Saturday, April 28, 2007

because the Do Not Call Registry has a bunch of loopholes....

Did you all know about this web site: Probably. Heck, I might have said something about it before. Too lazy to look.

I get a ton of phone calls every day from numbers listed as "unknown" or "name unavailable" despite the fact that my home number is in the Do Not Call registry. Well, as I eventually learned, there are plenty of loopholes—"existing relationship with the company" is loosely defined, for example. When I move to WA, I'm not getting a landline.

So when the phone rings over and over every day, often on the hour, I run the number through and see hundreds of others who have received the same call, what they found out, how they stopped the calls, etc. Typically, the call is from a company contracted by one of your bankcards to try to upsell something and the only way to get them to stop is to pick up the darn phone and say "freaking STOP calling me."

Interesting tidbit: almost all of the calls like this are from CitiBank-related companies. That is to say, Capital One-related companies are rarely the least on my phone. I used to work for Capital One. Interesting time. Nothing at all to do with this post, though.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

max is 14 today

i carried this photo in my wallet for yearsMax, the black cat in this photo, is 14 years old today. This photo is a scan of a baby/kitty picture I carried around with me for years. I caught Max and (the dearly departed) Toby in mid-play, which is why Max looks like a little devil cat. I've had him since he was just a few months old, the little rascal.

Today is also my boss/best pal's birthday. She turned 26 for the 13th time. [In my mind, people are stuck at the same age I first met them, so she's 26.] I don't actually have a picture of her, though. Just the cat.


Sunday, April 22, 2007


Seven more teaching days until the end of the semester. Where'd the time go?

Need to finish thesis. Need to take French exam. Need to sell house. Anyone want to buy a condo in San Jose?

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i killed the environment on john muir day

April 21st is John Muir Day. Seriously. The state of California and the Federal government both say so. It's Muir's birthday, you see. Yesterday would have been birthday number 169.

So what did I do? I drove my car 700 miles, to Los Angeles and back, for a grad student conference. It was fun and interesting (and thankfully my last time in LA for what will likely be a looooong time), and I drove down through the Central Valley but back up the coast/Central Coast so I saw a lot of California for the last time before I move away.

I dragged one of my grad school buddies along for idle chatter. On the way home we stopped in "the charming Danish village of Solvang" for what were supposed to be the best damn pancakes ever...except the place is only open for breakfast and lunch and we were there around 5pm. Bummer.

The charming Danish village of Solvang is just a few miles from the Chumash reservation. This is of interest only for Buffy fans and gamblers.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

for which I owe janet more champagne

On Wednesday, I had to go to a wee shindig for the Steinbeck Center. The shindig was to "unveil" the online Bibliography of Secondary Materials on Steinbeck (although it's been available/in use for a few months) and to show off a new donation of a ton of Steinbeck stuff.

It was a catered event, and all I knew of it was:
* the director (one of the Important to Me Profs) asked if I could answer a few questions about the project should anyone ask
* free champagne

I stopped by the English Dept/my office/the mailbox on the way to the library, saw Janet's office light was on (English & Philosophy share a building), and said "What are you doing?" and she said "Grading before class" and I said "Hey, free champagne. Want to come with?" and she said "Sure!"

If you think it sounds like an after-school special, it kinda was.

So we get to the Steinbeck Center and I see many people milling about, wearing decent clothes, and including other professors and deans. Deans! I tell you. And the chairs: arranged such that they were facing a podium. I started to get a sinking feeling but I thought, "No, Paul would have said something about speaking in front of donors, patrons, profs, and deans."

He made some introductory remarks and the woman who did all the raw data collection for the bibliography said a few words and then he looked at me and I looked at Janet and I said "Oh shit, I think I have to go up there and speak."

Sure enough, I did. Unprepared. In front of important people.

Let me just stop for a moment and tell you how things work in my world. I don't like being caught unaware. If, at my job, we have a meeting scheduled with a client, I pepper my boss with questions like "what are we going to talk about? what do I need to have planned?" and so on, to the point where she wants to beat me over the head with a stick because she doesn't know, and would I please shut up? I need time to prepare, because if I don't prepare then I'll do some stream-of-consciousness pointless "chat" and sound like an idiot. Or, god forbid, I won't know the answer to a question. So I try to think of all possible questions and their answers. Also? I'm Italian and turn red and sweat easily. I need time to psych myself out of that.

So back to the podium. I quickly accessed all the charm and humor I could muster, and went the "if you're completely unprepared, just make 'em laugh" route. It worked ok. Several people came up to me afterward and said they enjoyed my few minutes of ramblingness (ok, that's not what they called it).

After I said my thing, two other people had things to say about other stuff and at this point it's 45 minutes into the thing and we still haven't had any freaking champagne and here I dragged someone from another department over with me and sheesh if this is boring for me think about how it must be for her!

But she was a good sport, and I thoroughly appreciate that she was there for moral support even though neither of us knew she had to be, and I totally owe her even more champagne.


update on the abysmal essays

Oh, the ones that were steaming piles of poop still are, but we all talked about it in class (both of them). As per usual, the TTh class took it all in stride and we had a lovely little chat about it all (translation: I lectured at them, we did an exercise, some people had a come-to-Jesus moment on their own, and many people laughed) while the MW class just sort of stared back at me like I had three heads. But they do that anyway. Its just a different group of students.

Of course, most of the worst offenders weren't actually in class to hear the issues...c'est la vie.

I have hope, though, for the revised essays. I'll see those in a week and a half.

Hey! My thesis draft (full) will be done by then. It'll be like Chriskwanzakah!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007


When I explain to students today (and on Thursday) that their in-class essays are (with a few exceptions) abysmal, I am sure many of them will not know what that means. One of the students who does know what it means will pipe up with the answer, roll eyes, and class will move on. I will then state numerous things of which they should disabuse themselves, such as the notion that saying something loudly over and over makes it "right," or that because they have not witnessed something it therefore is not true, or because they have done something once there is no need to ever do it again, or that performing community service is a violation of the 8th Amendment, or that we fought the British to gain freedom from surveillance cameras, or that ... well, you get the idea.

I am shifting the schedule in both classes because I need to get some distance on these essays. That's how bad most of them are. I cannot bring myself to grade them right now because most of them make me so damn angry that I will not offer helpful comments.

Not all the essays suck ass. In fact, several of them are quite good for what they're supposed to be (in-class essays for which they had the prompt for a week and could bring in a page of notes if they did pre-writing outside of class), and they will be able to revise them for lovely out-of-class versions. But some are so...full of fallacies and falsehoods that I simply don't know how to address them. We're talking fundamental human flaws, a complete lack of knowledge of basic history, etc. Really, really bad. I can point out where they'll need to strengthen their argument, but I can't make them all of a sudden turn into rational people.

What I will have to do is make sure when I'm lecturing on this that they understand that there were people who did well whose positions I agree with, and some did well even if I disagree with them. Similarly, people did poorly despite whether I agreed on the basic stand they took. It's all about the argument. But still. Some of the things people say are so...fraught with issues.


Monday, April 16, 2007

condolences to everyone in blacksburg

Heartfelt sympathy to anyone affected by the tragedy at VaTech today.

Our current department chair (and the only instructor of rhetoric we have) sent out an email with the subject line "Holy cow!"

One would think something of this nature warrants a subject line more appropriate than "Holy cow!" "Holy cow!" is for when you read on the internet about the world's biggest grilled cheese sandwich or a two-headed turtle, not when upwards of thirty people are shot because they went to class.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

blogging from the car dealership

No, I'm not buying a new car. I'm simply having a bunch of preventative stuff done to the car while I have the time, money, and a Mazda dealership nearby (it seems the closest one to Pullman is actually in Spokane).

So, new brakes and an iPod integration module for the radio it is.

The dealership just completed a year-long renovation/remodeling and boy howdy is it nice. There's a huge flatscreen TV, this computer station, wireless (if I had wanted to bring my laptop, which I did not), couches, free coffee, etc.

Like a good little thesis-writer, I brought four critical books on Thoreau, so I can review all my notes, make new ones, and so forth....since I'll be here for five hours.

It's sad, but true, that I had to go to the car dealership to get five uninterrupted hours of work done.


Friday, April 13, 2007

random bullets of friday

* It's Friday! Always good. It's the only day I don't teach. It's like a little holiday every week. Except for work.

* It's Friday! I can get a lot of work work done because I won't be interrupted by going to school for a couple of hours.

* It's Friday! One of the things I have to do for my job is to do something very specific at or around 5am three days per week. Friday is one of those days. However, I can wake up at 4:55, do the thing, and go back to sleep at 5:15, unlike the other days. So hooray for that!

* It's Friday! While I don't normally bake a cake on Fridays, I am on this particular Friday because I said I would. I'm going over to school chum's house tonight and I'll be bringing this cake along with me. Mmmmm.

The following bullets have nothing to do with Friday:

* I turned in a draft of the Emerson & Muir chunk of my thesis. Only one (Thoreau & Muir) and a half (concluding remarks) more chunks to go. The edits I've gotten back, from the first chunk (all Muir, all the time) are of the "expand this paragraph because your logic isn't clear" variety, which simply means "I can see you rushed through this particular paragraph. Write the 2 pages it was supposed to be, and it'll be fine." Unless Mentor Prof reads the Emerson chunk and says I'm totally high, everything is going smoothly (if not slowly).

* There are only four weeks left in the semester. This fact has both positives and negatives attached to it.

* I have to take my French language exam. I've been putting it off because I can't think about it until my thesis is in a good place. I'm not worried about it, but it's just One More Thing I have to do in the next six weeks or so.

* My list of things that have to get done in the next six weeks is not getting shorter, because I can't tackle them until thesis is in a good place. Grrr.

* However, I am taking my car to the shop on Saturday to get new brake pads and an iPod module for the radio, so I'll have plenty of uninterrupted time to sit in the waiting area and type type type.

* Starbucks Dulce de Leche hot drink is gross.

* My Giants are playing like crap. I will still be a Giants fan when I move to Washington. Little known fact (unless you've known me for a long time) is that when I first moved to California, I was actually a Braves fan. It took a good two years for my buddy (and her family) to beat that out of me. I don't plan to switch to being a Mariners fan just because of geography. Plus, Giants fans have two really awesome outstanding blogs: El Lefty Malo and the McCovey Chronicles.

* My Warriors are trying their very best to get into the playoffs. If only they had started trying a little bit sooner. I will still be a Warriors fan when I move to Washington. No SuperSonics for me! Warriors fans also have a good blog, Golden State of Mind.

* Nothing to say about the Niners, except that I won't be a Seahawks fan when I move to Washington. Niners fans also have a good (new) blog: Niners Nation.

* I did not know this would turn into a sports post! But I will bring it back around to academics thusly: I had to tell a student that coming late to class because he was working on his NFL Fantasy Draft was not a good excuse. However, I also told him that as past champion of for-pay Fantasy Leagues, I totally understood—but it still wasn't a good choice nor was it an excused absence. He was cool with that. And a little sheepish. He's doing well overall in the class.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

it was an innocent chat over dinner, I swear!

You have one measly dinner with a prof friend and all hell breaks loose.

Ok, so it wasn't "all hell" and nothing really "broke loose" but our little chat sure did bring out the comment-leavers over at Janet's place...and then traffic came over here and found that I am neither a philosopher nor do I have anything particular to say. This is what happens when you juggle a gajillion things—you have the dinner conversation, the office hours conversation (I think my office-mate was a little shocked yesterday when Janet came down the hall and we discussed things so vehemently with no real prompting to do so), and then...*poof* don't hold up your end of the bargin on the blog.

I should also note that one of my very best students reads my blog, and she is welcome to weigh in on these issues as well, as an 18-year-old freshmen who exhibits far more maturity and responsibility in her school-related outlook than her classmates do. I would not be surprised if she says "it's really not that difficult...I don't know what their problem is...all you have to do is try just a little bit and use your brain occasionally." Or I could be completely wrong. She can answer for herself if she so chooses!


So here are the clarifications I have/final things I have to say:

* This issue isn't new, it's not unique to our school, and we aren't particularly looking to "solve" the problem, although it would be nice to start thinking about how to better frame things if that will help at all. The way I figure it, I have twenty or thirty more years to do this teaching thing (if I'm lucky).

* I really don't care if students miss a reasonable amount of class. In fact, I don't even care if they miss a lot of class, as long as they tell me ahead of time when possible and/or take responsibility for their actions. It's the whole "oh, did I miss something important?" mentality—en masse. When one person says "what did we do?" or "was it important?" you can chalk it up to dumbassery. "Well, like we've done every day this semester, we discussed what was listed on the syllabus to discuss, and yes, clearly I felt it was important otherwise we wouldn't have discussed it." But when five or ten (out of 25) do it all the time, and it happens in other classes of the same type (there are 42 sections of this course this semester; it's one of two university-wide required courses), you start to think it's a Student Problem.

* I'm not sure if the issue is understanding the responsibilities of being a student, or if it's a lack of understanding that actions have consequences, or if it's an inherent lack of trust in the teacher. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a little bit of all three.

For instance, there are bad and/or overworked teachers out there (in all fields) and in high school. Especially in the types of schools our students typically come from, more often than not the students skated through school doing minimal work with little consequence, and their teachers never noticed them. They get to college and expect the same. What they don't expect are teachers who remember their names, care about their success, and hate to see them throw away time and money by being childish/immature/irresponsible either out of fear or confusion or both (or something else). Then, perhaps, the students get to college and they run into a teacher who doesn't stick to the syllabus, changes the requirements, generally treats them like a bother, and so on and so forth. The student gets mixed messages and retreats back into the whole "I don't care, talk to the hand, I'm going to do what I want, damn you all" mentality. Makes sense. I've done it myself.

But what's most troubling is the inability to be flexible—realize that not all teachers are the same, just as we understand that not all students are the same. I don't treat Student A like Student B or Student C, because I took a moment to figure out what works with Student A and not with Student B, etc. Therefore, students, don't assume that because you had a crappy teacher once or spent four years not doing any work that you can do that with all teachers or that it's a good idea.

* A lot of learning how to be a student is about how to work the system, it's true. Your 400-person lecture class doesn't take attendance and you can get by through reading the book and taking the sinfully easy multiple choice test? Do it. But if your class is a 25-person practical skills/discussion/thinking/participating class and 25% of your grade is based on work done in class? Don't skip 15/30 classes and expect to pass—not because you failed to do half the work to get that 25%, but because all the other work on the class hinges on the work done in class.

* Teachers won't infantilize you if you don't give them a reason to! I don't give "reading quizzes" just for the sake of ensuring that people have done the reading. Instead, I do a daily writing/thinking assignment so they can practice what they've learned in the last class or in the reading, which is used to spur on their brains for discussion that day, which is also used to build on the next skill they'll encounter. I tell them at the beginning of the semester that we'll do a lot of the work in class, and why, and so on. The trade off for reading a small amount is that they come to class and do the bulk of the work there. It's meant as a reward, but then half the class doesn't do anything, and we can't have a discussion and I end up lecturing at them (not good). Class goes by a lot quicker and is much more fun if there's discussion and interaction, and that can only happen if students show up prepared for class. When 5 out of 25 do the reading, there's no point.

* It sucks to have to gear a class toward the 70% who are slackers and childish, rather than the 30% who are prepared and want to learn. It ends up punishing the good students, which is unfortunate. The flip side is leaving the 70% to flounder around on their own, and I don't think that's good teachership either.

What ticks me off the most are these things:
* "you didn't tell us [xyz] was due on [abc]" yes, I did. and it's in the syllabus, for which you are responsible.

* "why do I keep getting the same things marked on my papers over and over?" because you didn't ask me to explain them further in office hours or take advantage of the handouts on the topic that I printed out and stapled to your essay or come to my office hours when I wrote "please see me" on your paper, etc.

* "here's my essay" it's three weeks late "yeah." the syllabus says I won't accept them after two weeks. "but I'm different/special/unique" no, you're not

* "I write just fine. I will not get anything out of this class." guess you're happy with those B-minus grades. If you listened to me just once, you'd do a lot better.

* "tell me what I should think" oh HELL no.

* the worst thing, and the thing that started this discussion with Janet, is the number of A-level writers who just don't show up, who turn their essays in late and lose 20-40 points because of it, or toss themselves around during class saying things like "this is hard," or "why do we have to write so much," or "we have to read AGAIN?" Seriously. Could you be a little more irresponsible/childish/openly defiant? Are you in elementary school?

What doesn't bother me includes:

* trying and failing

* failing and recovering

* making reasonable and informed choices

* taking responsibility

So, Janet leaves us with these questions:
1. What are our students' interests and values? How are these connected to what they want to get out of a college education (or, for that matter, to whether they've even thought about what they want to get out of a college education)?
2. In the short term, what's the best way to frame our arguments that class attendance and otherwise engaging with the course material would be beneficial to our students in pursuing their interests?
3. In the long term, what's the best way to help students develop a broader and deeper understanding of their own interests and values, and of the role a college education might play in furthering them?

Recall that our goal here is successful communication, not mind-control. How do we achieve it?
It's true, mind-control would be a hell of a lot easier. Also, purpose-defeating.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

the "kids these days!" brouhaha

So, Janet's managed to post THREE times on our little discussion that really boils down to:

* Sheesh! Our students are throwing away their grades because they simply don't come to class/participate. Who would do that?

* Do they think we're kidding when we say this stuff matters?

* Do they not realize that even WORSE than hating the class/hating the prof/hating the time/hating the work is that when they fail something that's a required class, they have to do it all over anyway?

* How can we communicate with them?

Here are links to her posts:
* Incentivizing class attendance
* A few more words on the class-attendance issue
* Is solving the absenteeism/attendance issue really a matter of framing?

Later today, I'll have some more to saw—mostly I want to address many things that have come up in comments. For instance, "why bother?" or "I never went to class and I turned out ok" or "you must have gone to a different kind of school than where you teach" or ... etc.

Just because this has been a problem with teachers and students for thousands of years doesn't mean we should stop looking for a solution, or wonder about different communication methods. And really, I don't think it's so much a communication issue as it is a listening issue, or a trust issue, or ... I don't know what kind of issue.

Have to get back to work now.

[edited to add: oh yeah, I'll certainly address how I can say things like this and still be totally ok with bailing on requirements for one of my grad classes a year ago, the one led by horrible-woman-who-shouldn't-be-a-teacher]


Monday, April 9, 2007

incentivizing class attendance (OR, you're gonna pay to miss class!)

As Janet says in the opening of her post, "Incentivizing class attendance," this is a discussion we had over sushi last night. A lot of sushi.

I was telling her how many of my students have mathematically eliminated themselves from passing the class, with 12 class periods remaining, purely because they failed to do the easy stuff: show up, be a warm body, make even a minimal effort at participating.

In many cases, their writing is fine. It's their "student-ness" that's lacking. You know: responsibility, follow-through, etc. Maturity, for lack of a better word. A sense of entitlement for no reason. Same old thing.

Before I go on, I should note that instructors can't drop students after the first two weeks of classes, and our institution has a policy that states we cannot grade on attendance (per se; we get around this with daily writing assignments/quizzes/etc that, for me, count for half of a percent per day (30 days, 15%)). Add in that nebulous "participation" 10% and the mere act of showing up and trying to be a student will get you anywhere from 12-25%. "Passing" in English 1A or 1B means a 75%. So...the math isn't that hard: if you screw up on the easy stuff, you damn well better get all As on everything including the final, else you aren't going to pass no matter how awesome your compositions might be.

I was lamenting the fact that my students this semester are...different...when compared to my students from last semester, in terms of their general studentish attitude towards schoolwork.

To wit, here we have the numbers of absences per class:
* Fall '06: out of 30 class sessions: 0 (7), 1 (6), 2 (3), 3 (2), 4 (2), 5 (0), 6 (1), 7 (1), 8 (1)
* Spring '07 1: out of 20 class sessions so far: 0 (0), 1 (3), 2 (5), 3 (2), 4 (3), 5 (0), 6 (4), 7 (5)
* Spring '07 2: out of 19 class sessions so far: 0 (4), 1 (7), 2 (3), 3 (1), 4 (0), 5 (2), 6 (2), 7 (2), 8 (0), 9 (1) , 10 (2)

It's not me; I'm teaching the same stuff the same way. Ok sure, some people just might not like me, and that's fine, but I've had enough profs tell me that it isn't me to be ok with it. In fact, I had a prof warn me last semester: "in the spring, 1A is rough -- it's out of sequence, people are just coming out of a semester or remediation or they put it off or the enormity of college is finally sinking in or they've failed it already. you've had success; it's not you." The same thing happens to 1B instructors in the fall; since it's out of sequence, the pool from which people are drawn is...different.

Also, this isn't just in my classes. It's everyone's classes. I even see it in my grad seminars; people just don't show up, do a half-assed job, don't think beyond the surface, wait to be told what to think. It's such a waste of a space for someone who actually wants to learn, even if they just need to learn how to learn.

Students now are so very different than when we went to school that it just makes me very sad; Janet's slightly older than I am, but we're of the same GenXy kind of age range. I hated a ton of classes (mostly those science and math ones) but I always went, I always did my work, and I still cared that someone might not think I was an appropriate member of the scholarly community at my school. It seems like very few students have that attitude these days, at least not at our school.

BUT! GO READ JANET'S POST for what we (she) came up with, and join the comments.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

oh hi! how are you?

Time is passing VERY QUICKLY these days, which is NOT something that I need. Yes, I'm still writing my thesis. Yes, I'm still working a bunch. Yes, I still have to finish my thesis and my language requirement and my household stuff and sell the house in the next 6-8 weeks. Oh yes, and teaching [although so many (like 10 or so out of 43) of my students have already screwed themselves out of passing simply by not showing up and turning in their work that I'll have fewer essays to grade...].

So what did I do this weekend? Went to a grad conference in foggy/smoggy Riverside. When I answered the CFP and made plans to go, I figured my thesis would be further along than it is.

But it was a good experience. I know that grad conferences mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but I find them incredibly useful practice. Also, coming from a program that is not necessarily academically rigorous, it helps me determine just where I really am in the thinking-person hierarchy. The answer? Not at the bottom, which is good. In fact, I went to a panel and one of the panelists had exactly the same thought process about things that I did: come to a conference to see where I stand, because I can't get a good read at my school. We go to similar schools, although she's in NYC and I'm in San Jose. We had a good chat, and I got to feel like the helpful (old, jaded) grad student who already made it through the PhD app process, whereas she'll be doing that next semester.

It's good to be helpful.

I also heard some dreadful papers and papers read too quickly (much like I did during my first conference), as you do. But given that some of the dreadful/fast ones were from grad students relatively far along in their studies, I felt ok. Similarly, when people liked my little chat (seemed interested, asked good questions), I felt pretty smart. And like a good used-car salesman.

My "paper" was the 8-page version of the argument of my thesis. You're darn right I can read/speak it really well. I've practiced it so much/been thinking about it so much that I can turn anyone into a believer/sell them a car.

If only I could finish the damn thesis!

So what did I do today? SLEPT ALL DAY. I have a sleep deficit running since February or so. I'll be paying for this tomorrow, I'm sure.

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Sunday, April 1, 2007

have I told you the one about the onion?

First: not The Onion. Also, this is not an April Fool's Day joke. This is an actual stupid thing that cracks up a bunch of friends every time we talk about it. I suspect it falls under the category of "you had to be there," but I'm telling the story anyway because it's cracking me up right now.

Last November, Jim and I, and our buddy Dawn, took the second (and final) comprehensive exam in our MA program. We promptly went out to "eat" (where "eat" == "drink" but with a little bit of food) after the exam, to PF Chang's. We ate, and then we drank and drank and drank. Jim's wife, Karen, showed up as well. This was the first time we met Karen, and we heartily approved of her.

We were sitting in a round booth, and I was at one end, so when Dawn had to get up and pee (as she did), I would be the one to get up. At one point, we were laughing SO VERY HARD at something, don't recall what, but after a comprehensive exam and a bunch of alcohol everything is funny. Dawn held up a piece of a scallion. I immediately got up from the table.

It was like a little bat signal. Holding up an onion means "I have to pee." She doesn't know why she did it. I don't know why she did it. Better yet, none of us knew why I immediately got up to let her out of the booth, since "onion means potty" had never been discussed. Of course, this made it all the more hilarious to us.

We made it out of PF Chang's and down the block to the Cinnabar. The Cinnabar is best described as a dive bar. A pit. Pabst Blue Ribbon ON TAP. Awesome. We hugged our clean little corner of the wall, drank some beer, and Dawn announced that she had to go to the onion.

We've called the bathroom "the onion" ever since. It makes no sense at all, not even to us, but it's damn hilarious.

Got an email a little while ago, coordinating plans for an outing on Wednesday night. We decided on PF Chang's again because, as Dawn pointed out in her mail, "It's got a nice onion."


to saunter

I am fat and out-of-shape, with messed-up knees and the lung capacity of a teeny-tiny bug. I can walk and walk and walk but if there's an incline I tend to huff and puff and look like a fool. I warned Linda by saying, "if it sounds like I'm going to fall over from exertion, don't worry. I'm fine. I just sound like an idiot." It's true, and I sure did even on the slightest little incline. Someday that will improve. I didn't used to be like that, but years of sitting on my ass and gaining weight and not going outside has really messed me up. I vow to change when I go to Washington.

Anyway, I have mixed emotions about the verb "to hike." "Hiking" sounds strenuous. It does not sound fun or enjoyable. So, I occasionally used the verb "to saunter," except when I had a bout of lameness and thought that I wasn't fully taking advantage of Yosemite by merely sauntering around and needed to sound like "ooh, hiker! hiking! hard! whoo hoo." Yeah. That was dumb.

Our first saunter was after breakfast on Saturday. We walked to the bottom of Yosemite Falls (pictured here), then meandered around the rest of the 1.1m path. Muir had a cabin at the bottom of those falls, off to the side next to the creek formed by the runoff. The cabin isn't there anymore, and I doubt there's even a plaque. But we traipsed over the same ground.

Then we did our "big" saunter: Mirror Lake & Tenaya Canyon. It's just a mile up the road to Mirror Lake, which isn't actually a lake at all—it's a pool formed by Tenaya Creek and it isn't there year-round. It's called Mirror Lake because it's so (very very) clear (as is all the water in Yosemite) that you can see perfect reflections of North Dome (to the left) and Half Dome (to the right). I noted that if it had been a bit warmer, I'd have walked into the lake. I have (another) irrational fear, that of bodies of water where I can't see or touch the bottom, but clear creeks and rivers don't bother me at all. Not so with this one...clear as a bell.

You can turn right around at Mirror Lake and walk back down the road, but what's the point of that? We kept going, up to the Snow Creek intersection. At that intersection is a big ol' sign that says, basically, "if you keep going, you're a hell of a serious hiker, so get on with your bad selves and for the love of god be careful." It takes you up and then down to North Dome, then over to Upper Yosemite Falls if you want.

We did not go that way.

We went to the right, around Tenaya Creek and back down the other side. At one point, we stopped and looked ahead: we were following a large animal down the trail. Both of us (Linda and I, not the animal and I) thought to ourselves, "huh. kinda looks like a mule, except it isn't." Since I was looking at its butt and not its side, I said "looks like a white-tailed deer." Yeah, except its tail wasn't really white and then when it walked into the sun it wasn't brown with white spots. There goes my future as a nature expert. We followed it for awhile (it was on the trail, after all), and it could not have cared less that we were there. It moved over into a meadow to chow down, and we walked right on by. I believe it assessed us thusly: "wow. you guys are so NOT A THREAT to me."

It was that evening, when reading the hiking book, that we caught a clue. "Oh yeah, a MULE DEER." Duh.

The rest of the saunter was uneventful, unless you count walking through an intensely cold spot (cave/spring under a rock pushing cold air onto the path) and looking for a footbridge that never materialized as events. It was pretty damn fun (and 5.4m).


I meant to write this post yesterday, but I got caught up in "to saunter" versus "to hike." Muir was very much opposed to the verb "to hike," and in fact it never appears in his letters or books or fragments of rewritten journals. However, he uses "to saunter" no less than fifteen times in his book The Yosemite. So of course I had to go to the OED and see when "to hike" became popular, and it was only the early 19th Century. I wanted to see if Muir had a reason for disliking the word, and I found "A Parable of Sauntering," by Albert W. Palmer, excerpted from The Mountain Trail and Its Message (1911):
There are always some people in the mountains who are known as "hikers." They rush over the trail at high speed and take great delight in being the first to reach camp and in covering the greatest number of miles in the least possible time. they measure the trail in terms of speed and distance.

One day as I was resting in the shade Mr. Muir overtook me on the trail and began to chat in that friendly way in which he delights to talk with everyone he meets. I said to him: "Mr. Muir, someone told me you did not approve of the word 'hike.' Is that so?" His blue eyes flashed, and with his Scotch accent he replied: "I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike!

"Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."
If you've read Thoreau, you immediately say "hey! That's Thoreau! Almost word-for-word, in fact." Palmer goes on to say, "Now, whether the derivation of saunter Muir gave me is scientific or fanciful [...]" and by this we can determine that Palmer didn't read Thoreau, or if he did, it wasn't the second paragraph of Thoreau's "Walking":
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks,—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la Sainte Terre"—to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer", a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.
So, we sauntered. And it was good.