Monday, February 28, 2011

Shake it, baby

When you think of earthquakes, you don't think of Arkansas.  But our area does have the occasional small quake, and we're within range of the New Madrid fault should another big one hit there as it did in the nineteenth century.

The only earthquake I've ever been aware of was several years back.  I woke up in the middle of the night to a strange sound.  It was like someone was rolling a wagon across our roof.  I fell back asleep, and in the morning found out that a quake had been recorded at that moment.

Well, that's not the only earthquake I've been through.  There was one last night -- a 4.7 on the Richter scale, with the epicenter in Greenbrier just northwest of us.  Once again, I didn't feel it, I just heard it.  At 11 pm, right after the Oscars ended, I was in the kitchen making lunches for the kids to take to school the next day, and Noel was in his chair working as usual.  Suddenly he jumped up, and I heard a deep rattle out in the backyard, like a big truck going by.

"We just had an earthquake," Noel said, wide-eyed.  He described how his chair had shifted underneath him.  I hadn't registered the shake -- just the sound.

Quakes have recently become commonplace in Guy and Greenbriar, northern towns in our county.  Activity is recorded several times a day.  Many people believe it's related to the use of saltwater to "frac," or fracture, shale deposits from which natural gas is being extracted.  The jury's still out on the connection.

I wouldn't have been so spooked by the earthquake last night if it didn't come right on top of predicted strong thunderstorms and possible tornadoes overnight.  Before I could fall asleep, I had to do some reading to reassure myself that our quake wasn't related to the New Madrid -- it's from an unknown geological source, possibly connected to a small fault in northern Faulkner county -- and that the worst quakes in central Arkansas have been more frightening than damaging.  Apparently there was a 3.8 aftershock a few hours after the one we felt, and we seem to have slept through that one.

As the news of the frequent small shakeups in our neighboring towns began to pile up in the last few months, I didn't give the issue much thought, especially since I had the foresight to buy earthquake insurance last summer.  Even knowing that we're covered for any damage a bigger quake might cause, and that a dangerous quake is highly unlikely, I was disturbed by the reality of the temblor last night.  All of a sudden, you can't trust either the air around you or the ground under your feet.  The knowledge that there's little to fear works only slowly to dispel the anxiety.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Can't you hear me, I'm pounding on your door

Today's post about reparations for my many failings is at Toxophily.


Yes, there has been more sewing. A side benefit to being multi-craftual, I'm finding, is that the occasions that demand the handmade touch now come with more options -- and more chances for success.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring is coming

This morning I saw a robin sitting on our neighbor's wall, watching me motionless as I drove by.  A few hours later, another one perched on the curb as Cady Gray and I passed on our way to the fabric store.

Daffodils are sprouting up in yards all over -- those sudden clumps of blue-green leaves that appear seemingly overnight, enough to fill large baskets.

And baseball is on the television.  Spring training games have begun, and the wonderful technologies that bring us every game with our favorite hometeam announcers have turned on the lights and fired up the burners.  MLB Network and the MLB At Bat subscription service are back on our screens and in our lives.  Hopes are high as they are every spring.

As I put my head down and get ready for the sprint that is my March, I'm glad that spring has arrived just a touch early in this town.  Today I have a moment to breathe -- to stroll -- to notice robins and foliage.  To while away an afternoon paying attention to the Grapefruit League.

Tomorrow there are e-mails to answer, reports to prepare, assignments to read, articles to write, bags to pack.  I'm grateful for one day to anticipate a spring that will be in full bloom the next time I raise my head.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Song metrics

On the way home from our celebratory and firmly traditional Friday night Mexican dinner, Archer began telling us about his appraisals of songs in his fourth grade music book.  He has given them ratings in Mario coins.  The favorite song, "We Go Together," was worth several thousand coins.  A middling song had a couple hundred.  And his least favorite song had only a dozen or so.

It wasn't until he started telling us about how his favorite song was "a doo-wop song with lots of nonsense lyrics" that I realized he was talking about "We Go Together" from Grease.  I improvised a shooby-dee-doo-doo-wop line and asked him if it was like that, and he grinned from ear to ear.  Not only was it his favorite song, he informed us, but it was also the favorite of most fourth graders, because it had "lots of action."

And then, although he mumbled his way through the scatting, he sang as many lines as he could remember, in his boyish soprano.  Now the grins were on his father and me in the front seat, stealing glances at each other in delight about how wonderful it was to have a boy singing a song from Grease in the back, accompanied by his sister trying to mimic each line.  Here's hoping it's a signal that there'll be plenty of Broadway in both kids' futures.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Storm season

It's the beginning of one of the toughest seasons in Arkansas -- late winter and early spring.  This is the time of year when strong storms can spawn tornados across the state.

Essential equipment for an Arkansas tornado season is a NOAA weather radio with S.A.M.E. encoding.  Almost any day with active weather, severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings are going to crop up around the state, and watches will proliferate for hours.  If you have the basic weather radio, it will go off over and over and over.  The S.A.M.E. codes allow you to specify your county, so that you only receive alerts that apply to your area.  In addition, I've set our weather radio to sound the siren only for tornado warnings.  Nothing is more disconcerting, and at the same time more desensitizing, than having the siren go  off constantly in the middle of a thunderstorm cluster.

Tornados ... I don't like 'em.  Last year a funnel cloud starting descending within a couple of miles of our house, and we spent some time in our safe room (an interior bathroom).  I could do without that stress.  Every severe thunderstorm I ride out with heightened anxiety because of such threats.  But I'm calmer than I used to be.  Nothing can stop the weather, if it comes.  But I've beefed up our insurance because of the tendency of our street to flood and the proximity of earthquake-producing faultlines.  Our new landscaping and improved drainage gives me confidence that we can handle a greater variety of rainfall rates.

In the end, all you can do about storm season is wait it out and breathe a deep sigh of relief when the unsettled pattern smooths out.  At least spring brings color and sunlight and warmth along with the occasional violence of the atmosphere.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New toys

I like my gadgets.  When I get a new one, I tend to obsess about it.  I want to play with it for hours at a time, find out all its secrets, put it through its paces.  It tends to invade my dreams; I fall asleep thinking about its shiny newness, imagining everything I could do with it, and slide imperceptibly into sleep without changing subjects.

Sometimes the gadgets arrive in bunches, though.  Right now my sewing machine is front and center in m consciousness.  I think about its mechanisms and possibilities in all my idle moments; I wish I could spend more time investigating how it works and enjoying its well-engineered beauty.  But today a new gadget came in the mail -- a digital camera.

My trusty Canon Powershot S400 (vintage 2004) seems to be about at the end of its useful life, after many years of wonderful service.  So when I got an e-mail from Canon offering a discount on refurbished newer models, I read a bunch of online reviews and made my choice -- an SD1200 IS.  Today it came, and it's so beautiful.  I thought my old Canon was small (and compared to the film cameras it replaced in my life, it was), but this one is slimmed down so far it's quite hard to believe.  I want to pop in a memory card and a battery pack and see what she can do.

Only a few problems with that scenario.  Battery needs to charge ... memory card hasn't yet been bought.  No time for photography until the weekend anyway.  The weekend when I'd also like to be sewing, an enterprise that will require more trips to the fabric store, research on the internet ... hm.  Maybe I can find a way to combine both gadgets in one gluttonous, self-indulgent Saturday afternoon.  If my memory card arrives in time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Decent proposal

Writing a paper proposal for a major conference is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of my academic career.  I wrote one last week, and have another one in progress for this week.  They go slowly -- a few words at a time, long pauses between sentences, with frequent breaks to study the language of the call for papers and stare into space.

Why do I have such trouble writing these proposals?  I think it's because they are invitations to rejection.  Work hard putting together a solid argument, a careful synopsis of research done, a close fit to the topics specified in the CFP, and whaddya get?  A form e-mail regretting to inform you that your submission could not be included in the program.

Surely articles submitted to scholarly journals are worse stressors, you might think.  There you must complete the entire paper before submitting it, whereas with most conferences the decision is based on an one-page abstract or a thousand-word description.  But here's the problem.  Writing the paper is its own reward, to some degree at least.  Rejected by one journal, you can at least reformat and submit to another one.  And even the most esteemed scholars list unpublished papers on their CVs, a testament to how difficult the publishing process is and how valuable even uncirculated work can be.  Nobody lists papers that never got written because the abstracts were rejected by a conference.  And the ideas that might have been developed in those papers might never get off the ground.

But the worst part of writing paper proposals is that in the end, it's so little work for so much potential downside.  After submitting an abstract, I spend the next few weeks becoming more and more convinced that the paper is acceptable -- in fact, that it's unlikely to be rejected.  They'd be fools to turn it down, I wind up thinking!  And then, more often than not, they do.

The deadline is approaching.  The word count is inching forward.  Time to put myself back on the chopping block -- it's the only way to get on the conference program, although it often seems like the complete reverse.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Animal services

Some things happen in your life so rarely that you really don't know who to call or how to take care of them.  Here's one of those things.

Yesterday evening after dinner we took a walk around the neighborhood -- a favorite warm-weather activity of ours -- and upon our return noticed a strange furry lump in our front yard.  We didn't venture close enough to see if it was a possum or cat or raccoon or what, but the flies buzzing around it were confirmation enough that it was dead.

My first thought was that we'd call our municipality's animal control office to see if they would handle disposal.  But when I checked Conway Animal Welfare's webpage, it was clear that dead animals weren't in their purview -- just live ones.  A little more checking suggested that if we wanted someone else to come and dispose of the carcass, a private enterprise was the only way to go.

Noel made a series of calls this morning, and found no local company who would take the job.  He called the police department since they were listed as the alternative contact when Animal Welfare was closed (as they were today, Presidents Day), and they pointed him to Game & Fish.  Game & Fish, apparently misunderstanding the question, did some asking around and told Noel that he was free to dispose of the animal himself -- thinking that we were wondering if they needed to be notified or do any checking for disease or something.

So Noel armed himself with shovels and bags and other implements and took care of it himself.  (It was a raccoon.  And a big fat heavy one, too.)  Thus ends our adventure trying to figure out how to deal with dead wild animals on our property.  I hope we never have to use this knowledge again, but perhaps it will turn out to be of some use to you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


It happens every year around this time.  February shoots past like the shortest month that it is, and I find myself a few short days away from March.  March, when I need to have the family's tax information to our preparer.  March, when my scholarly organization has its regional meeting -- a meeting for which I need to craft a treasurer's report, a business meeting agenda, and a slate of nominations for next year's officers.  March, when 80 students will be interviewed for next year's incoming class.  March, when the kids have both a school computer lab fundraiser and a Jump Rope for Heart event for which to solicit donations.  (Both excellent causes.  For the former, see me to buy Hershey's candy (local readers only).  For the latter, donate online at Cady Gray's page or Archer's page (all readers welcome).)

February whizzed by in a blur of snow days, work crises, and a blessed (but deceptive) lack of deadlines.  I anticipate that March will be one of the most productive months of my 2011.  It's also going to be one of the most stressful.  So much so that I'm thinking of starting on a few of these projects before the very last minute, something quite unheard of in my scheduling methodology.  If I can get drafts of some of the stuff that's under my control underway before the stuff that's not under my control hits my inbox, I'll feel a lot more in control overall.

Not that anything can really help March.  In a week, my head will be down and I'll be bulling through it, with only the hope that a little knitting and a lot of dreaming about April will see me through.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kate and Cindy and Crystal and Candy

Today's post about my very first sewing project is at Toxophily.


I still don't know how we got such awesome fabric. All I know is that I probably don't deserve the credit.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The essentials

Ah, there's nothing like a new hobby.  Assembling a library, acquiring tools, building skills.  I love throwing myself into a new interest wholeheartedly, researching the best techniques and references.

Carol got me started in the best possible way -- by sharing her own list of essentials.  There's something irresistibly wise and constructive about such a list.  Those who have learned by experience what is most useful, sharing that experience as a starting point with beginners and helping them avoid the long period of trial and error.  Cool Tools can be used to assemble such a list for dozens of specialized and routine occupations.  Mark Frauenfelder recently started adding his most-used and most-useful Mac applications onto a new computer, and decided to share them in order of centrality to his life in a series of Boing Boing posts.

Do you have a list of essentials that help you do your job, or something else you love to do?  And if that thing is sewing, all the better.  Please share on your own site, or in the comments?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The slog

There are days when you have a lot to do.  Then there are days when you spend the whole day doing one thing, and when you're out of time it's not even done, and you know you have to start two hours early the next day just to get it done a day later than you had hoped.

I didn't have that kind of day today.  But my boss did.  He's trying to put together a 65-page conference program in a Word file, keep it identical to a database that will serve up the information on line, and deal with the corrections and special requests that are proliferating as the publication deadline approaches.  He has no secretary; our new administrative assistant doesn't start until March 1.  And he's on Robitussin after having several uncontrollable coughing jags in the last couple of days.

It's been that kind of week for him, and for a lot of us.  Help is at a minimum; deadlines are at a maximum. We've got thousand-yard stares.  And there's no end in sight until April, when recruiting and the conference will both be at an end.

None of which would be a problem if I weren't in a reflective mood.  I'm trying to regroup and make some decisions about the next few years of my career as an administrator, think about where I am and where I want to be, and it's hard to develop those ideas without my boss to bounce them off of.  But it's clear when I poke my head in his office that my issues aren't on the radar.  I get that.  I've been there.

The "no end in sight" part is what is giving all of us pause.  We've gone flat-out before, but never for so long on so many different overlapping projects with so little manpower.  Right now everything personal has been put aside; the only things on the table are the jobs that have to be powered through.  That's fine for the short term, but how much of it can we take?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fresh magic

I love my sewing machine.  It is a beautiful object.  It has history.  It is elegantly functional.  It connects me to my mother, whose tool it was, and to my grandmother, who spent years sewing my clothes.

But I have spent almost two years now fearing my sewing machine.  It is old.  It is complicated.  Its manual is full of grainy photographs with letters and lines superimposed.  I am afraid I'm going to break it, clog it, ruin it.

Enter a friend who knows sewing.  Who is patient enough to figure out my unfamiliar antique and explain to me not only how to make it sew, but how its functions fit with the basics of sewing itself.  Who has one night to do it.

With each step, I'm more confident.  Thread the needle.  Wind and install the bobbin.  Engage the mechanism.  Presser foot down.  Stitch forward, stitch back.  Beautiful stitches -- small, straight, strong.

Now all the details of making something -- pattern, piecing, instructions, pressing, wrong side, right side.  The more steps I follow, the more I see it's like knitting.  You have to trust the pattern even when you can't quite tell how what it's asking you to do relates to what you're trying to accomplish overall.  You put it together in ways that leave you blind to whether it's all going to work out.  And then you turn it right side out and -- magic.

Sewing isn't likely to become my new full-time obsession.  Takes more equipment than knitting, less portable, a lot more setting up and breaking down (since there's no room in our house that could be designated for sewing -- well, right now, anyway).  But the gap between my trepidation before tonight, when the machine was an object of mystery and fear, and my confidence after -- it's now a well-designed tool that gives pleasure in the using, and whose use I can visualize -- is tremendous.

After an intense three hours of work, my first simple project, a needle and hook case for Cady Gray, is partially assembled.  It will be a long way to the end without my patient teacher, but she has given me an enormous gift by leading me over that gap.  I'm elated.  I feel I could sew all night, just to watch the needle dart, the fabric glide, and the magic happen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


My friend Carol arrived last night, was a guest in my class today, and went out to dinner with us tonight.  An interesting exchange happened there between Carol and Archer.

Tuesday is his chess club, and when I met Archer outside this afternoon as I arrived home I asked him about it.  "Two wins, one loss," he reported.

So at dinner tonight, I broached the subject again. "Archer," I said, "tell Miss Carol about your chess club."

Archer gathered his thoughts and launched in.  "I have chess club after dismissal at Marguerite Vann Elementary School.  It starts at 3:05 and ends at 3:55."  More thought-gathering.  Carol asked, "How many games can you play in that time?"  "We usually play two to three games," he replied.  "After a game ends, we record the result on a chess scorecard."

Now, that is not at all what I expected Archer to say.  I expected him to respond to my prompt with something much more like what he said to me when I asked him about chess club earlier -- something like, "I won two games and lost one" or "My record was two-one."

Why didn't he?  Because he read the context and knew that he needed to start elsewhere.  Carol is a stranger.  She doesn't know about chess club.  She needs to be introduced to the idea.  "Two wins, one loss" wouldn't mean anything to her.

On his own, with no prompting and no leading, Archer adjusted his conversation to an unfamiliar context.  It was a striking moment -- a precedent I couldn't remember observing before.  As Archer delivered his information, he paused occasionally to make eye contact with Carol to get a signal of encouragement or comprehension.  Looking for feedback.  Being involved with the situation and with the other person in it.

What a long way he's come.  And in what an ordinary, awesome way he shows it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Change in the air

The contrast couldn't be more pointed.  Last week the streets were covered with snow and ice for three days, and freezing temperatures kept everyone inside.  Today it was more than sixty degrees, the last of the snow piles was reduced to the occasional incongruous patch of slush, and students appeared in shorts and sandals.

Back in the office, I plowed through my to-do list in a frenzy of productivity.  Read daily student work: check.  Prep an outline for class: check.  Write an proposal to submit to an international conference: check. E-mail faculty about their fall class schedules: check.  Talk to students during office hours: check

It was my first day in the office in almost a week, and it felt like I should make the most of it.  But the sunshine and balmy temperatures made going to work seem like a privilege.  I walked the length of the campus four times -- from home to office, to class and back, and back home -- and the whole experience was transformed.  For months, it seems, I've been huddled inside thick coats and woolens, dreading any time I had to venture outside to go to another building or, heaven forbid, the other side of campus.  Wind, rain, snow, and frigid temperatures made me want to drive to work even when I didn't need a car during the day for any errands of off-campus appointments, just so I wouldn't have to spend fifteen minutes outside of a heated environment.

Today I picked up my lunch in the student center and strolled to the fountain to dine al fresco for the first time in 2011.  I lingered with my book and my meal, and by the time I needed to pack up and cross campus to my class, I didn't need my hoodie anymore.  Normally I resist student pressure to have class outside -- the distractions are too many, and it's difficult to have a productive discussion -- but today I suggested it, reasoning that our project about the campus environment made it a good idea.  We soaked up the unexpected rays and replenished our stores of vitamin D.

It's supposed to be beautiful weather all week.  I suspect we'll have more winter to come before spring really arrives, but right now we'll singing the groundhog's praises and relishing the sweet comparison while it's still in our short-term memories.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


And so into the weekend we go, after three days of unexpected weekday worklessness.  Kinda makes it impossible to moan about a long-scheduled Saturday morning work event.  But also, there's our usual woo-hoo-Friday-night! celebration dinner rendered simply pre-emptive rather than utterly hypocritical.  So thank you, Saturday morning work event!

One's third snow day in a row really should be a work day.  Especially if it's a Friday; otherwise, you've just ceded any right to be happy about it being Saturday tomorrow.  If you're Noel, every snow day was a work day.  His deadlines do not stop coming just because all of Arkansas is blanketed in snow and the kids are stuck at home with him.  I had some items on my plate, too, that if I didn't get started before next week, I was going to be way behind.

So I devoted myself to staying up-to-date on my students' journals (which they continued posting through the campus closure, as per my posted continuity of operations policy), writing a book review, and keeping the kids more or less out of dad's hair by supervising their Wii time, inviting a friend of Cady Gray's over for the morning from next door, and standing watch over their snow play.  It wasn't any help to Noel, but in the afternoon I furthered one of my work goals by meeting with a colleague for a project.

Tomorrow I'm ready to spend the morning with students in our annual sophomore matriculation event.  It's something I always enjoy, but usually indulge myself in some complaining about having to go to work on Saturday (same as I do with commencement).  Not this year; after three days off, I haven't earned the right to complain, and wouldn't be able to enjoy the rest of my weekend without feeling like I'd done some work to rest from.


My friend Carol -- The Sensible Seamstress -- is coming down tomorrow for a few days' visit.  While she's here, I'm hoping that she'll help me become comfortable with my sewing machine.

When my mother was last here, we got out the sewing machine, which used to be hers, and she walked me through threading and oiling it.  But frankly, it's intimidating.  What if I screw it up?  What if I break something?  It's a bit of an antique.  Yet I have such nice memories of my grandmother and mother using it.  I'm aware that it's something of a prized machine.  My dilemma is that I would like to learn to sew, at least for simple applications, and I have this machine, but I'm always tempted by new computerized models because they'd be easier to use.

While we were snowed in this week, Cady Gray expressed a desire to learn to crochet.  So we got started with a chain, and she caught on pretty well the first time.  I warned her, though, that learning to hold and tension the yarn correctly would take time.  "We'll practice chain stich for awhile," I said.  "You can make friendship bracelets for your friends."

Today we went for our crafting retreat at Starbucks, and a former student of mine met us there to get a knitting lesson.  While I was leading her through the knit stitch, Cady Gray practiced her crochet chain.  I watched my student do five or six stitches, and then looked up to see how Cady Gray was doing.

She had chained 48 stitches.

Now I know it's just a chain, but I had expected the learning curve to be much steeper.  After all, she knits English, and holding the yarn and chain in her left hand while turning and manipulating the hook with her right is going to be a completely new motion.  It's really awkward until you get used to it.  Who knew she could get used to it with half an hour's practice?

Right now the sewing machine is just that kind of challenge for me.  I see it as a set of alien movements that I don't understand.  I expect it to take hours of effort to feel comfortable or confident.  Is it possible that I could learn the first step of sewing as quickly as Cady Gray has learned the first step of crocheting?  No pressure, Carol!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Then you'll judge the look by the lover

Today's post about a bevy of tiny hearts is at Toxophily.


Be sure to read and admire the original Valentines messages the kids created for their teachers!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Two-day work week

Conway public schools are closed again tomorrow -- which I expected, given that the roads were snowpack and icy slush after a sunny day with air temperatures right at freezing, and that the forecast is for another hard freeze tonight.  The university is closed, too, for the third day in a row -- which I didn't expect, given that by midday tomorrow conditions should be much better, with a forecast high near 40.

Since we'll be sailing into the weekend without stopping to, y'know, actually go to work, here are a few more pictures of our 7" snowfall, this time with a brilliant blue sky and bright sun as backdrop.


Best snow toy for our kids: a ruler to measure depth on various surfaces.


My camera refused to capture the glistening twinkle of the sun on the snow's crystalline surface. So I settled for attempts to capture the magical etching of shadow from the bare tree limbs.


Sometimes sharp and exacting ...


... on closer inspection, blurring like charcoal.


A yucca plant becomes a porcupine caught in mid-hibernation.


The roads are still coated with white, but the blue sky is a harbinger of change.


As is this ice-ball that started leaking water on Cady Gray's boots only moments after she'd formed it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fresh powder


By the time the heaviest snow had stopped, mid-afternoon, we had half a foot on the ground. That's a lot for these southern climes.


It was light, dry powder, piled high. Not so great for snowmen or snowballs, but just fine for the snow sculpture CG had in mind.


Actually, its core competency was snow angels. Crisp edges without getting your clothes soaking wet, and perfect depth.


Would you like your own mini-snowstorm, like Cady Gray and her friends Tavin and Tori? Just fling a handfull into the air ...


... and enjoy an individual precipitation zone!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Awaiting the onslaught

Last weekend, as we waited for a couple of inches of ice and snow to melt off the streets, we were told that a bigger storm was on the way for the middle of the following week.  Now it's almost here, and the projected snow accumulations have been rising the closer the storm gets.

Everyone is hunkered down and expecting complete official cancelation action for at least the next two days.  Some government agencies in Little Rock have already announced they will be closed tomorrow.  Snow is supposed to start around dawn, continue all day, and then persist on the ground through a cold day Thursday.

Enjoying a snow day is all about mental preparation.  You get your ducks in a row, figure out what you can bring home and how much you need to be productive.  Then you line up home-based projects: kids making their Valentines for school, baking or cooking, crafts, games, whatever has been waiting for a rainy (or snowy) day.

One snow day is something to look forward to.  Two snow days we can definitely handle.  Let's hope things don't stretch to three, or our mental preparations may fray at the edges.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ready dot us

More winter weather is headed our way, we're told -- and in a larger package than we've had so far.  The forecast calls for accumulating snow all day on Wednesday, and bitter cold Wednesday night into Thursday.

Best guess, then, is that we'll be home some part of both days, with our various schools canceled.  We've laid in supplies and made mental preparations.  The difficulty, for me, is making contingency plans at work.  Big projects are just starting to be underway in both my classes, and on the schedule for Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, are important class periods devoted to moving those projects forward.  Our first day-long interview process with recruits is next Friday, and this week we're scrambling to evaluate applications and extend invitations.  It's a critical time in my role as an officer of regional and national scholarly organizations as well, with meetings coming up, registration numbers looming large, and budgets to be scrutinized.

The latter two projects are something I can work on from home.  The class projects, though, are a different matter.  At this critical stage, the groups of students have formulated general directions and the germs of concrete activities.  We need to divide up labor and start finding out which aspects of our brainstorming are going to be fruitful and which are going to be duds.  It's hard to do that in any non-authoritarian way without meeting in a group.   Sure, I could make group assignments myself, but in order to see what people are interested in and what, therefore, is likely to attract enough laborers to make it a going concern, there's no substitute for meeting face to face.

Knowing that one or both of those class meetings is likely to fall victim to the snow, I'm trying to imagine ways of doing this work online.  If you have any experience in asynchronous brainstorming and project organization, I'd love to benefit from your advice.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Together we'll make history

Today's post about a Valentine's Day impulse is at Toxophily.


Pro tip: Eyes and mouth go on approximately the same level. Counterintuitive but cute!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nearly perfect

Yesterday snow and ice fell during the day, preventing us from going out for our usual Friday evening Mexican meal and weekend kickoff.  But today more than made up for any disappointment.  Consider:

  • I slept in an extra ninety minutes.  Ahhhhhh.
  • Cady Gray played in the snow, then drank the hot chocolate that I made for her with many expressions of happiness.
  • I didn't even put on shoes until about 2:30 in the afternoon.
  • While sitting in the front room this morning, I opened an email with a link to a little amigurumi lovebirds pattern.  On the spur of the moment, I decided to make it.  A few hours later, as the kids emerged from their rooms after rest time, the lovebirds were complete.  Noel dubbed them Val and Tine.  (Pictures tomorrow; my photo session this afternoon -- the reason I put on my shoes -- was sabotaged by a memory card error.)
  • Noel reconnoitered the still-slushy streets by going out to get us sandwiches and cookies for lunch.
  • Noel took the kids to Playworld this afternoon for almost two hours, during which time I put the finishing touches on the lovebirds, did my Ravelry welcomes, and watched basketball.
  • I still got to go to La Huerta this evening, once the temperature rose and the streets melted.

Pretty much a perfect Saturday, mostly thanks to my generous husband.  Hope yours was just as relaxing!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Troublesome enough

People from the north often ridicule us Southerners for the way winter weather paralyzes us.  A little snow and we panic; some slippery roads and we flail impotently behind the wheel.  They say that we just don't know how to drive in it.  They say that we're wimps.

What they don't understand is that winter weather is different down here.  We don't have fleets of snowplows and warehouses of salt, brine, and sand at the ready to clear the roads.  We can't; storms that justify such preparations don't occur every year, and what local government can stockpile equipment and supplies that go unused for years at a time?  It's not that we're incompetent drivers in slippery weather -- it's that the roads haven't been made fit to drive on.

And Northerners have little idea of the kind of winter weather we typically get.  It's not the snow that piles up that ruins our commutes.  It's ice.  We have ice storms.  Rain falls and freezes, coating everything.  You can't shovel it.  We aren't running around our houses unable to make our way through the drifts.  We're huddling in the dark because the ice knocked down our power lines, and spinning out because the roads are skating rinks.  Ice storms are as rare in Minnesota as snowstorms are here.  You folks just don't know what we're dealing with, any more than we know what it's like to use a snowblower.

Maybe the recent massive snowstorm that dumped nearly two feet of snow on Chicago and caused roads to close, drivers to abandon their cars on major roads, and public transit to grind to a halt will remind my friends to the north that they aren't quite immune from paralyzing winter weather themselves.  When events are within the normal range of variation, neither of us have any problems.  When things get out of hand, both of us end up stuck in a ditch and stockpiling bread.  Just because "out of hand" means something different here than there, doesn't mean we're not both vulnerable and competent in equal measure, depending on the circumstances.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I came to work on Monday plagued with unknowns.  Both of my classes have service learning projects at their core.  But because I prefer the projects to arise from student interests and talents, rather than selecting them for the class myself, I have had to wait to begin planning the projects until I could survey the students, compile the results, and do some collective brainstorming.

I don't like being in suspense about such major elements of my courses -- and of my workload for the semester.  But as bad as not knowing what projects we would be undertaking, was not knowing for sure how we would get from not knowing to knowing.  There's a magic moment that you have to hope happens -- a moment where the compiled survey results suggest a direction, and the direction suggests activities, and  then you're off.  My worry is that the magic won't happen, that the survey results will remain a jumble, that students won't see what I see, that the activities won't inspire or will be intractably difficult or depressingly minor.

Brainstorming happened in both my classes this week, and to my great relief, the magic happened.  My freshmen coalesced on a theme in class, then responded online to a summary of the discussion with concrete ideas.  I took some of those, did some Googling, and came across some nifty ideas that sparked my imagination.  Presenting those back to the class got a good reaction, and I posted them with some suggested details for further feedback online.  Whew -- from nothing to a potentially viable project in a couple of class meetings.

Today was brainstorming day for my seniors, all the way at the other end of the curriculum.  In 75 minutes, we went from a three-page summary of the survey results to a local cause for which we wanted to advocate, and a long list of resources we needed to find or generate to advocate effectively.  There are more students in this class, and while the enthusiasm for the cause was infectious and widespread, I spent a little time making sure we weren't running roughshod over any of the students who hadn't been as vocal during the brainstorming.  The best thing about the direction we ended up going is that we can build on portions of other projects done by other classes and groups; some of the UCA G.O.YA. report from last spring will be relevant, and we can use material that a couple of my colleagues developed for a summer program a couple of years ago.

It feels great to be on the other side of those decisions, with students facing in a common direction and trying to think of ways to bring their goals to life.  I've gone from complete uncertainty to two workable projects with a dozen students lined up to work on each one, all in the space of a week.  The projects have potential to create awareness, raise the profile of the causes for which we're advocating, and generate great publicity.  Best of all, I can see my way to the end of the semester without a big unknown blocking my way.  What a feeling!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Older and, one hopes, wiser

I've been extremely nearsighted for most of my life.  It was fourth grade when I discovered my visual impairment; writing on the board was illegible from my spot in the back of the room.  When I got my first pair of glasses, the difference was remarkable.  I couldn't believe that other people saw this sharply all the time.  Gone was the fuzz and blur that I thought was normal.

In eighth grade I switched to daily wear contact lenses, along with many dire warnings from doctors and parents about proper care of the expensive little pieces of plastic.  And for the last thirty years or so, that's been my life.  Wake up blind, pop in the lenses, acquire vision.  At one doctor's appointment I'll never forget, the acuity in my left eye wasn't measured with the typical 20/100 type scale, but with fingers, as in "could distinguish three fingers held up in front of the light."

My prescription hasn't changed that much in all those years -- a few tweaks a few years ago, I seem to recall, but nothing major.  My doctor has been asking me about reading vision lately, and I've gotten the little card that's attached close to your head.  But my extreme nearsightedness apparently protected me from the onset of age-related farsightedness for awhile.

Those days are over.  I've known since this fall that I needed to go get my prescription adjusted.  For awhile I could pretend it was variations in the humidity; my sight seemed to come and go based on how well hydrated I was, how dried out my eyes would get.  It got worse as the day went on, deteriorating with exposure to glare and if I forgot to look away from the computer every once in awhile.  But now it's  problematic from the moment I get up.  Time to make that appointment and enter the world of bifocals or whatever is in the cards.

I hope the adjustment will produce the same dramatic results I remember from fourth grade.  It would be wonderful to open up my computer or a book or newspaper and see the print sharp and clean.  I know it's not going to get any bigger, but it would be nice if it didn't wiggle around on me and if F was easily distinguishable from P.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inventing tradition

When I first got to my current institution, I was surprised by its traditions for commencement.  I was used to big ceremonies with major speakers.  But here commencements were split up by college, repeated three times to get everyone across the stage, and there was no celebrity giving a speech.  The advantage was that the ceremonies remained relatively short -- about 90 minutes -- and the focus stayed firmly on the graduating students.  The disadvantage was that those with a role on the program had to attend all of them, doing the same thing three times in a row, which made for a long day.

Word came down earlier this year that the new administration was interested in making a change.  The vision was a single outdoor ceremony with a major speaker, surrounded by individual ceremonies for graduates in each college.  The advantage of this scheme would be more publicity for the university as a celebrity or public figure gave an address, and the lack of overlap with the same people having to reprise commencement roles over and over (since each college would run its commencement with its own personnel).  The disadvantage would be unpredictable weather with no alternate location (only the football stadium is big enough to host such an event, and it can be very hot and thunderstormy in early May), and our general dislike of change.

One of my senior students is an officer in student government, and she showed up this morning for class with an interesting report.  Commencement changes won't be happening this year -- even though we've heard since August that they were a done deal, and all that was left was working out the details.  Students apparently staged a bit of a revolt, feeling like they hadn't been consulted.

It's a relief in a way.  Now those of us who've gotten used to the way things have always been won't have to figure out something new.  The advantages and disadvantages of the old system will remain in place.  But of course, it just puts off until later the adjustment we'll need to make eventually to something new -- with advantages and disadvantages we can't quite picture yet.  I've grown attached to the system in place, as weird as it appeared to me at first.  I recognize that my preference for stasis, though, is as much a lack of imagination on my part as the result of any logical reasoning process.  Once everyone is consulted and a new tradition has been invented, ten more years will go by and we'll all feel proprietary about it in its turn.