Category Archives: Teaching

Heck. It’s Almost September

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For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  For students and teachers of every stripe, Late May is the Season of Rejoicing.  Or maybe June, if you live in an area with an extended school year.  For students and teachers of every stripe, Late August is the Season of Dismay.  There’s nothing an educator likes to see less in the daily paper than the big color flyers from Staples, Office Depot, and Target pumping the BACK TO SCHOOL SALES!!!  Take it from me:  every bit of dismay you felt upon seeing these as a child is fully echoed by those whose responsibility it is to educate.  Maybe even more so, because I distinctly recall holding a strong and persistent belief as a kid that somewhere in the Treasure Trove that was School Supplies IT could be found.  The pen that would not leave smears of ink down the outside edge of my left hand.  The spiral notebook that would organize all of my notes.  The highlighter that would find the most important parts of the handouts and notes and transfer them indelibly into my brain for later access on the exams.

Yes, like Dumbo, I was convinced that there was a magic feather of a school supply that would make the term interesting and easy.

As an educator, and as a Ph.D. with, let me count, 23 years of full-time studenthood under my belt, I now know better.  There is no app that will make my grading magically disappear without requiring hours and hours and hours of exhausting work.  There is no handout I can produce that will instantly and indelibly convey the knowledge to my students that this material is worth their interest, full attention, and dedication.  There is no planning calendar that will magically shrink the number of hours that have to be spent in meetings and dealing with administrative overhead.

Where the BACK TO SCHOOL SALES!!!! flyers formerly held the allure of unexplored potential, now they just mean one thing:  time to stop working at home in shorts and a t-shirt, and time to start hitting the road for a commute and putting on long pants with attention to which clothing items go with which others.

See, for college professors, “summer” doesn’t mean “stop working”.  It does mean “slow down working” which is awesome, because in the ordinary course of events when the term is on, we’re pulling 60 hour weeks on a very regular basis.  I remember, back in the Glory Days of my undergraduate career, thinking that “College Professor” had to be the best job ever, because you have, what, 3 classes per term, and they meet for 3 hours a week, and there’s another maybe 5 office hours, so that’s, what, 9 plus 5, a 14 hour workweek!!!! And winter break and summer  break off!!!  How much more awesome can you get?!?!?!

Well, I still think “College Professor” is the best job ever – right after “Independently Wealthy Philanthropist” – but it’s got nothing at all to do with short workweeks. Sometimes, honestly, I long for the days of being an underpaid receptionist, or dream of operating a forklift for a living, mainly because those jobs don’t follow you home.  “College Professor” – like “Small Business Owner” and “Entrepreneur” – is a 24/7 job that will basically expand to fill every minute you let it.  Having been an “Entrepreneur” as well, I’d say the main difference is that “College Professor” comes with a steady paycheck, and benefits like health insurance.  Otherwise, they’re pretty similar.  You’re largely self-directed…with the proviso that your self-direction had better align with some external party’s desire or you’re going to go out of business.  You manage your time for yourself…with the proviso that you frequently need to align with someone else’s schedule, be it a client, an employee, a class, or the faculty meeting.  You can do a lot of the work in your preferred clothes…but you occasionally have to put on the dress togs anyway.

And any time you take off, for yourself?  You will be paying for that later.

There’s a reason that Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs have a reputation for being driven.  They may not have started out that way (although lots of them have), but pretty soon you develop an incisive sense of the Opportunity Cost.  That’s an economic concept that refers to the cost of the foregone opportunities when you make a decision.  The Opportunity Cost of ordering the hamburger for lunch is that you forego the opportunity of ordering the cobb salad, the steak-and-eggs, the veggie burger, or the greek salad.  The Opportunity Cost of going to school is the wages you would be making if you stayed out of school and just worked, or the fun you would have if you just backpacked and panhandled your way across the country.  The Opportunity Cost of going to a baseball game is the picnic or the nap you won’t take in that time.

The Opportunity Cost of taking some time totally away from work is coming back and finding all that work you didn’t do piled up in front of you, and the money you didn’t make because you were out partying instead of bringing in new clients, providing services, or selling product.  Even if you have plenty of cash, that mountain of work acts as a powerful deterrent to taking large blocks of time off.

It’s the same for us College Professors.  Most of the work we do is never ever seen by the students.  In addition to the 14 hours or so of the obvious stuff that even I could figure out as a kid, there is a virtually endless series of meetings, advising, supervising internships, filling out paperwork, commuting, and more meetings.  That’s just the administrative overhead.  Beyond that, for every hour I teach in the classroom, there are about four hours of preparation, planning, retrenching, additional on-the-fly course development, and grading.  Not to mention that in these days of asynchronous and distributed work environments, I provide technical support to my students between 8am and 9pm, on a fairly continuous basis.  So that’s a pretty stiff workweek.

But wait, there’s more.  Research is the do-or-die for most academics.  It’s why we get Ph.D.s instead of satisfying ourselves with non-terminal degrees.  So, sliced up and wedged in every available time slot left over after the above list of tasks, is research activities.  Reading scholarly articles, coming up with ideas, collecting data, analyzing it, writing it, and then just when you think you’re done, beginning the long slog of the publications process, which involves sending articles out to journals to get reviewed by your peers, all of whom will have something critical to say about your paper that needs to be fixed before they’ll consider letting it get published.  This is actually pretty important if you want your academic field to have a body of reliable research, unlike, for example, 90% of what you see posted and reposted on Facebook or featured in the comments stream for any Yahoo! or New York Times article.  But wait, there’s even more:  the people reviewing your paper are peers…which means…other College Professors.  So, in addition to all this stuff previously enumerated, you are expected to critically read and review other people’s research on top of all the administrivia, teaching, and doing your own research.  And if you’re really good that that you might wind up working for a journal and managing that whole publication process.  You don’t get paid extra for any of this stuff, mind.  It’s volunteer.

That’s always the fun bit to explain to people, say, like my mother.  All that extra work, for no extra pay.  Why do it?  I’ve crafted many answers to this question over the years, but they always seem to devolve to “it’s important…but it’s hard to explain”.

So what about the big job perk of summers-off?  The only stuff here that is actually tied to the academic year is 1) spending 9 hours or so in the classroom, 2) answering student questions from 8am to 9pm, 3) the commute, and 4) the meetings (mostly).  Summer is for research and related activities, and for making new courses or fixing up your old ones.  And it can all be done in shorts and a t-shirt, at home.

So the end of summer break doesn’t mean a whole lot more work it just means some more work in less comfortable clothes.  With a commute thrown in.  And some really weird hours, if you’re like me, and wind up teaching at night.  It’s strange how much difference these little things make, though.  

I got whammied this year, too, because just as soon as we came back from the Annual Meeting (see last post) my computer died.  Or, rather, it’s still dying.  Something happened to it that makes it very unpredictable.  It could be awake and working for 45 minutes before it crashes…or 45 seconds.  No way to tell in advance.  This is not conducive to committing precious intellectual capital into that rickety structure, and since 100% of my work output is precious intellectual capital, it meant I couldn’t work.  Not for two weeks, until my new (reliable) computer arrived.

Yeah, I remember the good ol’ days when someone might say to me “Guess what! The system is shot and you can’t work for two weeks!  And you’ll still get paid!” and it would be cause for a major party.

But now?  Thanks to the Miracle of Opportunity Costs, I hear that same thing and I think “Dammit. No work for two weeks? At this time of the year?  Dammit.”

Now the new system is here, I’ve finally finished configuring it, transferring files, getting my appointment book and tasklist back, and most of the software I need is installed, and finally I can start addressing that whacking huge backlog of work that built up over my two-week enforced break.

Days like this, I hate being a grownup.

Armstrong Redwoods

This is my Happy Place today. It’s really the redwood forest outside of Guerneville, CA, but in my head, it’s a path leading to a place that has no computers, traffic, or long pants.

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Ten Minute Gripe.

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It hasn’t been the Week From Hell here.

It’s been the Week From Heck.

I think someone has put the Ancient Chinese Curse on me: May You Die the Death of a Thousand Paper Cuts.

Last week I learned from Vet Number Two that Huey’s “leg owie” is a suspensory injury.  This is not good. There are things that are worse, but this is sort of the Second Worst Common Thing that could happen.  We do not say the name of the First Worst Common Thing. It’s a five letter word, starts with the letter C.  Don’t any of you go saying that word either.

A suspensory injury, roughly considered, is like a leg sprain.  And like human leg sprains, there is a range of stuff that falls into that category…everything from the sprain I got last month when I was standing on slick round rocks in the ocean and discovered that the pinchy thing on my foot was not a piece of seaweed, as I had thought, but a small crab attempting to eat my toe. I screamed, of course, like I was about to die, levitated in the air, came back down and sprained my ankle on the landing.  The crab was at least as frightened as I was and probably still hasn’t dared emerge from under its rock.  So that was a pain, I had to ice it on the boat coming back, elevate it, and then wrap it, but I was also able to keep going.

On the other hand, there’s the sprain I got back in 1998 when I stepped “wrong” somehow off one stair tread onto another and heard (as did those around me) a pop like a gunshot and had my body explode into a burning red fire in which I was surprised to find a shower of golden fireworks.  I thought that sort of thing was limited to cartoons, but it was not.  There was no question of walking, limping, crutching, or any sort of independent personal ambulation for several days while my leg inflated like a black dirigible from the tips of my toes all the way up to my knee and my foot started to go numb.  I had to wear one of those ski-boot contraptions for three months for that one, and still have problems in that ankle.  In the words of my orthopedist at the time:  You would have been better off if you had broken your ankle.  For which I thanked him politely and said I would take that under consideration next time I decided to get injured.

Huey’s suspensory is like that.  His sprain is of the “I can get around mostly if I ignore the pain and swelling” type.  And while I, personally, am a huge fan of that perspective when it comes to my own body, I have zero tolerance for that in my horse.  I know exactly what happens when you don’t let ligaments rest long enough to heal properly.  I know this because I have that going in two ankles, one knee, a hip, and a wrist.  The good news is that I, personally, unlike my horse, don’t need to carry a large person around on my back while I’m running.

As it turns out, Huey also seems to be a huge fan of that when it comes to his body.  His line seems to be “Dammit, woman, I’m a horse, not a china figurine.”  He wants to be out and about, and this weekend, when I was working with him on the lead line at a walk he elected to demonstrate his perspective by launching himself into the air, all four feet off the ground, landing, throwing a buck, and trying to break into a canter.  Which, obviously, was not comfortable, because when I shrieked NOOOOO!!!  and then threw out the Blanket of Calm and instructed him to walk, he cooperated.  

The Thousand Paper Cuts on this one is that his vet went on vacation right about the time Vet Number Two ultrasounded his leg.  I’m a great rehab patient (other than constantly trying to push things for myself) because I prefer to have clear and detailed instructions about What To Do and I stick to that like a pin.   My number one concern with Huey right now is getting the swelling out of that leg.  Sooner the swelling goes, sooner the healing starts.  Vet Number Two suggested wrapping the limb with quilt batting and vetrap and pouring alcohol into this every evening.  Turns out Huey hates this.  Is it because it stings? He doesn’t have any open sores there.  Is it because he hates the feeling of the dripping down his leg?  Probably – he would stand there and stomp his foot (yikes) trying to knock the liquid out.  A week of this and he wasn’t appreciably better.  In the meantime, I collected advice from Vet Two, my trainer, and the horse’s chiropractor.  Unfortunately, none of it lined up neatly.  A lot of people suggested cold, but we’re talking a three week old injury at this point, and in people, I don’t think cold would be the main therapy.  But is that the same for horses?  How much cold? What else?  Is any exercise OK?  Does he have to stay in his stall?  Will that help, or will it make things worse in the long run?

I knew Vet Number One would be able to answer all of that definitively…but he was on vacation.  In the meantime, I had to do what I thought would not hurt but would not necessarily help and struggle against that powerless feeling of uncertainty.

In the meantime, hipsters have been infesting my lawn.  I came home from one trip to the barn to find one of them (hipsters) sitting in what I suspect was intended to be a Romantic State, picking a guitar in a Disconsolate Way, or possibly a Romantic Way, or possibly a Poetic Way.  I don’t know.  I did wonder who we was expecting to impress with this behavior, and hoped that she or he would pass by soon and bring this drippy scene to an end.  None of us had any luck, evidently, because it continued for another two hours.  Really.  I found myself thinking “Don’t you have a job?” like I was a 70 year old curmudgeon.  I also found myself thinking “You kids get off my lawn!” like a different 70 year old curmudgeon.

I have never, ever, in my entire life, had such an overwhelming urge to hurl a water balloon at someone.  Ever.  If this turns into a regular thing, I am totally going to start keeping balloons on hand.

The hipsters have also been picking flowers from my rose bushes, Dumpster Diving in our trash can, hanging out and talking loudly into the night every night, and last night I was awakened at 3am by one of them wailing in a disconsolate manner “Where is my paperwork?” over and over and over and over at the top of her lungs.  Talk about a Scene of Existential Angst.  I felt that she ought to meet our Lawn Guitar Guy.  They could be angsty together.

Woke me out of a dead sleep, that did.  There was someone with her, talking a great deal more quietly.  I was on my way to get the phone to alert the police to this disturbance – I mean, it was LOUD – when I could hear Party of the Second Part quite a bit more clearly and realized that he was the police, and was escorting this individual into the cop car and taking her away.

In the meantime, the school term has swung into high gear for me.  I’m teaching a couple of graduate courses, mostly on line, but there are some class meetings, the first of which was Tuesday.

Now, we have some ongoing IT Issues at my school, the result of which is that this term, we’ve both changed the learning tech platform and the platform for recording in the classroom.  I won’t say anything more about this other than just that change is responsible for approximately 750 of the 1,000 Paper Cuts.

Compounding this, I got a call from Roy on Tuesday about ten minutes before I headed out to go teach my first class.  This will come as a surprise, I think, but a lot of professors get serious stage fright and cold feet when it comes to actually standing up in the classroom and talking.  This is a major occupational hazard, for some reason.  Roy gets it really bad.  For the week before the term, he reminds me of nothing more than Alan Rickman playing Alexander Dane in GalaxyQuest, when he flies into a state of Existential Despair right before heading out to address the fen at a con.

I don’t have this issue.  Give me 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 2 hours, I can happily go up and Address the Masses and never worry at all about what I’m going to say, how I’m going to keep track of time, or any of that stuff.  It’s not like you’re asking me to stand up in front of an audience of two and sing for pete’s sake.  That prospect is absolutely petrifying.

So I don’t have stage fright, but I did need to get organized and go back over the directions for using the recording software in the classroom, because a lot of my students take the class 100% online, and if I blow it with the recording computer, they miss the lecture.  Not fair.

In the middle of this, my cell phone rings, and it’s Roy.  Foolishly I chose to answer it.  “Uh,” he said. “A big piece of the ceiling just fell down.  I thought you would want to know.”

And then he waited.

What?!?!  What?!?!?!  What?!?!?!

I finally found my words:  “How big?”

Answer: “about a foot”

Next words: “Is it wet?

Answer: “I don’t know.  I’ll go check and call you back.”

Now, under ordinary circumstances, there is nothing I like more than dealing with the need to either perform household repairs or find someone to do so.

Not.

Why not?  I don’t mind doing things myself, if I can, but in this area, contractors don’t call you back.

You’d think that when you call a business and leave a message to the tune of “I would like to give you some money” that this would elicit some return interest.

Not here, mateys.

Here, you can grow old and die and mummify if you wait for someone to call you back.

Here, you have to nag.

I don’t like nagging.  I have much more interesting things to do with my time.

And, trust me, this is my problem.  Roy and I have a fantastic division of labor in the house.  He’s got the routine stuff like dirty laundry, dishes, and taking out trash and recycling locked down like a pro.  Overflowing toilets, sticky doors, HVAC filters, routine major maintenance, chimney sweeping, and chunks of plaster falling out of the sky live in my domain.

So there I am, ten minutes before class, now worrying both about the recording software and about the prospect of coming home to find a massive patch of lath exposed on the ceiling of my 115 year old rowhouse.

Fortunately, the recording came off just fine, and when I returned home, I found that “a big chunk of plaster” was actually a smallish-section of popcorn finish that had peeled off of the plaster ceiling, which remained intact.  No plaster, no lath.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that more of this finish is going to be peeling off in the near future, and in the process of researching WTF on that, I learned a new word: calcimine.

It’s a special pain in the ass thing they cooked up in the early part of the 20th century.  Not as much of a pain in the ass as lead paint.  But on that same spectrum.  Look it up if you’re interested.  I have to go nag my painting contractor for a bid.  And put another full layer of bandaids on the 999 paper cuts I”ve collected already.

Canada Falls

Here’s one of my pictures of Niagara Falls, because it’s turning out to be one of those weeks.

The Horns of A Dilemma

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Not my dilemma, and possibly not a true dilemma at all, but certainly a philosophical question…

Earlier, I read a brief account of the shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  I remember when the song came out – I was a kid, but I understood it well enough to know that this was a very serious story being told in the music.  Even then I understood that most of the shipwreck songs I’d ever heard were either fictional, or wrecks that happened many, many years before…whereas this wreck happened in the now.  The message I got, at the ripe age of 9, was that terrible things happen now, to real people, in real time, not in the dusty annals of the history books.  It was the first time I’d seen myself in any sense as a participant in the continuum of history.  That’s an important moment, that is.  It’s where you get a past, and where the people and things you see get a past, and where we all – me, you, them, it – get a future.

So as I read that account tonight, I wondered whether it was known what happened to that ship, and came across this while attempting to answer the question.  I find the song still hooks me in, and seeing the footage of the actual ship both above and below the waves brought back that sense of being an actor in a common history with freshness.  Whatever it is, it can happen here.

In any event, YouTube kindly provided a handy list of Other Stuff I Might Be Interested In on the side, which lead me to a weird journey through the music of the mid 1970s.  I had extremely questionable musical taste at age 9, which is to say terrible musical taste at age 9.   Sammy Davis’ “The Candyman” is, regrettably, the least of it.  The worst of it may be “Seasons in the Sun” which always choked me up, what with that wordly sensibility and awareness of death that you have before you’ve seen your tenth year.  The shlock…oh, the humanity of it… urgh.  Somewhere in there, I even ran across my Very Favorite Song from 1976:  “Afternoon Delight”.  I loved that song.  I loved when it came on the radio, and insisted on singing right along with it, every time.

From my middle-aged perspective I can only wonder at the vision of a 9 year old belting out a disco tune about nookie.  As far as I was concerned, the song was about a fireworks display, and fireworks are on my personal short list of Best Things Ever.  I remember wondering how anyone would be able to see the fireworks in the afternoon, it being light out at that hour and all.

At quite-nearly 45, this scenario would absolutely make my morning and wind up in a Facebook post.  Or here, in the blog.  It’s odd to see myself out of two very different sets of eyes, that’s for certain. But it is not, however, the dilemma that led me to write at this hour.  One of the links so helpfully suggested by YouTube was to this prize:

Now, this song is a vast improvement over the other guilty YouTube pleasures in which I’ve been indulging, but – even though I do know all of the words to American Pie (another tune I belted out along to the radio, with verve) – “Vincent” is my favorite of Don McLean’s. There isn’t anything I can say about Van Gogh that hasn’t already been said, or that can be conveyed by even 30 seconds spent in the company of one of his originals.

And yet, this presentation, coupled with this song, was able to take my breath away.

I am coming to the belief that there is some vital relationship between mental illness and genius – not that all mentally ill individuals are artistic geniuses, but most of the artistic geniuses also seem to have chronic problems with mental illness.  I don’t understand this link, if there indeed is a link.  I do know that there is a negative correlation between my general mood and my output of fine art (not including photography or writing).  And this is where the dilemma is to be found: if a fairy, or demon, or god, or manitou, or other Being With Supernatural Powers appeared and offered a choice:

1. Have a long happy life, and create the sort of art that will be enjoyed briefly yet instantly forgotten.

OR

2. Have a short life filled with tortured thoughts and unhappiness, and create one of the greatest troves of fine art that has ever been or will ever be known to mankind and continue to powerfully affect millions, if not billions, of humans for centuries after your short, tragic life has ended.

It’s just as well no entity endowed with supernatural powers has arrived to give me this choice, because I’m not at all certain how I would answer it.  In fact, the longer I think on it, the harder it becomes.  To think, to dream, perchance to die.  To live like the butterfly, here for a second and then gone for all eternity?  Or to sacrifice that one life for such a legacy?  What is it worth?  Would it become easier to make that decision if I knew with certainty how magnificent and lasting the legacy would be?

I don’t know.

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And the really immediate and burning philosophical question: How did I get to this existential point by way of Sammy Davis Jr and the Starland Vocal Band?
Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight, gonna grab some Afternoon Delight…

 

And You May Ask Yourself: How Did I Get Here?

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And you may ask yourself: How do I work this?

And you may tell yourself: That is not my beautiful house!

Once again, I find myself taking Philosophical Inspiration from David Byrne and the Talking Heads, and thus, I suppose, giving away my position as the vanguard for Generation X.

Now, Huey has had a lot of time on the blog, lately, well, because he lives in a world of such Exceptionable Drama we might as well make a soap opera out of it.  Grey’s Anatomy has nothing, I repeat nothing on the naked, thrilling excitement of Life At The Barn.  It is abundantly clear to me, as I develop my relationship with him, that he sees the world in ALL CAPS, italics, and a virtually endless supply of !!!!!.  In fact, I would hazard the guess that every third thought that crosses his brain is comprised entirely of “!!!!”.

Lest anyone get the idea that this is Horses, in general, I assure you that there are many horses in the barn that do not think primarily in ALL CAPS!!!!!!  In fact, the only other horses I can think of at the barn that have a tendency to think in ALL CAPS!!!! are all young mares…and when I say “young” I mean “young enough to be new to that whole ‘saddle’ thing”.  Huey, as we all know, is not “young” by any stretch.

No.  He is Sensitive.  Or, possibly, sensitive. Or, really, he is SENSITIVE!!!!

Don’t get me wrong.  I adore Huey.  It’s not exactly that He Can Do No Wrong In My Eyes, because he does stuff of which I disapprove all the time.  It’s just that I don’t consider that doing that stuff…detracts…from him in any way.  He’s a freaking Drama Queen. No, I don’t mean Drama King.  I don’t even know what a Drama King would be.  He is definitely a Drama Queen.  He shares that with his step-daddy, Roy, by the way.  He is also, I regret to say, a bully.  This, he shares with his step-brother Buster Kitty, also a first-class bully.  He’s excessively Sensitive.  All that stuff about getting shocked by the blanket?  Just so you all know, we’re talking about the tiniest possible transfer of static electricity.  I mean, we’re talking about the kind of static electricity you get when you brush your hair when it’s dry and cold out.  All those little crackles that you can’t really even feel?

That’s what he’s freaking out about when he starts going off about getting ZAPPED (note the Drama!!!!) and blatting through his nose and frowning – my trainer says horses don’t have the muscles to frown, and I believe that, but I really don’t know how else to characterize the puckered look he gets on his face when he’s pissed off that someone has just delivered the tiniest possible static charge to him.  Oh, yeah, I can’t forget:  he is a veritable Master of the Stink Eye.

Some days, I feel like I haven’t really Lived unless I’ve gotten the Stink Eye from Huey.

I prefer not getting the Stink Eye, just like any parent.  It’s one thing to say that if your kids don’t hate you, you’re not doing your job (kind of true); it’s another thing to do stuff knowing that you’re going to be getting some bloody great hissy fit and the Stink Eye, combined with a lot of sulking.

It’s amazing how loud a hairy 1,200lb quadruped can sulk, too.  You parents of human children?  You don’t know sulking until you’ve been subjected to something the approximate size of a Prius sulking. at. you. as. loudly. as. it. can.  Geez.  I can almost – not quite, but almost – understand the (horse) parents who put up with infinitely escalating Bad Behavior on the part of their kids, just because they can’t stand the thought of dealing with Yet Another Epic Sulking Fit.

Almost, I say.  Because with kids, you put up with that stuff, eventually, you wind up with a hormone-charged death machine wanting to borrow the keys of the car, or getting into fights on the playground.

With horses, you put up with that stuff, eventually, you wind up with a hair-trigger stampeding death machine vaulting out from under you as you sit five feet above ground.

Notice, I don’t say “and getting into fights on the playground.”

I speak from Experience.  I donot put up with Bad Behavior from my horse.  Or, not very much, and only until I learn from the Wiser Heads that surround me at the barn how best to Put A Stop To That Nonsense.  Huey, for example, had the extremely bad habit ofcharging into and out of his stall, like he thought that the stall door was a Hell Mouth that was ready and primed to close around his juicy, soft, sweet Horse Belly.  He did this to me twice.  The first time, I was surprised, and green, and didn’t take action on it, because all I could think was “What the heck just happened there?”

Also, he wasn’t mine then, either.

The second time he tried that stuff, he was mine, and I was ready for it.  And Mr. Sensitive (aka Mr. Panicky And Imperious) found himself getting repeatedly backed up the barn aisle until the penny dropped that I Was NOT Going To Stand For That.  And, really, that’s the last time I had that problem.  The only issue I have with My. Imperious coming out of his stall is that there is typically a bale of hay parked in the vicinity for the convenience of the Barn Owner, and he considers that to be his Private Salad Bar.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, my grandma always said, and she was right.  I just assume he’s going to make a bid for the hay, and I make sure to be in the way.  Voila.  No trouble there.  It keeps me on my toes, or whatever the mental equivalent of my toes is, but hey, I’m OK with that.

And the grass, and the carrots, and the fact that he wants to pick fights with every other gelding in the barn, and that whole phase we went through for a month where he didn’t feel like going in the halter, and the way he doesn’t feel like going into the round pen to lunge, and, and, and…

I spend a lot of time with Huey thinking “I can’t believe this is my horse.”

Most of the time, it’s “I can’t believe this awesome horse is my awesome horse.”

But, honestly, some of the time, it’s “I can’t believe this fractious, imperious, demanding, hypersensitive, drama queen of a horse is my horse.”

The accumulated wisdom of the web (which is actually significant, when it comes to the Horse Community) would seem to indicate that the Perfect First Horse is some bombproof, totally seasoned, totally trained, mellow, older horse that has Seen And Done It All.  Some horse that is the next thing to impossible to spook, some horse that alreadyknows all the moves, some horse that is laid back.

While Huey is…seasoned…it’s “seasoned” to very high levels of high-pressure competition.  He’s older, all right, and he’s Seen And Done It All, if by “All” you mean “some serious competition in a rollicking adrenaline-soaked racket over some jumps of a height that any individual with a sense of self-preservation would look at them and head the other direction.”  Bombproof?  As long as he doesn’t get distracted, startled, or have his Competitive Instincts stirred up by the presence of Any Other Horse. Trained? If you want to use him to leap over tall buildings in a single bound.  Knows all the moves?  Translation: Requires active higher-reasoning skills in order to stay one step in front of.

In short, he’s not your…typical…first…horse.  He’s more…an Adventure on Four Feet.  A Thrilling Companion.  One that is happy to cede Leadership of the Troupe…as long as the Right to hold that leadership is demonstrated definitively…every five to ten minutes.

I wouldnever have him in my backyard, even if my backyard was bigger than his stall, which it’s not.  This is a horse to have and keep when there are seasoned, wiser, experienced individuals about.

And, speaking of those Seasoned, Wiser, Experienced Individuals, I found out this morning that Huey has been trying his rubbish when I’m not there.  He knows perfectly well that he is not I repeat NOT allowed to run me over or shoulder, intimidate, or otherwise pressure me physically when I am taking him in or out of his stall.  I gather, based on my latest Parent-Teacher Conference, that he is not nearly so confident in his understanding of this matter with regards to other individuals who handle him at the barn. For example, he exercised the Very Poor Judgment this morning of trying that stuff on the Barn Owner.  The Barn Owner is the only individual that is sufficiently significant in Huey’s world to have a Name.  In general, he regards her as being some kind of Supreme Being.  Not so Supreme, I should note, that when she’s doing some training with him in the round pen, that he has both ears plastered to her – he always has one on her, and one on me, as if I’m going to write him some kind of Excuse Note to get him off of his classwork.

So I was very surprised this morning when the Barn Owner mentioned that Huey had been Very Naughty that morning, and that she’d had to spank him (or the Horse Training Equivalent thereof).  I was grooming Himself in the cross ties, and she stopped to chat.  This isn’t uncommon, but this time, it started out “He was really naughty this morning.” and as I said “What did he do!” I noticed that he had craned his head around to fix his eye on both of us, and that eye was…Wild.  It was rolling, and it had a lot of white.

Now, this is very interesting, because he’s used to a lot of chatter – including a lot of chatter about him – going on while I’m grooming him.  But this time, with the whites? I only wish I’d had a camera.

That little bugger knew that 1) we were talking about him, and 2) that it was a Parent-Teacher Conference.  He knew he was getting tattled on.  It was extraordinary, that look.

I wish I could say I was surprised that he was Acting Out around the barn staff, but I’m not that naive.  I was very glad to hear that the Barn Owner had dealt with the situation definitively.  I really do not see that the barn staff should have to put up with anything like that.  Problem is, what Mr. Super Smart Horse learns is not “This behavior is Not OK” what he learns is “I cannot get away with this behavior around X, Y, or Z.”  And anyone else?

Fair Game.

And you may tell yourself: How did I wind up with the kid that beats up the other kids on the playground, and cuts up in the classroom as soon as the teacher’s back is turned, but behaves like an angel at home?

I don’t know.  I am horrified, sometimes, to realize that my kid is the one that beats up all the others.  My kid is the one that mouths off to the teacher.  He doesn’t do that stuff at home, but he’s constantly looking to see who he can get away with that stuff.

And the days go by…let the water hold me down…

I can understand where anyone reading this blog gets the idea that the only thing I ever do is horses.

Not true.

Once in a lifetime…water flowing underground.

I’m almost done with the term.  When I was an undergraduate, I would have lived for the summer break, except that the summer break was when I tended to the businesses I was running in order to round up some cash to go to school.  I didn’t have a lot of “break” when I was a student…working a 40-hour-per-week job while attending night classes at a school 30 miles away doesn’t leave a lot of “break” time.  Basically, my “break” was when I got to just work 40 hours a week like every other person, instead of having to schedule, organize, and plan every freaking second of my (all too short) waking hours.  Graduate school wasn’t any better – we had classes all summer, and more.  Research. Work.

As a Young Faculty member, it hasn’t been much different.  Summer is when you do a lot of research.  Or – for the last five freaking years for me, it’s when you mess with your classes.  Every summer for the last five years has been spent building some class that I was going to teach for the first time, ever, in the coming academic year.

This is a vast amount of work.  Until you’ve done it, you have no idea.  And to those of you who haven’t, I have no way of explaining.  There’s no frame of reference.

A lot of students, I think – and I used to be among them, which is how I know – think that professors work…maybe 9 hours per week teaching, and another 5 hours per week in office hours.  Total of 14 hours per week.

I had the great and rare experience this past week of an advisee dropping by to share some very good news about her progress in a class (which I love to hear) and telling me that “well, there’s all this stuff that goes on behind the scenes! Professors work a TON of hours when school is in session!”

Which is true.  It’s at least a 60 hour per week job, what with course planning, grading, and answering the (to date) 457 e-mails from students (just this term) and the online discussion forum (which has, at this moment, 242 messages, all of which I’ve had to read, many of which I’ve had to respond to.  Oh, yeah, and there’s the administrative stuff. OH YEAH, AND THE RESEARCH.

The thing is, this is the first time in 15 years that I’ve had an undergrad standing in my office going “Yeah, I can’t believe how much work professors have to put in.”

I didn’t ask her – and should have – how many professors she’s got in the family.  Because I can’t think of any other way that she would know.

And you may ask yourself: Where is that large automobile?

As long as I’m feeling like I’m living in a foreign country, what with Being The Mom Of  A Bully and Having Undergrads Who Grasp The Amount Of Work We Professors Put In, I’ll close with some True News of the Weird.

I take my Hometown Paper.  It’s been published, continuously, for over 225 years.  That, alone, is enough to qualify: And you may find yourself, in another part of the world.

There ain’t anything been going on in Texas for 225 years, except maybe a few Indian mounds.  And maybe the evolution of Tex-Mex.  But newspapers? Houses? No. Nothing of that vintage where I come from.

I started taking my Hometown Paper when I became a Property Owner.  My diehard spouse, the Redoubtable Roy, takes the Sunday New York Times.  I, however, felt that the Sunday Times was going to offer little or no insight on stuff that affects my Property Values.  Zoning stuff.  Information about the Paving Backlog.  That kind of Important Thing.  And I’m right, and I do, all the time, find myself in the position of saying to Roy “Oh, yeah, of course [thing is going on], I read about that in the Gazette.”

If the Gazette published a daily listing of Traffic Construction Sites around town, my life would truly be complete.

As it is, I get the General News:  I know, for example, to expect the construction on the Controversial Look Park Roundabout this week – to fix cracks in the brickwork that was installed improperly by State Crews and has been disrupted by the Eighteen-Wheel Crowd – and I also know that the state is footing the bill for this.  It gives me a Warm Feeling in the belly to know this stuff.

But what I wish to close with today is that vision of the Friday Circular, which lists (the actually quite tremendous and impressive) scope of Cultural Activities, and includes, as a Human Interest Feature, the “Style Stop.”  I don’t know where to start with the Style Stop.  It always seems to be photographed in the same place, and my conclusion is that either the Style Stop Editor engages in some recreational drug use behind the city parking garage and then finds someone “funky” to snap…or that this chore is delegated to the city-approved panhandler who flashes his license at you before launching into his Panhandling Pitch.  In any case, this week’s photo features an older guy, wearing a pair of sunglasses, a bandanna wrapped around his head, a pair of faded, stained denim overalls, a wife-beater shirt, and a tattooed arm.  The Style Stop Editor refers to this as a “look” that is “casual, but put together.”

I will reproduce here, the salient features of the ensuing interview.

The Overalls: I wear them so my pants don’t fall down.

Undershirt: Sleeves just kind of get in the way.

Bandanna: So I don’t get sunburned on my bald spot.

It goes on from there.  All I can think is what fun this Style Spot Editor would have with 90% of my Homies from Texas.  Warm it up, crew, and when you visit me next, we’ll loiter, and you can be the next “casual, but put together” style feature in the paper.

And you may tell yourself: My God, What Have I Done?

Woman in Window

I think it's time to go back to Italy. This place is just getting too weird. Only, I don't want to piss off the horse. It's a quandary...

We’re in Fiddlehead, Asparagus, and Morel Season now.  The local morels are way more full of sand than the ones I’m used to from Madison.  It’s nasty.  No matter how long I soak the buggers, they’re still full of grit when I finish cooking them.  Ugh. So here’s a fiddlehead recipe, for those of you lucky enough to be near some place where fiddleheads get wildcrafted:

Fiddlehead Pasta

1 lb capellini
1 lb fiddleheads
2 scallions, sliced thin
olive oil
1 T white truffle oil
quantity of Tony Chachere (if you don’t know what this is, it means you should buy some online)

Wash the fiddleheads, then boil 5 minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water.
Boil the pasta 5 minutes, then drain.
Heat the olive oil, saute the fiddleheads and scallions for a couple of minutes.
Toss the pasta with the truffle oil, salt, pepper, and a good shaking of Tony Chachere. Toss the seasoned pasta in with the fiddleheads. Serve with plenty of fresh-grated parmesan. No, really, buy the big block of stuff and grate it in your food process. The previously-grated stuff in the tub or bag just doesn’t do justice to these fiddleheads. They’re only around for three weeks for pete’s sake. Get the good cheese.
Enough for 4.

Learn Something New Every Day…

Standard

What I have learned this week:

I learned to canter!!!

I learned that I get extremely cranky when I can’t ski in the winter, and that goes double for not being able to ski because I have a cold.  Clearly there are some kind of brain chemicals involved when I ski.  Probably the same ones that get released when a junkie shoots up a fresh load of smack.

I learned that I hate the college textbook publishing industry.  They ought not to be releasing new editions unless there is something substantive that has changed.  “Needing to update the year from 2009 to 2012 in the homework problems” does not constitute a “substantive change”.  These books are absurdly expensive – no more so now than when I was in school, after you take changes in the CPI into consideration – but when I was a student, I just had to pretend I was paying for my books with Monopoly Money, because if I stopped to think about the opportunity costs of my textbook bill…all of the other things that money could buy, like an entire month’s rent on my apartment, for example…I just wanted to faint.  Or vomit.  Or buy a hatchet and go on a rampage.  Or, maybe, just burst into tears and jump up and down screaming.  Now, at least, there’s a slightly cheaper option for students who are willing to read the book online.  And I mean “slightly” cheaper.  It’s still an affront.

I learned that the Agony of the New Edition isn’t something that just affects students and their wallets.  I just had to go through my entire course, item by item, reading the entire bloody book again from start to finish – and let me tell you, Intermediate Accounting doesn’t yield a light or enjoyable “read” – to make sure that my notes, examples, etc. still jive with the book.  At least, thanks to the URI from Hell, I didn’t have to miss out on any skiing to do it.  The truly annoying thing about all this is that I knew 1) that there cannot have been any substantive changes, because the Financial Accounting Standards Board hasn’t released any new important updates that affect the course content – so any changes I did meet were going to be 100% superficial, and 2) that the Financial Accounting Standards Board is sitting on an important update that is definitely going to affect the course content, and as soon as they get their act together, it’s going to mean another damned edition.  And that one is just going to emphasize that this one was totally pointless.  So the students have to shuck out bucks for a brand-new textbook instead of a used one, and there’s not any really good point to it, other than greed.  Blasted idiots.

I learned that not being able to ski makes me cranky, that goes double for a wicked bad head cold being the reason, and it goes TRIPLE for adding pointless, useless major work projects on top of it.

That takes care of what I learned Sunday through Thursday.

On Friday,

I learned that horses know who is supposed to be on the farm, and when.  The drive hadn’t yet been plowed out when I arrived to meet the Farrier of the Gods.  I drove down the road to a pull-out and hiked back in.  The horses that have runouts on their stalls were all outside, and gave me deeply suspicious looks.  If they had been dogs, they’d have been barking.  And, like dogs, once I called them by name and let them sniff my hand, they remembered that I am a Known Individual, and that my presence there at that hour was not a Threat, just an Irregularity.

I learned that Huey the Wonder Horse wakes up in a good mood.  The barn was still dark when I slipped in, and I left it that way.  Huey knew I was there, and while he knew that this was not a normal time for me to be there, he was happy about it anyway.  God, I love that horse.  He came and stood by the stable wall so I could give him a great big long lovely scratch on the neck.  Then he let me play with his lips and his nose, which he usually doesn’t do.  But I loved it.  I got to tickle his lip and make it pointy without him deciding that my fingers might be carrots and that he needed to investigate with his teeth.  We just hung out for about a half hour like that.  It was the best half-hour of the week, and that includes the bit later on where I got to go skiing, and that says A Lot.

I learned that Huey’s feet are in very good condition, and that the Farrier of the Gods has a more sophisticated understanding of the angles on his right front hoof.  He thinks that the angle issue is suspensory, not intrinsic to the hoof.  This is good and it is not good.  If he were showing lame, it would be very bad. I also learned that the shoes he had on before were far too small, although the FOTG said he could understand the temptation to make them that way given the configuration of Huey’s feet.  Action Plan A is to put on shoes of the proper size in the spring, and see how that goes, before tinkering with anything.

I also learned that dogs think Hoof Shavings are a Super Tasty Treat.

I learned that my instincts not to drive into a snow squall or to get a lift ticket when there’s a high wind advisory are good. And I learned this the Easy Way, by going with them rather than the Hard Way, by ignoring them and Coming To Grief.

On Saturday,

I learned that I can lunge my horse in the snow, if it’s the right kind of snow.

I learned that my horse, while being lunged on the snow, can maintain a working trot while dragging his muzzle through the snow in order to scoop it up and eat it.  When I learned that, I started to laugh, and said “Huey!” and he stopped, raised his head to look at me like “What?” and had his muzzle totally coated with snow.  It was so silly I nearly fell over, I was laughing so hard.  So I also learned that my horse likes to eat snow.

I learned that the suspensory thing the FOTG noted is probably right, since the equine chiropractor noted it too (and gave me some good stretches to do with him to improve it).

I learned that wherever Huey the Wonder Horse was before, he got chiropractic adjustments.  The only bit he quibbled with was the neck adjustments, because he was tender there (and I knew he was).  I got to watch the chiro do an adjustment on a skittery horse (and I got to hold the lead rope to keep him from going nuts or backing into the wheelbarrow).  She didn’t push him, but managed to sneak it in around the edges until the penny dropped for him.  You could see something very like “Hey! Don’t do that! It’s uncom…oh, hey! That feels so much better! Do it again!” pass through his mind.  When I left him off in the paddock, he was curling himself around.  I had no experience at all with equine chiropractors (and I was fervently hoping I wouldn’t be subjected to some kind of snake oil thing) but I am impressed.  I’m impressed with the outcome – he was clearly moving better than he had been – and I’m impressed with the chiro herself, who did not make it all out to be skeletal and want to come 3x per week or something equally unsustainable.  No, she laid some things down to skeletal, some to muscular, recommended equine massage as a post-chiro treatment (said having it done before would make her job easier, but having it done after would be better for the horse), gave me a program of stretches to work on with him, and suggested hooking up again in 8 weeks.  Totally reasonable, I thought.

I learned that the little neighborhood ski area that is located a good 40 minutes away from any hotel isn’t crowded, even when it’s Saturday afternoon of MLK weekend and we’ve just had our first major snowstorm of the year and it’s powder.

I also learned that even though I’m totally used to skiing on powder skis, I don’t know a damned thing about skiing on actual powder.  It’s clear I’m going to have to take a lesson on that, but given the sparsity of Powder Days in New England, it may take a while.  In the meantime, I stick to the groomers.

I learned the size of the yawning gulf between the Skier I Am Today and the Skier of Yesteryear.  As in, this time, last year.  I went down a run that I distinctly remember totally intimidating me when I went to this ski area for the first time in mid-January of 2011.  I clearly remembered spending a lot of my time on that run thinking “Holy shit!! How am I going to do that?”  Only, yesterday, I couldn’t find those spots on the run.  And I was looking for them.  And the other run I did that day, a big sweeping drop-off to the base, that seemed like it was a mile long and straight down before? Yesterday, it was a nice sweeping expanse of badly-groomed packed powder (the grooming team at this ski area sucks) that would be perfect for doing some big GS carving turns on my powder skis (yes, they can, yes, I do.  It takes more effort than it would on an all-mountain or a carver, but it can still be done).  I bombed down it three times before departing for other territory.

And then, without a map, and without any more information than what I could get from a lift-buddy (the top of the run is in great condition, the bottom, after the cutoff, is kind of scraped up) I hared off onto runs that I didn’t know anything about.  Well, “anything other than that they’re not double-black diamonds and covered with icy moguls” that is, because I am Adventurous, not Insane.  It was a great run, too.  And I got to the cutoff, where I could go back to a big fat groomer…or I could go straight onto the part of the run described as “kind of scraped up”.  I regarded it.  There wasn’t a lot of potential for being badly scraped up, because this was obviously a difficult run, and “badly scraped up” is something that really only happens to easy runs that have a lot of novices on them.  And there was no way that a sane, sober novice would even have thought briefly about going down this run.  A drunk lunatic novice, yes, but fortunately, there aren’t many of those, and they tend to be Self-Limiting Phenomena anyway.\

This run just dropped right away under my feet.  It was marked a “blue” (intermediate difficulty for this particular hill) but it reminded me a lot of portions of the “black” (advanced/expert difficulty runs) back at my Home Mountain.  And I’ve taken those.  And conditions were good. And, in the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “sometimes you gotta say what the f***.”  So I said “What the f***” and headed down.  Yeah, some portions were a little scraped off, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t deal with.  And the rest of it was great, and I did it in good style.

And that’s when I learned the best thing of Saturday:  I’m a very good skier.  Not a great skier.  Not an expert.  But I’m good enough to ski the mountain and not worry about what’s on the trail because I’ll be able to deal with it when I get there.   Bumps?  Hate them if they are huge, hard, and icy, love them if they’re soft and fluffy.  But I can deal either way.  Ice?  I hate it – I mean, I really hate it, but I can deal with it when it shows up.  Boilerplate?  Not a fan, but I know what to do.  And I know how to minimize any of that stuff by skiing the margin, and I don’t worry about running off into the trees or falling off the side. I don’t go unescorted down blacks, because steep and huge hard icy bumps is something I want to avoid entirely, but most of the mountains here are blues, and I rock the blues.  Time for another ski lesson, I think, because it only gets better from here.

I remember when this was all snow. Oh, wait. It IS all snow now. Better get back out to the hill...as soon as the windchills rise above zero, that is.