In the Air or In the Water?

We’ve been having a lot of fast, intense weather changes here at RedQuarters. Nothing as exciting as Buffalo “See You After the June Thaw” New York, but going from the 70s to the 20s to the 50s to the 20s F for high temperatures. Combine this with the start of the Thanksgiving-Hanukkah-Finals-Christmas rush, and sanity seems to be a passing mood, not a permanent status.

We got some snow on Monday, just enough that everyone blinked and said, “Oh, that’s snow,” and went on with life. On Friday, we had cold and grey skies, and everyone went bonkers. Well, not everyone, just 90% of the people on the road. Or so it seemed. Perhaps it was the reopening of a large swath of a major through-street. Perhaps it was the “Friday before Thanksgiving.” Perhaps it was “pretend we’re all cats with the zoomies.” Whatever it was, the morning commute turned from “intermittently not dull” to “a touch interesting.” And that was nothing compared with the folks who came to work half an hour or so later. Apparently, in that thirty minute interval, there were wrecks, fire truck call-outs (activating stop-lights that normally don’t come into use), people changing lanes for no apparent reason and without bothering to tell anyone, people in the left turn lane turning right (!), and other moments of vehicular excitement.

By the time I left work, it was “I’m going to drive too fast, or too slow, for no apparent reason, or do both at random moments because feel like it.” Then a young person in a yellow sports car with target fixation tried to remove my bumper as I attempted to exit the coffee drive-through.

Athena T. Cat kept talking at everyone, then ignoring me, then tracking me down when I needed to work, then ignoring me when I had a free moment. Cats.

Oh, and I got to see something new at the gym. You now apparently do a big lift, push your hoodie hood back, get off the bench, change weights, return to the bench and carefully arrange the hoodie hood just so, then do another lift. The edge of the hood must be three inches back from the top of your forehead, no more or less. Or so it seemed. I must have missed the memo, because I don’t own a hoodie. Nor do I quite understand wearing a long-sleeve hooded sweatshirt with the hood up in a warm gym while doing intense exercise. But I tend to collapse when I overheat, so I try to avoid wearing warm clothes indoors when I’m going to lift and/or do cardio.

Since I drink the water and wasn’t inspired to act crazy, I guess it was in the air.


“What Is the Meaning of Life?”

My first two answers were “A Monty Python movie” and “42.” Neither of those where what the speaker had in mind, so I kept my trap firmly shut. I can act like a grown-up, on occasion. If there are a sufficiently large number of witnesses.

Then me being me, I ran through three of the catechism answers that I remembered (none of which apply to the church where I currently sing. Of course.) Personally, I’d argue that meaning is personal, not collective. The speaker went along the chosen topic and my mind wandered off into the weeds, then over the river, through the woods, down the primrose path, past the Slough of Despond, and drifted back toward the official topic when the phrase, “What were his last words,” came along.

And again, my mind wandered, this time to Randall Thompson’s “Last Words of David.” David’s last words were a command and testament, in the sense of testifying about something. “He that ruleth over men must be just; ruling in the fear of G-d” That’s the charge, the command. And if the ruler is just? “He shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even as a morning without clouds when the tender grass riseth out of the earth after rain.” The obedient man will be blessed and will prosper. During the middle ages, someone’s last words were very, very important and people gathered to hear them.* Often, final disposition of property happened at that point, and the individual was thought to be closer to the divine, and so might offer a warning or revelation. If the person was dying in public (i.e.executed), then it was anticipated that he or she’d have a speech, sometimes humorous, sometimes dramatic, occasionally a confession “Yes, I was terrible and I deserve this and don’t do what I did.” And of course we have modern jokes about “Here, hold my beer!” or “What could possibly go wro—” and so on.

Death used to be a community matter, too important to happen in solitude, if possible. The meaning of life used to be a community matter as well, although I suspect the majority of people wouldn’t phrase it like that. Having relatives in the church yard meant that you belonged to the place. Going back much farther, having relatives in the chamber tombs and mounds surrounding Stonehenge also meant that you and your people belonged. The ancestors watched as the transition from life to death concluded for the individual, and the community feasted to honor the dead and the living. Life was family continuity, blood-kin or faith-kin, and the meaning of most people’s lives was to ensure that another generation or two had property and a good model to build upon.

What is the meaning of life? What is a good life [insert Conan quote and all it’s myriad variations here]? No idea, but a lot of other people have ideas about it, some I agree with, some I boggle at, some that make me want to take a long shower after I apply automatic weapons fire to the idea.

*No, it was not good for public health when infectious disease was involved. But germ theory hadn’t been invented yet.

Ut Oh, Someone Secure the Liquor Cabinet –

It’s November 10th. The U.S. Marine Corps’ birthday!

Original source:

Although, knowing some of the Marines of my social circle, they have already secured the cabinet and removed the contents “for safe keeping.”

From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, and Guadalcanal, the decks of the USS Ronald Reagan, and a lot of other places, the US Marines stand watch and guard.

Semper Fidelis!

Overheard in the Halls: Part Thirty-Six

Mrs. Verbum: Suggestions for faculty costume themes include ice-cream flavors, characters and puns from the Oz books, and various vehicles.

Everyone looked at Mr. Vroom, the acting physics teacher. He looked innocent.

Mrs. Verbum: Wizard of Oz has the most votes, although—[looks up from page] the Wicked Witch of the Past might be a problem.

Me: Why?

Br. Vector: It’s supposed to be a costume, Miss Red. Not your everyday attire plus a black hat.

Me: [Trying to look innocent as chuckles go around the table]


Philosophic Junior: I need a religion without Hell. [computer sounds ensue] Buddhism would work.

Me: [grading papers] Some Buddhist denominations do have punishments after death. Popular Confucianism did as well.

Judicious Junior: Miss Red’s right. But I though you were [Protestant denomination].

P.J. : [slightly defensive] I am. I’m just looking at options.

Sneaky Senior: Options or insurance?

Me: [clears throat]

J.J. :If it’s for Mr. Long-Slavic-Last-Name’s world religions class, Buddhism should work.

P.J.: Good.


Small Student: That’s a HUGE spider!


Señorita Tilde (the Spanish teacher): It is a late, large spider.


I’m filling in for Sr. Mary Conjugation, the advanced English Teacher, during a department head meeting. The seniors are working hard on a major literature paper. The sound of typing fills the room.

Studious Senior: No, please no. Don’t die yet, no!

Frantic scrambling in backpack ensues.

Studious Senior: Charger, charger, I need my charger, where is it?!?

Me: [feeling merciful] Do you need to go to Mr. Dvorak and see if he has a spare that will work?

Studious: Yes! Please!

Me: Here’s your pass.

Studious and laptop depart at the speed of sound, racing for the office. I suspect the students fear Sr. Mary Conjugation more than they fear Old Scratch, Fr. Martial, and the IRS combined.


I was watching the students before an all-school chapel service. Somehow, as seems to happen at these, Sr. Scholastica (aka The Dean) stood beside me. My task was to look for minor disturbances and catch them before higher authority needed to intervene. As I studied the student body, it came to my attention that Sneaky Senior sat beside Suspicious Sophomore. They appeared to be communing quietly.

Me: Sister, do you see what I see?

Sr. Scholastica [peers student-ward then leans closer to me]: Alas yes. I fear we behold the passing of a torch.

Me: That was my fear as well.

We exchange wary looks. Sneaky has chosen an apprentice. This does not bode entirely well for the tranquility of the faculty.

(Sneaky’s not a bad kid. Just . . . creative in ways that are not always conducive of preserving a calm learning environment.)

The Pleasure of Finding: A Lost Joy

Dictionaries. Thesauri. Encyclopedias. Card Catalogues.

I used to have a large dictionary in my classroom, one that I inherited from the previous resident. The students disliked when, after they asked to use their “device” to look up a word, I’d hand them the dictionary, then teach them how to use it. That was work! It was so much easier to have $SEARCHENGINE$ do it. The dictionary vanished last year. I don’t know if one of the English faculty borrowed it and accidentally added it to her reference shelf, or if a student smuggled it out so that later generations might be spared the pain of looking up words in a heavy book.

I suppose link-hopping or WikiWandering are how the curious spend time, instead of reading what is around the desired dictionary word, or encyclopedia article. Both waste time, sort of, although learning isn’t always time-wasting. I suspect most of my readers grew up occasionally browsing dictionaries and encyclopedias and wandering through card catalogues out of curiosity. How much did we absorb as we drifted from the officially-sought topic to other intriguing (or useful “ooh, I can call someone this and he won’t have a clue that it’s an insult”) information. Grab a random volume off the shelf, or open the tome to a random page, and start browsing away. Yes, the information might be out-of-date. In a few cases, that’s the strength of older reference books. If you can get your hands on a pre-1920 set of the Encyclopedia of Islam, you have a goldmine of accurate information. After that? Well, there’s been some selective alteration and gilding, let us say. Likewise certain other encyclopedias and reference works. And people seem to retain what they read on page far more than what they read on screen.

I’ve written before about the advantages – for some things – of card catalogues. Those who had to maintain and update the files would disagree, as would most modern librarians. Especially in the early days of electronic library catalogues, the old system was far more forgiving of error and uncertainty than the hyper-precise systems. A keyword might not be enough – you had to know Boolean systems and terminology in order to enter what you hoped might lead to the book or journal that you sought. Some of us were not taught that, making finding things an exercise in unproductive frustration. Most modern library catalogues are better, or at least easier to start using, but it depends on how things are searched for and logged. One example: I was looking for books on Gypsies, or Roma. Using Roma led to romance novels, not the Library of Congress Subject. Romania? Also romance novels, or Roman history (and historical novels about Rome). I told the reference librarian, who sighed and added it to the list of complaints.

I don’t want to go back to the world of “we have to go to the library to find that,” not really, no matter how much I enthuse about things. And the electronic search systems are faster, and can lead to things not usually found in the older versions (like magazine and journal articles). There needs to be a balance, one I’m not sure we can easily find. The genii is out of the bottle, and making younger people go back to the paper versions of Dictionary DOT com could lead to rebellions. But I think some kids are missing a true pleasure, the thrill of discovery and exploration some of us get thumbing through reference books, never knowing what gems we might find.

Stages of Schedule Disruption

  1. Denial – No, you can’t do this to me, I just got everything set up!
  2. Anger – How dare you mess up my carefully planned [whatever]. Who do you think you are?!?
  3. Depression – The day is a loss. The week is ruined. We’re doooooooomed.
  4. Resignation – Oh well. It’s out of my control. I can’t change it.
  5. Acceptance – It is what it is, so I’ll just rework everything else and go from there.

I am a creature of habit. I have my way of doing things, and once I get a pattern established, I like to stick with the pattern unless I choose to change. I do not respond well to being acted upon by an outside force/administrator/dispatcher/scheduler. Especially multiple redirections or deflections of schedule in a short period, all of which are caused by human action, not Forces of Nature. (Snowvid 21 was outside anyone’s control. “We’re moving the track meet to during the school day because parents want better light for photos,” is the sort of thing that harshes my mellow. [I exaggerate the reason, but I was still irked.])

Overheard in the Halls, Part Thirty-Six: Autumnal Edition

We are having an inspection by out-of-state people, including two priests from Our Lady of the Snows in far, far northern North Dakota. So of course, we have a monitored fire drill, complete with fire truck.

As everyone is trooping back into the building, the high school boys come to a screeching halt beside the gate. “Oooh, look!”


Fr. Visitor [peering over some shoulders, then backing away and exclaiming in thick Minnesnowta accent]: Holy Moses!

Br. Vector [glancing past the gate] It’s a snake, gentlemen. You’ve seen them before.

Frisky Freshman: But sir, it’s cool.

Br. Vector: And so will Sr. Semicolon be if you are not back in literature class in one minute.

Fr. Visitor: Do you have many of those?

Br. Vector: Not indoors, no, sir.


I’m working, the class is working. All is mostly quiet, save for the occasional pitter patter of dripping brain sweat.

Frustrated Senior: Arrrrrgh!

Entire class turns to look at him.

F.S.: It won’t let me use the back-door this time. I’m going to have to log in the official way.

Entire class turns to look at me.

Me [tone as dry as the center of the Sahara]: Did I need to hear that?

F.S.: Gulp. No, Miss Red.

Me: Did I hear that?

Half of class: No, Miss Red.

I return to my earlier grading. Typing and brain-sweat resume.


Ambitious Junior [coming into classroom and slinging backpack onto floor]: No. Christmas album maybe, but no Christmas song.

Frustrated Freshperson [following A.J.]: Aww, come on. Everyone does a Christmas solo release.

A.J.: Well, we’re not. We’re going to be different.

Me [erasing previous class’s notes from the board]: Remind me to find the video of Erasure doing “Gaudete.”

A.J.: Who did what?

Gothic Senior [already in seat with notes out]: They’re cool. You’ve probably never heard of them.

I bit my tongue to keep from chuckling.


Once per six-weeks, students are allowed to wear non-uniform garments provided they make a set donation to the designated club or team. However, certain restrictions still apply . . .

Sister Scholastica (aka The Dean): Mister Hemd.

Slinking Sophomore: Yes, Sister?

Sr. Scholastica: Do you have a different shirt?

S.S.: No, Sister.

Sr. Scholastica [crooks Finger of Doom]: Come with me, Mr. Hemd.

Sotto-voce Small Person [once coast is clear of older sibling]: I told him not to wear that one!


“Remember to Replace the Onion”

In most other households, that would be a rather odd note. Which onion? A decorative item that got broken? An edible onion?

At RedQuarters, where most non-bread recipes seem to begin with “First sauté an onion,” it means that someone sauteed the onion and more need to be purchased. Somehow, we always end up with one onion that lingers down in the corner of the “mixed containers mostly Tupperware but not entirely” drawer. Which is where everyone stores onions, right?

I once asked DadRed why everything started with olive oil, a pan, and an onion. “Because that buys time to decide on the meat and what else goes with it.”

Not entirely true, but valid for about 60% of the time. Unless I’m cooking. I prefer dried, minced onion because I react strongly to strong onions, which are about the only kind available around here. There are sweet onions, strong white onions, weaponized yellow onions, and red onions that come in protective shielding and probably ought to have a hazmat label on them.

(If I’m every dining with you, and something comes with red onions despite my begging to have them omitted, you can have mine. Please. Pretty please.)

Thus the note. And you know what will happen. Three or more onions appear in the drawer, because each member of the family gets one onion (or perhaps two) on the way home from work or errands. Usually white onions. The yellow onions have been of such variable quality that RedQuarters tends to stick with the known evil.

It’s a good thing that “first, sauté an onion” happens so often. Occasionally I will caramelize an onion. I’m the only one who cooks fancy stuff most of the time, so caramelizing is my job. That and I’m patient enough to stand there watching, watching, watching, stirring, stirring, stirring . . . for a while. It’s a bit like making a real risotto, except you can’t read while you do onions. Yes, while in grad school I read while making risotto. I never read while browning butter or making a roux. Those change too quickly from raw to “dang it. A charcoal suspension.”

So, I need to replace an onion. Perhaps two. But certainly one.