Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tales From the Road

Hey! I've got some time and online access, so a short update on what the Monkeys have been doing since Tuesday.

Wednesday was a travel day. No big news to report. Uneventful short trip to Minneapolis; switched planes; uneventful longer trip to BWI where we were met by a Monkey Mother for a slow crawl up the "express" ways of Central Maryland. We traveled light, with no checked luggage. Hell, if we can manage two weeks in a foreign country with one carry-on, then we can manage ten days back home. It was great just getting on and off the plane without having to worry about baggage pickups or transfers. Highly recommended.

Today, Monkey and I went for a run together--yeah, I have started to run with her. I don't know if I'll be knocking out any half-marathons, but I thought it would be fun to at least provide Monkey with some company while she is here. It rained most of the morning, so our jaunt was not terribly pleasant, but we both finished and nobody got hurt--a good run!

After breakfast, we headed to my favorite museum in the world: the American Visionary Arts Museum. Boring Election, Monkey and I discussed our gross oversight in not telling you about this place before you came to Baltimore last week. Next time you come out, you MUST go here. You would love it, for sure. We had lunch at Sabatino's and picked up some cannoli (of course) at Vaccaro's (looks like they are remodeling). Tonight, we have dinner with Monkey's mom.

Tomorrow, who knows?

Things I am remembering that I love: downtown, food options, museums, familiarity.
Things I am remembering that I hate: traffic, traffic, traffic. By the way, parking in downtown Baltimore is an easier proposition at almost any time that it is in Lincoln. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And Away We Go!

Tomorrow, Monkey and I are off to Omaha to board a plane for Baltimore. We'll spend a few days visiting folks in Smallville, then we'll head to the beach for a week of sun and fun (we hope for sun, anyway) on the edge of the Atlantic.

Monkey and I both spent countless summer days at the beach as small fry, so a return to the old vacation spot is often nostalgic, sometimes bittersweet, and always a reminder of some of the things we have left behind, living in the Midwest. Family notwithstanding, the proximity to the ocean is one of the finest attributes of the Land of Pleasant Living. With that proximity comes a lot of the other things Monkey and I miss, namely seafood and hurricanes. Okay, we really don't miss the hurricanes. How can we, when we have such lovely tornadoes and hail storms to deal with?

But, this week and next, we won't have to miss any of these things, as we will be knee deep in the ocean (literally) on a daily basis.

Monday, June 15, 2009

An Upper Midwest Delicacy

In the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes, in the Twin Cities along the Mississippi, the once and current homes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Schultz, Garrison Keillor, and Kirby Puckett, there is a burger that they have laid claim to as their own. They call it a "Juicy Lucy." the spelling of the last word being spelled in various ways. It is a simple stuffed burger that one may find in other places, I imagine. I recall being treated to something called a pizza burger at one of my mother's co-worker's son's (wow, that is a lot of possession going on in that there last phrase) tenth birthday party back in 1970-whatever--a burger stuffed with mozzarella and topped with Dom Pepino's finest.

However, the delicacy on the shared banks of Old Man River is remarkable for its simplicity and flavor. Everybody disputes St. Louis's claim to the origin of the ice cream cone, but no one is fighting Minneapolis-St. Paul on the Juicy Lucy (although I think they might be fighting each other, but, I digress--imagine that).

I bring this up in order to regale you with another story of aventure de cuisine, as Monkey and I made our own Upper Midwest burger delicacies, last night.

The burger itself is simple: a pound of ground beef with minimal additives. I prefer an 80/20 blend, but Monkey thinks that is too much fat, so we went 85/15. To the beef we added three tablespoons (or so) of mushed red onion and garlic (thanks for the suggestion, Chef Ambassador), about a tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce, and generous amounts of salt and pepper. After mixing that up good, we divided the meat into three equal portions. Each of those portions is worked into two separate patties, large and thin. Onto one patty is placed one slice of American cheese, broken into four squares. Atop the layered patty is placed the other patty and the two are well-sealed together through the time-honored pressing together method.

Then, it's off to the grill. Eight minutes on one side (on a charcoal grill), about four-five on the other, and you should be ready to go. It is advised that after flipping the burgers, you poke a hole in the top of the cooked side (for steam to escape). I don't really see the logic in this step, but we erred on the side of caution. The burgers were delicious; however, a cautionary tale on sealing the two patties really well: as I bit into my burger, about half the melty, cheesy goodness squirted out the other end. I managed to reintroduce the cheese to the patty, but it was a good learning experience.

It's so simple and so good. Do yourself a favor, either go to Minneapolis-St. Paul and order up a Juicy Lucy (we'll tell you where to go), or whip up a batch in your own kitchen!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Banana Bread? Yes! Chickens? No!

Thursday night, Monkey made banana bread. She makes really good banana bread. But, I couldn't have any. It was for her running club breakfast pot luck on Saturday. Lucky for me, she made an experimental loaf, with peanut butter chips in it, last weekend, so that I didn't feel left out of the banana bread love.

The peanut butter/banana loaf was good. I think we can make it better by adding actual peanut butter to the bread, itself, but then we'd have to adjust some other liquid amount. Maybe we'll experiment at some other date. Also lucky for me, there were leftovers from breakfast this morning. So, I got to enjoy extra banana bread today, after my bowl of Raisin Bran (Kellogg's). It was good.

And a good thing, too, since I was reeling from some serious bad news I had discovered on Friday night. I have, for some time now, been interested in keeping chickens. I was doing some research online about local codes, and I discovered that here in Lincoln, I might keep fowl, as long as they were kept fifty feet from any neighboring dwellings and five feet from all property lines. Sadly, that is an impossibility on our lot. So, I just have to wait on the chickens. The same regulations apply to rabbits, also, so I won't be keeping any of them either. Nor bees. (I think about a lot of agricultural things when I ain't typing at y'all.)

So, the disappointment of the arbitrary capriciousness of the Lincoln zoning board was tempered slightly by some moist and tasty banana bread. It is all good.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Odds

As you know, Monkey and I do most of our live music consumption in Omaha. I have been intrigued by a few shows here in Lincoln (particularly a recent appearance by Wichita's Split Lip Rayfield), but I have only managed a few in the two years we have been here (for various reasons--several of which sound suspiciously like the rationalizations of an aging man). Usually, it's off to Omaha for out-of-town bands. Even still, we don't see everybody we want to in O-town. A couple of friends of ours in a COMO band, Malone, played Omaha on Memorial Day weekend, but we were in Minneapolis. That's how it goes.

But, this upcoming week sees a parade of national acts coming through Lincoln (well, two, actually). Cursive plays here on Wednesday next, followed by Deer Tick on Thursday. Monkey and I would definitely check these shows out. The problem? We are leaving for Baltimore on Wednesday morning. We'll be out of towners for both shows! This is the worst music predicament since a couple of years back, when Bobby Bare Jr and The Hold Steady both played in COMO on the same night, and Monkey and I were in Cornopolis painting our new house!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Healing Up

Rode to basketball last night. I had to, since the best way to get over an accident is to get back up on the bike and ride it...isn't it? I hadn't played ball in at least a month, probably more, so, I was terrible on some levels, but, at least I didn't have any trouble keeping up. Usually, after a long dormant period, I feel like the first couple of games are strenuous--I am out of condition. For some reason, last night, I never had that re-acclimation period, I was good from the first.

This morning, it's back to work for Day Two of the Great Plagiarism Summit of 2009. Yesterday, we planned our agenda and began devising a statement on academic integrity. We decided to develop some department-wide strategies for instruction on plagiarism, what it is, how to avoid it, etc. We had a very interesting conversation about consequences and focus and decided that our focus in addressing these instances would be positive. We will have the opportunity to help students see the error of their ways, through discussion and consequence, and reteach some strategies that students may have missed the first time around. We also decided to have students sign an academic integrity agreement at the start of each term. Many of the examples of academic codes and plagiarism statements that we looked at successfully employed such "honor statements" successfully. We decided to incorporate that aspect into our plan.

Granted, we are simply drafting a document that will be brought before the department as a whole for discussion. Most likely, some things will change, but this has been a good process for the small group of us who volunteered for this committee. I am glad I was there yesterday, and I look forward to going again today.

And, as La Fashionista suggested, after our meeting, I just may go back and show that sidewalk what's what!
Please note: above screen capture borrowed from Context over Dogma.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stupid Sidewalk!

I don't usually post twice in one day, but I thought I would get this news break out there ASAP.

On my way home from Day One of the Great Plagiarism Summit of 2009, I decided to turn right instead of left and do some exploring farther south of town. It was a bad choice. Not two minutes into my detour, a section of sidewalk reared up before me, perhaps two inches higher than the piece of sidewalk in front of it. On a stiff framed bike, that is quite a jarring bump. So, I decided to do what any fourteen year old would do. I hopped the bump. Unfortunately, I was going downhill rather fast, and as the bike regained the purchase of the sidewalk it shimmied and shook. I was jarred from the seat, but held on long enough to slow the bike considerably before I had to let go. The bike went to the right, and I went to the left, on my leg and my elbow. I think I rolled once or twice, and popped right back up (mostly from embarrassment).

My chain popped off, and one of the brake handles was scraped up, but, otherwise, the bike was fine. I reseated the chain, and the bike was as good as before. Me? Well, I have a nasty strawberry on my shin (it looks like I have been playing softball again), a big old burner on my knee, a mild road burn on my elbow (I was wearing long sleeves, thank goodness), and some rough skin on my right palm. I will spare you a picture, but full disclosure requires me to tell you that I am bleeding as I write this. How is that for timely journalism?

My first thought, after I checked myself and my bike for serious damage? I hope my leg scabs up enough so that I can play basketball tonight!

A Short Jaunt Around the Lake

The weather was weird yesterday. Storms threatened all morning, and, while I did a little yard work, I was prepared to take shelter at any moment. I managed to trim some shrubs and turn the compost without any weather-related interruptions. It got to be around lunch time, so, after Monkey and I enjoyed a meal, we went down to the basement to watch the previous evening's Daily Show and Colbert Report. While so engaged, it rained.

However, as we climbed out of our basement, the sun began to shine. I quickly checked the weather to see that the storms were planning to take a hiatus until the late afternoon. I decided to take the opportunity to hit the trails on the bike.

A 12-ish mile round trip that took me mostly east (and back) was a challenge at first, due to a stiff post-storm head wind, but, after the first twenty minutes, I was pedaling across the wind, which is a much nicer proposition. My "mid-point" was Holmes Lake, a popular spot for fishing, jogging, picnicking, etc. I took a five-minute break to enjoy the scenery, snapped a few shots (including one of my soon-to-be-retired(?) workhorse), and was back on my way.

About an hour later, I was hopping off of my bike in the driveway, with cloudy skies above. Funny thing, never did rain again.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Back to Work

On Wednesday, I am going back in to work. A group of English teachers have decided to get together to discuss the on-going struggle with plagiarism that we seem to encounter so often. In the current era of easy availability of electronic forms of information combined with the cut and paste function of browsers and word processing programs, students often find it simpler to just lift entire paragraphs (or more) from an online source, rather than read, take notes, and incorporate the information into their own compositions. In some cases, the cause for this is dishonesty. In some cases, the cause for this is laziness. In some cases, the cause for this is ignorance. We are hoping to develop a department policy on plagiarism (i.e., procedures and penalties) and some instruction that will combat the last cause.

So, after two days of responsibility-free bliss, it's back to thinking about learning the churlen, tomorrow.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Honing My Skills

After some reconsideration yesterday morning (" a lot of strands in the old Duder's head"), I went out front to revisit the scene of the basement flood's origin. Here's what caused me to reconsider my thinking of this case: it wasn't the south wall that was leaking, it was the west wall. So, the blowing wind wasn't a factor in the cause at all (I am really bad with directions, especially when I am underground, like in a basement).

And what did I find while out conducting my second investigation? I found that all of the down spouts on that side of the house had become disconnected. All the water from the gutters was pouring down the side of the house, insinuating itself between the foundation and the soil, and then seeping through the wall. With all the rain we had on Friday and Saturday night, it's a wonder the house didn't rise up on a sheet of water and float away.

And, so, with a bit of wet work, reconnecting down spouts and crawling through wet grass and bushes, it appears that I have solved that edition of CSI: Homeowners' case. How am I certain? Well, because for the third night in a row, Monkey and I were stirred by late night thunderstorms, and this morning, there is no new water in the basement!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Water Damage

Until very recently, it has been dry here. However, the past two nights have brought us 1 am thunderstorms that have really been impressive. Accompanied by southerly breezes, these storms have brought us a great deal of water, thunder, and lightning. Both nights Monkey and I have been stirred by the storms to close windows.

Yesterday morning brought us a new concern to be diligent about. Our basement was flooded again. This time, however, it was not a leaky hot water heater or a backed up drain. It appears that our southern wall, made of seventy-five year-old brick, is no longer waterproof. My untrained eye believes that the water, being driven by the southerly wind, is inundating itself between our wall and the dirt outside, eventually seeping through the wall and into the basement. I haven't actually seen it do this, but, my novice CSI: House Owner skills have decided to build a case that tends toward that inevitable conclusion.

The result of this new issue of home ownership: two early morning forays into the basement with the ShopVac, a never ending fan blowing on the damp rug outside the laundry room, massively peeling floor paint, and an impending "estimate" from a basement waterproofer that might send the Monkeys on tilt.

Stay tuned for fund-raising messages.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Not The End, Really. Just a Long Break.

Friday's final contract day was a breeze, since I had all of my work done on Thursday afternoon. All I needed to do was eat some eggs, listen to some speakers, get a few signatures, and find a way to fill the time until noon. I managed to do that by going through my piles of "organized" paper work and filing things appropriately (mostly throwing crap away).

The day before, I managed to find a few moments to decorate my soon-to-be-retired cart. A colleague and I were supposed to have a last day cart race, but that never materialized. At any rate, I was proud of my push cart-cum-pirate ship, the SS Peeps Revenge (with a peep snowman captain and a full crew of nautical peeps). And, yes, once again, I did get all of my responsibilities handled before I did this.

At noon, a few of us were off to lunch. It really is a treat (aside from the nine weeks "vacation") to have more than 27 minutes to eat lunch, and to go off campus to dine. Granted, many students have 27 minutes and go off campus, but a) they usually hit a drive-thru, and b) they usually put their lives and the lives of others at risk to do so. We teachers are not really about to do that. So, it was nice to dine on my BLT and drink my beverage and not worry about having to be back in the classroom before most of my food actually entered my stomach.

After lunch, it was off to the links to enjoy the sunny day hacking at golf balls. After four shots, I was down four balls, three of them going into some form of aquatic obstacle and the fourth apparently blasting off for the lunar surface--nobody even saw where that one went. By the third hole I had settled down a bit and fell into my routine from last year: longest drive of our foursome from the tee, pathetically heavy-handed short game (I didn't actually make a putt all day). We still managed to keep our reputation, finishing with a 14-over 46, which was good enough for last place by four strokes.

All in all a good day, capped off with a visit to a local Mexican restaurant.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

One More Day!

Tomorrow is our last contract day of the 2008-2009 school year. It feels like it has been a long time coming. So far, it looks like the end is coming off without a hitch. All of my exams are administered and graded, all of my checklist responsibilities are signed off on. Tomorrow will involve a breakfast/end of the year meeting, some organization, some shenanigans (most likely), lunch with colleagues, and a golf outing/faculty fellowship meeting.

The big news for next year (beside the fact that I get to keep my full time position) is that I will be getting my own room. The past two years, I have been a mobile teacher, with a cart loaded with organizational accoutrements, artistic supplies, and anything else I might need in the course of a day. I usually taught each of my classes in a different room. It's not so big of a hardship. I did it at my former school for the first couple years, too. But, it is nice to have one's own space. I am looking forward to making the space my own (and bequeathing my cart to someone else).

Today, I got home from school, opened up a beer, and sat on the patio, enjoying having nothing to do. Ah, paradise!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

There's No Such Thing As Bad Weather

More rain this morning, which is great for the garden (snacked on some fresh baby arugula yesterday after school), but not so great for biking to work. However, I just purchased some rain gear this weekend, so I got the chance to try it out.

A pair of rain pants from White Sierra did a fabulous job of keeping me dry on the bottom half. The only draw back is they aren't quite as "breathable" as the label would imply. So, I was a bit sweaty at the end of the trail. But, I pedalled with limited intensity this morning, expecting that to be the case, so it wasn't too bad.

I decided not to wear the full-on rain coat that I purchased. It really is too bulky for biking. I went with the trusty old got-it-free-from-Sports-Illustrated zip-up wind breaker. It is surprisingly waterproof, and the zipper allows me to adjust the airflow, so the upper Monkey was dry and cool.

The only problem is my bag got a bit wet. It is sort of water-resistant, so the contents were safe (and it wasn't raining too heavily). My next bike will have a rear fender (or I will put one on quickly)--it has a lot of benefits in inclement weather.

All in all, I arrived to work in fine fettle. It was invigorating, biking in the rain--it was rain, by the way--none of those wacky Midwest thunder boomers--and I didn't mind the water-speckled glasses. I think I am figuring out how easy it is to do this in all weather (between April and October). I wonder what I will do this winter?

NOTE: Photo courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Final Dash

Our last week of school began today. Tomorrow is our last day of classes, and we have two days of finals, Thursday and Friday. After that, Friday is a contract day, but that will mostly consist of a closing meeting/retiree breakfast, tying up some loose end-of-the-year-paper-work ends, and hitting the links for the annual (for two years, anyway) round of four-person best ball golf. Last year, our foursome came in dead last. We hope to keep that streak alive, as well.

So far, the end of the year has been smooth. I hope it continues to be so. One thing that will help that to happen is if I close here and get to some grading. And so I shall.