Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween and Baseball

There are times when you have to make choices in life. Last night was one of those times.

Through a combination of events too vague to recall, I have once again become the room parent for Tabitha's class at Not Bad President Elementary. It's not a bad gig, really - you make a few phone calls, show up to a few events, and you get to hang out with your kids at school. Plus people are generally very responsive when the Room Parent calls.  It's not much in the way of power, but it's mine and I'll take it.

Last night was the annual Halloween Parade down at NBPE - all of the kids come to school in their costumes and go from classroom to classroom holding out paper bags which they have decorated (and which are intentionally on the small side, the better to limit intake). We room parents or the folks we have gotten to volunteer in our place then fill those bags with goodies from the buckets and buckets of candy that people have brought in ahead of time.

Buckets.  You have never seen that much sugar in one place at one time.  It's all you can do to stuff it into those tiny bags and get rid of it.  Although the candy distributor does get to take a little off the top - including the Good Stuff like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  Consider it a tax of sorts.

Last night was also Movie Night at NBPE, since the schools across Wisconsin are closed today and tomorrow for administrative reasons. They were showing either Monsters vs. Aliens or Coraline. We've seen them both, and in the interests of avoiding another weeks-long nightmare run, we decided to avoid Coraline this time around. Monsters vs. Aliens was very much like Meet the Robinsons - a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half, but not much more than that. And that would be fine.

Last night was also Game 1 of the World Series, with the WFC's traveling up to New York to take on the Yankees in what every baseball writer capable of dragging their booze-soaked fingers across a dingy keyboard has described as the best match-up in a decade. Imagine - the Phillies as part of that.  

A choice, therefore, had to be made.

And you know, it really wasn't much of a choice at all.

The girls spent the afternoon over at their friends' house, where the mom did an amazing job of facepainting the horde of ricocheting children and finding them old clothes to wear for their costumes. Tabitha, as usual, was a cat. Lauren decided on a witch this year.

I handed out candy.

There will be World Series games forever, and some of them may well involve the Phillies now and again, but there just won't be that many more times Tabitha and Lauren will want me to hand out candy at their Halloween Parades. Plus, to be honest, the stress of watching the games can be more than I need these days.

So. Candy. Win.

We didn't actually stay for all of the movie. For one thing, the sound didn't work quite right and after a while you get tired of reading the lips of animated characters, since they don't quite line up anyway. Plus Tabitha said she was tired. So home we went.

And when I got home, there was the game, waiting for me - and the Phillies with a 1-0 lead that eventually they turned into a 6-1 victory that wasn't really that close. It was, indeed, a great game - at least from a Phillies fan perspective. Rarely in the life of a sports fan do you get to see a pitcher do what Cliff Lee did last night - completely dominate what is, arguably, the best team in the game. There is a reason why the WFCs are the underdog despite being WFCs - they are the second best team in baseball, and they were playing the best team in their house.  And they crushed them. 

I'm really loving that. 

As are a lot of people, I suspect.  I wore my Phillies hat and t-shirt to the Halloween Parade and got more than a few supportive comments from people who just wanted the Yankees to lose to whomever they were playing.  And I'll take that.

We all stayed up to watch the rest of the game. Well, the girls and I stayed in the living room anyway, while Kim finished the game upstairs getting ready for bed, since she had to get up early today and the rest of us didn't. Lauren conked out on the couch somewhere around the 7th inning, but Tabitha made it to the end of the game.  It's these shared experiences that count, I think.  Parades, baseball - it's all good.

Go Phillies! WFCs!

Why Can't Us Again?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Well, count vegetables among the things I am illiterate about, along with movies, popular music, and why anyone considers Fox News to be journalism.

It was Lab Day yesterday, which meant that Kim wasn't going to be home much before 6 if at all, so dinner was on me. Now, normally this is not a problem. I'm generally the one who gets home first anyway, so more often than not I'm the one cooking dinner. I like cooking dinner, though I have to admit that I'm not as interested in what I make as I used to be. It's just fuel. Getting old, I guess.

We learned a few years ago that we need to make dinner menus for the week.

For one thing, it means that our grocery shopping trips are much more efficient. You would be surprised at the things that fall into your cart on the whimsical thought that you might get to cooking them sometime if the stars line up and the creek don't rise. And since food packaging people are getting far too creative these days about the things that show up on grocery shelves, keeping that kind of adventurism in check is a safety issue.

For another, it cuts way down on the 4:45pm phone calls that start out, "Any idea what you'd like to eat tonight?" and end up with, "Well, there's gotta be something interesting in the house." There usually is something interesting in the house, but whether it is a) preparable in the time remaining between arrival home and abject starvation, b) reasonably healthy, or at least moderately non-lethal, or c) recognizable as food even if correctly prepared, are all open questions.

So. Menus.

Kim did the menu for this week. Well, I did it, but since we had some late shifts to last week's menu, which Kim actually did, I just moved the meals we didn't get to onto this week. Easy. Cheaper too, since we'd already gotten the stuff. The problem was that last night's meal called for spaghetti squash.

And it was Lab Day, which meant that Kim wasn't going to be home much before 6, as noted.

So I went looking for a spaghetti squash.

What exactly is a spaghetti squash, anyway? Spaghetti I understand. Noodles - thin ones, covered in gravy (which is spaghetti sauce to you non-Italians, or "red sauce" to you midwesterners). Often adorned with meatballs. Got it. Squash I understand too - that is a game played by people I do not wish to know, involving little paddles, hypersonic rubber balls, and discussions of portfolios and white wine.

How do these things mix?

Eventually I found something that looked like it might be a spaghetti squash. At any rate it was clearly a vegetable. It was sort of beige and vaguely pear-shaped, though with the heft of a small cat and the texture of a paving brick. Yep, I thought, I could squash something with this.

So I cut it open.

Now, I've had spaghetti squash before and lived to tell about it, and the one thing I do remember about it was that it was stringy. Spaghetti-like, even. This was not stringy. It was orange inside, and rather firm.

And it was at this point that Tabitha wandered over and asked me what I thought I had in my hands. A spaghetti squash, I told her. "No, dad," she patiently explained. "That's a winter squash."

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit.

Kim, of course, thought this was funny, and was very proud of Tabitha's squash-discerning skills. Apparently all that gardening this summer paid off.

We'll have to put this on Tabitha's weekly "Name two things you are proud of your child for this week" report that her teacher makes us turn in. The second one might just be "not laughing at dad while pointing out the correct name of the squash."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lucky Number Seven

In the grand family tradition of celebrating holidays when there is time to celebrate them, we declared today to be Lauren's birthday.

Normally her birthday is on Halloween, which is just an altogether cool birthday to have since it could be taken just so many ways and provides an instant excuse for a party well into adulthood. In fact, more so for adults - for kids, having a birthday party on Halloween is just one event too many and would just be a distraction from the main event of cruising up and down the neighborhood in search of candy.

So today was it.

We made reservations with one of the local hotels for the use of their pool, since Lauren thinks that the main reason hotels exist is to provide pools and she wanted some of that action for her big day. And since swimming in October in Wisconsin is such a rare treat, we couldn't say no to that. Plus, we figured we could let the kids swim and splash until they wore themselves out, and someone else would have to clean up. Bonus.

We didn't count on the hotel giving our reservation and room away to a much larger party that wandered in off the streets about twenty minutes before we got there. There was much earnest discussion on this point, with Kim successfully keeping me at least six feet from the hotel desk at all times, and eventually they did comp us the whole thing and provide us with other rooms. So it all worked out in the end. Certainly the girls didn't mind.

Other than that, things went about according to plan.

We drove over to the hotel with a visibly vibrating Lauren in the back seat, unloaded our stuff into the room eventually provided, and headed straight for the pool.

Lauren and her guests spent a pleasant hour and change careening wildly around the pool, dodging the other party and visiting the hot tub. Did you know you can make beards out of Hot Tub Foam? Live and learn.


There was cake and gift-opening. Lauren insisted on a bakery cake, which is not something she has ever had. Bakery cakes are not nut-free, pretty much by definition, so they have been off limits around here. But Tabitha agreed that she would not mind homemade cupcakes, not one bit, which was very generous of her.  So Lauren got her cake - a fancy one, with horses on. Not sure where the horse thing came from, but it made her happy.


And now, for all practical purposes, Lauren is seven.

I have no idea how this happened. Every year around this time I look at her and I think, "Wait, how did she get so big? How has she changed so much and I haven't changed at all?"

But she has, and I have, and that's not such a bad thing, really.

Happy Birthday, Lauren!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Soup's On

I made wedding soup today.

It's been a long time since I made wedding soup. It's not a difficult dish to prepare, really - it's time consuming in the way that homemade meals can be, especially if they require you to take a pound and a half of ground beef and turn it into 1/2-inch diameter meatballs, but there is something soothing about that labor. Plus you can do that while watching large men fight over a small ball on a big screen, and what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon?

The only hard part is finding the escarole.

Yes, you can make it with spinach, but you can make lasagna with cottage cheese too. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

I first ate wedding soup on a regular basis in Pittsburgh, when I was working downtown. There was a deli across from one of the many temp paralegal jobs I had that year - a real deli, run by two grouchy old men who clearly felt that their food was better than their customers deserved. These were not "gruff-exterior-but-heart-of-gold" kind of grouchy old men either. They were grouchy clear through to the bone.

But they made great food.

And you could get a quart of thick, hot wedding soup for around $4, which was just a grand thing on a temp paralegal paycheck. There were a bunch of us who made that trek at least once or twice a week.

I never saw an entire episode of Seinfeld, but I have to say the character of the Soup Nazi always made perfect sense to me. My brother and sister-in-law have actually eaten at the place where the real Soup Nazi cooked, and they said he was pretty much exactly as portrayed in the show. These guys weren't up to that level, but they made good soup and they took no guff from greenhorn customers.

When Kim and I got married, we had the caterer make us wedding soup. It seemed appropriate. We had to provide the recipe, since there are no Italians around here, and we also had to provide detailed instructions as to how to go about getting escarole (which you could not buy in Our Little Town then, probably for the same reason that we had to provide the recipe to the caterer, come to think of it), but it was worth it.

You can now get escarole locally, which means Our Little Town is moving up in the world, I think.

So wedding soup for dinner was just about right tonight. Add in fresh-baked homemade bread, and you've got yourself a meal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Can't Us Again?

Well, it seems the Phillies are back in the World Series. It's always good to be pleasantly surprised.

I haven't actually been watching many of the games. This is not to say I haven't been paying attention to them - I've been logging in to various websites for score updates, and occasionally flicking the TV on and off to see how things are going. But watching the actual games has been just too stressful, and I have enough of that in my world as it is.

Plus, every time I tune in to watch, bad things happen for the WFCs, so I figure I shouldn't watch. Bad luck and all that. Oh well. Sports doth make pagans of us all.

There is a certain narcissism in that, really - that the world turns on what I choose to do or not do. I've learned over the years that the world really does not worry too much about what I do or not do, but this lesson has had precious little impact on my day to day life, really. Certainly not when teams I support are involved.

I watched the last batter of game four, when the Phillies were down by a run with two out and two on in the bottom of the ninth. I saw it come up on the website and figured I'd at least show willing and watch them fall. And then two pitches later they won. Apparently I woke people up at that point. I don't recall, honestly.

Tonight I decided that I'd just watch the Phillies bat. That way the worst that I'd see was them doing nothing. But they just kept hitting and scoring, and eventually they won big - the second game in the series where they outscored the Eagles' last effort. I did stick around to see the Dodgers bat in the top of the ninth so I could see them clinch a World Series berth for an unprecedented second time in a row.

Yes, I know they will likely be playing the Yankees, for whom only twice in a row is an off cycle. Fie on them.

I think I will wear my World Series Champions sweatshirt to teach on Monday.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reflections on the Right Wing - A Rant

When exactly did conservatives in America go completely insane and start barking at the moon?

It must have been while I wasn't looking. I mean, I'm old enough to remember when being a conservative in this country meant having a well-defined platform of ideas - ideas based squarely on the facts at hand. I can't say I've ever had much truck with many of those ideas, really. The facts at hand can be interpreted a number of ways, and while I respected their positions I never saw much merit in the interpretations conservatives made of those facts. To be blunt, even as a child many of their positions struck me as obvious nonsense, and having spent the better part of the last quarter century studying American political history I now hold many of the same opinions for much more sophisticated reasons.

I've never had much patience for states' rights people, for example, since history has been fairly clear on the fact that your rights are far safer in the care of the federal government than they are with the states. Read James Madison's Federalist #10 if you want to know the reasons why. Madison provides a powerful insight into modern politics for someone writing over two hundred years ago. It took the federal government to get rid of slavery, guarantee free speech and curb the power of the rapacious few over the rest of us. Further, it was the federal government that took the formaldehyde out of the milk supply, built the interstate highway system, and kept people from starving during the Great Depression.

On the other hand, not all conservative positions have run afoul of my "nonsense-o-meter." I'm not particularly averse to the use of the military when the situation requires, though as with any instrument it needs to be used well or it can hurt the user more than the target. And fiscal responsibility - long a conservative war cry - was always something I thought ought to be practiced by governments, though whether that meant cutting spending or raising income was open to debate. If you want a program, you should be willing to raise the taxes to pay for it. If you're not willing to do that, maybe you don't want it that badly. Either way, keeping the budget balanced should be the goal, at least in the absence of a compelling emergency such as a complete economic meltdown or a major war THAT YOU DIDN'T START.

But over the last decade or two, it seems to me that the right wing of American society and politics has taken the Crazy Bus to Treasonville.

Yes, treason.

I'm not even going to get into the sheer idiocy of what passes for public policy on the right wing these days. While probably more dangerous to the country's well being in the long run, it doesn't rise to the standard of treason. It's just malicious stupidity, and that's legal.

As a scholar of the Constitutional era, I do not use the word treason lightly. The Constitution is the fundamental law of the United States, not the outdated inconvenience to power that conservatives seem to think it is, and as such its words need to be taken seriously. In Article 3, Section 3, it says that "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."

It does not mean, as a number of conservative mouthpieces seem to think, "advocating policies with which the present writer disagrees."

I spent most of the last eight years being called unAmerican and a traitor to my country because I could clearly see that the Bush Lite administration was a train wreck. It took the largest budget surplus in human history and turned it into the largest budget deficit in human history in less than three years, even without counting the war in Iraq, which was fought off-book until the Obama administration decided that federal spending ought to be public information. Part of the reason Obama's deficit looks so bad is that for the first time in eight years we have an honest account of expenses. The Bush administration took the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and declared it invalid, on the grounds that warrantless wiretaps were just so darned convenient. It did its level best to subvert the Separation of Powers through selective enforcement of the law. It knowingly started a war on false pretenses, and then botched it so badly that my grandchildren will probably be serving there. And that's just the things I can think of off the top of my head. A little research would yield more, but it would also depress me for days and so I won't go there.

Throughout this debacle, conservatives kept up the drumbeat of "treason," telling me that my simply noting these things was betraying our founding principles, when in fact it was confirming them. Telling me that I was weakening our country, when in fact I was strengthening it. Becoming more shrill, more screechy and more insane by the day until finally it became impossible to believe anything they said. Bush, Cheney, DeLay, Bachman, Limbaugh, Coulter, Beck - the list goes on and on, and I wouldn't trust them to tell me the weather, let alone run the country or judge my actions.

Noting that the emperor has no clothes does not count as treason in this country, no matter how many times conservatives have tried to tell me otherwise. Trying to become an emperor might, but that's a call that I'm not about to make here. Another rant for another time.

I'm not accusing the Bush administration of treason. The fact that he was, without question or even serious competition, the worst President in American history - and in a nation that elected James Buchanan and Warren G. Harding that is quite an achievement - makes him, well, the worst President in American history. That's not treason. That's just maliciously stupid.

Sarah Palin, in her continuing quest to become the mouthpiece of the far right wing of the Republican Party, is not a traitor. She's a quitter. Yes, that's pretty well documented by now. She's also a liar, as evidenced by her refusal to give up on the whole "death panel" thing even though it has been conclusively disproven. I've read that section of Obama's proposal myself - it's not there, and no matter how many times she says it or how many times conservatives try to believe it, it's still not there. She's also got a head full of ideas that would take the country generations to recover from should they ever get a chance to be practiced in the real world instead of the conservative echo chamber that is her universe these days. But none of that is treason. It's just maliciously stupid. And that's legal in this country.

But since Obama was elected, Teh Stoopid has turned to treason.

High ranking Republicans in Texas and Georgia have called for secession, on the admirably grown-up grounds that they are no longer getting their way and therefore deserve to take their marbles and go home. Secession is treason - it is levying war on the United States, and should be punished swiftly and severely. Why those people have not been shot, I do not know. No Republican to my knowledge has disavowed these calls, despite the fact that they originated from within their own party, from people high up in their own organizations. Perhaps this ought to be looked into. You can't help having idiots on your own side, but you really ought to try to differentiate yourself from them if you can.

Death threats against the President have increased over 400% since Obama was elected, according to Threatening to kill the President is treason - it is levying war against the United States, and should be punished swiftly and severely. These threats have been bandied about quite openly by conservative leaders, none of whom to my knowledge have disavowed them. They seem to draw some perverse pleasure from them, really. Such good Americans they are, delighting in treason. It reflects well on their party. Or well reflects. Whichever.

Conservative bloggers - some of them in quite "respectable" websites - have openly called for a military coup against Obama, again on the grounds that they are no longer getting what they want and deserve to take their marbles and yours as well. I've read this nonsense, and it sickens me. That these people assume that the legitimately elected President of the United States is simply an obstacle to be removed so that they can continue to follow the failed policies of their favorites is an outrage. It is treason - it is levying war on the United States, and it should be punished swiftly and severely. To my knowledge, none of these bloggers has been rebuked by anyone in the Republican Party despite the fact that they are using the Republican name to gain credibility for their platform. I know if people used my name to make such statements, I'd want to take that name back and clean it off.

And on, and on, and on.

A report published in April 2009 by the Department of Homeland Security - not the most left-wing group in the government, really, no matter who sits in the Oval Office - notes that right-wing extremism has risen considerably in the last year. But things didn't reach this point overnight. There was no switch that suddenly flipped over in early November last year and changed these people into the dangerous fools they are. No, this sort of thing takes time to develop - it has to fester in the dark and humid corners of society for years, or even decades.

When did this happen?

When right-wing militias popped up in the 1970s and 80s? When the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by right-wing bombers? When it became okay to threaten the life of a President, as Jesse Helms did to Bill Clinton?

And it isn't a matter of "well, both sides have their lunatics." No, it's not, and I would appreciate it if conservatives would stop talking that nonsense right now. Right wing extremism has been far more violent than left-wing extremism in this country for decades, according to statistics compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It's the conservative side of the aisle that houses the biggest threats to my country these days, and there is simply no equivalent on the left anymore - hasn't been since the mid1970s and doesn't look like one's coming down the pike anytime soon either. There are no left-wing militias in this country anymore. There have been no left-wing bombings in decades. There were far fewer threats against the President made by left wing extremists during the entire Bush Lite administration than right wing extremists since November of 2008, and those were often disavowed by responsible people on the left in a way that has not happened when the shoe is on the other foot.

This all has to stop.

But it won't, not until conservatives take ownership of their lunatic fringe and clamp down on it.

The vast majority of conservatives aren't traitors - they are simply people who have ideas about how the country ought to be run that are different from the ideas currently in power. Ideas that haven't worked very well over the last few decades when they have held power, but ideas that are part of the mainstream of American belief nonetheless. These people need to stand up for their civility and their country. Right-wing extremists already know the rest of us non-conservatives think they're scum, so they won't listen to us. But if the people they hope to convert - the conservatives out there who still argue real ideas based on real facts, who understand that politics is about winning and losing and that next time out they might win, who know that levying war against the United States is treason and are horrified by the thought - if those people stand firm against this tide, then there is hope.

But not until then.

I'm not sure why this issue has ticked me off so much today of all days, but there it is.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Divine on a Spring

Molly Ivins used to say that some days it was like going down to the kitchen and finding Fidel Castro in your refrigerator - hard to know what to think, really.

I found myself in a parking lot the other day. This is not an unusual occurrence in the modern midwest. Nobody walks out here on the flatlands - there aren't even sidewalks in half the city - and since the lands are, in fact, flat, it is easy to spread out and provide plenty of parking for all. It's a gift.

My mother still laughs at the time when she came to visit me in Iowa and the city parking garage charged us forty cents an hour to park there. In Philadelphia, even fifteen years ago, that might have been enough to cover actually driving into the garage though not stopping, turning, or pulling into an actual parking spot.

The midwest: home of available parking.

So there I was, wending my way from my car to wherever I was supposed to be. I always sneak peeks into other people's cars when I do that, because I am nosy that way. Americans spend significant chunks of their lives in cars, and we tend to personalize them much as we do our homes. This can be both good and bad, depending on what your home looks like.

About halfway to my destination I passed by a car with a bobble-head Jesus on the dashboard.

I am not sure what I am supposed to get out of that.

Is this a sincere, if tacky, expression of faith? One Christian's kitschy commentary on an ever-present Savior who need not be an august majesty to have a place in one's life?

Or is it a more sarcastic commentary on the artificiality of religion? On the commodification of the divine that seems equally ever-present in a country where politicians wear their religion on their sleeves and self-appointed arbiters of morality claim jurisdiction over my personal life while selling trinkets to their followers to support their media habits?

You can't tell from the outside.

I'm not used to seeing bobble-heads outside of the context of stadiums. I checked, though, and Jesus was not holding a baseball bat. You can never be too careful around bobble-heads, that is my motto.

Well, one of them.

Hard to know what to think some days.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Festivities

We've been preparing for Halloween around here.

It's not a holiday we can avoid anymore, not with children around and certainly not when one of those children happens to have a birthday on that day. Halloween is a very big holiday in Wisconsin. When I was growing up it was a fun thing and I certainly never missed a chance to dun my neighbors out of sugar, but it was not the main event that it is here.  And like any big event, you need to prepare.

Saturday we went over to the Pumpkin Patch on the south side of town for the Second Running of the Children, or whatever they call it. Basically you sign up and the kids run about half a mile around the fields, and in exchange they get a t-shirt and you get to go into the main building for some hot cider and fresh apple donuts, still warm from the oven.

Lauren talked the organizers into letting her run with the big kids, since her birthday was just around the corner and she was tall enough to fit in.  And she beat Tabitha by three deciliters and a hectare or so.  The fact that Tabitha found a walking buddy halfway through probably helped, but victory is victory.

Not bad.

You also get a ticket for a wagon ride and an entry wristband for the Corn Maze. If you've never done a Corn Maze, it's really a lot of fun if you don't think about Steven King too much. You wander all over, picking up clues and checking your map, counting turns and steps until you eventually end up back where you started.

Like so many things in life, it's the experience, not the distance.

We decided not to worry about the wagon ride or the Corn Maze, though, since it was blustery and cold and there is only so much warmth a cup of hot cider will give you. We figured we'd come back Sunday.

And sure enough, Sunday was warmer. Sunny, even.

Before we went, though, we spent the day doing things around the house - cleaning the dining room floor, doing laundry, finishing homework, setting up gravestones in the front lawn. That sort of thing.

It's best just to go along with the spirit of the thing, really.


We did make it over to the Pumpkin Patch again after that, though rather late in the day. The girls scooted off in search of more pumpkins and we took our wagon ride, but we'll have to go back yet again for the Corn Maze this year.

And that means more apple donuts. Mmmmmm. Donuts.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Game? What game?

The Phillies played yesterday, not that you could tell around here.

Somehow they managed to win the National League East last month despite not winning a game after Labor Day, and then they won a short but exciting series against the Colorado Rockies in the National League Divisional Series.

It is a good thing that they beat the Rockies, as it is just inconceivable that a team whose colors are purple and black should ever win a championship in any self-respecting sport. Sorry, Baltimore Ravens fans, I know you think your team won a Super Bowl a few years back, but there it is. So there were any number of reasons to be happy about the WFCs moving on to the National League Championship Series.

That's "World uh... Champions," by the way. At the World Series victory parade last year, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley let loose with that one from the podium during his speech. His comment and the wild cheering that followed were broadcast live on all the Philadelphia TV stations, and it has become something of a nickname for the team ever since. Tastefully abbreviated, of course - the city that gave you the First Union Center knows when to abbreviate and when not to - though now the networks know to put the Phillies on tape delay so it probably doesn't matter much anyway.

They're playing the Dodgers again. They always seem to play the Dodgers in NLCS games. Well, "always" in terms of whenever they make it that far.  It's a small sample size but a consistent result, so it probably is significant in some way.  What way is open for discussion, but there must be one.

I had to go to Madison for training purposes yesterday. It was a pleasant meeting, with very nice food served (always important), and it let out right about the time that Game 2 of the NLCS was set to begin, way out on the Other Coast where the sun and the ocean meet at just the wrong time of the day. "Cool!" I thought. "I can listen to the game as I drive home!"

Well, no.

It turns out that despite having some 400 sport-radio stations in southern Wisconsin, as well as about that number of stations which purport to broadcast news and might actually do so when not broadcasting right-wing propaganda (did you know that the recession was Obama's fault but the recovery can be entirely credited to George W Bush? So said Fox News this week, I kid you not), there was not one station broadcasting the NLCS.

Not one.

This is roughly the equivalent of not broadcasting the conference championship games before the Super Bowl. I understand that Wisconsin is a long way from both Philadelphia and Los Angeles, but really, folks, how hard it is to broadcast a game when there are only four teams still playing for it all?

No respect, that's what it is.

It's not like the Phillies are disrespected, really. You don't get to be WFCs and still have people disrespect you. It's just a lack of respect - a nullity, instead of an opposition.

All the sports knobs on the radio were abuzz about the Dodgers' loss in game one, for example, though you had to listen hard to figure out who they lost to. It was as if the Dodgers had gone out and just forfeit a game into the open air. You'd never know there was another team out there playing against them, and I suppose for most people listening there might as well not be one.

But some of us would appreciate a mention or two of the team we're supporting. Would be considerate, it would.

In the end it was probably good that I didn't listen, as the WFCs managed to lose the game and that would have just added to my stress levels these days. I have enough of that. But they got a split in LA, and head home for three games beginning tomorrow. Should be fun.

How do you know God is a baseball fan?

Look at the first four words of the Bible: "In the Big Inning..."


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cookie Monster

The Tooth Fairy arrived once again in our house last night, bearing one shiny golden coin and taking away one somewhat battered upper front tooth.

What does the Tooth Fairy do with those teeth, anyway? No, I really don't want to know. It's probably something creepy and I just don't need that information at this point in my life.

Lauren has the world's most stubborn teeth. They hang in there and hang in there, refusing to fall out until whacked by something with some force - a sister's elbow, for example, or a shirt being pulled overhead by a dad.

Her two front teeth had been loose since the summer, slowly turning yellow and leaving widening gaps where once there was an even row of reasonably whitish, non-gapped teeth. One finally got whacked out by Tabitha last week, and the Tooth Fairy duly arrived bearing gelt, but the other stayed around, wiggling defiantly and gradually migrating to the center of the space between the other, non-wiggly teeth.

Then I tried to help her get her shirt over her head so she could change into her jammies the other night, and - BOOM! - blood, tooth, and another visit.

Naturally, we had to break out the Oreos. Because you only get one chance in life to make railroad tracks, and really, you should take it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Living In My Own Cartoon

We took the girls to see Meet the Robinsons when it came out a while back.

If you haven’t seen it, you didn’t miss a whole lot. It was one of those pleasant but largely unmemorable films that come down the pike now and again – a few good lines, a fairly simple moral, some entertaining visuals, but nothing to make you want to run out and buy the DVD when it comes out. The main problem with it was that it needed to be about 20 minutes longer in order to explain all the things that needed to be explained without you feeling like someone turned on the infodump system and buried you alive.

It did have one good running gag, though. The villain in the film (as much as the film had a villain, anyway) spends most of his time coming up with impossibly complex plans to visit mayhem upon the good guys, plans which don’t so much fail as collapse of their own weight into a pile of slapstick. And invariably when that happens, whatever henchman the villain has hired for that attempt turns to him and says, “I don’t think this plan was very well thought out.”

Sometime this week I have to figure out how to report taking exactly two hours and three minutes of vacation time last summer – vacation time that I am both mandated and forbidden by law to take.

I am an employee of the State of Wisconsin, at least for most of the various part-time things I do. And Wisconsin, like so many other states here in the Great Recession, is hurting for cash. So they have decided to furlough state employees – to force us to take unpaid vacation time in order to save money that would otherwise be spent giving consumers the ability to go out and make the purchases which would drive the economy forward out of the recession and solve the larger problem.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Now, I can understand this policy, really I can. You can't pay people with money you don't have, and the state needs to figure out how to balance its budget since unlike the federal government they aren't allowed to print money or run deficits. I don’t like this policy particularly, since it is costing me money, but times are hard and everyone has to chip in and do their share and chin up, pip pip, don’t you know there’s a war on and all that, so I'm game for it anyway, like it or no.

But I don’t think this plan was very well thought out.

I have two different kinds of jobs here at Home Campus. For one kind, I am considered a “lump sum” employee, which is different from being a “lump” or “couch potato” employee, though I have been called those things too. Lump sum employees do not have to worry about furloughs, since our paychecks are cut in a lump sum and therefore when we work and don’t work is rather up to us. I believe I have had those checks reduced under the current plan, but I don't have to account for my time so I'm not going to worry about it. My main position here, though, is as Instructional Academic Staff – “IAS” in the jargon of the institution – which does fall under the provisions of the furlough requirement. So I therefore must, by law, take furlough time for that position.

The thing is, though, that they don’t want us canceling classes in order to take our furlough time. So I am not allowed to take my unpaid vacation time when I should be in a classroom educating people – and I agree with that, since classroom time is something I enjoy very much and don’t want to sacrifice. I get annoyed when I have to miss class because of blizzards, let alone edicts. So I am required by law to take furlough time only when I would have been paid to do something besides teach.

But here’s the thing: I’m IAS. This is the bottom rung of professorhood – the ad-hoc, one-class-at-a-time, one-semester-at-a-time temporary level of the university educational system as it is currently constructed in this country. I’m not allowed on any committees – that’s for the tenured and tenure-track faculty (and paid staff, including lump-sum employees, which is how I ended up on one anyway). I don’t have any service requirements, for the same reason. They can pay IAS less because they ask less of us – the only thing we are paid to do as IAS is teach.

So somehow I need to take furlough time that would otherwise be spent doing something besides teaching that I would get paid for, except that the only thing I get paid to do is teach.

It is a quandary.

On top of that, everything has to be prorated. I taught one class this summer (well, two, but the other one seems not to count for some reason that I am not clever enough to divine). We are required to take off so many furlough days, based on a full-time schedule, and if we don't teach a full-time schedule we have to divide the required time by the percentage of our workload. Further, because my class was interdisciplinary I have to then divide the result by the percentage of the class I actually was paid for in the first place.

Thus the two hours and three minutes of vacation time that I must take but am not allowed to take.

Robinsons, Wisconsin. Wisconsin, Robinsons.

In one sense, this whole thing is moot since they already took the money out of my paycheck this summer and the only thing that happens if I don’t fill out the form is that I lose the unpaid vacation time I had no opportunity to take. I'm okay with that. It's easier, in the long run.

With all the figuring that has to be done to determine how much time one has to not be around and the rules that cover exactly what it means to not be around, and all the explaining that has to be done to figure out how to determine that amount of time and what can and cannot be done under what circumstances, and all the covering of workloads that has to be done to make sure that everything doesn't grind to a halt while all this is or is not happening, I'm just not convinced that the state is saving any money off this deal. Maybe it's just me, but the accounting just seems a bit odd from my perspective.

Sometimes I think we'd all be better off if our political leaders watched more cartoons and less C-SPAN.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Things That Go "Huh?" In The Night

What a difference a year makes.

It's coming up on Halloween again - happens every year around this time, apparently - and this means that it was once again time to stuff our car to the gunnels and head off to Michigan for the annual Halloween Bash hosted by Dave and Karen and their daughter Emily. This was our second time going, though they've been hosting this thing for - what? - eons now.

Last year it was 80 degrees and the skies were darkened with voracious clouds of mosquitoes. Insect repellent was not enough, so we adults were forced to consume vast quantities of alcohol in order to get the mosquitoes drunk enough to kill by hand. Being an adult is about the sacrifices you make for your family. That's what we tell our children, anyway.

This year, however, the overnight low was somewhere in the mid-30s. There were no mosquitoes. But we still consumed our alcohol, just in case. Because you never know. Sacrifices, sacrifices.

We arrived a bit later this year than last, since Kim's conference didn't let her come home until early afternoon and it's a long drive out to the middle of nowhere. But we pulled up to a rollicking festivity, and the girls immediately bolted off in search of their cousin Emily, and - having found her and a gaggle of other children - were never seen or heard from again.

Well, no, not quite. But it felt that way sometimes.

There was more face painting by Kim, and the Haunted Trail was reportedly quite fun. I say reportedly because I started down the trail with Tabitha, Lauren and Adriana and we got almost 5% of the way in before they turned as one and demanded we go back. This I was happy to do, since the Haunted Trail leads through the Haunted Swamp and across the Bridge Perilous over the Haunted Creek and I had only my sneakers to squelch my way through the night in should any of that Hauntedness get inside them. We repaired to the bonfire and had a good, non-haunted time there.

The highlight for me, again, was the karaoke barn, because I am uncool and perfectly happy to be that way. We ended up with a gaggle of kids and a few parents alternating between Hannah Montana tunes (which as parents of course we all knew...) and Chumbawumba's Tubthumping, which is the ideal song for small children and adults thoroughly defended against mosquitoes to belt out on a cold night.

I get knocked down! But I get up again!
They're never gonna keep me down!
I get knocked down! But I get up again!
They're never gonna keep me down!

But like everything else in life, it does have its odd side. There really is nothing like a half dozen five-to-nine-year-old girls singing:

Pissing the night away!
Pissing the night away!

Oh well. Maybe they thought it was just what you did after drinking all the things mentioned in the song.

We slept inside this year, not being particularly eager to freeze to death in a tent - indoors with cots, air mattresses, couches and heaters is just fine, really. Because we're smart, that's why. And old and creaky and not likely to ever regain "vertical" after spending the night on the ground in a tent in what is, effectively, winter. The reasons just keep coming.

The girls spent most of this morning tending the bonfire and achieving a densely-smoked aroma that now permeates our car so thoroughly that we can cure meat in it.

Ah, memories.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's A Hockey Night in Our Little Town

Hockey fans are an interesting group.

Our Little Town recently got its very own minor league hockey team. They're roughly the equivalent of Single-A baseball,  so they're a bit rough around the edges when it comes to things like passing, shooting and goaltending, though they have a cool name and snazzy uniforms, and they hit each other very well.  This made the crowd happy, and was thus a Good Thing and very appropriate.

With Kim off at a conference on Friday, the girls and I decided to go see one of the games.  We thought we'd have the place to ourselves, but apparently hockey is big here and the place was just packed with screaming fans.

If you've ever been to a hockey game, you know this is something of a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, it is always best to have a raucous crowd at a live sporting event. The athletes play harder. The fans enjoy more. The house makes more money, thus keeping the team around longer. It's just better.

On the other hand, well, let's just say that the girls and I had a few conversations about polite versus impolite words and the boundaries of each. It's not like I could turn around and say, "Hey! Watch the language! Where do you think you are, a hockey game?" Because they would just have said "Yes, yes we are."

Well, no, that's not what they would have said. Not quite. And then I would have had to continue my explanations to the girls and expand those explanations to include what is and is not anatomically possible or advisable, and there is no "win" there.

But there was plenty of win at the game, at least for us.

There were boom sticks for the girls to clatter together, the better to destroy our neighbors' eardrums and drown out their rather limited vocabulary. Our neighbors were both blindly partisan, berating the refs for making clearly correct calls when they went the other way, and loudly critical in rather unoriginal ways. The clattering boom sticks were better conversation, really.  I can think of a number of situations in life that would be improved by the addition of boom sticks, in fact, beginning with just about every staff meeting I have ever attended for most jobs I have held in my life.  I think that during my next meeting I will just sit back and visualize this, and they can wonder why I'm smiling.

There were also snacks. Lots of snacks, though we limited ourselves as best we could.  We had sugar, but refrained from purchasing any of the beverages being consumed around us in bulk.  Did you know they come in plastic bottles now?  Special "sports packaging" versions of your favorite beers - what a country!

And when all else failed, there was the game.


Lauren took those pictures with her own camera. She's quite a photographer, really.

We stayed until about halfway through the third period, when Tabitha's adrenaline gave out and we had to go home. Lauren would probably have stayed, though she conked right out once we found her bed. She was worried we'd never find out who won.  It's not like they cover this team on the news.

But there is always Teh Intarweebs.  Apparently the good guys lost on two goals in the last 1:10, so perhaps it is better that we left when we did.

I'm glad the girls are hockey fans.  We'll have to go back.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

News and Updates

1. I have tried the hot sauce. It was tasty, but very hot. It has been several hours, now, and apparently I will live.

2. Hammy and Vee came back a while ago. We had sent them on to the next family in our Rent-A-Hamster plan, but that didn't last too long and so far we have not found anyone else to palm them off upon. I think we have hamsters for good now.

3. I am grading exams. I do not like grading exams, mostly because it serves to remind me of how little of what I say or do in class matters.

4. Having finished my most recent book, I have now moved on to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. You know, so far it's just More Of Same, although the chapters are considerably shorter.

5. Does anybody want to buy any Girl Scout Cookies?

6. It is now cool enough to justify drinking tea on a large scale again. Mmmmmm, tea.

7. The Phillies have made it into the post-season and face the Rockies in the Divisional Playoffs, starting tomorrow. Let the non-belief begin! I hope to be as pleasantly surprised by my inaccurate predictions as I was last year.

That is all.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Put Out an APB on "Peter Piper" and Get His Carcass In Here

I think I have all the feeling back in my hands now.

Or, rather, I think I have only the proper amount of feeling back in my hands now. There is quite a difference between these two things in theory, though in practice it amounts to much the same result, namely the general sense that your arms end in a pair of fuzzy dice that somebody stole out of a 1963 Chevy Nova and swapped out for what used to be a useful set of appendages. It does raise some interesting questions about what is now hanging off the rear-view mirror of that Nova, but so it goes.

Yesterday I made my own hot sauce.

Kim’s garden has been producing produce in mind-boggling quantities for some time now, and among the bushels coming in were more than a few hot peppers that she planted as a way to make me interested in the garden. And since it would be a shame to see all those peppers go to waste, I figured I’d try to make some hot sauce. So I found a recipe that looked promising and cleared some time yesterday afternoon.

Now, I’ve had experience in dealing with hot peppers before. Some years ago I decided to pickle the four tons of banana peppers that we grew that year and spent several days chopping them up, salting them down and drowning them in jars full of vinegar, and from that experience I learned some valuable lessons.

First, the importance of rubber gloves when dealing with hot peppers cannot be overstated, especially if you ever want to use those hands again for anything besides repositories of creams, unguents and emollients.

Second, if you can process the peppers outdoors you should, otherwise the whole house will smell like the aftermath of a particularly vicious riot.

And third, there are more hot peppers in your garden than you know what to do with. Really, there are. Just let them go, man. Let them go.

I took the third lesson to heart immediately this time around, harvesting only about 20% of the peppers that were hanging there on the plants. I also tried to move the process outdoors as much as possible. This worked for the chopping part (eight cups of chopped, de-seeded hot peppers) but not for the simmering part, as it was too windy and the flame on the grill kept blowing out and I had to move the process indoors – first to the kitchen and then, when that became untenable, to the stove in the basement. I wore the rubber gloves the whole time, too.

Fat lot of good they did me, though.

In the end, the house ended up saturated in capsaicin and vinegar, my gloves ended up stained and porous, and I ended up with about a quart and a half of hot sauce that I’m kind of afraid to eat now.

There was a time in my life when I used to think “the hotter, the better.” That time ended after a hard-fought and costly victory over Colonel Johnson’s Thermonuclear Ribs on a field outside of Pittsburgh, and since then I have been more interested in spice as a flavor than as a test of manhood. I’m a historian. I already know where I stand on the Manly Men Doing Manly Things scale, and I no longer feel a need to purchase food that requires me to sign a Release From Liability beforehand.

So I’m waiting for the volatile organics (see, there are advantages to living with a chemist) to fall back into the hot sauce so I can open up one of the jars without losing my eyebrows and give it a try on something. If it’s any good, I’ll freeze the rest and go pick more peppers. If not, well, I suppose I could use it as a pesticide.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Busting Myths With Kari and Grant

We went Mythbusting yesterday.

The Kids Museum to the south of us was having a fundraiser, and they invited Kari and Grant from Mythbusters to speak. And you know we were there. You know that there was no force on earth that could make us not there. Not storms, not deadlines, not recessions, nothing. We were going to be there, by God, and woe betide anything that stood in our way.

We bought these tickets sometime in the spring, roughly fifteen seconds after they went on sale -only a dozen rows or so back, though hard up on the house right aisle. Not a bad trade, as it turned out.

And we counted down the days. One by one. For. Months. And. Months. Major wars have started with less anticipation than the Mythbusters coming to speak near us. As is appropriate.

We love Mythbusters around here. Any show that combines science education with explosive mayhem is always a good thing. It's the one show that we make time to watch, and often we do so as a family. On Wednesday, for example, when the new season starts, the girls will have special permission to stay up a bit later than usual to watch.

So a little rain was not going to keep us away.

We arrived at the theater with about ten minutes to spare, which counts as early around here. Fortunately there was parking right across the street, and we were well situated by the time the lights went out.

Kari and Grant made a rather grand entrance, rising up out of the orchestra pit along with the moderator and a copious amount of fog. They then went back to the two rather kingly chairs that had been prepared for them, and got the show started with a bit of back and forth with the moderator and a very brief trailer for the upcoming season.

Then they got to the heart of the matter - the questions from the audience. "Does anyone have any questions?" the moderator asked. "Please go to the microphones set up in the aisles if you do!"

And as one, the audience rose up and marched over.

Well, not quite, but it certainly felt that way. Both Tabitha and Lauren decided they wanted to ask questions, so we tromped up to the line and waited our turn.

Don't they screen these people?

It must be said, though, that Kari and Grant were gracious, willing to listen to just about any question thrown at them and give a good solid try at answering. Grant got asked a lot about his experiences on Star Wars, and they both went through the usual things that people wanted to know about the show. Yes, Adam and Jamie are just like that in real life. The most dangerous myths are the small ones that they underestimate. They all knew each other prior to the show and remain good friends now that they are on the show. The biggest, most complicated, most expensive, most nerve-wracking thing they ever did was drop a car from a helicopter. The scariest was try to count sharks in the dark down on a wreck.

Tabitha asked them how many myths they had done. Over 700, it turned out.

Lauren wanted to know what the weirdest myth they had ever tested was. That provoked a lot of interesting discussion, with the upshot being that the weirdest is yet to come. Really - it's in this season's episodes, and those who've seen Shrek and remember where he got his candle will know what this is all about. This also got their vote for the most disgusting myth they've ever tested.

Eventually the moderator stepped in and called the whole thing to a halt, roughly an hour and a half after it started. You got the feeling that they could have sat there and talked all day, though.

And to top it all off, the girls ran into their friend Becca there, and they got to play on the old rheostat board that the theater put out in the lobby when they redid the lights. So it was just about a perfect outing, really.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bought and Paid For

The check is in the mail.

Almost exactly a quarter of a century after I first set foot on a college campus, I no longer have any student loans. I am not sure how to react to this milestone. I will likely write checks to shadowy quasi-governmental agencies for months out of sheer habit. I hope I remember to tear them up before mailing them off.

I was never sure what would happen if I stopped paying them. What could they do? Repossess my education? Stick a vacuum up to my ear and suck out all the knowledge, leaving me to spend the rest of my days watching reality television and writing speeches for Sarah Palin?

I'd have had to take it on the lam - a mendicant scholar, will construct persuasive arguments for food.

But now I no longer need to worry about that. My brain is fully paid off. The neuro-repo-men need not trouble themselves on my account.

Time to go back to school, I say.