

(medieval tiles showing scenes from Jesus' childhood.) So today, I figured I'd wander around and see things I hadn't seen or really looked at before. I didn't really have any strong sense, but when I walked in, there was a "what's on" electronic thing showing the mini-tours in different areas, so I decided to give one a try. And it was good, so I gave another a try, and so on.

I went on mini-tours of the Japan gallery, the Africa Gallery, the Mexico Gallery, the Medieval Europe gallery, and the Assyrian Nimrod palace gallery. They were great! I mostly saw and learned about things I hadn't really looked at before, and I learned new stuff on every tour and had a good time.

(Aztec mask built on a real skull, I think) While I was waiting for the Mexico gallery tour to begin, at the sign in the living and dying gallery, a man asked the guide what a "seal" was. I thought, that's odd, because I didn't hear an accent in the question so I thought it was an English speaker who hadn't seen many animals. So the guide started to explain the seal, and after a moment the man said, "una foca?"

And I said, "Exactly, una foca!" And then I thought, holy cow, where did that come from? I mean, it's been forever since I spoke Spanish regularly, and "foca" isn't exactly a common vocabulary word, but when I heard it in that context, I knew that's what it meant. I wouldn't have been able to produce it, or even to recognize it independently, I bet, but in the context, I did. (He was looking at a sealskin parka, turned out.)

From the palace at Nimrod, a falcon headed god thing.

I haven't given a lot of details about the Abbey, but I thought I'd post a few pictures. If you recognize it, please don't name it so that it's not googleable. This is a picture out my bedroom window early in the morning in early December. I wanted to show the frost on the lawn.

Up close, you see the inner gate. Down the drive, you can see between the trees a building called the gatehouse. Then there's green and another tiny gate in the distance. The main drive is just under a mile from the entrance to the Abbey to the far gate, and that's mostly where I went to play outside. (Sorry things aren't quite straight. I was in a smallish window.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


I left the Abbey today. Wow, what an experience.

And came to London, where I'm staying only a few blocks from the British Library, so that's where I headed for a travel break. They've got an absolutely fabulous exhibit of Royal Manuscripts. Holy cow, they are AMAZING. There were some with birds, and some of them I could identify with my little ipod British bird ID app. So cool!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

'Tis the Season

Finals and Frustration

If I could get three things across to students, the world would be a better place (only slightly better, but better).

1. Do your work and do it ontime.

2. Follow directions.

3. Proofread.


I'm giving a final; I was going to be grading the last few papers at this time, but one of the students didn't manage to bring hir papers. They were due at the beginning of the exam.

Do I fail this student for not turning them in at the beginning of the exam? Zie says they're on hir computer, in the email inbox. Why they aren't in my email inbox, I don't know. And why the student didn't bring hir laptop to class (zie has on many occasions) so zie could put them on my flash drive or email them right there, I don't know.

I'm sort of frustrated. I can't seem to get across to this student. I hate feeling like I'm nagging, so I tend not to, and perhaps don't communicate as much as the student needs. But what the student needs, in a way, is to fail because zie didn't turn in the work. But I don't think I'll do that because it feels petty and dinkish.

I don't know why the student can't manage to turn in work in a timely manner. I'm guessing procrastination is involved, but usually (in my vast experience with procrastination) something is behind the procrastination. And most students do manage to do the work, even if it's not done to the best of their abilities when they turn it in. And some people learn from that.

And some don't. I know, I've been there, though I'm not there right now. And I'll likely be there, procrastinating like mad, at some point in the future.

Edited to add: The student turned in the work, late, but at last.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Last Days, for Now

I'm finishing up here at the Abbey, and looking forward to a few days in London before I head home. It's a final time to visit some places I haven't seen, and revisit some I've seen.

On my revisit list:

Westminster Abbey
Banqueting House
British Museum (maybe also another visit to the British Library)
Victoria and Albert
National Portrait Gallery (I find I like portraits more than some other art, but I may go back to the National Gallery, too)
St. Paul's (and maybe Southwark Cathedral, because it's got a good feel)

Dr. Virago responded last time, and suggested the Sir John Soane, and I've been there and enjoyed it, but I don't think I need a revisit right yet (maybe next time I'm in London).

I haven't been to the Marble Arch (though I've driven by), so I might go there to stand on the Tyburn marker.

Other than that, who has a good idea? (I'm also willing to get on a train and leave town for a day trip.) I know it's way off season, but that's what it is.

Does anyone know if there's a really fun weekend market on Saturday or Sunday that's still going strong? Somewhere special to visit for good cheer? A really fun pub?

I'll be staying near King's Cross this time, which seems (like Paddington) to have a load of hotels nearby more than a neighborhood. (But it's also on the line to go to Heathrow on the subway without dragging my HUGE suitcase miles.)

Sunday, December 04, 2011


The other day, I stopped at the Abbey library to see if I could find a book or two to keep me happily occupied between grading. Usually at this point in a semester, I'm buried in grading, but with such small classes this semester, I'm pretty much caught up. (I sort of want to pinch myself or something when I say that, just to make sure.)

The librarian is an enabler. You know how they are. You walk in and say, "Hmm, I'm looking for a fun book." And they chat with you for a minute or two, and then they're showing you a table full of delicious looking books, and the next thing you know, you've stayed up half the night reading a book and crying. (I cry all too easily at books.)

I just finished Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie, and it's quite late, much later than I intended to be up, but I don't know that I'll sleep well after finishing the book. It starts out as a bit of a romp, and then it isn't a romp at all, but intense in an unexpected way, almost too intense. It's worth a read, but do it when you don't have to get up early the next morning.

And before that I read Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, which was good in a sort of disconnected way, and not nearly as intense as Jamrach's Menagerie.

That librarian has a lot to answer for if I can't sleep tonight! (Maybe I should read a bit of one of the Pratchett books I picked up at a charity shop the other day? That would be much more sleep inducing, right?)

Magic Teacher

The story goes like this:

There's a white female teacher working in a school with a goodly population of Black students. She befriends her students, especially this one student, X, a tall, muscular Black man.

One day, in a class, another student mouths off, and X turns around and gives the student a verbal what for.


I am not that teacher. But I've heard that same basic story several times. And what interests me is not the veracity, for I believe the people telling it are basically telling what they experienced. No, what interests me are the common elements that are always part of it.

There's always an emphasis on the Black male student's large size and darkness.

Would the story be the same if it were a scrawny Latino student? An average white woman? I don't think so.

You know how in some movies there's a magical or mystical Black (or sometimes Asian) man who befriends a white man and somehow makes him special? I think there's something like that here, a playing out of cultural fantasies about a large Black man protecting the white woman who is out of place to some extent in her classroom. But in the stories I hear, the white woman is sort of magical, in that inspiring stand on desks sort of way, crossing racial and power boundaries in the classroom to be real friends with her students.

Then there's the implied violence: the Black male student can tell off his classmates because he knows he's the biggest, toughest male in the room.

I'm not sure, but I think it's also important that the white woman telling the story is fairly young as a teacher. I think it's important, though the story-telling woman never emphasizes that. Is that because she doesn't recognize her own youth in the story?

I always hear the story from the white female teacher. (I heard it again recently, so it's been on my mind.) That may be because I don't know many tall, muscular Black men who talk to me about their student days, while I do tend to meet and talk with women who are teachers. Student days don't last long, while a career in teaching lasts a while; and even if I were talking with X in the story, there's no real place for X to tell a white woman such as myself the story about how he came to the "rescue" of another white woman, especially if that "rescue" worked because he was willing to play up the stereotype of the large Black man who uses violence. Or maybe the story wouldn't be important enough to stick in X's memory, just another day in the classroom.

Have you heard magic teacher stories? Would you tell such a story, and if you did, what would you emphasize?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Debbie Downer

At least I think that's what it was called, an 90s or so SNL skit thing where one of the actors was always responding to whatever with a big negative comment, followed by that whaaa whaaa trombone (or trumpet?) sound.

Now that our semester is over, I'd like to express my gratitude towards the Northwoods students I usually teach, all of whom are far too polite to ever say really negative things about the literature I teach to my face. I'm sure they sometimes say negative things elsewhere, but not to my face. Or if they do, they acknowledge that they're afraid of the literature, that it's not easy, or that they've had difficulty in the past. (Yes, they complain about things being too hard a fair bit, but not abou every single thing. And that's usually first year students, so not in lit classes.)

Why my gratitude? Because I had one Debbie Downer student this semester, and boy was it a drag. If I had the same proportion of downer students every semester, I'd want to do violent things likely to get me arrested.

Partly this is because I really enjoy this lit and so it's a bit of an affront for a student to say that Beowulf doesn't make any sense and they hate it, or Lear is boring.

Mr Downer also tended to interrupt a lot, often with some question only vaguely related. For example, we'd be discussing the fool in Lear, and Mr Downer would raise his hand insistently and at the same time, blurt out, "When is the final again?"

I'm sure Mr Downer will be as happy to go his way and not have to do with me, and I am to go my way and not have to do with him.

In contrast, I had another student who revealed once that he'd really disliked PL before because he couldn't make heads nor tails of what was happening. So I focused some attention on strategies for reading Milton, and Mr NotDowner seemed to start liking Milton a fair bit.

So, Mr Downer, here's to you! Have a wonderful life away from me!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Nerd Nostalgia

There's a stack of blue books in one of the faculty prep rooms.

When I was in college, I played a fair bit of D&D (AD&D, to be absolutely accurate), and tended to use bluebooks to write dungeons in (little grids rock for making maps).

I can't help thinking of writing dungeons when I see bluebooks, still, to this day.

I hope students somewhere are still writing dungeons in bluebooks.

(Or should that be "geek nostalgia"?)

Small World

One of the visiting folks here is a deep water basketweaver. I haven't gotten to know her well, but we were both free and had tea today (and shortbread cookies!). We were chatting along, and she mentioned a school she'd been affiliated with, and it just so happens that the deep water tapestry weaver at that school was, some years ago, at a school I was affiliated with for a bit.

And yes, the deep water basketweaver knew the tapestry weaver. And we spent several minutes singing her praises, since she's a wonderful person in all sorts of ways.

But how weird is that, that we've known each other for a while, and only by coincidence did the basketweaver mention her affiliation with that school? And cool. Because in some ways I'm a wanna be deep water person only just on the edges because deep water is harder than Shakespeare and stuff. But I still like knowing deep water people because I get to learn cool stuff from them.

I wonder if the tapestry weaver's ears were burning while we lauded her? I hope so!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Brief and Shining Moment

I am caught up.

Yes, there's plenty I should get started on, but just for the moment, I'm caught up.

I am caught up in grading and final class preps. I still have to write finals, and grade them.

I sent off my SAA abstract, and I'm actually happy with it.

Stuff yet to do:
Write finals.
Grade finals and papers as they come in.
Meet with students about their papers so they'll be better than otherwise.*
Pack and figure out packing stuff**
Print out my ticket info, and contact someone at home about picking me up in the wee hours of the night.
Write the actual SAA paper.

In the meanwhile, I've borrowed Julian Barnes' book The Sense of an Ending from the Abbey library, and I'm enjoying that. At some point, I'll have to go buy another Pratchett book (assuming I can find one) to read on trains and airplanes and such.

* You know how students often give reasons for why they can't make this or that office hour. Usually, the reasons are along the lines of "I have to work," "I have another class," or "I can't get childcare." I just had a student tell me that she couldn't meet with me because she was going to [insert somewhat fancy international city]. How cool is THAT? I want one of my students at home to tell me that s/he can't meet with me because s/he will be in York or Paris or something someday.

**I mailed one of the sock monkey hats to one of my cousins yesterday. The people at the Royal Mail were amused and helpful. And then, of course, I couldn't help but send her a hinting eff bee message about it. I would be a terrible spy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Mind Boggles

I'm, err, communicating with a colleague. C has had a bad day.

C tells me s/he is worried that another colleague, Y, is unhappy with hir. I ask why, and C says that s/he'd asked Y about a policy issue (one quite clearly spelled out in the legal stuffs but which has to do with classroom management on a basic level). And then Y had emailed an administrator, and then the administrator had sent out a mass email, basically restating the policy and claiming no responsibility for how individual instructors handle their classes.

And then, C tells me, s/he had sent the administrator an email about the policy email, and gotten back an irritating email from the administrator.

So what I want to know: who the hell emails an administrator an email about a policy like that?

As long as what you're doing is fair, ethical, reasonably in line with the policy, and aimed at teaching the class well, then what does an administrator have to do with the way you manage your classroom?

And who the hell emails an administrator to argue about a policy which is reasonable and quite clear, and which the administrator has basically restated with a nod to instructor responsibility?

Seriously, people, why have you made this a big to do? The administrator is busy doing whatever administrative stuff has to be done, and certainly doesn't want to muddy things up in individual classes. And neither of you needs to worry about what the other does in class (assuming, of course, appropriate ethics are in order, and they appear to be). Aren't you busy enough just doing your own work?

I am glad for great distances sometimes.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

Time for a Deep Breath

I had the best weekend in Norwich, as I told you. I haven't told you about one of the little things that added to the goodness. I bought a book and started reading it.

Now, of course, you think, duh, you're an English professor. You read LOTS of books. And indeed, you would be right. But usually I read books to teach them or books about books, which are all very interesting, but, to be frank, not always fun.

I grew up reading for fun, and one of the things I've discovered is that I don't read as much for fun any more. For one thing, reading is physically tiring (the eyes, the sitting so you can see and take notes, or at least see), so it isn't what I tend to want to do for fun as much. And there's so much work reading that I don't always get beyond it. (The big surprise for me this semester is how much I enjoyed teaching PL and FQ
, at least the parts we did, and how much the students seemed to like them as well.)
But this weekend, I didn't take grading (I didn't have much, and most of it got done yesterday, with one thing yet to grade today), so that left my evening free (because I'm a boring so and so who doesn't go out clubbing after a day of medieval church visits).

So I got a book. For a while now, I've been hearing about Terry Pratchett and that he's a good and funny writer, and since I didn't feel like anything serious (I could have brought PL along for serious, or reread the rest of the FQ), I found Terry Pratchett's books among the young adult stuff, and got one, I Shall Wear Midnight.

And it was good! Lots of fun, relaxing, and amusing. It wasn't the first book in the series (Discworld), but it was the one they had, so that was that. I'd like to read more, but will probably mostly hold off until I get back to my own, homey, public library. (I live my public library.)

Now, I have about 6 more hours of teaching this week, and then it's finals time. But for now, right now, I'm not prepping any big new works (because I know making students read a big work for the final days adds stress, and because Blake and Milton wrote some excellent short poems and such, and also one class is finishing up the second book of PL). And that means I have some time to breathe. It's not that I don't have stuff looming, but I feel a bit relaxed. I went for a short playing session outside today, and I feel so much better for it!

Here's the to do list:

For today: grade 2 papers and prep 2 classes (relatively easy preps and I have a 3 hours to get these done)

And then:
Write and grade 3 finals
Grade papers (when they come in, not huge numbers left)
Write my SAA abstract (for Dec 1)
Mail a sock monkey hat to one of my cousins

My excel grade books are ready to go so that I'll enter the last grade numbers and the final numbers will be there. (I love excel grade books.)

I have a few "duties" here (going to a dinner, a concert, and so on) along the way.

And then there's packing, which I will start on Monday, I think. And finish a couple hours later. And then I'll have to dig through to get my toothbrush out again, since that always seems to happen.

I wonder if there are any more Pratchett books around the Abbey? I've also got a hankering to reread The Hobbit and LotR.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Norwich, Topping Off the Day

After I had some refreshment (a really good fresh fruit scone with blackberry jam and coffee), I was on to my visiting the parish churches on the east side.

St George Colegate was beautiful, though Georgian on the inside (which, after all, is sort of fitting, no?). But there's just a bit of wall painting sort of surviving. It makes me think how colorful and wonderful medieval churches must have been inside, and makes me wish I could see one restored to look like that somehow. Or maybe a new church built to look like that so we didn't mess with a real medieval church? I think I'd get a really different sense of light and meaning in a really colorful church.

There are signs around the church explaining what's to be seen and such (as in the churches I visited the day before), but I couldn't find any of the monuments they seemed so proud of. And then I saw this. What's that? It's a rug. But there's something sticking out from underneath it. Hmmm.

Success! At least it's success if you consider finding a 15th century grave marker a success, and I do. That gave me the impetus to go around looking, and I found another rug.

And look, it's another old brass marker. (Stick with me, I know how to have real fun!)

I walked around several more medieval churches that were (sadly for me) closed, and through the market. The market in Norwich is just fun. I think in order to really do it justice in a photo, you'd have to get a ladder or something so you got up high to take the picture. I didn't have a ladder. I did have some hot tea (because it's really all about the refreshments). And then I went back to St Peter Mancroft.

If you're like me, you're thinking, who's St Peter Mancroft? It's just the regular St. Peter. The Mancroft part is a place name (a lot of the churches have place names in Norwich). I asked and was told by the docent guy that in old French it was originally "magna croft" or big meadow, but people got lazy, and then it became mancroft.

I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes, you get rewarded by learning or seeing something really unexected. And that happened at St Peter Mancroft, because in addition to asking about the name, I asked the docent if he could tell me where Thomas Browne is buried. I know what you're thinking: Thomas Browne? Really? Did you actually read Hydrotaphia, really? (a tiny bit, and I have no clue.) But nonetheless, he has the courtesy to have been dead a good long time, so I asked.

But sometimes, you hit the goldmine. Maybe the docent is bored, or maybe he's fascinated by really dead guys. And this is the goldmine of Thomas Browne weirdness. This, my friends, is a plaster cast of his skull.

I know, it's not in great condition, but there it is. And it comes with a story. In the 1840s, "they" went to bury someone else in the floor right near Browne, and when they were opening things up, his coffin came open. And the curate at the time decided to take out the skull because it was the height of phrenology and he wanted to see why Browne had been "such a clever fellow" (as the docent put it). So he took the skull and did the phrenology stuff with it, but by the time he was done, "they" had closed up the floor again. So there he was with Browne's skull.

By 1845, it found its way to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where it was displayed in the museum for a good long time. And then in about 1920, the church vicar asked that it be returned. And it was. But before they reburied it with the rest of Browne, they made a cast. And they wrote up an article in the parish newspaper.

When I asked about Browne's grave, the docent showed me the grave and told me the story, and then took me back to the room behind the altar where the priests do their prep stuff and all, and there was the box with the plaster skull and he showed me that, and then he pulled out the magazine and showed me that.

And then because I'd gotten lucky, he also showed me the 15th century tapestry that they normally keep covered. They think it was made by the flemish clothworkers (the ones who hung out in Strangers Hall and that area). The subject of the tapestry is the resurrection. On the left, Jesus is visiting Mary in a rather fancy house. (Things started looking up after the whole manger thing, I guess.)

A fair bit of time ago, I heard VA Kolve give a paper or something on the imagery of Jesus as a gardener talking to Mary Madgalen. And look, here's a beautiful image of just that from the tapestry!

And below the tapestry sits this huge, massive chest. The docent said it had been brought to this new church from the original Norman church, and was probably the oldest thing in the whole church. How is that for way lucky for me?

I was pretty much full up on excitement, so I walked back down to the train station and caught my replacement bus (because the rail lines were being serviced) out of town.

But I'm going to leave you with one last image. In the little room in back of the altar, a room where pretty much no one but the priests were going to see what's there, some medieval workman carved these lovely heads on the ends of the beams. Unlike the heads way up high in most churches, these are in a fairly small room, and I could actually see them up close. So here one is.

I think you can see why I had an even better time on this visit to Norwich!

Norwich, the Morning

After my breakfast (there's something about the "traditional" English breakfast that's perfect for walking around a lot; it fills you up a bit and gives you energy, and you don't get hungry for HOURS), I walked to the city walls, or what remains of them. If you look on the map, you'll see there's a little grey dotted-line thing down near the bottom; that's what's left of the city walls. I was staying near the rail station, so I walked along the river path, and then over the bridge where there was an old looking tower sitting near the water, and some walls. If you're thinking of York's or Chester's or Canterbury's walls, well, you're not going to be impressed by these. But if you're thinking that you didn't even realize any of the walls had survived at all, then they're wonderful because they're sort of overgrown and lost on this steep hill where the city has put stairs so you can wander up and along the wall and look out over the city and it's just about as perfect a city wall ruins as you could hope for.

These are, in fact, just the sort of city walls that a modern day timid adventurer enjoys, obscure enough that most people won't even notice they're there, but good for getting a bit out of breath on the stairs and feeling like you've found something. Of course, the modern stairs mean that you haven't actually found anything that hasn't been found and put on the map for you, but you get what I mean.

From the city walls, I walked back along the river, past the rail station and over to the east side of the old city. The cygnets were pretty convinced that I had something to feed them when I wandered nearish the edge. I don't think I've ever been that close to a bird that size before.

There's an old watergate and ferry building (the watergate is 15th century, I think, but the ferry building is quite new), now a private home, but you can still see where the river was dug out a bit.

The river was picturesque in that town river with cool bridges sort of way. Along the southern part, there are a couple of footbridges (as well as car bridges), and they're also building a new footbridge across the northern part. (I heard that it was running over cost and time because they'd built one off-site and brought it by barge only to realize that it was 6 or 8 feet short. Oops. I was only told that, so I don't know.)

There's also something called the Cow Tower, which was built in the 16th century to provide protection across the river. It was built to house canon, and it's tall enough so that it can see over and shoot at the hill across the river. (I was told that the river had been the protection for that whole side of the town since it was so marshy on the sides that you couldn't have gotten an army across very well or easily. But maybe there was also a wall of some sort. Or not.) And if you look closely at the tree near the tower, you'll see a modern art installation. The sign says it's housing for whatever wants to live there, birds or insects. The juxtaposition made me smile.

And then there's this. What is that, you ask? Some sort of medieval swimming pool? The sign says it's a "Swan Pit," the last surviving one in England. At which point I turned to my trusted wikipedia, which uses this very swan pit as its exemplar. I guess it's 18th century?

I wonder what the cygnets would think?

I ended my walk along the river by turning away from the river here. I have a feeling the sign may be a bit newer than the pub. So cool!

More on the afternoon, to cap it off, so to speak, in a bit!

Norwich - Even Better the Second Time

As you may remember, I really enjoyed Norwich when I visited in early November. I enjoyed it so much that I went back this weekend. You may be surprised to learn that I had an even better time this time.

One part of that has to do with something I've learned about myself: it takes me a good day to warm up to a city, even a small city. But revisiting Norwich meant that I was warmed up as soon as I stepped off the train. I'm glad my first visit was fairly recent because I remembered how to get places pretty well.

Another part has to do with the helpful folks at the tourist office and some just dumb luck. I got a tourist map at the tourist office (I know, I know), and asked about some of the medieval churches. So the woman behind the desk marked out some churches for me that she thought might be open, and I went on my way.

The first one, St Laurence (or St. Lawrence), was open but empty. So of course I walked in. It was totally empty, but the space was peaceable and quiet. At first it's sort of weird being all alone in an empty church, with a bicycle and carrier thing right near the door, just inside. But I walked around a bit and it was good. The ceiling is way up, and the church is amazingly light. But of course, when it was built, it would have had lots of interior paint and such, and wouldn't look all whitewashed.

I walked two blocks (and short blocks at that) to St Margarets. Unlike St. Laurence, St. Margaret is anything but empty. In fact, it was being used for an art exhibition on Saturday, so there was an artist there putting up her work. She was nice enough to let me wander around once I promised not to sue her if I fell and broke my ankle. I like that the building is being used for art and such. It seemed a whole lot less lonely than St. Laurence. (Though not as open for pictures.)

Then I went on to St. Swithun, which is now an arts center. The art center folks were kind enough to let me wander around inside, but there wasn't much to see since the space has been reworked as a concert space with a stage and standing room.

Then it was on to St. Gregory Pottergate, which was probably the very best church of all because it had this magnificent and cool wall painting still up! You need to click on that painting to see it as big as you can because it's so wonderful. As I learned on my last trip to Norwich (at Dragon Hall), there was a religious fraternity thing in medieval Norwich dedicated to St. George (yes, RedCrosse!), so here he is. (There's also a dragon named Snap in the castle museum.)

This is a modern Snap (I'm pretty sure it's not 15th century at least) hanging around. What I learned last time is that the Lord Mayor does an annual entry or something and is led by Snap, and all sorts of other festiveness. I have to wonder what would happen if poor Snap met a real dancing dragon like for Chinese New Year. I have a feeling Snap would feel a bit inadequate.

There's also this great misericord with a guy... well, the description on the website says he's sitting on his haunches, which would sort of fit with the whole semi-sitting on the misericord. But I have a hunch he may not be sitting. Look at his face; doesn't he look like he's concentrating pretty darned hard? I thought so.

Then, of course, there's the ceiling. Who doesn't love a good medieval ceiling! I do, anyway. I can't quite wrap my mind around the idea that people built this 500 or so years ago, and it's still there, and still looks pretty darned sturdy.

I'd pretty much had a day of medieval churches (with some hot cocoa from Caylee's to keep me going), so I wandered through the market and around as it began to get dark. You probably remember my friend Onofre. Well, when I posted pictures on eff bee, some folks said they thought he was great, and some other friends here have said they'd like to give hats to their kids, so I stopped and got some hats. And then when I got back to the manor (on Saturday), I took a picture of the whole clan, with the first Onofre at the upper center in a place of more or less honor. Or something.

They sort of look scary all there together, don't they? (The center is a red fox. He's got the BEST tail!)

In a bit, Day Two of the Norwich Second Visit.

A Rant in the Key of Eff U - Grad School Recommendations Edition

I'm doing letters of recommendation for grad schools. It takes me about an hour to write a good letter using the materials the student has sent. I'm happy with the letter and enthusiastically recommend the student, who is a fine person and will do well in the chosen career path.

But the forms. Curse a bunch, and then curse some more. Stupid forms!

One insists that I give my country's phone code. Seriously? The address that I've filled in is in the middle of the US and you need my phone code? How about you use some minimal coding knowledge and have the form set so that when I choose "United States" from the country list it automatically knows that the phone code is 001. (Yes, I had to look it up. I don't call the US from outside the country much and I certainly didn't need to devote even a single cell to remembering that number. Except now I will probably remember it through a haze of dementia so that on my death bed I'll croak out something about 001 and whoever is cleaning the floor at the time won't know what it's about or care, but it will be my final sound.)

Some of the forms want me to distinguish between the top 1 or 2% and the top 5%. Really? I teach a good hundred students each semester in a variety of different classes, and you want me to decide who's number 2 vs number 3?

I don't think you actually need the number of questions that you put on those forms. Some of them have ten questions ranging from communication and writing to maturity to creativity to whatever. How do you distinguish between writing and communication? Have you ever had a really excellent student who could write but couldn't communicate? Or vice versa? They aren't quite the same, but they're pretty darned closely related. Most of the choices are like that, too. They may not ask quite the same thing, but they're close enough that you're not going to get a student who does one really well and can't do the other at all.

One form had at the very bottom a choice box for how likely the student was to complete the program. I'd say it depends on funding and disasters; given okay funding and few disasters, this student will be great. Given a bad disaster, the student will die tomorrow. And you think I can answer that question in a meaningful way? (I picked the best one because I think the student is superb. But I still can't predict disasters.)

And finally, the forms where I have to upload the letter, in either pdf or doc format, depending on which it wants (and no, they don't all want the same thing). The screen says that when it uploads properly, you'll see a button that says something like "check the upload" so that you can see what you've uploaded. But it doesn't actually say that. So you start all over, and funny enough, it thinks you've already uploaded the letter.

I think everyone who makes up these forms or decides that they're department will use these forms should be forced to fill out a bunch of fake recommendations just to make sure that what you've SAID will show up actually shows up.

This student is applying to a number of schools. I'm halfway done with the forms, and more than halfway to high bloodpressure. (At least this student isn't applying to different sorts of programs that require different stuff IN the letter like one a year or two ago.)

And one of the universities that was supposed to have sent me information about how to submit a letter of recommendation hasn't.

Yes, recommendations have always taken a long time, but this is stupid.

Okay, back to work.


Well, one more thing. I decided to check my eff bee page. I did. And there, at the top, two of my "friends" have somehow clicked like or whatever on a big chain store. One of these people is all on sometimes about how radical and stuff she is, but she likes big box capitalism. That makes good sense.

Let's be honest, you can't click on eff bee that you love big box store and in the next moment assert that you totally support local OWS stuff. It makes no sense. That big box store IS Wall Street. Those profits are going to Wall Street, and they're what they are because the store imports cheap crap from overseas factories that don't allow unionization and that have poor pay and work conditions.

I feel like unfriending some people because they clicked that they like a big box store. How snotty is that? (Pretty snotty.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


It's about the last weekend here at the Abbey until finals, and then I'll spend a few days in London before flying back to the Northwoods.

I'm thinking of a leisurely weekend away, somewhere.

I could go to Durham. I hear there's a lovely cathedral and that it's a good place for walking. I haven't been yet.

I could go back to York. York is incredible, AND there's a big Christmas market I could wander through. But maybe crowded?

I could go back to Norwich. Norwich is friendly and fun, and great for walking. But I was there only a couple of weeks ago. (I still need to post up about my trip to Norwich some more!)

Other thoughts?

So where should I go? (The folks who suggested Norwich before did a great job, and I trust you may have other ideas.)

I've been to:

Dublin (and a bit around Ireland)
Wales (Llandudno, mostly)
The Lake District
Burghley House and Stamford

I'm totally game for a tiny town or something different, so long as I can get there and back on public transportation and there's a warm-enough place to sleep.

I'm also getting near the point where I'll prioritize where I want to go while I'm in London.

So far, I'm planning to revisit Westminster, Paul's, the Banqueting House, and the British Library. Other places I should aim for, especially things I haven't yet? (I know a lot of places are closed for winter, but I'm here now.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gettin' my Geek On

I'm teaching Robinson Crusoe right now. I'm always a bit overwhelmed teaching novels. There's so much there, and it's not divided into acts and speeches and such.

Sometimes, that means I get a little focused on little things. And often enough, those are stupid little things. Like this time:
It was now Harvest, and our Crop in good Order; it was not the most plentiful Encrease I had seen on the Island, but however it was enough to answer our End; for from our 22 Bushels of Barley, we brought in and thrashed out above 220 Bushels; and the like in Proportion of the Rice, which was Store enough for our Food to the next Harves... (208)
I know what you're thinking: "Okay, they harvested enough."

But I was listening to a couple audio books recently, one a history of medieval Europe, the other a history of the crusades (from a European point of view), and both texts talked about some important changes in food production during the middle ages. From my poor memory (which is a big disadvantage with audio books), there are changes from a two field system of crop rotation to a three or four field system of crop rotation, which led to greater production. There's also the introduction of the horse collar, which means greater plowing production, and so more land can be cultivated. And so on.

But by the late middle ages, if memory served, the ratio of seed to harvest had gone from 1:2 (which means you then have to hold half the harvest to reseed next year) subsistence farming to 1:3 or 1:4 not-quite subsitence farming.

But ol' Crusoe isn't doing crop rotation, and he's working in imaginary tropical fields (which in real life aren't suited to barley production at all, though apparently in literature they sometimes are, on which, more later).

But by the 1720s when the book is published (as opposed to 1659, when he supposedly got shipwrecked on the island), Jethro Tull (the agriculture guy, not the band) had done some serious agricultural work to increase production. And other rotation practices (and potatoes!) were being introduced around.

Anyway, I was getting my geek on about this, and look what I found! It's a database of three centuries of crop yields in England!

You have to sign in, which I did, and then play around a bit to find an estate for which there's data for the years and crops you've chosen, but it's just way cool! And if you were a real geek, you'd start looking for somewhere that the database covers AND that has good parish records, and you'd go to town wildly looking at food production and birth/death/wedding information.

In Kent, for example, at a manor called Westerham (owned by Westminster Abbey), in 1312-13, the yield for wheat is 4.46 (that's the ratio, again) and for barley it's 7.56. The next year the barley ratio is above 8. But in 1304-5, the ratio for wheat is 1.32 and for barley 1.25. (That had to be a BAD year.) 1348-9 is even worse (1.27 and 1.19), and then there's apparently a 12 year gap in the records.

I've only explored a bit, but the 8 fold increase seems exceptional, and an increase of 2-4 fold seems typical. (You can explore yourself! It's fun and entertaining!)

What does this tell me about Robinson Crusoe? I think it suggests that someone more 18th century than I should figure out if something similar is available for 18th century crop yields. But I suspect what it tells us is that Defoe doesn't actually know much about farming, and so is at best overestimating yields (especially in a tropical context). At any rate, Crusoe is basically doing BAD medieval agriculture (and not using clover in his rotation, as was being introduced into England in the 18th century, or any crop rotation or fallow field rotation), so he probably shouldn't count on the 10 fold yield. On the other hand, it's a neat little thing in the text that they're willing to wait 6 months so that they can get another crop in before bringing over the Spaniards from where they were captives.

Other than that, well it's more entertaining to look at a database of medieval crop yields than to think about teaching an 18th century novel, but I suppose that says more about me than about the novel.

Anyone have crop yield information for the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries in England?

Sources (because the geek is strong in me!)

Campbell, Bruce M. S. (2007), Three centuries of English crops yields, 1211‑1491 [WWW document]. URL [November 21, 2011.]

Daileader, Philip. The Teaching Company: The High Middle Ages. 2001. Audiobook.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Ed. Thomas Keymer. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Harl, Kenneth W. The Teaching Company: Era of the Crusades. 2000. Audiobook.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


One thing: when you visit Versailles, it's easy to see why some folks thought they needed a revolution.

That said, wow, I had a great time.

I had been hanging out with Singing Woman, who speaks a bit of French, but she didn't want to go to Versailles, and I did, so I went on my own.

I'll admit it: I was a little nervous before I went to Paris because I don't speak the language and feel unsophisticated and stuff. But it was fine, and better than fine. I got directions at the hotel for the special train (RER) and bought a ticket at the Metro station. I had to switch trains, but it was straightforward and obvious that they were really used to directing tourists to Versailles.

Imagine, when Versailles was built as a palace, it was well outside of Paris. Now it's a suburb. And, according the the stuff I read while I was there, Louis XIV built it so that he could get all the bureaucrats out of Paris and under his thumb to run things, which works well if you're really good at running things and they aren't too big, and then probably doesn't.

This is Hercules, on one of the fireplace mantles, I think. I love the detail of the lion helmet/hat thingy with the eyes closed and the nostrils just off center, and the lion's face becoming one with Hercule's hair. This mantle is sort of a toss off, not one of the big pieces of art, and yet it's still stunning and beautiful. It could be all by itself and I'd stop and gawk.

But then the whole place is just overwhelming beyond belief, and poor Hercules becomes one of a million other things you see and finally can't really take in any more.

Because we'd gotten the Paris pass thing, I didn't have to wait in a long line (yay), and also had already paid for an entry into the Trianon palaces, the smaller palaces in the estate. So after I walked through and got all overwhelmed by the main palace (including the Dauphin's rooms and the family rooms), I got a ticket for the mini-tram thing and rode down to the Grand Trianon. It's a pinkish marble, and just about as beautiful as a building can be in the sunshine.

I really liked it. Somehow, it seemed like an intimate palace, if one can imagine such a thing? I mean, I could imagine real people living there, and I really couldn't imagine anyone real in the main palace at all because it is just too huge for comprehension.

There was a room with malachite vases (look!) and a table and such, and it was just eye-stopping. I could have stared at those vases for a good long time. I love the patterning in them. I guess they're somehow carved out of solid stone? And then polished beyond belief?

Sometimes, I've seen pottery with crystaline glazes that look sort of like that, except not in such a perfect green. (I really like a good, deep green.)

So, in case France is wondering, the malachite vases are welcome to come visit the BardiacShack any time you get bored of having them at the Grand Trianon!

After my visit to the Grand Trianon, I was hungry, and lo, there was a food stand! Actually, it was a baked potato stand. I'd never seen a baked potato stand before, but it's baked potatoes! What (except for Dan Quayle's spelling) could go wrong? Not this! This, my friends, is a potato done in Norwegian style (or something in French), and it's hot potato with sour cream, herbs, and smoked salmon with a lemon slice. I doubt Louis the XIV had a more welcome baked potato! It gave me the energy to go on to the next palace, the smaller Trianon.

I took the tram from one Trianon to the other, and then to the canal thing, and walked through the gardens up from there. (I'm really not happy with the composition of this picture, alas. I took one with a better composition, but somehow the horses are going uphill in the water, so it just doesn't work. I don't know how I got it so off kilter. Still it's Poseidon and horses, and they're coming up out of the water!

The gardens were off season, and yet still beautiful and green and so very full of people wandering about. I imagine in spring and summer it's more beautiful with flowers, but there are also even more people going through. (The gardens were fine, but going through the main palace was pretty crowded. I think part of why I found the Trianon palaces so much more appealing is that they were far less crowded. I can't help sometimes feeling that way in crowds.)

And that was my visit to Versailles. I had figured I'd probably take half a day and then go visit the Orsay in Paris, but it was a beautiful day and I was really enjoying the whole thing, so I didn't rush it at all. And I'm glad I didn't. I got home safely in the evening, and went to bed, and then got up early and was at the Orsay within a few minutes of its opening, so I at least got to see it for a bit.

I love Van Gogh. I would marry this painting if it were allowed. (Maybe France would let me marry the painting, but I'm sure they wouldn't approve of it coming home with me. Alas. Maybe we can just live together?) The thing about Van Gogh is that I can just look at the brush strokes all day. I look straight on for a bit, and then I move over to the side and look at an angle so that I can see the depth. And then I look from the front again. And so on. The Orsay was a pretty darned good time for me!

In addition to the Van Gogh's and other art (Lautrec! Renoir! Monet! Pisarro!) the building itself is beyond magnificent. What a great way to use an old train station!

A word about Renoir. Sometimes, his pictures of people look vapid to me. But sometimes he catches something about them with what feels to me like great affection (like this one) and then he's as good as the best. (I really like portraits, and like Raphael especially. Look at his Castiglione!)

I had a couple of hours at the Orsay, and then went back to travel back to the UK with the student group, back under the Chunnel. What a nice way to start a travel day!

I know you're all wondering what Onofre was up to while I was visiting Versailles. Well, he was up to his usual tricks, trying to get on the head of a statue (but alas, I couldn't reach)!