Saturday, May 30, 2009

Apology to my mother

Maybe it's because she has rarely read the books she thinks that I should read. Maybe it's because her word choice hardly compels, (e.g. "It's really sad and it's not a great book but here, read it some time," or "It kept making me think of you and all of your poor students that don't want to learn.") Maybe it's because nobody in my family takes suggestions from the rest of my family (ask my brother about Lone Star). Maybe because there are just too many other books waiting to be read in the world. Whatever the reason, book suggestions from my mother often fall to the bottom my list.

This, it would seem, is a mistake. I always like the books my mother suggests. Admittedly, I always find something to like in almost everything I read, but my mother's suggestions are often right on target. While in Italy, I read two of her suggestions. Two for two (and neither a book my mother physically gave me) would make it sound as if I listen very closely to my mother. The truth is, however, that my mother told me to read Doomsday Book sometime in 1994 and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society sometime last year and I would have never bought them unless books i done read awarded both Doomsday and Guernsey 9 1/2 caterpillars. To give me some credit, Raych had read them both and could remember their titles, which is not true of my mother.

Connie Willis's Doomsday Book is ostensibly sci-fi (it won both the Hugo and Nebula awards) but it is not an adventure novel, a futuristic novel or a novel about science/technology/space or robots. It is the kind of sci-fi novel my mother would probably never pick up, but probably would enjoy. It is a character driven story that happens to involve some time travel. Written in 1992, many parts already feel outdated, although the swine flu epidemic felt eerily current, as did reading about the plague deaths in Siena the night before I visited that Tuscan city. Several times while reading it, I kept wondering why nobody had ever told me about it (until I remembered my mother had) and what Irene, J-babes, Beth, Sunflower Spinner, Sally's Sister, Tucson T. and all think of Willis. Friends, if you have read Connie Willis, I want to know what you think, and if you have not, I want you to so we can discuss what this book is about. When asked what he thought the point was, The Mister suggested, "Quarantines are good," while I was thinking something along the lines of, "Faith is important, even when it can do no good," or "all humans have the capacity to serve as someone else's angel." So I need some other thoughts.
"Swine fever" warrants a line in Shaffer and Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but I wouldn't have noticed it unless I had swine flu on the brain. None of the bad things that happen in Guernsey are disease epidemics. World War II and regular life provide enough moments for tears in a short, sweet book. My main fault with Guernsey is that it is too sweet (and the end is all wrong. Plot-wise it is obvious, but something strange happens with the last 15 pages that made me wonder if the main author died before re-editing them), which is weird for a book that I cried through. The book-love throughout is a nice touch, too, which gives it a few points for all of my librarian and otherwise bibliophilic friends who smile about Heathcliff vs. Darcy debates. Heartily recommended for both mothers and many other friends.

Good choices Mom!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pedicure in Newark

While I have much to say about Italian legumes, both as plants and food, I will have images to illustrate the key points if I just wait two weeks. I'm also feeling sorry for travellers who don't notice either plants or food (what do you look at out the train window if you're not noticing the plants whizzing by? how do you plan your days if it doesn't involve trying a new kind of cheese or gelato?), but it's nap time rather than essay time. But, just to thank all of the people who stop by here even when I don't write regularly, I will offer this tip: if you have a long layover at Newark airport, the little "spa" in the C wing does great pedicures with swollen-ankle-reducing foot massages at prices competitive with the scary tanning salon in my town, West Virginia.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Italian Legumes I (without images)

Spring here in Northern Italy is rife with blooming beans. What I believe are black locusts grow wildly along the railroad tracks, broom pops up in odd places, and I am a huge fan of wisteria, which is done blooming in Como, but is still in full flower here in Brunate, a village above Como (up a 50% grade on a funiculare). I've been almost 35 hours in the country, however, and have yet to eat a bean. Don't worry; I will.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beans of Spring

The week was about as bad as it would seem from the earlier list, made a little worse by the flood and the regular threat of a re-flood, but we survived it.
We ate our first pea shoots last night (not very good) and took pictures of all of the beans we are going to miss: wisteria, broom and baptesia. You'll see those after I return.

Altogether a very hectic week was vastly improved by great friends, one of which sent me a legume leaf photo just to make my day. Thank you all.


Monday, May 4, 2009

22 Feet High and Rising

I'm not giving my torturous oral exams right now because I had to come home while I could still cross the bridge and help the Mister pull everything from the basement. The river was 14 feet at 7 am. 22+ at noon. Watch at home via the USGS.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Easy Week

In my mind, the week of finals is supposed to be easy for a professor. Officially, I believe all I need to do between now and Friday is show show up for exams, grade them and turn in grades. This misconception, however, combined the Mister's and my desire to leave town immediately after graduation in order to take advantage of the professorial time schedule, leads to the barely controlled chaos that I am looking at over the next eight days. Somehow, between now and when we board a plane on the 12th, I will do the following:
  • Write three exams and copy them, the first being 8 a.m. Monday (tomorrow) morning which will involve fighting with the slow copy machine on Sunday night.
  • Give eight one-hour oral exams to graduating seniors. This is cruel and unusual for everyone involved.
  • Grade 80 exams, all of which involve some short answer, half of which are entirely open response.
  • Attend two on-campus pre-graduation ceremonies, graduation itself and personally host a croquet party for the biology seniors*.
  • Give three laboratory make-up practicals (for two different classes) including finding fresh specimens to replace the stuff that dried beyond recognition over the weekend.
  • Clean up the practicals, and, if I were good, the labs in general so that the teacher teaching summer school could find stuff.
  • Find, organize, grade, and enter scores for 80 lab reports, 200 quizzes, 20 lab practicals, 8 ten page papers, 20 semester-long projects, 20 oral presentations and 20 short papers that I misplaced in March.
  • Answer who knows how many questions about grades and when grades will be available on-line.
  • Seek out my allegedly graduating senior and find out why she has not turned in a final report for her research and why her research area is still a mess.
  • Find the hippy non-trad student who just gave birth and convince her to turn in something so that I can complete the paperwork to change her incomplete.
  • Meet with my student whose parents were murdered three weeks ago and arrange a plan for her to finish her work over the summer while we both try not to cry.
  • Organize the gift basket from the seniors for their grieving classmate.
  • Find out the results of a student's test for ovarian cancer and try not to cry when she does.
  • Track down a failing student who failed to arrange a time to give her presentation to my lab instructor (who was gone last week because her day job is the county sanitarian and the emergency swine flu meeting was during lab) and make her give a presentation.
  • Write a letter to perspective students telling them how wonderful our program is.
  • Fight so that biology 101 does not get overfilled so we still have room for incoming freshman majors.
  • Wrap up a search committee (for my job for the fall).
  • Clean up my office so that the women teaching over the summer could use it.
  • Find home for the plants in the lab.
  • Meet about summer science camp.
  • Work on the ethnobiology network grant (that was funded) that I should contribute to before the first big meeting at the end of the month.

  • Go to the doctor.
  • Ask my doctor to write me a letter saying that I really do need to carry-on syringes on a plane flight.
  • Somehow translate this letter into Italian.
  • Go to the pharmacy.
  • Have my hair cut (for the first time since September).
  • Paint my toenails and have my legs waxed.
  • Clean my house before the croquet tournament.
  • Attend a baby shower as guest of honor (2 if the Mister's department gets their act together).
  • Write thank-you notes to the dear friends who threw me a baby shower in Kansas back in March and the students who attempted to throw me a baby shower last week.
  • Attend an end of the semester brunch.
  • Learn key phrases in Italian.
  • Take the car in for its annual state inspection.
  • Plant the herbs we bought yesterday.
  • Send mother's day stuff.
  • Send birthday stuff to my neice and brother.
  • Clean, block and mail the baby blankie featured last week.
  • Talk to the fabulous cat sitter who is willing to do odd jobs while we are gone and amass supplies so that she can actually do the odd jobs.
  • Send cards and or gifts to the other two friends who had babies in April, the friend with the March birthday that I bought a gift for last summer, friends and relatives with health troubles and the colleague whose wife just died last week.
  • Cancel a credit card.
  • Treat my cat's fleas which have returned with the warmer weather.
  • Celebrate my cat's first birthday (today!).
  • Pay household bills.
  • Bleach the clothes that turned musty when I left them in the washer last week.
  • Figure out what in the world I am wearing in my seventh month of pregnancy in Italy in May.
  • Figure out where we are going in Italy.
  • Eat lots of vegetables including fresh Russian kale and pea shoots from the garden.
  • Celebrate the blooming of the dogwoods, azaleas, alliums, columbines and hopefully the baptisia.
  • Quit typing and do something.

*I am well aware that many of these things are my choice or fault. Of course I could give fewer assignments and have much less to grade. Nobody is forcing me to throw a party for my seniors. If I weren't leaving town I could do most of this next week. . . I'm also not complaining: the length of the list is directly related to having a job I enjoy and give my all (and that ends seasonally), being in love with spring, and having strong interpersonal relationships. Despite resulting from good things, though, I am currently overwhelmed.