The closest to Normal (Illinois) that I've ever been.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Tonight Joseph asked to do a blog post about funny jack-o-lanterns. (Check out his spelling--it is really getting much easier to interpret!) When he finished, he announced that he wanted to write a poem about Halloween which can be seen at the end of his blog entry. To elucidate the poet's intentions, I have included a video of the poem read aloud. Sam has pointed out that Joseph's poem is rather like an inverted haiku in structure.

gloing lit apon the grawnd
stiks move and glavs grab
on haloeen niiete

Pumpkin weekend

This weekend was all about the pumpkins. We bought carving pumpkins at the last Bloomington Farmer's Market of the season, which the kids carved with gusto.
Joseph's jack-o-lantern had a mean mouth but nice eyes.

Sam said that he was going for evil incarnate.

Sam, Joseph and Danny carving jack-o-lanterns

This week, NPR had a cheerful little piece about how it isn't hard to make your own pumpkin puree, but it is oh so much better than canned. So I decided to tackle cooking one of the enormous baking pumpkins that we got from Sam's teacher's farm. It took me HOURS to dismantle and puree that thing! It was like field-dressing a deer (and the kitchen looked about as messy). I made pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup, and I still have a freezer full of puree and three more pumpkins left to process. Thanks NPR!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


When I was an anthropology major in college, we learned about an indigenous North American ritual called the potlatch. In the potlatch, families vied to bring the biggest and most elaborate gifts and foods to a communal feast. Even when people were scraping by to get enough to eat, they would bring something flashy to the potlatch because a poor showing would disgrace the status of the family. (Actually, this was the reason why the potlatch was banned in the US and Canada). When I was in college, I was very PC but also earthy-crunchy (not-shavey), so I recall appreciating this odd cultural tradition and being offended by the waste at the same time.

Now that I am back in the midwest, I am seeing the modern equivalent of the potlatch all over the place. Joseph's school relies on outside donations in order to keep going. But the enthusiasm for donation is baffling. Although it is a great school, and we do donate time and money, it seems like my donation money is better contributed to sources that less directly benefit me and relatively affluent private school families. But at these fundraisers, parents compete with one another to donate more and more money--literally $1000s of dollars at a time! I have to conclude that the public donation serves as an indicator of affluence and status (yes Biology fans, the handicap principle--only rich people can afford to waste loads of $$$, so wasting $$$ is an honest indicator of wealth). Tomorrow, Danny and I are going to the Mulberry school Gala, in which families vie to outbid one another for various prizes. We are only able to go because someone bought extra tickets and going to these things on our budget is rather like going to Vegas without any gambling money. So we may be in for a dull time.

Also, this afternoon, one of the faculty members at ISU Biological Sciences suggested that faculty contribute to the local public radio station so that the department could sponsor Darwin day. A great idea, for sure! But immediately, my inbox was filled with faculty attempting to outdo one another by contributing more and more $$$. When I offered to chip in $15, I was told that they wouldn't accept my money because postdocs don't have enough cash to spend it on donations. I pointed out that I had to renew my public radio membership anyway, so the radio station was going to get my money one way or another, but no dice.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beware the button police

Illinois State University has expressly stated that employees are not allowed to wear or display any political materials. Also, we are not allowed to discuss political views. Also, faculty are not allowed to attend political rallies on campus. Also, we may not perform activities of a political nature during our lunch hour. Also, we are not allowed to identify our affiliation with ISU in any way if we do any political work on our own time.
The pièce de résistance is that this week we were all required to take our 30-minute computerized ethics quiz. And on this quiz, they asked the question: "Can employees support a local political candidate?" And apparently, the correct answer was "Yes." Perhaps I misunderstand what they mean by support. Maybe we may be emotionally supportive, so long as we don't tell anyone or do anything about it.
So, I secretly, and on my own time, offer my emotional support to the candidate of my choice.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nerd legacy

Well, geekiness is hereditary and here's the proof:

When Danny was a young fellow, he spent weeks constructing an authentic suit of chain mail from spools of steel wire. And yesterday I came home to see the kids gleefully trying on their nerdly inheritance. The kids love it, although they can barely stand up wearing 30 lbs of metal.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fire it Up

This weekend was ISU Homecoming. Why is at that all of the fun things to do are always on the same day, followed by weekend after weekend of nothing to do?
Friday night we went to Mulberry school to decorate the school float for the ISU Homecoming parade. The kids had a great time and ate giant piles of ravioli.

Saturday morning I ran the Town Gown 5K which goes twice around the ISU Homecoming Parade route. I have never run in any kind of a race before, by my friend convinced me to do it, so there I was. I sometimes run more than 3 miles so I knew that I could do it. However, during the 5K, I saw someone throwing up on the side of the road which put the idea of throwing up in my head. As I was running, I kept checking myself to see if I was nauseated, which was distracting and probably would have eventually made me feel nauseated if the race weren't only 5K. As it turned out that I was faster than I thought that I was (although still none too fast). Danny and the kids were slow getting out of the house for the first lap (the parade route comes within 2 blocks of the house), but they saw me on the second lap.

Later, Joseph's school had a float in the Homecoming parade. Everyone had a great time throwing (and eating) candy. I was kind of tired from the 5K, so Argos and I rode the float. He got lots of pets and really loved sitting nestled in the middle of a bunch of kids.

Saturday night was Kids' Night at the Haunted Trail. Every year, the city of Normal decorates a part of Constitution Trail for Halloween. This weekend was the "not scary" Haunted Trail for younger kids. The trail is surrounded by tall trees, so it was already very spooky. There were a series of stations with people in costumes and props. For the little kids, the ghouls and witches tried to be cheerful and friendly rather than jumping out of the bushes. (I would bet that the "scary" version is pretty scary!) At the end of the trail, Sam had his face painted and the kids had hot chocolate. Joseph wanted to go again, but he'll have to wait until next year. The Haunted Trail is limited to 1500 people per night, and the line must have been 0.25 mile long!

Not mad

Last Wednesday, I saw South Park before I went to sleep. In that episode, Cartman goads Wendy until she beats the crap out of him. The next day I woke up and I was finally not mad at my lazy co-worker anymore. (Of course, I still do not trust him!) So now he and I can finish up the remainder of our collaborative teaching and research without me getting an ulcer or killing him.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Farm day

Friday, Sam's teacher had the entire 4th grade over to her farm. This is an annual event that she has been hosting for 20 years. Anyone who went to Glenn Elementary has visited the farm, so its kind of a big deal. The farm was 40 minutes out of Normal through small, smaller and smallest rural towns, but it was worth the trip! Sam's teacher's husband grows soybeans, corn, pumpkins and cows. They also have an amazing farm dog named Diesel. We went on a hayride from the barn to the pumpkin patch and the rottweiler followed the tractor across the fields and down the highway. The first time I saw the dog go near the highway, I nearly had a heart attack, but apparently Diesel knows how to look both ways before crossing the street, and how to stay out of traffic when he is running alongside the tractor. I had no idea that a dog could actually be expected to take on that kind of responsibility, but Diesel seemed to know what he was doing.
I would suppose that farm people think that I am crazy when they see me walking Argos on a leash. Argos is like a giant subsidized baby compared to a farm dog like Diesel. I am pretty sure that Argos wouldn't survive long on a farm, what with all of his random phobias.

The kids got to pick out pumpkins: they farm grows baking pumpkins for Libby, so the pumpkins are pale on the outside, but bright orange on the inside. I think that we will draw faces on them, rather than carving them so that we can make pie.

The most surprising thing about the trip was watching Sam interacting with his classmates. From Sam's account, I had the impression that Sam didn't really have friends at school. Actually, he seemed very comfortable with the other kids and they actively included him in whatever conversations or activities were going on. Perhaps I misinterpreted his statements that he didn't have any friends at school. I think he meant that he has loads of acquaintances and "work friends," however, he doesn't have enough in common with them to pursue any deeper friendships.

We gave one of Sam's neighborhood friends a ride to the farm, and that was interesting too. His friend has an oddly mature nature--he is very self-possessed and stoic for such a little guy. After chatting with Joseph on the ride to the farm, Sam's friend casually mentioned that he had had a baby brother who had died at 9 months old. This explains why, although he occasionally likes to play with Joseph, he seems a little wistful. I suppose that he is imagining how it would have been to have his own little brother. It was eye-opening for me to realize that a kid Sam's age could have such a complex inner life. My kids have so far lead a tragedy-free existence so they mostly focus on playing and having a good time.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Soggy bottom dinner

I have been kind of crabby all day, so tonight we decided to go out for dinner. After much agonizing and menu comparison (did I mention that the food here in Normal sucks!) we finally decided to eat at the Hayashi Teppan grill. The ambiance was very pleasant, and the reasonably priced food that the other people were eating looked very tasty, so I was pretty happy with our restaurant choice.
We were seated and had picked out our entrees when I heard a crash and felt a gallon of ice-cold water flooding down over my back. A clumsy waiter had managed to spill an entire tray of ice-water glasses on me! Various waitstaff people rushed over with napkins, but I was soaked to the bone. I could tell that my underwear was saturated with freezing water and my dress was clinging to me in a manner entirely inappropriate for a family restaurant. Everyone in the restaurant was staring at me, so all I could do was stand up and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. Luckily, Danny remembered my purse.

photo by A. Morell

Soggy underwear or no, the kids still needed food so we stopped at Famous Dave's and got carry-out. As it happened, the ribs were delicious: they were lean and the BBQ sauce was "St. Louis style" which I had never had before. The sides were all fantastic, but the coleslaw was the best coleslaw that I had ever tasted! The cabbage was fresh and crisp, and the dressing was light and tangy. So, not entirely a bad night out!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pumpkin people

Joseph's class went on a field trip to the pumpkin patch. Danny escorted them, and took plenty of pictures:

Thomas the turkey who was in trouble because he pecked holes in a bushel of apples.

Murray the happy old donkey who plays with balls. Murray finished off the apples rendered unsalable by Thomas.

Corn kernel sandbox. 100% cat poop free!

A fantastic maze/climbing structure made out of stacked bales of hay. Ten kids at a time could disappear inside that thing.

Joseph loved the baby bunnies. I'm not so sure that the feeling was mutual. To be fair, he was nicer to the bunnies than many of the little girls, who clutched the hapless critters with unrelenting zeal.

Arrrggmmm. Smores...

20 outfits

When I was an undergrad at Johns Hopkins, I had this great Linguistics teacher. She was a young Iranian woman who was probably on her first teaching job. She was a fantastic lecturer and she was very committed to teaching us. However, I always found it vaguely depressing that she seemed to have only two skirts and three tops. Although she was always very smartly attired, the three skirts and two tops always made me think of how she probably came here with a couple of suitcases and maybe some boxes of books. Perhaps she was living in a sparse apartment filled with rented furniture. Perhaps the (1990's) unfavorably exchange rate made it hard for her to buy things here, or maybe she needed to send money home?
Anyhow, when I lecture, I always have the vague feeling that I am wearing the same outfit over and over again. So this time, I took a photo of what I wore for personal reference. I finished teaching this week. Here's a half-semester's worth of teaching outfits!