Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My student shopping list

Our Facebook page for incoming students features a few valiant attempts at serious discussion of the common reading, but right now the students are filling the page with panicky queries about shopping: What kind of computer should I buy and how long should the Ethernet cord be? How big a television can I have in my room? What kinds of bed linens, bookshelves, bed risers, textbooks? Do I really need to buy the textbooks or can I do without?

This chorus of questions evokes a vision of the entire incoming class frantically dashing from store to store stocking up on enough supplies to provision an expedition through the Sahara, except I don't know how you'd carry a flat-screen television on a camel. I understand that starting college is a big step involving occasional brushes with chaos and that shopping is one way to impose order and quell the rising panic, but these shopping lists have some serious gaps. Here are some things I hope every new student will pack for the expedition:

Laundry detergent and the ability to use it. Febreze may do the trick for a day or two, but eventually you'll have to actually wash some clothes or no one will want to sit next to you in the cafeteria. Any student who can't sort clothes into hot, warm, and cold needs a crash course before the semester starts.

Writing implements--and the willingness to use them. Some students think it's really cute to show up for a writing class without a pen or pencil every single day, but trust me: it's not cute. It's annoying and disruptive and it suggests that you suffer from a deep and abiding lack of comprehension of how college works.

An alarm clock obnoxious enough to get you out of bed. Mom doesn't make house calls to the dorm, so find another reliable method to get to class on time without dribbling Cheerios all along the way.

An off button--for everything. Turn off the noise, the phone, the Youtube videos, untether yourself from the earbuds and the chargers and electronic hand-holders, and walk away into the silence and solitude for a few minutes a day until you can work up to an hour. Learn to possess your soul with patience (assuming that you have a soul, and if you've already sold your soul for a mess of pottage, now would be a good time to get it back).

An open mind. If you already know everything about everything, go out and apply your knowledge in the so-called Real World and see how that works. Students who know they don't know it all and who are eager to encounter new ideas are welcome in my classroom.

Perseverance. Finding the right size Ethernet cord is easy and mistakes are readily remedied, but finding reliable information and an effective way to express it can be difficult--so difficult that some students take the lazy way out and let others do their thinking for them, or they give up at the first bump in the road. A student who knows how to keep working through the obstacles will get an education, which is way more important than the right size Ethernet cord.

A smile. Seriously: we've all seen enough of that cynical, world-weary scowl, and we're tired of it. Give those facial muscles a workout and watch how smiles light up the world.

And after all that, go ahead and worry about bed risers and televisions--and textbooks. This expedition runs on textbooks, so stock up and stop complaining. If the camel balks at the weight, you can always jettison the television.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Runaway month on the loose!

Here comes August careering around the corner with its load of deadlines, academic and otherwise. Time to move things out of the way!

But that's not as easy as you might think. Just try getting rid of a nonworking vehicle that's stranded halfway between Nowhere and Nowhere Else. When the cost of towing exceeds the value of the car, who ya gonna call?

It's much easier to get rid of piles of random stuff that's been stashed away in closets so long no one remembers why we kept it. Look, a suitcase so old it doesn't even have wheels! A dust ruffle that matches a bedspread we wore out years ago! A flattened pillow that looks as if some creature has been gnawing on it! That empire-green lamp with the broken shade and no chance of ever finding a shade that fits! Who would want all this stuff?

The Goodwill store wants it, as it turns out. I hauled six armloads in there while the clerks thanked me so profusely you would have thought I was distributing gold bars. If a battered powder-blue suitcase without wheels makes you jump up and down for joy, you've got a pretty low joy threshold.

One more closet to clean out and then I'm declaring my deck-clearing done. Bring it on, August! I'm ready for you!

Monday, July 29, 2013

It's all in the framing

It's possible to look at the past two months as a series of disasters: One car died, and then another! Big expense to replace! Four inches of rain in a two-hour span turned our little corner of the county into a disaster area! We got poured on at a Cleveland Indians game that our team lost! Our grandbaby was born all blue with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck!

But we have a beautiful healthy grandbaby, and I have a beautiful new(ish) car, and my daughter and son-in-law have a spare car my husband can borrow for a while, and the flood did surprisingly little damage to our property, and the gravel guy is coming today to fix the driveway, and the Indians were fun to watch even if they didn't win.

See, it's all in the framing, and right now I'm in a thankful frame of mind. I'm living inside a disaster-free zone and that's where I intend to stay. 


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Van go! Van no go?

If you had been driving north on I-77 just south of New Philadelphia, Ohio, about midafternoon Sunday, you might have wondered, "Who's that crazy lady standing on the shoulder doing a Sudoku puzzle?" 

That would be me.

I was doing the puzzle because we happened to have the Sunday paper with us and what else was there to do while waiting for the tow truck?

Yes, I managed to drive yet another car right straight into the ground. For a while there it looked like I was going to drive it into a ditch or off the road--that van acts like a sail in high winds, and the canoe on top wasn't helping any. We were on our way to our annual family reunion and making really good time despite the unfortunate incident with the construction barrel in the middle of the road (yipes!) and the frequent corrections when a gust of wind would push us toward oblivion (hold on!).

But it wasn't the wind that blew us off the road. It was the head gasket, which blew out and let coolant into the engine and released billows of smoke carrying the sweet stench of engine death.

Here's the irony: my husband had just thoroughly cleaned that van out to make it more amenable to canoe trips. It'll be the cleanest car in the junkyard, assuming that we can find a junkyard that wants it.

Yes, it would be possible to replace the engine, but that van has almost 300,000 miles on it (all ours!) and lots of rust, and the transmission shows signs of age as well. We're happy it kept going as long as it did and grateful for all the wonderful places it took us, but it's time to give it a rest.

We'll have some logistical issues to resolve: how to get the van from Dover to its final rusting place, how to get the canoe back home on the car we're borrowing from our daughter and son-in-law, how to manage replacing the van when we just replaced our decrepit Volvo. It's a puzzle much more complex than the Sunday sudoku, but I think we're up to the challenge. As long as I don't have to spend any more hours stranded on the side of the interstate.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The pull of the potato

We saw more of our neighbors yesterday than we've seen all year long: everyone was out clearing debris and searching for items washed away by the July 23 flash flood. Our horse-raising neighbor sought a feed trough while our dock-building neighbor chased after the fifty-gallon drums he uses as floats; however, our neighbor whose potato field was ripped apart by the flood never came around to collect the potato the flood deposited at the end of our driveway. Finders keepers?

Local media seem unaware that our part of the county was under water Tuesday night, and when I mention the flood to my friends in town, they say, "What flood?" When hurricane Ivan hit nine years ago, the flood disrupted traffic all over the county, inundated downtown areas, and even crept up onto campus; this week's floods, on the other hand, have been highly localized, briefly submerging country roads, washing out driveways, and sweeping away feed troughs and dock floats. My friends in town can shrug off a flood that destroys a potato field, but to those of us in the middle of it, the flood certainly felt catastrophic.

And that's why it was good to be out mingling with fellow sufferers yesterday and sharing our tales of woe. Last night my husband drove a mile upstream to return the well-traveled potato to our potato-farming neighbors. They didn't really want it back, but when a humble potato works to pull people together, it would be a shame to overlook the opportunity.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sunken gardens, suddenly

Corn and sunflowers--everything else is submerged.
Last night we could have launched our canoe at the edge of our lower meadow, paddled above the submerged cabbages in the garden, and then been swept downstream to certain doom in a roaring, raging river.

The sudden deluge that caused the flash flood didn't last long and at first it didn't seem to do much damage. A tree fell across the road, so my husband went out with a chainsaw to help the neighbors remove it, walking down the driveway, across the bridge, and up the road around the curve. Within 40 minutes after he returned, that entire route was under water.

Our house is well up the hill and out of danger,  but the garden shed got pushed off its moorings and sat there aslant in the current. We stood in the midnight darkness where the driveway disappeared under the water and heard occasional bumping sounds as floating debris hit our bridge, which was kind of reassuring--the bridge was still there! We certainly couldn't see the bridge, or the road, or the far shore of our new river, and only the corn and sunflowers stood tall enough to mark the location of the gardens.
Listing...a little more water and it's afloat.

The gardens! I looked into the murky waves and wondered whether all our hard work was getting washed downstream. What could possibly survive all that rushing water? 

But this morning things look much brighter. The garden is muddy but few plants washed away, and the garden shed wasn't damaged although everything inside got thoroughly soaked. A chunk of driveway disappeared, leaving a long parabola of gravel in our neighbor's hayfield, so I won't be driving anywhere until our gravel guy delivers.  Our son spent the night in town since our road was underwater, but by the time he comes home today things could be pretty much back to normal.
Blackberry patch on the right; pepper patch submerged.

Over the next few days we'll need to remove debris from the bridge, reshape the driveway, clean out and reposition the shed, and see what we can salvage from the garden, but we survived! Showers of blessings, rivers of thanks!

Damaged driveway.

Debris on the bridge and washed-out bank alongside the driveway.

The view from the road: the creek is still about eight feet above normal today, but last night it reached all the way across the meadow to the red shed.

Muddy cabbage, anyone?


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Carpet sludge and the value of denial

The worst part of cleaning my carpets came at the end, when I emptied the dirty water out of the reservoir and saw the thick, black, gooey sludge stuck to the bottom. That stuff was in my RUGS. That I WALK on. In BARE FEET. 


I've had my carpets steam-cleaned before but this time I thought I'd save a ton of money by renting a cleaner and doing it myself, and frankly,  I'm not sure the money I saved can compensate for my hard work, frustration, and pain. For one thing, I had to move a lot of heavy furniture out of the way, first by myself and then with the help of the resident strongmen, who were worth every penny I didn't pay them--but if I'd hired a steam-cleaning company, none of us would have had to lift a finger and I wouldn't have half-dropped a futon on my foot and then hopped around the house in intense pain trying not to bleed all over the very carpet I was cleaning. 

(Side note: who thinks it's a great idea to install wall-to-wall WHITE carpet in the bathroom? If I ever get my hands on the previous owner responsible for that choice, I'll force him to drink the sludge left in the bucket from cleaning that carpet.)

And then of course I had to haul that carpet cleaner full of water all over my house, up and down stairs and through the obstacle course that is my hallway. I worked up quite a sweat pulling that little puppy around--and, like a puppy, it piddled all over the floor and stuck its nose into all kinds of inappropriate places. Bad puppy!

None of that, though, was as awful as cleaning the sludge out of the bottom of the bucket. If I'd hired a steam-cleaning company, all that sludge would have been sucked up into a big truck and hauled away, and I would never have had to face that disgusting residue of my daily life. How much would I be willing to pay for the privilege of denial? 

My feet are happy this morning feeling the fresh fluffiness of clean carpets, but how long can they stay that way? Even now the raw ingredients of carpet sludge are beginning to accumulate unseen right under my feet, yuck. There must be a better way! When will someone finally invent a personal hovercraft?   

Monday, July 22, 2013

On Orwellian wellness rewards

I've griped openly about our new wellness program but I can rejoice that it has not gone the way of Penn State's wellness program, which will begin fining noncompliant faculty members $100 per month starting in January (read it here).

Where do I even begin?

The article discusses the carrot-or-stick problem: encourage wellness by rewarding faculty who participate in the program or penalizing those who don't? I suppose it's possible to frame "not being fined $100 per month" as a reward, especially if you're a character in a George Orwell novel, but I cannot imagine any actual employee of Penn State viewing the proposed fine as anything other than a punishment.

For what? For refusing to participate in a highly invasive series of medical tests at the university's command.

I liked our old wellness program because of its simplicity: get a basic, noninvasive health screening once a year and then keep track of exercise time, which translates into wellness points; at the end of the year, anyone who reports enough points gets a reward ($100). I always work more efficiently with a clear goal in mind, so even that fairly paltry amount was enough to motivate me to keep exercising and track my points.

Our new wellness program offers less obvious rewards: if a high enough percentage of faculty complies with all aspects of the program, then our insurance rate increase will be less that it would have been. Let me see if I can phrase that less incomprehensibly: The rates will rise regardless of what we do, but if enough of us do what the insurance gods want us to do, then our rates might go up less than they would have otherwise.

I don't know about you, but that kind of reward doesn't do much to motivate me. It's like telling someone, "I'm going to beat you up regardless of what you do, but if you run this marathon, your beating will be slightly less painful."

Still, at least no one is threatening to fine us if we don't comply.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Wordwhacking in Terra Incognita

"We both agreed to eschew the jellied viscera," explains a character in Eric Overmyer's 1986 play On the Verge--and  that line is just one reason I'm excited about teaching the play in Concepts of Nature this fall. True, my students will have to keep a dictionary nearby in order to enjoy the delicious wordplay, but the play rewards the effort. "Eschew the jellied viscera"--roll that around on your tongue a few times and you'll see what I mean.

But will my students get it? I laughed out loud at a scene dealing with the hazards of cannibalism ("There are two types of people in the world. There are cannibals--and there are lunch."), but I doubt that my students will spot the allusion in the title of the scene: "High Tea--Or, Many Parts Are Edible." (Did you ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible!)

They'll have to look up palaver, pasha, and perhaps even poobah, and they'll have to discover what punji sticks are to understand why a petticoat might be protective. They'll have to bushwhack through Terra Incognita and consider, with the three main characters, whether a rusted eggbeater might function as talisman, totem, amulet, or marsupial's unicycle.

They will encounter a Yeti not abominable but adorable, a troll who collects tolls and is not quite Robert Lowell, and a gerbil in a dirigible. My students will have to slash their way through a jungle of succulent verbiage and a Himalaya of historical allusions, and they'll need a trusty sherpa to guide the way. 

That would be me. I'd better grab my machete and a tub of Cool Whip because, as the play reminds us, "You're not gonna find a lot of Saint Bernards with Cool Whip in their kegs."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The cranes, the cranes!

I had been planning to issue a blistering screed condemning the inhumane working conditions in my office building, where the air conditioning has been on the fritz all summer, when a single press release transformed an annoyance into an adventure.

They're bringing in cranes--big ones! They'll have to block off roads and establish a perimeter to keep the gawking public away, but trust me, people will find a way to watch. Who wouldn't want to watch a 50-ton crane heft an immense chunk of HVAC equipment onto the roof of a building?

When the new library was just a great big hole in the middle of campus with a parade of cement mixers lining up to lay the foundation, people of all ages stood there all night long watching the Big Pour. It was part social event, part celebration of progress, and part outpouring of awe and wonder over the power of modern technology. All that heavy equipment! All those men! All that mud!

We'll have similar feelings next week when we watch those immense chillers lifted into the sky on what looks like a thin thread, plus we'll get to applaud the promise of cool air in a building that has served as a sauna all summer long. There's a really good reason you don't generally see photocopiers inside saunas--the pages stick together, and all that moisture can't be good for the inner workings of the machine. And what about mold? Don't get me started!

But soon all that discomfort will be a dim and distant memory. Make way for the heavy equipment! They may look like cranes to you, but to me they look like hope.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

First-class tickets on the Guilt Trip Express

I don't know if it's the heat, the humidity, or the midsummer hedonism, but something has compelled the ghosts of my Puritan forebears to come bubbling like a noisome miasma into my psyche and drag me off on a quick trip through the swamp of guilt.

I don't feel guilty about buying a car when my old car was still, technically, capable of running, and I don't feel guilty about buying it at a dealership two hours away just so I could get the color I wanted, and I don't even feel guilty about buying a beautiful car--but I feel guilty for caring so deeply about that beauty. Every time I confess to a colleague or friend that I have purchased a beautiful car, I whisper as if I'm admitting a penchant for kicking puppies. 

And I don't feel guilty about how little research I'm doing this summer, but I feel guilty about not feeling guilty about how little research I'm doing. I've always promised myself that I wouldn't become that old fogey who gives up on learning anything new the minute she's promoted to full professor, but here I sit not making any measurable progress on my current research projects, and I'm not at all bothered by that. Why doesn't my lack of progress inspire sleepless nights and anguished days? How can I be so complacent about my stagnating research agenda?

And I don't feel guilty about all the great books I've been reading this summer or the occasional mediocre books or even the not at all good but tremendously fun books (I'm looking at you, Carl Hiaasen, and your bad little monkey too!), but I feel guilty that I'm putting all those books away without writing any reviews of them, not even single-paragraph reviews encapsulating the book's irreducible essence. I LOVE encapsulating a book's irreducible essence, but somehow this summer I can't be bothered, and that bothers me. 

I say it's time for the guilt trip to end. Stuff all the ghosts of my Puritan forebears back into the bottle, put a cork in the top, and toss it out to sea to bob merrily on the waves for eternity. Let the little sourpusses pound on the glass and scream their little heads off--I'm not listening. 

Not today, anyway.  

Advice or applause?

Twice in the past week I've done something I love--reading colleagues' written work and offering editing advice--but I always worry over how pointed to make my comments. I want to offer helpful, specific writing advice in the most direct possible way, but I don't want to risk destroying any relationships with valued colleagues and friends. 

Will my colleague object if I tell him his circumlocutions and qualifications make him sound wimpy and uncertain? Will another be miffed if I offer a quick primer on parallel structure? Does another really want to know that the final paragraph seems to have been beamed in from outer space?

It's easier offering suggestions to students because I'm not worried about being their friend. I am the teacher: I'm supposed to tell them how to write, and as long as I couch my suggestions in supportive language, they tend to appreciate my feedback.

It's a different situation entirely when I'm reading a colleague's writing. On the one hand, a colleague who asks for feedback deserves a close, careful reading and specific suggestions; on the other hand, some people are actually seeking applause, so advice feels to them like a slap in the face.

So my first task with any such request ought to be to feel out just what the colleague is looking for: specific suggestions or a pat on the back? I can do either, but it will save us both a lot of grief if I know from the start which one my colleague wants. 

(You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!....But if you can, please let me know, okay?)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Syllabus switcheroo

I read once (and I hope it's true because I keep repeating the factoid) that Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God appears on more college syllabi than any other American novel, and I can see why: I've taught it in African-American Lit, Concepts of Gender, Concepts of Nature, and American Novel, and I can't imagine teaching a Florida Literature course without including Their Eyes Were Watching God.

But I don't want my students to keep re-reading the same novel in several different classes, so I'm careful: how many of the English majors on this fall's American Novel roster were in the Nature class three years ago when I last taught the novel? American Novel focuses on innovative modes of narration and TYWWG offers wonderful examples of free indirect discourse and also fills a chronological hole in the syllabus, so I'm likely to keep it in the lineup--but then I'd better not include it in the Florida Lit class next spring.

I'm still struggling with some other potential overlaps. Did I assign Annie Dillard's weasel essay in the summer nature writing class last year, or did I use the one about the eclipse? Is there any overlap in enrollment? Will students encountering James Wright's "A Blessing" for the second time even remember what we did with the poem last spring? 

What about Sara Orne Jewett's "A White Heron"? I teach it every spring in American Lit Survey, which is required for all English majors, but it's included in the new edition of the anthology for the Concepts of Nature course, a general education course that often has a handful of English majors on the roster. Do I want my majors to read the same (wonderful) story in two different classes?

What if we're reading the same story in two different ways? In American Lit Survey, "A White Heron" comes in the part of the course when we're focusing on characteristics of realism, naturalism, and literary impressionism, while the Concepts of Nature course will focus on how the story characterizes the relationship between people and nature. Is that enough difference to justify teaching the story twice?

And why did the anthology's editors have to delete my favorite pieces and replace them with works I teach in other classes? It's hard to avoid overlap when the same works pop up in so many different anthologies!

And finally, why am I devoting so much time and attention to the finer points of syllabus construction in the middle of July? I'll bet my students don't waste a nanosecond worrying about syllabus overlap in July. 

They're the smart ones. Trying to switch out works and create effective syllabi threatens to make my brain overheat, especially in triple-digit weather. It's time to do something cool and calming, preferably in air-conditioned comfort. 

Better put the syllabi away for now. Wouldn't want them to get wet.    

Friday, July 12, 2013

Wisdom of the hummingbirds

Bothered and befuddled by a host of pesky questions, I sought help amongst the hummingbirds, whose ability to stay afloat in the worst of storms I heartily admire.

"Tell me," I asked a handsome ruby-throated fellow perched on planter, "do you think I ought to go ahead and lock in the interest rate for our mortgage refinance or would I be better off waiting a few days to see whether the rates go down any lower?"

But he was too busy chasing off another hummingbird to pay any heed to my query.

"And what about my fall composition class that has been decoupled from its Mass Media learning community?" I asked. "Should I keep the same textbook or order something more appropriate for a room full of STEM students?"

The hummies hovered, sipped, and buzzed but offered no response.

"Is it time to paint the spare bedroom? Or leave it as it for the sake of posterity?" I felt certain the hummies would show interest in this question since the walls in the spare bedroom echo their ruby hues, but no--they were busy competing for space at the feeder.

"You don't really care at all about my concerns, do you?" I asked, but the only response I received was a buzz and a click as the hummies zipped off into the trees.

Not much use, those hummingbirds. Not much use at all.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Flash flood trashes trees

Here comes another one!
The creek is usually not even visible from this angle.
When floodwaters shove a tree downstream and force it under a bridge, the thunderous splintering cracking sound makes onlookers want to yell "Timber!" 

Eventually the tree shoots out the other side cracked and stripped of limbs, but the ones we worry about are those that slam into the bridge pilings and get stuck there, trapping other trees and debris to form an impromptu dam that can grow big enough to back up water and eventually shove the bridge downstream.

Suddenly, a sunken garden.
After the flood
We watched whole trees wash down our creek last night and listened with some trepidation to the apocalyptic crashes. What could we do? Only a fool would stand in the middle of the bridge and proclaim, "Thus far and no further!" So we stood and watched and hoped the bridge would hold.

The bridge survived. The trees did not.  

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

What I've been doing instead of blogging

Collecting my grand-baby's many beautiful smiles

Looking at my adorable daughter's flower garden

Appreciating a glowing green spider

Watching hummingbirds visit the feeders

Wondering why there are so few butterflies in my upper meadow

Being in the moment

Monday, July 08, 2013

I'm dreaming of a spot-free Christmas

Who would spend $6000 for a lens? That's what I asked last night while scouting the Internet for a new zoom lens to replace the one with spots. It's not exactly an emergency; the spots have been on the lens for quite a while and I've grown accustomed to shooting around them or cropping them out.

Zoom-lens prices zoom very quickly from affordable to outrageous, and a person who hauls camera equipment into all sorts of swampy, dusty, woodsy places probably shouldn't spend outrageous amounts of money on a lens. The affordable lenses are all pretty similar to what I have now except without spots. 

Will it kill me to live with the spots a little longer? No it will not. On the other hand, Christmas is coming--not particularly quickly, but it is certainly on the way. I'll need a nice spot-free lens to take pictures of my grand-baby's first Christmas, won't I? Better start buttering up Santa pretty soon.  

Friday, July 05, 2013

Where can I get some Apollo Repellant?

I seem to be in possession of a Doberman--temporarily. He followed me home but I do not intend to keep him.

When last we met, Apollo was being chased by an elderly neighbor who couldn't keep his pants up (read it here). Since that inauspicious encounter, I've heard Apollo barking behind the neighbors' door but I've never seen him running loose outside.

Until this morning, when Hopeful and I took advantage of a brief respite between thunderstorms to walk a mile up the road and see whether the prairie warblers are still hanging around. (Answer: yes, but keeping a low profile in the wild weather.) I heard barking as we walked past Apollo's house but this time the barks kept coming closer and then there he was, charging across the lawn.

I ignored him and continued plodding to the end of the road. Apollo and Hopeful followed. I tapped the stop sign at the end and turned around, hoping Apollo's owners would come out and collect their dog as we passed their house again. They were nowhere to be seen, but stormclouds were rolling in and I wanted to beat the rain so I continued down the hill.

Hopeful followed me and Apollo followed Hopeful, although he has his limits. Look--a deer running across the road into the woods! Both dogs go racing after the deer and Hopeful plunges after, but Apollo comes skidding to a stop and just stares at the thick undergrowth as if to say, "Weeds? That's below my pay scale."

For a big, intimidating beast, Apollo can be a little ridiculous. Those pointy ears pinned straight up give him a constant expression of bafflement, and when he trots, his rear legs swing outward stiffly as if they're too-tall stilts he can't quite manage. And when we get to the end of my driveway and the neighbor's crippled mutt blocks the way, massive Apollo stands still as if terrified of the teeny three-legged bitch.

Apollo followed me all the way home but I don't have any idea how to make him go away. I don't need or want a Doberman, and I'll bet his loving owners would like to have him back--but how can I make him retrace that mile up the hill? "Go!" I say, but he just tilts that massive head and gives me that baffled expression that seems to constantly say, "What what what?" 

I have a feeling someone will have to chase after him with a leash and transport him bodily up the hill, but he's too darn big for me to handle--and, as our prior encounter suggests, he's also too darn big for his elderly owners to handle. What I need is a Doberman wrangler. More minions! They'd better bring a tranquilizer gun or a great big net. 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Indi(watch me)go!

Indigo: my 2011Toyota Camry
As my son drove me north to pick up my new(ish) car yesterday, we were talking about vanity license plates. He wanted to know: "If you got a vanity plate for your new car, what would it say?"

I'm not planning to get a vanity plate but I had no problem coming up with an answer: Indigo. The car reminds me of a sleek, elegant blue bird, so I had made up my mind to call it Indigo before I even signed the papers.

Then I drove it home yesterday for the first time and I was greeted by a pair of indigo buntings fluttering around the trees at the end of my driveway. Indigo! Watch me go!

Aspects of hectoring or hectoring of aspects

The voice on the phone was an unknown woman who clearly hadn't majored in enunciation, so I didn't know what to think when she asked me whether I was "entrusted with the coaching aspect." Turns out "entrusted" was her attempt at "interested," but that doesn't really clarify the situation. What is "the coaching aspect" and why would I be interested?

Turns out that our new college wellness program offers this FANTASTIC opportunity (cue sarcasm detector) to have total strangers call me up on the phone and hector me about "aspects of wellness." (Aspects, aspects everywhere--mindless bureaucracies make aspects multiply like rabbits.) 

What aspects of wellness? Like, for instance, the weight-loss aspect, because in case you haven't heard, it's important to maintain a healthy weight. As if I'm not reminded of the importance of weight loss every time I look in the mirror. (I wonder whether my diabetic colleague will get phone calls reminding her of the importance of "the insulin aspect.")

I am a huge fan of leaning on a group of close friends and colleagues as we work toward our wellness goals, but my friends are not mysterious voices on the phone hectoring me about aspects. Seriously, I really don't want to listen to some random stranger calling me up periodically to say "You really should lose some weight--and while you're at it, how about taking a look at those cholesterol levels!" (They call that "coaching"?)

But maybe I'm a crank. Maybe I'm turning my back on a wonderful opportunity. ("Don't forget to take your vitamins!") Maybe my colleagues are doing The Wave in appreciation for "the coaching aspect." (How many calories can you burn doing The Wave?) Maybe I should just shut up and take my medicine like a good little employee. ("Open wide....")

Nah. Let 'em go nag someone else. I'm going for a walk.

Aspects of hectoring or hectoring of aspects

The voice on the phone was an unknown woman who clearly hadn't majored in enunciation, so I didn't know what to think when she asked me whether I was "entrusted with the coaching aspect." Turns out "entrusted" was her attempt at "interested," but that doesn't really clarify the situation. What is "the coaching aspect" and why would I be interested?

Turns out that our new college wellness program offers this FANTASTIC opportunity (cue sarcasm detector) to have total strangers call me up on the phone and hector me about "aspects of wellness." (Aspects, aspects everywhere--mindless bureaucracies make aspects multiply like rabbits.) 

What aspects of wellness? Like, for instance, the weight-loss aspect, because in case you haven't heard, it's important to maintain a healthy weight. As if I'm not reminded of the importance of weight loss every time I look in the mirror. (I wonder whether my diabetic colleague will get phone calls reminding her of the importance of "the insulin aspect.")

I am a huge fan of leaning on a group of close friends and colleagues as we work toward our wellness goals, but my friends are not mysterious voices on the phone hectoring me about aspects. Seriously, I really don't want to listen to some random stranger calling me up periodically to say "You really should lose some weight--and while you're at it, how about taking a look at those cholesterol levels!" (They call that "coaching"?)

But maybe I'm a crank. Maybe I'm turning my back on a wonderful opportunity. ("Don't forget to take your vitamins!") Maybe my colleagues are doing The Wave in appreciation for "the coaching aspect." (How many calories can you burn doing The Wave?) Maybe I should just shut up and take my medicine like a good little employee. ("Open wide....")

Nah. Let 'em go nag someone else. I'm going for a walk.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Midsummer minion madness

Summer is half over--half! And I haven't come close to doing half of what I need to do. Clearly, I need help. Where are my minions?

I need one set of minions to locate, scan, and send all the documents required to refinance my mortgage, and they have to be happy working in sub-human conditions because the air conditioning in my office building is on the fritz and it's really hard to breathe in there without gills.

I need another set of minions to take care of all the paperwork required in the current round of Musical Cars: I'm buying one car, selling another, and transferring a third over to my son's name. I need minions to find titles, find a notary, collect money, borrow money, arrange insurance, and buy tags--not to mention signing my life away on the loan document.

I need yet another set of minions to mediate between the mortgage refinance people and the car-loan people, who seem to be competing for my loyalty and my credit, and to deal with the legions of phone solicitors who have taken sudden interest in my willingness to borrow money.

Yesterday I needed minions to scout out a good place to launch my canoe in the Little Muskingum River, because the Muskingum itself was too high for canoeing and my guidebook is apparently out of date, promising a boat launch on the Little Muskingum where no boat launch currently exists. The place we eventually found to launch required some scrambling down a steep, muddy bank on a narrow path surrounded by poison ivy, and then the Little Muskingum was so tangled with fallen logs that we had to stop and turn around after paddling upstream only about an hour. We enjoyed the peace, the ducks, and the historic covered bridge, but a handful of minions could have bridged (ha!) the gap between our guidebook and the real world.

I need minions in the garden to hold the baling twine while I tie up tomato plants and to help me distinguish between weeds and beans--or better yet, let them do the weeding themselves while I go wandering off in search of kingfishers.

And of course I need minions to overhaul my Sports Literature class, create a new version of freshman composition just for Mass Media students, and find the anthology I seem to have misplaced somewhere in my office. But again, they'd better have gills. And they'd better come quickly because in case you haven't noticed, the summer is half over.