Saturday, September 13, 2014

News and Updates

1. I am feeling oddly triumphant (in addition to my usual state of feeling, as my friend Richard put it, “triumphantly odd”).  Kim got me hooked on the computer game 2048 while we were driving east last month.  It’s a fun game, simple in concept but maddening in execution as most good games are, and we were all convinced that it was not actually impossible to complete.  But no – last night I decided that I was no longer any good for grading essays so I took up the cause once more and hey, presto: victory.  I should have bought a lottery ticket instead.

2. There is a first time for everything.  This week one of my students came up and asked to be excused from class for a week next month in order to go to Spain to attend a beatification.  Honestly, how could you say no to something like that?

3. Sad times over at the chicken coop these days, as Candy has gone to his reward.  He’d been looking kind of wilty the last few days, so we took him out of our neighbor’s flock and penned him up in quarantine while we tried to figure out what to do with him.  Today that problem became moot.  On the plus side, it means we can move Birdie over to that slot again and no longer have to figure out how to give him away before we have to butcher him.  So Candy’s loss is Birdie’s gain.  Also, Candy will be headed over to our friend’s other farm where the barn cats will no doubt be happy to see him.  It’s the part of the circle of life that somehow got cut out of The Lion King.

4. If I can make it to Halloween I will be amazed.  Teaching five classes for three campuses at two different universities – one of which campuses is more than an hour away – while at the same time still doing the Performing Arts thing and also trying to eat, sleep, and be a parent and spouse, is seriously cutting into my lounging about time.

5. Carpooling is a wonderful thing, especially when you have a friend to do it with.  Makes the ride go by much more entertainingly.

6. We have been so busy here that we have fallen behind in our Doctor Who.  This is not acceptable to any of us.

7. This time last week it was July.  Yesterday it was November.  On the whole, I’ll stick with November.  I can drink my tea without sweating.

8. Sometimes you see things pop up in your email that you never, ever thought you would see.  Other times things pop up in your email that even if you had thought you’d see them you probably thought you could have lived a full and happy life without ever doing so.  Sometimes both of those things happen in the same email, and it is then that you feel very, very glad to be a mere spectator to the outskirts of the lives of others, and not an active participant.

9. So far the score in the anti-mouse campaign stands at Humans 4, Cats 0.  I’m thinking the cats had better learn how to teach classes at this rate so we can switch jobs officially, otherwise there will be no use for them at all.

10. I now have a snazzy new office chair to replace the one that has sadly deteriorated over the last few years.  It is actually high enough to maintain a healthy angle for my wrists as I type, and there are no holes in it anywhere other than where there were designed to be holes.  Thanks, Kim! 

11. Kim’s brother Geoff and his partner Dave came in from San Francisco this past week, so we had all sorts of family events.  We spent the day over at Kim’s parents last weekend – our slightly delayed Labor Day – and Geoff and Dave came down Tuesday/Wednesday for a brief stay on their way back to the airport to continue the next leg of their journey.  It was fun to see them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Felis Inutiles

There are moments in every cat owner’s life when you have to question precisely why that status should continue to apply to you.

I’m not really talking about the random barfing moments that make each day such an obstacle course, though I suppose I could be.  Mithra has taken to barfing on our bed these days, for reasons which are not entirely clear.  Fortunately for me she prefers to leave her gifts on Kim’s side, and at moments when I am either so far gone in exhaustion that I don’t even hear her or actually physically gone (in which case I definitely cannot hear her).  So I can overlook this. 

For now.

No, I’m talking about events that make me question the very purpose of owning a cat.

The cat was domesticated, I am told, because of its prowess in hunting vermin.  Ancient humans looked at this small predator and said to themselves, “Huh.  If I can keep one of those creatures in my home, it will eat all of the unwanted critters that currently eat my stuff.  This sounds like a good deal.”

And it is, when it works. 

Yet the useless lumps of felinity that populate my own home seem to have missed this message.  Mithra is a “catch and release” hunter, happy to bat mice and other small creatures around for a while but ultimately uninterested in any more permanent actions.  Midgie, on the other hand, is the sort of cat who makes you wonder how the species ever managed to evolve in the first place.  Surely there were not ancient cat food vendors out there in Mesopotamia or the Indus Valley supplying kitties with treats.  Or maybe there were, but at some point in history there must have been cats capable of hunting for their supper.

I do not own such cats.

This was brought home to me with especial force this morning, when I went to put on my shoes.

I stuck one foot into a shoe and things were unremarkable.  It was as if I had done this many times before with similar results.  In point of fact, it was exactly that situation.  So when I stuck the other foot into the other shoe and felt something soft and fuzzy, I thought to myself, “This does not seem to be the usual sensation.  I shall remove my foot and dump out whatever is blocking my progress, so I may investigate the causes of this unusual situation.”

Or words to that effect.  Bystanders may not have heard exactly those words, but that was the gist.

So I dumped out the shoe, heard a thump, and went to turn on the light to see what it was. 

It wasn’t there.

Now there are only two possibilities at that point.  Either I didn’t actually feel or hear anything – not very likely, given the multiple sensory pathways through which this knowledge has been acquired (see how I use my pedagogical jargon?  someone owes me a gold star) – or whatever it was had run away on its own power, which had certain implications.

And sure enough, there was the mouse, hiding in the corner.

Freeloading cats!  What good are you?  You are not protecting my home or the things in it from all of the unwanted critters that currently eat my stuff or sleep in my shoes!

I eventually trapped the mouse in a cup and tossed it out onto the lawn.  No doubt it has found its way back in by now, but so it goes. 

Maybe one of the cats will find it first this time.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ten Things Tabitha Feels She Should Not Have Needed To Say to Lauren

Presented without comment:

1. No, don't lint-roll the cat.

2. Don't ride a tricycle in the corn.

3. Don't use the cat as a footstool.

4. Don't make mac-and-cheese with sugar.

5. I don't think chickens like to swim.

6. Don't move the playing cards with your chin.

7. The cat is not "fluffy on the inside."  She's fat.

8. "Stop, drop, and roll" is not for tornadoes!

9. Bacon is not candy.

10. Don't use babywipes on cuts.

Back to School

School has started up again here in Our Little Town.  The year has begun – yes, the year starts in September, don’t let any calendar tell you otherwise – and all is fresh and new and waiting for the first inevitable screw-up, whereupon there will be stories and commiseration and probably something good to eat to make up for it, and this is how we survive from year to year. 

Last year the girls were at the top of their respective schools, but this year?  This year they learn the great lesson in life, that the top of one ladder is just the bottom of the next. 

Tabitha has now outgrown Mighty Clever Guy Middle School, and has moved on to Local Businessman High. 

It is an odd thing, to see her march off to high school.  It’s such a strange time of life, being on the edge of heading out on your own but still not quite there, finding loves and groups of friends who, if you are very, very lucky, you will still be close to decades later.  I wish her well over at LBHS.

Having graduated one daughter from MCGMS, we now send the other one.  Lauren started there this week, having left Not Bad President Elementary behind in June.

She’s been enjoying it immensely, it must be said.  She’s in classes with a lot of her friends – three of the Five Musketeers are seated next to each other in her science class, which her teacher will figure out soon enough – and so far the running about between rooms has worked out fine.  If she can only get a locker that actually opens, she’ll be in great shape.

Getting home has been a trick, though.

LBHS is close enough for Tabitha to walk home – about a mile and a half, right up the road.  We drop her off a block or two away in the mornings, mostly because otherwise there would be even less sleep going on around here for all of us, but she’s been hiking back every day.  It's good exercise, and so far the weather has been nice.

Lauren’s return home has been trickier. 

While Kim has often handled drop offs in the past, pick ups have usually been my area.  I knew going into the year that Wednesdays would be tricky, since I had my Nursing U class, but that only runs until late October so that didn’t seem like a lot and Kim’s schedule could handle that.  That was before the Chaotic Schedule Changes of late August, the net result of which was that I am now at Mid-Range Campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays at pick up time.  So right now the schedule is that I get Lauren on Mondays and Fridays, Kim gets her on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and on Thursdays she walks home with a friend.

It all gets done.

Good luck in your new schools, ladies.

I’m proud of you.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Mystery, Wrapped in an Enigma, Covered in Feathers

We seem to have stumbled into something of a mystery with the chickens.

The County Fair is over now, and since we can’t show the same chickens two years running and next year will be an opportunity for new chickens, we have been trying to figure out what to do with Lauren’s flock.

Most of it has been surprisingly easy.

The three hens are about to start the process of going to our friend who has been letting us use her barn.  She has a flock of her own there, and they’ll get integrated into it over the course of a month or so and eventually she can sell the eggs back to us the way she already does with the eggs from her own chickens.  This is called the business cycle, and economists have spent entire careers trying to figure out how to make money off of it, which is why they are economists and not corporate executives.

Bean, the biggest and most aggressive of the six roosters, has already found a home with another flock somewhere down the road.  He is doing fine there, by all accounts.  Candy, one of the Bantam Cochins, has moved over one stall and become the resident rooster to another friend’s flock, there in the same barn.  He seems to be adjusting just fine, despite the fact that he is about 2/3 the size of the hens.  Maybe he’s just motivated.  Eventually this will turn into a rendition of the “two ducks and a giraffe” joke, which I am not about to repeat here.

Edward Scissorbeak has gone to his fate, unfortunately.  There’s not much you can do with birds with his condition, but he lived a happy life for the time he was here.

We’ll probably keep Rosie and Sully. 

Rosie is everyone’s favorite – a chicken with a personality.  He’s sociable and friendly, and if you talk to him he’ll cluck back at you in a conversational sort of way.  You can also get him to perch on your hand like a parrot.  He’ll just sit there, bobbing his head in that robotic way that chickens have, until you either put him down or shoo him off.

Sully?  Well, he’s kind of our special-needs chicken.  He’s a pretty bird – all bright white and poofy – but even by chicken standards he’s kind of dim.  That’s something of an achievement, really, considering chickens are a standing refutation to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  There is no conceivable way a chicken could ever be the fittest of anything.  Chickens, as noted earlier in this space, are what rocks would be if rocks were more mobile and less intelligent.  There are lintels smarter than your average chicken.

Sully is dumber than that.

But he and Rosie get along fairly well, and we will likely winter them over in the barn.  They can be the roosters for next year’s flock.  Plus they’re both kind of sweet and since they’re small they’re easy to handle.  We know why Rosie’s small – he’s a bantam – but Sully just seems that way for his own purposes, a physical reflection of his stunted mental growth.

That only leaves Birdie, the other Bantam Cochin rooster.

We tried sending him over to the neighboring stall, but he didn’t work out too well so we switched him out for Candy.  We can’t let him run loose with Lauren’s other chickens, because he gets aggressive and beats up on poor Rosie, though he leaves Sully alone, we suspect because he considers Sully beneath him.  So we’re in something of a holding pattern with Birdie.  Either he’ll find a new home or he’ll go the way of Edward, which we are trying to avoid if we can.  But that is the difference between pets and livestock, and there you have it.

None of this is the actual mystery. 

When we first started having trouble with Bean getting his rooster on, we built a little enclosure in the corner of the stall.  It was fairly simple, really – just a pallet hinged on one wall and hooked on the other so you could open it if you needed to.  It left him enough space to move around a bit and still allowed him to be part of his flock.  Since he could fly over the pallet, we set another pallet on top.  It made a nice little pen.

The one small flaw in this plan was the fact that every other chicken (except Sully) would roost on that top pallet, raining down chicken poop on poor Bean’s head.  Sully, for his part, would perch in front of Bean’s pallet, poke his head through the slat, and just stare at him.  For hours.  Even as he too, was being pelted from above with chicken poop.  This is why we ended up taking Sully home for a few days before the County Fair.  Judges tend to frown on birds covered with a thick layer of chicken poop.

Not that it bothered Sully any.

Now that Bean, Candy, and Edward are gone, the pen belongs to Birdie.  He seems happy there, most of the time, though Sully has stayed at his observation post and the remaining chickens have continued to rain down poop from the top pallet, oblivious to the change in occupant.

Lintels.  Seriously.  Lintels are Mensa candidates compared to the average chicken.

So this is our situation:  One rooster in the pen.  Three hens (and two other roosters) outside of the pen.  The pen is secured shut.  We are fairly confident that other birds cannot get in, and even if they could get in they would likely not be able to get back out.  Birdie would have done that by now if that were easy.

There is a clear and impermeable (for values of “impermeable” which exclude chicken poop) barrier, in other words, separating the rooster in the pen from every other bird.

None of which explains how Lauren found two eggs in the pen yesterday afternoon.

They are small eggs, which could mean they came from a bantam (like Birdie) or just from a new layer (like the hens outside the pen) – all hens start out laying smaller eggs than they will as they get used to the process.  But they are eggs nonetheless.

This raises some interesting questions.

Is Birdie actually a hen?  That would be the easiest solution, except that he looks exactly like Candy (clearly a rooster), has been examined and judged by experts (all unanimously of the opinion that he is a rooster), continues to be aggressive toward Rosie (very much rooster behavior), and does crow now and then (more rooster behavior), though admittedly he does it in a rather unconvincing way, like it’s something he feels obligated to do for contractual reasons.

Could Birdie be some kind of hermaphrodite chicken?  An egg-laying rooster?  That would be interesting.  And possibly lucrative, given the right audience.  One suspects there would be a prevalence of either lab coats or banjos in that audience – or both, if one keeps an open mind – but money is money.

Perhaps one of the hens laid the eggs while the pallet above and they fell through?  We can’t figure out how they wouldn’t break, unless they each hit Birdie directly (Bantam Cochins are remarkably fluffy) and then rolled gently into a corner, which seems improbable for one egg and exceedingly so for two.

Did a hen get in, lay two eggs, and then escape?  We don’t think so, since all of the hens are considerably bigger than Birdie and if Birdie hasn’t escaped yet the hens wouldn’t make it either.  And why would a hen go to that much trouble just to lay eggs?  It’s not like it’s any nicer in the pen than it is in the rest of the stall.

Might the eggs have been laid outside of the pen and somehow carried in by the other chickens?  It’s theoretically possible – you can fit the eggs between the slats of the pallet – but mechanically difficult given the physiology of the average chicken and vanishingly unlikely given the amount of intelligence required (i.e. any) to pull off something like that.

And yet there are the eggs.  Incontrovertible in their physical reality, and definitely found within the confines of the pen.

It is a mystery.


EDIT 1 (8/31):

Per request, here is Lauren with the eggs:

EDIT 2 (9/1):

Lauren and Kim scrambled the eggs for breakfast and report that they were delicious.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sight and Sounds

There are very few instantly recognizable sounds in this world – sounds that require no cognitive processing whatever – and they are almost all things you don’t want to hear.

The roar of a tornado.  The particular ratchet of a pump-action shotgun.  The squeal of skidding tires.  The wail of a siren.  Things like that.

This week I discovered a new sound to add to that list: the unmistakably precise click of a pair of glasses snapping in half two days before your first class of the semester.

It was, as so many things are these days, entirely my fault.  I was upstairs sitting on my bed, reading while Lauren brushed her teeth.  I’d taken my glasses off and set them down because I have reached the point where I actually read better with out them than with them.  I got up to do something, went back to the bed to sit down, put my hand out and came down right on top of them – my palm directly over the frame.  I must have caught it at some odd angle because it snapped fairly easily, and neatly in two right where the bridge met the lens frame.  This also had the effect of popping out that lens.

“Oh,” I thought.

Or words to that effect.

Fortunately I had stumbled across my previous pair of glasses in a drawer just a week or two earlier, so I knew I had backup.  They are not the bifocals that my current pair are, nor are they the current prescription, which meant that even in the long focus range they were a bit on the moody side.  But they would do for driving, and – as noted – I didn’t need them to read anyway.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is not a king.  He is a chauffeur.

I didn’t really have time to do much about this before my first class.  I wasn’t about to try soldering the frame back together – somehow that had “Onion headline” written all over it.  Tape would just confirm everyone’s stereotypes.  I didn’t want to pay too much to get them fixed, since it’s about time to get my eyes examined again anyway and there was no doubt in my mind that I’d end up with a different prescription.  And the earliest I could get an eye appointment my insurance would pay for is late October, which isn’t bad in the scale of things but not all that helpful in the current situation.

So I decided to bull my way through my first class with the old pair and see how it went.  Who knew?  If it went well, then I could just keep doing that for a few weeks and the problem would go away.

Except that, as noted, the old ones are monofocal and it didn’t take long before I realized that I do, in fact, make use of the bifocal part of my current pair of glasses.  I hadn’t been sure about that for the longest time, given that I have been taking them off to read for a while now.  Perhaps my eyes had changed that much?  Perhaps I could go back to normal glasses?

Well no.

When I teach, I have my notes on the podium in front of me.  But you can’t teach looking down – that’s one of the most basic facts about teaching.  You have to make eye contact.  And if I didn’t have my old glasses on, the students were just blurs.  But if I did have my old glasses on, my notes were a blur. 

Choices, choices.

Thus I found myself back at Sears the following day, hoping that they had a match to my broken frame so I could just get the lenses put in until the new prescription undoubtedly arrived.  And lo and behold, they did, for what turned out to be an eminently reasonable fee.

I can now see.

Life is good.

But watch out for the next sound you hear.  It could be a doozy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Semester Plans

I always do this to myself.

Every semester I think to myself, “Self,” I think, “perhaps this is the semester that you will rest on your laurels.  Perhaps this, indeed, will be a semester without major revisions of existing courses, or completely new courses to make up from scratch. Yes, this semester will be a breeze.  You will get long put off projects completed.  You will enroll in that photography course you’ve been meaning to take.  You may even sign up for the curling team, as you have been threatening to do for three years now.”

And then I laugh and laugh and laugh.

Because the first thing you learn as an adjunct is that saying no is never an option.  When you get hired by the class, with no guarantee of ever being hired again, “Yes” is the only appropriate answer to any question aimed at seeing if you want to teach a class.

Sometimes they ask me to teach things I’ve taught before.  And sometimes they don’t.

But, like the Professor in Gilligan’s Island, who had a degree in Science and could thus do everything from translate Pacific Equatorial tribal languages to build a radio out of two coconuts and a treadmill (although why he couldn’t build a boat has never been satisfactorily explained), I have a degree in History and can thus orate knowledgeably about anything that ever happened anywhere, as long as it happened in the past.  Just give me a little lead time to get myself oriented, and off I go.

Ancient India?  Sure!  WWII?  No problem!  Medieval Europe?  Got that in spades!  US history?  Seriously?  Teach in my field?  Is this a trick question?  Sign me up!  I have a degree in History, after all.

Truth be told, I end up learning a lot doing classes outside of my area.  They’re fun that way, and then I have another class in my repertoire which never hurts when the next person wants to hire me to teach something.

Even when they want me to teach what I’ve taught before, the fact is that every few years you have to tear it down and rebuild it.  My thinking changes over time.  The recent history classes keep moving into the future and new lectures need to be added.  New technology requires new ways to teach, which in turn require new stories and units because the break points move. 

This semester I thought I’d have it relatively easy.  I had one class I’d taught before and had just overhauled the previous year, so it wasn’t due for any major changes – just the usual tweaking that happens every year.  And I had another class elsewhere that was brand new, but when you’ve only got two classes this isn’t much of a burden really.

Then I added another class, but I had also taught before, so that was good.  Then – for long and complicated reasons having nothing whatever to do with me – I lost that class.  Then I was asked to teach three classes at Mid-Range Campus.  Of course I said yes – that would bring me up to full time, establish me at another campus in our system, further establish myself as a solution to whatever problems come up, and be fun in the bargain.  And you never say no, not as an adjunct.  Besides, I’ve got more than a week to get these classes together!  That’s not nearly the shortest notice I’ve had, and the classes are all in my field to boot.

Granted, they’re over an hour away, and it’s been so long since I taught the face-to-face versions of these classes (as opposed to the online and streaming video versions) that I may have to redo a fair amount of them.  There is that.  We’ll see how that goes.

I went up to Mid-Range Campus yesterday for new faculty/staff orientation, and they were lovely people as far as I could tell.  They were glad to have me, and I was happy to be there.  I even learned a few things, which – given that I have been teaching in this system since 1996 – came as a bit of a surprise.  Always nice to be surprised that way. 

There remains the fact that I may have to bring a supply of bread crumbs to find my way around for the first few weeks – while walking around on the tour my mind kept filling up with phrases like “rabbit warren” and “fire trap” – but bread crumbs are cheap and there are no birds in the halls to eat them.  As long as I leave before the maintenance people sweep them up I’ll be fine.

It will be a good but exceedingly hectic semester, methinks.