Saturday, September 29, 2012


I have now lived in this house for sixteen years, almost to the day.  This is the longest I have ever lived in one place. 

I find this rather odd, truth be told.  If you had sat me down when I was younger and said, “Someday you will be a homeowner in what you now consider to be a small town, somewhere in Wisconsin,” I would have assumed you were on powerful hallucinogens.  And yet here I am, a minor member of the landed gentry, on sufferance of the financial institution that holds the mortgage, and a long-standing presence in the local community of Our Little Town.

Kim and I were married and living in an apartment a few blocks away when her dad’s estate was finally settled enough to distribute his property.  A note to all of you out there reading this: write out a will.  The gyrations that had to be gone through to get that settled in the absence of a will that the State of Wisconsin, in its infinite glory, would recognize as legal, managed to be astonishing in both their complexity and their pettiness.

But eventually we came into a small pile of money.

Now, I would probably have thrown it into the bank and forgotten about it, which is just one more reason why you don’t want me in charge of anything connected with money.  Once you get past “try to spend less than you have,” my ideas for money management get awfully thin.  But Kim is an optimizer, and she recognized this as an opportunity to move up in the world.  So house-hunting became our weekend sport.

We looked at a lot of houses.

Did you know that other people have no taste?  It’s true!  You – yes you, personally – are the only human on earth who knows how to decorate a house without causing visitors to shake their heads, wash down migraine medication with whiskey, and/or begin to question the wisdom of democracy.  You have always suspected as much, I am sure.  But now you know.

Of all the houses we looked at, only one struck me as a place I could call home.  Like most things of this sort, it was a rather mundane moment that set me off that way – I think I was just rounding the hallway into the top of the stairs to go down to the living room when it occurred to me that I could do that for the next few years, yes I could.  Fortunately, Kim agreed.

The fact that the kitchen had the same vibratingly ugly orange and yellow countertops as our apartment – and every apartment Kim had lived in for several apartments back – just seemed a positive omen.  They were among the first things to go when it came time for Home Repair Projects, but still.  They served their purpose.

It was (and, for that matter, remains) a Cape Cod house, with three bedrooms upstairs and a new basement beneath as a result of being moved several blocks from its original location sometime in the early 90s.  The owner at the time was a single man who was moving out of state for a job, and we got the house because he decided he liked us better than the other people who were bidding on it.

Remember when houses actually got multiple bidders?

Actually purchasing the house – moving through the process of getting the money shifted over and the documents signed – was the same gut-wrenching slog through bureaucracy that it always is with settlements.  I’m not sure why this is such a needlessly obstacle-strewn process, but it is.  And it’s not just that there are a lot of i's to dot and t’s to cross – you’re spending a lot of money to buy something relatively permanent, so of course everyone involved is going to be extremely careful to protect their own interests.  It’s that so many of the people involved actively don’t want to help you.

We had to get title insurance, for example.  Now, I’ve worked in title insurance, sort of.  My mother was in that field for years, and when I was a kid I honed my research skills in the courthouse looking stuff up for her, for which she paid me out of her pocket.  So I understand the value of title insurance, and why you want to have it.  What I couldn’t understand was why I had to go over to the title insurance company at 4:58pm on a Friday and do my best Glowering Philadelphia Addytood at them until they agreed to add up a column of numbers and enter the total onto an official document so I could take that total over to the only branch office of our bank in town that was open until 6pm and get that total put onto a cashier’s check (using the entirety of the inheritance described above) so we could actually go through with the settlement at 7:30am the following Monday morning.  Honestly, people, it’s not that hard.

But there we were, bright and early.  The paperwork went through relatively uneventfully.  We signed what we needed to sign.  The former homeowner wished us luck.  And we walked out with a set of keys to Our New House.

That night Kim and I brought over a mattress, a CD player and some CDs, a nice bottle of wine and some glasses, and some candles.  We set everything up and then had pizza delivered, just so we could tell the person to come to Our New House.  And then we danced around the living room, and spent the night in our own corner of the world.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On the Campaign Trail

It was Campaigning Day down at Not Bad President Elementary today. 

NBPE has its own Student Council, which I find rather advanced, really.  I don’t recall having one of those until junior high, though it is entirely possible that we did have one at my old elementary school and I just never noticed.  There were a great many things I did not notice back then. 

But Lauren noticed.  She loves the whole idea of Student Council, and has even served on it before.  Mostly they determine the Theme Days for the year – the “Wear Your Pajamas” days and so on – and they get involved in other school projects.  I like that Lauren thinks this is a worthwhile use of her time and that she is willing to get involved with her school to try to make it a better place.

This year her teacher decided that there would be a real electoral process rather than just a simple class vote.  So she had the kids who were interested in running pair off so they had a running mate – Lauren ended up with someone named Makayla, who seemed nice when I met her today.  There was then a primary election, which whittled the field down from eight pairs to four.

Each of the eight remaining candidates had to do some serious work after that.

They created their own brochures, using appropriate publishing software.  They made campaign posters.  They set up all kinds of treats for potential voters, because it is never too soon to learn how politics really works.

And they wrote speeches.

Lauren spent several days working on hers, polishing it up and lengthening it out to the declared minimum length, and today the 4th grade and many of their parents gathered in one of the side rooms at NBPE to hear what she and her fellow candidates had to say.

She and Makayla went first.

Lauren did a marvelous job, speaking clearly and correctly and letting us know in no uncertain terms why she felt you should vote for her.  This was particularly impressive since she volunteered to be the first speaker, and thus had nobody to imitate – it’s all her.

Makayla then upheld that tradition with a fine speech of her own, and after that the rest of the candidates – including the daughter of a Home Campus friend of ours – gave their speeches as well.  Friends, political oratory is not dead!  It lives and breathes in the youth of this great land, and especially here at NBPE!  They all did quite well.

The voting is tomorrow.

Vote for Makayla and Lauren!  It won’t be borin’!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

That Guy

I’m slowly turning into That Guy of sports.

I watched a lot of soccer this summer.  We were in Sweden during the finals of the UEFA Cup, and it was fun to sit with Mats and Sara – who watch this sort of thing routinely and understand the strategy of it on a more complex level than just “try to kick the ball into the net” – and learn a few things about how the game is played.  I’d actually been watching the UEFA Cup on my own before we left too. 

And then when we got back the Olympics were on and for the first week there was nothing on except swimming – which is a sport I do not understand at all; really, it’s just competitive lawn mowing to me – and soccer.  So I watched soccer, especially the women’s games.  I like those game more than the men’s games, to be honest.  The women are, as a group, not as fast or strong as the men, which means they have to rely on things like intelligence, strategy and tactics rather than just blowing by people.

Plus, you know.  Alex Morgan.  Just saying.

So now here we are in what is, theoretically, the autumn in Wisconsin.  It should be cool and crisp, and even though it still feels like June all of the normal fall activities have started up again.

I’ve purchased my first gallon of fresh apple cider.

I’m deep into my tea supply.

The semester has started up in earnest and I’m back in front of a classroom again.

And football season has started up again.  American football, you know, the kind where only two players are allowed to use their feet to touch the ball and they are universally regarded as the clownfish in the gridiron aquarium.

I live here in the heart of Packers country.  I like the Packers, though I remain an Eagles fan.  It’s probably not going to be much of a year for the Eagles – when you win your first two games by a combined two points while committing nine turnovers, that’s generally the case.  But I usually watch anyway, because it’s a fun game to watch.

But this year?  Not as much fun.

Somehow I’d rather be watching soccer.

Last week, for example, when the Eagles were actually being broadcast here in Our Little Town for a game that they ended up winning, I watched them for about ten minutes before discovering that the US Women’s Soccer team was playing … um … somebody.  Norway perhaps.  Maybe Australia.  Somebody like that.  And I ended up watching that instead.

This weekend, while Kim stayed up late canning applesauce I stayed up with her in case my longer reach was needed (which, occasionally, it was).  In the meantime I flipped on the television, where all of the marquee college football games were being broadcast.  As was a fairly meaningless soccer game between Manchester City and Real Madrid.  It was an exciting game, with three goals scored in the last eight minutes or so.  I’m always impressed with how much smaller the field looks with the men playing on it instead of the women, and how much faster the ball moves.

And I thought, huh.  Given a choice between football and soccer – including once when my own favorite team was playing football – I have twice now voluntarily opted for soccer.


Next thing you know, I’ll be nattering on about universal health care and last year’s Eurovision winner.

That Guy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

In Which I Marry Two People

To each other, silly.

Some things that you do require a certain amount of explanation.  And some things require a whole lot of explanation.  The fact that I spent a portion of my evening officiating a wedding – performing a legally-binding and state-recognized ceremony of marriage for a couple of friends of mine – is definitely one of those latter things.

I have been an ordained minister in the Church of the Latter Day Dude for almost five years now.  For those of you unfamiliar with The Big Lebowski – as was the teenaged clerk at the local Wal-Mart last night when I was trying to find a copy of the movie, and get off my lawn you whippersnapper – the Dude was just trying to get through the day when a case of mistaken identity led to thugs breaking into his residence and stealing his area rug.  Out of this set-up came a cult movie, an annual festival, and an entire religion (the LDD Church, as I like to call it).  As near as I can tell, the theology of the LDD Church essentially boils down to “try to be nice to your fellow human beings.”  I can buy into a church like that.

Plus, you can’t beat their motto: “The Dude abides.” 

At some point a while after that I remember calling the County Clerk here in Our Little Town to see if this actually qualified me to perform weddings.  “I think so,” she said.

Earlier this year my friend Angie found out that I was an ordained LDD minister and she asked me to officiate at her upcoming wedding.  She and Kevin had each been married before and were looking for something short and fun this time around, something that would see them wed without making anyone crazy. 

How could I resist?

We met sometime last month to go over what she and Kevin wanted, and I promised to get a definitive answer on the issue of whether I was in fact empowered to do this.  For all the light-heartedness of the whole LDD Church thing, the fact is that this is someone’s wedding day and you want to do it right.  Rituals are important.  Legal complications are even more important, particularly their avoidance.

My legal status turned out to be more complicated than I thought.  Conversations with various family law practitioners here in Wisconsin really didn’t shed much light on the subject – none of them agreed with any of the others – so I went back to the County Clerk to ask her in person.  She’s the one who issues the marriage licenses; she should know.  With the text of the state statute in front of us, we eventually worked out that if the LDD Church were a registered 501c3 non-profit then that would likely satisfy Wisconsin state law about my status.

It turns out they are not.  I had an interesting conversation with the folks at LDD Church headquarters about why requiring this status did not, in fact, infringe on their First Amendment freedom of religion, since the question was not whether they counted as a real religion but whether I was a fit person for the state to delegate legal authority unto, marriage being a civil contract in the United States.  I don’t think I convinced them.

Fortunately, the County Clerk had already recommended a backup plan for just this eventuality, and I became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church.  It has more or less the same theology as the LDD Church without the overlay of White-Russian-inspired rhetoric and their clergy are already recognized by the State of Wisconsin as being authorized to officiate at weddings, which meant I would be good and legal for this.  The County Clerk herself has performed weddings under this authority, after all.  Since my basic take on Christianity is largely the idea that we should be better to our fellow human beings than we generally are, I decided I could join the ULC without fear of hypocrisy.

And since the ULC recognizes the common striving toward divinity that is in all faiths, I figured I could still perform my LDD ceremony under their banner.


It was a simple and elegant ceremony.  I gave a short homily, entitled “Abide With Each Other.”  They wrote their own vows.  There was a nice unity ceremony symbolically joining the two families into one.  And then it was over, and Angie and Kevin were married.

I wish them all happiness.

I have always loved weddings.  They are such hopeful times, especially when people remember that the focus is on the marriage and that this is just a ceremony to mark its beginning.  Yes, it’s theater.  But it’s good theater.

And if you find the right costar, you can extend your run forever.

Friday, September 21, 2012


On the edge of Pittsburgh is Wilkinsburg.  And on the edge of Wilkinsburg there was a bar where my friends and I would go in the early 90s.

We were choir geeks, and this bar featured karaoke on Wednesday nights. 

It drew quite a crowd, back then – karaoke was relatively new and hadn’t gotten the sort of tired reputation it has today, and we thought it was fun.  It was fun.  Still is, really. 

It was an interesting crowd, too – one night I got to hang out with the bass player for Rusted Root, then the premier dance band in Pittsburgh and briefly, later in the decade, a national chart-topper (if you’ve ever seen Shrek, they’re the ones who sing “Send Me On My Way” when the ogre and the donkey set off on their journey).  He was there to see his girlfriend sing and ended up sitting with us.  He was a nice guy.

They were a tolerant bunch, down at the bar. 

They put up with an awful lot of people who couldn’t sing at all.  After enough beer, who could tell?  Certainly not the singers themselves.

They put up with an astonishing amount of repetition from people who may or may not have been able to sing.  You could always count on one guy to attempt “Spirit In the Sky” most weeks, for example, and by the time I moved to the midwest he had pretty much gotten it down.  Whether that particular song was worth that kind of effort is something of an open question, I suppose, but it was worth it to him.

They put up with a certain amount of nonsense from those of us who could actually sing, too.  Most of the time the woman who ran the karaoke preferred to have us sing things from her catalogue, but every once in a while she would have an Open Night where you could bring in your own CD and she’d mix out the vocals and let you have a crack at it.  My friend Alec and I took that as an opportunity one night to perform “The Confrontation” from Les Miserables, a duet that eventually had both of us singing madly over top of one another, as they did on Broadway.

Two straight guys singing show tunes in a Pittsburgh bar.  Those where the days.

For all the train-wreck fascination that we got that night, we were just one more song in a long list of songs that flowed past the regulars at that bar.  They listened politely, half an ear on their own conversations, and gave us a nice round of applause when we were done just as they did for everyone, even the “Spirit In the Sky” guy.

But there were two people who could stop that bar cold.

One was more of a mascot than anything else.  He was probably well into his 80s, possibly in his 90s.  And every week – every single week – he would get up and sing “You Are My Sunshine.”  We would all join in on the last chorus.  He was the only person who was allowed to sing a capella, and nobody begrudged him the honor.

The other one?

I never did get her name.  She didn’t show up on any sort of regular schedule.  But when she was there you knew it, and whenever she walked up to the microphone the bar would fall silent.

She always sang Patsy Cline. 

It was eerie how much she sounded like Patsy Cline, too.  She’d close her eyes, hold tightly to the microphone, and suddenly it was 1961.  She usually did “I Fall to Pieces.”  Sometimes “Crazy.”

Nobody spoke.  Nobody moved.  There in a bar on the outskirts of Pittsburgh was magic, and we all knew it.

When she finished, she’d disappear back into the bar – she must have had friends there with her.  There would be a sort of pause as everyone readjusted to the normal world, and whatever luckless soul was called up to follow her would be treated a little more politely than usual, because we all knew how hard a position that was, following Patsy Cline.

But someone had to do it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Down By The Schoolyard

Every school day I drive over to Not Bad President Elementary, park about half a block up the road, and wait for Lauren to get out.  My classes are either during the school day or at night, so I can take the time out of my day to do this.

It's time well spent. 

It’s a nice thing to be able to pick up your kids from school – Lauren and I go directly from NBPE over to Mighty Clever Guy Middle School and repeat the process for Tabitha, and on Fridays we stop at the BP station on the way home because apparently they have the most awesome selection of snack foods in town, even though we almost always end up getting the same things.

It’s also my down time – I bring whatever book I’m reading at the moment (right now I’m working my way through the entire Discworld series, in order, because I need something that makes more sense and less aggravation than the current set-up of reality, plus: it’s funny) and I take a few minutes just to myself.

Every day for the last two school years, about five minutes before the bell rings to end the school day at NPBE, an old man blows by me on a bicycle.

It’s a pretty cool bike.  It’s low-slung and long, built like an old-fashioned chopper.  It’s bright cherry red.  The rear tire is about three times fatter than the front one – it looks like a motorcycle tire, really.  The handlebars are bright chrome. 

The man is clearly a grandfather, white haired and wrinkled, and just as clearly he is enjoying this more than he feels he should.  He rides that bike with gusto, down the sidewalk toward the school.

And sometime about ten minutes later, after the bell has rung, I see the bike coming the other way, this time with a kid on it.  He pounds ahead like he just robbed a bank, weaving in and out of the pedestrian traffic.  A few minutes later, if Lauren is taking her time that day, I’ll see the grandfather walking slowly back along the same path.

It’s a one-way ride for him.

But there is always the next day, rain or shine, snow or heat.  I’ll be there with my book, and the grandfather will be zipping by me on his borrowed bike.

It’s a good day, down at NBPE.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The End of Spam

Somehow, without my being aware of any process by which I had signed for it, I have for over a year been on the receiving end of a deluge of emails on Home Campus from an outfit calling itself “Reader Supported News.”

They fill my world with spam, most of it just links to current events with something desperately provocative in the subject line.  “Read me!” they shout.  But to be honest I don’t have time to deal with the things that actually interest me, let alone random things that some pushy electronic intruder feels I should see.  Life is too short as it is.

So I generally delete them out of hand, unread, along with the pile of email I get from Governor Teabagger’s office (another source of spam that I don’t recall signing up for – perhaps a friend entered my name as a prank?), the updates from a number of organizations I do not belong to and never have and wouldn’t if paid to do so, and anything that happens to be sent from a particular colleague who behaved in a seriously unprofessional and offensive manner toward me last year.  Apparently you cannot block internal email addresses on Home Campus, so I have to delete that last category manually.

I suppose I could block the Reader Supported News, now that I think of it.  And the Governor.  So perhaps the day is not entirely wasted.

From what I have been able to deduce, most of the people on RSN’s spam list are on my side.  I say this because for the last week or so I have been getting a couple of emails a day with a subject line plaintively complaining about how the name of the service has become unintentionally ironic, although they don’t phrase it quite that way.  However they say it, though, it is clear that while they are still repackaging the news and sending it out to the unsuspecting, most of it is not actually being read and still less of it is being supported.

Irony, thy name is spam.  Or vice verse.

I think the point of these recent complaints is that they’re trying to threaten me with a cessation of these emails should my support not be forthcoming.  This is roughly the equivalent of Kim threatening me with a long romantic weekend if I don’t get the basement cleaned.  Trust me – the basement will not be cleaned under those circumstances.  And they can just as well cease sending me those emails for all the good their sad complaints are doing.

Unless they’re threatening to double their output if I don’t donate.  It’s hard to tell, not reading the messages.

I think spam email has run its course.  The really clever cybercriminals and con artists have moved on to other outlets for their efforts, and spam has become the province of the B-team.

I’m still watching the RSN messages come in, though, mostly out of morbid curiosity as to how long it will last before they give up.

You take your entertainment where you can find it these days.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sympathy and Magic

I’ve never been a great believer in sympathetic magic.

When I was an undergraduate, the university ran a fundraiser to benefit famine relief programs in Africa.  The deal was that you would skip a dinner at the dining hall and they would donate the cost of that meal to organizations who would use the money to feed starving people.  I figured this was a good cause and signed up.  The other part of the deal was that you were supposed to skip the meal entirely yourself, which I figured was nonsense.  I already knew being hungry was a lousy way to spend time, and I didn’t see how my being hungry was going to help anyone else feel more fed.  I was happy to donate my meal money to the cause, but the sympathetic magic part was a non-starter. 

I went out for pizza instead.  That way the total amount of hungry people in the world actually declined marginally that night instead of remaining constant by swapping me for them.

This is why the idea that I should spend my evening hobbling around in high heels to benefit programs aimed at preventing and responding to domestic abuse initially took some getting used to on my part.  You see, my being in pain is not going to alleviate anyone else’s pain.  That’s sympathetic magic talking, and that’s nonsense.

But nevertheless, it helps anyway.  Strange how that works out.

It helps because sometimes you have to do ridiculous things to get noticed.  Sometimes you have to get 140 men to put on high heels and march through the streets of town waving signs before people will pay attention to something.

Sometimes you have to do something that grabs people in order to raise money to do necessary things.  It’s not always as easy as switching where you’re going to eat and letting one meal’s worth of money that you’ve already paid for go somewhere more important.  Sometimes you have to raise that money from the ground up. 

Because sometimes it’s worth a little pain to shine a spotlight on a whole lot of bigger pain.

Yes, wearing high heels hurts.  If I am ever an old transvestite, I shall wear purple flats.

But if you know the toll that domestic violence takes on women in this country, then you know what pain really is.  Here’s a hint: it’s not shoes.  It’s beatings.  It’s killings.  It’s things that have no business existing in a civilized society, things that should by rights disqualify perpetrators from any Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

It’s things that are all too common.

So once again, I put on a pair of painful high-heeled shoes and took part in the YWCA’s “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” event, with 139 other similarly minded men and our friends, spouses and children.  We raised over $57,000 to help the YWCA deal with the mounting toll that that sort of thuggery takes on our community, our friends, our fellow citizens, $260 of it from people who had donated money for me to walk.  We stood in the open air and declared that this sort of thing will not be tolerated, not in our town, not by us. 

Because sympathetic magic might be nonsense, but putting yourself out there for a good cause is just plain sense.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Not Quite Writer's Block, But Close

I’ve been trying to write a post about politics lately.  It’s not going so well.

Oh, I’ve got most of it mapped out in my head and I’ve even figured out how it should start, which is usually the hard part.  There’s more evidence to back up my points than I know what to do with – politics these days being an embarrassment of riches for those who wish to rake muck.  And muck there is to be raked, let me tell you.

But you know, I just can’t seem to get motivated to write the thing.  It’s been nearly a month since I had this idea, and there it sits. 

Part of it is that I am just burned out on the crypto-fascism of the right wing these days.  And yes, I make that statement with a full historical knowledge of what Fascism actually means, i.e. not “ideas I strongly disagree with,” but an actual concrete set of principles and policies that has been dusted off the ash heap of history and is being loudly foisted off on the American public today under the guise of patriotism. 

Even thinking about it makes me want to start setting fire to things, which is not healthy for anyone.  My doctor has already told me to start watching my blood pressure as it is creeping toward the upper end of normal and does not need to creep further, for one thing.  For another, I was a volunteer firefighter once and I’d feel obligated to put the fires out.  Old habits die hard.. 

I’ve ended up in several political discussion on Facebook recently – a friend of mine often makes political posts, and he has several commenters of the “blind right winger” variety who can be trusted to respond with the most ideologically rigid and defiantly evidence-free stance possible.  They shout loudly about how everyone else is a zombie and they are the only people who know The Truth and if you don’t agree completely with them then you are a traitor, which strikes me as a bit of projection, honestly.  I’m waiting for them to use the word “sheeple,” which will make their degradation complete. 

I used to enjoy baiting the stupid – my friend still does, and he’s very good at it – but it has lost its charm for me.  I finally had to block one of those commenters because his entirely disproportionate and ranting response to what was a throwaway joke (one I have used many times without incident on people who make irrelevant arguments) struck me as mentally unbalanced and possibly threatening.

Who needs that?

Part of it is that I am also rather burned out on the ineffectiveness of any responses being made to the said right wing.  You’ve got one group doing its level best to destroy the republic and replace it with an authoritarian and theocratic state while another stands idly by and tries to appease them.

Who needs that either?

So it all sits in my head, waiting.  I suppose eventually I’ll write it, and then it will be exorcised and I can move on.  It’s going to be a long couple of months until the election is over.

It was nice to be away from the US for a while this summer, away from the hothouse atmosphere of batshit insanity we have substituted for political discourse for the last five or six years.  I’d like to continue that immersion in a world where people can disagree without taking leave of reality or descending into kindergarten-level invective.  I’d like to stay away from what politics has become here in the Land Of The Free-ish.

But in a sense that’s what the screamers want – to drive off those who are smart enough to see through their nonsense and to have the field all to themselves, to be able to implement their policies without opposition, without anyone calling them on their assaults on the fabric of this nation, without being forced to explain themselves.  To hell with that.

So eventually I’ll get to it and make that post here, and contribute my mite to the opposition of such things.

But not today.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

And He Does It Without A Net

I am the only dancing bear in the circus.

The real joy of being an ad-hoc lecturer in modern academia is that you are never really in a position to say no to anything.  Historians are in excess supply in this market.  If you don’t want the class, someone else will take it and then next time they have a class to offer they will remember only that the last time you said no.  So I end up teaching a lot of strange classes. 

On the one hand, this gets me out of my comfort zone and makes me stretch myself and learn new skills and become more well rounded and any number of other such things that one often finds printed at the bottom of framed posters in corporate lobbies.  I’m more marketable, except that there really isn’t much of a market for my skills so what I actually am is simply employed for another sixteen weeks.  But really, someone is paying me to teach history and that’s a good thing.

On the other hand, my comfort zone is rather, uh, comfortable – that is why it is called that in the first place.  I never liked stretching, even when I ran track in high school, and I find that the only thing that truly gets more well rounded these days is my butt from sitting in my chair trying to figure out how to do all these new things.

So my life is sending me mixed messages, is what I’m saying.

As if this makes me any different from anyone else here in the New Gilded Age.

My latest adventure involves teaching my US1 class to students in three different high schools a half-day’s drive away from Our Little Town.  It’s a college-level class offered to students who have pretty much exhausted their options in their high schools, and the logistics are just astonishing.

Each of the three schools (there were four, but one backed out at the last minute claiming that every single one of the students who had enrolled had decided instead to switch to a calculus class offered at the same time, which I found statistically … remarkable) beams itself over to one of Home Campus’ sister institutions, and the combined video feed is then beamed over to us.  And vice verse.  So there’s that aspect of the logistics.  Fortunately there are a great many IT professionals working to make this happen smoothly, and so far it largely has.

Although when they say the class is 50 minutes long, by jimbo they mean 50:00.00 and not a nanosecond more.  I have yet to finish a class without being cut off in mid-word.  I’ll get the hang of this eventually.

Don't even get me started on the process of signing these students up for a university email account so they can access the web page for the class.  There is a reason why I should not be put in charge of IT stuff: I'm not good at IT stuff.  But we're making progress anyway.

These high schools all have different schedules, and none of them match ours.  This means that somewhere down the line it’s all going to get far more interesting than it needs to be.

And there’s all the usual things that happen in high schools.  I’ve already been told to expect disruptions due to Homecoming.  The students have exactly half a minute between classes, so they can’t hang around before or after class to talk (not that they could anyway, see above).  And this week one of them had a fire drill in the middle of class. 

It’s been years since I had to deal with that – Home Campus very carefully schedules their fire drills for times when I am not teaching.  I’m not sure how I rate that kind of service but I’m not about to question it either, in case it is just coincidence and by bringing it to the attention of the universe it will come to a crashing halt and then I’ll have fire drills of my own, one a week for the next two years just to make up for lost time.  Being a former volunteer firefighter, I would feel an obligation to take them seriously and not just roll my eyes and keep talking.  It’s a nuisance being responsible.

The thing about this class, though, is that it is only open to these high school students.  Technically my contract is with our sister institution, and nobody here at Home Campus is allowed to enroll.  Yet here I am, at Home Campus, teaching the class to a split screen mounted on the wall on the other side of the classroom that shows me students several hundred miles away.  They are tiny little blobs, thanks to the aging process of my eyes and the fact that there are three different pictures on that one screen, though gradually they are developing personalities of their own.  But they are my entire audience.  I have no local following.

What this means, in practical terms, is that if you were to walk by the classroom while I was teaching the class, you’d see me up at the front, chattering merrily away to … nobody.  The screens face me, not the hallway.  There’s nobody in the seats.  It’s just me up there, pacing back and forth and waving my hands around the way I do when I teach (Kim once described my teaching style as “duck in a shooting gallery”), voice rising and falling, talking to the empty chairs in front of me like this was a political convention or something.

Distance education?  Or off his meds?  You make the call.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First Day of School

And so it begins again.

After the Best Summer Ever (tm), there is the autumn.  It’s that whole “season” thing – winter, spring, summer, fall, regular as clockwork and, like most of my clocks, gradually shifting later and later.  The days start to get a bit shorter.  The weather gets, um, well, not really all that much cooler actually, climate change being what it is these days, but you get the feeling that it ought to be cooler and that has to count for something. 

And it’s Back To School time for everybody.

For me and Kim, this means frantically checking our syllabi and handouts, prepping our lectures and discussions, and, in my case, trying to figure out how to work the newly updated course website system that the Central Office in charge of Home Campus has installed, because it’s now Optimized For Your Convenience, which means that everything you used to know about how to make it work no longer applies – or worse, it almost applies, so you can proceed toward your goal with blithe confidence until you get to the third-from-the-last step and discover that your preferred option no longer exists.  Or, rather, it does exist, but you can’t get there from here.  So sorry.  Better luck next time. 

For the girls, it means the annual rituals of the beginning of the school year.  We’ve gotten them both registered – an online process now, here in Our Little Town.  We went to the various introductory days and conferences, meeting teachers, listening to videos from administrators, trying to scrunch our adult-sized bodies into those tiny elementary school chairs.

And today was The Day – the first real day of school.

This means one more annual ritual: the First Day of School Photograph.  Sad how traumatized they look.  Well, that’s what you get for jacking them out of bed at the crack of dawn for the first time since June.

I cannot believe that they are so big now.  Tabitha is in 7th grade now, down at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School, and taller than her mother by a good margin.  Lauren has entered 4th grade at Not Bad President Elementary and for the first time has a teacher that her sister had before her, though in a different grade.  They marched off into the grey and threatening weather, a remnant of last night’s storms, and made their way to school.

Apparently they survived, as they were there when I went to pick them up this afternoon.  They were full of the news of the day – who is in their class or pod, what activities they were up to on the first real day of school, and so on.  We went out for our annual celebratory dinner, because the first day of school is in fact something to celebrate.

Good luck, ladies.  The world is yours for the taking.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Four More Years! Or More!

So it’s been four years now.

Four years I’ve been tapping away here at 4Q10D, telling stories, posting photos, spouting opinions.  I suppose by blogging standards this makes me an old timer, or at least middle aged – which last point is rather appropriate, being of that description in real life too.

I started this as a way to remember things.  Too much goes by too fast, and I wanted to be able to look back on it all and remember.  My daughters have gotten bigger.  I’ve had a lot of wonderful times.  I've done things that I never thought I would and that I never doubted I would.

It’s been quite a ride.

I find that I still have things to say, so I’ll keep writing for as long as they keep giving me a platform to do it.  If you’re still reading this, thanks.

Happy blog-iversary to me.