Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'Tis the Season

It's that time of year again.

Time for:
Cautious students.  You may not know it, but I have some of the most cautious students in the world.  If it might snow or the rain might freeze, you can bet they would not risk harming anyone by driving to class.  As it happens, is did snow and the rain did freeze on Sunday, which had great implications for class attendance on Friday and Monday.
Sickness.  I was about to write that I can't remember the last time I had a sinus infection-cough-general sick malaise that dragged on for this long, but I can, vividly.  It was this time of year, two years ago.
Fall Photos. Hey look! The kids did dress up for Halloween.  Dianthus was a firefighter.  Aster was a bucket-head with an alligator on his shoulder (I may be his mom, but sometimes even I can only manage literal interpretations).  Hey look!  Fall happened in Colorado and Oklahoma and was gorgeous both places.  Hey look!  The Mister and I became muddy in the mud run!
Holiday Indecision and Stress  Ten days ago, back on Nov. 16, one of my Facebook friends posted a photo of her just-decorated Christmas tree because she just couldn't wait to start the season.  The next story in my news feed was a friend who is going to boycott the "Christmas Industrial Complex" entirely this year.  At the time, both positions felt a bit silly (although I will let you know, that my snowflakes are up. Maybe in 2014 I'll take them down.)-- Christmas can wait until after Thanksgiving and Christmas is lovely.  But then I start to get caught up in it.  And it is stressful.  And I want to start now.  And I want to hole up entirely.  I do care that we have good homemade pie and whipped cream that was whipped (not sprayed out of a can) on Thanksgiving. I do want to light the advent wreath.  I want my sons to have memories of baking gingerbread men with their mother.  I even want them to have memories of waking up in their own house and looking at what Santa brought on Christmas morning, but I am too timid or complacent to actually bring up that conversation.  I want to sing carols.  I love fruitcake and eggnog lattes and clam chowder on Christmas Eve and basically I love tradition.  I'm also appalled that downtown in my town is piping in loud praise music, already.  Lots of exterior decorations just strike me as obscene wastes of energy, although I've gained new appreciation of viewing lights as cranky toddler darkness time filler.
I really thought I had a point to this when I sat down to write it.  I'm struggling to find it.  Let me know what you love about the season and that I'm not alone in making my own stress (e.g. it wouldn't be nearly as stressful if I bought cookies for the cookie exchange-- but  then what would be the point of the exchange.  I could buy everyone gift cards, but I can't . . ) and on to the other things that it is time for.
Finals Ambivalence  Can't wait 'til they get her, can't believe how much we have left to do . . .
Next Year Procrastination  I assume this affects people who aren't on semesters as well, but there is a common problem among academics-- survive until finals, survive the holidays, then worry about next semester.  Except those lab orders need to be in, that grant needs to be submitted and the new class needs a new syllabus (but surely I'll do it in Colorado or Kansas).
Lighting Candles  Hanukkah starts tonight.
Being Thankful Whiny as this may list may be, I am taking time to express gratitude.  I am oh so thankful for my life of abundance, both in material things, spiritual joy, and the wonderful people who are in my life.  Thank you, beloved friends and family.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Don't let your flowers wilt

Part of the funky smell was the flowers.  The old arrangement in water that needed dumping smelled bad and the new flowers, (well, purchased new over a week ago but never arranged), added extra must.
Still life with rotting flowers, half never arranged, and a pumpkin.
I had let my flowers wilt. 
My personal symbol of joy, learning and taking time for myself had become a foul-smelling obligation.  Bleh. 
Don't let this happen to you.
The overall advice from my blog is pretty obvious: take care of yourself and seek joy in your life.
Sometimes I have a hard time following it.
But if you do find that your flowers have wilted and the water is murky; it only takes a minute to dump it all or dump and salvage. In either case, your life will smell that much better.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

We learn, we forget, we keep on learning

My travels as of when I started college
Grading exams leads to shudders and sighs about what my students don't know. Sometimes I'm sad because it was a clear teaching failure; the students did not learn what I taught them in class.  Sometimes they don't read ("anabolic" is not the same as "anaerobic" and just because a student skims the last two syllables does not make, "Which of these processes is anabolic?" a trick question).  Sometimes they don't think.  And sometimes they just don't know stuff.  They can't label a map with where potatoes and wheat were domesticated because they can't find Peru and Iraq on a map.  They can't answer questions about increases in corn yields not because they didn't learn the significant changes in corn breeding, but because they don't know when the US mid-west was settled and when World War I was.  Stuff.  Stuff American college students should just know, in my opinion.
My map now

Meanwhile, whenever I advise my students about other classes, I am stunned by what I have forgotten.  I can no longer integrate anything (in the area under a curve sense) and can only write about 15 of the 1,500 Chinese characters I once knew.  That's not really surprising since I do not use calculus (although perhaps I should) and it's been 23 years since I last studied Chinese.  But I still vote and can no longer espouse all of the amendments in the right order.  I'm a failure at US Presidents in the 1800s (aside, I suppose, from Lincoln and Grant).  I had to look up properties of a normal distribution recently, although I still use stats all the time.
Travels with my husband and ex-boyfriend
Adult travels without parents, husband or boyfriend
And then there's the stuff I didn't know as a college student and have learned since.  Halfway through college I didn't know what NPR was.  I didn't know what a penstemon was. I could not name a Joni Mitchell song. I hadn't read anything by a South American writer, not Gabriel Garcia Marquez, not Isabelle Allende, not Mario Vargas Llosa.  I probably couldn't use "cladistics" in a sentence.  I didn't drink beer.  I didn't eat raw oysters.  I  had no idea that there were whole parts of the US where stone houses are the norm. I had never, ever googled anything.

I know so much different stuff now. Much of it that I can't imagine not knowing.  I'm regularly amazed at twenty-somethings doing a great job of parenting because I can't fathom that they know enough.  I'm drawing from 41 years of experiences and I feel I'm barely scraping by.  There is just so much to learn. About everything.

I've been working on this post for several days and I'm still not sure where I am going with it.  Part of it is in a call to leniency when dealing with the young. They just can't know that much.  Even the well-traveled (like me when I started college-- top map*) have huge gaps.  Part of it is a call for leniency from the relatively less young to those of us younger.  We just haven't had as many opportunities to experience as much as you have. And please feel free to laugh at any of us when we think that we've figured it out.

But mostly, it is a call to keep learning thing.  To put yourself in new places.  To read more.  To experience. To go. To learn.

And then maybe you won't be so mortified with all the things you forget.

* Key for the top two maps is white- unvisited. Red-drive by (or longer visit when I was one).  Orange- at least spent the night and learned some things.  Blue- multiple visists or an extended trip (e.g. honeymoon to Newfoundland).  Green- lived there.
The third is places I have been with my husband (who I met when I turned 31) orange, my ex-boyfriend (blue) or both (green). Wyoming should be green on that map. The last map was a project with some of my students in mind, who think that they need to have met their mate or be part of a traveling family in order to explore.  These are places I have been without my parents, husband, or ex-boyfriend.  I took the train across New Mexico and the bus from Denver to Santa Fe. I think it should count for something. Learn more and make your own map here on  I think the prairie dog map would look much like the husband map, but the prairie dog was not yet on the scene as of the Yellowstone-Glacier trip.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It's Snowing Soapberries

Outside it is still and sunny, yet my car is covered in soapberry leaves.  One could hear them showering down, the only leaves falling in the crisp morning, as we walked to my office.
I've heard reports of many trees that do this; lose their leaves all at once, but I'm not sure I've ever experienced it except associated with a storm.  Two nights ago the winds howled and yesterday it froze for the first time, but today, in the apparent calm after the storm, the leaves come pouring down.
What's happening with the plants where you are?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

There will be flowers

I planted 1,000 spring flowering bulbs today.
Okay, because I am a list maker, a literalist and a completist, I should re-phrase that: a paid helper, my sons, and I planted 45 daffodils, 95 tulips, 195 crocus, 20 alliums, 45 hyacinths, 100 iris reticulata, 100 Dutch iris, 100 chionodoxa  and 100 ixiosomethings.  That's not a full thousand, but when combined with the remainder of the 1,300+ we planted last year, there could be a very good show when you come visit in the spring.

There must have been flowers

A surprisingly challenging concept for a botany professor to teach is that all flowering plants have fruit.  And every ripened ovary encasing seeds is a fruit.  And everything that has a fruit, by definition, had flowers.  And that most plants (including grasses, oak trees, and "weeds") are "flowering plants."

So that factoid that somebody taught you, "tomatoes are really fruit" is botanically completely true.  "Zucchinis are really fruit," "Cucumbers are really fruit,"  "Green peppers are really fruit,"  "Okra is really a fruit," and "Green beans are really fruit," somehow don't get told haughtily at school lunchrooms in the same fashion, but are no less true.
Here's a sampling of my parents' fall fruit crop.  The flowers were probably stunning.