Monday, July 28, 2014

Post-Fair Wrap-up

Well, the fair has come to an end.  The tents are put away.  The projects have been picked up and returned home.  The various small animals that Lauren had scattered about the fairgrounds are back in their respective places.  All of the work that has been postponed is now insisting on its time.  It was a long and busy week, and we have learned a few things.

1. Deep fried mac-n-cheez is a thing.  Really, it exists.  Lauren insists that it was good.  We are willing to accept her word on this.

2. If you submit a baked good to the fair with the knowledge that yes, indeed, it will be left out on a display table for the entire week, in July, in Wisconsin, and fried bacon is a significant part of the decorations on your baked good, be prepared to be known as the person who brought “the maggot cake” to the fair.

3. It is entirely possible to walk around the fair enough times to offset the moderately lethal things you are eating and come out weighing the same as you did before the fair.  Expect your feet to hurt.  But it is possible.

4. Sometimes the parking gods smile upon thee, and sometimes they do not.

5. Once you have achieved a certain threshold number of projects, you start to consider the fair to be yours.

6. Apparently you can max out on the midway rides.  Tabitha graciously declined to participate in the final Wristband Day on Sunday, declaring, “I think I’ve gone on all the rides I want to go on this year.”  We were agog.

7. If you leave stuff there, odds are it will still be there the next morning if you’re quick about it.  Don’t push it, though.

8. Every project has its own subculture.  The things you have learned in one do not necessarily translate across to others.

9. It’s never too late to win a prize.  Lauren submitted two photos to the Poultry Photo Contest, being run on the side in the Poultry barn.  In the Beginner Class she was awarded a 2nd:

And a 4th:

For this she won a bright red plastic watering can, which is its own reward.

10. When you are strolling idly through the fair just letting your brain churn over, you’d be surprised at the weird things it chooses to recall.  There I was, walking through the vendors, when suddenly I remembered a college friend I have not thought about since 1991 or so.  Part of me thinks I should track them down and see what they’re up to, but most of me thinks that twenty-three years of forgetfulness is probably a sign.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chicken of Steel

Meet Bob.

Bob is the newest addition to our family, courtesy of one of the vendors down at the County Fair.  We’ve been up to our ears in poultry for a while now, so it seemed pretty much foreordained that we would come home with something like this.

Lauren was just thrilled.

She named him, of course.  She and I were walking around the fairgrounds yesterday when we stumbled into the vendor’s tent and came out with this anonymous 18”-tall metal chicken.  I suggested a few names, most of them female, but – being the chicken expert in the family – Lauren just rolled her eyes at me and said, “He’s a rooster, Dad.”

So Bob it was.

We’re not sure what we’re going to do with Bob.  We thought about putting him out front in the garden, but there are a number of folks in this neighborhood about whom we have doubts and we’d rather not have to put an alarm system on our metal chicken.  We’re not sure they even make such systems, or if they do whether such systems are affordable to the everyday consumer.  Chicken security systems may well be pretty high tech.  They probably involve lasers.

He might end up at the farm with the actual live chickens, though they may not appreciate having him around.  They would probably see him as something of a satire of their very existence, which is of course absolutely true.  Chickens don’t have much to call their own.  They’d get defensive.  There would be combat.  Having observed our chickens in action fairly closely this past week, my money’d be on Bob.

So likely Bob will end up in the back yard, where he can freak out the cat every time she goes outside.

Really, what else could a metal chicken want out of life?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Waiting to Be Judged, Part 3: Lauren and the Animals

There comes a point during Fair Week where it feels like you might as well have your mail forwarded over to the fairgrounds, if you ever got any mail worth forwarding, because that’s pretty much where you are all the time anyway.  Fair Week can be pretty intense for those who are in the 4H and have animals and projects to be judged. 

And their parents.

Last Friday and Monday morning were all about projects – visual arts, photography, woodworking, drawing and painting.   From Monday night on, however, it has been all about the animals. 

Lauren and I got Milkshake properly signed in and resident in his cage at the Rabbit Barn Monday night.  Rabbits are easy.  You pick them up out of one cage and put them into another, and that’s pretty much it.  They’re very peaceful animals that way.

Chickens are not peaceful animals.  We were reminded of this Tuesday morning when Lauren and I got the chickens similarly registered and in their proper places.  There was much squawking and protesting, and the chickens weren't happy either.  Fortunately Lauren was only showing five of her nine birds – two of them were disqualified for physical reasons, and two others were redundant (you can only show one bird per category, which makes the judging a lot more physically possible).  But even so, it was a trick.

Getting all the birds in place meant first taking Sully from our basement, where he* had been for a couple of days.  Kim and Lauren had given him a bath and we were not about to let this newly-sparkling chicken sully (see what I did there?) his shiny white feathers in the barnyard muck that the rest of his avian companions produce.  Of course, he’s as much to blame as they are.  Bean – the Australorp rooster and not one of the show birds – has been confined to a corner of the stall for a while now due to his aggressive behavior.  We put up a slatted wall to keep him there a couple of weeks ago, and put another slatted pallet on top to keep him from flying out.  Sully liked to perch on the wires in front and watch Bean, which wouldn’t have been such a problem except that the other seven chickens – all of them – liked to perch on the pallet hanging over right above Sully’s spot.  And if you know anything about chickens, you know that the result was that Sully ended up the recipient of an unceasing rain of chicken poop, which is something we were only going to clean once.

That’s the thing about keeping animals.  They teach you valuable lessons.  Like, “if it’s raining poop, you should probably try to get out of the way.”  Also, “chickens are what rocks would be if rocks were less intelligent.”

But Lauren and I fished Sully out of the basement, went out to the farm, stashed the other four birds who were going to the Fair – Venus, Puff, Birdie, and Rosie – into various containers, and went back to town to get them into the Poultry Barn.  This turned out to be a surprisingly painless process once we got there.  Three cheers for the poultry folks for that.

After lunch Lauren and her friend Autumn spent the afternoon exploring the fairgrounds while I hung out in a shady spot and got some grading done for my summer class, because that’s the kind of daredevil I am.  We left early, though, as it was rather hot.

And then came Wednesday and Thursday.  I worked it out – over the 48 hours of those two days I spent 24 of them at the Fair.  Where’s my mailbox?

We got there early on Wednesday for the rabbits, because all of the animal events seem to start early.  Not that they finish early, mind you.  Just that they start that way.  There is a vast swirl of kids all milling about, brushing their rabbits and getting into their showmanship uniforms (white long-sleeved shirt with the exhibitor number cardboard safety-pinned to the back, long black pants) straightened out and nice looking.  There is a large and very loud man (nice guy when you actually talk to him) trying to keep people moving along in the right direction.  It's quite a scene.

And then you wait.

It helps if you have friends to pass the time.

They do rabbit showmanship by class, beginning with the novices and working up to the most experienced kids.  Fortunately for Lauren this is her second year, so she got to go fairly early in the process.  She walked Milkshake out of the barn and over to the long table under the tent outside, where the judge sat, and then launched into her spiel.

For this she was awarded a Second Blue, one off from the Top Blue and one only two blue ribbons awarded in the 2nd-year class.  So congratulations to Lauren!

And then it was Wristband Day, where for a flat and fairly nominal fee you can ride on everything in the midway as much as you want.  As it was a much cooler day than Tuesday had been, Lauren, Tabitha, and their friends took advantage of this with all appropriate gusto.

That evening it was time for rabbit judging, where once again all the kids get into the showmanship uniforms and wait to be called over to the Stock Pavilion next door to the Rabbit Barn.  They go by breed, age and gender of the rabbit (so Milkshake - an 18-month-old Dwarf Hotot male) had to wait until they called “Any Other Fancy Breed, Senior Buck”) and while the process starts around 5pm it doesn’t end until well after 9pm with the awarding of the Grand Champion.

We sat on the bleachers and watched the various classes called before Milkshake’s troop in, get evaluated, and go back out with their ribbons, until it was finally Lauren’s turn.  The judge was careful and thorough, and this time around Milkshake got a red.

While this was a step down from the blue he got last year, it did mean that Lauren was now officially done and did not have to stick around for further judging.  And since it was still Wristband Day, well, you know how that went.

We eventually went home and poured everyone into bed like day-old coffee, including the adults.

Thursday morning got off to an earlier start than I thought it would.  We had planned to be over at the Poultry Barn at 8:30 for the start of judging, but discovered at 7:35 that there was an 8am meeting we were expected to attend.  So the day began with that “shot out of a cannon” feeling.  But Lauren and I got there on time.  Tabitha and Kim arrived somewhat later, not having to be there for the meeting.

This was Lauren’s first year in Poultry, and we discovered that it works very differently than Rabbits do.  For one thing, the showmanship part is much less structured – you just go over when you have the time and if you don’t get there before they stop, well, no soup for you. 

For another thing, they are fairly strict about categories – you show your bird in the category you registered them in, regardless of mistakes.  This is why people sign up for many more categories than they will actually show.  When chickens are small (i.e. when you’re signing up, since this happens well in advance of the Fair) it is difficult to figure out what sex they are so you sign them up for everything.  This came back to haunt us with two of the birds, it turned out.  We forgot to sign Puff up for both sexes and ended up having her show as a cockerel rather than the pullet she was.  And then there was Sully.**

Having failed to determine which chickens were what sex by the usual methods we were told to employ (and it's not like Saturday afternoon at the beach, where it all hangs out and is fairly obvious who's what in most cases), Lauren and I had gone out to the barn very early one morning a few weeks ago to see who was crowing, since that’s a pretty reliable way to figure out who’s a rooster and who isn’t.  Five of the nine birds were doing that – a distressingly high percentage, really, in terms of long-term viability – and Sully wasn’t one of them, so we figured we had a pullet.  When we signed in on Tuesday, that’s what we told the registrar.  But when two of the chicken experts at the Fair agreed that Sully was, in fact, a he, Lauren had to make sure to show him in the cockerel category rather than the pullet category.  Fortunately we had registered Sully for both (unlike poor Puff), so we could do that.  It took some anxious moments to make sure it was allowed, given what we had said to the Registrar, but they said it was okay and it all worked out.

One can only hope that this will not give Sully any further issues later in life.

Chicken judging happens in the same tent where rabbit showmanship took place the previous day.  They call an entire class (and if they’re small, two) and everyone brings their bird outside and plops it into the indicated cage in a long row of cages.  Then they step back and the judge comes along and evaluates all the birds at once and awards ribbons.  It takes all day because there are so many classes (including ducks, pigeons, and turkeys too), but each class or pair of classes goes fairly quickly.

Puff (Barred Plymouth Rock showing as a cockerel) got a white, busted down a place from red for being a pullet in a cockerel class.

Venus (Silverlace Wyandotte pullet) got a straight white.

Birdie (Cochin cockerel) also got a white, but it turns out he’s actually a Bantam Cochin and was registered for the wrong class.  The judge said he might have been a blue ribbon in the right class.

Sully (Sultan cockerel) was judged in the correct class and ended up with a red.

And Rosie (Rosecomb Bantam cockerel) also scored a red.  That's Lauren holding Rosie on the right, below.

So it was a busy day, and a successful one at the judging stand.

Somewhere in between Sully and Rosie Lauren did find time to go do her showmanship.  She chose Birdie as her subject, mostly because he was fairly docile, although he was coming into his roosterdom this week and there might have had to have been a switch to the Backup Chicken (Rosie).  Fortunately, Birdie was cooperative.  As with rabbits, Lauren scored a Second Blue in her class!  Congratulations to Lauren once again!

So were we done?  No, no, a thousand times no!  We still had to get in our last two performances of The 4H Zone, our Top-Blue-winning play from the 4H Drama Festival in May!

I actually missed Rosie and showmanship because I had to run down to Home Campus and help Jon load the time machine onto his bike rack (trust me, it made sense at the time) and get all the props and duct tape packed and ready.  Jon got it all over to the Fairground and I met him there, and we set about getting the backdrops ready.

For the original production, we had three 9’x12’ canvas backdrops that we hung in the flyspace and simply raised and lowered as needed.  There is no flyspace at the pavilion at the Fairground.  So we had to improvise.

Eventually this meant zip-tying the three backdrops together (in the proper order, which took some thinking) through the grommets at the top, draping them at the best levels we could get over the 6’-tall backdrop and using drywall screws to keep them in place.  For the actual production we stood behind the backdrop and when the appropriate cues came, rather than raising or lowering anything from the nonexistent flyspace, we simply heaved the next backdrop over the wall. 

Drama: 100% funnier with “flip-canvas” action.

We got everything set up.  Tabitha ran the sound.  Our intrepid cast of somewhere around 18 kids were in place.  And we ran that show twice for an appreciative audience.

There are no photos, unfortunately, as I was backstage with the canvas, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it went well.  The cast put in a lot of work – even a couple of pick-up rehearsals – and they were marvelous.  It's always something of a shame when a show like that ends its run and disappears into the ether, the way theater does. 

We hung out for a while after that, enjoying the fair, and then we left.  It was a good day.  It was a good couple of days.


*That’s a story in itself, as I’ll get to in a bit here.

**See – I told you I’d get back to this story.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Your Shakespearean Insult of the Day

For my Father’s Day present, Lauren gave me one of those little flip books – the kind with three separate piles of cards on a long spiral binding spring, cards that you can randomly flip to wherever and create phrases thereby.  You see this sort of thing a lot these days in the odder sections of bookstores.  They’re a lot of fun.

This particular volume promised that when used correctly (and really, it’s very hard to use these books incorrectly) you could “create your own Shakespearean insults!”

How could I pass up an opportunity like that?

But after playing with it for a bit it dawned on me that the wider public was missing out on all this fun.  Thus began the Shakespearean Insult of the Day project – an experiment in long-form Facebook posting.  Each day I’d randomly flip to a new insult (the only rule was that I didn’t want to reuse words) and post it to that portion of the wider world encompassed by my Facebook friends list.

It seemed to go over well.

But after a month or so it was growing increasingly harder to find new combinations, and it seemed a good time to bring the project to a close.  And since I have this blog, it struck me that I should collect the whole set and post them here as well.


1. Unmuzzled ill-faced canker-blossom
2. Dankish fool-born miscreant
3. Foul-reeking swaggering nut-hook
4. Mangled lumpish clack-dish
5. Three-suited mewling pizzle
6. Pernicious half-faced measle
7. Unmannerly muddy-mettled runagate
8. Fen-sucked flap-eared hedgepig
9. Beslubbering dizzy-eyed boor
10. Crooked-pated tedious jolthead
11. Odious half-faced malt-horse
12, Sheep-biting hell-hated jackanape
13. Mouldy pigeon-livered wagtail
14. Unctuous buck-washing clotpoll
15. Fawning scurvy want-wit
16. Milk-livered rump-fed giglot
17. Knavish flap-eared popinjay
18. Frothy dull-eyed mumble-news
19. Weedy earth-vexing flirtgill
20. Gleeking flap-mouthed fustilarian
21. Craven swaggering rudesby
22. Bat-fowling brassy varlet
23. Perfidious sodden-witted drudge
24. Plume-plucked fly-bitten lewdster
25. Saucy ill-breeding harlot
26. Reeky fat-kidneyed coxcomb
27. Haggard lumpish bung
28. Barbarous frosty-spirited apple-john
29. Goatish logger-headed prig
30. Weedy prattling bum-baily
31. Monstrous shrill-gorged elf-skin
32. Plume-plucked fly-bitten cullion

Go forth and spread the word!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Waiting to be Judged, Part 2: Tabitha

Fair week is now revving into high gear here, with more and more of the animals and exhibits arriving on the fairgrounds.  Lauren’s rabbit Milkshake is now safely ensconced in his semi-detached estate in the rabbit barn – showmanship and judging to take place on Wednesday – and tomorrow the five chickens who made the cut will be shoveled into place in the poultry barn.  The tents are set up.  The midway stands ready to accept paying customers (and if there is anything creepier than an empty midway except an empty midway with a solitary clown walking toward you, it has yet to be discovered).  All stands in readiness.

Buckle in, folks – it’s going to be a long week.

Today it was Tabitha’s turn to take her projects in to be judged, which of course meant that it was also time that they were finished.  She has spent the better part of the last month working on her Drawing & Painting entries, with the final pencil drawing being completed this morning.  We also had to stop by the school district’s main office this morning to speak to the IT people, as we discovered that her woodworking entry (“something completed as a school project”) had to be accompanied by a working drawing, which drawing resided on her school Google Drive account whose password had been changed by the IT people at some point since the end of the school year, thus bringing us back full circle.

Technology – sometimes it’s your friend and sometimes it’s not.

But it all got worked out.  Everything was finished.  Everything looked good – and yes, indeed, they looked really quite good.  Tabitha has some actual artistic talent that she clearly did not inherit from me, and she put it to good use on these projects.

The one that she spent the most time on and was most proud of was her Flag Map, which was entered in the Mixed Media category.

You may or may not be able to see the detail there, but each of those national flags was done by hand, in acrylics, colored pencils, watercolors, and Sharpies.  They got really, really intricate.  It's also a big piece - 11x14 or so, before the frame.  I was very impressed, as was the judge.  For this Tabitha got a Top Blue. 

Lauren and I checked after we got Milkshake all sorted out tonight, and a Top Blue it remains – no Merit or State Fair.  But this is impressive enough on its own, really – they give out even fewer Top Blues in the Drawing & Painting category than they do in Photography.

This is her Watercolor entry, a landscape in fantastical colors.  This got a Blue.

Her pencil drawing – another landscape, one that played a bit with lines and perspectives – got a bit shorted because of the time spent on the other two but it worked out nicely in the end and the judge gave it a Red.

From there we walked across the way to the next building for the Woodworking area. 

This is Smaug.

Smaug was designed as a CO2 racer for one of Tabitha’s classes this year over at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School.  The body was carved out of a single block of wood, and then she put the wheels on and painted it.  There’s a big hole bored into the back for the CO2 cartridge, and it did actually race against her classmates’ vehicles at the end of the school year.  Smaug did not win those races because, as Tabitha said, “it’s not really designed with aerodynamics in mind.”  But it did win a Blue at the county fair, and that’s quite a thing in itself.

So a Top Blue, two Blues, and a Red, which sounds awfully familiar after Friday.

Well done, Tabitha.  I’m proud of you.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Waiting to Be Judged, Part 1: Lauren

Fair Week has begun in Our Little Town.

Well, it’s begun for the 4H kids and their families, anyway.  It doesn’t begin for the rest of the county until Tuesday, when the fair actually opens, but by then we’ll already have been there for a while, getting all the good stuff and generally having the run of the place.  That’s the secret to life folks – if you want the good stuff, get involved.  The rubes get the leftovers.

That’s one of the secrets to life, anyway.  Others include “never play cards with a man named Slim,” “if you follow batshit insane policies don’t be surprised if you get poor results,” and “know your audience, and in particular know just how little it knows about what you’re actually supposed to be doing,” among other things. 

Life is full of secrets.

The first official day of County Fair activities was yesterday, when the judging started for some of the projects.  Those projects included all of Lauren’s non-animal events (rabbits and chickens are next week), so she and I spent some time carefully getting them all formatted in the proper County Fair style (they give you an entire manual for this sort of thing, and some of the directions are specific down to the quarter inch).  She had two Photography projects and two Visual Arts projects.

The first thing we did was get the Photography projects out of the way.  We allotted nearly 72 hours to get through the judging process, based on past experience, but to our surprise we were able to walk right up to a judge and were out in less than 20 minutes.  So three cheers for the folks running the fair, I say.

One of Lauren’s Photography projects was “Four Photos of Different Subjects: Landscape, Person, Animal, Building.”  She’d been taking photos all year for this, and when she decided that she didn’t have a Building photo that she liked we spent an hour or so last week walking around downtown taking random photos of the structures we walked by.  Lauren has a good eye for an image, and a lot of those pictures came out really nicely.  It was hard to choose.

These were her four:

The landscape is the skyline of Philadelphia, as seen from the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden, just across the Delaware River.  We were there over Christmas last year, and she took a bunch of photos of the city as we were leaving the aquarium.

The person shot is a self-portrait in Chicago, at what will forever be known in this post-Divergent world as the Bean – a highly polished piece of public art right on Lake Michigan that does indeed look like a chrome-plated lima bean from the outside, though you can go underneath it and the angles get a lot funkier.  We were there in March and joined the throngs of tourists taking photos there.

The animal is Midgie.  Lauren loves close-up shots, and Midgie is fairly accommodating when it comes to cameras.

The building is another close-up, this time of a door on a church downtown – one of the ones she took on our walk last week.

The judge was duly impressed, and she gave Lauren a blue ribbon for this project.  In our system, blue is a category rather than the single winner – it’s the equivalent of getting an A on a test.  We like A’s. 

The other Photography project Lauren entered was in the “My Favorite Photo” category, and in this you can see her love of close-ups as well as her feel for composition.  I’ve been taking photographs for forty years now, and I’m impressed with what she can do.

This is her chicken Birdie, one of the Cochins.  In addition to the image itself, the judge really liked the fact that Lauren got down to Birdie’s level to take the shot rather than just standing and pointing the camera down.

This photo got a “Top Blue,” which is the best of the blue ribbon category and is eligible for a Merit Award or may even go to State Fair.  They don’t give out very many Top Blues, and this makes two years in a row where Lauren has won one of them so it’s quite an achievement.  We checked this morning and it remains a Top Blue rather than a Merit or State, but that is impressive enough on its own, really.

That out of the way, we decided to take our chances on the Visual Arts judging.  Last year this took roughly a geological age.  This year?  Half an hour at most.  So the lifetime and a half that we had planned to spend at the fairgrounds turned out to be about an hour, including getting Lauren’s exhibitor wristband free pass.  I tell you, it’s nice when things work.  Three more cheers for the folks running the fair, I say, making in all a grand total of six cheers just in this blog post alone.

Lauren’s first Visual Arts project was her illuminated bottle.  This project required me to consume an entire bottle of mead, which was sacrifice I was willing to make for my child.  Once the bottle was emptied and washed, Lauren festooned it with dark green glass beads with a variety of varyingly effective glues, and then stuffed it with battery-operated white LED Christmas lights that Lauren and Kim stripped the snowflakes off of.  It would make a nice nightlight.  As a final step, on the way over to the judging we dashed into to the local hobby shop (the one that doesn’t seem to feel the need to involve the federal courts in its efforts to weasel out of healthcare obligations to its employees) and purchased some satin hydrangea flowers.

This one got a blue ribbon.

Her other project was to take a photograph of a small side-street in Gamlastan – the old section of Stockholm, where we visited a couple of summers ago – and use it as a backdrop for a canvas cut out to look like an old window.  The judge liked this one too, though she felt the mullions should have been thinner and gave it a red (2nd) ribbon.

So one Top Blue, two blues, and a red.

Well done, Lauren.  I’m proud of you.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Our Little Town, 1999

Three of the longest-serving faculty members at Home Campus – Lyle, one of the mathematicians, Barb, the geologist, and Lloyd, Kim’s chemistry colleague – retired at the end of the 1998-1999 school year.  And since an event like that has to be commemorated with food, drink, and song, the rest of us met over at the home of another retired faculty member for a fair amount of each.

Of course there was food and drink.  There’s always food and drink in Wisconsin.  You can’t gather four people together for a traffic accident in Wisconsin without someone bringing a dish to pass.  The food and drink you just accept as normal.  It’s the song that made the event something unusual.  Not every event has song.

A group of us decided to form a singing group just for the occasion.  We’d get up and perform something, and it would, of course, be the most amazing thing in the observable universe for certain values of “amazing.”

Naturally, we needed a name.  And given that I ended up as the lead writer for this comedy sketch and further that I was unduly influenced by Kim’s chemistry background (hey – being married to the writer never hurts, just saying), we ended up as “Joseph Priestley and the Ketones.”

Those of you with backgrounds in history, chemistry or biology may commence groaning now.

For the rest of you, Joseph Priestley was a political radical in the late-18th-century Anglo-American world.  One of the original Unitarian ministers at a time when this was an exceedingly controversial thing to be and a leading figure in the increasingly radicalizing Enlightenment, his religious and political stances so irritated people in his native and rather conservative Britain that a mob burned down his house and he was eventually forced to flee to the US.  He settled in Pennsylvania and got caught up in the fierce partisan politics of the day, which is how I came to discover him while researching my dissertation.  He was also one of the founders of modern chemistry, and is generally credited with discovering oxygen (or “dephlogisticated air” as he called it – fortunately the name never took).  Priestley was therefore a simple choice for the lead singer.

Ketones are a class of organic compounds, and their pronunciation (Key-tones) makes them perfect for the backup singers in a scientifically oriented parody band.

So now you can groan too.

I wrote up a script that followed the grand tradition of those old K-Tel album advertisements that used to infest the UHF channels on television back when the distinction between UHF and VHF was actually meaningful.  It was heavy on the chemistry jokes, as you’d imagine.  We may have even rehearsed it once or twice, though that particular fact seems to have been lost in the mists of time.  We borrowed some lab coats and – in my case – a choir gown, and we were ready to roll.

And on the day, there we were.

From left to right, there’s Kim, Beth, Dave, Mary, Julia, me, and Dick.  You can’t see Marty, who played the Announcer, but he’s up at the top of the steps next to Kim.  I think that’s Ted in the background behind Dick, just photobombing us.

We were sharp.  We were cool.  We were, as the Announcer said, “the greatest band ever to light the fuse on a bomb calorimeter.”

I dug up the original script out of the recesses of my computer and translated it out of the Linear C that is Word 5.0.  And rather than pick out bits here and there, I’ve decided to post the whole thing.  Because I can do that.  It’s my blog. 

Here it is, in all of its glory.


Announcer:  Ladies and Gentlemen!  Fisher Scientific is proud to present Joseph Priestley and the Ketones!

JPK: Sittin' In Committee All Day
[Tune: Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding)]

Sittin in the morning sun
I'll be sittin' when the evening's done
Watching the coffee roll in,
Then I watch it roll away again
Yeah, I'm just sittin' in committee all day
Watching my life roll away
Sittin in committee all day
Wastin' time

I left my home this morning
Lookin' forward to productive day
Now I have nothing to live for
Look's like nothing gonna go my way
So I'm just sittin' in committee all day
Watchin' my life roll away
Sittin in committee all day
Wastin' time

Look like nothin gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can't do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I'll remain the same

Sittin' here resting my bones
And this moron won't leave me alone
Two thousand hours they drone
And my ass just turned into stone
Now I'm just sittin in committee all day
Watchin' my life roll away
Sittin in committee all day
Wastin time.

[whistling part]

Announcer:  Yes, Fisher Scientific has teamed up with Molar Records to bring to you on compact disc the greatest hits of the greatest band that ever lit the fuse on a bomb calorimeter!  All the songs that kept you company those late nights in the lab are now collected in one place!  Better Living Through Chemistry features such classic hits as The Chemist

JPK: The Chemist
[Tune: The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel)]

I am just a chemist, though my story's seldom told
I have squandered my existence for a lifetime's worth of mumbling
Such is lecturing

All lies and jest
Still a man says what he wants to say and asks it on the test

Announcer:  And who can forget the classic Lab Cycle - a sixteen-hour rock opera about the daily routines of a scientist?  Well, most people, actually - but with Better Living Through Chemistry your mind will forever be scarred by classic musical moments as Joseph Priestley and the Ketones take you through the scientific process, from its anxious beginnings...:

JPK: Stir Bar Spinnin'
[Tune: Blackbird (The Beatles)]

Stir bar spinnin' in the dead of night
Take these separate layers and mix them right
Through the night
I will sit here waiting for a way to see the light

JPK: Thymol Blue Titration
[Tune: Crystal Blue Persuasion (Tommy James & the Shondells)]

Thymol-blue titration

JPK:  Don't Touch That
[Tune: U Can’t Touch This (MC Hammer)]

[Bass line]
Don't touch that

Announcer: To its anguished declarations of moral purity...:

JPK: They're Pharmaceuticals
[Tune: You’re Unbelievable (EMF)]

These things you take
They make you feel so good
Don't try
Oh, they're not drugs
[bump bump]
They're pharmaceuticals

Announcer: To final triumph:

JPK: Sweet Alkaline
[Tune: Sweet Adeline (every barbershop quartet ever in the history of the universe)]

Sweet alkaline!  My alkaline (my alkaline!)
You're the caustic stuff I love, dear alkaline (my alkaline).

Announcer:  But Joseph Priestley and the Ketones were more than just one unwieldy and excessive fiasco!  They were several!  From Joseph Priestley and the Ketones vs. Broadway, their last CD before they were broken up by international treaty, come such bursts of musical shrapnel as:

JPK:  Sunrise, Sunset
[Tune; Sunrise, Sunset (Fiddler on the Roof)]

Is this the measurement I long for?
Is this the measurement I need?
I don't remember adding sulfur.
Where will it lead?

Why did it get to be a liquid?
Why did it get to be so blue?
What if it turns into a vapor?
What will I do?

Sunrise, sunset.
Sunrise, sunset.
Swiftly flow the years.
One damn thing following another
Trapped in this chemist's vale of tears.

Announcer: And this:

JPK: Favorite Things
[Tune: My Favorite Things (The Sound of Music)]

Stir bars on benchtops and pipettes in beakers
High molar acid that eats through my sneakers
Brown viscous liquids supported by rings
These are a few of my favorite things

Announcer: And, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theater:

JPK: Super-heated...
[Tune: Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious (Mary Poppins)]

Super-heated catalytic oxygen reaction!

Announcer: Yes, the songs that haunted you in the wee hours of the morning when you were trying to sleep, the songs that plagued you in the late hours of the afternoon when you were trying to do something productive, the songs that bothered you in the evening when you were trying to eat dinner can now be yours!  Don't delay, act now!  Plus, as a special bonus for the first 6.02x10(23) callers, you will receive absolutely free the Ketone's version of that classic hit, Their Way.

JPK: Their Way (written by Bob Blue)
[Tune: My Way (Frank Sinatra, for all practical purposes)]

I came, brought all my books, lived in the dorms, followed directions
I worked, I studied hard, met lots of folks who had connections
I crammed, they gave me grades, and may I say, not in a fair way
But more, much more than this, I did it their way.

I memorized all sort of things, although I know I'll never use them
The courses that I took were all required, I didn't choose them
 I learned that to survive, it's best to act the doctrinaire way
And so I buckled down and did it their way

But there were times I wondered why I had to walk when I could fly
I had my doubts, but after all, I clipped my wings, I learned to crawl
I learned to bend, and in the end, I did it their way

And so, my fine young friend, now that I am a full professor
Where once I was oppressed, now I've become the cruel oppressor
Like me, you'll learn to cope, you'll learn to climb life's golden stairway
Like me, you'll see the light, you'll do it their way.

For what can I say, what can I do? Open your book, read chapter two
And if to you it seems routine, don't speak to me, go see the dean
As long as they give me my pay, I'll do it their way.

Announcer: Don't delay!  Send $19.95 to Fisher Scientific, 481 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15203.  This offer is good for a limited time only!  Void where prohibited by statute law, legal precedent or good taste.  Your mileage may vary.  Your red scarf matches your eyes.  No checks or COD's.  May be habit forming - consult your physician.  Do not operate heavy machinery while listening to this music.  Removal of the music from its social context will void the warranty.  Order now!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The World Below

We’ve been cleaning out the basement this summer, bit by bit.

This is mostly Kim’s idea, of course.  My basic attitude toward stuff is to leave it alone unless it is bothering me, and being remarkably tolerant in that regard this leads to a fair amount of accumulation over the long haul.  Kim is more proactive and demands that stuff prove its worth.  Either it deserves to stay or it doesn’t and that’s that.  It is a much more Darwinian world her stuff lives in.

One of the long-running disputes we have is whether a given object is “wasting” space or “using” it, for example.

But the basement has gotten out of hand even by my generous standards and I can no longer shrug when the clutter is pointed out, much as I try anyway.  So every so often we have gone down there and spent a few hours making it look worse.

Because that’s how these projects are, really.  Every time you want to do a thorough cleaning of anything you have to disrupt everything, and it will get a whole lot messier before the tide finally turns and you can see any improvement, assuming that it does eventually.  This is particularly true when, for logistical reasons or perhaps just for no particular reason at all, we have mostly been cleaning out the back end of the basement.  This means that the front end – the end you see when you come down the stairs – looks pretty much the same as it always has.  Or, as noted, worse.

Given the work that has been put in so far, this is somewhat dispiriting.

But we have made exciting discoveries, so that has to count for something.  For example, once upon a time we apparently thought it would be worthwhile to save nearly three years’ worth of Smithsonian magazines from the late 90s, which is a testament to either a generalized optimism regarding our ability to find time and interest to read old magazines in the future or a sadly misplaced notion that “these things might be valuable someday!”  We found a pile of old cookbooks too, which were probably put there for much the same reasons at about the time the girls were born.  Those we will actually keep.  There's always a chance that there might be something tasty to be made.

Along the way we have also discovered that the cats have done a spectacularly lousy job of ridding the house of vermin, judging from the amount of mouse poop that I have vacuumed up and the desiccated corpse of a mouse that had climbed into something plastic and couldn’t get out again – straight into the trash with that.  It's a good thing the cats are entertaining at least.  They're certainly not earning their keep.

Further, we’ve discovered that the old vacuum cleaner needs a new cord.  It is disturbing when you plug things in and tiny puffs of smoke come out.  We run a non-smoking house around here, and this goes double for appliances.

We press on nonetheless, a day here, a day there, in between everything else.  The last time ended promptly at kickoff (or whatever they call it) for the World Cup final.  By the end of the summer we may have a clean basement again.

In other words, just in time for the cooler weather, when perhaps people will hang out down there, the place will be clean and ready to be messed up again.  And when the rabbits come in for the winter, well, it will be party.  Because you can never have a place clean enough for rabbits, really.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Getting Back to Reality

The World Cup is now over.  Whatever shall I do now?


The thing about long, drawn-out events like the World Cup (and a month or so of any sporting event, even one you look forward to and objectively enjoy, is a long, long time, do you hear me NHL Playoffs?  And don’t even get me started on the NFL’s plan to expand their playoffs again – ain’t nobody got time for that) is that once they’re over you look up and realize that there were a lot of other things that really needed to be accomplished during that period and, well, they still need to be accomplished.

Where are those dratted house elves when you need them?

I have a class to prep for the fall.  Plans to make for August.  Grading to do for, well, pretty much every day until the end of July.  I desperately need a haircut, despite there being objectively less hair on my head than there used to be.  And next week is the 4H County Fair, which is always a blur in the best of circumstances. 

Methinks there will be some short sleep around here for a while.

And yet it was definitely worth it.  We watched most of the games, and it actually became a family activity that we could all share.  Hey, so it wasn’t learning a new language together while we crafted organic trinkets out of Fair Trade recycled forest products to sell them at local markets in order to raise funds to benefit homeless kittens.  Sometimes you just have to vegetate in front of a screen and share the magic of asking, “Now why is that a yellow card instead of a foul/red card/public flogging?” 

Also, “What is the deal with people wearing different-colored shoes on each foot, anyway?”

There were a lot of things I liked about the games.  The Chileans deserved better than they got after some really fascinating matches, for example, and after watching the Germans dismantle Brazil I’m feeling much happier about the fact that the US only lost to them 1-0.  I enjoyed the announcers that worked the American broadcasts – most of them rented from the English Premier League.  They were refreshingly brutal in their assessments of both players and performances (“it looked like a triple salchow out there!” said one after a particularly egregious flop) and even the guy who sounded way too much like Michael Palin for me to take altogether seriously was interesting.

There were also a few things that I didn’t like.  Does anyone play a less interesting style of anything than the Dutch?  Seriously – I tried to be on their side, but I began cheering for Argentina about halfway through their semi-final because I couldn’t fathom watching another game consisting entirely of people kicking the ball backwards. 

One thing that struck me, as I watched the matches, was how friendly most of the players were with each other.

Some of it just seemed to be the kind of unwritten (I assume it’s unwritten – perhaps not, but I can’t imagine that anyone would actually put it in a rule book) assumption that there were times when it was appropriate to kick the ball gently back to your opposition, who would take a few moments to let you get set again before the game would start up in earnest.  This usually happened after a player actually seemed to get hurt and lay there for longer than they would if they were just trying to draw a foul.  Whoever had the ball would often just kick it out of bounds, turning over possession to the other team.  And when play resumed, the other team would just kick it back.  I thought that was very courteous of them.

Some of it was also the sort of “hey, man – no hard feelings” exchanges that happened after most fouls.  It’s just a game.  You don’t really see that in hockey or American football very often.

I’m sure that some of those players don’t like each other, and some of them are the usual assortment of jerks and idiots that one finds in any assemblage of humanity (somebody really ought to feed that Uruguayan player before games so he doesn’t try to eat opposing players in the middle of the pitch anymore).  But mostly they seemed to respect each other and play within the rules of decorum as generally understood. 

Diving was okay if graceful and not too exaggerated or often, for example.  Don’t mess with anyone’s goalie.  If you were genuinely caught doing something stupid, shut up, accept the card and move on.  A nice thumb’s up on someone’s good idea that you just couldn’t follow through on is always appreciated.  And so on.

Eventually it occurred to me that of course they felt that way. 

They were highly paid professional athletes – the elites of the world at a sport that dwarfs every other in terms of interest and participation around the planet.  They all have spent years training to be where they are.  They do this for a living, at the highest level, when most people watching them (not in the US, of course, since most people here probably spent half of what few games they tuned into wondering where the end zone was) would gladly pay to be where they are.  They move in the fairly rarified circles of the wealthy and famous.  Half of them are teammates with their opposition in other leagues around the world.

They have more in common with each other than they do with anyone watching them, really. 

Of course they treat each other with a certain amount of camaraderie regardless of the color of their uniforms.  Who else would understand them?  Who else knows what their lives are like?  The guy in the cheap seats?  The viewing audience?  Seriously?

So it was interesting watching them go about their jobs, kicking a ball around and getting handsomely paid for it.  I enjoyed the games.

And now there is work to be done, alas.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Havertown PA, 1992

We don’t really do birthdays much in my family. 

When the kids are small we have parties, sure.  Friends come over.  Ruckuses are raised.  The place gets filled with happy noise and shredded wrapping paper, and everyone goes home happy and amped up on sugar.  But those tend to peter out after a while – my last such party was in elementary school, for example.  For the adults, we are happy to gather around and have a nice meal together, blow out a few candles, maybe exchange presents or not (but definitely cards), and generally that’s about it.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve forgotten my own birthday entirely until someone mentioned it to me.

But sometimes there are milestone birthdays, usually the ones ending in zeros.  Humans like big round numbers for some reason – multiples of ten, or multiples of 25, and even better when those overlap.  We had a big party when my dad turned 70, for example.

And we had one when my grandfather turned 80.

We all came from our various places back to the ancestral homeland of Philadelphia for the party, a gathering of the clan, such as it was.  We’re not really a very big clan.

The main event was lunch at my grandparents’ favorite restaurant – a sturdy sort of place named Charlotte’s, out on West Chester Pike somewhere.  It featured decent food at reasonable prices and clearly catered to the retiree crowd.  A surprising number of our family events happened there when my grandparents were still around.

And then we went back to their house to hang out.

I’m not sure whose idea it was to take a group photo, but I’m glad someone thought of it.  We lined up in what seemed like a reasonable arrangement – grandparents and children on the sofa, spouses and grandchildren behind – and the there you have it.

There’s nothing really more to tell about this photo.  It is what it is, a happy moment when we were all together and celebrating.

And that is enough.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Things Left Behind

We made the mistake of listening to the news on the way home yesterday.  Protip: don’t ever do that.  Nothing good will come of it.

Oh, I don’t mean the usual political nonsense.  That never changes.  “Right-wing extremists find new way to subvert Constitution and impoverish America’s future while liberals stand by and look butthurt.”  You can pretty much post that headline any day of the week these days and it would apply.

No, the top story of the day was the recent discovery of smallpox virus in an abandoned lab in Maryland.  Because what the world needs is another outbreak of the single most deadly pathogenic killer of humanity decades after we thought it had been eradicated.

But that’s how it is with old labs.  You never know what’s there.

This, of course, led to all sorts of stories.  Kim is a chemist, after all, and intriguing discoveries in the back of old labs are just part of the chemical life, yo.

My favorite such story was told to me years ago by my friend Chuck.  If you want the full version you need to hear it from him – he’s a marvelous storyteller – but this is the basic outline:

The town just to the north of us used to have a college.  It was founded in the mid-19th century and eventually went bankrupt around the time Reagan was first elected.  There were a number of buildings that survived, including a few of the old-timers – multi-story cream-city brick structures, all clustered around a grassy area.  They’re still there now, in fact.

Chuck eventually decided to buy one of them to use as a workshop.  He’s one of those handy people who’s always got some project going, often one too big to do in his basement – he does a lot of work for local theater groups, for example.  And the buildings were just sitting there.  They practically gave it to him, just to have someone in the building taking care of it.

Two things you should understand at this point:

First, this was the old science building, which naturally included the chemistry lab and its stockroom.

And second, nobody had any idea what was inside of it.  Some of the things in there had been forgotten since the First World War.

Realizing that the first order of business would be to take all of the old stuff out of the building, Chuck enlisted one of his friends to help him gather stuff up and take it away.  They slowly worked through the place until they got to the chemistry area.

They spent a good part of a morning picking up old bottles of unidentifiable substances and putting them in boxes.  They’d haul the boxes down the stairs from the third floor where the lab was, clinking all the way, and toss them into the truck to take over to the local hazmat disposal center.  And then Chuck picked up a gallon-sized jug of something, turned to his friend and said, “What do you think this is?”

As Chuck tells the story, his friend looked at the bottle and froze.

“Chuck,” he said carefully, “Put.  That.  Down.  Very.  VERY.  Slowly.”

He did so.

“Now,” said his friend with the kind of exaggeratedly precise diction one often finds among people who feel they might just be able to count their remaining lifespan in minutes on their fingers, “we are going to walk very quietly and very carefully out of this room and outside.”

It turned out that Chuck had picked up nearly a full gallon of dried picric acid.

For those of you not up on your chemistry, picric acid was used in the early 20th century as an antiseptic and burn medication, among other things, and Kim said that it was often used in chemical testing as well.  Its main use, however, was as an explosive.

When wet, picric acid is fairly stable.  But when it dries out it becomes extremely volatile – a word chemists use to mean “psychotic, and not in a good way” – and shock sensitive.  Like that one college buddy you used to have that you eventually learned not to invite to parties, it takes very little provocation to make this stuff go off with severe unpleasantness.

In other words, had Chuck dropped that bottle it is entirely possible that neither he nor the 3-story brick building he and his friend were standing in would be around today.

Eventually the bomb squad was called in from Madison.  They took the jar to a nearby quarry – a time-consuming and delicate trip, according to Chuck – and then had a sniper take it out from a quarter mile away.

It made quite the bang, so I was told.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cover Me - There's a Sale in Aisle 9

The other day I made the mistake of looking at the community Facebook page that a friend of mine runs here in Our Little Town.

Not that looking at the page is a mistake in itself, mind you.  He does a nice job of keeping the conversation lively on issues of local importance or just issues of local focus that by any objective measure have no importance whatsoever, even to those directly involved.  It can be a fun page that way. 

Once in a while, though, he decides to touch a nerve – he’s politically active enough that you know it’s deliberate when it happens – and on that day he asked what the community thought about a local chain store deciding to ban its shoppers from carrying guns as they browsed the housewares.


You would be surprised by the number and vehemence of people who cannot imagine going shopping for small appliances without packing heat.  Or you would if you’d been living under a rock for the last decade and had missed the nearly sexual longing for guns in American culture that has wrought havoc upon what had just barely been a rational conversation about firearms to begin with.  And it all brought to mind a single question:

When did Americans get to be such cowards?

It’s not like this is an isolated occurrence, or something that only happens in Our Little Town, after all.  Everywhere I go these days and on every media outlet in whatever format, some overwrought and needlessly loud person is getting in my face about their supposed right to carry firearms anywhere they damned well please, up to and including into my own home and any classroom in which I teach.  Even setting aside the legal issues raised by such asshattery and foolishness, it is still an astonishing thing for someone to admit in public. 

Who on earth is so scared of their own shadow that they need heavy artillery just to walk out their own front door?

Answer: a surprising number of Americans, that’s who.

We have become the most timid, fraidy-cat nation on earth.  All across this once proud republic there are legions of the jelly-spined trying to shore up their failing nerve by taking guns into stores, hiding them in their cars, concealing them in their pockets, purses, backpacks, waistbands, and jackets, and even carrying them over their shoulders and into restaurants in order to buy a burrito with some semblance of confidence, all the while pretending to be actual heroes instead of the shivering wannabes they so clearly are.  They stroll down the streets of small-town America is if they’re in 1990s Mogadishu – a city most of them couldn’t find on a map – ready to do battle with whatever leaps out and shouts “Boo!” at them.

You never know when that burrito will fight back, now, do you?

Or the five-year-old down the block.  Five-year-olds can be awfully ornery.

Oh, sure.  They talk about self-protection, as if their fetishized dependence on ever-larger weaponry would do themselves or anyone else any good in an actual crisis.  Worse, they talk about protecting others.  You can see the little flash of hope in their eyes that perhaps this day, of all days, they will jump in and, with time for a pithy little quip beforehand of course, Save The Day by fighting against the kind of movie bad guys who never hit what they aim for and die like flies as soon as the hero points his chrome-plated .50-caliber “Compensator” in their general direction.

The reality, of course, is different. 

There is a reason why nearly every police department in the State of Wisconsin opposed the concealed carry law when it was rammed through a compliant, bent-over legislature a few years back.  Cops understand where real danger lies, and surprisingly enough it rarely comes from criminals.  Most criminals aren’t that motivated.  Jittery over-armed nerve cases with hero complexes, though, there’s a problem.

There is also a reason why the military trains its soldiers as hard as it does.  You’re useless in a firefight without constant, strenuous training, the kind of training the wannabes can’t even imagine and certainly aren’t about to subject themselves to voluntarily because it’s too much like real work.  Without that training you’re just shooting randomly into a crowd.

In an actual crisis those legends in their own minds would simply add to the body count – first by slaughtering the innocent around them and then by dying themselves, quite possibly at each other’s hands, which would at least be justice of a sort. 

But even that’s unlikely. 

Statistically the more likely outcome of this discount-store arms race would be either a) two pointlessly armed jitterbugs squaring off against each other in a comic-book re-enactment of some Old West showdown, only significantly less amusing once the people around them begin to die, or b) one pointlessly armed jitterbug having his gun fall out of the waistband of his underwear where he’d jammed it for easy access and having the damned thing go off (because you and I both know that the safety will not be on), after which all bets are off because once the first shot is fired every pistol-packing manly man in the store will drop and return fire until there is nobody left to bleed.

All of this was accurately predicted by the police departments when they spoke out, but somehow it made no difference when they said it and I doubt it will make any difference when I say it.

Legislatures all over the nation are shoving through new laws to make this legal just as fast as they can cash those lobbyists’ checks, so it looks like this is will be the new normal here in the Land of the Free (tm) for the foreseeable future.  Get used to it.  After all, those who need toasters must have their firearms to safeguard themselves while they stand in line at the cashier.  They stand ready at the draw, eager to prove … um … well, something, I’m sure.  Don’t rightly know what, really.  Not sure they do either.

There is no rational way to explain this, because it is not a rational need but a phobia.  We are scared of our neighbors.  We are scared of our countrymen.  We are scared of our own shadows.  And we will have our hot lead safety blankets to calm us down, by thunder, even if it means turning American civil society into something that looks like a battlefield except without the organizational clarity.

Because we are cowards, we Americans.  We didn’t used to be.

When did it change?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Throwback Thursday: West Philadelphia, 1989

My first apartment after I graduated college was a room in a big house just off campus.  I shared the house with a rotating cast of friends, some of whom were officially on the lease and some of whom just kind of lived there.  It was a fun place to spend a year figuring out what to do with the rest of my life.

The house was part of a twin, built sometime in the early 1870s when that part of West Philadelphia was still considered the suburbs.  I know this because when I got to graduate school the following year I had to read an article on the development of Philadelphia neighborhoods for one of my classes.  The article featured a couple of plat maps of my old neighborhood.  The house wasn’t there on the 1871 map – there was nothing there, really – but it was on the 1874 map.

We had the right half, and only the top two floors at that.  I’m not sure who lived in the downstairs apartment originally, though by the time this photo was taken in our last summer there Jack and Laura had gotten married and moved from our floors into the ground floor.  That’s Jack there, on the right.

It’s the Fourth of July in this picture, and we’re having a cookout on the porch because what else would you do on a century-old wooden porch besides put a charcoal grill on it?  All of the housemates are there except for a sublettor or two, as well as more than a few others who stopped by for the festivities.  I’m not entirely sure how I ended up as the grillmaster given my general lack of skills in that department, but there I am.  The t-shirt commemorates the Screaming Psychotic Nightmare Show From Hell that I wrote about a while back.  Other than a few stories it’s the only good thing I got from that show.

When I posted this on Facebook Jack commented that we looked like a right pair of West Philly badasses.

Because that’s what we were.

Cooking out on the Fourth of July is one of the grand traditions in American life.  For all that divides us, for all the ways in which we make each other crazy, there is the sizzle of the grill and the pleasant aroma of smoke permeating the air to bind us together and make us feel good about the day.

I like to think that the Founding Fathers would have approved.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

News and Updates

1. How on earth did it get to be July already?  I’m still trying to get my head around June.

2. No, I’m not going to comment on the recent travesties (there were two of them, even if only one got the headlines and Facebook memes) emitted by the Supreme Court.  It has become clear that the right wing extremists have won in this country, Constitution be damned, and I’m sick of it. 

3. We are rapidly approaching the point where the distinction between “pets” and “livestock” is going to have real consequences for Lauren.  The Austrolorp turned out to be a rooster (you can’t really tell when they’re little) and has gotten aggressive toward the other birds.  Right now he’s living in a rabbit cage, but that can only last so long.  Anyone want a rooster?  He’s actually a beautiful bird – healthy and strong.  His name is Bean.

4. The online course this summer has turned into a frogmarch of grading, with major assignments due roughly every four days.  So far my students are keeping up, but this may be a self-limiting problem for me.

5. I’m trying to put together my new fall class, but it is going slowly.  My mind does not want to focus on anything these days. 

6. Today it is cool enough to drink tea again, which is a point in the day’s favor.  This summer has been more humid than hot so far, but I am looking forward to fall temperatures anyway.  You can always add clothing, but the reverse is not necessarily true.  We checked the forecasts for Stockholm and Bath yesterday and wondered yet again why we didn’t live there.

7. Every time I get behind the wheel of the minivan I cannot believe that driving so large a thing is even possible.  Yet I look around on the streets of Our Little Town and the evidence is all around me.  This is a town full of minivans, SUVs, full-sized pickup trucks, and repurposed assault vehicles.  Clearly driving something that big is no big deal, but it still strikes me as odd.  The van is a lovely vehicle for long trips, but a bit overwhelming for toodling around town.

8. The US is now out of the World Cup, after a hard fought match against a much better opponent.  They came so close to stealing that game.  We’ll still watch the rest of the matches, though – it’s the best thing on television right now by a long shot.  I’m not sure who I will be cheering for now.  Perhaps the Dutch.  I have friends there, and nobody does chocolate jimmies like the Dutch.

9. The problem with the US being eliminated is not such much the fact that they aren’t going to win the World Cup – seriously, not even their coach thought they could do that – but the fact that now all the troglodyte soccer-haters have come out from underneath their rocks to gloat about not having to care for the next four years and how glad they are we can get back to “real sports” like, I don’t know, driving in circles until someone crashes, or – in keeping with the attention span of American spectators – tossing a ball through a hoop forty or fifty times in less than an hour. 

10.  Reminder: do not read comments on news sites, as you will only regret it.