Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When will they invent a self-harvesting garden?

We harvested a mess of coriander seeds this morning up in the Volunteer Garden, where all kinds of interesting things are growing despite the fact that we didn't plant them. Take those coriander seeds: I've tried for years to grow cilantro without ever producing a single harvestable leaf or seed, but this year a huge mass of cilantro sprung up in the smaller herb garden just uphill from the house, providing many lovely flavors for early summer dishes. Then when we left town to flee the power outage the whole thing got neglected and went to seed, which means no more leaves to harvest but plenty of peppery coriander seeds to flavor my curries.

Some volunteer fennel grew in that plot as well, but the seeds are still too green to harvest. They taste fresh and slightly flowery but won't keep well until they start to brown. Also in that plot we have volunteer tomatillos just about ready to harvest and a new stand of mint we didn't plant. We'll have to keep an eye on that mint. With a little encouragement, it'll take over the universe.

The vegetable garden has reached filling-the-refrigerator stage, which means I'd better start taking some things to campus to give away. Tomatoes, anyone? How about a big fat tangy kohlrabi? I'm looking forward to eating fresh cantaloup for breakfast one of these mornings, but I can't eat twelve of them. I hope they don't all ripen at the same time!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Politics as usual

All who disagree with me
are part of the conspiracy,
and if they should agree with you--
you must be on the wrong side too.

Compulsive course-planning

A recent outbreak of compulsive course-planning seems to have addled my brain--and if you don't believe me, I offer Saturday's post as evidence. I've been mulling over ideas for my fall and spring courses so persistently that I keep having epiphanies at inopportune moments, like during the sermon at church. I hope the pastor thought I was frantically scribbling sermon notes on the back of my bulletin. I'll just shred those notes before he gets a look at them--but first, I'll transfer them to my "spring Honors Literature Syllabus" file.

I can't remember the last time I had so many new courses to plan or old courses to revise drastically. I wrote earlier about my search for a monster movie for my spring film class, and I received some helpful responses that will come in handy as I work on that class. 

I also wrote my difficulties finding a textbook for my fall freshman composition class, which is linked with a biology class and full of biology majors. I finally settled on a terrific text: The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011, which features terrific articles in a variety of lengths covering some really compelling topics--and it's cheap! (For a textbook.) I'm thinking about an unusual assignment for a researched persuasive essay: each student will write a letter to the presidential candidate of his or her choice persuading him to take a particular stance in regard to a particular scientific problem. Fun, yes?

And I wrote about finding appropriate texts for my fall Sports Literature class, which is the first of my fall classes to have reached the completed syllabus stage. Now I need to figure out how I'm going to handle a classroom full of mostly men (only one woman in there so far!) and mostly football players (13 out of 18 students!).

But that's not all! I realized just yesterday that the Honors Literature course I'm teaching in the spring is not part of a learning community, so I'm free to select my own theme for the course. That's what I was scribbling about in church yesterday--a list of texts dealing with journeys: Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, plus some poems and short stories and a play, maybe Death of a Salesman accompanied by the wonderful Eudora Welty story "Death of a Traveling Salesman" and Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." I'd like to take that course! But instead, I'll teach it.

And that's still not all! I may have the opportunity to teach another 200-level literature class in the spring, but I'm having a hard time finding one that hasn't been taught in a while. I don't want to step on anyone else's toes and I don't want to teach two film classes in the same semester, so I've been casting about for a theme for an experimental course--and now I've got it! We regularly offer a course called Concepts of Tragedy, so how about Concepts of Comedy? A little Chaucer, a little Shakespeare, some satire and short fiction and silliness, and maybe even an opportunity to teach the greatest academic novel ever written: Straight Man by Richard Russo. Wouldn't that be neat?

Of course, at this point Concepts of Comedy does not, in the strictest sense, exist, and it will not come into being unless someone writes a course proposal and gets it approved, which will have to happen pretty quickly if we want to offer it in the spring. Somebody had better stop obsessing over syllabi and get cracking. Course proposal, here I come! 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Coming soon to a course catalog near you

Haiku 'N' You: Meets for five weeks, seven days a week, five minutes per session.

The "The": The Dream of the Rood, The Name of the Rose, The Catcher in the Rye: examine how "the" influences and informs literature and culture, with brief glances at "a" and "an" and the occasional outbreak of "the-lessness."

Survey of Surveys: Study works selected at random from every Norton anthology ever published.

Concepts of Gum: How did Bazooka Joe comics influence "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"? Could Isabel Archer walk and chew gum at the same time? If Captain Ahab and Moby Dick got into a bubble-blowing contest, who would win?  And what's that stuck under your seat?

Concepts of Glum: Lots of gloomy Russian novels plus The Saddest Music in the World; extra credit for convincing but unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Concepts of Slums: Charles Dickens, Stephen Crane, and Don DeLillo walk into a bar--and immediately get mugged.

Concepts of Conceptualization: What? What?

Friday, July 27, 2012

A few Friday fun links

Cows can walk on water--but only with government approval.

Do smiles reveal nationality? (My suggestion: go with your gut. When I stopped to think about it, I guessed wrong.)

Sacred text inspires manuscript fetishism and mystery.

Tony the Tiger gives a big thumbs-up to Dave Barry's Olympics coverage.  

Here's that essay in the Harvard Business Review by the guy who won't hire anyone who can't pass a grammar test...and a rebuttal from a linguist

And finally, because it's not every day that Beowulf makes the news, Stephen Colbert defends the Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Deer blind

What's the best possible use for nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mined lands? 

Make it a wildlife conservation area/safari park and call it The Wilds.

We didn't tour The Wilds yesterday but we got close. My bird-watching buddy and I drove along the perimeter and up to the Jeffrey Point bird-watching shelter to try to catch a glimpse of some rare grassland birds reputed to be nesting in the area. 

Drought-ridden brown grasses shimmered in a slight wind that made the triple-digit temperature almost bearable, and the birds wisely stayed well hidden in the tall grass. My friend kept putting her hands behind her ears and staring intently toward some miscellaneous patch of grass and then pointing and saying, "There? Did you hear that?"

Sometimes I did. The Cornell bird guide calls the Henslow's Sparrow "an uncommon and famously inconspicuous bird," and I can attest to the truth of that statement. We heard their quiet twittering in several spots, but despite great patience, we saw only one bird perched on a tallish weed, and it was so distant that it shows up in my photos as a vaguely bird-shaped blur.
I wouldn't have seen the sparrow at all if not for my friend's eagle-eyed ability to spot small things at a great distance. I'm not surprised that I had trouble spotting a small bird the color of dry grass, but when my friend pointed out about a dozen large deer that I couldn't see at all without binoculars, I realized that her vision is orders of magnitude better than mine. 

But I did spot the tiny blue darning-needle dragonflies clinging to the grass at our feet. When the wind blew, their little bodies lined up like minuscule wind socks at the insect airport. If the sparrows and deer were iridescent blue, they'd stand out like neon signs against all that brown grass and I wouldn't have any trouble seeing them! 

Of course, neither would their predators.

Then again, it's not always necessary to see everything. Yesterday I learned that habitat destruction has led to a steep decline in the population Henslow's sparrows, but the grasses planted on reclaimed strip-mined land at The Wilds have lured the birds to southeastern Ohio. If we listen carefully, we can hear them and know they're here even when they remain hidden in the tall grass.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ten happy moments all in one day

A long chat with a friend just back from China. 

The Drifters singing "Under the Boardwalk" on the radio.

A textbook for my fall freshman composition class--finally!

Fresh garden tomatoes and sugar-snap peas in the kitchen.

A colleague's brilliant photos of colorful bugs.

A blouse I love on the clearance rack for $4.

Orange-ginger hand lotion, nice and light.

A dollar off per gallon of gas at the Get-Go.

That super-nice, super-patient, super-competent cashier at the grocery store.

An indigo bunting at the birdfeeder.

A Netflix delivery: another season of The IT Crowd. ("Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again? Have you checked to see if it's plugged in?")

(Oops, that's 11. Which one shall I delete?)

A few holes in the security blanket

Note: I wrote this on July 22 and thought it had posted, but it disappeared into limbo until I finally tracked it down. Where has it been? No idea. At any rate, here it is, three days late:

Yesterday morning my son and I were chatting about the dangers of food-service jobs, and then last night he got robbed.

Well, he didn't get robbed: his store got robbed while he was out making a delivery. In fact, it's possible that the miscreant waited until the big tall strong delivery guy left the building before walking in armed with a knife and baseball bat. No one was hurt but there was a great deal of fuss and bother, in the midst of which my son sent a text-message explaining the circumstances and ending with, "I am surprisingly calm."

I am too. Odd, that. Calmness has not generally been my defining trait. I ought to be having hysterics right about now, but I'm not. Why?

When we compared notes about the dangers of food-service jobs, I talked about the hazards I faced as a (not very good) waitress more than 30 years ago: overly flirtatious customers, customers who walked out without paying, the host who would seat big tippers in your section if you'd spend some time in the back room with him (which I never did, because ick!). Sexual harassment was probably the biggest hazard, and most women my age have similar stories: complain to the manager and he'd say, "Well, if you don't like the job, find another one." I didn't so I did and that was the end of that.

No one ever robbed the restaurant where I worked, probably for the same reason that no one ever breaks into my car: one glance tells you that there couldn't possibly be anything inside worth stealing. 

My son faces different types of hazards. In a sit-down restaurant, customers are somewhat constrained because of the presence of others; people ordering pizza delivery in the heart of Appalachia, on the other hand, may be more casual in their behavior. My son's customers are sometimes stoned or wearing pajamas, and some have houses that smell like too many cats while others are roughing it in luxurious motor homes out at the campgrounds. 

I worry about bad road conditions, bad dogs, and bad tippers, but he brushes my worries away. "Most people are pretty nice," he says. He doesn't worry about getting robbed because he doesn't carry enough money to make robbery worthwhile, and the store doesn't keep much cash on hand either.

But the guy who walked in and robbed the place last night didn't know that. The police say the perpetrator sounds like the same guy who has been breaking into businesses all over town this summer, including three break-ins at the local pharmacy. He wears a hoodie and steals money or drugs, always after hours when no one is present. Until last night, when only the female manager was in the building. 

She's fine, by the way. She saw the knife and ran out the back door. My son is fine too. And calm. Remarkably calm, considering.

My son was one of thousands of people who attended the midnight premier of The Dark Knight Rises and didn't get shot, for which I am grateful while also feeling guilty for my gratitude. I'm certainly not grateful that someone else's child got shot; I'm horrified and angry and appalled at the massacre in Aurora, and I am grateful that my son is safe and that we live in a relatively safe area. But I also know that the people of Aurora thought they were safe too and that the feeling of safety is an illusion easily shattered.

And yet I am surprisingly calm. It is the relieved calm of the survivor: something horrible happened and we are still breathing. No need to get hysterical. We'll just keep calm and carry on until the next time some horror reaches through to pierce our sense of safety.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Midsummer mayhem

It's a good year for fleas if you're a flea but not so good if you're a dog. Mild winters encourage explosion in the flea population, leading to misery for poor Hopeful despite our best attempts to protect her. The other day when I took her for a walk she nearly got clobbered because she was too busy scratching to notice an approaching car.

So this morning we gave her a good flea bath and then watched her shake off the water and run to the woods to roll in pine needles, and then after the walk she took a plunge in what's left of the creek. Despite the proliferation of pests, she seems happy--friendly and frolicking and full of energy. She hasn't brought back any horrid dead things for a while, or maybe she's just hiding her treasures more carefully. She was very proud, though, of her utter domination of a plant pot that formerly housed a small bay tree. She stood over the destruction looking as if she expected, at the very least, the Nobel Prize for Mayhem. How could anyone punish such an eager-to-please face?    

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Who broke the Internet?

I didn't do it! I don't even know what "it" is, but our Internet service has been glitchy ever since the big storm (which was June 29--so, nearly a month ago already!) but this week it's been pretty reliable. 

Or so I thought.

I don't know why Blogger keeps having trouble saving and publishing my posts, why it saved seven different copies of the same post, or why a post I wrote on Monday didn't appear until Friday. Some days it's so hard to stay connected that I give up trying to post, or I wait until I can go somewhere with more reliable service. (Like Stoked, where I am right now. I'm stoked for Stoked! Great vanilla latte plus great wireless internet!)

Once school starts I'll be able to rely on the campus wireless service, but meanwhile, I'm just trying to live with the glitches. I can do this! I survived childbirth, grad school, chemotherapy, radiation, and being faculty chair, so I ought to be able to deal with the occasional technological snafu.

But if you don't hear from me for a while, just assume that I'm dodging glitches right and left and I'll get back to you when I've cleared the air.


Friday, July 20, 2012

A refresher course for old fogeys

I worked freshman registration the other day and I was surprised by the rampant ignorance. Not theirs--mine!

I lost track of how many times I had to say "I don't know" to a student's question and then get up and walk across the room to find the answer. What's this class about? No idea; I've never seen it before, but here's the description. Who's this professor? Never heard of him. Must be a new hire. Why is there a minor in my field but no major? Um.....

At least I had a clue where to find answers for these questions. I don't know where to get help for the flaws that revealed themselves when I tried to explain our General Education requirements to a classroom full of "exploratory" students (code language for "I have no idea what I want to study so please just put me in classes that count for something"). I haven't stood in front of a room full of students since last December, so it's no surprise that my classroom management skills might be a bit rusty, but seriously: handing out papers? Any idiot can hand out papers! All I had to do was distribute to each student one copy of the purple handout, the dark green handout, the light green handout, and the white handout, but if my life had depended on my handing-out skills, you'd be attending my wake today. 

"Poor Bev," you'd say. "Just couldn't cope with two shades of green."

We have orientation sessions to help new faculty members adjust to teaching here, but maybe we need a midsummer refresher course to help experienced faculty brush up on essential skills. We could do paper-sorting sprints and practice carrying a pile of books, a laptop computer, and a full coffee mug up two flights of stairs without dropping anything. I could certainly use some practice in talking while walking around in front of a classroom in high heels without running short of either breath or ideas.

I'm eager to get back to teaching this fall, but I worry a little bit about my ability to handle four classes, two of them full of freshmen, many "exploratory." I haven't taught that kind of load in years. Can I hack it? Or will I end up curled up on the floor in a fetal position and blubbering incoherently about handouts in two shades of green?


Sizzlin' summertime

I found these two sulphur butterflies clinging to weeds in the upper meadow and firmly attached to each other--so firmly, in fact, that when I walked too close and startled them, they flew off still attached, one dangling helplessly beneath the other.
Yes, the butterflies have come back, although not in the numbers we've seen in previous years. I saw plenty of variety today--lots of little blues and whites, several kinds of swallowtails, and a bunch of very small fritillaries (but none of the huge ones we usually see when the butterfly weed is blooming). Today I even saw a monarch, which doesn't often happen here although I don't know why.

Yes, the butterflies have come back, although not in the numbers we've seen in previous years. I saw plenty of variety today--lots of little blues and whites, several kinds of swallowtails, and a bunch of very small fritillaries (but none of the huge ones we usually see when the butterfly weed is blooming). Today I even saw a monarch, which doesn't often happen here although I don't know why. 
The cabbage whites remain plentiful in the garden--and my, what a garden! We're already drowning in beans, cucumbers, and squash, and let me just say that patty-pan squash pan-fried in butter with a little salt and pepper is about as close to heaven as you can get without leaving Ohio. The corn patch is a dead loss but the melons are doing better than ever and we've never had peppers ready to pick this early in the summer.

The resident garden expert tells me that tomatoes ripen at night, so these warm nights should bring out the sizzle.

The sulphurs, on the other hand, prefer to do their sizzling in broad daylight.


Calling all mascots!

Last time I asked for a monster--and my, what great monsters you've given me! Now I need a mascot.

For my team, of course. This fall I'm not exactly team-teaching but I'm teaching a class linked in a learning community with two others, and we want to give our teaching team a name.

The "team" concept is important because this learning community includes my Sports Literature class linked with a basic writing class and a one-hour college skills lab. Given the topic, chances are good that we'll have a room full of jocks (mostly male--the class roster currently includes only one recognizably female name). Our three classes will work hard to engage students in serious academic work and equip them with the skills they'll need to succeed in college, so the three of us teaching in this learning community want to give our team a name.

But what name? Someone suggested "The Three Muske-Teachers," which is cute but sidesteps the emphasis on sports. Or we could be "The A-Team," with A standing for Academics, but no one's volunteering to be Mr. T. An inveterate punster pointed out that since we'll be offering essential support to athletes, we could call ourselves "The Jock-Straps." (Can't you just see the team T-shirts? Wait, maybe not.)

We're meeting Monday to brainstorm on many topics, including an appropriate name for our teaching team. Mr. T is definitely not invited--but you are. Nominate a team name and mascot and if our team selects your suggestion, I'll send you a prize. I can't say what yet but it's bound to be something very supportive, athletically speaking.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Calling all monsters!

I need a monster.

Not right away, but soon. Sometime this fall I will need to solidify my selections for the Special Topics in Film class I'm teaching next spring, and I don't know which monster to include.

It's an upper-level class focusing on portrayal of animals in film and I'd like to call it something like Romancing the Beast except I don't want to suggest the presence of Disney princesses. The class will focus on the varying roles animals play in films and what they suggests about culture and values and all that fun stuff. Here's my list of featured films so far:
Bringing up Baby: animals as catalysts for human romance
Whale Rider: animals as mythic carriers of communal spiritual values
Grizzly Man: animals as carnivores resisting human community

The thought of juxtaposing these three films fills me with inordinate glee, but I'm missing some important points on the human/animal relationship continuum. I need a hunt film, something with a Moby Dick vibe but not necessarily Moby Dick. I'm tempted to use Adaptation just because the hunt for a rare orchid plays so delightfully with the mythic hunt motif, but the only memorable animal is that alligator (who is, let's face it, a terrific alligator). So I'm still on the hunt (ha!) for a hunt film.

And then I need a monster--or an animal portrayed as a monster. I could go back to the original King Kong and look at the displacement of human monstrousness onto a mutant animal, or I could go the sci-fi succubus route with something like Alien, although I'd prefer films that students don't already know by heart. Or I could do something completely different. Monster films aren't my forte so I'm all at sea with the white whale on my tail--or perhaps I'm up the creek without a paddle and an alligator lurking just around the bend.

Either way, I need a lifeline! So drop a monster into the comment box and I'll do my best to keep him out of trouble.       

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bringing sunshine to the dungeon

Millipedes were waiting to greet me when I arrived at my office this morning. They were gathered, hundreds of them, just inside the door and all along the stairwell, and many of them had found their way down the steps to my hallway.

I don't care to share my space with millipedes, but there they were, advancing slowly but inexorably in the direction of my new office. A basement office with a dungeon-style window already feels creepy enough without the invasion of many-legged creepy-crawlies.

Good thing I brought along my daughter to dispel the dungeon ambience. She stood on a stepladder and painted all morning and afternoon, often with her arms stretched above her head to reach high along the wall. Soon a clematis vine was creeping down from that distant window, and fluttering nearby were a goldfinch, chickadee, hummingbird, and hummingbird moth. 

Years ago she embellished my first office here with a kitten reaching for a butterfly, but the next resident painted right over it. The birds she painted in my second office still flutter around the window for the current resident, but I never asked her to paint anything on the walls of my library office. (New building, new rules. I believe I would have been run out of town on a rail if an unapproved drop of paint had appeared on those walls.)

My new office, though, needed a touch of sunshine to offset the gloom, so today I set Laura loose to mark my territory. I didn't ask permission and I doubt if anyone cares--except for me. I resisted moving to this office and I'm tempted to obsess over its flaws and dampness and creepy-crawly visitors, so I welcome the touch of brightness and life provided by the birds.

I just wish the birds would swoop down and snatch up those pesky little millipedes milling about the halls.



Midway through

Hurray for my artistic daughter who brings birds into my basement office!

The peripatetic tree

It smells like Christmas all around the property thanks to the resident woodsman's brush-clearing operation. He spent the afternoon in the pine groves untangling fallen limbs and dragging them down to the wood pile, spreading the scent of pine sap everywhere and reopening clogged paths.

"You've got to go up there and see this tree," he said, so we went up and saw. What's so special about this tree? It looks as if the wind just pushed it sideways and left it leaning against its neighbor.

But that's not its neighbor. In fact, that tree doesn't belong in that copse at all. It's not rooted in the spot but appears to have been lifted up from somewhere or snapped off the top of a larger tree and then deposited, standing, in our woods.

How long will it remain standing? Not long--as long as there's a working chainsaw in the family. We don't know where it came from, but I think we know where it's going.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

If these weeds could talk...

I warn my Nature Writing students about the dangers of anthropomorphizing nature. Projecting human characteristics onto nonhuman nature, I tell them, can distort our perception and undermine our credibility as writers. 

Nevertheless, when I saw these tiny weedy things sticking out of the water at Burr Oak Lake, they looked to me like two elegant ladies sharing scandalous secrets about the tall gentleman on the right. Thousands of these guys project above the water in the weedy parts of the lake, and a true nature-lover would find out what they're called and what they're doing; instead, I'm inventing silly conversations between creatures that are presumably not sentient.

I'm on firmer ground interpreting the intentions of the hawk peering down from a tree, especially since it swooped down to snatch up some prey immediately after this shot. Similarly, when the great blue heron curls its neck into an S and glares intently into the water, it's clearly preparing to use that neck as a spring to push the precision beak forward to snatch up a fish. I'm sure the fox prowling around the edge of the woods knows what it wants--and it's probably not silly conversation.

But when I see a log floating on the water and say, "I wonder what that alligator wants," I know I've gone too far. There are no alligators in Burr Oak Lake, and even if there were, alligators are notably inscrutable. What could they want to say to me besides "get out of my way"?

That's the challenge for the nature writer: getting out of the way and letting the birds be birds, the foxes be foxes, and the weeds be not elegant ladies gossiping at a dance but, simply and sufficiently, what they are: weeds.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sweet mysteries

Hummingbird moths make me think of airborne shrimp, their shrimpy legs dangling over the bee balm while the proboscis sips nectar. I haven't seen a hummingbird moth in my woods for several years, but this is an odd summer. Where, for instance, are the butterflies? Milkweed and butterfly weed are blossoming in the upper meadow, but where are the fritillarries and swallowtails? A few cabbage whites flutter around the garden, but many other common butterflies are simply absent.

I would blame the big wind but I noticed the dearth of butterflies long before the storm hit. Yesterday I went to our upper meadow seeking butterflies and saw none at all. I found several trees that looked as if they'd been snapped in two and the path to the south copse totally blocked by downed limbs. The only way around led through poison ivy, so I decided to skip that bit of woods and explore the creek instead.

That's where I found the butterfly moth fluttering amongst the bee balm, which sweetens the air with its citrusy scent. I walked along the nearly-dry creek bed enjoying the orange ditch-lilies and elegant blue bellflowers blossoming on the shore, but I also noted the utter lack of butterflies. Where have they gone? When will they come back? Another great mystery enlivening life in the slow lane. 


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Being a human non-bean

Weeding the bean row is easy: just grab hold of anything that isn't a bean plant and yank it out of the ground. This morning, though, I started with a more challenging task: pulling weeds from amongst the beets, radishes, and dill growing in close proximity. Radishes look weedy any day of the week, while the feathery dill stalks and tiny red beet leaves mingle so closely that they sometimes come right out of the ground along with the weeds.

Nevertheless this morning while shade still shrouded the radish-beet-dill row I knelt as if in supplication and carefully separated the weeds from the plants, breathing in the pungent scent of dill as bees buzzed among the yellow-orange squash blossoms one row over. The garden is apparently immune from the effects of catastrophic power failures. The zucchini just keep growing, determined to fill my freshly cleaned refrigerator. 

And the weeds don't mind either. I finished off the beet-radish-dill row and then moved to the sunny side of the garden to help my husband weed the beans. The thick, bushy bean plants are distinctive enough to stand out even from knee-high weeds, so it's easy to yank up every non-bean. Suddenly I'm reminded of a T-shirt I wore as a child, a plain white shirt emblazoned with a green bean and the words "Be a human bean." How many labels did we send to Del Monte to earn that shirt and why did I love it so much that I wore it long after the words had faded?

That shirt is long gone but today I'm stooping in the sunny bean patch, sweat pouring down my face and dirt plastering my arms and legs as I mindlessly pull every non-bean I see until finally I find that the only remaining non-bean in the row is me. I'm a human non-bean! 

So I promptly yank myself right out of the garden and head for the house to enjoy a tall glass of iced tea.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Notes from a disaster area

I was griping this morning about the unreliable internet connection and the lack of phone service at our house and my husband said, "Remember, we are living in a disaster area."

Right. There is that. 

Thousands of people in my county still lack power and water, so spotty internet service and a nonfunctional landline are pretty small potatoes (although given the absence of cell coverage in our area, landlines still matter). 

I went to campus this morning for the first time since the storm hit and it sure doesn't look like a disaster area. Storm damage has been cleaned up quickly, leaving behind only a tangle of stories. In any human encounter, the first question following "hello" is "Do you have power?" The answer opens the floodgate for survival stories.

I've spoken to people outside our area who aren't even aware that we've been through the fire (and speaking of fire, my son has a job interview in Colorado Springs next week, so he'll be flying from one disaster area to another). Yesterday I cleaned the fridge and swept all reminders of the storm out of the house, so today everything looks pretty much normal. In fact, the only persistent reminder of the disaster is that nonfunctional landline. 

Hello? Hello? Is anybody there?   


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Powering up

Everyone keeps saying "I'll never again take water and electricity for granted!" But you know we will. The very reliability of our utilities makes them fade into the background of our lives, utterly unnoticed except when they stop functioning.

Word came last night that the power and water have been restored back home but the phone lines are still down (and when you live in a place with no cell-phone coverage, landlines matter). As the power comes back on, other problems are cropping up: fridges are full of rotten food and friends have found appliances fried or spewing water all over the room. I haven't heard yet about conditions at my house and I won't know the whole story until I return, probably late Wednesday or early Thursday. 

First we'll celebrate the Fourth by hearing the Cleveland symphony and seeing a Cleveland Indians game with family. It seems a little frivolous to be gallivanting about while disaster recovery is still going on, but we had the tickets long before the storm hit and why waste them? Besides, a little frivolity might be just what we need before we get back to the business of taking our utilities for granted.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Refugee camp

I suffered a brief moment of guilt today at a gas station: my friends and loved ones back home have to wait in line for hours at the few gas stations with functioning pumps while I can just drive up and fill up the tank for $3.06 a gallon! 

We may be refugees from the power outage, but we're not living like refugees. We're visiting with friends and family, eating sushi, playing badminton, and making home-made ice cream while back home our friends are cooking with charcoal, trying to bathe in a sink full of lukewarm water, and wearing the same dirty clothes over and over. 

Power has been restored to parts of Marietta but not to our end of the county--just in time for the next round of severe storms. I'm sure those who stayed behind struggle every moment, but my only struggle is trying to get information about the progress of repairs and wondering what kind of mess I'll find when I finally get back home. I keep thinking about the liver and onions I fried just before the storm hit Friday night, and then thanks to the power outage, I didn't have water to wash the dishes. Is that greasy skillet still sitting on the stove, and if so, what does my kitchen smell like?

I'll have plenty of time to tackle that problem when I finally get home. For now, I'll just stick around here and enjoy refugee camp.