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
. . .