Friday, March 27, 2015

We Have a Guest Visitor!

Well, look who's here! It's Flat Adelaide, dropping in at Small College. Flat Adelaide, who was created by a real live eight-year-old girl, is on a whirlwind tour of Small Town and is now guest starring in this blog.

Flat Adelaide has had an exciting few weeks since she started her journey in Iowa. That's because Flat Adelaide's granny is flat-out the most fun granny ever (except possibly for Much Older Sister, but we aren't having Granny Olympics here so we're not declaring a winner.)

First you must go read about why Flat Adelaide is on this whirlwind tour. I'll sit here and hum to myself while you do that...


Are you back? Are you still laughing? I did a couple of weeks ago when I originally read this post. But are you also, kind of, just a little, shuddering in homework-induced PTSD? I did that at well. To this day, if you say the words "reaction book" I rear back and whinny as if I were Young Frankenstein's horse and you just said "Frau Blucher." Oh, yeah. I see you other moms from Webster Community School nodding and shuddering with me. More tears were shed over these quarterly book reports than would be shed by an infinity number of cooks chopping an infinity number of onions from now until infinity.

Reaction book! (WHINNY!)

Anyway, yesterday real Adelaide's granny called me and said Flat Adelaide is in Small Town. Could she come visit me at Small College?

Heck yeah! Because I know Adelaide's granny, I knew this traveling cut-out was having the vacation of a lifetime and I was honored she chose this as one of the tour stops. (This granny is a school nurse, and she also let me know me that the words she would choose for my Good Word Poll were "vector" and "grandbaby." Ha!)

Anyway, so far Flat Adelaide's trip to Small Town has included being shocked with a defibrillator (I saw the photos of in-cardiac-arrest FA, and she definitely had X's over her eyes), going to the library, having her teeth checked at the dentist's office, and I can't even remember what else because I was so excited she was going to visit ME.

Because FA has no bone structure and therefore can't climb steps by herself, FA's granny helped her make the trek from the parking lot on the lower campus to the main administration building on the upper campus.

Hello, way down there! You only have 69 steps to go!

You're getting closer--also, love the shirt, FA's Granny.

Wahoooo! You made it all the way to the top of the steps, and now you can say you've been to college.

Come back and visit any time, Flat Adelaide, and next time bring the rest of the family. We may not be as much fun as going to the library but it definitely beats a shot from the defibrillator.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's the Good Word?

This seems to be the week when I'm asking y'all to think and respond, and I am finding it fascinating.

I was fascinated by your thoughtful and respectful (thank you!) responses to my query about whether you would boo an elected official whose views and actions you find abhorrent but who is within boo range in a purely ceremonial capacity. Some of you were all "Heck, yeah!" to the boos, and others were "Boos are never appropriate" and still others were in the "Depends" category.

There was not consensus, and that's why I love you all. You made me think.

Today's think-and-respond comes from an office discussion this morning. (Have I mentioned that I have the best co-workers in the world?)

The question was this:  What's the good word?

Co-worker C posed this question to co-worker T as T was pouring his first cup of coffee. T thought for a second, then said, "Perpendicular." I thought this was a spectacular response--it trips off the tongue with a little bit of surprise in the middle, and considering that T is a superb musician, its selection made sense to me. But C laughed: "I would have said OpeningDay," he said.

It reminded me of a fifth-grade assignment. In my two-room country school our four-person fifth grade class was the largest in the older kids' room. Our hippy-dippy teacher did much juggling to keep all of these classes engaged, and one day our assignment was this:

Write the five most beautiful words in your best handwriting.

I love beautiful words, and I spent the next hour narrowing down my list to only five. I don't remember them all, but I remember that my list included palomino, beautiful, and symphony. These words were not only beautiful to look at, they had wonderful mouth feel and silky rhythm as they became audible. I was intoxicated by my words, blissfully repeating them silently and in whispers, until I saw the lists of my classmates.

The other three class members all had chosen similar words: God. Mother. Love. Peace.

And with a thud I fell back to earth with the realization that I was shallow-minded and hedonistic. I had chosen my beautiful words because I found them aesthetically pleasing; my classmates had chosen their beautiful words based on concept. It wasn't until years later that I stopped being embarrassed by this choice. There is no shame in appreciating the aesthetics of words as well as the concepts they represent.

So this morning when C said "perpendicular," I found it an extraordinarily wonderful choice. Look at it! It's visually symmetrical with ascenders in the first half and descenders in the second. It flows off the tongue smoothly, with that little hiccup in the middle. It is a good, good word.

But OpeningDay is a good choice, too. It evokes thoughts of spring and the smell of leather baseball gloves, the crack of the bat and the purposeful jog of the relief pitcher.

What about you? If you were to pick a good/beautiful word, what comes to mind? Are you moved by the beautiful word itself or by the concept?

Make me think, people! Make me think.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Boo? Yay? Neither?

Ohhhh, we have a con-TRAH-versy here in Kansas. Something that happened over the weekend has left my Facebook feed in an uproar and me thinking, "Huh--could I maybe, possibly, be wrong?"

Some background: It is March, and March brings Madness. Around here the madness has increased this year because the Sunflower State had two legit teams selected to participate in the NCAA basketball tournament. One of these teams (the University of Kansas) has been in the tournament every year since Adam first laced up high-tops in the Garden of Eden. The other  team comes from a school (Wichita State University) that has far less consistency in its basketball tradition, but has been a scrappy and appealing underdog for the past few years.

(That is all background and has very little to do with this issue, but now we're getting to the meat of the story.)

On Sunday these two teams had worked their ways through the first few games to play each other, and the governor of the state attended the game. This governor has been either (a) the best thing that has happened to the state since hard red winter wheat, or (b) the worst thing that has happened to the state since, well, ever. Those of us in Kansas do not believe there is a (c).

He is wildly divisive, is what I'm trying to say. You love his policies or you hate his policies, and there is no overlap whatsoever between those views.

Anyway, as Sunday's game was progressing the national television cameras focused in on the governor sitting in the stands. He was wearing a shirt that supported both KU and WSU. But as the crowd realized that the governor was on television it became pretty obvious that most of the seat-fillers in that arena did not subscribe to viewpoint (a) above. The boos rained down like hail on a new car. Holy cow, that crowd did not hold back in its heartily-expressed opinion. (The basketball commentators, obviously puzzled, theorized that perhaps the crowd didn't like his T-shirt, which was hilarious.)

Of course, I had to react to this on Facebook.

"Hahahahahaha!" was the start of my status update, and it wasn't a very sympathetic or respectful update. But then the (a)-sayers chimed in on their own status updates. "Disrespectful" was the kindest description those folks had of that crowd's reaction.

And that got me to thinking: Is an office-holder owed respect simply by virtue of the office he or she holds?

I would never support booing an office-holder at a forum that includes expression of ideas--at a speech, for example, or during a debate. Even if I completely disagree with that person's policies and viewpoints, I support freedom of speech and exchange of reason. If I disagree with a politician I have a vote and a stamp and I make my views known.

But the governor wasn't talking policy Sunday. He was attending a basketball game as the elected head of the state. He was chosen by the majority of voters, whether they now believe (a) or (b), and he had won the right to represent us on national television.

Was I disrespectful to laugh when he was boo-ed? And if so, are those who post nasty updates about the president disrespectful? How about those who boo the Queen of England?

What say you? (And please, as the best blog readers in the world, let's keep this discussion respectful.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Changing of the Seasons

Remains of an inland ocean
I seem to be having motivational issues when it comes to posting here regularly. There is no excuse for this unplanned absence. Even though the rest of the academic world was on spring break last week, most of us administrators were at our desks and I still could not bestir myself to assemble words for this space.

The changing of the seasons is giving me the opposite of spring rejuvenation, a seasonal lethargy created by pollen and daffodils.

Saturday I popped in at The Farm for a few hours. The farm where I grew up is three hours north of Small Town so popping in isn't something I do every day, and sometimes whole seasons pass when I don't make the trip.

As we pulled into the driveway I remembered again how much difference latitude makes in the arrival of warm weather. Small Town is in full spring mode but winter is barely over at The Farm. We have daffodils on every curb and ornamental pears bursting into bloom. They are still slogging through the mud from what they hope is the last snow of winter, so trees are bare and pastures are dead grey.

Was anything even happening?

But it was a beautiful day so the Geeky Farmer and my Much Older Sister (who also had popped in for a quick visit ) and I decided to take a ride around the section. For you city slickers who didn't pass Kansas History in seventh grade, a section is one square mile, 640 acres normally bounded by gravel roads.

You wouldn't think there would be that much to see in a four-mile drive in the country, but we saw an enormous slab of limestone packed edge to edge with fossils. We saw amazing yard art made out of bowling balls and bowling pins. We saw a creek draw that had been filled with 30 unused toilets to keep the banks from eroding into the road. We discussed whether the trees lining the creek were going to come back from last fall's hail storm and remarked how the forest behind the house has shrunk since we were kids. We saw the bluest of blue skies.

It may not be spring, but plenty is happening.Those fossils were formed by thousands of years of sedimentation before that limestone slab was unearthed and pushed to the side of the road. That bowling ball yard art came to life in the imagination of our neighbor, who had been in fourth grade with us and seemed the most unlikely of artists. Those toilets were handy fill material for a plumber whose commute between his house and his shop is exactly bisected by the crumbling creek banks. And that forest behind the house? Had been transformed in our memories of childhood into the Midwest equivalent of the Redwood Forest, when really it's a few dozen oaks and between the back yard and the next field.

That blue sky was the promise of day lilies and spring calves and car windows rolled down full open to possibility and warm breezes.

Change is all around us. The forces of nature and the forces of the mind are awakening, and it's spring.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Favorite St. Patrick's Day

The first Sign of the Apocalypse was the Elf on the Shelf.

Okay, this may be a teensy exaggeration (Me? Overstate?) but this morning I read a HuffPost essay that resonated so strongly with me that I may or may not have shouted "Exactly!" and thrown my hands into the air in agreement.

The essay was titled "Can We Bring the Holidays Down a Notch?" and it is truth multiplied by oh-yeah.

We are going nuts celebrating holidays these days, and oh, the pressure on parents. Especially on parents, such as I was a decade ago, who are barely holding it together to get their children to school and do not have the TIME or the TALENT or the INCLINATION to make every holiday on the calendar a magical moment for their wee ones. We are the parents who consider matched socks a victory and simultaneous bedtimes an impossible dream.

But then along came the internet. Of all the ills the internet has perpetrated on society, I consider the Elf on the Shelf the most insidious. Back in the olden days, when a threat of Santa watching was enough to cow a rebellious child into submission, the Elf is an actual thing, a thing that must be tended with imagination and physical effort at a time of the year when imagination and physical effort are stretched their thinnest.

When I was a kid we did one thing for St. Patrick's Day: We wore green. And if we saw someone not wearing green, we pinched them with great enthusiasm. Never mind that we weren't Irish, we were all Erin-Go-Bragh-ers when it came to our roles as green detectives. Our parents did not hide gold coins or set a leprechaun trap; pinching was sufficient to prove our solidarity with the Irish.

The year I was a third grader, my teacher stuck a shamrock to her bulletin board and told us there was a number written behind the shamrock. The person who guessed closest to the number would get a special prize. Now, this was a big deal. Back in those days participation prizes hadn't been invented yet. If there was a contest someone won, and for everyone else, well, better luck next time. I can still see that shamrock, cut out in Mrs. Francis's precise scissor work and tantalizingly pinned at eight-year-old eye level.

And I knew what the number was.

I knew it! I didn't cheat and pull the shamrock away (the wrath of God was a distant second to the wrath of Mrs. Francis when it came to classroom sinning and I could only imagine the hailstones that would rain down if I cheated) but I knew in my heart of hearts that the number was 17. It was St. Patrick's Day, it was March 17, and the number had to be 17.

I carefully wrote my guess on a slip of paper and turned it in. Then Mrs. Francis announced at the end of the day that the winning number was...17! I wasn't the least bit surprised, but I was over-the-moon excited to accept the prize of a green Bic pen, one of the round-topped variety that is so old-fashioned even Google images doesn't have a picture of it.

I tell this story because it has been 52 years since I held that green pen in my hand, and I still remember the soaring triumph of the moment, the calm certainty of victory and the feeling of destiny in accepting the prize.

Would I have been as thrilled if that morning I had already checked the leprechaun trap, searched for gold coins, eaten green pancakes, and looked for a rainbow on the porch? I don't think so.

So, parents, I implore you. Tone it down! Back off on the holiday hoopla and self-imposed stress. Your children won't miss it and your blood pressure will thank me.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go have a bit of my Pi Day pie and pinch a non-green-wearer with great enthusiasm. It's St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Best Non-Holiday

Terrible picture of wonderful pie
Someone on my Facebook feed sounded a little put out when she posted on Saturday:

"Am I the only one in the world not making pie today?"

Given the photographic evidence in the posts surrounding hers, the answer to that question would be "Yes. You are, indeed, the only person in the entire world not making pie today."

It was Pi Day! And it was a very special Pi Day, given that it was March 14, 2015, which would also be 3/14/15, and at one given moment in the morning it was 9:23.56 a.m., which made it exactly the same moment as the first 10 digits of pi--3.141592356.

Oh, frabjous moment!

Now I am not a great fan of mathematics. I leave that to everyone else in my family, including those who balance my checkbook (thank you, Husband!) and those who helped their brothers with algebra homework in high school (thank you, Boy#1 and Boy#2) and those who used math to get them through engineering degrees (that's you, Boys #2 and #4) and the one who scored highest on his math standardized testing (yup, Boy#3, I'm looking at you). Those are the guys for whom pi is an irrational number that always results from dividing a circle's circumference by its diameter.

For the non-mathy person in the house, though, pi is just an excuse to bake on March 14, because PIE!

I had begun to worry just a tad about my pie-making skills. Tenuous at best, my ability to make a good homemade crust seemed to have desserted me (get it? Dessert/desert? Oh, never mind.) and the blueberry pie I made a few weeks ago to celebrate Husband's birthday was so runny I served it in bowls. True story.

For this Pi Day, though, I tried a new recipe. The Cook's Country Chocolate Angel Pie  looked manageable, and since it has a meringue crust I rationalized that it would be a healthier choice than the traditional lard-heavy version.

Well, it's not healthier. I admit that. Any recipe that has almost a pound of chocolate (both milk and bittersweet) and calls for heavy cream is not healthy. But oh, my. Although today's photo cannot be used as proof (I took the picture after a long, long day), it is scrumptious.

Seriously, this may be the best pie I've ever made, and I am rationing it out in tiny little strips in hopes it will last for weeks.

Pi Day may not have the universal appeal of the Best Day of the Year, but this chocolate pie has allowed it to overtake several other non-holidays on my list of favorite dates.

St. Patrick's Day, you have been pie-d.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vacations Past

On vacation ca. 2002
I may have already used this picture in a blog post. It's one of my favorites and has been hanging on my refrigerator for as long as I can remember. But it came to mind again this week when the lovely Swistle asked for opinions on family vacations.

Leaving aside the question of whether you work hard and deserve a vacation, Swistle asked, what is your family's philosophy? Do you go on big fancy (expensive) trips every year? What is a reasonable amount to spend for a vacation?

Oh, Swistle, I do have Opinions on this.

First of all, no one "deserves" an expensive vacation, any more than someone "deserves" a fancy car. These things (like large-screen video systems and brand name puppies) are luxuries. Taking on debt for luxuries is stupid. (Please, MomQueenBee, tell us how you really feel.) But vacations taken within one's means are a gift you cannot fail to give your family.

When I snapped today's picture, Husband and I were poor professionals. Husband was a full-time faculty member at Small College and I was a full-time gestator/lactator which is a great investment in the future but does kind of the opposite of paying the bills. But we LIVED for vacations. Both of us had grown up traveling with our families, and then (as now) Husband couldn't hear an airplane go overhead without wondering where it was going and wishing he were on it. My own childhood memories included listening to the moon landing on a transistor radio from the steps of my family's camper.

So the year Boy#1 turned two and Boy#2 turned four months, we took our first camping trip, pulling my parents' pop-up trailer behind a borrowed station wagon. We were out for something like three weeks, and went through 12 states, including going as far as the first rest stop in Pennsylvania so that One and Two could claim them on their lists of visited states.

If this blog ever stretched the truth even a tiny bit I would say that we had a wonderful time, but in the interest of full disclosure I will say that it was the Worst.Vacation. Ever. I don't mean the worst vacation in the history of our family, I mean the worst vacation since Adam suggested maybe Eve would like to take a walk-about outside the Garden of Eden.

It was hot. Record-breakingly hot. It was hard work, and made me realize that my mother had to have been some kind of sorceress to be able to make camping look so effortless during my growing-up years. It was dangerous, with One not even remotely rational about staying close to the camper or not playing with the campfire or OH MY GOSH, GET HIM AWAY FROM THAT ANTHILL! It was a million miles of driving followed by night after night of sleepless babies with a dash of I-hate-this-more-than-you-can-imagine,-my-best-beloved attitude thrown in.

And yet...

We lived for vacations. With the camping corollary of childbirth amnesia kicking in, a few years later we again tried pop-up travel with more children and lowered expectations. And to our surprise, we found we loved it. Because there is no way we could afford to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants, we discovered the joys of state parks and pulling into a place and staying put for days. We went on theme vacations--one year we traveled to every place Laura Ingalls Wilder had written a book about, one year we didn't leave the state but drove more than a thousand miles to visit every fort in Kansas.

At night after everyone had gone to bed I would read aloud using a flashlight, and Husband would use his own flashlight to make shadow animals on the tent walls.

We did take one magical, wonderful, expensive vacation: When all four Boys were old enough to be rational, we went to Costa Rica. I felt like a proud mother cat taking her beautiful kittens home when I introduced my husband and sons to the dear families who had been my family during my Peace Corps years. We spent one week on the Peace Corps Memorial Trek, riding in buses and staying in pensiones, and one week in Rich American Tourist mode at beach resorts and hotels with hot water. Boy#1 turned 15 on that trip and he's almost twice that old now, but we still talk about the amazing zip lines and that time the lady in the store said Boy#4 looked like a Christmas doll.

So, Swistle, to answer your question about vacations--do we deserve them? No. We scrimped all year so that we could swelter in the heat and scratch mosquito bites somewhere else. We did everything we would do at home, but it was harder because we didn't have a toilet. We never made it to Disneyland.

But did we love them? And would we do it all over again? Oh, my, yes. We did and we would.