Thursday, April 28, 2011

Happiness is...

... Grades submitted. Finally.

... Two days of predicted sunshine before another weekend of predicted snow.

... A student who says he sees the problem with the writing, and he will fix it. On his own. Thank you, student.

... Eight shade perennials planted in the front garden. Four to go. And who would have ever thought that I'd take up gardening as a hobby?

... Slightly sore muscles, from the gardening, but also from biking around town slightly late to everything. I like it when the muscles hurt just enough to tell you they are there, and that you've been working hard, doing good, but they don't hurt enough to interrupt regular life.

... Going to bed early.

... And waking up at a reasonable hour.

... Grant money appearing in my research account. Yeah projects!

... A clean and organized office. And only two unread emails.

... Strawberry season.

... Knowing how to spell corroborate. And using it correctly in a sentence.

... Figuring out 3 times 365 in my head, and telling The Boy the right answer. And then having him respond with, "Oh. I go pee 1095 times in a year."

What the?

Happiness. It isn't always what you would expect.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Looking around

Hard freeze warning for tonight.

Yesterday I was trying to plant shrubbery, when it started to hail. So the shrubbery and I ducked into the garage.

This morning, fat white snowflakes were falling when we walked the boy to school.

And a hard freeze warning for tonight. So much for fruit trees this year.

Neighbors, family members, garden shop workers, all keep commenting that this seems to be a particularly cold April.

I shrug. I grew up here.

I remember looking forward to Memorial day -- end of May -- because we would drive four hours south, and it would be warm enough there -- in the south -- that I could finally wear my shorts and get a farmer tan on my knees. I remember that.

So cold Aprils? Not unusual.

Depressing, but not unusual.

Just for fun, Tim and I went looking for family homes in the nice neighborhoods in the cities where we used to live. The warm ones. The ones with really nice summer programs for kids. (I need to write another post about the lack of good stuff for school age kids to do here, summers, but I will save that for when I am in a better mood or I will get myself into trouble.)

We looked at moderate size houses (~20,000 square feet) in the neighborhood near the children's library, by that university where I went to grad school. Back then, those houses were over $1 million. Today they are $2.5 million. That after the burst housing bubble.


I guess we'll just have to stick around here and endure the hard freezes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Graduation? Already? You are asking. Yes, Reader. No spring break. Minimal winter break. Remember?

We are all graduated here at G.O.D. University. I know this, because I attended the ceremonies. Two of them. I was pressured into attending by an email message. The message said:

"Just a reminder that all faculty are asked to attend graduation exercises at least once per year. If you do not have robes, the department will pay the rental costs..."

Last year, I may or may not have attended any ceremonies. This year I felt a little guilty, so rented the gear and showed up. Twice. Once for the university, once for the college.

Graduation from the faculty side is a little different. The speakers are just as boring, but you get to wear super special graduation robes in multi colors that say "Hey! Look over here! I am Pompous!" And you get to sit on the very front row.

Sitting on the very front row is not actually much of a perk, because you can't nod off. Or start reading the paper you brought along for the boring parts.

But wearing the multi-colored robes is definitely a perk -- if you happen to own them and you didn't just do the free department rental thing.

Here are some things I've learned about faculty graduation robes. The color of the robe is black, if it's a rental, but if not, it will be in the colors of the university at which you received your doctorate, according to that university's own custom robe design. I looked mine up online, and it's pretty snazzy. Black with a red front and half red sleeves, colored lining. Nice.

Glad I didn't graduate from Princeton. Halloween stripes. Or Dartmouth, in green. Although Dartmouth has a super awesome hat. Like a leprechaun. See, the different universities choose different hats, too. And then everyone wears this strangulating thing around the neck and dangling half way down the back which is called a hood. That comes in the school colors and the color of the degree.

I have been coveting my graduation robes. I would wear them once a year. Ish. As asked. I would stand out in that pile of pompous faculty as the one in the snazzy robe with the red sleeves and the gold lining. But I looked it up online, and the official set of robes and hat costs about $1000.

What!? For once a year-ish?

There's a cheaper fake imitation set, that looks enough like the real thing that I'd buy it, but it still costs $360. Even so, I would only have to attend about 11-12 graduations before making up the rental cost to my department. And perhaps I could convince my child to get a PhD at the same university in golden-yellow math or science, and then he could inherit the robes. Smelly and moth eaten.


Another reason I want to buy my own robes is that I'm convinced the department secretary ordered the wrong color. Because my degree is in math and science, the velvet lining should be golden yellow. A louder voice in the department said that the degree is a doctor of Philosophy, and therefore the color should be blue for philosophy and political science. I am sure that is wrong, and I am looking for validation here. At my own graduation I wore yellow. I have a picture of it. And yellow is a nicer color. And goes better with the red sleeves of the gown I covet. You see how right I must be, Reader? If I bought my own regalia, I could buy golden yellow and look even better dressed.

Because as a faculty member, attending graduation has got to be about looking the best. It's not about friends and family -- there's nobody out there in the bleachers waiting to take your picture, or crying over your accomplishments. All those words in the speeches about going out into the real world? They don't apply. I will stay here at G.O.D. University, and remain fake. And as a new faculty member, I don't even know any of the students graduating. Although they all look nice, too.

Therefore, I have determined that I must attend graduation so I can parade in with all those colors, like a clown. And then provide entertainment as I begin to nod off on the front row. Right?

If you would like to donate to my clown robe fund, please contact me.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Last Tuesday, which seems very long ago, I gave the talk that I had been dreading to the physicists. Incidentally, (since someone asked) the location of the talk was here, on the campus of the Good Old Dude's University. There was no interesting travel involved in the presentation, except that I walked two buildings south to where the physicists have their hide out. Their building has surprisingly narrow halls, and is quite gloomy -- even compared to my building. Both were built during the 1960s, I believe, in an architectural style which I like to call "cinder block with window slits". Perhaps the builders in the 60s thought that the box bunker buildings could protect them from political protests and/or nuclear proliferation. In any case, at least the ceilings in my building are finished. Physics doesn't even have that going for them.

Anyway, the point of bringing up the talk on Tuesday, is that I returned home with a broad smile on my face, and a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. The talk went well, seemed well received, and several of the listeners were friends from my own department to cheer me on. What a relief to get that out of the way!

Then Wednesday was our last day of official instruction at the Good Old Dude's U. That's right. Finished already. We had no spring break, very little winter break, and have been working nearly non-stop since mid-August. And this week, all that break-less overwork pays off. We may be totally loopy insane from burn out, wandering around in our cinder block buildings, ducking and covering and doing our best under the constant architectural threat of nuclear war, but we are done two to four whole weeks before all of you. And all my colleagues at other universities.

When I tell my colleagues this, they all smile and nod and say "bully for you", and then cover their laughs politely with a napkin. No way would they ever trade the spring break and the winter break to spend the 3rd week of April grading finals rather than the 3rd week of May. And I cry into my elbow, because I'd rather have a spring break, too, than finals in April.

So, you are asking. What are you going to do with all this freedom, now that your Saturday finals are over? Well, I had planned to hide out 60 miles north at my mother-in-law's house on Thursday and Friday, far from student eyes, accomplishing great deeds. But instead I hid out 60 miles north sending email back and forth to TAs and trying to finish writing a final. But at least the mother-in-law's home had large windows, no cinder block walls, and the company was lovely. And this week, well, this week I shall spend most of my Monday grading. And then I shall spend much of Tuesday organizing grades. And if I'm not to the point of stomping out minor brush files by Wednesday, I'll be quite annoyed.

And then starting the next week, I shall accomplish great deeds. Four major projects, a serious grant proposal, and... (gulp)... a tenure file. You see, even though I write blog posts entitled "Relief", and proceed to tell you all about the lovely fact that classes have ended, the only real relief in this post is hiding in the first two paragraphs, where I am relieved that I have finished speaking with the physicists, and I am relieved that my building is nominally more attractive than theirs.

Luckily, I do like my job, and I like my work, and I look forward to accomplishing great things all summer long. And it's fun to switch flavors from student centered work to research centered, and the transition in and of itself is almost like a vacation. Almost. But I do believe I had better throw a couple of non-weekend personal days into the transition. Because it cannot be healthy to spend our days sequestered away inside political-protest-proof buildings. And that's good advice for physicists, too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stuff that has been happening

...and my assorted thoughts on the stuff.

1. It has been snowing off and on all week.

Last weekend, Jonathan spent a couple of hours playing in the snow, digging it with a shovel, moving it, setting up little snow fences. The blossoms on the apricot tree frosted over. The daffodils were smashed flat. The tulips hunkered down to wait out the storm.

This is typical. They'll all survive.

And so will I, even.

2. Classes are ending, and I've been trying to write a final for my graduate class.

Boo. Poor me. But that's not the worst of it. Somehow, I ended up proctoring two final exams on Saturday. Saturday? By iron-clad university scheduling rules, I must attend one exam running from 2-5pm, and one from 7-10pm Saturday. Stupid stupid university schedule.

3. I forgot what number 3 was supposed to be. Something deep and profound.

(Stupid university schedule.)

4. I have been asked to speak to a bunch of physicists on Tuesday. I last took physics in 1995. I don't know much about physics. How does one talk to physicists? Does one need special coaching for this? Today in church a man asked me about gravitrons. I don't know what a gravitron is. I do know a little about Transformers, though, thanks to the men in my life, and I think a gravitron sounds like some kind of Decepticon. From the precious little that I know about physicists, they like to talk about gravitrons and photons and decepticons, but not so much about autobots. Why do you think that is?

So far, I haven't worked either autobots or decepticons into my talk. But now I'm getting ideas.

5. Why am I writing this post instead of a final or a talk? Sometimes I don't get the way my brain thinks it works.

I blame the snow.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Miscellaneous, mostly garden

On Tuesday, I woke up with a sore throat. By Thursday, I had a head stuffed solid with mucus. Malfunctioning mucus machine. Red nose, sore sinuses, fogged in brain. Head cold. Blah. But the weather started improving. Today, I spent a couple of hours outside, thinning and weeding in the garden, burning the mucus out in the nearly seventy degree weather. The head cold has retreated, for now. Victory spring!

In news along those lines, I think we may own the wrong garden for our personality types here. Recall that we purchased our house from a botanist. How do I describe the garden? Purposely overgrown. Planned chaos. We have added sprinklers and put in paths to tame it a bit, but it is still a riot of plants. Roses and raspberries and fruit trees and other surprises. Fig. Currant. Poppy. Hollyhock. Those are some of the plants we have identified. It is a gorgeous garden. Colorful and mysterious and highly useful.

And exhausting.

I only covered a small portion of the yard that needs love and care in my hours outside. Plants must be thinned, weeds must be pulled. And what in the world are we growing behind the shed? We need a full time gardener for this.

But that would take away all the fun.

While I weeded, Tim dug some holes for new trees that should be arriving this week. We had four dead trees that we will replace with tiny new ones. The longer we live here, the smaller the garden becomes, as we thin and cut down and prune. It will grow back. Too fast.

And while we're talking gardens, we should mention the front yard. Our front yard faces north, and the garden is directly under two large trees. Full shade, all the time. What do you grow in full shade? Currently, we only grow ivy there, although we used to have a large bush that smelled like old socks. I don't really want to put back the old sock bush. I have some plans, though. They involve stones, and a bench, and probably about eight large-ish shrubs to purchase. I don't trust any local nurseries -- they're the ones who sold us dead trees. I may want to go shrub shopping up north. Kris -- do you want to go shrub shopping with me? Is April too early for planting shrubs?

Real gardeners know the answers to these questions. The botanist would have known. Me, I just like to be outside melting head colds. Pretending to be a gardener.