Friday, August 21, 2020

News and Updates

1. I now have children who are responsible enough to make and keep dental appointments all on their own and as a parent I would like to think that this has something to do with how we raised them but I know it’s just that they’re good people.

2. The world is on fire so you might as well eat all the potato chips and be done with it.

3. We now have a new dishwasher, because why not – all of the appliances in the house seem to be succumbing to the general tenor of 2020 and I understand this, truly I do.  The microwave has a new door handle, the fridge has a new water line, and we’re on our third tea kettle since quarantine back in March and I feel this general need to break down and be replaced in my bones, really I do.  Maybe the appliances are simply being worn out because we’re home more and using them more.  And maybe in this case it’s just because the dishwasher was 20 years old almost to the day and didn’t owe us a dime.  It actually still worked pretty well, once you got it to work, but the electronic control panel finally died and they stopped making replacement parts back when we had an actual president instead of the criminal conspiracy that occupies the Oval Office these days.  So we did some research and picked a model, and then called our usual appliance guy about installing it and were told that he refuses to work on that brand and we should either get a different appliance guy or get a different brand, so we researched that and decided that the brand he recommended was okay and got one.  It works fine and is a whole lot quieter, though it has piercing bright lights that make the kitchen look like an airport.

4. When they took the old one out we found this underneath:

It’s a reminder that we got the dishwasher in the first place because we discovered that there is a world of difference between how many dishes a couple creates and how many dishes new parents create.  Memories.

5. I’m now on my second book of crossword puzzles since the plague hit.  This is a hobby that runs on both sides of my family and got passed down to me.  I had a pile of puzzle-a-day calendars that basically got me through graduate school, for example, but for a long time now I have had to put them aside for lack of time.  And then I was quarantined and picked up the book of “Wait, Wait!  Don’t Tell Me!” crosswords that Kim had gotten for me as a gift a while ago.  They weren’t hard to figure out even if you did have to work around the show-specific clues (who remembers individual episodes of an NPR quiz show?  Probably not even the guests).  Occasionally Oliver or Lauren would solve one as well, which was nice in a passing down the hobby sort of way.  I bought a new book of puzzles when I finished – just difficult enough to be interesting but not so difficult that I couldn’t finish one in the time it took me to eat lunch, so no Sunday NYT puzzles this time – and I’m slowly working my way through it. 

6. It amazes me how many crossword puzzles assume a working knowledge of 1970s American pop culture, though.  Seriously.  The world has moved on.

7. We painted the front of the garage this week.  Like any household project in which I play a part, it’s more or less correct if you don’t look too closely at it.  The wood is protected again, and the joy of white paint is that you don’t notice all the things that would give a professional a heart attack unless you get right up on it.

8.  At what point does it become legal to feed the neighborhood barking dogs to the nearest large predator?  Asking for a friend.

9. I keep thinking that I should have more time, now that the Atomic Bomb class is over, but this does not seem to be the case.

10. If I have learned anything during this plague- and Fascism-filled year it is that I will never be an alcoholic, which is a good thing to know even if there are times where simply being alive and aware of current events is enough to make a body wish they were more generally intoxicated than they were. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Senior Pictures

Lauren got her senior pictures back this week.

Everything photography-related happens so much faster than it used to happen.  Back in my day we had small demons trapped inside cameras that were roughly a cubic yard across in order to provide enough room for them to work, and they had to paint the images manually which took some time because they were often drunk and bad-tempered and would intentionally alter the images into obscene parodies of what you were trying to photograph and then you’d have to order them to redo them or be locked in an even smaller room with only Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” for accompaniment, which is considered cruelty these days but was common back then.

We wouldn’t get our pictures back for weeks.  Weeks, I tell you.

Imagine how grateful we were when they invented film.  So much easier!  Although the hordes of drunken demons left unemployed by this were a menace until someone figured out that they would make great comment moderators on news websites without even needing to sober up, which is why the internet is the shining example of civil discourse that it is although it does keep the demons mostly off the streets.  Everything in life is a trade.

And since digital photography came around there’s barely time to register that a photo has been taken before it’s uploaded, downloaded, reloaded, admired, catalogued, and archived.  So much faster now.

To be honest, it’s not just photography.  Everything happens a lot faster than it used to happen when you reach my stage of life.  It seems like January was a hundred years ago, although that could just be the coronavirus and the general effect of having completely lost track of what month it is, so perhaps that’s not the best example.

But senior pictures!  We have them!  A lot of them, since digital makes that easier too.  Three cheers for digital photography, I say.

The way it works here in Our Little Town is that seniors get their portraits done outside of the usual school photo channels.  You find a photographer and have them do a professional shoot, and you can submit whatever photo you want for the yearbook (within reason – nothing advocating any professional sports team other than the Green Bay Packers is acceptable in any high school in Wisconsin, for example).  You also have to get the regular school pictures, mostly for your student ID, but they’re secondary.

Lauren chose the photographer herself, based on how she had photographed one of Lauren’s friends.  She’s relatively new to the business, but she was good to work with and took some fantastic photos.  If you are looking for a photographer here in Our Little Town you should email me and I’ll be happy to send you her contact information.  From what I can gather she will be photographing pretty much all of the Squad this fall.

Naturally, Kim and I went along for the shoot, since we were the ones paying for it.  That counts.  Also, we just wanted to be part of it and Lauren was willing to have us along for the ride as long as we stayed sufficiently far away from the actual photography so as not to make things awkward. 

It is astonishing to me that my youngest child is going to be a high school senior this year.  I’m not sure how that happened despite me being here for every day since she was born.  You lose track of time.  One day there is this new baby, and then suddenly – BAM! – responsible young adult making decisions and arrangements.

There are any number of really good photos in the folder of them that we got, but for reasons that go beyond the actual photos my favorites are the ones where Lauren asked me and Kim to be in them.  We really weren’t expecting that, as you can probably tell.  That morning I’d given my last lecture in the Atomic Bomb class – the one on how the bomb has permeated American culture since 1945 – and was still in my nuclear coffee shop t-shirt.  But the photoshoot was a lovely thing to be a part of, and I’m glad she asked us.

I’m proud of you, Lauren.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Pause

There is an old joke about a gang of bank robbers who, after months of meticulous planning and practice, have finally broken into the bank only to find themselves face to face with the security guards.  “What do we do now?” asks one of the robbers.  “I don’t know,” says the leader, “To be honest, I didn’t think we’d make it this far.”

This has been the story of my summer.

I’ve been working roughly half time as an advisor, which is slightly more than I’ve actually gotten paid for but I’m hoping to take some time off next week to balance that out.  This has involved student meetings (by phone or video conference) and staff meetings (generally video conference) and more paperwork than I’ve actually been able to keep up with so perhaps I should look into catching up on that before the fall semester officially starts.  Some of my paperwork has been complicated enough that even the people in charge – the folks at the very top of the Org Chart, where the air gets thin – can’t figure it out.  We’re supposed to be taking unpaid furloughs to help balance the budget, for example, because we all know that educating the citizens of the state is an afterthought in a state with a GOP legislature setting priorities.  These furloughs are supposed to be keyed to your appointment but my appointment is a sufficiently complex patchwork that I seem to have stumped the band.  I figure they’ll get back to me eventually.

I spent a week grading AP exams, though due to the current plague I did this from home rather than at one of the hangar-sized convention halls that they usually rent out for such things.  This allowed me to keep my “never set foot in Florida” streak alive for another year, for which I was grateful.  I did get to see my AP roommate from last year, though, since he happened to be nearby one weekend and stopped over to say hi.  That was a good evening.

I’ve taught three classes.  One was a straightforward online class that I’ve done before – they’re mostly grading and feedback but also entail a fair amount of set-up and no small amount of swearing at Canvas because that’s what one does with Canvas.  Another was a team-taught course that I have done with two colleagues for the last 22 years but which had to be converted into a Zoom class on the fly.  The third is a self-paced online class where students can sign up for a three-month window at the beginning of any month so it never really ends. 

The first one wrapped up in July.  The last one will continue for the foreseeable future.  I posted final grades for the middle one today.

I’m not really sure what to do now.  To be honest, I didn’t think I’d make it this far. 

Oh, I have a list, don’t worry. 

There are a disturbingly large number of household projects on this list, ranging from tightening a leaky hose connection to painting the west wall of the garage.  I’ve been meaning to clean my home office for the better part of two years now and it desperately needs it – at some point there is too much paper lying about even for a historian.  Lauren has been beating us about the head and shoulders to get the basement cleaned out because a) she has some ideas for how she would like the space to be used and b) she acquired a minimalist streak during her year abroad and now considers our house to be insufferably cluttered.  The basement does need to be cleaned, though.  She and Oliver painted the corner where the new project will be completed and Kim and Lauren put down some flooring, so progress has in fact been made.

I have two classes I need to prep for the fall, one of which has three sections which are arranged in such a way that by the time I meet the last one the first will have already met twice, which is quite a gap for a once per week class.  The other is going to be locked into a wholly different calendar from the one Home Campus uses so it will have to be adjusted to suit.  Plus every few months the computers on that campus reset me back to being a student rather than an instructor, which makes it hard to get anything done.  Nobody knows why.  I have never actually set foot on that campus, let alone been a student there, though I’ve taught this class for them since 2012.  Technology is what doesn’t quite work.  When it works all the time it’s an appliance.

I have at least one class to prep for the spring.  Every year you tweak classes to make them work better, account for the things that didn’t quite work, and generally sharpen things up, and after enough rounds of this you get to a point where it needs to be completely torn down and reworked from the ground up.  My US2 survey class needed that tear down this past spring but I didn’t have the time for it.  I finally figured out how to reorient the class and I had thought to do that this summer but as noted this summer was pretty busy.  Maybe this fall.

There is an outside chance that I might have two more classes to prep for the spring if all goes well.  Nothing guaranteed, of course, but it’s nice to have people discussing things with you.

Between all that and the fact that the world is on fire – we have a pandemic that the US has steadfastly refused to get serious about, in large part because our so-called leadership insists on seeing it as a political issue that might be a useful tool in their quest for absolute power rather than a medical issue that needs to be solved before the bodies pile up to the roofline, and on that note we have a so-called leadership that is actively pursuing Fascism as an open goal while 40% of Americans cheer them on – it’s been hard to focus.

But tonight, perhaps, I will call a small halt to the proceedings.  Oliver and I will perhaps fire up a frozen pizza and an NHL playoff game and do not much at all that would be considered a wise and productive use of our time.

You need that, every so often.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The State of the Day

                          Things I Am Currently Enjoying

1. Black Maroo raisins.  These are the best raisins in the world, and as far as I know they are only available from Imperfect Foods.  They’re inexpensive, tasty, not overtly unhealthy, and you just can’t go back to the standard rabbit pellets you get from the supermarket after that.

2. NHL playoffs.  The NHL was smart enough to bubble its players in Canada for the duration (take note, Major League Baseball, whose season is pretty much already over), so perhaps they’ll actually make it through to the end the way the European soccer leagues did.  It took me the better part of a week to figure out what their playoff format is (series? round robin? both?) and it’s weird seeing them play in empty stadiums, but still – fun to watch.

3. Claire North’s books.  If you haven’t discovered Claire North, you’re missing out.  She is a phenomenal writer and has a thoughtful, vaguely melancholy sort of way of telling strange and fascinating stories.  So far I’ve finished The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, The End of the Day, and The Pursuit of William Abbey, and I’m working my way through The Sudden Appearance of Hope.  Go find these books.

4. The Great British Baking Show.  This has been my binge-watch since quarantine in March, though I can’t say I’m doing such a good job of binging it since I still have several seasons left on my Netflix account.  But it’s a fun show to watch.  There really aren’t any villains, you find yourself cheering for all of the contestants even though you know one of them has to go home at the end of every episode, and sometimes you just stare at what they’re baking and think about how much you want to try it.

5. The company of my family.  If there is any silver lining to any of this, it is that I have gotten to spend more time with Kim, Oliver, and Lauren than I would normally have.  I can’t say it has led to any great Hallmark Moments Of Timeless Memory, but then it didn’t have to.  So much of love and life is just time spent doing the normal everyday things.

                          Things I Am Not Currently Enjoying

1. The state of the American republic.  The Fascist in the White House (and please note, when the founder of the Federalist Society, one of the most conservative organizations in America, is openly calling Trump a Fascist, the die has been cast) is doing everything he can to destroy this country and his enablers in Congress are perfectly willing to let him do so if it means they can cling to illegitimate power, even if that means encouraging tens of thousands of Americans to die needlessly.  The full meaning of the GOP Death Cult is on open display this year, not that it bothers their base.  They’re perfectly happy to suffer as long as the people they hate also suffer, and that kind of twisted thinking is not something the rational adult mind finds easy to contemplate.

2. Meeting students on Zoom or some equivalent.  It’s better than not meeting them at all, of course, but there is no substitute for being there in person.  Everything online takes 30% longer and gets 20% less accomplished.

3. Teaching on Zoom.  For the same reasons.

4. The lack of restaurants.  Yes, I know that many restaurants are now open for in-house dining but I am not an idiot and that’s not going to happen under current conditions.  We try to get take-out once per week, if only to do our bit to keep the local businesses open in these hard times, and it’s nice but not the same.  But if I’m still around when all this is over I’m going to eat out at a different restaurant every night for a month.  And if I can repeat that task in a foreign country once I’m done and Americans are allowed to travel abroad once again, so much the better.

5. Not having the company of friends or far-flung family members.  Speaking as the sort of person who is perfectly fine staying home for extended periods as long as I have my books and my tea kettle, too much of a good thing is not a good thing.  I’d like to see my friends.  I’d like to visit family members in far off states.  But until doing so doesn’t carry a non-negligible chance of killing them or me, this is not likely to happen very often or with more than one or two people at a time, outdoors and masked.  I miss being in crowds, even if I wasn’t really part of them.