Monday, August 27, 2012

Riffday: It. Starts.

So first of all, Nell says hi, and she will tell us about NZ when she gets back.  She just finally read that post a couple of days ago, but she can't figure out how to comment on her phone, which is the only computer she has at the moment.

Classes started today.  My usually-beautiful drive was not so great today because it is so smoky.  I'm listening to Ship Breaker on audiobook as I drive.  It's one of the ones I have to read for class this semester.  It's yet another post-apocalyptic. I'm curious about why there is so much post-apocalyptic stuff these days-- books and movies.  Maybe we will discuss that in class.  If you have any ideas let me know.  Are we so hopeless?  All we can imagine for the future is despair?

It remains to be seen if this guy can do something different with it, because honestly, I'm not all that excited about reading yet another book where civilization has fallen apart and it's a dog-eat-dog world out there.  yadda, yadda, yadda. end of the world, people killing each other to stay alive, institutionalized savagery-- yawn.  been there done that, got the t-shirt, ate the cupcakes.

It made me very happy to be back on campus.  Usually I'm not there on the very first day of class.  Even the remote parking lot was full, and there were lines everywhere.  Lots of excited energy, though.  The YA class looks like it will be great.  And I got to stop on the way back and get good bagels.  Have I whined about that before?  There are no good bagels in our town, so when school is in session, I make a weekly stop at the bagel store in U-Town. 

Also, like most bloggers I occasionally get e-mails from people wanting me to promote something. Usually I just delete them, because they are so obviously mass-generated e-mails, the equivalent of getting a form letter.  But recently I've received several from someone who sounds more sincere, so here is the link to a page on her site:  18 Ways Going Back to School has Changed (link removed at site manager's request, you can probably google it if you're interested).  It is more general than just adults going back to school-- the information on that particular page goes from grade school all the way up to college. It's kind of a fun article.  Check it out if you're interested.

The Chicken update.  I got a picture text from MadMax when I got out of class -- there were SIX eggs today.  That's the first time all six chickens have produced in one day.  MadMax named one of them Larry, and although a chicken is clearly a she, we've all accidentally called Larry "he" on occasion.  So I've accused MadMax of giving him-- I mean her-- a gender identity crisis that made it so she couldn't produce eggs.  But apparently today she did!  Go, Larry! 

Photographic evidence (sorry if this bores you to death-- it's sort of like posting endless pictures of your child's band concert-- but I just can't get over the fact that our chickens are laying eggs! woot!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

back to school-- seven days and counting

Just a quick one today.  I start classes on Monday, so things are busy around here.

I continue to get several hits per week from people looking for information about going back to school as an adult.  So here are some relevant posts-- and just to warn you, they will only be relevant if you are as terrified as I was.  If you're thinking your return to school will be a piece of cake, go find someone else's blog. :-)  no offense intended.

first big project as a grad student
the back to school post
back to school part 2

In spite of the complete and utter panic that I felt when I first returned to school a couple of years ago, I'm so glad I pushed through the fear and did it.  It has been a terrific experience.  Great professors, interesting classes, remarkable fellow students.  If you're trying to decide whether or not to do it, I vote yes.

Also, the one class I'm taking this fall as I finish up my thesis is Teaching Young Adult Literature.  It looks like the best class-- I'm really excited about it.  A couple of people have asked me what we're reading, here is the list:

Alexie, Sherman: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Cisneros, Sandra: House on Mango Street
Bacigalupi, Paolo: Ship Breaker
Rosoff, Meg: How I Live Now
Green, John: Looking for Alaska
Haddon, Mark: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Hiaasen, Carl: Hoot
Hesse, Karen: Out of the Dust
Ingold, Jeanette: The Big Burn
Krakauer, Jon Into the Wild
Le Guin, Ursula: Gifts
Myers, Walter Dean: Monster
McLaughlin, Lauren: Cycler
Stead, Rebecca: When You Reach Me
Yang, Gene Luen: American Born Chinese.

Not a single classic in the lot-- which is a bit disappointing to me, since I've never read any of these (although I already owned five of them).  But then on the other hand, I've never read any of these.  Yay!  It will be like that Jane Austen class-- dangit, I have to spend the weekend reading Persuasion.  :-)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

to annotate or not to annotate, that is the question

OK, I am shamelessly borrowing an idea from Kate George (whose excellent blog is here).  My thesis project involves annotating (writing explanatory notes for) an online version of James Joyce's Ulysses. So when you're reading along and you come to a character name or an allusion to a work of literature, etc, you can click on it and a window pops up with an explanation.  We have the text of the book up on a website, and my thesis advisor has already written notes for the first two chapters.  I'm supposed to write a few more, plus create a "cast of characters" page to help the reader keep track of all the dozens of characters.  

Here is where I need some input.  Ulysses is an enormously complex book, and most readers need some help with understanding it.  But on the other hand, annotations can be intrusive and irritating when you're trying to read.  At the moment, we have it set up so that text with an annotation is a different color font, so you know you can click on it to see a note.  You can turn the annotations on or off.  Having them off is great for readers who want to just go without being distracted by different colors of text, but on the other hand, then you don't know what's annotated and what's not.

So first of all, feel free to comment in general on the idea of reading a book online.  More specifically, if you were reading a complicated e-book with lots of historical allusions and a large cast of characters, how would you want the annotations to be presented?  pop-up window? link to a separate page that opens in a new tab? something that shows up (like a tool-tip) when you hover over a word or name?  Also, more generally:  what kinds of help would you want?  what would you not want?  

You can comment anonymously, so even if you usually just lurk I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

coincidence? you decide

Here is what happened when I sat down at my computer tonight.  I saw a headline on the page where I access one of my e-mail accounts that said (candidate for X political party) is blaming (Y problem) on (Z the other political party).  And I immediately got enraged, because Z is my political party, and there is not a chance in hell that Y is our fault.  My stomach clenched up, my neck got tight, and the top of my head might have blown off a little bit.

Then I clicked on my Inbox, and there was an e-mail there from Pema Chodron.  I haven't mentioned her in awhile, but she is a Buddhist nun, and she is one of my favorite teachers.  I don't think I will ever actually become Buddhist, but I've been heavily influenced by the books of hers that I've read. So I signed up awhile ago to get weekly e-mails from her publisher, which are short excerpts of her writing with a bit of commentary.  It takes about two minutes to read them.

So here is what this one said. (an aside:  I know we've been talking about copyright issues over on another blog, but it is legal to quote brief snippets of text as long as you acknowledge your source, so: this quote comes from Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart, and her webpage is here.)
There’s a [Buddhist] slogan that says, 'Drive all blames into oneself.' The essence of this slogan is, “When it hurts so bad, it’s because I am hanging on so tight.” ...What it implies is that pain comes from holding so tightly to having it our own way and that one of the main exits we take when we find ourselves uncomfortable, when we find ourselves in an unwanted situation or an unwanted place, is to blame. 
In other words, when we're afraid or uncomfortable or angry, we have a tendency to look around for someone to blame.  Or we want to identify something that is capital-w WRONG and has to be fixed.  But when we do this, it results in pain, tightness, gnashing of teeth.  It doesn't lead to peaceful centeredness, it leads to exactly what happened when I saw that headline: anger, rage, the tightened jaw, the clenched stomach.

And the funny thing is, I think my friends who are conservative Republicans would have exactly the same reaction to that headline if the parties were reversed.  We're all so sure we know what is right.  But shifting blame doesn't help, for one thing because the other side will just shift it right back. Identifying something that is W-R-O-N-G is just our point of view.  Even if I can trace my opinion back to some source that I feel is Right, that source can almost always be interpreted in a different way by someone with different opinions.  No good can come from clinging to the belief that there is only one right way to see things and I know what it is.

I've read that forgiveness is not a matter of justice being served, it's a matter of letting go of the hardness of your own heart.  Pema reminded me that this is similar:  it's not a matter of who's right and who's wrong, it's a matter of choosing to be curious about the world, of letting go of the preconceptions that bind your mind and being willing to soften your heart.

The excerpt concludes:  This slogan is a helpful and interesting suggestion that we could begin to shift that deep-seated, ancient, habitual tendency to hang on to having everything on our own terms. The way to start would be, first, when we feel the tendency to blame, to try to get in touch with what it feels like to be holding on to ourselves so tightly.

Something I'll be thinking about during this election season.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Riffday: the last sardine of summer

The anniversary of my dad's death was at the beginning of the summer.  I almost missed it, because we were traveling that day and were in and out of airports and planes and rental cars.  But that afternoon my sister texted me a picture of her kids grouped around the gravesite-- they had gone for a visit in honor of the day.  There's been a lot of water under the bridge, so to speak, in the year since my dad died.  Lots of processing and thinking and letting go of things, and that picture brought on another round. This weekend I wrote a long, angry post while we were out at the lake, well out of internet range.  My reaction to writing it was so strong I couldn't sit still after I typed it.  Nausea, sweats, chills.  I had no idea I still had that much in me.  But in the end, I decided not to post it.  There's just no point-- without the context of the 49 years of history I had with him, it would have sounded silly.  I guess I just needed to write it.  Rest in peace, Dad.  We both deserve it.

My thesis is coming along.  Not nearly as far as I would like-- I had hoped to have it about half done by the end of July-- but progress is being made.  Part of what's slowing me down is re-reading the book (Ulysses by James Joyce).  Finally, the third time through, I can read it without constantly checking secondary materials to figure out what is going on.  In fact, this time it makes so much sense that I'm having a hard time figuring out why I found it so opaque before.  What can you say about a book that takes three readings to be able to follow?  I still can't decide whether I think it's worth the effort.  But it is turning into a great thesis project.

We had some friends over for dinner tonight and the menu was just one disaster after another-- at least, at some point in the afternoon each part had been a disaster.  But oddly enough, they all turned out great.  Dessert was supposed to be Key Lime pie, because I needed to use up some of these eggs, and Key Lime pie would have required six.  But I came home from the store with Key Lemon juice instead of Key Lime juice.  I didn't even know there was such a thing.  And I would have just made Key Lemon pie, but the bottle doesn't have the recipe on it, and I forgot to get sweetened condensed milk, etc.  It was one of those days.

So I decided to make brownies instead and I found a recipe that used EIGHT eggs.  Because apparently that is the only reason to cook at the moment:  to use up eggs. I managed to get together enough chocolate by combining about a third of a bag of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate chips, half a bar of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, and a bag of Ghirardelli chocolate chips.  but then I got further into it and realized I didn't have enough sugar.  So I had to substitute powdered sugar.  Whatever.  It must have worked, because the brownies were heavenly.  Almost like a dense chocolate mousse.  And never to be repeated, because there's no way I could reproduce all the little things I had to do to make the recipe work with what I had on hand.  They will just live on in my memory.

Let's see, what else.  It is a bit smoky here, but not too bad.  Although we do have one forest fire not too far away, apparently the smoke is being blown in from out of state.  Some years it gets so bad that by the end of August you can smell smoke inside the house.  But not yet this year.  School starts two weeks from tomorrow for me, and two days after that for MadMax.  We are not looking forward to it.  Or at least, we aren't looking forward to being back on a schedule.  If he were totally honest, I think MadMax would admit to being a little bit excited about starting high school.  and I would admit that I'm really looking forward to the one class I'm taking this fall-- Teaching Young Adult Literature.  But we're still pretending like we wish summer went on forever. 

And wasn't this a wide-ranging post, but I needed to get something up before I got completely out of the habit of posting.  Hope you had a good weekend, and bring it on, Monday.  Oh, and everybody wave at Nell, who is in New Zealand.  She reads here, so if enough of you say hi, maybe she will leave a comment (finally!) and tell us what it's like.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

and we're off.... again.

This week has been so frustrating.  Too much to do in too little time.  We finally cleaned out our storage unit, which means we're buried in boxes again.  If I work on my thesis, I want to scream when I have to wade through boxes to get to the washer and dryer; if I work on clearing out boxes, I can practically hear the ticking of the time-bomb that is my thesis not getting done.  I'm about to tear my hair out.  And that's not to mention all the other things I've had to do this week.

We did have one scare this week-- one of the chickens disappeared for several hours.  We just assumed that it had joined the Circle of Life (there are plenty of chicken predators in our area).  I was feeling really down about it, because I was the one that had let them out to free range and then gone back up to the house to work on other stuff.  But then when Dean went down to check on them about nine that night, there was the missing hen.  I guess we'll never know what happened, but since there has been an injured hawk hanging around the last few days, I wonder if there was a botched attempt by the hawk to carry one of them off.

Hmmm.  Can I take a moment to post a picture of said hawk?  He will let us walk right up to him, which is how we know he's not feeling well, so I have some great pictures.

OK, I just made an executive decision that made the next few hours considerably less hectic, so here is our "friend" the hawk who is convalescing in the field in front of our house:

and here is a Montana traffic jam:  (just kidding, even for us this is unusual, the little town just to the northeast of us was having "Heritage Days."  But we did have to sit and wait several minutes for them to go by.)

Anyway.  No matter how much stuff is done or not done, we're flying to Southern California tomorrow afternoon for Dean's big extended family reunion.  They do it every year, but we haven't been in four of five years now.  It will be fun, and I will try to just ignore all the things that aren't getting done and enjoy it.