Monday, December 31, 2007

Garbage Dropping

Somebody left a (dead) Christmas tree in front of our house, where our garbage goes for pick-up, in the dead of night. (That's really the best part, the dead-of-night part.)

We've had something similar happen a couple of times, most notably when someone left a broken computer monitor (on our property, not near the trash pick-up) for us to throw away, which you're supposed to PAY to have taken away, which I assume is why they dumped it in our yard, but fortunately the city didn't hassle us about it. So not often, but a few times over a few years.

I'm not particularly worried about it because I assume the city picks up trees (we have a fake one, so I wouldn't know), but I'm getting a little annoyed by the person or people who are using our garbage for their dumping ground. It doesn't hurt me, and I don't really care if someone walking on trash day picks up some litter and adds it to our cans. Whatever. (Really my only concern is that my neighbors might think I left a Christmas tree out for a week and a half for pickup instead of putting it out on actual trash day! And I certainly don't have an appropriate vehicle to haul it away.)

But the reason I mention it on my blog is I want to know: Is this a common problem in Peoria?
Is this teenaged prankery? Are there people who don't pay for garbage service, or don't get garbage service, and it's somehow easier to haul an entire Christmas tree to MY house instead of the dump?

Generally the worst problem we have in my neighborhood is a handful of teenaged hooligan wannabes who do a little petty vandalism, throw their trash on the ground, and think repeated New Year's Eve ding-dong ditching is hilarious. (Note to wannabe hooligans: This year, I am going to call the cops, not your parents.) So I can't imagine who this secret garbage dumper is or why he's doing it.

Luckily, we just got a neighborhood association going, so I'm going to mention it to my association and find out if it's common in the neighborhood -- and let the neighborhood watch know to keep an eye out for some jerk in a Zorro mask leaving random garbage!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmastravaganza + Lack of Oxygen

So despite the fact that we've been married five years, this is the first time Mr. McGee and I have had a Christmastravaganza where we visited BOTH families for the same holiday. I love everyone involved, but MAN do I feel for you guys who have to do this every year. It was exhausting. I don't really enjoy the process of traveling (I do like the "being other places" part, but not the getting there), and doing it over the holidays is of course extra difficult. Add to that that Mr. McGee's family is in Santa Fe, which means you have to drive from Peoria to somewhere with a major airport (Chicago), then fly to the nearest major airport to Santa Fe (Albuquerque), then drive to Santa Fe. Christmas travel between two minor cities is way annoying. We did, however, manage to get a direct ORD-ABQ flight, which hasn't happened in the past. A DFW layover would have made it superfantastically annoying. (Downside: the ORD-ABQ direct is on a Super-80, and Mr. McGee is clearly not built for a Super-80.)

Anyway, this is the third time in my life (possibly fourth, but I think third) that I've been above 5,000 feet, and the second time I've gotten altitude sick. (The first time was in Boulder, Colorado, at 5,430 feet.)

So Santa Fe is at about 7,000 feet (6,989 feet according to the USGS), and about 12 hours after arrival, I developed the most textbook case of altitude sickness ever (lack of appetite, extreme fatigue, dizziness, tingling, raging and endless headache). I know I've been much sicker (mono was a winner), but I'm not sure I've ever felt so comprehensively and systemically rotten, probably because I could even feel the headache in my sleep, and basically nothing made any of it feel any better, I guess because the root cause -- lack of oxygen -- remained constant. Luckily I recovered my appetite after a day or so, because my in-laws feed us GOOOOOOOOOD.

The craziest part of altitude sickness is that you can't predict who will get it, and whether you have or haven't had it in the past is absolutely no predictor of whether you'll suffer from it in the future! I could drop by La Paz, Bolivia (11,811 feet, highest capital in the world), tomorrow and be absolutely fine!

Anyway, I finally acclimated just about in time to drive back down the mountain to Albuquerque and fly to blessedly, blessedly low Chicago (586 feet) on Christmas Eve. And now I'm glad to be back in even lower Peoria (486 feet), though I'm staying the hell away from Peoria Heights from now on -- it's 789 feet above sea level, and I'm just not taking any chances!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

At 5000 Feet ...

... it turns out that Eyebrows breaks. No ski vacations for Eyebrows.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Curmudgeon

I know this puts me in a tiny and reviled minority, but I really don't like "It's a Wonderful Life."

I just don't think bank failures and suicide attempts are very cheerful Christmas topics. I think it's the most depressing movie in the history of the universe, final redemption aside.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Are You Sure It's Cheating If I Copy Someone Else's Post?

Another semester draws to a close, and this time, I had three cheaters and a plagiarist. Firsts for me, and the whole experience was pretty traumatic. I have discovered there are basically two responses to cheating: "Fail 'em, they knew better," and "Oooooh, that's hard, what's going to happen to them if they fail?"

I, it turns out, am in the second camp. My syllabuses are quite clear that cheating in an ethics class, no matter how trivial the occasion, is an automatic fail, because you have clearly demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the material by cheating. But when faced with actual cheaters (including my plagiarist), I started worrying about what would happen to them if they flunked -- would they flunk out? Could they make up the hours? Would it mess up their program?

I know, I know, it's people like me who perpetuate a system where students think they can get away with it. Except really I don't, because I did fail them, I just felt really agonized about it. And in the end, I felt angry about it. Because, yes, these students did it to themselves. They knew better. They made the choice to cheat knowing the consequences (and of my three "plain" cheaters, all three of them probably would have passed without cheating!), and now they suffer the consequences they chose. (It's almost Kantian.)

But what makes it hard for me (and I suspect some of them realize this, at least intuitively, and this is why they think they can get away with it) is that even though they did it and they made the choice, I am the one who has to put that big fat "F" in the system and the academic misconduct report in their file. They are putting ME in the position of being the executioner, and I absolutely hate it.

I might actually be a little less offended if they'd cheated in a smart way -- do they really think I won't notice when they've been turning in written work all semester and suddenly the final paper is in an entirely different style and tone and about three giant leaps up in writing proficiency? -- but I guess if they were willing to put in that kind of work, they wouldn't have cheated in the first place. It's like, not only did they cheat, but they apparently think I'm too dumb to catch tricks a toddler would use: "Missing cake? What cake? Of course I didn't eat any cake, despite the fact that my breathe reeks of cake and there's cake mashed all over my face. The cake must have spontaneously combusted!"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The One Thing I Cannot Bake

I dreamed the other night that all future internet programming would no longer be done in html or what have you, but in pastry dough. (What? It was a dream. They're not supposed to make sense.)

I found this extremely upsetting (in the dream), because the one thing I cannot bake to save my life is a decent pie crust.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Santa Drives a Honda, Or at Least His Old Lady Does

I pulled into Kroger today, parked, and as I got out of my car, saw SANTA in the passenger seat of the car next to me -- full white beard (real!), twinkling blue eyes, complete Santa get-up.

He gave me a grin and a wave and I felt about 4 years old and SUPER-excited.

I saw Santa!

Monday, December 10, 2007


Peoria is iced over once again, and while the main streets are fine, the side streets are a bit scary, and driveways are downright dangerous. I had several students unable to make it to my Sunday final because they simply couldn't leave their driveways. My own driveway is a solid sheet of ice, which I discovered to my woe when I stepped out the back door, slipped, and went down face-first. All the way down. Bloody palms, nose-an-inch-from-the-ice, ouch-my-knees down. (Also, "dammit, why don't I ever zip my messenger bag closed, now it's all over the friggin' driveway" down.)

I can't recall falling that hard since college, when the steps outside South Dining Hall had an unfortunate tendency to ice over completely, and everyone fell at least once. That time I slipped and fell on my ass, which I'm told is preferable because your ass is padded for just such occurrences, while forward-falls tend to result in broken wrists and things.

One thing I could never help laughing hysterically at, even though it's not really funny and it makes me a bad person that I laughed at it, was when a group of people would be walking to the dining hall, one would slip, grab his neighbor's shoulder for support, and end up taking down all five of them. Also amusing was someone stopping to help someone up, and ending up going down on top of them. (First lesson of living in South Bend: When helping someone back up, stand on the SNOW.)

I know pratfalls are a low form of humor, but I just find them hysterical. I can watch "America's Funniest Home Videos" for HOURS, provided said videos don't involve children doing "cute" things but rather feature people being hit in the nads with golf clubs and people slipping off things and people falling down. Not only will I watch it, but I'll laugh until my abs hurt.

Too bad nobody was videotaping me going splat on the driveway. My abs need the exercise!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Yet Another Grocery Trip

I went grocery shopping today, and as regular readers of my blog know, I'm not the biggest fan of grocery shopping. I do like the people-watching, particularly when people argue in foreign languages and I get to make up what they're arguing about, but other customers have an almost infinite capacity to annoy me, and apparently I went to Kroger during both Official Bitter Old Person Time and Official Insane Person Time. There were a whole bunch of people talking to themselves, loudly and startlingly, without bluetooth headsets on. And a subset of that bunch felt the need to address others. And demand answers. Coherent ones.

Meanwhile, there was that subset of the elderly who hate the entire universe. These was this one woman who apparently felt that I had no business shopping so she literally kept cart-checking me. I was repeatedly cart-checked by a 75-year-old lady less than five feet tall who was utterly determined to prevent me from buying any dairy and who kept giving me dirty, dirty looks for daring to, you know, want calcium. Because apparently they might run out.

I picked up a Kroger tote bag* today, to go with all my string bags, because there are some things that just fit a lot better in the brown-paper-bag-type bag instead of the string bags, which expand almost infinitely (it's an Undetectable Extension Charm) but are very bad at holding things like boxes.

I appreciate the fact that as reusable bags are becoming both more common and more of a political issue, checkers and baggers no longer look at me like I have three heads when I want to use my own bags. I also appreciate that instead of being considered a freak with weird requests who must be tolerated because I am a customer, I am now recognized as a being of superior moral fiber for having my own bags. (Actually, I sort-of don't; I have an innate desire to jump off the bandwagon -- any bandwagon -- as soon as it gets popular.) On the other hand, while they work out some of the kinks in the bagging system, I'd be just as happy to do my own bagging.

*As a general rule, I object to wearing brand labels unless I get them for free -- I do not pay for other people to advertise on me. If they want to advertise on me, they can pay ME. However, the Kroger totes are 99 cents (compared to about $15 for a plain grocery tote) and are very sturdy, so I'm cool with the logo.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Notes to Self

I have a terrible habit of scrawling down semi-comprehensible notes to myself so that when I stumble across them later, I'm not sure if it's a shopping list or a chore list or something I needed to tell someone ...

Cleaning my desk yesterday, I stumbled across the following:


Quite a puzzler.

After about 5 minutes of staring and pondering, it dawned on me those were two lectures for my ethics class I wanted to edit a bit so they'll be shiny for next time, one on marriage and one on porn and censorship.

But boy was that a list with interesting possibilities!

Monday, November 19, 2007

At Least Until I Stop Jumping at Small Sounds

I realize that my blogging's been sporadic lately, and that's because I'm pretty stressed out, and I don't really like to blog about, like, serious personal feelings. I much prefer blogging about my many pratfalls and peeves. Some things aren't funny, and being up to one's eyeballs in stress is one of them.

It's not any one thing in particular; it's just a little too much of any number of things -- work, school, housecleaning (after the basement work, it's way ahead of me), holiday travel, volunteer commitments, grocery shopping, cats playing the underfoot game -- and it's all making me feel really frantic and anxious about keeping all my balls in the air. And of course once you get frantic and anxious, you tend to either work inefficiently or screw things up, which only makes you more frantic and anxious, which leads into a vicious cycle.

I'm into the part of the vicious cycle where even stupid things keep going wrong, like this morning I dumped a cup of vinegar down my shirt being clumsy, and I've lost the pin I wear on my winter coat (on a day I was a ton of places so I have no idea where it was lost), and I broke a wineglass a few days ago, and yesterday I gave myself a nasty little burn on the toaster ... and every single one of these things is a crisis situation, because I'm on my last nerve so I have no ability to just shrug, laugh, and move on.

So that's why I haven't been very entertaining lately, and I expect you won't see much on this blog for the next couple weeks, until I get myself a few new nerves and stop leaping out of my skin when, say, the furnace blower kicks on. (And maybe not until the burn from the toaster heals because that sucker hurts!)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Every Now and Then I See the Dude Who Married My Parents on TV

... which I rather suspect was my grandmother's point, because she wanted like a dozen Jesuits to marry them, just to be sure it would stick. If you watch Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on PBS, or if you read basically anything from the wire services about Catholicism, you'll eventually see Tom Reese quoted. (If you want to see Eyebrows's gurus, you'll have to keep an eye out for Richard McBrien and Stanley Hauerwas*, who are both proud of Eyebrows when she gets herself in trouble, but for entirely different reasons.)

Eyebrows, on the other hand, had a Methodist woman give the sermon at her wedding. Eyebrows had a pretty entertaining wedding as a general thing, since Mr. McGee met the presiding priest in traffic school, and the priest a) had a spectacular voice and b) was pretty mellow about letting Eyebrows retranslate all the readings and have a Methodist preach the sermon and have a friend from college sing the Ave Maria and the organist play the Notre Dame Alma Mater. Apparently he told Mr. McGee I was the weirdest bride he'd ever had, but I guess he just hasn't had that many brides who insist on doing their own translations from the Hebrew and get all uppity about the liturgical symbolism of veils (Eyebrows did not wear one).

Eyebrows's priest told them that he'd never had a divorce in any of the couples he married, so Eyebrows feels morally obligated to calculate how much she'd be bringing down his average whenever she feels the urge to smack her husband. He also talked a lot about brightly-colored water and bowls and pouring water and things, but Eyebrows was frankly pretty stressed out and didn't pay that much attention when he was talking. She only listened during pre-Cana; anything that came after pre-Cana got filtered out by the stress.

*Stanley Hauerwas taught Eyebrows's mom freshman ethics when Hauerwas was a baby professor at Notre Dame and Eyebrows's mom was a baby college student. When Hauerwas found out he'd taught Eyebrows's mom ethics and now had Eyebrows in ethics class (as a grad student at Duke), he laughed until he cried and blamed Eyebrows for being 25ish. Eyebrows feels suitably guilty about it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Buttons and Bars

This afternoon I went looking for a new Firefox add-on -- I can't even remember now what functionality I was looking to add -- and of course I ended up spending a good 45 minutes sorting through the add-ons before downloading and testing several and spending a happy half-hour reconfiguring my Firefox interface. Enough buttons for convenience, but not too cluttered, mind, or you can't find anything.

I love Firefox extensions. The only thing I haven't found is a decent stock ticker extension, ideally to run in my status bar like ForecastFox does.

I run:
  • Adblock Plus -- of course
  • Clipmarks -- new; saves bits of websites. Hoping to stop cluttering up my bookmarks list for something I just want to look at later.
  • ForecastFox -- Best. Extension. Ever. Mine even tells me how allergic I'm going to be to the world today and how quickly I'm going to get sunburned. Also, I think it's neat the way it puts an icon in my status bar for severe weather alerts, because the odds I'm watching TV or listening to radio are low, but Firefox is almost always on, so that's a much better emergency weather alert system for me!
  • GMail Checker -- meh
  • Google Reader Notifier -- I use Google Reader as my RSS reader
  • Googlebar Lite -- slightly redundant with the standard search bar already there, but I adore the highlight feature
  • ReminderFox -- to-do list & calendar in status bar
  • RetailMeNot -- alerts you to coupons when e-shopping
  • Zotero -- new; supposed to be spectacular for web research
I also futzed around with my search bar and bookmarks bar since I discovered I can add to my search bar (which, I swear, is 50% of my ad hoc searching: "Who the heck is that actress? It's driving me crazy!") and I can make just favicons (no text) appear in the bookmarks toolbar, which means I can pop them on the main toolbar and not take up so much damned screen space. I absolutely loathe having half a dozen toolbars dripping down the top of my screen.

What extensions do you run?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Can Has Dry Basement

The new dewatering system is installed, the new hot water heater is in and heating water and I got a hot shower today, and our long national nightmare is nearly over. Well, sort-of nearly. At least the jackhammering part is done.

We're done with disruptions by contractors for a while, but we now face refinishing the ex-finished half of the basement, reinstalling the bathroom drywall (and then the fixtures, which we're leaving out for now), and sorting out everything that got moved around to clear the basement out. Mr. McGee has elaborate plans for steel studding and repaneling and built-in shelves; my ambitions run as far as using that concrete paint with the flecks so it looks like linoleum to seal the concrete on the finished side. That's it. I figure we have to seal it anyway, and then we can just use (pre-existing) throw rugs until we decide whether we want to carpet it or not. (Ideally several years from now, when I've recovered from this bout of contracting.) Once there's floor on the floor, we can move furniture back in and all we'd have to do in the future to do paneling and stuff is push everything into the center of the room, away from the walls. I am perfectly happy to sit in the unfinished dark basement on my futon until the end of time if it means no more upheaval, as long as there's floor.

The ex-finished side of my basement looks really tiny now. We had to remove ceiling light fixtures, so it's dark, and the white paneling and white drop ceiling came out, so the walls are dark cinderblock and the ceiling is dark floor joists. It's downright claustrophobic. I hadn't realized how much bigger all the white did make it look.

Now that the new sump pump is in, we can go ahead with some gardening plans to dig a small stream that will carry gutter water and sump water away from the house to a little sunken rain garden. (After this experience, I've become ultra-paranoid about moving water away from my foundation by any means possible, even though we've had zero problems since we had the driveway, which was the problem, fixed.) Maybe we can even get that dug before hard frost, so we can just plant it out come spring!

Ah, homeownership.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Shock of the Week

So it turns out to be REALLY ANNOYING when someone runs a jackhammer IN YOUR HOUSE.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Chicken Cordon Bleu: Recipe

As requested, here's the recipe. I don't know if it's the awesomest recipe ever for chicken cordon bleu, but it's what I made.

-6 medium whole chicken breasts, skinned and boned
-6 Swiss cheese slices
-6 slices ham
-3 T. flour
-1 tsp. paprika
-6 T. butter
-1/2 cup dry white wine
-1 chicken bouillon cube OR 1 tsp. chicken stock base OR 1/2 cup chicken stock**
-1 T. cornstarch
-1 cup heavy cream

Prepare chicken breasts and fold ham and cheese inside chicken breast. There are dozens of ways to prepare the breasts -- butterflying the breasts, pounding them thin, cutting a hole and poking the ham and cheese inside, simply rolling them around the ham and cheese as is. I butterflied and pounded, then rolled them around the ham and cheese. Secure with toothpicks.

Mix flour and paprika; coat chicken pieces.

In 12" skillet over medium heat, in butter, cook chicken until browned on all sides. Add wine and chicken bouillon/base/stock. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove toothpicks. (And remove chicken from skillet; leave liquid.)

In cup, blend cornstarch and cream until smooth; gradually stir into skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Serve over chicken.

**If you use chicken STOCK, the cream sauce will not be as thick as if you use base or a bouillon cube.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Von Trapp Family Trick-or-Treaters, Toddlers, and Grey Cat

Things are busy at the McGee household as we prepare for the Great Basement Upheaval of 2007, which involves the Three Days of No Hot Water, so I don't have a ton of time to blog.

We had a very nice Hallowe'en, with some friends over while we all sat on the porch, drank wine, and handed out candy. (This is why I love my neighborhood -- most of the hander-outers were having a drink, and most of the parents-walking-kids were carrying a beer. Swear.) The BEST trick-or-treaters we got were the Von Trapp Family Trick-or-Treaters. Who were dressed as the Von Trapps. And sang. At every house. In four-part harmony. They were GOOD! (And the dad did look a little bit like Christopher Plummer, who is hot in that movie.)

Grey Cat loves Hallowe'en. This year, since we were sitting on the porch, we eventually had to put him in his crate on the front porch because he was wailing in emotional agony and plastering himself on the front door to try to get our attention. He spent two very happy hours, completely hyperactive, watching the kids come and go.

Our toddler neighbor trick-or-treated this year. (He was a ninja.) He came over to our house first, and we sort-of hid behind the door so he could knock, since this is really his first time. Instead, he opened our door, shouted, "OPEN NA DOOR!" and let himself in. We gave him candy and he looked at us like we had three heads. He came back at the end after going up and down the block, and THIS time he shouted "TRICK TREAT!" and then started grabbing candy from the bowl. Apparently he learned.

Grey Cat and our toddler-neighbor are in cahoots. Last week we were all sitting out on the patio chatting, watching toddler-neighbor run up and down the driveway, and we suddenly saw Grey Cat rolling around the pavement. I put him back inside, figuring the screen door hadn't latched properly, and a few minutes later he's outside AGAIN!

The culprit turned out to be toddler-neighbor, who, when faced with Grey Cat crying at the door wanting to come be with the people, was quite happy to oblige him in door-related matters requiring opposable thumbs.

Luckily toddler-neighbor chased Grey Cat with his ninja sword last night. I'm hoping this breach of faith breaks up their little organized crime ring.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chicken Cordon Bleu

I'm still always a little surprised when something I cook turns out right. I didn't learn to cook until after I was married, when there came a point that I said, "This is absolutely absurd. I cannot eat frozen things out of boxes for the rest of my life." Mr. McGee has always been able to cook, and he's all creative at it and stuff. (Sometimes too creative, typically in a slightly-too-fond-of-paprika way.) I'm not entirely sure what my problem was, but I was convinced I couldn't cook and, sure enough, most everything I tried to do in the kitchen that wasn't baking (I've always been able to bake) turned out disastrously. I could basically make pasta. Heating up sauce was a different story.

Last night I made chicken cordon bleu for the first time, and while the cream sauce was a little thin, it didn't have any lumps (a first for me; my white sauces ALWAYS have lumps) and the chicken was cooked right and it tasted FANTASTIC. And I made it all by myself! From scratch! And nobody got food poisoning!

Even though I've become a pretty decent cook in the last year or two (sometimes I even improvise in recipes! woohoo!), I was still shocked and amazed that I made "real food" that has a name and stuff. (Also shocked and amazed that I woke up at 3:30 a.m. still burping cream-sauce burps. But I guess we don't usually eat food that rich, or that many animal products in one sitting -- ham and cheese wrapped in chicken cooked in butter with a cream sauce? Is there any dairy product I didn't eat in there?)

So while I am very proud of my chicken cordon bleu and I now feel validated as a member of Those Who Can Cook, I think I'm going to eat rice and vegetables for the rest of the week. I should be just about through digesting the chicken cordon bleu by then.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The DMV: More Things Peorians Do That Amuse Me

So in August I had to get my plates renewed. As per usual, the renewal form did not arrive in enough time to be able to do it by mail, and I object to paying extra money in processing fees so that I can SAVE THE DMV TIME AND MONEY by doing it online (oh, hey, I've bitched about this before). As per usual, I didn't get around to it until the last possible day for August plate renewals.

This year I went to the actual DMV to do the plate renewal. I live about 5 minutes from the Peoria DMV. It was just about as crowded as I've ever seen it, which means I was in and out in 15 minutes, despite the fact that every single person whose license plate renews in August who lives in the tri-county area was also in line to last-minute renew.

This is where Peorians start to crack me up.

Every single native Peorian I mentioned this to shook his head in sympathy

"What you need to do," I was told over and over again, "is drive up to Roanoke and use the DMV there. Then you won't have to wait in those terrible lines."

"But it takes 45 minutes each way to get to Roanoke and back," I protested. "Even if it takes only 5 minutes to renew my plates in Roanoke, that's 1 hour and 35 minutes in driving and DMV time, versus 10 minutes back and forth to the local DMV plus 15 minutes in line, for a total of 25 minutes."

"But there are no lines in Roanoke," they would explain to me, as if I was a very small and somewhat stupid child.

"But it takes an hour and a half to drive back and forth! You're wasting over an hour."

"But there are no lines."

I eventually had to give up because I was unable to convince a single person that it made far more sense to go to the DMV in Peoria and wait in line with a book for 15 minutes than to drive all the way to Roanoke to wait in line for five. I guess the fact that half of Peoria is driving to Roanoke or Lacon to visit the DMV means that the lines at the actual convenient DMV stay nice and short for me.

I shudder to think what would happen to these people if they had to go to a Cook County DMV, where on Saturdays they start lining up 3 hours before opening at some locations. I've waited in football campout lines shorter than that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I've Lived Here Three Years and I Know Everyone in Peoria

Nothing makes it quite so clear to me what a small town Peoria really is as teaching at ICC. This semester I have a waitress from One World who's served me a bunch of times, the cousin of a student I had LAST semester, the niece of a city government member I've met, someone who's from my hometown and went to the same junior high as me (every few days we have to have a "Do you know so-and-so? Is that store still open? When did you last have a Little Louie's dog?" thing), and that's just off the top of my head. I've run into my fabric store salesgal in the hallway, met Jessamyn (of WMBD blog, she's absolutely adorable in person!) at my office hours one day ... I've had my eye doctor's assistant (nurse? tech?) and my massage therapist's receptionist (5 Senses Salon and Spa, at Grand Prairie, near Jones Bros.) in class in past semesters. I mean really, who haven't I run into or had in class at ICC at this point? Even my dean's husband knows my husband from Bradley's moot court competitions (which Mr. McGee likes to judge). I've accepted that it's inevitable that if I teach at ICC long enough, I will eventually teach literally everyone in the entire tri-county area.

When I first started I worried about what would happen if I had anyone I knew in my classes. Now I know that in Peoria, you know everyone in your classes, full stop. The only one I worried about was my eye doctor's assistant, because she could have poked my eyes out if I pissed her off. (No, seriously, she's a very nice girl.)

The only person I haven't had in a class yet, despite the fact that I teach mechanics just about every semester, is anyone who can fix my darned car. They're all GM-only, or live 8 counties away, or only do diesel. And you know how hard it is to find a good mechanic!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My House CAN Hear Me!

The day after I posted that last post, my garage door got stuck shut. Will. Not. Move. No matter how much force is applied. And we can't figure out how or why it's stuck. And of course my car is in the garage.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blogger Bash Is On, My Party Is Not

Blogger Bash will be on Tuesday the 30th at Donnelly's. Be there or be square, as they say.

My Hallowe'en party, on the other hand, is off. All 2007 it's been like my house can HEAR me. Every time I start to plan a party, something breaks. (Including my own anniversary, when my sewer pipe backed up into the house and I had to get it emergency roto-rooted so I could have dinner with my husband!) Not a single event I have tried to plan this year has come off. It's very depressing.

Anyway, we're having our new dewatering system put in a couple of days after Hallowe'en, which means, first, that the basement would be unavailable for the party (which is where we typically stash the medium-sized kids with videos and video games); and second, that everything that lives in the basement is on the other two floors of my house, so there's hardly any room to have a party in the rest of the house anyway. I was waffling about it, pondering whether I could chance holding the party partly outdoors; then at the beginning of October, my water-heater went (since it has to be taken out for the dewatering system to go in, it's hobbling along until then so we don't have to have the new one installed, removed, and reinstalled) AND my oven went, which I haven't dealt with because, well, stovetop, toaster oven, and microwave keep me pretty well-fed and I haven't really had time to worry about it with all the basement annoyances.

I hesitate to even mention it on my blog because I'm getting superstitious, like if I mention it, the house will break something new, but I'm seriously running out of plumbing-and-gas-related systems that can fail. (Knock on wood!)

(So far in the past year: Sump pump, disposal, water softener, oven, water heater, sewer drain, dewatering system, and a variety of garden-variety clogged drains. Also the furnace near year-end 2006. Also the dishwasher at Thanksgiving 2005. Also CILCO turned off our gas once earlier this year and forgot to turn it back on, but they sent the dude out really quick.)

On the plus side, virtually every system in my house has been thoroughly serviced or is brand new, or will be by the end of this year. Small favors, I guess!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Orange Cat Has Too Many Feelings

I got my husband some flannel sheets, to help with his whole "I'm so cold!" thing. He put them on the bed for when I came back from vacation last night, so I could come home to a made bed (rare thing) and fresh sheets.

Now, Orange Cat hates change -- he hides for hours when we move furniture and DAYS when we bring new furniture into the house -- so Orange Cat was pretty suspicious of the new sheets, which smelled like store, not people or laundry. But on the other hand, the flannel was so cat-cozy he was rubbing his head against it while lying on his side. And the whole time he had this look on his face like, "I disapprove of your sheet-changing actions and yet they are so fuzzy" or "I am both woeful and ecstatic at the same time." Or he'd be all happy and rubbing his head on them, and then suddenly stop and look up at me suspiciously. And then be happy again. And then suspicious. It was absolutely hysterical.

This is a very confused cat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One Day Soon, Eyebrows Will Forget Her Filters

So lately I keep finding myself on the verge of telling people off who are being obnoxious, in ways that aren't really considered socially appropriate.

It began with this teenaged couple at ICC who are always making out in the stairwell when I head down to class. I ignore them, but every day it's harder not to shout, "Get a room!"

Then at Kroger I started wanting to demand of people things like, "Do you think it would be possible for you to block more of the aisle? Because while the six of us back here are impressed with your aisle-blocking skills, we think you may have left room for the anorexic Olsen twin to slip through."

Then I started feeling the urge to shout out the car window at people, such as, "I'm sorry, but might it be possible for you to properly observe a stop sign instead of attempting to T-bone my car?"

It's really bad in the car lately, because for some reason every idiot in Peoria who can't drive is following me around, particularly in parking lots. Cutting me off, aggressively snatching parking spots (when there's another one three spots down that I'd be HAPPY to take instead if you weren't being such an ass about it), ignoring traffic signals, etc.

Today I went to Michael's and as I (and other cars) were attempting to pull IN to the parking lot, this woman started moseying and meandering as slowly as humanly possible on foot from her car to the store, but in such a fashion as to block the ENTIRE lane so everybody had to sit and wait while she walked almost the entire length of the parking lot excruciatingly slowly, and THEN she walked across every available parking spot, though it was clearly unnecessary, so that everyone had to wait for her to move her tackily-clad ass out of the way before anyone could park. And she just threw this arrogant look at all the cars while she did it; it was definitely on purpose.

It was all I could do not to track her down in the store and say, "I'm sorry, I don't think you managed to squeeze every possible drop of rudeness out of our parking lot encounter; was there anything else you wanted to add, or are you done with obnoxious for the day?"

It's probably good I'm going on a little vacation to visit my dad and see my law school roommate (and her toddler!), because my filters are in imminent danger of failure!

Friday, October 05, 2007

*Squeek, Squawk*

I have lectured a minor case of the autumnal sniffles into a pretty serious bout of laryngitis, which proves that it is actually possible for me to talk too much. Who knew?

In some sort of bizarre output synesthesia, the fact that I can't talk makes me think I can't type, and so I haven't blogged the last couple of days because I can't talk so obviously I can't blog.

I am now being a good girl and resting my voice so I can have my squawk-box back sooner rather than later. Like, by the time I have to lecture on Sunday would be good.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Now that my schedule has settled down a little bit, I'm going back to something that I've done for years as a sideline and I love doing, which is tutoring. Tutoring's a great sideline because your clients are only available on evenings and weekends, so it fits quite nicely into "not 9-to-5." I haven't had any tutoring students for the last year or so, because I've had too much going on, but now I have space again and I'm looking forward to getting back to it.

Tutoring is a fairly referral-based business, so I'm putting the word out through friends (including you, my bloggerinos). If you know anyone who's looking for a tutor, or you hear of someone looking for a tutor, please pass my name on to them.

I tutor all subjects K-12 except AP sciences and AP math. I specialize particularly in ACT prep and in writing tutoring (which I am very good at). If your child has a serious learning disability, I recommend you work with a specialist, not with me. I mostly work with junior high and high school students; when it's younger students, it's generally because mom and dad are finding the homework wars too stressful and tear-laden and it helps to have an outsider to substitute hover-and-help so it's less emotional for everyone involved.

I can be contacted via my professional website (linked in the upper left there) or via e-mail to my blog address (also linked in the upper left). Or however else you generally prefer to contact me!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Despite Its Excellent Furniture Prices, I Have Yet to Visit Pluto

One of the things I found charming and bemusing and bizarre when I first moved to Peoria was that every so often, you walk into a local business and sitting in the foyer or hanging from the ceiling or stuck on a wall is a gorgeous model of a planet.

It took me a little while to figure out what the heck was going on, but it turns out that Peoria has the world's largest scale model of the solar system. I was thinking about this today because for the second time in a week I was reading a commentary complaining about the difficult of teaching the solar system because it's "impossible" to do an accurate scale model.

Well, Peoria has one, and it's sort-of incomparably neat-o. It begins at the Lakeview Museum, with the dome of the planetarium, 36 feet high, serving as the sun. (There's a 36-foot-high sun painted on the outside of the building as well, since the planetarium dome is protected by the building, which means you mostly can only see the sun from the inside, which is a fairly neat trick.) Radiating out from there, the planets are located at local businesses or other establishments, accurate scale models beautifully rendered. So Earth's located a titch down the road at a BP station, while Neptune's way out at Roanoke Motors some 24 miles from Peoria.

Bradley, which has Jupiter, has a nice page with pictures and driving directions and all the rest. Discover had an article about it 12 years ago, but like the real planets, the planets in Peoria's solar system move from time to time, so many of them are not where they were when Discover's article was published. I know none of this is news to native Peorians, but for out-of-towners and newcomers like me, this is really cool.

There are comets and asteroids for this thing all over the world. (I keep thinking they should shoot something to the moon or put it on the ISS, like maybe the moon would be the right distance away in scale to be a very nearby star or something? But sending something 36ish feet in diameter would probably be tricky and expensive. Or maybe (since distances between stars are almost incomprehensibly vast) the moon is much too close. I'm too lazy to do the math.) If you're of a mind, you can bike the entire solar system every summer -- lazy people do the inner planets; hard-core bikers ride all the way to Pluto. Either way, you get to say you've biked several billion miles.

Tiny little Pluto is about an hour away by car, at Good's Furniture in Kewanee (if you've ever been in Central Illinois for more than 10 minutes, you've seen a commercial for Good's on television). I haven't been there yet, but the combination of low furniture prices and going 3 billion scale miles away to visit poor little rejected-planet Pluto is definitely tempting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Template Update

All right, so I took the plunge and updated my template. I lost lots of pretty fontage in the move, too, so argh about that. I also typed only about 1/4 of my blogroll before I got very bored of entering every one by hand, so I'll be updating those things as time allows over the next few days.

I will also be adding my "local businesses that don't suck" list sometime soon (I hope!) and I think I'm going to do a linky list (now that lists are so easy on new blogger) with books I've been reading and stuff. Because, well, I can.

I'm going to try adsense ads. Don't know how I feel about them, but again, new toys demand to be played with!

PS - I also lost my RSS button, that'll take me a while to figure out!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


So my KitchenAid stand mixer (which I got cheap at Tuesday Morning because I couldn't decide on a color when I got married but which you should definitely register for when you get married if you're not already married) came with a dough hook. I actually had a certain amount of trouble adjusting to my KitchenAid because it came with just ONE beater, or rather, one place to ATTACH the one beater (it actually came with three beaters: a mixing beater, a whipping beater, and a dough hook). I grew up using my mom's KitchenAid, which had two beaters, and I was initially suspicious of the change. But the moral of this story really is, my mother has been married 32 years and her KitchenAid still works like new. My grandma Irene was still on her first KitchenAid until quite recently. KitchenAid is one of the last companies in the world making high-quality, sturdy-ass appliances that last until kingdom come*, and according to the internet, if you call them because it's "making a funny noise" or "I can smell something burning-y" they basically just send you a new one.

But the second moral of the "KitchenAid stand mixers last forever" story is that they come in colors and while Harvest Gold was awesome in 1965, it's still with you in 2007, so I wouldn't pick a trendy color, because the KitchenAid you get in 2007 is still going to be mixing cakes in 2057. Just so you know. (I got white.)

Anyway, my KitchenAid came with a dough hook and I am constitutionally incapable of not playing with toys, so eventually the temptation became too great and I had to try the dough hook. I like to bake (and I do it pretty well, although I'm not that great a cook generally), but I'd always been afraid of bread because it was supposed to be hard. But eventually temptation overcame me and I tried one of the bread recipes that came with the mixer. (Yes, the mixer comes with a cookbook, including this totally Katamari Damacy cheeseball thing.)

So I sort-of want to tell a story where the bread was really hard and catastrophic, but in point of fact I didn't even fling flour all over the kitchen with the mixer (which does occasionally happen). The bread, an herbed baguette, worked exactly like the recipe said. It was a little denser than I would have liked, but it was bread, and it was tasty, and we ate it all. Then I made French bread, which, again, worked just like the recipe said.

Yesterday I made whole wheat bread, which is supposed to be super-hard because you don't get nearly as much rise out of whole wheat flour as white flour. I was eager to attempt it because I don't recall actually eating white bread (other than French bread) until I was in high school and had it at a friend's house; we always had wheat bread growing up and we basically only buy whole grains in my house. I find white bread horribly creepy in texture and totally tasteless. But again, when I made the whole wheat bread, it worked just like the recipe said. I didn't get quite as much rise as I might have liked, but it's quite tasty and the texture is fine.

I have to confess that as pleased as I am with the bread, I'm a little disappointed with the smoothness of the undertaking, because most of my stories (blogged or otherwise) revolve around me being a complete klutz and making a catastrophe of everything in sight, which is generally how my first attempt (or first dozen attempts) at everything goes. It happens so often that it's a meme in our house; when Mr. McGee calls from another room, "What are you doing?" I often reply, "Making a catastrophe, stay there!" Or sometimes, plaintively, "I made a catastrophe, I need help!"

Really the only downside to the entire enterprise is that when you mix up the yeast, sugar, and warm water, it smells like a friggin' brewery -- and not in a good way!

*We should also take a moment to note that KitchenAid mixers are still made in America -- in Ohio -- and assembled by hand. They cost it, too, but they are SOOOOOOO worth every penny.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Why Is My Blogroll So Behind?

Well, first, because my skill at html is totally rudimentary and changing my template scares me because sometimes I screw up the entire thing, and second, because my friend who helps me with my html just went and had her first baby and is all busy, you know, BEING A MOM. So if I screw it up she can't fix me!

Anyway, I have a loooooong list of blogs to add since I haven't updated my blogroll in probably 8 months, so I don't have Brad Carter, East Bluff Barbie, Scott Janz (who I totally thought I did have but probably I managed to screw it up), Peoria Rocks!, Peoria in Pictures, Notes from the Trailerhood, Pointlessly Hypertechnical, Jenjw4's blog, Peoria Anti-Pundit, Omphaloskepsis, and SEVERAL OTHERS.

So if I haven't added your blog and you'd like me to add you, please let me know via e-mail. (Link's in the upper left there.) I am going to gird up my proverbial loins and take a stab at my html sometime in the coming week. And if I screw it up, I'll do what everyone else who's bad at html in the Peoria blogging community tells me to do: Whine to PeoriaIllinoisian.

(Why is my posting so behind? A combination of grading papers and insomnia leaves me too brain-drained to be interesting.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Character Matters, Keep Youth Educators Funded

As part of the ongoing Blagojevich Budget Fiasco, he would like to strike from the Illinois Department of Agriculture's budget Article 165, Section 25, an amount of $1,659,400, eliminating 29 4-H Youth Educators serving 47 counties through Illinois, working with 135,500 youth and 12,000+ volunteers every year.

Here in Peoria we are lucky to have Virginia Kuo, whom I've known only a short time but who is awesome. Twelve kinds of awesome, really. If this line item is cut, Virginia's job will disappear.

What do 4-H Youth Educators do? In addition to "traditional" 4-H-y things (four-aitch-ey?), it's one of the last bastions of character education in the state. Last year Virginia ran a character and leadership education program with 1200 students in 5 Peoria County schools, teaching 6 different life skills. The students showed marked improvements in skills like respect, fairness, responsibility, and citizenship. (Okay, seriously, when was the last time you saw citizenship taught? Are there any schools that even still have civics classes?)

This all sounds terribly dry when I try to explain it on the blog, but read Virginia's reports or talk to her in person and I promise you will get fired up about it. These are neat programs reaching a huge variety of children. 4-H Youth Educators do drug prevention, youth nutrition, food drives, obesity prevention, technology training, and, yes, 4-H fairs; they train teachers and other youth professionals in character education, bullying prevention, experiential education, emotional learning, etc. Students who participate in 4-H do better in school and are more willing to try new activities. 4-H Youth Educators work with students in the juvenile detention system. They work with farm kids. They work with inner-city kids. They develop lifelong habits of volunteerism in children.

More than 10,000 students in Peoria County alone were direct beneficiaries of 4-H programming in 2006.

These things matter. You need to call your state reps and senators and tell them that cutting this line item is not acceptable! You can look up your state legislators by your home address here if you don't know. (Frankly I think you should tell them the entire way Blagojevich is running the budget process is not acceptable, and that they should tie him down and MAKE him stay in Springfield, but that's another blog entry for another day. The total funding for all Youth Educators across the state is only 286 round-trip Blagojevich flights from Chicago to Springfield so he can avoid being contaminated by having to sleep south of I-80! For less than a year of travel costs enabling half-assed work by the Sound Bite Governor, your tax dollars can reach 135,500 students across the state!)

Please call. Please e-mail. Please pass this information on. It's important.

(Full disclosure: I sit on the Peoria County Extension Council. Why do I do that? Because I seriously think this stuff is important.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's a Woman's Prerogative

I frequently get exasperated with Mr. McGee because I like to think about certain kinds of things for a really long time before making a decision, like decorating a room or laying out a garden or whatever. I typically come up with a thousand interim plans before finally settling on the one I actually want to do. But Mr. McGee always sticks with the first thing I say and gets aggravated when he discovers I've changed my mind about what he thought was "the plan." This happens so often, to our mutual irritation, that I'm to the point where when he asks, "What color do you think we should paint the living room?" I respond, "Now, this is only my PRELIMINARY thought so DON'T YOU GO DECIDING IT'S A PLAN ...."

Anyway, we had a winner of these conversations today when speculating on possible future cars.

"I kind of want a Mazda."
"A Miata?"
"No, a Mazda 5."
"I thought you wanted a scooter."
"Well, I do, but [various practical concerns]."
"Then I thought you wanted a Prius."
"You don't do a very good job keeping up with my whims, do you?"

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Secret Astrological Disappointment

My husband and I have the same astrological sign (Pisces) and I find it terribly depressing. Seriously. Not because I put any stock in astrology, but because I've been in the habit for years and years of reading my horoscope (it's on the comics page in the Trib, and I've been starting my day with the Tribune comics since I was about five) to my family/roommate/whomever and informing them what exactly they have to do to conform with it.

"My horoscope says I'm fascinating today. Be fascinated."

"My horoscope says today people will be particularly nice to me. When are you starting?"

A close second is gloating over it when their horoscopes are really bad and inventing all the horrors that go with the prediction. "Ooooooh -- something goes wrong for you at work today. Maybe the flourescent fixture will fall on your head! Maybe you'll get a papercut that develops gangrene and you'll have to have the finger amputated!"

But this DOESN'T WORK because Mr. McGee and I have the same sign. So I can't be like, "My horoscope says you have to be nice to me" or "Your horoscope sucks today." For years I've been saying I'm going to assign him an arbitrary astrological sign just so we can have different ones, but that sort-of defeats the fun of the game.

So what I actually do sometimes is invent him an entirely different horoscope and tell him his says he has to obey my every command today, while mine says I'm a beacon of shining glory.

Mostly he just ignores me. But every now and then he's like, "Wait, what?"

Friday, September 07, 2007

Keeper of the Keys

It is a simple truth of life that the more complicated your life is, the more keys you have.

When I started college I had exactly two keys on my keyring: Parents' house and dorm room.

As time went by, they expanded: Car keys, when a car came to campus with me after a couple semesters. Office keys for the newspaper. Locked bulletin board key when I ran a student organization that had the high holy honor of a locked bulletin board. (Woot!) And so on. When I got near the end of my senior year and started handing over all my responsibilities to younger folks, my key ring shrank back down.

When we moved to Peoria, I again had very few keys: House keys, car keys, and a Kroger tag. Then last year my life started getting abruptly more complicated, and I noticed the other day when I was putting the super-gigantic medieval-sized key to the adjunct office at ICC on my keychain that my keys were back to being out of control.

House keys. Car keys. Parents' house keys. Junior League HQ key. Adjunct office key. Business PO Box key. Some combination of file cabinet, gym locker lock, and bike lock keys, but they all look pretty similar so I always have to guess which goes with what. Scanny tags for Kroger, the library, Discount Shoe Warehouse (in Skokie), Men's Wearhouse, Hancock Fabrics (that just closed, I should take it off), Borders Rewards, and PetSmart. (Why doesn't Blockbuster have key tags? I'd spend way less time losing my card if they did.) And then there's a mini flashlight and a couple other things that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever.

The key-chain and all its components are now as large as my fist, and that's without the leash. (I keep my keys on a leash because otherwise I have a tendency to lock them in the car when doing things like loading groceries.)

Incidentally, the reason that my bike lock and gym locker lock are key rather than combo locks is that my brain has simply run out of space for passwords. It's so full now that I frequently go to type in a password to some site and find myself typing my sixth-grade locker combination or the register log-on from the job I had when I was 16 or something. As I had probably seven or eight different combo locks in junior high and high school alone, whenever I try to use a combo lock I find myself running through every combination I've ever had, plus my best friend's various high school locker combos, before I strike on whatever the current one is. I can't use an ATM card anymore for the same reason: I just can't remember the PIN.

How much crap is on your key chain? Does it shrink and grow in direct relation to the complication level of your life?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Note to Self: Do Not Fly Nepal Airlines

Nepal Airlines sacrifices goat to fix electrical problem.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

3 Things about ICC

Writing from the adjunct office today, so musing on my location:

1) The new carpets in East Peoria Academic have math symbols all over them. Seriously. It's cute.

2) Students and staff/faculty park in the same lots. In my opinion, this should suggest to students they do a little less CUTTING PEOPLE OFF since they could be cutting off their professors. Oh well.

3) Every door has a sign that say "Do not smoke in entryway" or something along those lines. Every door also has an ashcan right there in the entryway. I get the problem, because you don't want people coming into the building with a cigarette and tossing it in the trashcan because they didn't see the ashcan on the way in, but it's still funny.

My only real problem is that Firefox is not universally available on ICC computers, and after using Firefox for years now, going back to IE is EXCRUCIATING, if only for the lack of tabbed browsing.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Speaking of Immaturity, I Got Budged at the Bank

Yes, I'm standing in line at the bank and this dude just comes up, stands to the side of the line, and when it moves forward, inserts himself in front of me! Low-down dirty good-for-nothing BUDGER!!!!!!

I didn't say anything partly because I was so surprised, and partly because despite the "AnimeCentral2000" T-shirt, he looked mean and angry.

I don't think I've been budged since I was 7, and that was probably back-budgies, so it was at least morally semi-legitimate. This was just bald-faced budging. Appalling.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I May Be Immature, But I Have Great Aim

My husband and I were eating at Vallarta's the other night (where he drank like 3/4 of my margarita, but whatever) and I was struck by a sudden fit of immaturity: I felt the overwhelming urge to blow my straw wrapper at my husband.

Which I promptly did.

And which I shot right into his open mouth as he ferried a salsa-loaded chip into it! He just stopped dead and looked shocked. I felt really bad, but I was laughing so hard I was crying nonetheless. (In fact, I'm chortling as I type this.)

That may cure me of straw-wrapper blowing for a while.

Bus Update

Superintendent Hinton told Diane Vespa that a policy will be put in place ASAP. Kudos to him. Further bulletins as events warrant, as Calvin used to say.

Monday, August 27, 2007

What Other Districts Do with Misplaced Children on Buses

I got on the horn and called around a little. This is what I was told:

Chicago Public Schools: Spoke with a department employee. On district buses, drivers are in constant contact with dispatch. If an misplaced child (whose parents haven't yet called in a panic) is on the wrong bus, the child is taken to the nearest Park District location and turned over to the police for safekeeping until the parents are located and the child returned home safely. If drivers in contact with dispatch are able to match up missing parents and children, other steps may be taken, or the child may be taken to a Park District site so the police can return them home.

Rockford District 205: Spoke with the director there, Gregg Wilson. Drivers check children's names off a list, and children are not allowed to get off at the wrong stop. (This might not have helped if Diane's son's name was on the wrong list.) If the child says, "This isn't my stop" and/or starts to cry, the driver immediately stops, tries to call dispatch, and returns to the terminal with the child. He said that during the first few days of school, the amount of radio traffic can make calling in to dispatch difficult or impossible, but that drivers attempt to do so and may use personal cell phones to call in via phone. He also said that parents are always notified as soon as they are aware of a misplaced child, told where the child is, and given a time estimate on how long it will be before their child is returned to them. He usually speaks with parents personally. He expressed surprise that 150 would have problems with radio contact among the buses (unless it was first-week traffic overload) and confidence that our transpo people here are good and would resolve the situation. His secretary informed me that when a child is misplaced or missing, nobody in the department goes home until the child is found.

Edited to add: Rockford did tell me they actually had exactly this problem today, a little boy who had the same first name as another little boy and ended up on the wrong bus, then freaked out and said to the driver, "I don't live here," and Wilson told me it went down basically exactly as detailed above. He also did emphasize that these errors do happen, that it's a terrible thing, but they do happen. Which seems to me all the more reason to have a policy in place!

I called a few suburban districts, but their transportation directors had already gone home for the day.

I did not attempt to call Michael Sullivan -- it's too late in the day now (I initially posted at 4:30 as the timestamp says but edited as I got more info from making calls) -- so I did not have an opportunity to request the official District 150 policy for these situations. But it seems clear that there either is no policy, as Diane was told by lower-level officials, or that policy was not followed if 150's policy is similar to Chicago's or Rockford's.

District 150 Loses Child on First Day, Seems Puzzled When Parent Upset, Applicable Official Blows Off Meeting with Parent

You can get the full story here on, but basically Diane Vespa's child was put on the wrong bus because of a clerical error. NINETY MINUTES after school let out, the school and transpo people had still not located her kindergartener. The school was helpful. The transpo people were not, and seemed puzzled as to why she was, you know, screaming hysterically into the phone. (Eventually the bus driver of the wrong bus brought him home.)

Anyway, she met with the District 150 transpo people (that post is on page 3 at, and the District 150 Transportation Supervisor, Michael Sullivan, did not show up for the meeting. He sent a deputy supervisor and a field inspector. There are no emergency lost-child procedures in place and, Diane was informed, they have no intention of putting any emergency lost-child procedures in place.

The level of "unacceptable" going on here is unreal. It boggles my mind that the district doesn't already have lost-child procedures in place, since "kids on wrong bus" is not an unusual occurrence. There should at least be ways to communicate between the buses, dispatch, and the school or district administration. It should not take more than 15 minutes on CBs or radios or cell phones to locate a misplaced child if that child is still on the bus. And it certainly should not take more than 15 minutes to discover that the child has LEFT THE SYSTEM (gotten off at the wrong stop, been kidnapped) so that the police can be called and the cavalry called in.

I'm totally gobsmacked. Apparently to find a misplaced child in District 150, we have to put out an Amber Alert on school buses!

It's one thing not to have any procedures in place because your slap-dash method of coping with lost children on buses has worked until now. (Although with the number of emergency procedures District 150 does have in place for everything from tornadoes to school shootings, I'm rather shocked there's no lost-child procedure.) To state that now that the flaws in the system have been vividly and horrifyingly highlighted, you have no intention whatsoever of putting into place basic, commonsense procedures is irresponsible to the extreme. And, I must add, begging for a lawsuit -- the defense of which would be at taxpayer expense, of course.

Diane's a little worried that people might get annoyed with her for making a fuss about this. The heck you say! RABBLE MUST BE ROUSED, people. Fuss must be made. School board members must be petitioned. Administrators must be hassled. This is the institution responsible for our children 6 hours a day, and these are OUR public employees and OUR tax dollars at work. I want some answers, and I want them stat, and I want them from Michael Sullivan.

Peoria and District 150 talk a lot about wanting to lure and keep young professionals in the city instead of losing them to Dunlap and District 323. Well here's a memo: 1) Don't lose their children to start with; 2) Find them faster when you do; and 3) Send the highest-possible level official to answer to parents instead of blowing them off. And, hey, 4) Recognize when your policies are useless and fix them.

Administration contacts are here; transportation contacts are here; and your school board member contacts are here. Get to it. (And while we're at it, Keller's principal's contact info is here, and he deserves major props as the only person in this farce who was helpful.)

I look forward to responses from District 150's Transportation department and Administration, as well as the school board. I would like to know how they plan to address this issue and I am hopeful they will do so quickly and well.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Shameful Love

for LOL Cats.

I totally want to make this my ad:

Need a Lawyer?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Are You Reading?

Eyebrows is feeling a bit fidgety trying to find some good fiction to read lately. So tell me what you're reading now, or read lately, that you enjoyed.

I've been on a Jane Austen kick all summer long, so I just finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice for the 2nd time this summer, and decided to have a go at George Eliot's Middlemarch, which is one of those books I'm always meaning to read but never do. I've also begun Douglas Hofstadter's Pulitzer-Prize winning Gödel, Escher, Bach, but it requires a lot of concentration for someone like me without a ton of math, so it's been pushed a bit to the side while I prepare lectures for my philosophy class.

I had picked up some fiction at the library, which turned out to be a riff on Machiavelli's The Prince (and on Par Lagerkvist's The Dwarf, which is a riff on The Prince, only it's good; you should really read it), only it was AWFUL. Characters walking up to one another and saying things like, "Well, Jane, you've become the wife of a powerful Duke and squeezed lots of money out of your peasants. What's next -- angling for Queen?" Because good Machiavellians always discuss their evil plotting in public, the better to advance the exposition of a weakly-written novel. Just so you know.

I've also recently chugged through The Dangerous Book for Boys (British authors doing American edition not quite clear on meaning of "gerrymandering"), Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, Lois McMaster Bujold's new "Sharing Knife" books (1st is good, 2nd goes nowhere and takes 300 pages to do it, apparently because she decided it'd be a trilogy instead of a pair while in the midst of book 2), and pretty much everything by L.M. Montgomery, because Jane Austen kicks frequently occur in concert with L.M. Montgomery kicks.

So what are you reading? What should I read? Do share.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back to School

Started back to class today. Only slightly hoarse. Very, very busy trying to get everything in order! Taking a class this semester as well, Basic Nutrition, which is already making me feel guilty. Teaching Ethics, Business Ethics, and Philosophy. So far, so good!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Profiling at the Drug Store

I'm at Walgreens this afternoon picking up spousal junk food and some toilet paper, as I am nearly out. I grabbed the big 12-roll package because, well, who wants to have to buy toilet paper again right away?

Now, I'm wearing a T-shirt and shorts with my hair in a ponytail, and I realize that in such get-up, particularly when my hair is in a ponytail, I look much younger than my age, and I'm used to being carded at normal carding-type activities when I am so dressed.

So I get to the check-out and the cashier says, suspiciously and intently, as if she really doesn't know the answer, "What's the toilet paper for?"

I was completely taken aback, literally stumped into silence, because she really sounded like she wanted to know and I could not imagine how a 50-something woman would not already know what toilet paper was for, nor why she would ask such a rude question. I stood there staring for a long moment, with a puzzled and indignant, "For wiping my butt," on the tip of my tongue before I finally managed to stammer, "I'm almost out."

She continues to stare narrowly at me for a long moment and it slowly dawns on me, from the dim recesses of my memory, that I recall enforcing an anti-TPing policy when I worked at a five-and-dime type place in high school, whenever teenagers tried to buy large quantities of toilet paper, because obviously no teenagers are ever sent to the store to buy toilet paper for their mothers; the ONLY reason for buying toilet paper while teenaged is vandalism.

"I'm twenty-nine!" I blurt. I'm still quite befuddled by this whole interchange and my mind and mouth are not quite functioning in concert.

She finally (but still suspiciously) rings up my toilet paper.

Now I'm really glad I didn't try to buy Sudafed!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Feline Bathroom Regiment

Grey Cat has loved showers since he was a kitten, when he would not let me out of his sight (because I caused the food to appear) and followed me into the bathroom and then would wail piteously while patrolling the sink because the mean nasty loud water was trying to kill me. Eventually he discovered that he likes the heat and steam and never, ever, ever misses a shower. He believes we run a private sauna for him. This becomes slightly problematic when we have house guests, since Grey Cat knows how to open the bathroom door and simply lets himself in when someone is in the shower (leading to draughts of FREEZING COLD AIR in the dead of winter). We always have to warn people, "We're not perverts, it's just our cat."

Orange Cat has always hated the shower, but lately he has taken to napping nearly all day in the bathroom for reasons unknown. So whenever one of us goes up to the bathroom to take a shower, Orange Cat wakes up, stretches, and with great dignity vacates the premises, and Grey Cat, with equally great dignity, walks in and takes up Orange Cat's sleeping spot. GOD FORBID you close the door before they have finished the changing of the guard; disturbing the cat routine leads to much unhappiness and periodic claw-related scars.

I find the whole thing is unutterably amusing, while I stand there in my bathrobe waiting for a full-on ceremonial exchange of watch-cat duties.

Monday, August 13, 2007


One of the great privileges of being an adult, aside from being able to have a beer with lunch (a totally underappreciated luxury, that), is being able to celebrate your events as long as you bloody well want to, as there are no authority figures to say, "Look, your birthday was over three weeks ago." Which is generally to say, we spent about a week celebrating our 5th anniversary (which was last Friday) starting a week ago today with the Chef Kevin dinner and winding up yesterday at Rizzi's for more food. "Should we go to a movie? For our anniversary, I mean." "Let's order some pizza -- it's our anniversary."

Alas, I think we've about run that excuse into the ground. On the plus side, I have enough leftovers in my fridge that I can put off grocery shopping at least another two days!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Eyebrows Loves Bureaucracy

I was filling out a W-4 today and, as I always do, took my passport for my supporting document. I've never had a problem before. Not so today. Now, this is not verbatim; this is basically the gist of the argument I had with the woman. I gave her my passport, and she said, "I need your social security card."

"No you don't, you have my passport."

"I need your SSC so we can file your tax paperwork."

"No you don't."

"It's the employment eligibility document."

"So's a passport. They're only given to U.S. citizens; therefore, DEFINITIONALLY, if I possess a US passport, I am eligible to work in this country." (I did say that part.)

"The law says you have to have give me your social security card."

"The law is right here on the back of the W-4 and quite clearly states I can use my passport. It's the VERY FIRST document listed." (I wasn't so snippy about that part.)

And here we get to the real reason: "Well, EVERYBODY ELSE gives me their drivers' license and social security card!"

But, as my mother always told me, I am not everybody else. (And she's not everybody else's mother.) I didn't say that, though. After arguing about it with me further, she finally agreed to take the passport but warned me darkly that I'd probably have to come back because my paperwork was inadequate.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Five Years Ago Today, I Think I Was Sobbing from Stress

So this Friday my husband and I have our five-year wedding anniversary. FIVE YEARS! Counting backwards from the day of the wedding, I'm pretty sure this is the day I finally lost it and just started crying from all the stress of all the last-minute wedding things.

Anyway, I can hardly believe it's already been five years. The internet informs me that 18% of couples are divorced by five years. Sometimes I marvel that we're both still alive, since two type-A lawyers in one household makes for some headbutting, typically including arguments wherein somebody demands somebody else adhere to the rules of evidence and then degenerates into arguments about if X piece of evidence of failure to clean the kitchen is allowed, whether Y piece of evidence of failure to empty the litterboxes is also admissible to the argument.

My husband is hard to shop for, because he mostly only covets books, and you can only give so many special books as meaningful presents. So this year, I was creative and I hired Chef Kevin to come and cook us a super-awesome gourmet dinner at home. I think as a gift it was quite a success, and as a meal it was a DEFINITE success. In fact, I think we're still both in food-induced stupors, and there was this fondue-in-a-pastry thing that I swear I am going to learn to make because I think I could eat nothing but that for the entire rest of my life.

(There is a 2nd part to his present but I haven't finished it yet. Maybe I'll be done by the actual anniversary on Friday.)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Thursday, August 02, 2007

My Pedicurist Outdoes Herself

So this was a good thing -- and AWESOME thing -- in my otherwise Murphy week. Check out these super-elaborate flowers my pedicurist did on my toes:

(I know it's a little hard to see detail even that close up. I also have discovered there's not really any way to crop a picture of toes that doesn't make them look creepy.)

I seriously overtipped.

National Nails, in Northwoods, right by the Smo-King Pit.

Murphy's Law Is Ruling My Life

It's a truism of life that when things all START going wrong at once, they tend to KEEP going wrong for quite a while before it all starts turning back around at once. ANY DAY NOW my universe wants to go back to normal is okay with me.

My husband and I have been testing our marriage in one of the traditional ways: Home improvements we're not particularly qualified to do. In our case, a new screen/storm door. (He keeps calling it a "glass" door and I have to keep explaining that a glass door is like a French door to your patio or something, whereas the door that goes in front of your front door is a STORM door or a SCREEN door depending on the season. He thinks this is stupid.) Our old door was a) ugly and b) not functioning in any fashion like a DOOR. It didn't latch, the full-length glass insert was held in by just two brackety things (should have had 8 to 10) so the glass swung relatively free, it didn't even up with the door hole so it didn't insulate (even if the glass had been in properly) and it had no screen insert. We couldn't actually leave the front door open ever (not that there's much point without a screen) because Grey Cat knew how to push the storm door open since it didn't latch. Sometimes wind would just blow it open for funsies and scare the crap out of us.

Anyway, we bought this uber-door at Menard's and it all went really well until we got to the latching part, which is NOT GOING WELL AT ALL and if it won't latch, there was no point to replacing the crappy old one. Very frustrating. I can SEE the screen but I can't USE the screen. It's sitting there all tantalizing me and stuff, not latching.

(Grey Cat thinks this is the best project ever and keeps trying to escape. Orange Cat just LOOKS at him, because the food lives INSIDE and only morons want to go outside.)

Amid all this door trauma, I received a piece of Amish-made furniture I had ordered which MY MAIL PERSON BROKE. At least, I am forced to assume it was my mail person. The one who hates mail. The one who routinely drops or throws packages on my steps despite knowing I work at home. The one who has necessitated return upon return of things we ordered because she destroyed them. The one who THREW HARRY POTTER AT MY DOOR WHEN SHE COULD SEE ME SITTING OUTSIDE AT MY NEIGHBOR'S GARAGE SALE AND HAD JUST SAID HI TO ME.

Do you know how much work it takes to break a piece of utilitarian Amish-made furniture? It's built like a Mack truck. So I've finally complained. Probably she should not have destroyed expensive furniture during Murphy's Law week. I can't take it anymore.

Otherwise, my inbox is overflowing, I'm out of clean laundry, my cupboards are Mother Hubbard bare, and the Secretary of State wants to charge me obscene amounts of money to renew my plates (of COURSE that bill comes during Murphy's Law week). And yesterday I'm trying to find something to eat for lunch, realize the lettuce in my fridge has gone bad, and get myself in a snit over it. It wasn't until I went to bed that night that it dawned on me that I've got a whole row of lettuce that's just come up in my garden and I could have made myself a salad if I'd just thought for a second.

So I'm feeling a little sulky. Any time you want to do a U-Turn, universe! ANY TIME NOW!

ADDENDUM: Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap. In the 30 minutes since I posted, I got ink pen on my new clothes AND discovered I have to go to the DMV.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Blogger Bash!

Blogger Bash last night was, as PI noted, particularly awesome. Lots more women there than usual, so we were having a hoot down at the non-serious end of the table. Huge turnout, and great fun. Everybody should come to the next one!

(I think the private room helped make it awesome, so props to Chef Kev!)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Peoria PlayHouse Update

So I can't remember if I posted this or not, but this year I'm serving on the Peoria PlayHouse Committee. In the past when I shilled for them it was because I thought they were awesome, but now I'm actually the official shill because I'm in charge of PR. But still because I think they're awesome or I wouldn't be devoting hours upon hours of my life to it.

We've had a couple press releases go out in the last two weeks and I just wanted to highlight them really quickly. The first, which you can read in full here on the website, summarizes the progress of the project:

July 16, 2007, Peoria, IL – Working with partners from the Peoria Park District to the Peoria Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership School, the Junior League of Peoria is bringing The Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, to be located in the Glen Oak Pavilion, ever closer to reality.

Programming at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie and Prairie Air Show provide education and fun for area children.

Fundraising on track with 30% of funds raised; a gift from Jackie and Curtis White establishes The Peoria PlayHouse Endowment Fund; area children participate in Pennies for the PlayHouse.

Facilities plans preserve historic Glen Oak Park pavilion while providing space for five permanent and one temporary exhibit, as well as educational and administrative spaces.
The other press release, which is on its way out, is for this Saturday's PlayHouse Jr. programming at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie. It starts with storytime at Borders (10:30 a.m.) and then there are activities (11 a.m.) indoors when the weather is bad and outdoors at the PlayHouse gazebo when it's nice out. This month's theme is "In the Trees" with three books about trees and then tree activities. I don't have kids, but I've volunteered at a couple of these PlayHouse Jr. events and they're a hoot. Last one I did was vegetables, and I spent a good 45 minutes making potato-stamp pictures with the kiddies (SO FUN!) and we had unusual veggies for the kids to sample. This one kid ended up taking home like all our jicama because he was so crazy about it. (I myself am not that big on jicama but I would be surprised if this 7 year old at anything else for the rest of the week.)

It's a fun free Saturday morning activity, and the kids range in age from "barely old enough to sit still through one book while sucking thumb" to about 10 years old.

Lunchtime Conversations

Eyebrows is sitting in a squeaky chair that keeps letting out little kitten-like mews when she moves.

Mr. McGee, noticing the squeaks: "That's my soul crying."

Eyebrows: "Your soul cries like a wuss."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Make Mr. McGee Happy: Adopt a Cat

A specific cat. Take a look at Buster at the Tazewell shelter. Buster's a handsome & unusual-looking Siamese/marmalade mix who has diabetes. Like Orange Cat, Buster has diabetes and requires two shots a day. Mr. McGee, who is a serious soft touch where animals are concerned, is worried that nobody will adopt Buster because he's diabetic and now he's worrying about what would have happened to Orange Cat if nobody had adopted Orange Cat.

So if you are looking for a feline buddy, go take a look at Buster. Orange Cat's diabetes is super-easy to manage and even I, who am terrified of needles, can do the shots. As can three of my neighbors and all of my nearest relatives. Super-easy, I promise. If somebody doesn't step up and adopt Buster, Mr. McGee may never sleep again for worrying. And we seriously do not have room for a third cat! (Also Buster is not big enough to roll with the 20-lb. Godzilla-cats at this house. He might get smushed.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

July Garden Virtual Tour, & TV Appearance

Hi Bloggerinos! I'm back to WHOI tonight and I'll be on the 5 p.m. news, so tune in and check me out. I have lots and lots to blog about this week, too -- I'm tempted to post everything all at once!

I've finally uploaded my gardening pictures from earlier this month. They're a little out of date -- a few more things are blooming, and the squash has gotten farther on its world domination attempt -- but still pretty accurate. The sun has gotten far enough past the solstice that we now have shade on the patio by about 5:30 p.m. so it's lovely to sit out in the evening after work.

When you garden, you learn all kinds of fascinating things, like that this is what lettuce looks like when it grows up. Way up. Also it tastes like crap once it's done this. It's flowering out at the top there, you can just see, and by now, a couple weeks later, it has lots of seeds and looks real broomy up top.

Below you can watch a second Mapwing tour of my garden. Don't forget you can "turn around" on some of the points if you go through the tour manually. My first Mapwing tour is here. You can click here to visit the current one at Mapwing, or watch it embedded below!

Best. Spam. Ever.

Today I got spam (that slipped through my filters) entitled:

Release Helen or Troy Will Burn!

(It was for a fake drug that would help my alleged male genitalia grow to astonishing lengths.)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter (No Spoilers)

No Spoilers because the FedEx man hasn't brought the book yet, though I am already anxiously awaiting! I think being the FedEx man on Harry Potter release day must be the closest thing to being Santa Claus in this mortal world, both because they're delivering books to millions of children all over the world all in one day, and because everybody is DYING to see him and get the package he brings and he is the man bringing The Joy for today. The magic of online tracking tells me my book arrived at 10:11 a.m. yesterday at the East Peoria distribution center, but not when to expect my FedEx man today! Maybe I should put out cookies for him and carrots for his truck.

I read that the Vegas bookmakers' odds were running 90/10 in favor of Harry dying, which sort of makes me wish I was a betting woman, because I think that's ridiculous. It wouldn't fit the structure of the other six books at all if Harry died. I think it's most likely to be Neville, Hagrid, and/or an auxiliary Weasley (i.e., not Ginny or Ron).

As for Ron or Hermione dying, that seems highly unlikely to me as well, since they've been set up for romance since Book I. And for the people who were shocked -- SHOCKED! -- when they starting showing interest in each other about Book IV, I suggest a refresher course in English-language romantic literature: In English, we expect our romantic heroes and heroines to bicker first before they fall in love. Adds to the tension, sexual and otherwise. Try, oh, Pride and Prejudice (and Emma, to a lesser degree); any Shakespeare comedy but particularly Taming of the Shrew; the entire genre of trashy romance novels; When Harry Met Sally; and so forth. Straight-ahead romance is for continental-language literatures; English has always liked its romances sassier, and Ron and Hermione right from the first were clearly being set up to fall in love as well.

I hope FedEx man gets here early because I don't know how long I can avoid possible spoilers on the internet and TV!


DONE: And the only thing I have to say is, I always knew Mrs. Weasley & Neville kicked ass.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I Was Refused Care

Today I called a gynecological practice to make an appointment with a new gynecologist. I haven't had a gynecologist in quite some time (well, I haven't had a gynecologist EVER, but I got gynecological care through student health in grad school). I was referred to this practice by my family doctor as being best able to care for certain special medical needs I have, and it was specifically recommended by female friends when I asked around.

When I called, they told me I needed records from my last gynecologists. Well, I'd never had one, I told them. Pap smear? Not in quite a while, and Duke (for whatever stupid (and incidentally illegal) reason) keeps refusing to release my medical records to me.

Well in that case, I was told, we can't see you.


We can't see you.

They absolutely and categorically refused to provide gynecological care because I don't have a gynecologist! I asked if they were seriously refusing to provide care because of a lack of paperwork. Yes. I asked if they refused to see all new patients without prior gynecological care. Yes. So despite the fact that I am in need of medical care you refuse to see me because I haven't already HAD the medical care which I am in need of? YES.

I was almost literally speechless. I'm currently teaching medical ethics, as you know, and I was flabbergasted that a doctor would refuse to provide necessary care to a patient WITH insurance who CAN pay who was REFERRED by a primary care physician in the same hospital network ... !

What if I was actively pregnant and in need of prenatal care? What if I was ill and in need of urgent care rather than routine care? Apparently it makes no difference. Unless I have a CURRENT gynecologist, I can't see THIS gynecologist.

I made Mr. McGee call over, I was too upset, and the nurse HE spoke with said lack of prior records are NOT a bar to being seen and apologized for the way I was treated. So perhaps I just got one really mean and uncaring and hidebound nurse. This nurse suggested I have my primary care physician call over so we can bypass the problem person and get me a faster appointment, so I'm doing that now and hopefully can get this problem solved.

At least I have something for my medical ethics class to talk about tonight. I am seriously appalled.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Well, It IS from Peoria ....

The other day I started eating a pita and I was like, "This smells a little funny," but I have a notoriously bad sense of smell so it took a few bites before I looked and realized --



I spent the next several hours saying to the now-trashed pita, "Please have been penicillin! Please have been penicillin!"

I was none the worse for wear, so it must have been. Penicillin was, after all, synthesized in quantity in Peoria during WWII, and -- grossest thing I have ever learned -- a worldwide search revealed the preferred and most prolific strain of penicillin was found on a moldy cantaloupe found at a Peoria market in 1941.

If you were the market, is this the kind of thing you advertise or not?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Groceries of the Beast?

It's Friday the 13th ... and my grocery bill was $66.66 ...



(I do have a bunch of garden pics to put up but I haven't had time to get them off my camera yet!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pretirement Is Hard (and Random Roommate Anecdotes)

Eyebrows's family has been doing all the exciting things this past couple weeks. My youngest brother got his AP scores back, which he rocked out; my sister continues living in Ireland (which continues to be exciting merely by virtue of hello, it's IRELAND); my uncle, who's a Washington lobbyist, appeared on page A5 of the Journal-Star, and I was like, "Hey, I totally know that guy!" and it was a nice change from my other recent experiences of seeing people I know in the newspaper.

But mostly the excitement has been my parents, who have officially entered pretirement. They've got a townhouse in North Carolina (for complicated reasons, my parents are currently employed in two entirely different states, but my mom teaches so she has the summer off) which I have dubbed their "pretirement home" because as of August when my youngest brother starts college, they're officially empty nesters after nearly 30 years of parenthood.

My dad is apparently dealing with pretirement by exercising 24/7. He has always been an exercise nerd, but now he has all this free time that's not being devoured by four children and their extracurricular events, so he can go trail biking in the mountains and golf and jog and then walk downtown to dinner for good measure all in one day. My mother is not an exercise nerd, but my dad is sucking her into his exercise mania.

I think my parents need more hobbies or when actual retirement kicks in and all their time is free, they're going to either stare at each other for hours on end or both end up looking like Arnold.

On a totally unrelated small world note, one of the very first people my dad met at work in Mt. Airy told him she went to the Methodist church in Harmony (what church you go to is a typical opening conversational gambit in North Carolina). And my dad was like, "Who's the pastor again?" And the woman told him and my dad was like, "Dude, my daughter totally roomed with your pastor's wife in divinity school." Except my dad doesn't say dude. Or totally. And the conversation took longer than that. But my grad school roommate, who co-celebrated my wedding, and her husband are pastoring it up in rural North Carolina and randomly ended up 40 miles from my dad. She and I were among the only Midwesterners at Duke and our accents and voices sounded SO MUCH THE SAME that neither our mothers nor our fiances could tell us apart on the phone.

After she got married I roomed with a Maori from New Zealand so we were spending a lot of time with other international students, and we had this huge ice storm that resulted in a massive power outage that lasted 10 days in some places, and these two Israeli girls we knew stayed with us, because we lived next to the mall so our power was turned back on first. (God bless capitalism.) And they were totally appalled that power actually goes out in America. "But it is the United States! There should not be power outages here! It is the most powerful country in the world!" they kept saying.

"Yes," I replied. "And that gives us power over the weather."

But I sort-of felt for them because most foreign students who come to the U.S. are expecting New York City or L.A. When they go to schools like Notre Dame or Duke, particularly when they're from little bitty countries you can drive across in a couple hours, I think the whole thing is a little appalling when they discover they're in the back ass of beyond and it takes a good 12 hours to drive to New York City from beyond's ass and that the vast majority of the landmass of America is a lot more like South Bend or Durham or Peoria than it is like New York City. That, or covered with corn.

Which takes me back to my Midwestern roommate. We both had major car problems when we first moved to Durham and we could not figure out what it was. (My Maori roommate just kept trying to kill herself making left turns into oncoming traffic; they drive on the other side of the road in New Zealand.) One night we were sitting watching TV and talking about our cars and I said, "My engine has been making the most terrible noises."

"Mine too," she said. "But I think I finally figured out what it is."

"Oh yeah?"


Long pause.

"Yeah, I guess they don't really have those where we're from."