Sunday, December 30, 2007

Preparing for Anica

The past few days we've been working on a room to be the home for a new member of the August House family, a German foreign-exchange student who's been living with another family in Madison for the past half-year. Today we had our interview with the supervising person and apparently we and our house were found suitable! We're looking forward to having her here, where she'll be a member of the family until June or thereabouts. We're a little nervous, but I think we'll be fine. You'll hear more here!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from Madison, SD

It's a good Christmas day in Madison, with our lights aglow, a fire in the fireplace, and snow falling gently outside. Here's hopes that you, dear reader, are enjoying your Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Be Thankful for Your Neighbors

I'm not sure the light display here would be legal in all communities, and I suspect the owners might have been shut down after we drove by and stopped to take this video of a house that seemed to be signaling to beings who might not have the same capacity for perception that most human beings do. Could you see this from a block away? Yes. From a few miles out of town? Probably. From a cross-country flight? Possibly. Maybe the homeowner felt the need to signal someone on her way from Atlanta to Seattle that we celebrate Christmas in South Dakota in a BIG way. Thanks for the video from the B's who have taken their sleek beemer out of town for its maiden voyage. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

XMAS 07, A Cartoon by David Morris

Each year my old friend David Morris sends out, in lieu of Christmas cards from a box, a hand-drawn cartoon depicting something that's on his mind about the holidays. In the past it's been a little randy, but this edition is relatively tame. I took the cartoon and made this electronic version. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Get Into Yale Free Card

Several schools, including MIT, offer content online for free, and Yale is now offering seven courses for interested people, including one in Modern Poetry, another in Psychology, and five others. MIT has oodles of cool content online, free and open to the public. Here's Yale's mission statement for their courses, noting the importance of critical thinking and learning:

Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to seven introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn.

Open Yale Courses reflects the values of a liberal arts education. Yale's philosophy of teaching and learning begins with the aim of training a broadly based, highly disciplined intellect without specifying in advance how that intellect will be used.

This approach goes beyond the acquisition of facts and concepts to cultivate skills and habits of rigorous, independent thought: the ability to analyze, to ask the next question, and to begin the search for an answer.

We hope these courses will be a resource for critical thinking, creative imagination, and intellectual exploration.

Emphasis is mine; discussion of curriculum and the purposes that informs it was on the agenda for today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Farewell to Our Chinese Guests

Last night we hosted a small party for the Chinese teachers who have been visiting DSU and the USA for the past several months. Not all are pictured here, but we offered a traditional holiday meal, with turkey, mashed potatoes, and all the fixings. Little Anna took a shine to Fan, who seemed to enjoy the attention. Bei (left) and Fan have been a part of my World Lit class for part of the semester, watching me at work. They fly out today and will return to Shanghai after the turn of the year.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Crux of the Bisquit is the Apostrophe

It's not Frank Zappa, that's for sure. Our personnel newsletter has this gem to help those apostrophe-challenged souls out there, but those who want a cosmic grammar lesson should go to Zappa himself:

Apostrophe (to the tune of Oh Christmas Tree)

Apostrophe, apostrophe
You drive me oh so batty.
Apostrophe, apostrophe
Your overuse is a travesty.
Some people just can’t get enough
They must think you’re hot stuff
Apostrophe, apostrophe
Some rules to avoid catastrophe.

It’s hers and theirs and yours and its
when you want to possess a bit
And when you need to pluralize,
You don’t need to apostrophize.
And what of words that end in esess?
An apostrophe will only make a mess’s.

I wonder why you so confuse
I’m sure you’re tired of this abuse.
Apostrophe, apostrophe
You drive me oh so batty.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Not Just Any Other Day

For 24 hours (ten of them gone already), it's my birthday, so I get cool presents (both useful and not), get a chance to take goofy pictures of the dog thinking inside and outside the box, get good coffee you have to pay for, and get a moment to enjoy the simple pleasure of a sticky Santa on my coffee cup lid. More delights await me, I just know it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More Company, Different Species

Unwelcome guest, some might call the little guy huddled in the light fixture outside my office, but he's got some qualities that other guests could learn from--he stays out of the way, is quiet, and doesn't make many demands upon his host.

On the other hand, he looks like he might be trying to settle in. He won't be there long.

Monday, December 10, 2007

We've Had Company

Sometimes we have a few friends over to eat, tell stories, frolic, and generally share what's going on in our lives. Cool. Then again, sometimes a visitor comes, takes care of business, and keeps on moving.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Moose House Donation

Harold Moose and his family made good use of this house until the mid-1980's, raising good children who in turn raised good children, who in turn are off to a good start doing the same. But the old house is now empty, its rooms strewn with papers, clothes, and what raccoons leave behind. The big house, still accompanied in its old age by several outbuildings, was destined today to give some of its beautiful interior woodwork to a new endeavor, the restoration of our big old house in town.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Now He's Gone Again

As quickly as he came into our lives, our visitor is gone again, having left his mark on our lives and our yard.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Sounds From My Window

Imagine that you're toodling along, you got up early for work and you're driving your beater 80's gas guzzling mobile because you can't yet afford to upgrade to the Saturn Vue you have in mind. Fair enough, you working slob, you're doing the right thing, dreaming the dream, putting in those early morning hours and schlepping along, but this morning--dang!--it's a little slippery, and the old beater gets a little frisky in the hind end and round she goes! And you can feel it all happen in slow motion, the effortless gliding across the icy road, the emphatic schlump! as the car crests the graded snow and settles into the ditch, now facing the other way, like the car has taken you in hand and said, NO! You DON'T need to keeping working for the man; let's go back to bed. It's not even six a.m!

But you're not convinced, even though you sense the beater's now resting in a snowy bed too comfortable to leave. You assess the situation--the ditch ahead seems no more full of snow than where you sit. You'll drive thataway, turn the wheel at just the right moment, but progress seems a little slow, so you gun that sucker. Gun it! You make it two feet forward, which is progress, so you flip it in reverse. Gun it back! It's four feet of tracks in the snow, a little snowy lane for you and your beater, but with no exit, so you gas it forward and try turning the wheel, but damn! It won't leave the track. Maybe going back and forth this way with the engine at full revs for half an hour, snow flying, then dirt flying, then cussing and gunning and the ditch getting a firmer and firmer hold on your transportation while you lose more and more of your patience and time keeps slipping away, and now you're late for work, your car is in the ditch, and you don't even have a coat to wear cause why would you need one; you're only going to work?

So, an hour after your car got frisky and you took a sled ride into the ditch, you're on the phone with a tow truck guy you can't afford and you're wondering about that noise the car was making toward the harried end of your attempt to get it out of the ditch by mashing the gas pedal to the floor time and time again as you shifted from forward to reverse and back again. Was that screechy noise the alternator or the transmission?

Even though much of it was on display outside my bedroom window, ruining the serenity of the morning, I knew my day was off to a better start than his. I've been there; it ain't fun.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The View from Our Window

The insides of cars and the intricacies of plaster walls have some beauty, little details the speak to the care with which they were built and the processes that they have gone through, but I enjoy more the view from our window, the objects the move forward without gasoline or elbow grease, the trees easing their way slowly into the sky, the sun easing itself into our morning, even the snow turning in circles like a dog in its bed, then settling down with a sigh.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Little Things Make All the Difference, Even at BMW

Deep in the heart of every car, every Corvette or Maserati, every Kia or Peugeot, hundreds of tiny little pieces the size of pencils (or smaller) whirl and spin, bounce and tap, generating the power to drive to the grocery store, listen to the radio, run the heater. A high-end car like a BMW has more little pieces than most. But like every car, a BMW relies on the integrity of those little pieces, and when one fails, even a tiny one no bigger than a spoon, you notice. Think of the impact one little inch of restricted artery might have.
Saturday brought a BMW into the garage in a search for its heart ailment, and the photo here shows the result, after a long surgery that has left the patient in an incapacitated state for now. The fine 7-series BMW was suffering from missing a quarter-inch piece of a valve. (To see how the little pieces go round and round and the role a vale plays, check out the relevant page on How Stuff Works). Having identified the problem, the remedy is on its way.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Snowing and More Snow

Yesterday a light frosting of snow blanketed the yard, but today the real thing is coming on strong, a storm with wind and snow and plenty more of both due for the day. Looking through Robert Frost's poems that might mark the day I found this one, "Storm Fear," that offers a dark portrait of a couple grimly facing a blizzard and wondering whether they can "save ourselves unaided," but it's a little too dark. Another by Billy Collins, "Snow Day," begins its celebration of snow with these lines, the preface to a celebration of snow:
Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,

the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness
. . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Grinch in Who-Ville

What's Christmas without "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"? It makes your own heart grow a couple of sizes, making you feel the Christmas spirit even if your shoes are too tight. You can watch it, that's right. You can watch it yes sir, you can watch it tonight.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Kindle and Reading

What will happen to the book? For many young people, it's a question that doesn't concern them; they don't buy books, and they don't read them. But will an electronic version of the book change that? I don't know. The Motley Fool says it will change the world, and Newsweek says it's the future of reading, but much of that sounds like the jangle jingle that seems always to come when a new technology appears. It's the Kindle, from Amazon. It might be a great thing, but an electronic book is still an electronic device, not a book.

The Fool points out that one cool thing is the way they're opening up publishing to anyone. You don't need that pesky editor or publisher to give you the thumbs up; you just take your masterpiece, upload it to Amazon, and voila! a book anyone can download to their Kindle! I suspect they'll sell some to people who want to get that electronic version of their own book.

You sure wouldn't want to drop it in the tub, and I'm glad I didn't have it on some of my travels, but it looks like a cool new thing, and who knows what it might do to readership and literacy? Not much, I think.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Class

Thanksgiving Day decorations aren't up to what appears for Christmas and Halloween, but they're getting there. It's important, if you're going to decorate, however, that you do so with class. Clearly, the first photo, shot clandestinely in the cover of darkness, demonstrates how NOT to present your Thanksgiving spirit to your neighbors. Who wants to look at a giant turkey, his eyes popping out like he's about to meet the ax? Its owners are clearly lacking in the finer sensibilities; one imagines the interior of their homes adorned NASCAR posters, Bud Light neon, a football phone, perhaps even a rug with a college football logo (country music playing in the background).
The second photo illustrates a blow-up lawn ornament offered by those with a much higher degree of taste. Whose spirits wouldn't be lifted by a giant turkey in a pilgrim outfit, his head thrown back in defiance, or perhaps poised as he is just about to leap into the sky to save other hapless turkeys in these dangerous times? Clearly, those within appreciate the finer things in life--good food, fine wines, classical music, a well-tamped cigar.

Finally, a photo that illustrates how, during the holidays, one can appreciate a three-butt kitchen.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Free Rice Can be Addictive

Okay, I've spent the last 20 minutes or so playing Free Rice while watching the Vikings play the Raiders, and I managed to reach level 48, but I'm done now. Others will have to work to feed the world. Go to it!

Let's hope the Vikings have the right word for victory.

Tripping on Proglottid

For vocabulary fans, a new site lets you easily text your skills while apparently offering rice to those who need it. Free Rice is simple and direct--given a word, you choose from among four choices to advance in your vocabulary. For every right answer, ten grains of rice are added to a little visual bowl, and after three correct responses, you gain a level. A wrong answer sets you back.

My best level is 46 (yes, with NO CHEATING). Proglottid got me. It's a tapeworm segment. If I'd only known!

Just remember that you have other things to do. It can be captivating.

Tiny Hail? Noisy Snow?

What some people might call snow pattered onto the lawn yesterday morning, what you might call a snow shower, except that it was really a kind of tiny hail, little snowflake-sized hailstones falling not-so silently, as you might hear in the video provided here.

(I tried to upload the video yesterday using Blogger's own video inputter, but was thoroughly thwarted! Finally I took the footage into Moviemaker, added the title and end, and put it on YouTube, so here you have it. Not worth the effort, but I was determined. )

Saturday, November 17, 2007

DSU and "Dare to Do"

DSU is rolling out its new advertising campaign that uses the tagline, "Dare to Do." We'll get TV time, radio play, and a new billboard out of the deal. I look forward to seeing the new TV ad on Monday night on KELO TV.

My sources tell me there's a skydiver featured. We'll see!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hello to Sylvia Again

So, she puts her head in your lap, calls you god-like, and gets all doe-eyed looking up at you after following you home from the park. She obeys your every command. She sits, she begs, she pulls at her leash. She's Sylvia, and she's making trouble in this marriage.

DSU's very able theatrical group put on a hilarious and touching version of A.R. Gurney's play tonight, starring Kari Hofman in the lead role. Director Kelly Macleod managed a skilled group, and the audience was (and will be) rewarded by the performance. It was every bit as good, or better, than the NSU performance I saw last summer. Just don't bring the kids.

The performance was preceded by an event at the DSU Foundation and dinner at El Vaquero, and poetry, music, champagne, and celebratory cake and finger food followed.

If you haven't been, go see it if you have the chance.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Remembering the Vets

It's the day we call Veterans Day, a time we should pause and reflect on the offer that many have made to serve the greater need of country. My family added its share to the roll of veterans, starting with my dad, who joined the Army Air Corps just as WWII was ending. My mom had a brother and sister in the Air Force. Among my siblings, my older sister Rita did her time in the Air Force, then me in the Army, then Jess in the Navy, followed by Renee and Justin in the Army and Jay and Jered in the Navy. We were examples of people with few options taking advantage of the opportunity that the military offered, turning the veterans benefits into college and a better life. Only my little sister had experience with conflict, spending time in the Middle East during the first gulf war. My own time in Germany in the mid-70's didn't seem like much of a contribution, but I did what I was told and thought about my role in the bigger world--not a bad thing for a 20-year-old to be doing.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

One Foggy Morning

Yesterday and today both were beauties, especially for this time in the fall--temps over 50, just a bit of a breeze, sun shining. Both days were ripe for motorcycle riding, and yesterday I spun the Concours up to the fading village of Rutland, where a pile of leaves burning on the corner of a lawn was a rare sensation, its smell hearkening back to a time when a leaf-pile in the yard was quickly transformed into a fiery celebration, its embers glowing, inviting a young boy to transform those burning leaves into a giant volcanic inferno. I had to pause there in Rutland and soak it in, then turn and hotfoot it back again to Madison, where this morning the fog transformed our house and yard, a light mist lingering until the sun came on later in the day and set us back safely in the sunshine state.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dan Weinstein is My Hero, iJot, and Other Cool Stuff

Our GPACW Conference today, a gathering of the Great Plains Alliance for Computers and Writing, has been a success, doing what it should do--confronting teachers with questions and offering an opportunity to consider how to answer them. Presenters through the morning and afternoon gave us a lot to think about, in terms of specific tools as well as concepts that need further consideration. Just as it should be.
The conference, hosted by our own Dan Weinstein, brings together some heavy-hitters, including Dickie Selfe, who has thought and written much about emerging literacy issues. Also in attendance as a sponsor and interested party was Marc Barrot, whose iJot software seems poised for bigger and better things. Marc was especially interesting to talk to, interested in what I was doing with my students and seeking out how his program could better serve our needs. Marc's concept and simple execution of an idea of collapsible and expandable outlines on the web is evidenced in iJot and on pages such as Salon's Slam in Salon. I'm feeling good about all that.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Thor Heyerdahl and Maureen Murphy

Is it any coincidence that Dr. Murphy was born the same year Thor sailed from Peru to Polynesia, or the Yankees took Brooklyn in the TV World's Series, or Americars began showing up at the drive-in movies, or the Tupperware party began, or Jackie Robinson broke into the big leagues, or an airplane first broke the sound barrier? I don't think so.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Aniboom's Animation Feature calls itself "The Home of Animation," and to back up their claim they offer a free online animation feature called Shapeshifter that allows you to create sophistacated animations (or crude ones) in a few minutes of tinkering. Check them out. Thanks to Brad for the tip.

Cloudwest Pottery Arrives, Mostly Intact

My brother Jered Nelson is a potter living in the San Francisco region who works for Heath Ceramics and makes his own pots on the side. He just keeps getting better, and his current work is elegant and beautiful, as the photos here show. Our cups, bowls, and salad bowls arrived recently, and though several cups were damaged, most dishes made the trip intact, and they're now finding good use, making our dining experiences even better than before. He'll take orders. Let me know if you're interested or contact him at cloudweststudio at

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Alan and His Art

Some people dabble; others dive in. My colleague Alan Montgomery is a diver, a guy who paints and paints, even as his teaching load, like mine, keeps him plenty busy. I saw him with his students out on the lawn south of Beadle Hall the other day, leading them through an art project. He recently had a show and artist reception at the Museum of Visual Materials in Sioux Falls. But he's also got a lot of material on the web. You can look at his site on SAATCHI gallery here, and he's got his own site here.

I like his painting "Codes," shown here.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Warm Yourself at Your Computer

Here's 30 seconds worth of firewood you can enjoy. If you keep your sound on you can enjoy the popping and crackling of the logs in the fireplace. When things start to cool off, just play the video again. Let's call it my BTU to you.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Index Cards as Insights

Okay, so I'm not working all day today, nor resting, but working, resting, working, etc., etc. Jessica Hagy has been busy with her blog consisting of what she's written on index cards. No, it's not poetry, but it's got her a book deal. Go figure.

I Was Not Alone

I learned today a statistic that puts me more at ease with a dark element of my past. I stole candy from my children's Halloween stash. But, now I know I was not alone. The candy industry reports that 90% of parents admit to such theft. The other 10%, I suspect, are liars as well as thieves.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Teeny Weeny Halloweeny

It's little troopers that look the cutest for when they're all dolled up in their little costumes begging for candy, and even the little pooches sometimes get caught up in the action, through no fault of their own. Then some people go wacky on the other end of things, getting the stage set at home for the little candy-beggars to arrive. And now, it's a startling thought that some people are already putting up their other holiday decorations. Got your shopping done?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Playaway Style

If you've gone through the trouble of loading books on CD into your mp3 player so you could enjoy Huck Finn on your jog, you might enjoy what might seem to be a step backwards in technology--a dedicated, single-book device. It's the Playaway, an electronic book that our library has bought into.

My first trial was a success, though Bill Bryson's reading of A Short History of Nearly Everything was a little less clear than I'd like. Either that, or the sound quality on the device is a little muddy.

Either way, the device brings books into a simple, stand-alone device. It worked well on my jog, and I look forward to trying it again.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another Weekend

This evening marks the end of another weekend, one that featured some good fiction and poetry, some work and a presentation, and more work and a good meeting, then a quiet evening.

Last night was our first frost, with the temperature at 27 degrees when I took the pooch out this morning. The tomato plants felt it, but nothing else much seemed affected, except for the bright yellow-leafed maple tree out front, the last one with a full head of foliage. When I went out to get the paper, there it was, giving up its leaves like a slot machine kicking out quarters, or a fountain sprinkling the lawn with its brilliant leaf cover. So I got the camera out and filmed a little action as the tree gave up its gold. I'll try to put it up here a bit later.

Friday the B's and I zipped on down to Vermillion to hear Brian Bedard read a new story, then to join him and the B's and poet Dave Evans and his wife Jan. Good stuff. A night at the motel, and the morning at the John R. Milton Conference listening to Phil Block, Dennis Sjolie, and John Dudley spin their analytical positions, while I gave my take on Indians in video and computer games. More good stuff. Lunch with conferees at the National Music Museum, then a ride back home again to Madison. A quick trip to see DSU get its back pockets handed to it on Trojan Field, then some work, and a quiet night with friends.

Sunday I stayed in and graded papers, then ran the Lake County Historical Society annual meeting where Kelli Wollman sang us some old tunes and we awarded our first Krueger Awards. We're riding the wave of our highest membership yet--215 people.

Sunday evening's been quiet with a little work.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You Say It's Your Birthday

It's the wife's big birthday today, so send birthday greetings her way if you see her or have her email (she'll also take well wishes here too, so feel free to comment). It will be her birthday all day.

Her mom called this morning to wish her well, and she told the story again of loading hogs the day before and being run over by a wild pig, falling on her belly, and lying in bed later wondering whether her little babe was still okay. Born with a bruise on her butt, the babe was otherwise fine, growing into a fine, still-young woman.

She shares a birthday with Pablo Picasso 1881, Minnie Pearl (Sarah Ophelia Colley) 1912, Bobby Knight 1940, Ann Tyler 1941, Helen Reddy 1942, Matthais Jabs (The Scorpions) 1955, Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) 1962, Ed Robertson (Barenaked Ladies) 1970. And, in an event that has changed the lives of people throughout the world, today is the anniversary of the introduction of the microwave oven, for home use, by The Tappan Company in 1955.

Now you know.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

An Attack on Vine Country

The encroaching vines got a big dose of setback today as I did some species cleansing in the lilac bushes, digging, chopping, and pulling trees, shrubs, and especially vines out of what is supposed to be a section for lilacs. The foliage now seems thinner, but next spring I hope to see a thicker crop of lilac bushes.
I moved a few trees, too, and tidied up the yard. Four days of rain had put the grass in overdrive, and I found these mushrooms back in the trees. The wood reminded me of Frost's poem "The Woodpile,"
with the lines, "I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself."
The old wood, some of it from an old apple tree in the yard, was giving off the enchanting, musky odor of apple wine, damp and delicious. After a beautiful day, some of it outside, my thoughts often turning to the moment, five years ago, when my wife and I first held hands, I was pleased to turn to the house, its back light lit, the day fading, a good day of work done.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Conjunction of English Majors

Well, what DO you call a group of English majors? A collaboration? A paragraph? An edition? A collection? We do have a capital group of English majors. They came to our house last night and I think had a very good time, met some professors and other students they hadn't had a chance to talk to yet, and devoured some good eats. Maybe it was the free food that got them here, but they enjoyed each other's company, you could tell. There was evidence, plenty of examples, a fully developed essay full of examples--easy talk, loud talk, game-play, and plenty of laughter. These aren't the greatest pictures, and we missed a few people, but we hope the word spreads that this group deserves an exclamation point.