Blowing & Drifting

Forecast: Significant blowing and drifting, with the possibility of heavy accumulation in rural areas.

Blowing & Drifting


We didn't go trick or treating tonight, of course, but Julia nonetheless had a wonderful time greeting the trick-or-treaters as they arrived for the plunder. She was a little trepidatious about the idea of kids in costumes knocking on the door and getting candy, but after one or two visits, she got into the festivities in her own toddlerish way. She hovered in the foyer, nervously touched her fingertips together, specified exactly the linoleum square on which I should stand while waiting with her, made sure the bowl of candy was in the right spot, and above all kept asking, in a quiet voice made hoarse by her waning cold, "Where the ticker taweeters, Daddy?"

The cuteness was so intense that I could hardly keep from either laughing or crying.

Northfield Biking

Recently, a bike-access expert visited Northfield to talk with citizens about making the town more friendly to bicyclists. I'm all for the big infrastructural stuff like dedicated trails and lanes and about 300% more bike racks downtown, in keeping with the recommendations mentioned in the post. But in riding my bike back and forth to work every day (24 straight work days so far!), I've concluded that making Northfield more bike-friendly will also entail some education of riders and especially of drivers. Almost daily, my commute to and from the Carleton campus brings me into all-too-close proximity with a driver with a loose grasp of the rules of the road. Not that I'm ever much endangered. To the contrary - it's the drivers who risk their own safety in trying to be overly solicitous of me and my bike. When I ride through the S-curve on Woodley just west of Prairie, for instance, virtually every passing vehicle swings all the way out into the other lane, despite the facts that there is often oncoming traffic and that you cannot see all the way through the curves. Less frequently but no less worryingly, drivers are often flat-out confused by my presence at stop signs. Here, other cyclists - the ones who blaze through stop signs - are probably contributing to the problem, but when I come to a complete stop and wait my turn, I often get waved through by someone who stops even when they don't have to. At the Prairie-Woodley intersection yesterday, a westbound driver slammed on her brakes when she noticed me, waiting motionless, at the southbound stop sign. She was very nearly rear-ended by the driver behind her. I refused to go when she tried to wave me through, since she not only had the right of way but was disrupting traffic by stopping for nothing.

Digging for Fire

When I dig in the backyard, I find some topsoil and then the plastic liner the landscapers put in under the flowerbed. When Swedes and Norwegians dig around,, they find stuff like "the grave of a wealthy Viking farmer, buried with his horse, sword, spear and shield" or "a treasure cache... of silver coins, weighing a total of around 3 kilos" and including a rare Arab coin. (Those Vikings got around.) As one article points out, both finds are fantastic, but trivial compared to the magnificent Oseberg Ship, uncovered on a Norsk farm in 1904, but they beat just about everything you might dig up in Minnesota, even the Kensington rune stone.


On Saturday, Julia and I went to a special toddler class at the Minnesota Zoo. We had a good time seeing the animals and such, especially Annie the owl. For me, the high point of the class was an ironic one. When the bird handler asked if anyone had any questions, one dad piped up (to ask but really to tell), "In a reverberant room like this, doesn't she have trouble localizing?" Dude, you're here with your kid - he's picking his nose right now. That question was followed up with another, this one from a mom - a full-grown woman: "So, owl babies - do they come from eggs?" Lady, you're here with your kid - he's trying to eat that puzzle right now.

I felt sorry for the handler: one stupidly ambitious question, one just stupid.


Shannon was in a low, tired mood the other day, and I told Julia that she was in a "funk." Julia thought that was a great word, asking me to repeat it several times and then saying, "Mama in a fump. What a funny word, Daddy! Fump!"

Today, Julia was in a fump.

First World Cup Races

On Saturday and Sunday, the first World Cup races of the 2006-2007 cross-country skiing season will be held in Düsseldorf, Germany: individual men's and women's sprints on the first day, team men's and women's sprints on the second day. A number of top sprinters, such as Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford, are choosing not to compete, but conversely some top distance racers, such as 2005-2006 World Cup champion Tobias Angerer, are going to show up to try their luck on the Rhineside course, which is short and flat but features killer hairpins at each end of the loop.

In years past, the men's individual races have belonged to Sweden, but I think this year will be different, with the Norwegians raring to go. I'm predicting this men's individual podium: 1. Tor Arne Hetland (Norway), 2. Eldar Roenning  (Norway), 3. Bjorn Lind (Sweden). I hope that one of the three Ameircan sprinters - Andy Newell, Torin Koos, and Chris Cook - finishes in the top ten, just to kick off the season. In the men's team sprint, in fact, I'm going to put the American men on the podium: 1. Norway (Hetland and whomever), 2. Sweden (Lind and whomever), 3. U.S. (Newell and Koos, probably). It's unrealistic, but I want to boost for the boys.

The recent women's races at Düsseldorf have been dominated by Marit Bjorgen, the Norwegian who has also won the World Cup overalls for the last two seasons. This year will be no different, in part because Bjorgen knows she has to maximize her points at every event to compensate for the four competitions (and eight total events) she plans to skip as she tries to avoid another late-season fade. The women's individual podium: 1. Marit Bjorgen, 2. Virpi Kuitunen (Finland), 3. Anna Dahlberg (Sweden). Bjorgen will help the Norwegians in the team sprint, but the team doesn't have a good enough number two to win: 1. Germany (Claudia Kuenzel and whomever), 2. Sweden (Dahlberg and whomever), 3. Finland (Kuitunen and whomever).

The Düsseldorf sprints will initiate an interesting subplot to the World Cup season: whether a male sprinter can duplicate Bjorgen's success in continuing to dominate the sprints while also winning enough distance events to capture the overall World Cup. Last year, Tobias Angerer won the overall with a first-place rank in the distance standings (almost 300 points - or ten first places - ahead of the distance #2, Vincent Vittoz of France) but held a paltry 44th spot in the sprint rankings. Tor Arne Hetland and Bjorn Lind (third and fourth in the overall, respectively) were somewhat the opposite: huge numbers and high spots in the sprint rankings, but relatively low distance points and ranks. In the second spot of the overall rankings lurked the racer who seems likeliest to become the male Bjorgen: Jens Arne Svartedal. The Norwegian ranked a respectable fifth in the distance standings and ninth in the sprints, a combination that was good enough to place behind Angerer's win. Having won a distance race early last season, Hetland, too, may have the ability to garner both sprint and distance points on the way to the overall. With both the novel Tour de Ski and the Sapporo World Championships looming later in the season, the stakes will be very high for any man - or any woman, Bjorgen included - who wants to try to be the best all-rounder.

Dropping from the Eaves

Two comments overheard in the space of ten yards today on campus:

1. "It's genocide against a native people, man! Me!" (Said loudly into a cell phone by a guy who was dressed in an obnoxiously hipsterish fashion for Carleton.

2. "... underwear like that. It makes me shriek." (Said by one nondescript woman to another as they left my building.)

Have Bike, Will Paint

Walking back from a meeting through the sharp autumn light this afternoon, I saw David Lefkowitz, an art prof and painter who does really incredible stuff, on his way off campus. He was riding a tastefully rickety bike, and charmingly he had three paintings bungee-corded to the back. That's art in action. I marvel over his stuff whenever I come across it on campus, which is pretty frequently. He has several funny small painings in "BirdXBird," the current art exhibit in the college library, for instance. 

If you can't see that excellent show, you can see Lefkowitz's work on the websites of the galleries in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York which represent him, and on this college webpage. He apparently works mostly in more-or less traditional painting media, but he has also created some gripping 3-D pieces, like this cityscape sculpted from packing foam

Blowing & Drifting: Now with Archives

Owing primarily to laziness, I never got around to creating monthly archives of posts, much less filing previous posts there - until now. Look under the list of current-month posts in the sidebar for links to posts from July, August, and September.

Coming soon: search!

Welcome, Rebecca!

Earlier today, my sister and brother-in-law celebrated the birth of their first child, Rebecca Lenore Stafford. Rebecca was born overdue (42 weeks plus!) and overseas, in the Netherlands, but she is crying in English.

Welcome to the world, kid! Be nice to your parents!

The Truth Is Out There, but Life Isn't

Scienceblogger, biologist, gadfly, and Minnesotan PZ Myers writes about why extraterrestrial intelligence is unlikely. In brief, it's because intelligence is just one of many evolutionary traits, and an exceedingly rare one at that.

I love reading Myers' main blog, Pharyngula, because he's a great writer, an excellent expositor of scientific knowledge, and an unabashed liberal - and atheist. This anti-ET post is par for the course: in clear, non-technical language, he clearly applies evolutionary theory to a fascinating scientific problem - whether life exists Out There - and comes to a thoroughly scientific conclusion.

Crashing Out

Crashing Out

Reading these headlines from this evening's Eurosport email newsletter, one realizes immediately that even when European sports jargon gets used three times in five blurbs, it's better than ours.

Tree Spree

Perhaps in a race with the snow, Carleton grounds crews have been recently busy cutting down some dead or dying trees around the Bald Spot. It's sad to watch a towering tree get shredded into dust, but on the other hand, it's wonderful to find, the very next day, a healthy sapling in its place. As of this morning, there were a half-dozen newly planted trees around the quad - among other things, a sign that Carleton plans to be around long enough to see them grow up.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Anyone who's ever taught college writing has encountered that most cliche means of opening an essay: the "According to Webster's, the definition of X is..." It's shoddy writing, to be sure, and I have had no qualms about banning the gimmick's use in classes I've taught.

But in reading blogs and especially in listening to presentations at work, I've found a new Digital Age version of that old standby: quoting the meaningless number of Google hits returned by a search on X. Quoting hitcount (a neologism which returns 537,000  hits!) is not quite as shoddy as citing a definition (94,500 results!), but it's close. And it may be worse for the way the hitcount gimmick tries to smuggle an utterly false sense of quantitative accuracy into the still-embryonic argument. A Google search is the opposite of accuracy: it's a way of casting a phenomenally wide net into an impossibly large ocean. What you find in the net isn't at all random, but then again it's also such an entropic mish-mash that you really ought not to make any meaningful claims about the catch - except maybe, "The ocean makes things wet."

We Love the Music, We Love the Words

The weekend was a good one in many, many ways, but the suffusing sensation was of familial well-being. This feeling reached its most intense phase after dinner on Sunday night, when Julia insisted that all four of us "make  a circle in the kitchen." She literally herded me (with Genevieve in my arms) to the right spot. After Shannon was exhorted to pause her dishwashing, Julia surprised us by leading a skip-in-a-circle, sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs version of "Elmo's Song" - "We love the music/We love the words/That's Elmo's song!" (Repeat.)

The song leaves me wanting, but the moment couldn't have been better.


From the Northfield News police report:

Staff from Great Clips... reported that an unknown man had been sitting in a vehicle in the parking lot for a couple of hours and staring at customers and employes. An officer found that the man was the Twin City Security Company and was hired to deal with skateboarder problems at the mall.

He was too beat to walk the beat, I guess.

Action Words

From a Swedish paper:
"Farmers around the world are lapping up sperm from Sweden's bulls."

Miles of Smiles

I'm amazed at how little I remember about an infant's blossoming ability to interact with the world. Over the last couple weeks, and more and more each day now, Genevieve is getting increasingly responsive and curious. Yesterday night, she sat in her bouncy seat for a half hour, staring intently and without a shred of boredom at the various geegaws dangling in front of her. Far more charmingly, she also loves to smile at us when we lean in. She even does it with Julia, who has an Italian sense of personal distance. Gigi's little smiles are so far just flashes, but she does have a good set of them to use, from a wide upturning grin to a Cheneyesque smirk. They're all wonderful to see. And what sound is more carefully calibrated by evolution to appeal to parents than a downy-soft coo? None, that's what.



I'll bet, given the current conditions and forecasts for these three cities, that I'd be happy as a clam living in any of them.

Socialist Lesbian Ducks

Over the weekend, Julia acquired three new rubber duckies - a big one and two small ones. All three glow in the dark, but she doesn't know that yet. What she did know, with utter certainty, is that the big one is the mama duck and the small ones are the baby ducks. She usually parses groups with big and small members in this way: the first big item is the mama one, the second big item (if there is one) is the daddy one, additional big items are grandpa and grandma ones, and all the little items are babies.

This three-member, single-mother family soon took the literal plunge into the tub, which has long been the home of another duck family, this one headed by "queen mama duck" (the same size as the other mama duck, but wearing a crown) and her baby. I wondered how Julia would resolve the inter-familial tension, but I needn't have worried: the two families were instantly described as one family, with three baby ducks and two mama ducks. Yes, the mama ducks kissed each other and their babies. No, we don't push the radical homosexual agenda in our house (that's what TV is for!).

I was pretty amused and pleased, as I watched Julia play with the duck family, so I asked, "Do you like being the owner of the ducks?" She looked up at me like I'd just thrown her diaper in the bathwater. "No, Daddy, I'm not the owner!" Surprised (and doubtful) that she really knew what "owner" means, I followed up by asking, "Well, then who is the ducks' owner, honey?" Looking at them floating in the soap suds, she thought for a second before announcing, "They are they own owners, Daddy."

So there you have it: our guest bathroom is now inhabited by a family of lesbian socialist ducks.

Big Snow Country

Via my dad's blog (come for the pictures snapped from the cab of his Volvo, stay for the links to U.P. newspaper articles!), this stunner from last Thursday's Ironwood Daily Globe, the paper of record in my junior-high hometown:

It was five months of summer. Five months to the day after a late-season snowstorm hit the Gogebic Range, an early season storm has painted the landscape white. Heavy, wet snow is sticking to stoplights and tree limbs. Ironwood is expected to receive one foot of snow through Friday, 

That's why they call Ironwood and its environs "Big Snow Country," and why you can start skiing on October 12.

Keweenaw Skiing

The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association just announced the schedule of cross-country races which together comprise the SuperTour, the highest-level ski racing in the United States. Among other Midwestern venues such as the City of Lakes Loppet and sprints in Minneapolis and the Birkebeiner in Wisconsin (all in February), the circuit will visit the Copper Country for the national short-distance championships from January 3-7. The men will race 10km in classic style and 15km in freestyle; the women 5km in classic and 10km in free. Men and women will also ski individual sprints in classic style and team sprints in freestyle.

Given that the Copper Country is a backwater in almost every way, this is fantastic: near-world class athletes racing on the Michigan Tech trails for national championship podiums! It'd be fun to see.

Snakey Fun

Yesterday Julia and I made what might be our last warm-weather visit to the Arb. It was memorable in many ways: the oaks were especially stark and beautiful, the prairie looked ready for a few inches of snow, the milkweeds were throwing their seeds into the wind, and the Arb's resident reptiles, the garter snakes, were soaking up the last few warm rays of sunshine.

Above all, it was fun to see Julia enjoying the outdoors in so many different ways. She dug in the dirt, she climbed on rocks, she pretended a boulder was actually Eeyore under a blanket (the plot of her current favorite library book), she studied the snake, she ran up a hill, she talked about dinner, she watched the milkweeds fly... In short, she enjoyed herself. I hope we can come back a few more times this fall, and then again when the snow falls.


As I sit here on the sofa, rather late on Sunday night, I can hear three distinct sounds: the whirring of Julia's white noise machine over one baby monitor, Genevieve's snuffling over the other monitor, and the heavy thrum of the combines working their ways through the cornfield across the road. If only I could take a picture that would do justice to the sight of the machines' ghostly pools of light in the fields.


For the past several months, I've been working with Stephen Mohring, the sculptor on Carleton's art faculty, to secure a sawmill for his projects and teaching at the college. The mill's supposed to arrive next week, at which time I hope to be able to help fire it up and saw some wood. I hope I'll get some pictures out of the event. In the meantime, get a taste of Prof. Mohring's great work at his website: his sculptural pieces are particularly fantastic.


This is a fitting conclusion to one of the most repellent bits of poor role modeling ever:

A youth baseball coach accused of offering an 8-year-old money to bean an autistic teammate so he couldn't play was sentenced Thursday to one to six years in prison. Fayette County Judge Ralph Warman sentenced 29-year-old Mark R. Downs Jr. of Dunbar, Pa. to consecutive six-to-36-month sentences for corruption of minors and criminal solicitation to commit simple assault. A jury convicted Downs in September...Authorities said Downs offered to pay one of his players $25 to hit Harry Bowers, a mildly autistic teammate, with a ball while warming up before a June 2005 playoff game. Prosecutors said Downs wanted the 9-year-old out of the game, because the boy didn't play as well as his teammates. Player Keith Reese Jr. said he purposely threw a ball that hit Bowers in the groin and another that hit Bowers in the ear, on Downs' instructions.

(Via Blogfathers, an excellent joint daddyblog, where the outrage was palpable.)

Bobo Chronicles

A few vignettes...


Julia's lately gotten into the habit of taking a little walk after dinner, a desire that is very hard to resist. When she asked yesterday - despite less than ideal weather conditions - I dutifully suited her up in her new parka and headed out. Going east down the sidewalk, with the crosswinds blocked by the townhouses, we were okay. She even acceded to my silly request to (try to) say, "Yah, we love da snow 'cause we're Minne-SOH-dans." But then we turned the corner and got the full force of the north wind in our faces. Gasping, eyes watering, she choose a few pretty rocks from the planters, as is her wont on her walks, but then told me in no uncertain terms, "Go home, Daddy, where it's warm." The kid's got smarts.


On the verge now (finally) of potty training, Julia is acutely aware of being wet. We had to rush up to take a bath last night when Diaper #1 got too uncomfortable. Like a supergenius, I put her in a regular diaper (not the expensive overnight kind) after the bath, expecting her to wet it immediately. I was rather satisfied with my excellent planning when she did in fact saturate Diaper #2 very quickly, and just a few minutes before bedtime. I swapped out #2 for #3, an overnight diaper, and we sat down to "readabook." Before we could even finish the story, she'd popped up again. "Daddy, I'm so wet. Change my diaper!" I was dubious, but I checked and lo and behold, #3 was soaked, too. On went #4, and into bed she went. Four diapers used in less than 30 minutes. Lord, I can't wait until she realizes that she will soon have to go, rather than that she just went.


Wrestling, I think, with "gowing up," Julia is of two minds about having "friends" like teddy bears or dolls (even her beloved Ernie) in her bed. Last night, something woke her up around two, and when I went in, she immediately said, clear as a bell, "I need a friend in my bed." So I dug out a favorite stuffed rabbit and gave it to her. She clutched it close and rolled over, on her way back to sleep. I turned to leave, but before I had taken a step, she said flatly, "I don't want any friends in my bed," and chucked him over the side.


Finally, charmingly, Julia has taken to declaring, usually while running at top speed from one room to another, "I am so happy!" We're doing something right, right?


A new retrospective on Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen - most famous for the TWA Terminal at JFK International and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis - sheds light on the way he was criticized sharply during and after his brief life even as his works (many of which he did not live to see to fruition) cumulatively "built a national identity for post-war America." Though currently showing only in Finland, the retrospective will travel through 2010 (I hope it comes to Minneapolis!) and has a good online presence that shows how some of Saarinen's designs, like the General Motors Technical Center, helped establish the look and feel of modern architecture and of modernity itself. his buildings wouldn't look out of place in any work of science fiction.

Tumbleweeds, Anyone?

It's been quiet around here lately. I've been investing all of my scant blogging energy in posts at After School Snack, though I have also been amassing internetia for writing up here later. For a preview, you can check out my list of "to_blog" items at my page, or you can just rest easy in the expectation of soon learning more about topics as varied as Julia's favorite question, the status of the cornfields across the road, my take on the upcoming World Cup cross-country skiing season, and life back at work.

In the meantime, here's a great item from the police blotter in the Northfield News:

Sunday, October 8 - Officers assisted staff at the Rueb 'N Stein [a downtown restaurant/bar] on Division Street to remove a sleeping individual from the roof. The individual was given a ride to Northfield Estates by the officer.

That's good stuff! (For what it's worth, the temperatures that night were in the lower sixties - cool, but not so cold that a few beers wouldn't provide some insulation.) 

Progressive Parenting

Over at Daddy Dialectic, I found a great post about the political implications of raising your kids:

If we let our kids be raised by societal norms, we are doing the opposite of progressive, positive activism. Raising progressive kids requires being very proactive, being very involved in our kids' lives, talking to them from the earliest days about the values that we believe are important, about the changes that need to happen in our society, and living those values...

Raising our kids as progressives is a revolutionary act. Dads staying home full time, dads being very involved in their kids' lives, is a revolutionary act. It is the most important job, it is social change work. Unless we model our commitment to a better world, including in the very concrete context of our immediate families, our kids will be much less likely to internalize the kinds of values that will lead them, in turn, to push for progressive social change when they grow up.

It Isn't So Hard

To have two babies when they're both asleep. They practically raise themselves!

Muni Wi-Fi

Municipal wi-fi is still on the urban horizon here in the states; Minneapolis is gearing up for a city-wide system. Finland, already one of the world's most wired countries, is jumping right over the city-based systems and going straight to "a wireless wideband network to cover the whole country." Under construction by a domestic data-infrastructure company and Siemens, the network will start to come online next July in the heavily-populated south and in the sparsely-populated far north.

Would that American city, state, and national government agencies could get their IT butts in gear for something similar here. Urban wi-fi islands aren't going to help places like Northfield keep pace with the rest of the world.

Ski Season Approaches

This week was full of milestones on the way to the 2006-2007 nordic skiing World Cup season. The first nordic combined and ski jumping events are less than 50 days away; they'll occur - along with two cross-country races - at the "Nordic Opening" festival in Kuusamo, Finland, the only time (except for the World Championships in late February and early March) when all three nordic disciplines will simultaneously share a venue. The first XC races - sprint and team sprint events at Dusseldorf, Germany- are three weeks away.

Though I find the cross-country World Cup to be absolutely engrossing (I'll make my podium predictions for every race between Dusseldorf and Falun), the World Cup circuits in nordic combined and ski jumping will be interesting to follow, too.

In the nordic combinedboth main themes will center on Finnish ace Hannu Manninen. First, can anyone can challenge him for the overall title, which he won in 2005-2006 and 2004-2005? Second, can he escape his history of choking in the biggest races and win anything at all at Worlds? I'll say "no" to both questions.

In ski jumping, the competition will be much more wide open. Any of the three best Finns - Janne Ahonen (the champion in both 2004-2005 and 2003-2004), Matti Hautamaki, Janne Happonen - could win the overall, but so too could a number of other excellent jumpers, such as the 2005-2006 champion Jakub Janda (Czech Republic), Adam Malysz (Poland, the 2002-2003 and 2001-2002 champ), Andrea Kuettel (Switzerland), Andreas Kofler or or Thomas Morgenstern (Austria), or Roar Ljoekelsoey (Norway). Perhaps even one of the Japanese jumpers, like Takanobu Okabe, will fly well in this season which features a World Championship in Japan. I'll be totally partisan and say that Hautamaki will win both the overall and two golds at Worlds.

Demography and the Conservative Christian

The New York Times reports that the conservative Christian movement may be on the verge of losing its youngest generation. My thoughts.

Grub I Have Loved

I'm glad that the worst part of my job is that there is no good food on campus. As workplace flaws go, this is one that is easily remedied (bring lunch from home), and that has a wonderful side effect (not spending money on lunch saves money for beer and poker college-savings plans and diapers.

Of course, I could procure food on campus. Frankly, though, the two options leave a lot to be desired. Hitting the cafeterias is a weird trip down memory lane (even though the food is good), and the snack bar in the student center serves fast food that's half as good as McDonald's and twice as expensive.

But again, having bad food options is a small price to (not) pay for a good job. At the Previous Job, almost everything about the position stunk, but there the Minneapolis skyway was a veritable cornucopia of good food, like these ten much-missed favorites:

10. Double americanos at Caribou Coffee.

9. The "Minnetonka" sandwich at D. Brian's.

8. Fish and chips at Brit's Pub.

7. The "Vito" Italian-style sub at Jimmy John's.

6. Ice cream at Sebastian Joe's in the Foshay Tower.

5. Chicken fajita burrito at Chipotle.

4. Lemon-blueberry Danish at Dunn Bros.

3. The buffet at Bombay Bistro.

2. Authentic Chicago-style hot dogs and double-chocolate shakes at Walkin' Dog.

1. Double-pepperoni pizza at Mill City.

Now I'm really hungry.

Autumn Leaves (Take 1)

Apropos of the carpets of fallen leaves around here, something from the original Xferen, back in the day:

"Though I'm a pretty untutored listener, I like jazz a lot. My favorite moment in all jazz music is a point about two minutes into "Autumn Leaves (Take 1)," from the album Portrait in Jazz by Bill Evans and his trio. Evans starts the song with some of his smooth, sharp piano playing, but soon the song slows and turns into a conversation between Evans and Scott LaFaro, playing bass. For almost a minute, Evans plays a figure and LeFaro responds, with the snatches of music slowly getting more and more complex, going somewhere you can't quite fully anticipate. When the tension's built to near-unbearable levels - at least for me - Evans takes the briefest pause, really just long enough to give me the same sensation that I get when I almost but not quite stumble.

Then, in the nick of time, Evans rushes to tie together all the bits and pieces of the melody, his avian piano floating momentarily without accompaniment before Paul Motian's snare and hi-hat catch and roll and LaFaro's bass falls back in. For the rest of the tune, Evans plays a soaring melody line that repeats some of what's come before but also expands the song in the most brilliant, heartwrenching, and inspiring way - and suggests autumn leaves blowing around an empty yard. That little pause/start section never fails to make me smile like a fool, marveling at Evans' ability, his trio's skill, and at the subtle beauty of jazz."

Strange Things on Campus

A few oddities seen so far this fall:
1. The grounds crews using stinking gas-powered leaf blowers to get all those damn leaves off the sidewalks of our supposedly Green Campus.
2. An albino squirrel.
3. The dark-leggings-under-longish-skirt look is endemic here now, and I've gotta say - along with the women who write this and this and this at Go Fug Yourself - that it usually looks quite silly. The look isn't quite as silly as the guys' tattered-brim baseball caps, though...
4. Around noon on Friday (admittedly, a glorious hour on a glorious day), three students were occupying themselves on the quad by trying to catch falling leaves in their mouths.
5. Walking back from a meeting the other afternoon, I was almost hit (as were many other pedestrians) by a kid riding a unicycle - an odd but not unknown sight on campus. Thing is, the unicyclist was using one of his hands to hold a coffee cup and the other to keep on his totally hidden head a giant red expedition-sized canoe (the really long, wide kind). Merrily he rolled along, right toward the steepest hill on campus.

Asses, Asses We All Fall Down

I'm back riding my bike to work again. Based on my 14 trips to and from campus, I think I can state affirmatively that I'm a pretty good bike rider. And by "pretty good bike rider," I mean, "the kind of bike rider who tips over on his head while standing still." The story is short and involves my perennial foes, drivers and gravity.

Riding home, I pulled up to a four-way stop where a big Suburban was already waiting. I came to a complete stop, balancing on my wheels since I was clipped in to my pedals. The driver waved me through, but also started rolling into the intersection. I was not going to take the bet, and she had been there first, so I waved her through. Unfortunately, taking my hand off my grip to wave caused my messenger bag to shift on my back, which in turn pulled me to the right and down. Since I was clipped in, I couldn't get my foot free in time to catch my fall, so I crashed onto the pavement, elbow first, hip second, shoulder third.

The Suburban driver didn't even notice, and the guy in the car behind me just pulled around and went through the intersection. I didn't bonk my head or anything, and I managed to get up and on my way quickly with no bumps or bruises except a massive contusion on my ego.


As I head off to work this morning, I've spent five days back in the office now, a full work week. Over that time, I've been amazed at how much I've been able to get done. Not that I came back to a clean slate: I had about 200 emails, a six-inch stack of paper mail, and a dozen project-y tasks assigned in a two-hour meeting with my boss on my first morning.

But I was, as they say, raring to go. By the end of my first day, I'd cut the emails down to fewer than 10 and processed all of the paper mail. By the end of the next day, I'd advanced all of my projects at least a little, and now - three days after that - I'm holding several meetings a day,  reacquainting myself with faculty members who are launching projects, attending committee meetings to rejoin various initiatives, catching up with coworkers, and generally getting back into the swing of things.

Honestly, I don't think I've ever been more productive over another five-day span of time. And it sure isn't restedness that's helping me do all this, though the megadoses of caffeine are helping. I think that it's straight-up motivation, frankly. I'm really enjoying being back in the office, for one thing: the work's (still) fun and interesting and rewarding. Conversely, I also want to speed through each day so I can get home and spend time with the big, medium, and little chicks. Somewhere in between, I want to try to pay off the debt that I feel I owe to Carleton. I mean, six weeks off is not an insignificant benefit, and I think I ought to demonstrate, if only to myself, that I deserved it - and that I continue to deserve the good job. Post-Catholic guiltedness aside, I also want to try and make (most of) my workdays matter so as to be a good model for the girls. They're both too little to understand "work" as a specific form of adult experience, but Julia, at least, can tell that Daddy comes home tired but pretty happy every day. That can't be a bad thing, can it? 

Shot Through the Heart and You're to Blame

Sunday morning, I went in to get Julia out of bed and through her morning routine. At some point while getting dressed, she tried to tell me something that, no matter how hard I listened or how slowly and loudly she said it (making me feel altogether geriatric, not just a bit hard of hearing), I could no decipher. I got the subject and verb, but the all-important object eluded me. After quite a few tries, Julia fixed me with a look halfway between derision and pity and said quietly, "Maybe Mama will know what I mean."

Resulting parental self-esteem: Zero.

C.S.I. Northfield

I've been meaning forever to blog some of the crazy stuff in the Northfield News police blotter, which is as unintentionally funny as the campus newspaper, the Carletonian, tries to be intentionally funny (and often succeeds). Two samples of that with which Northfield's finest deals (all are quoted verbatim):

Friday, Sept. 29 - A Brinks Home Protector Safe and some change were found at the intersection of Lockwood Drive and Thye Parkway and taken to the Safety Center.

Saturday, Sept. 30 - An individual was reported by a corn field signaling with a flashlight at the corner of North and Eaves avenues. The officer determined that a St. Olaf astronomy class was studying stars. [How about that bad writing in the first sentence, eh?]

Monday, Oct. 2 - Pop selection buttons were reported damaged or broken in the 1500 block of Koester Court.

Yeahhhhhh. We're not in a lot of danger here in Northfield, recent weirdness notwithstanding.

Wrestling a Bear

I haven't written much lately about Genevieve, because she pretty much comes down to eating (quite a bit) and sleeping (lots, thankfully, and even at night). She's slowly becoming more and more interested in doing stuff, though: last night she decided that 3:30 a.m. was a great time to "hoot and coo" (as Julia says) and smile at her mom. I'm looking forward to more of that, and at better times. I'm also looking forward to a bit more calmness when being held. As suggested by Shannon's massive use of ibuprofen to relieve aching shoulder and back muscles, Genevieve is a wriggly little piggly. She's big, for one thing, but she's also no lump o' baby. Her very strong legs and neck give her just enough uncoordinated power to be able to get herself in some bad and scary situations - like tipping backwards away from my chest, which is always good for a few minutes of terrified crying, or twisting wildly and whacking her forehead off my clavicle. Remembering how easy Julia was to carry once she learned how to cooperate, I hope that Genevieve soon figures out how to relax and help us hold her. In the meantime, I'll settle for being able to talk with her and get her little smirky smiles and a few coos. Just this afternoon, Julia did the new Cutest Thing Ever when she ran to get a burp cloth and then wiped some spit--up from Gigi's face, which elicited from the baby a miraculous and wonderful smile of gratitude and a few happy coos. Julia was probably as elated as I was pleased.

Nordic Politics

In three of the four Nordic countries, center-right political parties have recently emerged as strongest political forces, supplanting the longstanding "social democratic" parties. As this article in a Finnish paper shows, only Finland has so far not seen a center-right party take over the national government - though it might still.

The effects aren't what they might seem, though. Most importantly, in Norway and Denmark and now probably in Sweden, the right-leaning parties have not dismantled the vaunted Nordic welfare systems. In fact, the rightist governments have continued to use social welfare as a means to further economic growth, especially in Denmark, which ranks as one of the ten most-competitive countries in the world (as do Finland and Sweden). If only our own right-wing party in power were imaginative enough to do the same thing.

Insect Zoo

It may be the wildly fluctuating weather, but something is turning our place into an insect zoo. Or perhaps more accurately, an insect battleground. So far, I (and I do mean "I," since the double-X chromosome types aren't too keen on counter-insect warfare) am winning, but anything could happen at any time. In the past few days, I've either killed or exiled at least a half dozen kinds of spiders (ranging from the big, long-legged thing that crawled out of the closet to the tiny, crablike one that made its way under the screen door), several jet-black crickets (including a loud male as big as a quarter), countless fruit flies (I'm pretty sure Julia's not doing Drosophila research, but I guess I'm not sure), a few houseflies, and, worst of all, just last night, a centipede millipede micropede that was an inch long and the color of a fresh bruise.

On arriving home tonight, I discovered that the box-elder bugs are out in force: our lilac bush was swarming with them.

Cold Livin

Cold Livin

If these photos don't make you want to live in Norway, I don't want to talk to you anymore. 

Okay, I'll make an exception if you'd prefer this, this, or even this.

Little Sicko

Julia came down with a cold on Saturday night, during which she cried out to have her nose wiped roughly six billion times. I tried to get her to wipe her own nose with a borrowed burp cloth, but she felt so tired and *bad* that she wouldn't or couldn't. After a decent day on Sunday, puncutated by regular doses of Tylenol Cold (my nomination for product of the year), she was in fairly good shape by bedtime, at which point she charmingly chose one of her sister's burp cloths to take to bed for use as a "keenex." Before she climbed into bed, she carefully positioned it on the left-hand rail of her bed - not tucked between the frame and the mattress, as I thought best, but draped over the guardrail. A couple hours later, I went up to check on her. When I opened the door to her room, I froze. She was up on all fours in her bed, shifting around, finding her silky, no! The little dear was crawling over to the side of her bed, where she slowly and carefully lowered her nose to the "keenex" cloth, wiped her own nose, then flopped back down into her pile of sheets and went back to sleep. It was one of the cutest things I've ever seen.