Category Archives: education

Winter Farm

Today’s post comes from Ben.

Well I guess it’s winter this week. We had 4 inches of unexpected snow on Tuesday. maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention to the weather but I don’t think anybody expected that much snow. At least it was light and fluffy.

And then it was cold. I had one below zero Wednesday morning! I went down to open up the chickens and they were in no hurry and had no interest in coming out. One chicken, who always ends up in a different side of the pen, ran to the door, stopped and looked, pecked at some snow, and turned around and went back inside. Didn’t blame her a bit. Even the ducks weren’t too interested in leaving the water. I threw corn out to them at the pond. 

The deer have started to group up. I took this picture coming home one night. That’s just one group. Usually there’s about three groups this size. This is why I don’t like the deer. Too many of them.

Almost done with class. We had to write a paper about a park or an area and of course talk about the rocks, waters, and land uses etc. I wrote about our farm. Understanding the history of the glaciers coming through and the forces that have shaped the land and the types of rock underneath is really pretty interesting. I will have that submitted before you read this. And then a final in class on Monday and then that’s it. Then maybe I can start working on my basket of farm bookwork.

Or maybe not. My left shoulder has been giving me trouble for years. But not enough to really cause any issues. Until about two weeks ago. One night out of the blue I went to lift my arm and it hurt like all get out. Then it got better then one night again it hurt so bad I went to the ER, but of course by the time I got there didn’t hurt so bad. Had an MRI done on it and as of now, still awaiting results on that. But I foresee rotator cuff surgery coming up shortly. well, that will certainly make me reevaluate some things.

My good friend Paul, the one who occasionally comments on here, had rotator cuff surgery about a year ago. He had a terrific recovery so he can be my guide.

Tuesday night after the snow, Kelly rode in the tractor with me as we bladed the driveway, so she’s ready to tackle that on her own if necessary.

I think I can still design lights with one arm. I need the computer to program and record cues. Obviously someone else should be climbing ladders. Notice I said “should“. No, if it comes to that, I will behave. I can still program the light board with one arm.”

So we’ll see.

Ever received or sent a dear John /Jane letter? How did that go?

Pride of Workmanship

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

I knew a young woman who was an indifferent student through high school, the kind of girl who gets lectured endlessly by school counselors who knew she could do better. Her early employment history after college was more of the same. She did what people told her to do, but not much more.

At some point she began working in the office of a company that tried to match temporary workers with jobs offered by companies who didn’t want the trouble of finding, compensating and training temp workers. Like so many companies, it was badly run. Upper management was clumsy, rewarding the wrong workers and failing to produce sound policies. And yet, like many badly run companies, this one did well enough to keep making a modest profit and thus could continue functioning as a business.

Then something strange happened. As that business grew, it assigned two young women, including my friend, to head up a new branch office. While neither of them had distinguished herself in earlier assignments, this was different. Both women had been paying attention to the shortcomings of their business and had thoughts about how they might do better. The two women threw themselves into an effort to run their office in an exemplary way. They did not expect their model to lift up the whole business, and in fact it did not. They didn’t expect their excellence to be identified and rewarded, and in fact it was not. And yet they experienced the rare joy of managing the only effective office in an organization that continued to limp along with shoddy practices.

Good things happen when people take pride in their work. We all have known workers who slacked off whenever possible, but we have also encountered workers who set a high personal standard for excellence. A persistent mystery in business management is exactly how some workers demand a high level of work from themselves. Studies show that the level of compensation is not the critical factor. What seems more important is pride, pride of workmanship.

When I edited a small magazine I worked with writers and photographers who were badly compensated. My magazine paid so little for articles that we couldn’t demand outstanding work from contributors. Some contributors, acknowledging that we paid poorly, sold us articles that were slick and poorly written. And yet some contributors gave us good articles in spite of our amateurish payment programs.

My own work became an example. I realized that I was the untrained editor of a very badly run publication. All of us on the magazine’s staff were ignorant about making magazines. Most of us tried to do our jobs well, but the business was a sort of clown show because had never been trained and now were badly led. 

And yet I came to understand that, with all its obvious faults, this was my magazine. Whether it was wretched or entertaining, I was the single person ultimately responsible for the quality of each issue. I began rewriting bad articles, trying to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. Our readers never guessed how hard I had worked to salvage shoddy original copy. It didn’t matter to me whose name was on a story. What mattered was that each article should be as funny, interesting or educational as possible.  We continued to print pictures upside down, print captions riddled with misspellings and make all sorts of factual errors. But more and more, almost in spite of ourselves, we began putting out a magazine that people really liked. Our readers were on our side, hoping desperately that a magazine like ours would triumph over the amateurism, disorganization and lack of resources that continued to plague us.

Later, when I became a freelance writer/photographer, I discovered how easy it was to write articles that were marginally better than average for that field of journalism. That is, I could knock off a slick article in two hours that looked pretty good, even if it was pretentious and lacking merit. That could have encouraged me to be lazy, and yet the opposite happened. I came to value the fact it was my name on an article. I took that to be a promise that I would do the very best work I was capable of, in spite of how meager my reward might be. The longer I worked as a freelancer, the higher my standards became. It became increasingly important to put out articles I was proud of.

How did you acquire the standards you hold yourself to in your work? Have they evolved over time? Did anyone serve as a model for you of doing the job well? What gives you pride in your work?

Witness

Not nearly as any books get recorded on CD these days as are recorded to Audiobooks that can be downloaded.  So every now and then, even though I have quite an impressive waiting list at the library, I find myself without a CD in the car (I know, horrors, right?) l When this happens I just peruse the CD shelves at my local library.  This is how I found Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie.

I’ve said here before that I read all of Agatha Christie’s books when I was in high school.  I need to amend that; I read all of Agatha Christie’s novels in high school.  And of course high school was a long time ago so when I first watched the movie version of Witness, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t one of her novels.  It’s one of her short stories. 

As I often enjoy books more than the movies made from them, when I pulled the CD off the shelf I was wondering how this dynamic would play out.  I adore the Witness for the Prosecution movie made in 1957 with Charles Laughton, Elsa Lancaster, Trevor Howard and Marlene Dietrich.  Great acting, good story, nice denouement and fabulous courtroom scenes.

If I’d had my wits about me I would have made the leap that a short story would need fleshing out to make a full movie.  But  I don’t always have my wits about me, so I was surprised to find that the movie had taken “fleshed out” to new levels.  The Charles Laughton and Else Lancaster characters and all their action and dialog were complete embellishments as was about half of the courtroom scenes.  And the short story ending was a little more open-ended than the movie.

So I’m sure you’re all saying “VS will never watch this movie again.  She’s outraged that Hollywood would take such liberties with one of her favorite authors.”  It’s what I thought I would be saying about now.  But I’m not.  The movie does not mess with the actual story – it’s completely intact – the additional characters, dialog and scenes actually support the story.  Apparently Agatha Christie did not mind the additions and, of course, the movie was released to international acclaim.

The rest of the stories are fascinating, very unlike her novels.  No suspicious deaths, no big long list of suspects with motives and opportunities.  But great stories that capture the imagination.  I’m about half way through the CDs and am manufacturing reasons to get in the car right now, so I can keep listening. 

Have you ever had to give testimony in court? Or been on a jury?

Door Stoppage

Photo credit:  The Avocado

On Friday Steve suggested a book be used for a doorstop that Clyde needed.  My very first thought was Ulysses.  I was an English major at Carleton and there were two infamous lists.  One was the short list – about 100 titles that you’d better have read before your comprehensives at the end of your senior year.  Then there was the long list – this was about 500 titles – that the English department thought you should read if you wanted to be truly well-read.  I know, I know, incredibly  presumptuous.  I got copies of these lists in my sophomore year and kept them for years.  As you can imagine, Ulysses was on that list and while most of my brain knows there is no reason I have to read this, a little bit still thinks that I should wade through Joyce.

Three years ago when I started getting rid of excess stuff, I realized I had THREE copies of Ulysses.  Unfortunately for Clyde’s needs, I got rid of all of them, along with most of the guilt that I never could get through the first chapter, much less any farther.

But it made me think about what other books I could imagine consigned to doorstop-hood.   I pulled up my reading list to look for 1-star titles that I wouldn’t mind using to keep a door open.  I started keeping this list in 2007 but didn’t start assigning stars until 2013.  I actually don’t have too many two-star titles, and next to no one-star ratings (it’s a 1-5 rating).  Life is too short – if a book isn’t shaping up, it goes back to the library (or if I actually purchased it, on a pile to be donated to the library).

I do have a few one-stars, but they bring up a secondary problem… I don’t actually remember all of them.  So here’s a short list of my one-star doorstop recommendations:

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (not even a whiff of memory about this one)
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (I know that tim loved this one, but it didn’t have enough surrealism to support an unbelievable plot)
  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. I kinda liked the first few and I do like the Hallmark movies made from the series, but this one stunk and the main character stepped over so many lines (moral AND legal) that I couldn’t believe it.
  • Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. You all know I love alternate-reality future stories but this one did NOT satisfy.  Several concurrent stories, which did not ever intersect, did not wrap up  in any meaninful way and one that jut didn’t make sense.  (And in looking at the reviews of the tv series, they pretty much didn’t use 95% of the book.)
  • And then my one and only negative star title… Swamplandia by Karen Russell. I only finished this because it was a book club title.    Unbelievable set-up, unlike-able characters, tragic outcome and ending that could not happen in anybody’s reality.  There are actually good reviews of this book, but I can only say that hallucinogenics must have been involved.

Any nominees for a door stop?

Farming In August

Today’s post comes from Ben.

Actually, hasn’t been much farming the last few weeks…

I’m back at “work” work now, and I lit another show, and we moved my mom to long term care.

Here’s a theater space I was working in and the genie lift that’s my best friend because it means no ladders!

And the view from up there.

With the lights.

And the lighting console in the loft.

And some of the finished product. The colored lights? That’s what I did.   

It’s a show called ‘Head Over Heels’, music of the GoGo’s (which apparently I only know two songs.

Mom is 95 and has just kinda lost her self confidence in the last few months. There’s been a few falls (nothing serious) and I think she kinda likes it when the firemen come to help pick her up. And I’m lucky I have siblings here and everyone is chipping in to pack and deal with things.
Moving to a long-term care apartment was her idea so that makes it a bit easier; we were over there more and more and balancing the cost of more Visiting Angels or Assisted Living or LTC, she decided this was the thing to do. I can’t say enough good things about VA; they’ve been great.

She was already in a Senior place so we’re lucky that she’s just moving into another section and not across town or anything.

There is a large metal bin down by the barn that holds corn which I use for the chickens and ducks. I opened the top lid one day to climb up and check how much was left inside, and then forgot about it and left the top open for two weeks and that’s when we got 3” of rain. Oh fer….

I spent an hour one morning taking an access cover off the bottom and digging out about 30 gallons of wet, stinky, moldy, rotten corn. I’ll try not to forget to close that again. Thank Goodness it’s almost empty. I’ll be ordering 100 bushels of cracked corn to refill in the next few weeks.

They say August is bean month. Beans have pods, but how big they’re going to get depends on the weather in August.

I was just reading about how corn develops and how the yields are determined by the weather. It takes roughly 90,000 average kernels to make a bushel (56 pounds for corn, remember?). The guys who are winning the yield contests can get that down to 65,000 kernels (bigger, heavier kernels). Final yield started with how many plants emerged back in April. The girth of the ear was determined at the 5-leaf stage; If the plant was happy and it had all the right nutrients and moisture, it can have 20 kernels around. 12-14 is average so any more than that means everything was going right at that point. Now the kernels are there and it depends on the weather as to how much they fill and what the test weight will ultimately be. If it gets stressed now, it won’t develop fully to the tip as the plant sacrifices them to fill the bottom. A lot had to happen already, but the weather this month can still make or break a crop. It’s pretty fascinating.

The ducks have moved outside and now it’s all muddy out there (I swear; everything is wet when you have ducks).

Here’s some ducks!

Any Questions?

Boil or microwave your sweetcorn? Who’s done mud wrestling?

Aha!!

I love having “aha” moments and I’ve had three recently, all from reading.

#1.  99% Invisible City by Roman Mars details a lot of the infrastructure that surrounds us in the urban environment, much of which we don’t notice and definitely take for granted.  In discussing wireless towers, he writes: “As commercial cellular towers began to sprout up in the 1970s, diagrams depicting their coverage areas looked like blobby plant or animal cells pressed up against one another – hence the name ‘cell phones’.”   I had never stopped to think about why we say “cell phones” so this was an amazing discovery for me.  I stopped reading for a moment and reveled in the fun of it.

#2.  This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan.  This is the second book of Pollan’s that features discussion of hallucinogenics.  In writing about mescaline, he alludes to the song Mellow Yellow by Donavan and that the meaning of the song is about smoking banana skins, believed in the 60s to be hallucinogenic.  I can sing along to Mellow Yellow but never ever thought about the lyrics and what they might mean.  (Turns out Pollan was actually wrong – Donavan was writing about an electric vibrator that he had seen an ad for – the equipment was called the “mellow yellow”.)

#3.  A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor.  This is an older travel book; the author walked from England to Constantinople in the days before WWII.  After completely overdoing it in Munich at the Hofbrauhaus, he woke up with a “katzenjammer”.  Now I remember the old comic the Katzenjammer Kids, but had no idea that katzenjammer actually means hangover.  I’m not sure how “cat” and “distress” came to mean hangover, but it’s fascinating to know this tidbit!

Can’t wait to see what the next few books reveal!

Any “aha” moments for you recently?

Alas…

It’s fairly well documented that William Shakespeare coined a lot of  words (sources go as high as 2000) that we use commonly today:

    • Auspicious
    • Bloody
    • Dwindle
    • Frugal
    • Gnarled
    • Majestic
    • Multitudinous
    • Premeditated
    • Sanctimonious

There are also scads of phrases that he was the first to use and that we still use today:

    • Seen better days
    • Too much of a good thing
    • Love is blind
    • Set your teeth on edge
    • The game is up

Unfortunately, having seemingly absorbed the rules of language and grammar in my youth, I am often (read “always”) torn when I come across a new word.  Part of me wants to send these new words to the trash can and part of me wants to embrace new words wholeheartedly.  After all, think how unimaginative English would be if we hadn’t embraced “gentlefolk” or “jaded” or “pendantical”?

This week, I heard the word “bleisure” (combination of business and leisure travel) and I was a little appalled.  If there is business, can there truly be leisure?  Even my trip to Kenya and Tanzania, which was devoid of clients and official business, still felt like a business trip to me as I was surrounded by travel professionals from other companies.  But I suppose there are plenty of people out there who can combine business and pleasure, making the word “bleisure” useful.  I just can’t see myself ever using it.

Anything new bugging you this week?

Let’s Go Right to Dessert!

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

I have spoken critically in this forum about my mother’s cooking. She was a typical 1950s Midwestern housewife cook, and I fear that isn’t a flattering standard. Unlike my classmates at college, many of whom grumbled bitterly about the food service, I thought I’d never eaten so well. But my mother took desserts seriously. I can forgive her those Jello desserts she served so often, for her cakes and pies were tasty. Relative to other areas of cooking, she did desserts well.

Her social world was centered on bridge clubs. The hostess of a bridge club meeting was expected to serve a dessert so special that club members would be talking about it for days. At one bridge club meeting, Mom’s chocolate devil’s food cake was a huge hit. Someone called out, “Charmion, this cake is wonderful! You have to share your recipe!” Mom didn’t have the nerve to admit that the cake began life as a Duncan Hines box mix. Her embarrassment doomed her to spend many hours one week researching library books for made-from-scratch chocolate cake recipes. She had to find a recipe that was both tasty and credible as the source of the cake she had served.

Each member of my family had a strong dessert preference. Dad thought nothing on earth could be better than apple pie. My mother loved her Graham Cracker Pie, a simple dish made from Eagle Brand Condensed Cream mixed with eggs and lemon, served in a crust that was smooshed graham crackers. My sister came to favor French silk chocolate pie. On my birthdays I always requested a white angle food cake that was heavily frosted with chocolate-flavored whipped cream.

When I tried to teach myself to cook I thought the logical thing would be to collect recipes. When a recipe appealed to me, I’d type it out and add it to my personal recipe book, kept on my computer’s hard drive. I see now that I collected about a hundred dessert recipes, of which I only ever used two. I’m actually not much of a dessert person. The really big sections of my cookbook are salads, chicken and soup dishes. My erstwife was a fine cook, but she too cared more about main dishes than desserts, so I failed to learn how to make good desserts from her.

While I’ve mostly ignored desserts most of my adult life, now and then something catches my fancy. When my erstwife and I traveled in the UK, we discovered a tiny London cafe that served crème brûlée, and I was totally smitten. Still am. I once won a writing contest whose reward was a free trip to the Florida Keys to flyfish for tarpon. While I never caught a tarpon, I sure made a pig of myself with Key Lime Pie, something I’d never encountered before. The dessert I’d now request on my birthday would be pecan pie served with a generous scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

What’s your favorite dessert? Which desserts do you remember most fondly? Do you have a recipe to share?

Red Cross Day

My phone pings me every day with a “this day in history” note.  Yesterday’s was about the founding of the American Red Cross in 1881.  I already knew that Clara Barton was instrumental in the beginnings of the Red Cross, but didn’t realize that she had worked with the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian war and that she began lobbying for an American organization when she came home after that.  She headed up the Red Cross well into her 80s. 

This tidbit of history caught my eye because the very first charitable work that I headed up was for the Red Cross.  I don’t remember what was going on in the world and I also don’t remember how I got interested, but when I was in the sixth grade, I started a drive to make care packages that were sent to the Red Cross.  My school let me mimeograph some flyers and kids brought items that we used for our kits:  soap, washcloths, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste.  We had two or three meetings to put the packages together using paper lunch bags.  I don’t remember how many we made, but it seemed impressive to me at the time.  I felt very proud when my mom drove me to the Red Cross center to turn them in.

Like I said, this was my first organized good work but not the last of my support of the Red Cross.  The following summer a friend and I went all over the neighborhood (repeatedly) with a wagon, collecting pop bottles from people.  Then we carted them up to the Kelloggs store and collected the refund, which we donated to the Red Cross.  It wasn’t very much, but it felt like we were doing something important.

Do you have a cause that you’ve been passionate about?

Duolingo

You all know I love my lists.  Last year when I got furloughed it took me a month to realize that I needed some routine in my days.  It was more challenging than I had expected to fill up approximately 10 hours a day, five times a week, especially since we weren’t supposed to be leaving the house.

I decided to use a daily list and to work on some new habits while I was at it: more fruits/veggies, drink more water, kitchen floor (yes, it REALLY needed serious cleaning), front porch (we’re scrapping old paint off the stucco), creeping Charlie.  The kitchen floor eventually got spectacularly clean, I got better at fruits/veggies and water, creeping Charlie…. well you know how it goes with creeping Charlie.  It was a relaxing part of my day to cross off things that I had accomplished. 

After about a month of furlough, I decide to re-start my work on Italian.  I had started about a year before, using a free app on my phone (Duolingo) but had let it slide after several months.  When I got back online, I started at the beginning even though the app remembered where I had been.  And I decided that I would keep each day’s lesson short; if I set a goal of too many minutes, I knew it might de-rail me. 

Yesterday after the first part of my lesson (I do two lessons a day), I got a blip saying I had hit 365 straight days… an entire year of working on my Italian every day.  I even did my lessons when YA and I went to San Diego in August – the app is on my phone, so easy peasy.   Of all the things on my various lists over the last year, this is the only thing that I have consistently done every single day.  It’s an amazing feat, even to me.  Of course, at ten minutes a day, I’m not blazing any linguistic trails, but if you want to know about elephants drinking water, I’m your gal (Gli elefanti bevono l’acqua)!

Do you have a routine you’re consistent with?  That’s you’d LIKE to be consistent with?