Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Festivus!

Happy holidays, all. I've been an absolute ten-toed couch sloth over the last few days, and have loved every minute of it. Wednesday I'll kick into high gear with a bunch of work that needs getting caught up on, but for now I'm in full relaxation mode. Neither the LWI nor I is particularly Christian, so we're not doing anything churchy or caroly, but he's roasting a leg of lamb, I've built a nice fire in the fireplace, we've opened a lovely bottle of wine and are now snuggled up with the cats writing holiday cards. (Yeah, I know I'm a little late with the cards, but those of you who get cards from me in the next few days, know that I'm having a lovely evening thinking about you right now.)

Julian of Norwich says it best: All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I hope all's well with all of you. It's been a pleasure having gotten to know you, virtually or otherwise, and I'm grateful for your presence. I wish you many good things in the new year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Year in review

Things that were particularly nice about this last year:
  • Being active. Around this time last year I was so wiped out from the semester that I just crashed and went into a mild version of hibernation; it felt good for a few days but ended up making me feel terribly sluggish, which took weeks to shake off. (As did the ten pounds that came with it.) For the rest of the year I managed to exercise more regularly and in ways I really enjoy. The LWI and I play tennis every time the weather permits, and I managed to go the gym at least three times a week even during the busiest weeks in the semester. I could still stand to lose some weight, but at least I'm in good shape, which I enjoy.
  • Finances. We're not wealthy by any means, but after years of half-starving my way through graduate school, it feels wonderful finally to have a little savings socked away. (Yes, I've been out of grad school for eight years. It took a while to get caught up.) This last year has been particularly good in that regard. (knock on wood! Please, universe, I am *not* asking for trouble here. Just because we can afford to get a new roof doesn't mean I want any more shingles to blow off.)
  • Family. I've grown closer to both ArtSister and Awesome Sister-in-Law over the past year, and in some ways the death of Belle-Mere this summer made me more clearly part of the LWI's family, which I really value. I haven't kept up with StudlyBrother as much as I'd like, though; we used to have excellent end-of-year philosophical discussions, and I miss that.
  • Liverpool. The academic highlight of the year was the conference/workshop I went to in Liverpool; it was without question the most productive, friendly, and engaging academic discussion I've ever been part of. Unfortunately the topic was something I've published on but do not plan on continuing to develop, so I can't use those connections as much as I'd like. But it was just nice to have been part of something so exciting, and to see the best side of academia. There were no cliques; there were no jerks; nobody was overly obsessed with his or her own ego. One of the most telling signs of the workshop's success, I think, was that on the nights where we were all free to head out on our own for dinner, the entire group (20-25 people) chose to find somewhere to go together to continue the discussions we'd been having for the previous eight hours!

Things I'm looking forward to in 2008:

  • Friendship. I haven't done much to cultivate friendships over the past few years, and it's starting to wear on me. I enjoy time with my husband, but just as Maggie said in her end-of-the-year meme, "being married has made me rather lazy about maintaining my friendships." Yep. I also got a fortune cookie the other day that said "Seek friendship and you will find it," which is a nice reminder that I do have to do a little active seeking; people aren't likely to just show up and knock on my door. There are a couple of people around here I'd like to get to know better, and that seems like a good place to start.
  • Spirituality. I used to be a very spiritual person, and this is something else I've let slide lately. Several folks have written beautiful posts about the solstice, and I'm wishing I'd done more to celebrate it. I'm usually too exhausted by this time of the year to really plan anything, but perhaps that's all the more reason. Some kind of spiritual fulfillment is something else I need to seek out.
  • Conference. I'm in charge of organizing the annual conference for the (fiarly small) main professional organization in my field this spring, and I'm starting to feel pretty good about it. It works in my favor that last year's conference was a little messy; I think I will look good in comparison. (knocking on wood again)
  • Confidence. I have a lot of big projects in line for this year, and although I do regularly suffer moments of panic about each of them, overall I think I'm capable of handling them and that they're all going to go well. Let's hope.

What about you? What's going to be good about next year?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Space for the gods to find me

Billie wrote the other day about meeting a woman in Starbucks who came across at first as vaguely pesky, distracting her from her writing, but then unexpectedly gave her some excellent advice about her dissertation.

My brother used to describe those people as “spirit guides,” the ones that just show up out of nowhere and tell you things you need to hear. It’s not all up to them, of course; you have to be paying attention. Spirit guides never announce themselves or wear handy name tags, so it’s easy to brush them off. I fear I’ve probably missed several, when I was more committed to talking than listening, or when I assumed a person had nothing interesting to offer. But if you’re smart enough to notice, they can make a big difference indeed.

I haven’t heard from any in a while, or perhaps I just haven’t been listening; I’ve had my head bent down a lot lately, trudging along to get things done. But for the new year I’m going to try to take a few more risks, open myself up to a little modest adventure, and see if any of the spirit guides come around to let me know how I’m doing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A belated list of seven

Kermit and Squadratomagico tagged me ages ago for the Seven Meme, which calls me to list seven random and/or weird things about myself. Here goes:

1. Something that should help explain my absence from the internets for the last few days: I am just the right combination of hermitish and lazy that if I have the chance to stay home and in my pajamas for several days straight, I embrace it with deep pleasure. I think this is okay for now, but I worry a little bit that it will work against me when I'm old and have no actual obligations that get me out of the house. I'm going to end up one of those people who dies of old age at home, and nobody will find me for months because they won't notice I'm gone.

2. I had serious reservations about getting married, because I value my independence and my alone time so much. To my great astonishment, my husband and I now work together (in the same department, and at home we share an office), we shop together, we go to the gym together, and I enjoy every minute of it. I never would have believed this would be possible.

3. Several years ago I developed an interest in recording my dreams. I had read that if you write your dreams down just when you wake up, in that brief few minutes when they're still in your head, you can train yourself to remember them more clearly. The problem is that it worked entirely too well. You know how there are sometimes moments in your day that will make you recall a dream? That started happening to me all the time; it was like having a little TV channel of dream-remembering going on in my head that I couldn't turn off. For a few days I was worried that I'd seriously shorted out something in my brain, until they finally faded away again. I've never messed with my dreams since.

4. Speaking of dreams, I once had a remarkably vivid dream - more akin to a hallucination - that Death, personified as a woman in a black cloak, was in my living room. She hadn't come to take me or anything; she was just sort of dropping by to say hello. I should write about that one sometime; it's worth a post to itself.

5. I am developing the possibly annoying habit of exclaiming YES!, in a Brain (of Pinky and the Brain) voice, when I find solutions or come up with good ideas.

6. I have almost no memories of my childhood. There are a few photograph-like images in my head of particular moments, and two memories from somewhere around kindergarten, but other than that, there's almost nothing I can recall in any detail until about the age of twelve.

7. The entertainments of my youth (junior high and high school) largely involved setting things on fire. My best friend RocketBoy and I spent endless hours putting together bombs, rockets, and flares, cleverly designed and patched together with ordinary household items and ingredients stolen from his father's lab (his dad was a college chemistry professor). No one seemed particularly alarmed by this, if they even noticed. One afternoon when school was out we were out in RocketBoy's driveway setting ourselves on fire (there's a trick with isopropyl alcohol that lets you set your whole hand on fire for a few seconds without suffering any damage), and one of the neighbors stepped out onto his back porch, saw us cackling gleefully and waving our flaming hands around, and just sighed "Summer's here."

The rules for this meme, of course, involve tagging other people. This one's been going around for a while, so I suspect everyone's had a chance at it; if not, I tag you!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Spanish spicy

This has an odd set of questions, but I'm quite charmed by the results (mine & those I've seen elsewhere).

Your Score: Saffron

You scored 75% intoxication, 25% hotness, 100% complexity, and 50% craziness!

You are Saffron! Those other spices have nothing on you! You're warm, smart, and you make people feel really good (and with no side-effects!). You can be difficult to get to know and require a lot of those who try, but you're so totally worth it. *Sigh*

Link: The Which Spice Are You Test written by jodiesattva

This is just blogfill for the moment - I'll be back soon with memes handed along from kermit, Squadrato and Wayfarer!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Banishing demons

Dear friends, the time is upon us for fun and festivity!

A blogging friend reminded me of a post I wrote two years ago, one I was particularly proud of but had almost entirely forgotten. It's about the queimada, a tradition we've borrowed and adapted from Galicia in northwest Spain. A queimada in its original context is a midsummer activity, meant to happen late at night out on a quiet beach, invoking the many spells and spirits that inhabit Galician culture.

But our version here belongs to the late fall, with its lengthening nights and chill in the air. I'm going to repost part of that earlier piece here, and invite you all to join in the celebration:

Start with a big shallow bowl and a couple of bottles of orujo. Orujo (pronounced oh-ROO-ho) is a drink unique to Galicia, made from fermented grape skins, a cousin to Italian grappa. Take a careful sniff from the bottle; it’ll make your head snap back and your eyes water. As you pour it into the bowl, the fumes will rise and whisper to the whole neighborhood that you’re up to no good.

Stir in a substantial amount of sugar, the rind of an orange, and a handful of coffee beans.

Now comes the good part. This is best done in the summer, on the beach late at night under a watchful moon, but we can do it here in the bar where it’s dark and cozy. Take a shallow ladle, dip up a bit of the brew, and light a match. It won’t flare up immediately; you need to be patient, hold the match under the ladle to warm it up and coax it into flame. When the flickering blue spreads across the liquid, gently lower the ladle to touch the orujo in the bowl. Watch the licks of fire skitter across the surface, hesitant at first, then more bold.

Fire is a powerful element, but it still needs your help. If you stand back and watch, the flames will burn the alcohol off the surface and disappear. Stir it gently, and they will revive. Lift the ladle, and you can pour delicate streams of fire back into the bowl. Pass the spoon around, and let everyone stir the flames. The constantly shifting patterns of blue tipped with gold are hypnotic; there’s always a period of silence while everyone loses themselves in the mosaic of flame.

But we shouldn’t forget the purpose. The traditions of Galicia say that a queimada is to summon witches, demons, and evil spirits, so that with the proper incantations they may be destroyed in the flames. In our queimadas, we let everyone summon their own demons: too much grading. family squabbles. difficult colleagues. stupid politics. frustrating research projects. looming deadlines. too much grading.

Bring them all in the room, name them, lift them up in the ladle, and dissolve them in the fire. You can see them flame up and disappear; they don’t even leave any smoke.

Now, look back into the bowl. The flames have slowly caramelized the sugar, toasted the coffee beans, and drawn the zing out of the orange rinds. The alcohol has lost its punch-you-in-the-face potency and is now mellow and smooth. Pour a short squat shot-glass full; it will be warm in your hand. Sip, and it is sweet and potent and caffeinated; as we pass the glasses around, the atmosphere will change from quiet, intent focus to cheery babble. The demons are banished; only the friends remain.

Let's do another one this year. I've filled the bowl and lit the match; everyone is welcome to bring their demons as well as the things they're most thankful for this year. (We won't burn the latter!) Who wants to take up the ladle?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Design and function at low prices

Okay, I'm supposed to be working instead of blogging, but I couldn't resist sharing this: looking over the headlines, I saw a news item stating that Iran had given up its nuclear warhead blueprints to the IAEA, the UN nuclear agency. Except that I misread the headline as "Iran Hands IKEA Nuclear Blueprints," and I thought, wow! Affordable, easily assembled nuclear devices, in a variety of fashionable colors for your home, and just in time for the holidays!

Oh, and speaking of holidays and blowing things up, I have an idea for the Monster Bar for maybe this weekend, a little pre-Thanksgiving get-together. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 05, 2007

White flag

I briefly toyed with the idea of committing myself to NaBloPoMo, or at least trying it out for the first few days to get back into the bloggy groove, but clearly that ship has sailed. So I'm going to throw in the towel instead, and acknowledge that this semester is just kicking my ass all over campus.

Here, as Exhibit A, are some random bullets of Things That Demand My Attention:
  • a volume of collected essays I'm editing with a colleague, for which I really really need to start pulling my weight
  • the conference I'm organizing for the spring, for which proposals (good!) and stupid questions (bad!) are beginning to roll in
  • my field's student honor society, for which I am the faculty adviser, and responsible for organizing the fall initiation ceremony this week (I came so close to forgetting to make arrangements with the caterers...)
  • a conference paper, for a Really Big Deal conference, that needs to get finished in the next three weeks
  • work for a major departmental committee I'm on, that's tackling some Important Issues for the department
  • participation in a campus-wide discussion of some even more Important Issues that are finally getting attention from the administration (yay administration!)
  • meeting with our new dean, who is making the rounds and spending half an hour with each faculty member in his college (yay new dean!)
  • the last three points are things I'm really excited about, but to get the most out of them requires a little more thought and energy than I have left at this point, and why do they all have to be happening at the same time?? but if I don't get fully involved, I'll become one of those people who whines about nothing ever changing and then sits back and does nothing when the actual opportunity comes for change. These chances really deserve to be pounced on, but all I can manage is a sort of exhausted collapse in their direction.
  • and then all the usual grading and letters of recommendation and meetings that wear me out by this time anyway.

So I'm going to give up on blogging for the time being (though, gift-pyramid people, fear not! I will be contacting you for addresses one of these days, and sending out nifty gifts). As many of you know, I'm still alive and well on Facebook, so pop in over there if you miss the bar and want some free drinks and a game of Scrabulous. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Seen at MaggieMay's, and elsewhere, a fun gift pyramid:

By the end of the calendar year, I will send a tangible, physical gift to each of the first five people to comment here. The catch? Each person must make the same offer on her/his blog.

It's like a chain letter, but better! Everybody wins. (I should warn you, the way this semester is going, it's likely to be the very very end of the calendar year before I can send stuff out. But I'll have fun planning!)

Friday, October 12, 2007


FINALLY, it's happened! All these years I've read about pseudonymous bloggers finding connections with each other, being "discovered" (in good ways and bad) by others who know them in real life. I'm fairly careful with my pseudonymity, but I always thought it would be fun to serendipitously meet other people at my institution who blog. Sadly, it seemed that no one did... whenever I read a particularly good piece at Dean Dad's or Maggie's New Kid's or any of the places where I find little gems of commentary on the academic world, I'd face awkward moments of wondering how to work them into conversations with my friends here. "I read this great discussion the other day... do you read academic blogs? No? Well, anyway, it brought up these interesting arguments about tenure..." No one seems entirely confused by references to the blogosphere, but they don't light up in recognition either.

But today I was friended by a colleague on Facebook, a very cool person I've known for several years, and when I went to her profile, I saw a suspicious number of familiar faces, folks I know by different names on their blogs. I thought... could it be? And, in fact, I'd come across a fellow blogger, somebody right here on my campus, and this just tickles me to pieces. She's more identifiable than I am, so I won't name her here, but - hi, friend! :)

Friday, October 05, 2007


Oooooh, we love fig trees. The LWI loves the fruit, which reminds him of his faraway homeland; I love the dusty cool scent of the leaves. We figured out a year or so ago that this was a climate that could support figs, and when we found out that our friend Sparky had thriving trees, we were just beside ourselves with glee.

She came over for lunch earlier this week, and glorious creature that she is, she brought us a cutting from one of her fig trees, which we planted this morning. We have a big gaping sun-baked space in the back yard where a dense Bradford pear used to stand; when this little guy gets bigger, he should provide some welcome shade.
I'm anthropomorphizing a little much, but he's so darned cute. I'm seriously tempted to make little pencil marks on the fence to mark how fast he grows.
In the longstanding tradition of blogger self-portraits, here we are, the fig and I:

Friday, September 28, 2007


So here's a dumb thing I did with one of my classes this semester. I've assigned presentations to the class, in which each student makes one brief presentation and turns in a 1-2 page paper on his/her topic. To incorporate that material more thoroughly into the course, I'm including those topics as ID questions on the exam, and have posted them on the online course page (the idea being that students not only have to learn the basics of the topics presented, but explain how they serve as examples for larger themes in the course).

I did this with a previous class, and it worked quite well. What I didn't think of, though, is what to do if the papers are lousy. The in-class presentations have all been fine, so what the students have seen is good, but several of the written papers don't use proper footnotes, have poorly chosen bibliographies, use Internet sources when they were instructed not to, and other such problems.

Had I caught this early enough, I suppose I could have required the students to rewrite the papers before posting them. But there's nothing about that in the syllabus or assignment description, and I posted the first few before realizing that there were enough problems in them to be sticky. (The content is reasonably good for all of them, but I just don't want the other students using them as models for their own work.)

So for now I'm just putting minimal editorial comments when necessary [Prof's note: this isn't the proper format for footnotes], and I think I'll address this to the class as a whole in our next session. I needed to go ahead and post them, since the first exam is coming up fairly soon, but I'm not particularly happy with the situation overall. Usually I'm pretty good at imagining all the things that could go wrong with an assignment before I implement it, but I really missed the ball on this one.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Serious athletes

We've been playing a bunch of tennis lately, the LWI and I, every day through the end of the summer and weekends now that we're into the school year. We're not all that great, and we do it more to run around outside and have fun than to keep score. The neighborhood park has a tennis court ringed by part of a long walking path, so we're often accompanied by a variety of folks out strolling or skating or walking their dogs, for a nice festive weekend atmosphere.

We don't buy new balls all that often, and at the moment our sack of balls includes a bunch of fairly worn-out Wilsons plus a few slightly newer balls we've picked up around the court. (We've lost our share of new balls, so the ones we collect usually balance out the ones we lose.) One of the foundlings is more thickly felted than the rest, and slightly heavier, and we've found that it handles with noticeably greater speed and accuracy - when we play with the Fuzzy Ball, we get some viciously fast rallies going.

As I said, we're not all that good, but we do take pleasure in a great deal of bluster and mock-toughness. So when we've played for a while and one of us starts feeling cocky, we'll pull out the Fuzzy Ball for a serious attack. It's also fair to warn your opponent about the change in balls, since Fuzzy Ball handles differently than, for example, Old Grey Ball.

We feel pretty intimidating breaking out the serious-game ball, but it wasn't until we noticed the strollers in the park chuckling to themselves as they walked by the tennis court that we realized a bloodcurdling yell of "Fuzzy Ball!" probably does not sound quite as fierce as we thought.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


We were engaging in the LWI's favorite pastime of channel-flipping the other day, when we came across a wonderful movie from the 1960s, one that he knew but I haven't yet seen. It had already begun, so we decided to track it down on TCM and see if it would be shown again anytime soon. Fortunately, a showing turned up later in September, and TCM has a cool function that sends a reminder to your Yahoo! calendar. So the LWI asked for the reminder, and we both forgot about the movie.

Imagine LWI's astonishment when he opened up the calendar for this week, and the first reminder that popped up was "Thursday, September 13: The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!"

Guess we'd better get ready.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gem of the day

I don't often get howler emails from students, but the LWI got one today that beats them all. We're in the third week of classes, and he sends weekly emails to his class with discussion assignments. Today, in reply to the third of these emails (the third, mind you!), he received a message from a student who had never been to class.

The excuse? "i had the wrong class on my schedule and have been attending the wrong [same department] class for the past 3 weeks and i have no idea how this happend."

The best part? This is an upper-level course, and there is nothing else being taught in the LWI's department that is remotely close to its content. If it were English, this would be like signing up for a Faulker course, going to a Chaucer course instead, and not noticing the difference until you were three weeks in.

I am baffled and amazed.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A perfect day

Sunday morning (and the Sunday before Labor Day, so that my first thought upon waking up is "Mmmm, this is like getting another Saturday!"): Alarm goes off at 7 am. This is an hour later than the usual 6 am, so it feels luxurious already. I have just enough work to do that goofing off takes on the tinge of guilty pleasure, but not enough to really feel pressured to do any of it just yet.

7:45 am: the LWI and I get on our bikes to go to the nearby park and play tennis. It's the first reasonably cool morning we've had in weeks, and we play probably the best tennis we've ever played, punctuated by chest-thumping threats of war and gleeful cheers for the good shots.

9:30 am: back home for a well-earned shower.

10:00-11:30 am: take a bowl of organic granola, a glass of orange juice, and the Sunday New York Times out to the back yard. Enjoy all three while flopped in the hammock under the flowering crepe myrtle.

11:30 am -12:00 pm: flip through the manuscript I received the other day from Kick-Ass Historian; decide it's going to be a truly enjoyable read.

12:00 pm: inspired by the smell of charcoal smoke wafting through the neighborhood, we decide to grill steaks for lunch. There's just enough time to soak them in a garlic/red wine marinade first.

2:30 pm: with lunch over and the paper read, I start feeling the tugs of responsibility - should go finish grading those papers I received online last week. Just as we finish clearing the table, though, a small thunderstorm blows in - not big enough to be worrisome, but just enough lightning to make us postpone turning on the computers for a while. Darn.

2:30-3:30 pm: back to the hammock (sheltered by a roof overhang) to watch the storm go by; toes get covered with fuchsia crepe myrtle petals blown loose by the wind.

3:30 pm: back inside to futz around with email and blog posts. Wonder if I can do all this again tomorrow morning.

(Don't let this keep you away from the party in the previous post; no reason that can't continue all weekend!)

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Hey all you riffraff,

Do you have some free time this weekend between the barbecues and frisbee-playing? Do you miss the bar and all its craziness? Well, swing by if you have a chance, because we have a new blue house to play in.
Squadratomagico went to India and brought me back the most gorgeous blue house! I think it will be perfect in the back yard behind the bar. The old place is still a little cobwebby, so while I clean that out I think we should baptize the new place. Mango lassi and margaritas on the balcony, anyone? Come one, come all; I hope to see the old crowd around, and new folks, please don't hesitate to introduce yourselves. It's been too quiet around here for too long.

Who's with me?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I'm a big fan of the idea that success is largely about attitude - if you're cranky about something, change it, and if you can't change it, figure out a way to deal with it, hopefully with some cheer and good grace. Students' attitudes have a lot to do with how much leeway I give them; if they're selfish and demanding, they don't get much, but if they're sincere and hardworking, I'll do anything I can for them. (Same goes for the rest of the world, now that I think of it.)

There's a student who graduated from here a couple of years ago who had the most irritating attitude. He was a work-study student in a nearby office for a while, but he made it clear to everyone that that sort of work was really beneath him (and thereby alienated everyone in the building). At one point he asked me for a recommendation for a post-graduation job that wasn't his first choice of occupation; his entire conversation made it clear that he wasn't terribly interested in the position, but that he'd do it if he had to. I gently suggested to him that that attitude made it hard for me to write the recommendation, since I couldn't truthfully write about his energy or commitment or willingness to work.

When he decided to apply to graduate school, we had some of the same conversations about his approach. He didn't get into his top choice school (which admittedly was way beyond his reach), and grudgingly applied to some other schools as backups. His reluctance hovers around him like a cloud. It's nice that he's confident in his abilities, but he constantly conveys the idea that he'd really rather be somewhere else, somewhere better. I've tried to suggest that successful students are the ones who dedicate themselves to where they are and what they can do rather than saving all their energy up for thinking about where they'd rather be, but his responses have only been defensive, insisting that he really is doing a good job at where he is, even if he hates it.

Our last correspondence was nearly a year ago, when I wrote him a recommendation for graduate school. Today he emailed me to let me know he'd begun his studies at a regional university, not one of his top choices, and his only two comments about that experience were to describe it as "a step down" and to say that although he was pleased to have a job on campus, he'd rather have a different kind of job.

Comments like this just grate on my nerves, and I always wonder how I should respond. Should I brush them off and wish him well? Or should I try to suggest that his attitude might really be getting in his way? He's truly a capable kid; he just doesn't realize that a little humility can go a long way, and that no one likes working with someone who thinks his job is beneath him. If he'd just bite the bullet and dig in to what he has to do, he could work his way up to where he wants to be, but he seems to think if he waits around long enough with an air of resigned suffering that someone will recognize his talent and reward him appropriately. I'm thinking that's not likely.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I got an email request yesterday to review a manuscript for a publisher. Cool - this is this first time that has happened to me! Not only that, but they pay real money for the review! Who knew the extra parts of this job actually paid money? I wish all my committee work paid money.

The catch (or the best part, I can't quite decide which) is that it's a manuscript by a Very Well Known Person in My Field. I'm actually working indirectly with this person on a different project, and have corresponded with him for several months, and met him in person at a conference several months back, and he's just as charming as can be. Plus he's a kick-ass historian.

So I'm completely tickled to be asked to review this manuscript, but at the same time it feels to me like a museum calling me up to say "Hey, we found this Titian in our attic, do you think it's good enough to hang in the museum collection?" Well, um, yeah. I think it probably is.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Immobile fun

Internets, I need your advice! (Plus this is a good way to slip back into blogging... I can't ever decide whether to go ahead and take a hiatus or not, so I keep popping back in here every couple of weeks just to clear the cobwebs out. Thanks to y'all who have stuck around!)

My nephew, Fixit, smashed his foot a couple of weeks ago and will need to spend a rather horrifying amount of time on crutches while it heals. It's his right foot, so he can't even drive; he'll be doing a lot of lounging around for the next couple of months, and he's not very good at lounging.

I'm trying to think of something fun to send him to keep him occupied and entertained. He's in his mid-20s, likes to tinker with things, isn't much into reading. If it were me, I'd be pretty happy to have three months of forced lounging with a pile of books, but poor Fixit is going to go stir-crazy after about five minutes. Anybody have any suggestions?

Monday, August 06, 2007

He done stole my heart

I call him Charlie.

We found him in the park this morning, or more precisely, he found us. The LWI and I go out every morning to play tennis, and today I was startled to see that I had a fan: a little black-and-white kitten watching intently from just outside the fence.

When he realized that I'd seen him, he let out one of those little squeeky little-kitten mews that are biologically designed to bring out all one's protective instincts. (I've never had any sort of inclination towards motherhood, but kittens flip all those switches that I imagine children are supposed to.)

But he wasn't mine, and we have enough cats already thankyouverymuch, and surely he'd just wandered out of someone's yard and they'd come find him any minute now. So I tried to ignore him.

I'm up two sets to one, a killer serve, a baseline rally, an attack at the net, and...


Dammit. We try another couple of sets, but come on, you try focusing on the ball when there's a little tiny helpless creature behind you (mew!) who finally works his way under the fence and trots over to rub up against your ankles. I carried him back outside the court a couple of times, and each time he'd sit and watch us play for a while, and then (mew!) he'd come back on to the court and want to play too. He was hardly bigger than my shoe. This picture isn't him (I was afraid if I actually took his picture I'd never be able to give him up) but it's pretty close to what he looks like, except that he has this absurd little Charlie Chaplin mustache.

What do you do with that? The little guy wasn't more than a couple of months old; he was clearly accustomed to people, but we had no idea where he belonged and no one seemed to be looking for him. The park is bordered by a couple of fairly high-traffic streets and there's a number of loose dogs in the neighborhood, so I really didn't want to leave him on his own. And ohmygod he was so helpless and adorable. (NOT taking him home. NOT taking him home. NOT taking him home.)

I figured if someone did go out to look for him, they'd have a better chance checking the local animal shelter than they would just randomly looking around the neighborhood. So I took him to our vet first, hoping against hope he'd have one of those identity chips even though he was so little, or that someone would have reported him lost there. (When I took OneCat and TwoCat to their vet last week, someone had brought in a stray they'd found, who turned out to have an identity chip, and while I was there he was reunited with his people, to many tears and much rejoicing all around. I couldn't help but hope for something similar for Charlie.)

Charlie was chipless, unfortunately, and the vet said the best thing I could do was to take him to the shelter. Even if his people didn't find him, he was so cute and well-behaved that she said he'd have an excellent chance of adoption. (And neither one of us could bring ourselves to say this, but even if he does meet the fate of most unclaimed animals in shelters, I think it's better for him go that way than to be hit by a car or mauled by a dog.)

I took a cardboard box to put him in for the car ride to the vet, but he only lasted about 30 seconds in the box - much more fun to ride up front like a person! I was worried about him scooting around the car, but he sprawled comfortably on the seat and stayed put. On the 20-minute ride downtown to the shelter, he wormed his way onto my lap, sighed in contentment, and promptly fell asleep. The shelter people were completely taken in by him (as was everyone I passed on the way in), and it's a good shelter, so I trust he'll do well there... I'll check the neighborhood every day for signs, and hope that he's found by his old people or adopted by good new ones.

But I still can't help wishing he were my Charlie. We had a thing, there, for a little while.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

We now return to fairly normal blogging

I was a little abashed to read Dr. Virago's post the other day about deciding what nifty things to add to an empty day in her fall course schedule. She, faced with the rich possibility of adding a new topic to the course, asked for recommendations for material to support a discussion of the future of literary studies.

I, faced with the same small empty block in my syllabus, thought "Woo hoo! A day off!"

Nearly every semester, I need to miss one day of class for a conference or professional obligation of some kind. This fall, for the first time in ages, I'm teaching a set of classes I've taught before without making any substantive changes, so all I needed to do was to shift the daily topics over to the fall calendar. And, lo and behold, since I'd needed to plan for missing a day in the previous semesters I'd taught the class, two out of my three classes ended up with one empty day each.

Yeah, I considered adding an extra day on some topic that had gotten a little too squeezed in previous semesters, but I'll confess I didn't consider it very long. The tantalizing jewel of an idea that dangled before my imagination was to simply build in a day off, ideally during October, more commonly known in the academic world as Exploding Head Month.

The fun part was trying to decide where to put it. Should I tack it on to fall break or maybe save it for Thanksgiving, to stretch those precious vacations out a little? Should I put it before the big midterm exam, to give both me and the students a little bit of a breather? Or maybe it would fit well on the Friday before my birthday, which often gets lost in the midsemester crunch? The possibilities are delicious.

I know that that magical day is going to disappear in a flash, probably consumed in grading or meetings or housework or whatever else I'm most behind on at that point, but right now it's worth it just to imagine the joy of a day off during the hardest part of the semester.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Random paragraphs of Paris

Staying in an apartment by myself after having spent three weeks in Too Little Space with Too Many People = great relief paired with a sudden onslaught of loneliness and therefore, I suspect, much more frequent blog posting. Mark your calendars accordingly.

It's such a weird mix of feelings - it is so very cool to be here, and so hard to be away from LWI and his family. I have a whole bedroom to myself! and a whole bathroom to myself! and a whole kitchen to myself, apartment gods be praised! but then again, I'm alone. Bleah. But this apartment is so unbelievably cool; it's little teensy tiny, but it's an attic of a 17th century building, with big old wooden beams and slanty ceilings and skylights everywhere. If I stretch a little I can see the cathedral of Notre Dame out the living room window.

My two favorite moments of the past three weeks:

the first time I visited MIL in the hospital, after she'd been in the ICU for a week - she saw me come in and her face just lit up. That look on her face is going to make me happy for weeks.

yesterday the LWI was updating his calendar, and he asked what date we were flying back to the City Where We Live But For Which I Have Not Yet Chosen An Appropriate Nickname. I told him the date, and he entered the phrase "Flight back home." Normal enough, but keep in mind, he grew up and lived in the same house in Madrid until he was in his 30s, and then I came along and lured him away to the U.S. where we've been now for eight years, only the last five of them in Our City (not that I wouldn't have loved to live in Spain, but academic jobs are easier to get in the U.S., if you can believe it.) So I looked at him and said "Do you mean that? Is Our City really home for you now?" and he replied that of course it was. That just means the world to me... I've always felt bad that he's so far from his family and the place where he grew up, but he really does feel at home with me. Awww.

Friday, May 18, 2007

weird advertising

I've been talking with sales folks from several hotels lately, working on plans for an upcoming conference we'll be hosting here. One hotel gave me a nice folder full of advertising goodies that I just now had time to look through. It included the usual information about the hotel itself, local activities, and their proposal for me. There was also a small, slightly thick white envelope with a little gold ribbon around it, some mysterious little gift. Perplexed, I opened it up, and found a cream-colored... thing... about 3 inches by 4, with a little seal, and a paragraph description of an Important Historical Event (though not a very happy one) that happened in the hotel many years ago. Well, as an important event, I can see how they'd want to include information about it, but what the heck was this thing? A slim note pad? No, there were no pages... A coaster? Then I noticed it had a long crack, and in fact it was a little bit soft. It couldn't be... I sniffed, and nibbled a corner of it, and in fact it was white chocolate.

Now, I'm all for chocolate in all its forms, but a little chocolate slab (that otherwise doesn't look remotely like anything edible) to advertise an unhappy but significant event that took place at your hotel? It just struck me as odd.

(Although now that I'm writing about it, it strikes me as tempting. I think I'll go eat it, and meditate on the vagaries of history and the wonderful meeting areas and banquet facilities of the hotel in question.)

Actually, this leads me to a question about conferences. Several of you have been through the spring conference routine, and to the extent that that's fresh on your mind, I'd like to ask what things you like best and what you would have changed. (My conference will be about 100 people, to give you a sense of scale.) Things like: if we have the reception & banquet & meetings all in the same hotel, is that good because it's convenient, or bad because it's claustrophobic? (The hotel at least is in a very attractive downtown area with lots of great restaurants and bars within walking distance, so people will be able to go out and have fun.) To fit in all the panels, would you rather have panels that run from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm all day Friday and Saturday with Sunday free, or panels that run more from 9-5 and then one session on Sunday morning? (This location is reasonably accessible, so people shouldn't have a hard time scheduling afternoon flights, though I don't know if they'll want to.)

Any other things you would recommend to do or avoid? I'd love your suggestions!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Short term, long term

The conference was excellent! (And yeah, I've been back for over a week, but have spent most of that time in Grading Jail, as Philosophy Factory would say. Even now I've only momentarily escaped, and they'll be dragging me back any minute now.) It was a huge ego trip, really. I'm accustomed to being fairly invisible and not knowing many people, but I've finally hit some sort of critical mass in terms of the number of folks I know (especially in this fairly narrow field) and now that my book is out, even more people came up to introduce themselves to me. A graduate student e-mailed me a few days before the conference and asked if we could meet, because she admired my work, and we had a lovely lunch together. Boy, do I wish I'd had the guts to do that more often; from the student perspective it's terribly intimidating, but from the other side, it's wonderful to know that someone enjoyed your work, and to talk with them about their own ideas (which in this student's case are far superior to anything I ever did with that particular topic - if anyone should have been intimidated, it was me).

My panel was well-attended, and all the papers fit together remarkably well. An Awesome Senior Historian attended, and gave me some very supportive comments afterwards. (In spite of my recent experience with the graduate student, I still couldn't get over feeling completely outclassed and tongue-tied with him.) A book review editor from a well-respected journal approached me to say that someone had just asked him to review my book, and if I'd arrange to send him a copy. I met several people from my Ph.D. institution, and had a lovely time chatting with them, feeling much more like a colleague instead of a former student.

So all in all, an excellent and encouraging experience! It's odd that I'm into my second year as a tenured professor, but I'm just now starting to feel like a grown-up in the academic world. (A junior-league grown-up, but a grown-up nonetheless.)

While I'm enjoying the sensation, however, I'm uncertain about the future. As several others have written recently, there's a moment after you get tenure when the future stretches out in front of you in this long flat featureless ribbon, and you realize that there are no more hoops to jump through. Everything during my academic career has been relatively short-term tasks and rewards: take exams and get a grade; complete an undergraduate program and get a degree; complete a thesis and get an M.A.; complete a dissertation and get a Ph.D.; go through the interview cycle and get a job; publish a book and get tenure. There's always an immediate, measureable goal, and a prize when you get there.

But now what? I am not without goals, but as of now they're entirely of my own devising. Which, when I put it that way, sounds like it ought to be more rewarding. But when you've been trained to jump through clearly defined hoops for twenty years, it's hard to adapt to setting up your own, especially when the prizes aren't as definite, and there's no punishment for failing. For as lovely as the academic life is, it really does rely on a great deal of self-motivation to keep productive. My pride and sense of basic decency will keep me going for a while yet, I imagine, but it's hard when there are other faculty in my department who make a practice of being so incompetent that no one will give them any jobs to do, and they coast along making a nice salary for virtually no work. Once you get tenure, there are no carrots and no sticks.

What got me thinking about this (again) is the ceremony I attended on campus the other day to recognize people who have been at this institution for recognizably important numbers of years. The five-year folks (including me) got little pins, as did the ten-year folks; the 20- and 30-year survivors got nicer gifts and little speeches about their accomplishments. This is what got me, because after a few dozen names the speeches started to sound more and more alike, except for the few individuals who had clearly made a recognizable impact; of the rest, all the men had a "can-do attitude," and all the women were "unfailingly cheerful." I thought it would be a little depressing to dedicate thirty years of your professional life to an institution, especially when that dedication comes mostly from your own internal motivation, only to be rewarded with your life described in three sentences about how cheerful you are.

So my question is: how do I want to be described when I've completed thirty years here (or wherever)? That's a very scary question, but I like it as a way to figure out what to aim for. The conference experience has me all warm and happy right now, but "she impressed a few people at a conference once" is not going to hold up for a description of my career. I have no answers yet, but I'll share the question: what do you want your three sentences to say?

Saturday, March 31, 2007


One of the things people criticize about Modern Society is our lack of community. People move far away from their families; they live in suburbs where they never get to know their neighbors; they lose the tight interconnected circles that used to bind us all together. That loss can also be perceived as freedom, and I’ve never personally minded it much… except when people die.

It’s so hard to know how to grieve when you lose someone who lived far away.

A week or so ago, a friend of mine in Midwestern City was struck by a car as she crossed the street. Badly injured, she fell into a coma, and last night she was taken off life support and died within minutes.

Usually in human communities we gather together at the time of a death; we bring food and drink and tell stories. We comfort each other, and we chip in to do whatever tasks need to be done. But here I am a thousand miles away from the people who knew my friend. Nobody in this city ever met her; there’s no one here to share memories with. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen her (I’m startled to realize how many; it didn’t feel like long), so that even if I were there, I wouldn’t know most of the friends she has now; the circle of friends we shared several years ago has itself divided and moved on.

I’ll call her Dancing Woman, because my favorite memory of her is from a goofy little Irish bar in Midwestern City. My brother was performing that night, and I joined him on stage to sing a few duets. We loved to do unbearably cheesy Everly Brothers kinds of songs (I sing a mean Everly Brother) and that night when we sang “Dream” (I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine, anytime night or day), I saw her dancing, eyes closed, huge silly smile on her face, swaying her hips in happy abandon to the music. It made me so happy, to see her enjoyment and to have inspired it.

Dancing Woman was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met; she could charm your socks off, but she was also tough as nails and took no shit from nobody. She was street smart more than book smart, though the streets weren’t always easy, and she struggled to make ends meet as a single mother. But she was always fierce and determined and strong, and she could always make you smile, and she was always ready to dance.

These are the kinds of things I wish I could share with her friends, in the kind of laughing-crying-drinking-singing wake she would have loved. But I’m here, and drinking and crying alone just isn’t as satisfying. All I could do last night was to walk out into the thunderstorm raging over our neighborhood, admire the turbulent sky, pour some wine into the rain as a libation, and silently wish her well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Colorful language

Squadratomagico asked about the synesthesia (#15 of the previous post) a while ago, and I thought that would be fun to write about, now that people seem to have heard of it enough to think I’m not totally psycho. For those of you who haven’t, it’s a neurological condition that makes some of your senses overlap; in my case, I have “grapheme-color synesthesia,” which means that letters and numbers have distinct colors. I think I suspected for a long time that not everybody saw the world this way; once in a while I’d mention how somebody’s name clashed or how nice it was that their address was the same color as their house, and I’d get weird looks. So I just quit saying things like that, and didn’t think about it much.

I’ve known what to call it since a couple of years ago when I read an article in Smithsonian about it, and thought – OH! – you mean not everybody sees words in color? Cool. I think it happens in about 2% of the population, and different people have it in different forms – for some people, sounds have a distinct color, or colors are associated with smells and even distances, or whatever other combination you can come up with. Those all sound pretty bizarre to me, except of course for my version - of course words have color! How could they not?

I didn’t really talk this out with anyone until a few months ago, when I mentioned it to my talented artistic (and very color-oriented) sister, who did indeed think I was nuts. She asked me a bunch of really interesting questions about it, though, which helped me be more aware of the “rules” of how it worked. For example, each letter and number has a particular color; the color of a word is determined most by the word’s first letter, though vowels tend to make it lighter or darker: an ‘a’ will add a reddish-orange glow; ‘i’ adds a reflective whitish/silver tint; an ‘e’ tends to thin the dominant color, like adding water to paint, and so on. It’s the letter itself and not the pronunciation that matters, so a ‘c’ is sand-colored whether it’s hard or soft.

Wow – I’ve just looked this up for the first time on wikipedia, and people seem to know a lot more about it now than they did a few years ago. (Must be the brain weirdness of choice these days.) One cool thing the entry says is that while individual grapheme-color synesthetes don’t always agree on the same colors, there are some common patterns, such as A being likely to be red. What’s surprising is when I read other people’s accounts and they differ – A is indeed red, but another person reports that S is red, C is yellow, and J is yellow-green. Is this person crazy? That to me is like insisting that the sun is blue. How can S be red? S is beige, and thinking of it as red is just… really disturbingly wrong.

One interesting thing ArtSister asked was whether I thought this would work with other alphabets. And that question was the first thing that really made me understand what this looks like to other people. If I imagine Greek or Russian or Japanese, why, they’re just lines and shapes on paper! How the heck could anybody associate color with that? …Oh. So I guess it’s just the Roman alphabet with me, though I wonder if I really learned another alphabet, whether it would carry over. And it works with the Roman alphabet across different languages, whether or not I understand the word.

Aren’t brains interesting things? I guess if I’m going to have wires crossed in mine, this is a good way to do it; it certainly doesn’t do any damage. The only thing is that I get confused with centuries… for me it’s weird to say that a certain event happened in the 1500s but also in the 16th century, because I remember dates by color, and “1500s” is orangey, while “16” is a dark matte blue. I’ll learn that the Battle of Lepanto happened in an orange time, but when I try to remember it later, that doesn’t tell me if it was the 1500s or the 15th century.

And none of this means I’m artistic or any good at all with color; I can listen to my sister talk about color wheels and values and saturation (and see all of these things in her work), and I don’t begin to comprehend any of it; that’s a whole different language. All I can tell you is what color the word “color” is.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Random paragraphs of crap

Topic the first: I just got an email from my sister, with an update on the still-fascinating chicken question. She writes:

I brought up the chicken question to some friends for cheap conversation, and they immediately reminded me of the scene in Rocky 1 where Rocky was supposed to get in shape by chasing a chicken. When he could catch it, he was ready to go into the ring. So either the chicken thief was preparing to start a life as a lady boxer, or I need new friends.
I think we should definitely incorporate the boxing idea into our analysis. And there must be a good title in there somewhere as well: "Rocky XVIII: The Chicken Thief."

Topic the second: I've posted on this before, but it happens every semester, and it never ceases to amaze me. I'm the faculty adviser to an honors society, and every semester I look over the transcripts of interested students to see if they're eligible. And I have to ask you this: if you were a student in your second year of college, and you weren't doing very well (Ds in some fairly easy classes, and a rather grim GPA overall), and - most importantly - if you were taking your FIRST EVER basketweaving class, why, why, would you indicate your interest in an honors organization for which you are only eligible if you have twelve hours of basketweaving credit and a 3.1 GPA? Are you mad?

Topic the third: I had something else funny to share here, but I got so fussed up again over that previous one that I forgot what it was. Sheesh.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Watch out for them dogs

In the category of "this must be shared with the blogosphere":

I'm doing some reading on the origins of physiognomy, the practice of interpreting people's faces to understand their character. (You know how it goes - a strong jaw indicates courage, little beady eyes mean you're greedy, and so forth.) Apparently there are physiognomical treatises in Hebrew, Sanskrit, and Chinese traditions going back thousands of years... but the oldest evidence comes from cuneiform tablets in ancient Mesopotamia, which include the following gem:

"If a man with a contorted face has a prominent right eye, far from his home dogs will eat him."

Dang, that's pretty specific.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Calling all chicken thieves

Get ready, guys, here comes a serious academic post. (Can you believe I originally meant this to be an academic blog? I did, but then everybody started getting in trouble or fired for their blogs, and I chickened out.)

Ha! What a great segue! Speaking of chickens, that's my question. A student of mine (we'll call her Clever Shy Girl) is working on a great project related to gender and crime in the 18th century, and among other things she has a list of cases of people stealing animals (horses, sheep, pheasants, rabbits, you name it). Mostly just one animal is stolen, or a few easily herdable animals, like sheep. But in a few cases, a single person is accused of having stolen chickens - lots of chickens, in one case a few dozen chickens.

Initially CSG just plugged this information into the database with everything else and worked on figuring out the patterns of who was stealing what from whom... but then as we talked about people's reasons for stealing animals (to sell? to eat?) we started to do more imagining about how those thefts would actually have worked, and we began to wonder: how does one person steal a whole bunch of chickens? These were live chickens, and I can imagine one person carrying two chickens, or maybe four or five in a sack, but twenty or thirty chickens? How do you do that? You'd have to at least have crates, and then some sort of small cart, and even then it seems like a pretty messy and complicated endeavor.

CSG and I are both city girls, with little experience in the ways of chickens, so I called my sister. Art Sister doesn't have chickens, but she lives in a small town and works part-time for the county extension office, so I figured she must know somebody who knows about chickens. She confirmed that it's virtually impossible to carry more than one chicken at a time, but didn't know more than that. I asked her: "Surely you know someone who raises chickens?" and she said "Well, yes, I do, but I am NOT going to call them up and tell them that my sister wants to know how to steal chickens."

My sister does not have the proper adventurous spirit necessary for academic pursuits.

So I turn to you: some of you are historians, and some of you are rural, and all of you are good creative adventurous thinkers. Give me a brainstorm on this one: if you were suddenly taken with the desire to go out and steal say twenty or thirty chickens, given the ordinary tools and resources available to a relatively poor person in the 18th century, how would you go about it?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Cats on a bus*

I had a series of the weirdest dreams last night. All of them began with a setup perfect for the typical anxiety dream: explaining something to a roomful of students and having all the equipment backfire; needing to get to a meeting and not being able to find the room... but in each case, somehow the problem turned around into a situation that worked. They were like anti-anxiety dreams.

The weirdest by far was the dream in which LWI and I got on a New York City bus... with our two cats. What could be better for an anxiety dream than taking your high-strung cats on a city bus full of people? I remember all the possibilities flashing through my mind - people complaining about the cats, OneCat freaking out and biting someone, or bolting out the door at any given stop, or TwoCat wandering off to sleep inside someone's bag and getting unknowingly carted away. (Of course they weren't even in carriers; they were just walking along with us.) Not only that, but at some point the dream came to include a third cat (who fortunately bore a much closer resemblance to mellow TwoCat than hyper OneCat). This complicated things in that two people might have a chance at carrying around two cats, but not three; not only that, but for half the dream I couldn't quite remember ThreeCat's name, which introduced an odd element of guilt. (When I did remember, it was Laurel, which was just as odd.) At one point I had the clear idea that the bus went in a big loop and would come back home in about an hour, so all we had to do was try desperately to keep them under control for an hour and everything would be okay. (Famous last words, right? and besides, what the hell were we doing going on a one-hour circular joyride on a bus with cats?) Some part of my brain was conscious enough to foresee this becoming serious trouble.

But. All we had to do was to store TwoCat on the luggage rack over our heads, where he curled up in a comfortable ball and napped, and put OneCat in a window seat, where he happily watched the world go by. Magically, we found we'd remembered to bring food and water for them, so they snacked along the way. The bus took us to a cool little park outside the city, where we all got out and played for a while (both cats comporting themselves like well-behaved children, not wandering too far off), and then the dream ended when we decided to go back home before it got dark, knowing that the bus ride wouldn't be any problem.

Throughout the whole dream there was this little frisson of anxiety about all the things that could (and rightfully should have) gone wrong, but it all turned out beautifully well. WTF? Dreams don't usually work like that. What does it mean when instead of chaos, I dream that things are more under control than they could ever possibly be?

*(sort of my odd subconscious equivalent of Snakes on a Plane, I suppose...)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Random bits of my day

I was chopping up mushrooms and peppers and garlic for a lasagne this afternoon, and one thing a dear friend of mine taught me is that the key to lasagne (or any other tomato-pasta combination, for that matter) is a little squish of anchovy paste. (Mmmmmmm... anchovies.) I'm sure we had an unopened tube of anchovy paste somewhere, because I kept running into it in the pantry when I was looking for other things. Let's see... not behind the black beans, not behind the miso soup... aha! There it is.

I wonder how long it's been there? We went through a phase of using the stuff all the time, but then we kind of forgot about it and it's been a while. Does anchovy paste expire? How would one know?

The box had no expiration date, and when I took out the tube inside, it didn't either. Hmm. Well, it can't have been there all that long; let's see how it smells. So I took off the cap and punctured the little foil seal across the mouth of the tube...

...and oh-so-very-expired foul brown anchovy paste sprayed several feet across the room. Fortunately none of it landed in the lasagne. So much for no expiration dates.

On the other hand. There's a conference coming up this spring that I'm excited about, and it's being held in a rather more posh hotel than this organization usually books, so I'd definitely like to share a room. Previously I've either stayed by myself or the LWI has come along, so I don't have a regular conference roommate among this particular group.

There's one person I was thinking of asking, because I know her husband hates these things and doesn't tag along, so she might be scouting for a roomie. But she's a Big Name Academic and probably has plenty of her own friends and would be merely amused by my pathetic offer, right?

Just a few minutes ago, she emailed me asking if I'd be interested in sharing a room. I am positively giddy in a Sally Field they-really-like-me! sort of way. I know, it's just a conference hotel, we're not going to be Best Friends Forever or exchange little woven bracelets or anything. But I'm still pleased to be hanging out with the cool kids. Beats cleaning anchovy paste off the cabinets.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fat-cat freakout

So the oddest thing happened last night. The LWI and I were downstairs, relaxing on the couch after dinner, when we heard some sort of noise from upstairs - afterwards we couldn't remember just what it was, but we knew we'd both registered hearing something, like a faint thump or other indeterminate noise. That was immediately followed by two top-volume blood-curdling yowls from TwoCat. We were startled, but assumed that he was just getting the worst end of a fight with OneCat - they play-fight often, and once in a while one of them yells that the other is taking the fight a little too seriously. But a half-second later we realized that OneCat was with us in the living room, looking just as startled as we were.

So I headed upstairs to see what TwoCat had gotten himself into, and found him at the top of the stairs, all puffed up and bug-eyed and spooked. TwoCat is the mildest of creatures, and even all puffed up he doesn't look very intimidating, more like a black furry basketball, but he was more worked up than I'd ever seen him. I took another step up the stairs to see what was the matter, and he flinched like he was ready to bolt, so for the next few minutes I eased my way up the stairs to soothe him and figure out what he'd done to himself. At this point I was thinking perhaps he'd jumped down off a chair or desk and landed funny, twisting a leg or a paw; he's ordinarily a stoic little guy, and doesn't make much of a fuss about anything, but that full-throated howl was still echoing in my ears. But after a while he calmed down and bounded downstairs to see if there was any dinner in his bowl, and showed no signs of physical damage at all. WTF? I canvassed the upstairs, and found no evidence of anything out of the ordinary - nothing tipped over, no giant rats to fight with, no bloodstains, nothing that looked at all like it was worth screaming about.

We remain perplexed.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Life in a suitcase

1B*'s post today about the difficulties of packing lots of trips into her semester made me pause once more to consider the situation I've gotten myself in for this summer. Mind you, I'm very excited about this summer, because it holds lots of great opportunities: I'm teaching a study-abroad course in two European cities, doing some research, presenting at a conference, and going on at least one fun getaway.

But let's consider this in terms of clothes. All of these adventures are connected to the same two-month trans-Atlantic trip, so I have to prepare for them all in the same set of suitcases (ideally no more than two). Here's the deal: I will be teaching and being touristy in two different cities, one of which has an average summer high of 76 degrees and the other of which has an average summer high of 89. I will be attending a professional conference, and going on a four-day hike, in a third region that has an average summer high of 65 degrees. Last but not least: under normal circumstances, I really prefer to travel light and pack as little as possible.

How the fireplace am I supposed to make this work? I think I need to start packing now.

(ETA: now I have the old Police song "Man in a Suitcase" stuck in my head. This is not helping.)

(ETA2: it is important to remember that at least half of the overall trip will be spent in a very tiny apartment shared with four other people. Thus an additional limit on the stuff I can bring, because there's just not anywhere to put it.)