Thursday, July 31, 2008

A scofflaw in the boondocks

Once upon a time I was a law-abiding citizen, but then I moved out to the boondocks--and we all know what Sherlock Holmes said about crime in the countryside: "It is my belief, founded upon experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

I have already recorded my experience purloining wildflowers from the public right-of-way (read it here); this morning I added to my dreadful record of sin by driving an off-road vehicle on the public road (illegal), accompanied by an unlicensed and unrestrained dog (doubly illegal), who helpfully supervised while I appropriated two trailer-loads of freshly-cut firewood.

In my defense, I did get permission to take the firewood: the county road crew was cutting up a large windfall limb and they didn't want the wood so they said I could have it. If the limb falls in the road, then it belongs to the road crew, right? I probably ought to ask the person who owns the property where the tree stands, but there's no house anywhere nearby and I have no idea whose property that is.

Not long ago I was buying birdseed at the farm store when the cashier noticed my address. "We have some property out there," she said, and when she described the location, I realized that her land is visible from my kitchen window. Here was a neighbor I had never known! "We haven't been out there to look at the property in ten years," she said, and I suspect that she's not the only absentee property owner in the area. If a person can't be troubled to look at her land in a decade, then will she really care if I take away a few loads of firewood?

There's still some wood over there but the chunks are too heavy for me to lift much less toss into the trailer. Normally when I encounter windfall wood on my walks, I notify the resident woodsman, who goes out with an axe and brings back winter heat, but today my woodsman is up to his elbows in bread dough so I thought I'd do it myself. I had one unexpected adventure on my second trip up the hill when I hit a bump and the pin popped out, releasing the trailer and letting it glide slowly down the hill toward the creek. It stopped right at the edge of the cliff, though, and I managed to locate the pin among the gravel, pull the empty trailer back to the road, and reassemble the rickety rig. If I had lost the trailer while it was fully loaded with firewood, I would have had to leave it wherever it landed.

Firewood is heavy, but the burden on my conscience from my scofflaw activities is virtually weightless. I didn't encounter another human being the entire time I was tootling around on the road with the four-wheeler, the errant trailer, and the dog, so as long as you don't tell, no one will ever know.

Except Holmes. He always knows.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In the vortex

With summer break rapidly coming to a close and many important deadlines looming, our house has become a hotbed of various types of activity, creative and otherwise. The Kentucky kid came home from her camp-counselor job on Sunday, and she has been busy cleaning her room, sewing a quilt from old marching-band T-shirts, and holding the ladder while her dad climbs trees so he can tie ropes around them to guide their descent when he cuts them down.

He's cutting down three or four damaged trees, which will provide enough wood to heat the house all winter, and when he's not cutting trees or baking bread or weeding the garden, he's moving sheds, two ugly little garden sheds I've wanted to move out of the backyard as long as we've lived here. I've long harbored a fantasy about nudging the more battered shed off the cliff and letting it fall down into the creek, but that would be evil, so he moved the better-looking shed down next to the garden and moved the battered shed back toward the woods so it doesn't obstruct the view from the kitchen window. Now we need to get all the stuff that we took out of the sheds back into them.

Meanwhile, the Texas kid has been busy delivering pizzas, pulling weeds, staining the deck, and folding laundry, a chore he tackles with a sort of quiet passion approaching nirvana, while I've done my share of weeding and picking vegetables and, of course, working on my summer writing project, which is just about done. Hopeful the stray dog we haven't decided whether to adopt has been taking great interest in the proceedings, but she knows how to stay out of trouble. The "Found Dog" ad is in the paper and if there are no responses, the deadline for making the decision about the dog is Friday.

The deadline for everything else is the following Friday, when my parents, my two brothers and their wives and children, and my daughter's boyfriend will descend upon our humble abode to celebrate 125ish years of marriage (50 for my parents, 25ish for me and each of my brothers). That big event will mark the official end of summer, the last big hurrah before we have to get the young people back to the classroom and get serious about earning a living. Meanwhile, things are hopping. You'd better look out or you just might get sucked into the vortex and find yourself with a hoe in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Needy reading

A recent article in the New York Times (read it here) asks whether online reading is really reading or whether it is different enough from what used to be called just "reading" to merit special attention in the curriculum. (And by the way, we need a new term to distinguish online reading from just plain old reading and I don't know what it might be. Suggestions?)

The article raises some important questions about changes in reading habits among the young and how those changes might affect brain development, but I was most struck by a comment from the last page of the article, when a young man named Hunter Gaudet explains why online reading is so much better than whatever we're calling the other kind of reading: "In a book, 'they go through a lot of details that aren't really needed,' Hunter said. 'Online just gives you what you need, nothing more or less.'"

I suppose this is true, but Hunter assumes that he is capable of knowing what he really needs, and what if he doesn't? If what he really needs is a discrete piece of information, then he will know when he has acquired that piece of information and he will then stop reading; but what if what he really needs is something more nebulous, like a vicarious experience of joy or terror, a deeper understanding of the human condition, an aesthetic experience aroused by fine writing? How many of us are aware of our deep inner needs and know just where to satisfy them? Often, the satisfaction of a need is the first inkling I have of its existence.

Any needs that can be reduced to an easily digested list of bullet points can probably be satisfied online quickly and efficiently, but what happens when everyone forgets about the existence of the kinds of needs that are not reducible to bullet points? Will anyone know where to look?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Breaking all the rules

When you live in a rural area where town people sometimes go to dump off their unwanted pets, you soon learn the rules of dealing with strays: if you ignore them, they will go away. If a stray dog comes along, do not feed it, bathe it, or give it a name.

Today I violated all three of those rules.

Yes, the dog that followed me home Friday morning is still hanging around in a pleasant and non-demanding way. I successfully ignored her all day Friday and Saturday, so I wasn't surprised this morning to look out the window and see no sign of her. "That dog's gone away," I said, but then I opened the door and there she was lying across the threshold as if guarding it.

What could I do? I picked up a bag of dogfood on the way home from church. A small bag. I don't want to make a big investment in a dog that may be back in the hands of her proper owners by the end of the week. The earliest I can put an ad in the paper is Monday, and then who knows?

She was happy to be fed and happy to be bathed and not so happy about the tick spray, but I notice that most of the ticks have dropped off. When I go out the door, she bounds around in a friendly manner and follows me wherever I go.

We're calling her Hopeful because that's what she is, and maybe because that's what I am too. It has been three years since our dog died, and Hopeful makes me wonder whether I might be about ready to get another one. This could be the dog! Or not. We'll know by the end of the week.Meanwhile, we're hopeful.

Local horrors, part two

My daughter says the strangling murder of her classmate is "sad but not surprising." Apparently everyone knew the girl was being abused--her friends, family, and classmates knew, the police knew, the county prosecutor knew, the judge knew--but every time charges were filed, the girl would recant her testimony: "Oh no, he didn't hit me; I walked into a door."

The last time she was in court, the judge and prosecutor did everything short of charging her with perjury to get her to tell the truth, but she stubbornly refused. "Walked into a door....Sure he was angry, but she overreacted....Didn't want the babies to grow up without a father etc." It all sounds like a Lifetime domestic-violence drama full of the usual movie cliches.

I suppose it's useful to be reminded that cliches don't start out as cliches but as truths whose sharp edges are dulled by constant repetition. Which in itself is sad--but not surprising.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

It followed me home--can I keep it?

I started my long walk yesterday with one friend and ended it with two. A former student came to walk the loop with me, which made the walk pass quite pleasantly, and along the way we were joined by a dog. The friend went home, but the dog seems to be sticking around.

She's a medium-sized black dog, maybe a lab, with no collar or identification. My husband keeps referring to the dog as "he" even though she has obviously been nursing a litter fairly recently, which raises the question: where are the puppies? She needs a bath and she has several engorged ticks on her back, but other than that, she looks pretty healthy. If I were in the market for a dog, she's just the kind of dog I would want: friendly, quiet, non-demanding.

Yesterday she spent some time on our back deck looking in the glass door. She doesn't scratch or growl or bark or beg; she just sits there looking hopeful, and if anyone pays any attention to her, she wags her tail. This morning she was out in the front yard while the resident bread-baker was loading 150 loaves of homemade bread into the van, and even though the front door was hanging open for a good 10 minutes, the dog didn't even try to come inside.

The first peep I heard out of her happened when we drove away: she barked and tried to follow and then gave up. She's probably still there, hanging around the house and hoping for a handout. We haven't fed her or given any other indication that we intend to care for her, but she remains hopeful.

I really don't want a dog right now, you know? But if I wanted a dog, this is the dog I would want.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pursuit for truth

"Currently laid with asphalt the district is in pursuit of a grant from Nike..."

How does an entity covered with asphalt pursue anything? That's what you call a low-speed chase.

Speaking of chases, the local paper (source of the charming sentence quoted above) informed us earlier this week about a young man who is in critical condition after his car crashed during a high-speed chase. I read this article to my son, who spends a lot of time on the local country roads delivering pizzas, except I left out the vital information about where the incident occurred.

"So?" he said.

"The high-speed chase happened on route 550," I said.

"How fast was he going? 25?"

The road in question is not exactly conducive to high-speed chases or to any other use of high speeds. In fact, it's not terribly comfortable at low speeds. It is a road best encountered at no speed at all.

And that's a characteristic it shares with the local newspaper. It doesn't matter whether I read at high speeds or low speeds: my pursuit of truth gets stalled or smashes into a solecism, a dangling modifier, or a mysterious information gap, leaving me feeling as if a fresh load of asphalt has been laid over my brain cells.

But hey, maybe that'll make me eligible for a grant! If it works for the district, why not for me?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Local horrors

The front page of today's paper features a photo of a girl who was in my daughter's high school graduating class. It was a small class, about 50 students, but I don't recognize the girl at all, possibly because it's a bad photo, the type of mug shot used to illustrate an article about the horrors of domestic violence: her eyes are red and puffy and her expression is full of defeat.

And now she is dead. Yesterday her boyfriend strangled her with his belt, violently ending a stormy relationship. At 21, she leaves behind two small children who were not living with her at the time, although the newspaper does not explain where they are or why.

The boyfriend is in custody now, having been turned over to the police by his parents. Which is worse: to be the parents calling the police to say "My son just murdered his girlfriend" or to be the parents receiving the news that their daughter has just been murdered?

I'm grateful today that I don't have to be either one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Strictly bookish

Sometimes it pays to give a book a second chance. Several years ago I tried to read Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey, but I gave up halfway through the first chapter, finding the main character just too annoying for words; this week I've started it again with great delight. Let's hope the delight lasts beyond the first chapter.

Overall, I've been mostly pleased with my light summer reading. Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman is a joy to read--much more fun than At Swim-Two-Birds--and Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days is likewise pleasant if a bit slight. I picked the Cunningham up on the clearance table at Border's for a dollar, so perhaps others have been similarly struck by the book's lack of depth.

I finally read Jhumpa Lahiri's new collection, Unaccustomed Earth (in hardback! full price!) and I enjoyed the last three linked stories very much, only regretting that Lahiri could not have expanded them into a full-blown novel. The first half of the collection contains some lovely prose and interesting characters, but I was disappointed in the sameness of some characters and situations and the slowness of the pace. I love Lahiri's other works--and, more importantly, my students love them. I have taught both Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, and I always have students stating that Lahiri is their new favorite author. It's unusual to find any work of fiction that is equally loved by both professor and students, which led me to expect more from Unaccustomed Earth than it could possibly deliver.

Perhaps a re-reading will change my mind. After all, it's working with Kingston.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Secretarial celebration

I'm dancing around my desk today for a very simple reason: I have a secretary! Okay, she's not quite my secretary yet, but she has been offered the job and accepted it, and in a few weeks she'll move from another campus office to the desk just outside my door--and none too soon if you ask me.

I didn't realize how much I depended on my secretary until this summer, when I've spent a good bit of my office time doing things the secretary normally does. I don't mind fetching the mail or emptying the water out of the dehumidifier so the copier paper won't stick together, but I really don't want to be responsible for programming the departmental budget codes into the new photocopier or submitting the monthly credit card report to the business office.

The new secretary is exactly the person we wanted from the start, which makes me wonder why we went to all the trouble to weed through the pile of resumes (many of them awful--a person who can't figure out how to format a Word document or attach a file to an e-mail message is simply not qualified to serve as an academic secretary) or interview those two other candidates.

But that's all over now. I am delighted with my incipient secretary and I eagerly await her arrival in my outer all I need to do is find a way to assuage the grief of the office that's losing her. Zucchini to the rescue again!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

They're here!

This afternoon, to reward myself for thrashing through the rough spot in my writing project, I spent some quality time with my husband in the garden. We pulled weeds among the corn stalks, which are at a very cute stage right now, with tiny doll-sized ears of corn just beginning to develop. Then we worked on the dill, which is all green and feathery and emits an indescribably wonderful aroma, before paying a short visit to the strange-veggie plot, where the kohlrabi bulbs look like little space invaders that landed amongst the eggplants--and the eggplants are just gorgeous, tiny glossy purple blobs still too small to pick but lovely to look at. A few hot peppers are ready for picking, and a whole lot of green and yellow ones are on the way.

I just picked zucchini and cucumbers yesterday, but we'll have to harvest a bundle of them tomorrow morning before they grow big enough to double as baseball bats. Best of all, though, first thing tomorrow we'll pick the first tomatoes of the season. Yes, they're finally here! But the first ones won't stick around for long.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Blankets without borders

"Two French aid workers kidnapped in Afghan," says the headline in the local paper. Must have been a really big blanket...or a really bad headline. Considering that the same issue of the paper includes a headline referring to oil-producing nations in the "Miss East," I'm guessing bad headline.

Which reminds me: locals are inclined to pronounce "afghan" with three syllables, like "af-again." A student told me she spent years pronouncing it "African." I'm sure someone has already come up with a brilliant folk etymology to explain why certain blankets are named for a continent, but I don't want to hear it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Senior moments

"Dear Senior Faculty" began the e-mail message, and immediately I had to check to make sure it hadn't been sent to me by mistake. But it was no mistake, which suggests that someone in a position of power thinks I'm Senior.

When did I become Senior Faculty? I don't recall taking part in any Senior Faculty Initiation Events and I've never mastered the Secret Senior Faculty Handshake. I've been on campus a mere eight years, which is the second-longest tenure in my department but mere infancy compared to the careers of some colleagues in other departments.

I don't feel particularly Senior, but I don't feel terribly Juniorish either. If anything, I fall somewhere in the broad middle range between the tried-and-true and the up-and-coming. That would make me Middle or Mid-Career Faculty, which sounds too much like Middling or Mediocre.

But if the Powers That Be want to see me as Senior, there's not much I can do to stop them. Do you suppose there's a pay raise involved? Maybe I'll start asking for the senior discount at the bookstore.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bye-bye bytes

This morning when I opened my college-issued laptop computer to work on my summer writing project, the file was gone. But then, so were a lot of other files. Clicking on "My Documents" resulted in an empty file. Running a search for file names turned up no matches. Rebooting had no effect. Every document that had been on my computer was gone: all my syllabi, course materials, assessment data, department reports; all my scholarship, articles, essays, research notes, talks, proposals--all gone. Vanished into the ether.

I felt as if both arms had been amputated and someone had kicked me in the gut just for good measure.

So I took the laptop to campus and waited (not very patiently) while trying (not very successfully) not to panic while two different IT guys told me they didn't have a clue what the problem could be. Finally, the third IT guy took over and within minutes, the problem was fixed. All my documents have been restored, both my arms are back in full functional mode, and that kicked-in-the-gut feeling has dissipated.

Now I need to think of an appropriate gesture of thanks for my IT guys. Do IT guys like zucchini bread?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My own private PWG

As a BUH, I know what I need: I have an SRG (which used to be a PIG) but what I really need more than anyone else is a PWG. Sadly, PWG is one acronym our campus eschews.

As a Budget Unit Head (BUH), I nominally control the English department budget, not that that's anything to get excited about. Our budget barely covers photocopies and printer cartridges, so even if I were inclined to spend it all on a junket to the Bahamas, I wouldn't get any farther than the taxi to the airport.

This summer, though, I have a Summer Research Grant (SRG), which the former administration called a Professional Improvement Grant (PIG), which made it possible for faculty members to utter without irony the phrase "I have a PIG this summer." The SRG pays just enough to cover some research expenses and negate the necessity of summer teaching so that I can focus on research and writing, for which I am grateful.

This morning, though, I realized that what I really need is a Professional Wardrobe Grant (PWG). I had to dress more like a BUH than a bum this morning because I'm on the search committee for an administrative position and we're interviewing a candidate today, but I found in my closet only one (one!) professional outfit that isn't embarrassingly baggy. So today I am wearing on my person my entire fall teaching wardrobe.

What I need is a pile of new clothes, but who can afford to buy a new professional wardrobe at one fell swoop? Clearly, it's time for the college to institute a new program; pedagogy funds already cover new technology and teaching workshops, and as we know from reading student evaluations, nothing has a greater impact on student satisfaction than the professor's appearance. Therefore, the college ought to provide a regular grant to allow faculty members to improve their professional wardrobes: the PWG.

And while we're at it, let's institute a PPG (Professional Pedicure Grant) and a PHSG (Professional Hair-Styling Grant), and let's pay for our faculty members to get personal trainers (PPTG), liposuction (PLG), or facelifts (PFG).

I'm dreaming, of course.

The days of the PIG are gone and the days of the PWG have not yet arrived, but fortunately, there is hope. The other day I received in the mail a sizeable check for my share of fees paid by others to reprint an article I wrote several years ago, and this seems like such a bizarre way to make money that I've decided to dedicate the entire amount to rehabilitating my professional wardrobe. Consider it my own private PWG program--and best of all, I didn't even have to fill out a grant application.

The dunes, the dunes!

Monday, July 14, 2008

A vacation in three words

Got back yesterday from a whirlwind weekend in Michigan, where we visited our adorable daughter the summer camp counselor and spent a day hiking and loafing at Sleeping Bear Dunes, which looks like a leftover piece of Australia that got inserted into Michigan by mistake. We didn't see any sleeping bears (or waking bears either), but we saw a lot of sand. A lot of sand and a lot of wind and a lot of water. Just saying it sounds soothing: sand, wind, and water, a vacation in three words.

This morning I've been trying to work through a rough spot in my writing but I lack motivation. The previous section was a joy to write and the next one should be equally interesting, but the current section is just one long, hard slog through mud up to my elbows. Occasionally I get a glimpse of a distant oasis, a high, dry refuge full of sand, wind, and water. I'll get there someday and today's mud will be a distant memory. For now, though, the only way to get past this rough spot is to thrash my way right on through.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

That new-car smell

I just took my new car for a spin and it's a dandy. By "new," of course, I mean "slightly less old that the car it replaced." We haven't actually bought a brand-new car since 1995. My "new" car is a 1994 Nissan Sentra with only 85,000 miles on it, and we got it for nothing.

Well, almost nothing: my brother-in-law the mechanic found this car for us and did some repairs and body work and a quick paint job (an unusual color I'm calling Mermaid Blue), and in exchange we gave him my husband's '91 Honda, an actively malevolent car that has devoted its life to trying to kill me.

The astounding thing is that my brother-in-law found a buyer for our old Honda within 24 hours and that the price paid for my new mermaid-blue baby. I can't believe that anyone would want to buy the Honda at all, considering that it has 190,000 miles on it and needs a new transmission, not to mention that water leaks in every time it rains so it always smells like dirty sweatsocks, and also it suffers from Car Leprosy, a non-fatal condition in which everything not essential to keep the engine running simply falls off, and the air conditioning hasn't worked for a decade, and have I mentioned that the Honda has been trying to kill me?

But it's gone now and I have a car I can drive to work without fearing for my life. Now the van will pass into the hands of the husband, who needs it more and more for his Farmers' Market business, but I'll be tootling around town with the Little Mermaid. Be sure to wave when you see me. You could call out a cheery greeting, but I won't hear you because my new car has functioning air conditioning, something I haven't had in a car for three or four years. I'll have to get back in the habit of driving with the windows up.

My "new" car lacks that new-car smell, but I put a vanilla lime air freshener in it just to spiff it up. Now if I can just figure out how to change the radio station, I'll be ready to roll.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


I drove home last night through thunder and lightning and dire weather warnings but the only damage I suffered was a thorough drenching while dashing the short distance from the car to the house. What a storm! This morning the only sign was a garden too wet to allow weeding, but that didn't stop me from picking the first squash of the season--eight ripe succulent zucchinis. We enjoyed some fried zucchini with our meatloaf tonight, but soon we'll be so deluged we won't know what to do with them, and they don't sell particularly well at the Farmers' Market because when we have zucchini, everyone else has it too. We still have a few packages of last year's zucchini in the freezer ready to be made into quiche, but why use frozen zucchini when we can pick it fresh?

It's a wonder the world doesn't drown under the annual deluge of zucchini.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What's wrong with academic publishing?

An article in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education reports that academic publishers have cut costs by outsourcing copyediting and reducing proofreading (big surprise), but it also suggests that the field of academic publishing is the humanities is suffering from success: too many scholars produce too much academic writing. Another article in Inside Higher Ed reports on studies suggesting that scholars make mistakes in citation and often misrepresent the content of cited articles; although these studies focus on the sciences, they indicate a trend toward sloppiness also apparent in the humanities.

I have seen ample evidence of these problems in my recent reading, but I wouldn't mind wading through the massive mountain of scholarship on my topic if the writing weren't so uninspired. I really don't understand how scholars who immerse themselves in literature written by some of the world's greatest stylists show so little awareness of the rhythms of the English language: surely surrounding one self with great writing ought to have a discernible influence on one's own style.

And sloppiness of style goes hand-in-hand with sloppiness of citation. I recently read an article in which a scholar offered a biting critique of factual errors in Colson Whitehead's John Henry Days, which draws historical figures into a work of fiction. Now I would love to enter into a discussion about the finer points of fictionalizing historical figures: how much should the author depart from verifiable fact? If a work of fiction includes factual errors about a historical figure, what kind of error is that, exactly? What effect should it have on our assessment of the work as a whole?

But I can't really focus on that interesting topic because the article in question, even while criticizing Colson Whitehead's factual "error," refers to the author as Colin Whitehead. And then when I go to the citations to locate the source of a quote from an online article, I find that not only is the url inaccurate, but the citation lacks the additional information that would allow me to locate the article without the url. So instead of entering into a scholarly discussion on the fine line between fact and fiction, I'm off on a wild goose chase.

No one asked me what's wrong with scholarly writing, which is probably just as well, because instead of griping about how bad it it, I need to focus on producing some good stuff myself. My research is done and I've written about half of the article, which means I should have a complete draft by the end of next week if not sooner--but you'd better believe I'll get some skilled readers to look it over before I release it to the world. I would hate to be guilty of perpetrating yet more awful academic writing.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Cowboys on wheels

I was nearly back from my walk this morning when I saw a cow jumping over the moon--er, fence. A tree fell yesterday, see, and it knocked over a piece of barbed-wire fence on the edge of the neighbor's property, so nearly two dozen cows of various sizes carefully walked down the steep hill through the dark viney woods, jumped awkwardly over the fallen fence, picked their way down into the roadside gully and over the branches of the downed tree, and then went gambolling off into the neighbor's hay meadow, where the grass is apparently greener.

I hate to knock on my neighbor's door at eight o'clock of a summer morning, but cows constitute a serious road hazard--and besides, the neighbors certainly didn't want two dozen cows trampling all over their hay. So I knocked on the door, greeted a pajama-clad neighbor, and reported the news.

I was in our garden pulling weeds in the carrot patch when the neighbor's 18-year-old boy went roaring by on his four-wheeler to ride herd on the cows. I've never seen a movie cowboy on a four-wheeler, but apparently they're the latest thing in bovine crowd control. It was a regular rodeo out there, but eventually the cows returned to their accustomed haunts.

And so did I. I'm at the point in my writing project when I'm always either thinking or writing or thinking about writing, even when I'm out walking the country roads or weeding the garden, so I appreciate any opportunity to welcome some variety into my life--and if that means enjoying a field full of gambolling cows, then all I can say is: moo.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Calendrically challenged

Just moments ago I experienced a startling epiphany: today (drum roll, please) is Thursday.

I realize that all right-thinking people were already aware that today is Thursday and in fact have been aware of that fact since the day began, but I've been feeling Fridayish all day long and plunging into despair over the impossibility of finishing all the projects I need to get done by Monday.

But suddenly I have a whole extra day. It's a gift, like finding money in the pocket of a coat you haven't worn since last winter. Another day, and it's mine, all mine!

Don't remind me that Friday is a holiday. It's not much of a holiday around here: the young man has to work and the old guy will be baking bread all day to prepare for the Farmers' Market on Saturday--and then after the final loaf comes out of the oven, I'll have to rescue the kitchen from the bread-baker's depredations.

But even if we won't have much time to celebrate the holiday, I'll be celebrating the sudden gift of an extra day in which to get stuff done. Those looming deadlines can back off a little bit: today is Thursday and I intend to enjoy every minute of it before it slips out of my hands, never to be heard from again.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Feeling peckish?

In times of stress, my husband likes to quote a saying of his beloved grandfather: "You've got to eat a peck of dirt before you die." Joni Tevis writes beautifully about eating dirt in "I Keep a Jar of Clay Beside my Bed," but frankly, I'd rather read it than eat it. Nevertheless, today I made some progress toward eating my quota of dirt.

It started in the carrot patch, where I was pulling up weeds between the feathery carrot plumes. Occasionally a tiny carrot would come up along with a weed, which is a shame because you can't exactly put them back in the ground once they're out. Should I toss throw the carrot in the weed pile and let it rot or put it to better use?

I brushed the dirt off on the edge of my none-too-clean shirt and popped the tiny carrot into my mouth. It tasted like the condensed essence of carrot, bright and sweet and marvelously crunchy, with just a hint of grit to remind me where it came from.

After the carrots I progressed to the weed-eating, which became far too literal for my tastes. I protect my eyes with goggles and my ears with earplugs, but every time I open my mouth, some big wad of wet weed comes flying straight in, as if the mechanical monster has decided that its duty is to serve me freshly cut grass clippings. Blech. I came in plastered with green and brown gunk and suffering from a persistent icky taste in my mouth.

A shower took care of my coating of clippings and some fresh blueberry tart drove the taste of dirt from my mouth, but all in all, I ended up with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment: That's one more parcel of my peck of dirt I won't have to eat again.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The hegemonic Vegematic

Last night, just for fun, I read to my husband a paragraph of academic writing dense with jargon but oddly bereft of substance. He interrupted me when he heard "hegemonic."


"No, hegemonic."

"Would it make any difference if you substituted Vegematic for hegemonic?"

"Not much," I said, "but the folks down at Ronco might complain."