Saturday, February 28, 2009

I still worry about the post office

I DO worry about the post office. I have been trying to think of things to mail, with more frequency. I know this sounds like 'all talk' from a person who has stopped mailing birthday cards to people with birthdays in the double digits & Christmas cards all together.

About that, really when did birthdays become this THING? I used to be stunned, Stunned when co-workers would tell me that would not be in the office because they always took their birthdays as a personal day (my favorite was a roommate who thought I should take the day as well so we could celebrate; I celebrated by getting paid for my hourly job). Everyone is entitled to use their personal days & everyone should take them but really, some generic recurring day every year? The type-setter I worked with who always took Opening Day at Yankee Stadium every year made more sense & I think Major League Baseball is a scam. I was born without the birthday chip, I guess.

Sooooo, the post office. Not just to benefit the post office (I get something out of too), I organized a quilt block swap & have been really happy with how things went. Due this past week were yellow & blue w/optional white, 6.5" unfinished 9-patches of any kind. We had one person who has a different understanding of yellow & another who really needs a new ruler, but mostly it was OKay. & the post office made, by my guesstimation in the ballpark of $40. It is not much, but it is more than if we had not done the swap.

The swap went so well, actually we have another pending (due the end of April). 6.5" unfinished/6" finished) 4 patch of any kind. The colors are tone -on-tone (light blue with dark blue OR dark green with light green, etc. with white). In theory you will use at least three different fabrics but sometimes the light & dark (& white) can be found in fussy0cuts of the same fabric.

If you are interested send me an e-mail or leave a message here & I will send the complete info (where to mail, deadline etc.).

For those of you who think I am insane, the US Post Office employs approximately 685,000 people, most of them here in the US (there are a handful of employees associated with embassies & actions overseas but by & large this is domestic employment & throughout the country. The post office has large centralized hubs, but employees are spread throughout every major & most minor cities in this country). By comparison, GM (the largest employment-wise of the Big 3) employs approximately 266,000 people worldwide. I could not find the statistic for how many employed within the US, but there are at least of this worldwide count 20,000 in Ontario, Canada. I could not locate anything other than projections for GM's employment numbers in Mexico. I cannot help it, I am more worried about the US Post Office than I am GM & I think maybe other people should be, too.

& yes, I do realize one 20-30 person quilt block swap every other month is not life & death for my litle local post office, but something is happening down there; they have gotten so busy they have added extra pick-ups all five days a week, extended their window hours to 4:30pm weekdays & are getting ready for seed, chick, & other farm-type mailing that should hit the first week of March & continue to the end of May. Family farms are doing what they can for their local post office, are you?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Porphyry of Gaza

Was it Ray Bradbury who wrote in a short story that the person most suited to be leader was the one who needed to be dragged into office, kicking & screaming?

Porphyry was born in Greece & lived largely in isolation until, in his 40s (a ripe old age for the fourth century) he was ordained as a priest in Jerusalem. Things went quickly downhill from there.

Previously, he had been happy working among the poor & disenfranchised (when he spent anytime with people at all). After becoming a priest, though he started to mix with a different class of people. They ultimately kidnapped him & forced him to become the Bishop of Gaza (that's his story, anyhow). Among his first tasks in office was to explain what he was going to do about the drought he was accused of causing by the local, majority pagans. Then weather patterns changed, it rained & everyone settled down until next time.

I do not know what else to say except I cannot see that much has changed in Gaza. & there is not much else about Porphyry either. He was canonized for driving the pagans into the minority, by whatever means necessary. After taking office however reluctantly, he served with zeal. He has the distinction of being a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church (it helps, being canonized before the split) & the Oriental Orthodox Church, which I know nothing about.

He is also invoked against nothing, for nothing & by no profession or class of people so far as I can discover. I think this frees us to make him the patron of whatever we want. His story has a weather element & a reluctant super hero quality. I say we call him Patron of Rainmakers, that improbable group of not-exactly-do-gooders Americans in particular cannot seem to surrender.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"The drummer relaxes & waits between shows for his..."

Cinnamon Girl is quite the sweetest goat you will ever meet. She is not particularly stubborn or smart (I am not crazy about an excess of brain in my goats; I am guessing most drummers are not either in their groupies).

I had planned to get LaManchas; the term "elf ear" intrigued me so. & then I saw Cinnamon Girl & that was that. She has the opposite kinds of ears; they are long & swooped. A lot like That Girl!'s hair, actually. & when she runs, they bounce & her knees seem to flex in all directions (I know they don't, but they seem to) & she looks like a marionette without the strings.

We have other goats (other breeds of goats) & I can safely say, Nubians are special & Cinnamon Girl is special among Nubians.

I said Cinnamon Girl was not particularly stubborn; I meant for a goat. Goats are not jack-ass stubborn or even tennis-ball-dog relentless, but they are thorough. Domesticated goats have few skills. The only one not deliberately bred into them that I have found is being able to bash things with their heads with some accuracy. This does not sound like much & it isn't, but it is more than you would think.

If you were to bash your head over & over against one side of a feed barrel lid, sooner or later you would unscrew that lid. I realize this is not how you personally would go about it, but it is exactly how a goat does. & once that barrel is open, you (if you were a goat) can bash your head over & over again into the barrel until it tips over. There are some tricky bits, though. First you need to hit the lid consistently & always on the 'unscrew' side, otherwise you are working against yourself. & you need to get these tasks in the right order; if you tip the barrel before you get the lid off, you will never get the lid off. The barrel will just roll around.

It took a few years, but she has it down now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Equine cargo cult

I am a gynormous fan of the writer Nevil Shute. Not just On The Beach or A Town Like Alice; my favorite is definitely Round The Bend. I just love all those lists of airplane parts (oh fixed asset inventory, how I adore you). & I find cargo cults (& mummies) irresistible.

Cargo cults, for those who do not know are yet another example of man's interpreting as divine what he cannot explain through his experience. Specifically, when native (technologically immature) people were slammed right up against modern (technologically dependent) people, the natives saw the results of technology as miraculous. The most common example is the Pacific islanders of WWII. After seeing US troops clear drop sites & landing strips & line them with burning torches so supplies could be delivered with some accuracy, the natives would make similar clearings of their own & wait for manna.

What I did not realize until I took up Useless Ranching was that cargo cults are not limited to human beings. This is an excellent argument for the 'animals have souls' crowd & I would have clued them in earlier if I actually believed in souls, which I do not.

Our donkey, as I believe I have mentioned, is a clever bastard. Equal emphasis on clever & bastard. People go on about the nobility of horses. With very few exceptions, horses are idiots (so nobility just might be the right word). Donkeys are quite intelligent & not the least noble.

Bert (the donkey) likes puzzles. No really. He likes watching you do things & then he likes to undo them. This can be anything from the knot in your shoe laces to the latch keeping the gate closed. He is fascinated by the all things mechanical. He has stolen power drills, cell phones, all kinds of things of that ilk. He has never stolen the scoop I use to give him his food. He has tried to bump it out of my hands, spilling feed every where (he is a glutton, have I mentioned this? Well, he is), but the scoop itself holds not interest for him.

Not so the horses. If I pick up a bucket & put it down, they will kill each other trying to get their heads into what the donkey knows is an empty bucket. The donkey waits until I come out of the feed room with the full scoop. Then & only then does he behave as though it were dinner time. This usually means trying to muscle me around before I can pour the feed into a bucket that will be claimed by a horse, who may or may not be in a sharing mood. Pound for pound the donkey is stronger & pounds aside more clever by far, but he is always, above all things, lazy. He has no interest in expending energy fighting with a horse when he can steal from the barrel itself.

This brings us to equine cargo cults. The horses are not complete idiots, they know the feed is kept in the feedroom. They have seen me chuck out hay & refill the scoop from that magic den. But they accepted they cannot get into the feed room; the feed must come to them. Until the day the donkey opened the door latch.

Donkeys have a prehensile lip. You would be amazed how strong & limber it is (keep it clean, people). One day, Bert opened the feedroom door with it. This means he flipped a loop of metal from flush against the plate to 90degrees from the plate, leaned his weight on the door & pulled towards himself, sliding the locking pin back & opening the door. Then he went in & made a total pig of himself.

Captain, being a big Big horse could not have fit in there while the donkey was in there, but still managed to pull several bails of hay out & they had a grand time. Bert did this more than once (I thought I was forgetting to latch the door properly before I actually saw him do it). A has since made an addition to the locking mechanism: a latch that prevent the loop from moving up to that 90degree position, unless you can unclip it & lift it out, something a prehensile lip cannot do.

As soon as he saw this, Bert gave up. He knows what he cannot do. He then went on to accomplish other assinine feats, but I will save them for another day. Captain on the other hand could not be deterred. On any given day, he would stand at the feedroom for hours, hours & hours licking....wait for it....the hinges. He had seen Bert do this trick & open that door & dammit he was going to do it, too. It never worked but he never really gave up. You can argue that maybe the hinges had some quality he liked, a mineral taste maybe.Except he never licked the hinges before this & he never licked any of the other hinges, including those on the doors of the adjacent stalls.

As far as I am concerned that meets the definition of Cargo Cult. & I do not just mean Captain's behavior. The donkey is the modern person in this little tale & he is too close for my comfort: he would rather steal than work, he would rather work than wait & he would rather give up than pretend he could ever make it work again.

In rereading this, I realized I may have given the impression there are mummies in the Shute books. There are not, that I can recall. If you want mummies, let me recommend the works of H. H. Ryder (that's right, the King Solomon's Mines guy) or even better The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips, which does for mummies what The Historian did for vampires. Well worth the pages.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trapped amaryllis

We finished the room at the back of the house, but we did not build it. At some point a former owner, completely off-permit (welcome to the land of ag-exemptions) poured a new slab & built what has to be the squarest, most unporchly-porch ever. Did I mention it had a wood stove? In Florida? Well, it did.

Before that, the back door was probably much like those of the other two houses near here built more or less on the same plan: slider out the back, down a step & then the yard. At some point someone planted amaryllis next to one side of this back-step & maybe the other, but we will never know because of the concrete currently covering the old flower bed.

Still, every Spring a few bulbs squeeze up to the left of the former back door (not coincidentally also the outside wall of the former 'porch'). & they bloom like crazy in that corner, between the two walls of the house, the pool filtration system & the air compressor. It is a charming spot for big, blousy blooms.

The first Spring I dug them up & moved them to various places around the yard. They all did very well & the following Spring, there were just as many bulbs back in that corner. I dug them up & repeated. & repeated. & then I started giving them to W*****. She relandscaped one side of her tobacco barn/storage shed. & new bulbs are still emerging.

I stopped counting at 30 bulbs. That strikes me as an awful lot for the original 5 or 6 to reproduce in any given year. Now I have this recurring dream that there are amaryllis bulbs under our family/tv/great room crawling slowly to that corner where the sun can hit them, they can grow, be seen & get replanted. It is kind of creepy actually. I don't want to think about it anymore.

If anyone wants zombified amaryllis though just let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nightshade pizza pie

For my most recent bookclub I made eggplant pizza. I deliberately blanded it because one of our members is pregnant & I have heard women-in-that-condition can have sensitive stomachs. My aunt was so sensitive she could not cope with the color red. Then mom-to-be was not there & we all had duller-than-usual eggplant pizza.

Eggplant is one of the nightshade vegetables we should all avoid because...they are shrouded in superstition. I sometimes get confused & call them the hemlock vegetables. I do not know why. I have never gotten confused & called them the belladonna vegetables. I am not one of those people who learns from my mistakes; instead I seem to learn to make the same mistake over & over again. I used to have the most convoluted route to Brainard airport because the first time I went, I got lost & for the next ten years I got lost in exactly the same way every time. Fatiguing.

I do not seem to have this problem cooking; I never seem to memorize a recipe wrong, although I have had trouble reproducing results. This is how I make Nightshade Pizza Pie:

First you need to make the dough. I have a bread machine. I make a yeast dough, so it continues to rise while I am making the pizza toppings part. You do not have to make your own dough, or even 1/2 make it like I do. Let's start again:

Have dough. & spread it on your pizza stone or pan or whatever you use (A likes to set pizza directly on the oven racks. yes, our oven is a mess). I got a head of myself again. If you are making dough, start the dough, but if you are not, go straight to the eggplant.

-cut up a single, medium sized eggplant into bigger than your thumb but not too big pieces. Rinse them & set them in a colander to drain. I turn a dessert plate upside down & put the flour canister on top if it the press them a bit, but I doubt it really makes a differences. I leave it like this for 20+ minutes so that the eggplant can dry, which DOES make a difference later (that the eggplant not still be wet from the rinse, I mean).

- thinly slice as much garlic as you think is a good amount. I like three cloves, for blander-than-bland I used one. Melt the garlic (when I said thin, I meant thin, GoodFellas thin) in a light oil.

- if you are not making your own dough & adding the basil to the dough, you want to add it now. For blander-than-bland I skipped this step entirely. It was pretty bland. How much basil is up to you, less is more if it is baked into the dough vs in the oil.

-add the eggplant to the garlic, mix well for a minute or two. Turn the heat down to medium, cover. Start checking back after 8 minutes or so, you are looking to see that the meat of the eggplant has started to break down but is not yet mush. You will know it when you see it, I promise.

- now back to the dough. Spread it as thin as you can. Pinch the sides, if you like, but if you are using a yeast dough it will not make any difference in the end.

-smear a thin layer of tomato. Again, this is your choice: you can use leftover spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, something from a jar, etc. I prefer leftover spaghetti sauce supplemented with real tomatoes (i.e. from a garden, recently). In a pinch, salsa will do. You need it to smear evenly, so you might need to mix in up to a tiny bit of oil, but this is rarely necessary unless you are actually working with a paste. Leave yourself about 1/2 inch between the edge of the crust & the outside of the tomato smear.

-pile the eggplant straight from the pan onto the tomato covered dough.

-pile crumbled feta cheese on top of that.

- put it all into a preheated 400F oven for 20 minutes & serve immediately or when you get around to it. It is good hot, room temperature & probably cold. I do not know; even the bland version did not last that long.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This is the time of year I doubt I am female

I genuinely, truthfully do not 'get' Valentine's Day. This is lucky because A actively resists VDay. He actively resists any directive from any authority. I try to be happy with the conventions he does accept & leave it at that.

He will often come home with flowers on the day, but he does not lose any points if he does not (I do not understand paying inflated prices because of what day it is either, also I have a whole FARM from which I could cut my own flowers, I pressed flowers&plants for years, I work in an herbarium, more doomed&dieing&dead blooms are not really a requirement for me). I will say though that one year V****** was having dinner here on VDay, I cannot recall why, not because of the holiday, I promise. Anyway, he did come home with flowers for her, which was nice.

& then the chocolate thing. I like chocolate. Chocolate is lovely & given the choice I would rather have french fries. Sweet potato fries. Curly fries. When I need a quick-pick-me-up: Checkers fries.

When we lived up north, going out for VDay always seemed to involve negotiating icy weather & bad restaurant service.I preferred to get the points for working late when everyone else wanted to leave early. Here the town has outgrown itself. Even a lousy place on a random Tuesday will have a 45 minute wait. Except in that cherished week between Christmas & New Years. Then you can go anywhere & when you get there, there will be parking. Classes started January 6th this year, giving us a bit longer than usual & it was marvelous.

& so this VDay will be spent much as previous VDays have been, as most of my days are. Uneventful, unmemorable, except in that I am happy in my marriage & have plenty of what I like to eat & things to do with my time.

Technically it is Saint Valentine's Day. Who was he? Who knows; feel free to Google yourself to death.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The petit percheron & her massive ass

For most people who see her for the first time, Coco looks like a big girl. Well, she is not. Yes, she is the biggest girl (or boy) on the place, but for a draft, she is small & for a Percheron she is petite. Which is not surprising as she is almost certainly not a Percheron, or at least not all Percheron.

Coco was born & will therefore always be classified a PMU foal. She was bought by a friend who realized that she did not have the time to train a foal that had not been born & weaned in a barn family; this wild-&-untamed thing was going to take more time than that. Coco came here while still smaller than the donkey & they have been in love ever since. Now they look like the Kissingers, but equines do not care about that kind of thing. Picture Nancy Kissinger with a long horsey face & a white blaze on her forehead. Henry & the donkey look more or less alike.

Before Coco came here, she lived on pasture with a band of other PMU foals. The closest human society I can think of would be Fagin's band of pickpockets. But here life was different. Captain was still alive, slow moving, gentle, enormous. He enjoyed the company of women & welcomed almost everyone. I miss him every day.

I honestly do not remember Coco's first day here. I do remember that she was called Celeste, but as she never answered to anything any human ever said, the change to Coco was easy (we already have a Celeste. She works in the Tech Services Department at the library; she is not a horse).

What I do remember is the extreme ease with which she bonded with the donkey. Let me be clear-the donkey is a trouble-maker. He opens doors, works latches, pulls down fence boards. The other horses look down on him. I am not joking; they treated him with as much respect as they give a goat. That is to say: none. In their defense, they were themselves a battered & damaged band that arrived here after starvation, abuse, untreated injury or some combination of the above. They did not have any interest in an energetic jack-ass. Still there did seem to be some strange racial divide. Mostly he was lonely. & then his dream girl arrived.

On winter nights, I often move the three mares, Coco included, to the pasture next door. I leave the donkey at our place. Have I mentioned he is destructive? Well, he is. It is one thing when he pulls down our fence boards (or kicks out the bottom of our barn door or yanks our fences post out of the ground, to open the whole back fence like a door) but to do it on W*****'s place is asking too much from her. I was prepared for & unsurprised by the long donkey moans of despair. The loud crashing & pulling of the barn doors against their latches, the chasing of the unhappy goats. Very unhappy goats. Very very unhappy goats.

Although we had reached an accord, I have been unable to make as regular use of W*****'s pasture as I would like. A happy donkey is trouble enough, a love-sick donkey cannot be borne. & so the ladies hang their heads over our common gate will himself tears down boards, bangs the barn doors until they fall off their hinges & generally makes an ass of himself. I am wondering if there is cuisine that serves donkey; perhaps we need to read a book from there for bookclub...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What would Nancy do?

I see the stickers everywhere, What Would Jesus do? Who would Jesus bomb? & so forth. & the answers are always so obvious (turn the other cheek; he died before the trebuchet even, so I don't think it ever came up), I wonder that they bother.

I want the bumpersticker What would Nancy do? & yes, I do mean Nancy Drew. I remember when I first met Nancy. If I saved enough Cheerios box tops I could apply them to a copy of her latest adventure (The Secret of Mirror Bay if you are curious). We have been tight ever since. & I am not alone. Nancy consistently appears on popular book lists, for young girls made by young girls as well as what many of our most dynamic women leaders were reading when they were young girls. She is also consistently reviled, & mixed reviews are always my favorite.

Nancy always does the right thing, even if it does not seem to make any sense at the time. She is pursuing suspects & realizes the route they are taking conveniently passes a restaurant she has always wanted to try. She stops for lunch (seems counter productive, does it not). Guess who ALSO stopped for lunch.

Nancy is adaptable & practical. She is (now) famous for her strawberry blonde hair, but that was not her original color. A printer's error changed it on the cover of the 4th (I think) book & so she changed it going forward. & backward, too in the reprints.

Closest to my heart, Nancy accessorizes like no one anyone has ever heard of. Besides the right dress, shoes, bag, convertible, friends, dog, etc. she has her own key making machine right there at home (or maybe her friend does; Nancy always knows the right people). & travels with random & yet ultimately just-the-right thing for whatever life presents. I have a pretty big purse & I have a lot of crap in there & every piece of crap is used every day I carry that bag but at least once a day I look into my purse & I know that if Nancy were with me she would would have that magnifying glass/police whistle/coupon for 40% off my next framing order that was the whole reason I left the house. I remembered the picture but forgot the coupon. This never happens to Nancy.

I am a little worried Nancy might be too smart for us, actually. People talk Talk TALK about Barbie raising unrealistic expectations in young girls. Or Snow White. But no one ever points a finger at Nancy. Unrealistic body images are bad, but an achievable lithe, trim figure if you have the right genes & take up tennis/show riding/ski jumping/tap dancing (doubly useful if you know Morse Code) is OKay.

Even more important, you have to be smarter than everyone else, especially the boys & never let on that you are. Or at least wait until you do not need them anymore. Sure I can do it, but is that really fair on the rest of you. Yes I have conveniently forgotten I forgot that coupon. Or ever lost my keys. Nancy has that affect on me: she inspires me to be better than I am by believing I am better than I am.

//A special thanks to Jennifer Worick who wrote Nancy Drew's Guide to Life & my sister who gave it to me several years ago. I still have it in my purse & yes, I consult it every day, almost, along with the collection of Poems by John Donne (very useful for testing your memory in long grocery lines, I know Nancy would approve). I consoled myself with it when I could not find my keys; Nancy could have found my keys.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Losing things

At the beginning of this week I lost my keys. This is especially impressive as I have almost as many key-chain do-dads as I have keys. I say almost because I removed the little monkey that could be considered a stuffed animal when I realized it was tempting the dogs to bury the keys in their bed, their toy basket or (most problematic) the yard.

I looked everywhere, starting with the obvious & ending with sifting through the garbage, walking the yard with a flashlight & calling A at work (twice) just in case he picked them up by accident. In the end, I found them a day+ later in one of the first places I looked. Lame, I know.

But then I scaled up. On Wednesday I closed the gate at the top of the driveway, opened the emu yard & did a few chores. Two hours later, there was no sign of Cleo. That's right, I lost a giant pre-historic bird. That cannot fly. Or see very well.

Around dusk, I learned he was up at B***'s, scaring his dogs half-to-death. I learned this when a woman pulled into my driveway & told me my pet bird was up at her house: "the cracker house, up on the hill". This threw me until I remembered what passed for a hill in Florida versus Connecticut. She could have just as easily said "the house next to the blueberry field", "the second driveway on the left" or "B***'s house", but she did not. She seemed surprised that I knew B*** by name & still did not have the faintest idea who she was. I did not have the heart to tell her we have never bothered to learn the names of any of B***'s girlfriends (or wives for that matter).

Otherwise she could not have been nicer about it. Okay, she could have been nicer, she seemed a bit freaked (this was after I said she REALLY did not need to worry her dogs would hurt the bird; she needed to worry in the other directions), but in her shoes I would have been raining holy hell, so I think she was a brick. B***, as usual, was jovial-in-the-extreme. They had company for dinner & everyone seemed to enjoy the idea of me chasing this crazy bird around in the dark with a bucket of apples & a dieing flashlight. I have NO DOUBT all the crazy incomer stories were told & retold.

It was a long night & early this morning I walked back up there (he settled somewhere for the night & it is not possible to find an emu in tall grass if he does not stand up) & found him rummaging through the undergrowth, trying to avoid the sprinklers (did I mention Cleo was on the edge of a giant blueberry field? & that it was about 18F overnight, 22F when I left the house? Well he was & it was & it was) right away.

A & I both were wide awake well before dawn. I had not slept well worrying about my pet velociraptor & A got a phone call at 5:30 or so to go over some confusion in the 2009/2010 research budget. As soon as there was enough light for me to see (which is considerably less light than most need to see; yes, I am a creature of the dark), I took a bucket of feed & the rest of the chopped apples up the 'hill'. By the time A got there, I had Cleo eating from the bucket & had impressed the farm workers with my machismo, hand feeding the giant bird that had been hissing & kicking at their dogs (none of them were crazy enough to go near him themselves).

Cleo would have happily followed me (& the bucket of feed) home, but those same dogs objected to his passing them & in the end, A threw a blanket over him, lifted him into the bed of the pick-up & sat on him while I drove home. Once home, A lifted him out, took the blanket off & Cleo has been walking around his yard, his feathers ruffled (no, really) since then. As far as we can tell, Antonelle is not speaking to him. When he goes near her, she turns away. I leave you to imagine the dialogue between that unhappy couple.

Bad luck always comes in threes (or twelves or two hundred & forty sixes) so I am a bit worried about the next one, nine or two-hundred & forty four things I am going to lose.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dead grandmother season begins

Let my start by saying my grandmother is actually quite ill. Last week she went into care after living with my aunt for all of my adult life. My grandmother was born in 1916 & was lucid (well, consistent anyway) for most of the time I have known her. That ended quite abruptly, recently.

This has put me in mind of that old college stand-by, the dead grandmother. Tonight is the first exam of the semester & the dead grandmothers will be coming out of the wood-work. A does not but I know of two in his department who do keep a running tally of dead grandmothers for every class they teach. Last time I heard the record for a single semester was 7 but the other prof objected that his 5 should stand on the grounds that he was teaching a much smaller class. That's right kids, some of your professors actually know each other.

I had a roommate who killed off three grandmothers in two semesters. Only one of her grandmothers was above ground before the carnage & the old lady survived it, I am glad to say. A** would have felt very bad had her one remaining grandparent actually kicked while she was killing off imaginary grandmothers.

Sometimes grandmothers actually do die, but lately it is siblings-in-combat. The professors have the same requirement for this as they do for dead grandmothers: documentation from an unimpeachable source. It is always very awful especially as no one ever fakes this one. The student explains why the exam will be/was missed, A grits his teeth & explains the make-up exam process, & a truly horrible event is made just a little bit worse. A is actually relaxed compared to some: he offers a cumulative make-up right around the time of the final (also a cumulative exam). If you miss two exams, that grade counts twice, three exams it counts three times, etc. It just is not possible to do custom make-ups for the 5% that might miss any given exam, even if their reasons are good ones (for you not-math-types 5% of 500 is 25. 25 times three exams plus one final is 100 custom exams per semester).

I admit I do rubberneck all the other reasons an exam was or will be missed: football (I understand the players, cheerleaders, marching band, but random students who did not even travel to the out-of-town game. Really?), fraternity/sorority formal, wedding (not the students own), other celebration of a personal nature, the babysitter was a no-show, car would not start, went to the room the exam was held in last time having no idea it might be somewhere else, etc. This brings us to my all-time favorite, the student who missed his exam because he was doing a religious fast, passed out & did not come to until after the exam was over. No it was not Ramadan or Yom Kippur or Lent. To this day, I am not clear what the kid's religion was.

Before you kill off your grandmother, let me give you some tips:

1-an excuse submitted BEFORE the exam is more credible than the one submitted after. It just is. This is a fine life lesson in general. Someday when you have a job where they pay you to show up, calling in sick in the morning will get you sympathy; calling in sick at the end of the day will get you fired.

2- be consistent. If for example you are missing this exam because of a religious holiday be certain that other holidays requiring your attendance at church or temple or mosque have also been observed. For example, you want to avoid being orthodox for your Engineering final but not-so-much for your Fine Arts final the previous year/same holiday. This just looks fishy. As a rule I would steer clear of this one (unless of course you really are that religious), because it does not work as an afterward reason (did you forget this so-important-holiday was coming up?) & letting prof know ahead of time means there is time to confirm your story. There are few things less fun than saying you cannot take an exam because you need to say rosaries for the Feast of the Ascension only to learn your TA will also be saying rosaries & now you really have to go to church or no one will ever believe you ever again.

3- consider the possibility your professor might not have wanted to be there either. I know a guy who has missed his wife's birthday every year but two for the entire 14 years of their marriage. It is my fault for being born during mid-terms but there you are. When you tell your professor you missed because you had something more fun to do, chances are pretty good he had something more fun as well. The only reason you are not killed-on-the-spot is that there were 400+ other students who DID show for the exam so your not being there did not change whether or not he had to be there. When you ask for the recommendation for grad school or an internship or whatever, though you can be sure this will come up.

There is a trend in higher education to view professors as service providers & students as customers & well, the customer is always right. I naturally come down on one side of this issue rather strongly, but that is not really relevant because with any luck no one will spend more than six years as the customer in this scenario. Then you will be the service provider for the rest of your days.

Employers frown on people who miss presentations because their 5th grandmother has died, they got too drunk at the football game to drive home or they are attending a special mass for Saint Blaze (not the patron saint of strippers, which would be interesting, but the patron of wool carders, so all you knitters out there get to your knees, today is your day) & did not think to mention it beforehand.

If all this sounds a bit brutal, you should know I used to be in the position of hiring newly graduated computer engineering students & nothing surprised them more than the expectation that work (& expense reports) needed to be handed in on time, that they would be at their desks by 9am (not strolling in with a cappuccino at 9:15), & finally that I would rather fire a second-time offender & hire someone new than explain why this would not cut it in the real world. I quickly learned that seeing the guy they cut class with get escorted out of the building by security guards for playing golf on my dime had a way of inspiring a work ethic in everyone else.

Monday, February 2, 2009

National Adopt An Animal Already In Rescue Day

That is what today is, at least according to one of the blogs I follow. & it is not the worst idea anyone ever had. The tricky bit is being realistic about what you can do & then following through. Maybe you cannot actually bring a horse into your family. Okay, scale down: smaller animal, smaller commitment.

How about expanding the spirit of the day, just a bit. If you cannot adopt from a shelter, help an animal not go to a shelter. The animal that comes immediately to my mind is a dog, probably 3-8 years old. This dog lives with an elderly person or couple. Every time you see this dog you notice it is overweight OR rambunctious OR yanking those little-old-people from one end of the block to the other. Introduce yourself. Offer to walk that dog one or two evenings a week. Say it is no problem, you could use the exercise (you know you could). Voila.

Today is also Ground Hog Day. If you look out your front door & cannot see someone whose life could be made much better by a little effort on your part, there WILL be six more weeks of winter. Maybe even more.