If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Perfect Thanksgiving

Really. The day couldn't be nicer. b, Pupzilla and I headed out Wednesday afternoon. We set-up camp and had a lovely dinner in front of the fire. It was a tad cold that night but we were snuggled tight under many sleeping bags and blankets.

Thanksgiving day reached about 60 and was sunny all day long. b made breakfast and we lolled around camp reading and chatting. Our adopted daughter and her beau dropped by, bringing me coffee--as a good daughter does--in the early afternoon.

b spent the rest of the day cooking and we sat around watching and talking and playing with the fire. Occasionally b would ask one of us for help and we would happily oblige but this was not often.

The dry ice did not do the trick, so the ice cream was soup...but yummy soup. Adopted Daughter brought green bean casserole and pumpkin pie and there was more food than anyone could even imagine eating.

After hot cocoa and the first chapter of A Christmas Carol, b and I took a walk up to the field to gaze at the stars.

The next morning b made us all and egg bake and leftover cornbread. It was hard to imagine the need to eat more, but we did. Then we packed it all up and listened to Christmas music on the ride home. Pupzilla has barely left her bed since then. b and I ended up napping for most of Black Friday but we did make it out to the theatre to see a reading of David Sedaris' SantaLand.

All-in-all a marvelous start to the holiday season.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday Madness

This is disturbing on so many levels and I'm having a hard time getting it out of my head. Now this is also disturbing, especially since they both happened on Black Friday, but it is the Wal-Mart story that really grabs me.

I think because to me it says that people in our country feel their right to buy cheap "stuff" is so inalienable that consequences be damned. We are so afraid of the falling/failing economy that instead of curtailing our purchasing frenzy we start lining up at 9 pm on the night of a major holiday for a chance at a sale.

Now people are blaming Wal-Mart for the lack of security and I'm certainly not one to let Wal-Mart off the hook, but is it really the lack of security guards that is the issue here? Why do we need to open stores at 5 am on Black Friday? But more importantly why are so many people lined up by 3:30 am that the police need to be called? And why are people so impatient by 4:55 am people that they feel the need to bang and press on the doors? Another article reported customers chanting "push them in." Really? They couldn't wait 5 more minutes? Is this our Christmas spirit?

It particularly bothers me that the man who lost his life serving Wal-Mart was a temporary employee. But I think the part that took me over the edge was that after it happened people did not want to clear the store, stating that they had been on line since the day before. I guess our right to shop exceeds the rights of others to live.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

RBOC: Academic Updates

  • I am momentarily up-to-date on all grading. It won't last longer than a week, since as soon as Thanksgiving break is over there are papers, presentations and exams aplenty.
  • My writing has slowed to a crawl but has not actually stopped. Better yet, I got a one month extension on the chapters that were due Dec 1. Now being halfway through all 3 of them is actually a good place to be.
  • I spent yesterday and today working on my favorite research project and it is going so well. I actually think the analysis can be done before spring break and I can submit something before the summer.
  • I met with my tenure mentor yesterday and I am ahead of the pack (ok, so the pack is only Big Daddy this year but it seems I'm well ahead of where most people in my department normally are at this point in the process). My goal is to have a working draft circulated by the end of January.
  • This afternoon I tweaked one syllabus for the Spring semester and there's very little left to be done there. Of course I still have an entire course prep for the other course but I'm not thinking about that just now.
  • I also spent this afternoon sorting out articles and organizing the bits and pieces I need to get back to my grant that has been languishing.
  • I actually feel like I can take 2 days off without coming back to a complete and total mess.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Plans

The first year we moved to SouthLite we realized it was warm enough to camp comfortably (well our version of comfort) in November. So we had our first camping Thanksgiving.

b is an amazing dutch oven cook and created an entire Thanksgiving meal at the campsite.

After eating way too much food, we sat around the campfire drinking hot cocoa and taking turns reading aloud from A Christmas Carol and David Sedaris' Holidays On Ice.

Last year we planned to continue this new tradition but SouthLite was in the middle of a long drought so there was a burn ban at the campgrounds. Camping in November without a fire is a far cry from comfortable.

b decided to create his Thanksgiving masterpiece in our backyard.

My favorite graduate assistant, DeeDee, came over and a fun time was had by all.

This year--no burn ban and no Angel--we're back to camping.

We'll be leaving, with Pupzilla, Wed afternoon and staying through Friday morning.

My student/adopted daughter and her boyfriend will be joining us Thanksgiving morning.

b has added a fourth dutch oven to his collection so we will be having turkey, stuffing, corn bread and apple cobbler.

He'll throw some sweet potatoes in the fire and cook up some veggies on the new camping stove.

He makes the cranberry sauce ahead of time and this year there is talk of dry ice to keep the vanilla ice cream frozen until the cobbler is ready.

We'll see how that one works out.

Another Baking Sunday

Update: Sorry about the clip...it was Get Smart.

This week it was bread and chocolate chip cookies. I also made chicken and noodle soup (it's been cold around here -- good soup weather) with a Greek twist. At the end you add a blend of lemon and egg. It came out quite yummy and the bread was a perfect compliment.

We had cookies and milk in bed watching this:

Great cookie, bad movie.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Winter Wonderland

It snowed in SouthLite last night. This morning there is a good covering of snow on the ground. Now I have to admit I hate snow. Sure I got excited over it as a kid but honestly that only lasted a few years. Snow in ReallyBigCity gets pretty ugly pretty fast. Then we moved a little ways up North and lived in a snowbelt region for four years. We had a very long, very steep driveway and nothing but shovels and our backs to clear it. That got old for me even faster.

So you could say I'm Mr. Heatmiser. b, of course, is Mr. Snowmiser. At this very moment he has his kayak on the roof of our car and is off to go paddling.

(Sorry Moxie and b--I know this violates the "no Christmas music before Thanksgiving" rule but I couldn't resist)

Wednesday night at the dojo, one of our young students--LittleBit--was telling me how much she wanted it to snow because she wants to throw snowballs. So even in my Heatmiserly ways I am happy for her today. She may even have a Snow Day from school, as people flip out down here from even a dusting.

The nice thing about snow in SouthLite is that it will be gone by the end of the day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Committees

I serve on a committee that manages the undergraduate curriculum of an interdisciplinary program at my university. It is my main institutional service. I also serve on a committee that manages the graduate program within my department. It is my main departmental service.

Yesterday I met with my undergraduate committee. We have met twice so far this semester and have no plans to meet again until the Spring. At our first meeting we brainstormed a list of tasks for ourselves (mostly from last year's list of uncompleted tasks). I was given one task (a peer observation) to complete outside of the committee meeting. I completed the task and wrote a report. The report outlined concerns that I had that I felt should be addressed by the committee. I brought them to the attention of the committee chair and we agreed to discuss them in yesterday's meeting.

During the meeting we discussed my concerns (which everyone shared) and agreed upon a very watered-down solution. We then discussed the original agenda item (1 issue from the very long task list generated in the previous meeting). After discussing this issue for some time a decision was made to shelve any action and instead to concentrate on implementing the watered-down solution for the other issue by the end of the semester. There were no action items or tasks delegated by the end of the meeting nor was a new meeting date set.

I like the people on the committee and I am very committed to the interdisciplinary program. However when a program has no funding, barely any staff, and borrowed faculty, there is no chance of accomplishing much of anything. So instead we spin wheels and discuss what we feel we should do, as if we are ever going to do it, and then go our merry ways.

Drives me batty.

My departmental committee met this morning. We started the semester with a very long list of tasks, many of which are time sensitive. We also have a long range goal that the department has been putting off for some time now. All the committee members feel the time has come. We have opted to meet weekly throughout the semester and to devote a full day for our long range goal during the winter break.

While we often go off on tangents in meetings (as all academics do) someone always reigns us in. We have agendas for each meeting and work through them. We end with action items, delegated tasks, and confirmed meeting dates and times. We've made progress but still have far to go.

Again, I enjoy spending time with all of these people and I am personally committed to the tasks we have assigned ourselves. What makes it possible to progress in this committee? At the moment two of the members have been given lighter teaching loads to free up their time for administrative work. In addition we have been assigned an assistant who has no other administrative responsibilities outside of this committee.

This was not the case last year for this committee (which is why we have such a long task list this year) and has not always been the case for other committees in our department.

The entire process of managing by committee goes against my better judgment but I understand that it is the lifeblood of academia. What I really can't get behind is pretending we are accomplishing tasks just because we attend a committee meeting. Why spend time developing plans we know full well we don't have the resources to execute? I sometimes feel we would be better served by grabbing a cup of coffee and discussing the weather.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Meme to Past the Time

Saw this over at Seeking Solace and thought it would be fun:


* Name: Brigindo
* Birthday: May 7
* Birthplace: ReallyBigCity
* Current location: SouthLite
* Eye color: Brown
* Hair color: Brown
* Height: 5'3
* Righty or lefty: Righty
* Zodiac sign: Taurus


* Your heritage: English, Irish, Italian and German
* The shoes you wore today: Keens!
* Your weakness: Angel
* Your fears: failure
* Your perfect pizza: John's in NYC
* Goal you’d like to achieve: tenure, getting Angel through college, owning land somewhere pretty


* Your most overused phrase on AIM: heya
* Your first waking thoughts: do I really have to get up?
* Your best physical feature: Hair? Butt? Boobs? It's all good
* Your most missed memory: Angel as a little boy; Baking or gardening with my grandmother


* Pepsi or Coke: Don't do soda
* McDonald’s or Burger King: don't do fast food
* Single or group dates: Single
* Adidas or Nike: New Balance
* Lipton Ice Tea or Nestea: Don't do iced tea
* Chocolate or vanilla: Chocolate
* Cappuccino or coffee: decaf skim latte


* Smoke: For 1 week when I was 12
* Cuss: Not my style
* Sing: Alone in the car
* Take a shower everyday: Yes
* Do you think you’ve been in love: I don't think it; I know it
* Want to go to college: Liked it so much I made it a career
* Liked high school: No.
* Want to get married: Both times
* Believe in yourself: Absolutely
* Get motion sickness: No
* Think you’re attractive: Absolutely
* Think you’re a health freak: I'm into health and I'm a freak but not a health freak
* Get along with your parent(s): Define "get along"
* Like thunderstorms: Love 'em...especially in the summer
* Play an instrument: Alas, no. Took guitar lessons for a few months when I was nine but it didn't stick

LAYER SIX: In the past month…

* Drank alcohol: frequently
* Smoked: No
* Done a drug: Does Imitrex count?
* Made out: No but thanks for reminding me
* Gone on a date: Yes
* Gone to the mall: Thankfully no
* Eaten an entire box of Oreos: No
* Eaten sushi: No. SouthLite doesn't do sushi well
* Been on stage: No
* Been dumped: No
* Gone skating: No
* Made homemade cookies: Yes
* Gone skinny dipping: No
* Dyed your hair: No but it needs it
* Stolen Anything: No


* Played a game that required removal of clothing: No
* Been trashed or extremely intoxicated: Yes
* Been caught “doing something”: Yes but not since I was 15
* Been called a tease: Uhm, no
* Gotten beaten up: No
* Shoplifted: Don't remember but somehow I feel I must have at some point
* Changed who you were to fit in: Hasn't everyone?


* Age you hope to be married: First time I was 23, second time 37
* Numbers and names of children: 1 - Angel
* Describe your dream wedding: I don't dream about weddings
* How do you want to die: With dignity and before Angel does
* Where you want to go to college: I'd never get another degree but my undergrad was done in a small liberal arts college in the middle of the city that had absolutely no requirements
* What do you want to be when you grow up: a little old lady
* What country would you most like to visit: Lately I've been wanting to see Greece


* Number of drugs taken illegally: Too many to count
* Number of people I could trust with my life: 2
*Number of CDs that I own: Uhm, more like number of songs: 2517; 6.8 days; 10.23 GB
* Number of piercings: Two; earlobes but I believe they are completely closed
* Number of tattoos: None
* Number of times my name has appeared in the newspaper: None that I know of
* Number of scars on my body: 2 - chin and wrist

Sunday, November 16, 2008


b has changed his work schedule for the holiday season and he is now working Sundays. Actually as of next week, he'll be working Saturdays and Sundays. Anyway, it seems Sundays have become baking day. Last week was sour cream pound cake. Today its calzones for dinner and coffee cake for dessert.

I was supposed to spend the day working but other than getting a final exam together for my undergraduate class not much of that has taken place. Pupzilla did get a long walk on a beautiful fall day, so that was good.

In other news, I am now the proud mother of a Pi Kappa Phi. The initiation went well but was very long--from 7 pm last night to 7 am this morning. And that is all us outsiders are allowed to know.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Angel Update

Angel's had his first migraine. Yesterday was Day 4. It seems the stress of I-week triggered it. The good news is that today is the last day of I-week and, as of yesterday, he had only lost 3 matches.

For I-week they are given a pack of 20 matches at the beginning of the week. A brother can stop them at any time, inspect their attire (they must be wearing a tie, dress shirt and pants) and/or ask them fraternity-related questions. If they answer incorrectly or are not dressed appropriately one of their matches are lit. By the end of the week if they have no matches left they cannot pledge.

So yesterday Angel told me he's had a throbbing headache that he thinks is like the ones I get. I went through the obvious symptoms of a migraine with him and he answered them all in the affirmative. I mentioned remedies that people claim work for them, although they've never done anything for me. Last we spoke, he was off to lie down in the dark and hopefully nap before some big I-week event last night.

I'm not surprised by the migraine and I'm sure this won't be his last one. When he was young he felt his stress and anxiety in his stomach. It somehow makes sense that as he's gotten older its moved to his head.

Inpromptu Double Dating

Friday night is Date Night here at the House of Dirt and Rocks. b and I go to our favorite class at the dojo and then grab a drink at our favorite pub. We generally decide on a dinner plan over Guinness (me) and a jack on the rocks (b). Last night we were the only ones to show up at the dojo--even our sensei was a no-show--so we did a short workout together. b had a dinner idea before we even made it to the pub.

We have a favorite Italian restaurant just blocks from our house. It is a cozy, low-key, friendly establishment that serves really good food. It is the type of restaurant where you choose your entree and beverage but everything else is set for the day. It is always packed and even with a reservation we've often ended up waiting. When b suggested we give it a try, I recommended we call ahead and get a reservation. He did and we were set for 8:30 so we stayed at the pub and had another round.

We arrived at the restaurant at 8:30 and ran into someone b used to work with. She's someone he's always really liked and was sad when she moved on to a different job. I had met her a few times, always liked her, but never really got to know her. She and her partner were on their date night. They did not have reservations but had decided to wing it and order a carafe of wine while they waited.

We were having a lovely conversation in the tiny hallway as we waited for our tables and their favorite waitress subtly suggested we all sit together. So after the mandatory back and forth to make sure no couple really wanted to be alone on date night we opted to double date.

We were then quickly seated by their favorite waitress, who really is lovely--she's always smiling and laughing and enjoying herself--and proceeded to have a fabulous dinner with great conversation. By the time we left the restaurant was just about empty and we were feeling no pain.

Unfortunately I can't say the same about today as the 2 glasses of wine on top of the two pints of Guinness have left me slightly under the weather.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good Old Dewey Decimal

As seen over at K8's

Brigindo's Dewey Decimal Section:

128 Humankind

Brigindo = 28979445 = 289+794+45 = 1128

100 Philosophy & Psychology

Books on metaphysics, logic, ethics and philosophy.

What it says about you:
You're a careful thinker, but your life can be complicated and hard for others to understand at times. You try to explain things and strive to express yourself.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at Spacefem.com


...it's only Wednesday?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

RBOC: I've Got Nothing Edition

  • This post gets me more visitors than any other post. They all occur through image searches. Today I got 4 visitors in a row from: Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Neenah, Wisconsin, Bremen, Bremerhaven (Germany), and Richmond, Indiana all because people were searching for random learning images. What's with that?
  • Yesterday one of my students invited b and I over for dinner. It was very nice. We had a cheesy lasagna.
  • Today I spoke on the phone to my sister Jo for over 4 hours.
  • I baked a sour cream pound cake today.
  • I did very little work this weekend and absolutely none today.
  • My workouts have become non-existent except for going to the dojo.
  • I've had a migraine for the past 4 days and I can feel it coming back as my daily medication is wearing off.
  • I'm really really ready to be done with teaching this semester.
  • This week starts I-week for Angel.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Students In Crisis

Today a student came in for advising but s/he didn't really want advice. S/he wanted to catch up and see me. We spoke for almost 2 hours. This student went through an educational crisis hir first year and a personal crisis hir second year. This is hir third year and s/he'll be graduating in the Spring. Hir life is stable and good. S/he has many options ahead of hir and has had some enriching experiences in the program. For the first half of the conversation I was waiting for hir to tell me why s/he wanted to meet with me. I assumed it would be a letter of recommendation or something along those lines. Then I realized s/he just wanted to spend some time with me.

I was able to be there for this student during both issues...not in any heroic way just in the human kind. I liked this student when s/he was a student in my class before any problems hit so I made a point to reach out when they did. Sometimes that's all it takes....little things like checking in, providing encouragement, and listening. I'm proud of this student. Back when s/he needed to hear it, I reminded hir that s/he was strong enough to see the bad times through. S/he was and s/he did.

I have a student in my current class who is in crisis. I like this student. A few weeks ago I reached out to hir. We met and I offered advice, encouragement, support and tried to connect hir to some additional help. S/he is trying very hard to cope with some really big issues on hir own. S/he is strong and I'm proud of hir efforts but things have gotten worse not better. We spoke briefly in class today and I've asked hir to come and see me again tomorrow. Hir problems require more than just checking in and listening but that may be all I can do.

I hope we reach the day where we can waste an afternoon sitting in my office and catching up.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Packet Work

Twice a month I meet with one of my colleagues to work on our tenure packets. We both need to put them in next Fall. It was actually my colleague's (I'll call him Big Daddy) idea to schedule regular meetings to keep us on task. It's been working out rather nicely. Being the rule-follower that I am, I feel the need to have something done--some product--each time we meet. He, on the other hand, is never prepared. So often our meetings turn into working meetings and we hide ourselves from phones and email and work quietly (well most of the time) together for about an hour and a half. This means I'm already making considerable progress but there is still a long road ahead.

One of the things I need to do is describe my research life pre-tenure track. This means rehashing what I worked on for over seventeen years. It amazes me how much I've forgotten, like entire grants. Literally I spent years of my life working on research projects that seemed so critically important at the time and now I'm like--oh right we did do that project, didn't we? So its turning out to be a rather weird trip down memory lane. It is also interesting to see all the seedlings of the work I do now in the work I did then. It feels like I'm in an entirely new place, research agenda-wise, but all the roots are firmly in my old work.

I find this to be an aspect of aging that I enjoy--being able to look back at different versions of young Brigindo and trace the connections, all the twists and turns, to this Brigindo. With hindsight it makes so much sense but looking forward is another story completely.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Another Reason Why I Love My Students

I'm working with one of my doctoral students on an analysis of my data that will eventually turn into a paper. I'm very excited about this analysis as it involves poems. I asked this student if she wanted to work on it with me because I knew she had published a poem and she made a joke about a haiku in a meeting. Other students I've tried to entice have been scared off by the thought of poetry. (What have we done to make poetry so terrifying in our culture?)

The other day we were talking about what it feels like to write poetry and I said that there are parts that are very similar, for me, to analyzing numerical data or to solving logic problems. There is a reductionism in poetry that doesn't happen with prose. There is also a satisfying sense of problem-solving that may happen for fiction writers but doesn't happen for me when I write fiction.

It was a fun conversation. The kind I like to have with students. The kind that got me into academia so I could have them on a regular basis. Afterwards she sent me a copy of the Nobel Lecture by Wislawa Szymborska. In it is this:
This is why I value that little phrase "I don't know" so highly. It's small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself "I don't know," the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself "I don't know", she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job. But she kept on saying "I don't know," and these words led her, not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize.

Poets, if they're genuine, must also keep repeating "I don't know." Each poem marks an effort to answer this statement, but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to hesitate, starts to realize that this particular answer was pure makeshift that's absolutely inadequate to boot. So the poets keep on trying, and sooner or later the consecutive results of their self-dissatisfaction are clipped together with a giant paperclip by literary historians and called their "oeuvre" ...
Which so hits the nail on the head for me.

Not That It Really Matters But...

...electronic voting is just not as satisfying as the big old booths with the curtain and the big handle.

However voting is now checked-off on the To Do list and I'm on to grading.

Still waiting to hear from Angel on his first voting experience. I took him with me almost every time I voted in the past 18 (well 19 actually if we're counting pregnancy) years. I wish he could have voted with us today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

So Far, So Good

I've been trying to write a minimum of 500 words a day to meet my InaDWriMo goal of 15,000. So far I've managed to meet and exceed this daily goal. I tell myself I will write for 1 hour and that in an hour I should be able to get 500 words done. I'm finding an hour gives me time to both think and write. So 500 words is truly feasible and I can usually crank out more. Also I can go longer if I am so inspired.

Today was the hardest and I think that is because I've been working on the same project each day. After an hour I was at 446 words and still not feeling it. So instead of quitting I switched to another project and flew through another 415 words in half an hour.

This process is teaching me some interesting lessons about my own writing habits.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Empty Nesting

Angel has always done things in his own time. If he wasn't ready to go it was murder trying to get him out of the house but if it was someplace he wanted to go--he was out the door like a jack rabbit.

It took me years to realize it was futile to force him to do something before he was ready. I remember one time I was watching him brush his teeth about a month before his third birthday. He was still in diapers in spite of my best efforts. I had tried everything and had nothing left. So that morning, when he was talking about his upcoming birthday, I simply told him that in fact most boys didn't wear diapers when they were three. He looked at me for a moment and said ok...after his birthday he'd stop wearing them. Sure enough his birthday came and diapers were a thing of the past.

You would think I could learn but I didn't. Instead I sent him to summer camp when he was ten. Neither one of us was ready and it didn't go well. (poor b got the brunt of that one). However the next year he was ready. He went to a different camp--one of his choosing--and had a ball. Fast forward a few years and Angel is in his last year of high school and accepted at the college of his choice. He decides he wants to defer a year and get some work experience. I agree but worry that he may never go. Well I think you know how this story ends.

I believe I mentioned that Angel is not coming home for Thanksgiving, opting to go visit his dad Up North instead. We were supposed to have him for Christmas and the winter break. However this week we have learned that he will be spending Christmas and most of the break in Costa Rica with 3 frat brothers. It is a great deal and a golden opportunity. Angel loves to travel, especially international travel, so he's very excited.

Out the door--like a jack rabbit.

b and I are trying to figure out how to be a childless couple. It seems particularly hard over the holidays.