Monday, December 22, 2008

Jettin' But Not Jellin'

I'm flying to CA tomorrow with the oldest, tallest grandson to visit with the youngest and smallest grandchildren.

I was just checking out the TSA website because one just never knows what might be verboten. Common sense tells me that I'll have to leave my hand grenades and liquid bleach at home, but common sense is not always the best indicator of what can't be taken on a flight.

Like gel shoe inserts.

It's good to see, however, that fingernail clippers apparently don't pose the threat that they did in the past.

I think we're making progress in the War Against Travelers.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Coundown to Christmas: Grown-Up Christmas List

Countdown to Christmas: Merry Christmas, Darling

Because this song was released while we were still in Vietnam, I always heard it as being sung to a soldier there.

I've never been able to hear it in any other context.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Countdown to Christmas: Feliz Navidad

When I was much younger, I didn't see "new" songs as "real" Christmas songs.

But this one grew on me, and apparently the rest of the world, too.

And it hasn't been new for a long, long time now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Countdown to Christmas: Bing and Bowie

I actually saw this bit of strangeness when it originally aired.

Now I own a classic Christmas anthology CD that contains the song.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Countdown to Christmas: Carol of the Bells

Once upon a time, music was important -- not just the music stored in our iPods (of which I still am not possessed), but the music we made.

When I was in elementary school, we had a music teacher. I don't remember her name, but I can't forget her presence: she was tall, blonde, beautiful -- the kind of woman for whom the adjective "willowy" was coined -- and once a week she wheeled her upright piano into our classroom for an hour or so of blessed relief from math and history: for an hour or so of song.

In junior high, chorus was an elective. I was there. This began my real life in song, a brief but mostly happy life. (I was going to scan my 8th grade yearbook, which contains the only known photo of me in a chorus, but I can't find it. More on my bitterness about lack of ocular proof later.) In 11th and 12th grade, I also took chorus as an elective. From the first week of school in September, we started practicing for the Christmas concert. While the leaves were falling outside, we practiced "Let It Snow." As people planned their Halloween costumes, we rehearsed "What Child is This?" Just before school broke for the brief Thanksgiving holiday, we put the finishing touches on "Carol of the Bells." Today as I absentmindedly sing along with classic Christmas songs, I still precisely pronounce that one line in "Angels We Have Heard on High" as "in egg shells cease day-oh" because that's how the music director told us to do it so it would come out sounding right...

In short, chorus was a major part of my young life, a major part of my adolescent identity. None of my regular crowd went out for chorus, so I had my primary friends and a chorus set of friends. Together we understood something that the others didn't, something I couldn't have articulated at the time, and still can't fully. But music, communal music, was an important creative outlet.

In high school, the top chorus was called the Choralairs. This was an elite group; one joined it only through audition. We in the school always knew when the Choralairs had an event: the boys wore suits and the girls wore their dresses: burnt orange suit-dresses.

How I craved owning one of those dresses.

In 11th grade, after a few years away from chorus, I made room in my schedule for a general chorus elective. This was not really a chorus of my peers. Most were there for a perceived easy grade -- or at least an easy-to-live-through hour -- and participated in lackluster manner. This made the handful of us who were there for the music stand out. In the spring, I tried out for the Choralairs, along with my neighbor. I made it; she didn't.

Senior year was going to be great.

(Now is probably a good time to point out that I don't have the voice I wish I did. I have pretty much the same vocal skills as Madonna: I can carry a tune without embarrassing myself. However, my whole life I've longed for the skills of k.d. lang, which is something else entirely.)

I was dealt two blows upon my return to school in the fall of my senior year. Somebody had fouled up my schedule and placed me in general chorus. Worse, our beloved chorus director, Mr. W, was now an administrator, and we had a new, far-from-warm-and-fuzzy director: Mrs. M, a woman who took every chance she got to remind us that we'd better not make her raise her classically-trained voice.

Somehow I managed to convince people that I did, indeed, belong in the Choralairs, and I got my schedule fixed. (I think Mr. W vouched for me.) But there was no fixing the fact that we were stuck with Mrs. M.

As an adult, I can look back and see that this was probably not her dream job and that she was doing it because she needed the income. She was probably also cowed by the fact that the love that everyone felt for Mr. W hung over the room like her personal black cloud.

She was always grouchy.

She never tired of telling us how superior her 9th grade chorus was to us, and again, as an adult I can see that it was probably insecurity on her part: the 9th grade chorus was untainted by the memories of How Good It Used to Be Under Mr. W.

Worst of all, she also ended the era of the burnt-orange suit-dresses. We performed in chorus robes. I never got the chance to carry the mark of being a Choralaire as I walked through the halls of EHS. I looked just like everyone else, even on concert days.

Except that, for the record, I was ultimately invisible.

On the day the Choralairs had its yearbook photo taken, I skipped school and went to Philadelphia. It wasn't my idea. My then-boyfriend and future ex-husband wanted to go. I really didn't want to; I wanted to be in the yearbook photo, and I think this is precisely why he thought this was the day to make the road trip. If I really loved him, I would go, etc. (Only much later did I realize how hard he tried to make me less successful and how much I bought into it. This is a story unto itself.) Several more candid yearbook photos of the Choralairs in concert also managed to crop me out. Almost 40 years later, I still haven't quite gotten over this.

Still, I was in the Choralairs, and despite Mrs. M and my invisibility problem, it was a great experience. By spring, she had mellowed somewhat. Perhaps she didn't feel as insecure as she had when she first arrived.

For each of us who celebrates Christmas (and this is surely true of any major holiday), there's an element of it without which the holiday just isn't right. For me, more than anything, it's the music. I hope that you all get plenty of whatever "it" is for you.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why Students Need Math Classes

So they'll understand why they aren't passing their English classes.

They can't do math: it's the only explanation I have.

I have two students who haven't turned in MAJOR work. Both have failed to turn in papers worth 20% and 25%. Student Y is also missing a paper worth 15%; Student Z did a paper worth 15% so incorrectly -- as in the assignment was to analyze a personal situation and he instead reworked his first paper -- that I really question his ability to read instructions. They also both didn't turn in a recent assignment worth 5%.

I assumed that they had each figured out that they weren't passing and were walking away from the class as another student has clearly done.

However, now I see that both Student Y and Student Z have gone out of their way to submit a final assignment worth 5% of their final grade.

Do they think I'll have mercy on them and their approximate 35% averages since they turned in this last thing?

Or is it not a math problem at all, but simply that they're unable to read the writing on the wall?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Countdown to Christmas: Snow!

The first in a series of Christmas music videos, because nothing symbolizes Christmas more for me than music, the way music used to be done.

(Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen.)

Are You on Drugs????

I have a little bit of a head cold. It's no big deal, but I don't have time right now to be wiping my nose every three minutes, so I went off to Walgreens for a medicinal aid.

I settled on Daytime Zicam, something I've not tried before. Among its claims is this:

Virtually taste free when mixed in any hot or cold beverage.
Most of us misuse that word "virtual," which does not mean what you might think it means. And it definitely does not mean what Zicam implies it means.

Zicam's label said that I should mix its elixir with 6 to 8 oz. of a hot or cold beverage. I decided to take the label at its word and poured part of my iced tea into a small glass, mixed it with Zicam, and tried to send it down the hatch.

What hit my tastebuds with the force of a jackhammer was a most horrifyingly medicinal-flavored iced tea.

But there was still more yuck in the glass, so I gulped a few more gulps.

It took five tries to get all of the putrid stuff down the throat.

I'm really grateful that I didn't pour the Zicam into the full iced tea. Otherwise, I'd have had to drink 32 oz. of horrifyingly medicinal-flavored tea instead of 6 oz. in order to get all the medicine.

If this stuff works, if it's worth taking, I'm just going to drink it straight next time and chase it with a hot or cold beverage.

It couldn't possibly taste any worse, and it'll all be over in a few seconds.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I know this is not news and all, but

OMG! Barack Obama is going to be president!

I still have those moments when it hits me hard, as it did a few minutes ago.

It's just like almost being in a car accident -- the bad thing didn't happen; you managed to get out of the way just in time. All is well. Everything looks stunningly beautiful -- not just the blue sky and the sweetly-singing birds, but also the color of the concrete curb and the trash on the floorboards of the car.

May the thrill never be gone.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don't stand...don't stand so...don't stand so close to me...

This is the ultimate video of the Bush legacy. Seriously.

The troops look not at all happy about Bush's intrusion on their space. In fact, they look like they're going to throw up. The young man raises his eyebrows in exasperation, and the troops to the left of the young woman (her left) seem to be jostling her so as not to allow him in. She also throws in a little shoulder action to try to keep him out.

Maybe he smells bad.

And look how fast that gap closes up as soon Bush leaves it.

Patriots, all of them.

Thank you to commenter srv at Balloon Juice, whoever you are.

NOTE: I have no idea why the comments option quit showing; I have comments selected for this post. This isn't the first time this has happened lately. Grrr. If you want to point and laugh along with us, click the post's title and you'll get the comments option.

Notes from School

Two vignettes:

1. Yesterday, an email from a student:

Subject line: I need help ASAP!

Message: How do you find database articles and scholarly articles on the [My School] library. I’ve been trying to for like 40 mins I completely forgot how. Can you tell me the step by step process thanks.

Context for this message: This research paper was due two days ago.

2. Earlier this semester: I've had one of my students pegged as an arch-conservative, although in retrospect, I realize that I may have misunderstood his deep anxiety about the election, especially his excitement about bad weather in parts of the country on election day. I read it as "woo-hoo! The liberals won't be going to the polls!" Now I have to admit that I don't recall his ever actually declaring a side.

This morning: I read his latest paper, in which he talks about coming out.

I suppose he could be conservative. This happens. Now, for me, his political orientation is a point of curiosity while his sexual orientation is not at all.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Spending Too Much Time on Amazon

One of Amazon's lists caught my eye as I was checking out a video: A Last Role Before Untimely Death.

Grisly, really. And I read the whole list.

Edit: Upon reflection, I realize that he left out the last role of she who had the most untimely death of them all: that of Natalie Wood.

As I Was Saying...

I certainly saw this coming.

Following the lending freakout by banks regarding lending to businesses and corporations, it was only a matter of time before they stopped lending to you and me in the form of credit cards.

The U.S. credit card industry may pull back well over $2 trillion of lines over the next 18 months due to risk aversion and regulatory changes, leading to sharp declines in consumer spending, prominent banking analyst Meredith Whitney said.

The credit card is the second key source of consumer liquidity, the first being jobs, the Oppenheimer & Co analyst noted.

"In other words, we expect available consumer liquidity in the form or credit-card lines to decline by 45 percent."

Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co represent over half of the estimated U.S. card outstandings as of September 30, and each company has discussed reducing card exposure or slowing growth, Whitney said.

A consolidated U.S. lending market that is pulling back on credit is also posing a risk to the overall consumer liquidity, Whitney said.
So at a time when both consumers and the overall economy might need the credit a little more than in the past, the lenders are going to pull back.

It may well be true that many of us have more credit than we need (I do) and use more credit than we should. On the other hand, if consumers are demonstrating their ability to repay (I am--I pay more than the minimum each month and pay my cards off on a regular basis), a 45% decline comes across as punitive. Perhaps that won't be across the board. Perhaps it will be decided on a case-by-case basis. But I doubt it.

This plan might be good for the lenders, but "sharp declines in consumer spending" certainly won't be good for the economy.

And I voice my concern once again about what this will do to our credit scores, which are determined in large part by the ratio between the credit we use and the credit we have. Cut our lines by 45% and suddenly some of us are much closer to kissing the max than we were previously. Having changed nothing about our spending or paying habits, we may find ourselves with lower credit scores.

The game is stacked against us.

(Hat tip to Petulant at Shakesville.)