New Digs

I was very exciting when I arrived on campus this morning to see that Carleton is immediately starting to put up a new building, the William H. Sallmon Administrative Building. As President Oden says in the video announcement of the project, the building will be devoted to offices for Carleton’s large and growing administrative staff. In other words, me! Thank god. I need a new office, with room for a sofa and, I hope, a nice view.

Note the heavy machinery in place to start construction right away this morning.
Sallmon Administrative Building

A more legible close up of the sign.
Sallmon Administrative Building


Julia is semi-obsessed with the cafeteria at her elementary school. More than once in the past week, we’ve had to look up the menu on the school website and talk about all the options. And since Julia is Julia, this has led to art: a drawing of kids getting their food. It’s pretty accurate. You can almost smell “Big Daddy’s Pizza.” (Click through for notes.)


Dada Trees

One of my favorite things about working on a college campus is the everydayness of the weirdness: the cross-country team screaming out the names of the buildings they’re passing, streakers, “beard auctions,” cryptic chalk messages on the sidewalks, kids playing Quidditch on the soccer fields, oversized plastic letters in the trees out front of my building. You can’t spell “another day of work” without W-T-F.
Letter Trees

Letter Trees

The Theme for 2010: Monotasking

On Facebook the other day, I read a rather brilliant post by a rather brilliant member of the faculty in which she described trying to choose a “theme” for 2010 – the “theme” being a more general but still effective way to focus one’s energy than the usual set of resolutions. I’d been toying with a short list of resolutions, but honestly they’ve lost their charm. Read more fiction? Do one drawing a day? Be more patient with the girls? All (and suchlike) are less things that merit some sort of firm “resolution” and more like things I ought to do just to be a decent person.

But a theme! This, I could get behind. I mused about her examples (and several examples offered by others who had adopted similar “themes”) and about a possible theme for my own 2010. Then, this afternoon, a lightning bolt leapt from the radio while I was listening to “Car Talk” and struck me in the head: “monotasking” – defined online as “the carrying out of one task at a time; single-tasking.” Inevitably, there are zillions of resources on the web about monotasking, such as “6 Reasons Monotasking Will Help You Get More Done Than Multitasking,” some of which I’ll peruse (one at a time).

This afternoon’s epiphany perfectly complements a line from a novel that I have been repeating in my head since reading it: “Now we’re doing what we’re doing now” (uttered [as it happens] by the cold-blooded criminal Parker, in Richard Stark’s thriller Firebreak). I hope this mantra helps me do a bunch of good things: focusing on the girls when I’m with them (even if they’re each doing and wanting something different), taking up and completing discrete tasks on the job(s), checking Facebook and Twitter and email less frequently, enjoying a meal in its own right rather than a chance to read something and email and eat simultaneously. I might even be able to go several consecutive wakeful hours without using my iPod Touch.

Beyond those rewards, though, I also hope that monotasking will help me feel less pulled-apart and frazzled and frayed and disgruntled and dissatisfied – adjectives that certainly applied to 2009. Now I’m doing what I’m doing now. Next I’ll do something else.

Kindergarten Science

Those teachers at Sibley Elementary are smuggling all kinds of science into kindergarten. This week, Julia has had three days of science – using various kinds of lenses on Tuesday, experimenting with magnets on Wednesday, and measuring objects today.

Not to say that all of this is having its intended effect or anything, but today at breakfast, Julia told me that when she grows up she wants to become an “outside scientist.” And a famous painter, and the co-owner (with Genevieve) of an ice cream shop, which they’ll brilliantly name the “Tassava Sisters Ice Cream Shop.” That’s a license to print money, which they can then use on their painting and outside science.

Anyhow, the best parts of the science days so far have been the worksheets – or can I call them “lab reports”? On Tuesday, she brought home a list of “observing tools” she’d used:

  • magnafid glas
  • microscop
  • banokyl [binoculars]

On Wednesday, she brought home a list of things which stuck to the various magnets:

  • paprklip
  • sisrs
  • can

and a list of things that didn’t:

  • stik
  • lef
  • ligkin logs

Today, she used special “inch blocks” to measure various objects:

  • toy
  • chip
  • lego
  • plain [a toy airplane]
  • pensl
  • strow

While this preliminary work is, indeed, quite promising, I would recommend that the investigator work closely with a proofreader and assessment expert as she makes plans to extend this pilot project.

The End of the Term

Today was the day when the last few students – the ones who couldn’t figure out how to take their exams earlier, mostly – went home for Carleton’s long Winter Recess, which runs all the way until January 2. Most of the students won’t be back until January, which will be okay, next week, when the janitors will have had a few days to clean up and, with any luck, we will have some snow to cover the wet, sticky leaves.

Today, though, it was just depressing to see campus empty out. The gray sky and 99% humidity didn’t help, but it was mostly the people. Many faculty and quite a few staff – like the librarians – looked almost as worn out as the students, who were even more haggard and ill-kempt than usual. Even the noontime buzz at the snack bar was subdued – a downer rather than the usual upper. The thousands of just-returned books at the library’s circulation desk looked like flotsam, and the lone student worker who was trying to check them all back in looked like a man lost at sea, or at least an underpaid factotum. My bike missed all the chums that are usually locked to the rack out front of my building.

Perhaps the most significant sign of the shift from full-on Fall Term madness to hollowed-out Winter Recess sedation was the number of couples whom I saw walking around hand-in-hand. For whatever reason – college culture? generational changes? H1N1? – it’s rare to see two students holding hands, but today I saw quite a few couples walking slowly from place to place, staving off the six weeks of separation with a few more minutes of interlocked fingers.

Three Observations by Julia

1. Sitting in the tub waiting to get washed up the other day, she looked at the shampoo bottle and asked, “What does ‘h-y-p-o-a-l-l-e-r-g-e-n-i-c’ spell?” When I told her and tried to explain what the word meant, she nodded calmly. A few minutes later, as she was using the kids’ body wash, she asked, with perfect pronunciation, “So, is this body wash hypoallergenic? It seems like it must be, since it doesn’t bother my skin.” Dermatology: the hot new kindergarten subject.

2. Telling me about an art project at kindergarten, she said that a friend of hers had tried to draw a unicorn. I commented that drawing a unicorn sounded kinda difficult, but Julia said, “Well, she did something funny: she just took her shirt off and put it on our table and drew the unicorn that was on her shirt.” My eyes goggled. “But it was okay because she had another shirt on underneath the unicorn shirt.” Whew.

3. Trying to write a note to her mom, she carefully spelled out several words, then stopped. “How to you spell ‘essay’? Oh, wait, no, don’t tell me! That’s easy! It’s just s-a!” I had to laugh at that one. She was disappointed that the “real word” had so many extra letters in it.

Julia’s Guide to Hygiene

Those public schools just won’t stop with the indoctrinatin’. First, they subverted American schoolkids’ liberty by making them watch the president on TV, and now they’re forcing my daughter to learn 19th-century notions of sanitation and hygiene. What next? Math?

front cover


back cover

On the plus side, I think that this “book” (as Julia calls it) suggests that Julia can look forward to a career in medical illustration. Or horror-movie director. “The GERMS! They’re on my HANDS!”

Julia, Phoneticist

These days, pretty much everything Julia creates with paper and pencil (or crayon or marker…) makes me smile. Yesterday, Shannon brought home from a conference with Julia’s teacher a packet of materials that included this two-page assignment to try and write the word that goes with each picture. I’d say she did a good job. I especially like her takes on “elephant” and “xylophone.” That poor zebra, though – she thinks he’s a zero!
Write the Words!

Write the Words!

Wiped-Out Wednesday

I rarely reflect on particular days as being good or bad or long or short, but today was such a doozy that listing its main phases will have to stand in for a real blog post. Julia and I had a very nice breakfast around 6:45, but when Vivi woke up around 7:15, she went apeshit, screaming so loudly over everything (her wet diaper, going downstairs for breakfast, the content of breakfast, the fact that Julia had eaten, the fact that she couldn’t go wait for the school bus with Julia, etc.) that she killed one of my hearing-aid batteries. I disengaged from that mess in time to rush to a dentist appointment, which started late and lasted 90 minutes. That of course meant that the whole workday proper was going to be screwed up, which it was. I answered so many email messages in such a short period of time that my fingertips ached, then headed to a blood-donation appointment. It went smoothly, but left me feeling a bit queasy, which has never happened before and which didn’t help me get through the back-to-back meetings that followed. But I didn’t pass out and seemed to speak as coherently as needed. I ducked out of the second meeting to race home to finalize our newly-refinanced mortgage with our financial advisor, who left just in time for us to start the usual (and unusually smooth) dinner-bath-bed routine for the girls. Once the kids were asleep, I went back up to campus to first finish some work that I didn’t get done during the day and then to spend 90 minutes drawing at the open modeling session that’s sponsored by the Art department. After the session ended, I returned home to check the online class I’m teaching and respond to the inevitable questions about the research paper that’s due by midnight. From there it was a slippery slope to Facebook and this blog post.

Life is grand.

The Low Down

Sing Low

The Low show last night was great. In an obvious sop to the four people in the crowd who weren’t undergraduates, the band took the stage promptly at 10:30 and rocked out for most of an hour. They played both of my favorite songs – “California” and “When I Go Deaf” – along with a bunch of other stuff, some of which were pretty much just glorious waves of feedback. Alan Sparhawk, the excellently named lead singer (that’s more or less him above), gently teased the crowd, telling them, among other things, that they were probably in kindergarten when Low started out (in 1993 – which makes the math just about right), and that the song “Murderer” was an attempt to provide good advice to the “young ones.”

In between and during the music, pretty much everyone in the crowd talked nonstop. This was annoying when they were obscuring the lyrics (“When I Go Deaf” isn’t just a song, it’s my goddamn life!), but I did overhear some good stuff emerge from some of the best students in American liberal arts colleges (or at least those who hit Thursday-night rock shows):

  • Dude in reversed baseball cap, talking to the girl next to him: “Jane Eyre is totally overrated. I haven’t even read it and I know it.”
  • One woman, talking to another: “I’d rather, like, have, like, the shittiest job in California than, like, a really good job here.”
  • Three guys, all in reversed baseball caps and, tellingly, St. Olaf t-shirts, greeting each other: “‘S’up, bro? ‘S’up, bro? ‘S’up, bro?”
  • One girl, taking her leave after two songs (ca. 10:45): “I gotta go. I have the 11 to 1 shift.”

Ahh, youth.