Feb 24

A former student, the yard and dive photos

I had a lovely chat with a former student today. I had her in a class when she was a freshman and knew her all four years of her time in college and, today, I have the great good fortune to call her a friend. She is, and was, a talented human being. She sat in the back of the classroom, quiet as could be, but she took in everything. Everything.

One of her classmates and friends was loud and over the top and could command and intimidate anyone in a room. She was funny, but Sydney just sat in the back and soaked in everything.

Outside of the classroom she became a staff writer and then a section editor for the campus paper I advised. Her senior year, she was the editor-in-chief of her campus paper. She was also the section editor of two local community papers her senior year. She also carried a 4.0 GPA. She also was honored as one of the top journalists in the south that year. I’m telling you, this woman is talented.

Two years ago now she was on a New York Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize, and if you think I don’t find ways to insert that into conversation you haven’t been paying attention. She’s a book editor and still writes for The Times. Even better than all of that, she does all of these other things. In the last few years she’s taught herself to sew and knit and cross stitch. She has taken up, as an adult and just to try it, aerial gymnastics, and she’s getting quite good at it. She has discovered a green thumb. Late last year she and her husband moved to New England. They are way up there, and enjoying their first real winter.

I was telling her how much I admire all of the things she does. As is typical, I laid it on pretty thick. As is typical, she downplayed everything. She said, “My life is full of more things that bring me satisfaction and make me look forward to the future than I’ve ever had before, and that’s not nothing.”

Something about this young woman, her freshmen year in the back of my class, I knew she’d figure it all out. And now here we are.

There isn’t a term for it, short of the greeting card cliche, but it is so heartening to watch people you like thrive. And to watch them discover the things that make them thrive. Oh! It comes from years of mentally cheering for people daily, and then getting semi-regular dispatches. To see people, who I knew best as students, continue to find ways to learn and challenge themselves well into adulthood, it’s really something.

In my teaching philosophy, I’ve always written that I hope to help teach the value of a true education: the joy of learning.

Best part is, Sydney isn’t the only person I know who has embodied that. Maybe that means I’m on to something. I hope so.

A quick spin through the side yard, just to share some different photos. I got lucky with the light on this shrub, which enjoys a nice golden tint in the late afternoon sun.

This stone path doesn’t go anywhere magical, but it seems like it should, doesn’t it?

We have two-and-a-half stone paths, and one of them does seem like it should go to Narnia. Not this one, though, it just takes you to the utilities. But look! There between the stones!

Is that a periwinkle? An euonymus? Whatever it is, the ground cover is emerging in early February! I am heartened once again!

Maybe I’ll get to the backyard tomorrow.

But, today, we must return to our underwater lair. And if we can’t actually do it, we’ll do it with some photographs from last month. To the deep! And before you do it, I’ve already done. I was humming the opening bars to “Baracuda” at about 65 feet here.

This was our dive master on one of our boats. He was serious until he realized he didn’t have to be. And then he was hysterical. Big laugh. I think his laugh amuses him, too. He reminded me of Carlos Mencia, a little bit. Apparently, in his day job, he’s some sort of underwater welder. So he takes strangers diving as a side hustle.

Imagine that. You get on a boat and that’s where you meet people and, to some degree, you’re kind of responsible for them. Now do that and make great jokes that grizzled vacation veterans haven’t heard before. This is the life of a dive master.

Also, he took this photograph for us.

He was very gracious with his time to do that. We wound up getting quite a few photographs. One day I’ll put that on social media and see if the university will share it. And if they do, this will be a new thing, taking that flag to interesting places and so on.

Also, he wanted to take a photo with the flag, too.

But he never asked what a Rowan was, or what that owl was about. He just wanted a photo, which was cool.

I think I can get about two more weeks of photos out of that trip. And, of course, there are quite a few more videos to upload, too. I may be able to pad this out to spring yet!

Feb 24

An old friend, a much older building, and modern fish

I spent part of my free time today emailing with an old friend. We worked together for a few years, used to be geographically close enough to have the occasional family dinner with them when they were all in town. We chat about once a year or so now. It’s a pretty regular clockwork.

And I think, on my part, it is because I don’t always have new amazing things to tell my most discerning friends and colleagues about. Oh sure, there’s always the new thing in the yard, or a clever solution to a problem chore or something funny one of us said to the other, and don’t forget the latest cat antic. But the really cosmopolitan types … you need a special story for them.

So I did the big swipes. These are the concerts and shows we’ve seen. This is a museum I’m hoping to visit soon, and so on. All three of his adult children now live in the same town in Florida, and my friend and his wife are both from Florida and so it sounds like they may be looking to move back down there sooner than later. Also, they’re going to Iceland this fall.

I should go to Iceland. But maybe not in October.

Also, today, I came up with a clever solution to a problem chore. And let me tell you about this joke we shared last night …

This afternoon, on the bike, I rode the volcano circuit on Zwift. It’s a short loop, and a central point of fixation for some people on Zwift. Some people are there to chase the badges, and there’s one badge that you earn when you’ve completed 25 loops around the volcano in one ride. Until very recently, I thought this was a route involving going both around and up the volcano. This would be a 355-mile ride with more than 15,000 feet of climbing that destroyed more than your most romantic metaphors of suffering. But, no, the volcano circuit is a different route. A flatter route, and shorter. Completing 25 laps would be only 63.5 miles. This would take about three hours, which is a long time to be on a stationary bike.

I earned the 10-lap badge today. I don’t care at all about the badges. I’m interested in three things on the bike. Going as fast as I can — which is never that fast. I also want to ride as long and as much as I can — which is also relative, of course. And, to have fun.

You can’t spreadsheet fun. And trying to document the much more quantifiable speed would be demoralizing. So I concert a lot on the miles.

I’m not really sure why, but I do.

The other thing I’m concentrating on, at the moment, is consecutive days in the saddle. I wonder how long I can keep this current streak alive.

Speaking of the bike, it is time for another installment of We Learn Wednesdays. I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. This is the 24th installment! And, lately, we’ve been checking out many of the markers I banked late in the fall. This is the 44th marker we’ve seen in this series. And it has to do with this 19th century building that looks not at all out of place in this downtown area.

Surrogate has the traditional “one who takes the place of another” definition in this instance. It’s been an office around here since 1710, when the Archbishop of London granted the colonial governor authority to act as the Archbishop’s Ordinary, or Surrogate General. The governor then localized that to the county level, and the surrogates looked after things like probate wills, marriage licenses, and other things that, today, we think of as county records.

Which is why this building looks out of place as it does. As the sign notes.

Today, the state has an elected surrogate in each county. That person is elected to a five-year term. A man named Smith Dorman, or another man, Benjamin N. Smith (of the Whig party) was the first to staff this building. Fifteen others have filled the role since then, including the woman currently in office, who has been there since 2006.

The surrogate court has moved down the street, and the clerk’s office is elsewhere these days, too. Maybe there are some wonderful renovations taking place inside those special fire-proof walls.

Next time, we’ll see the ancient courthouse. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Let us return to the water! Why can’t we be in the water today? We should definitely be in clear blue water today …

My dive buddy agrees.

Sometimes you get lucky with the sponges and the coral in one shot. A version of this one is definitely going on the front page rotation when I finally get around to updating it. (Next week.)

At other times, you just can’t decide which fish to fixate on, so you stay wide, try to keep them all in the viewfinder and hope it all works out.

This is where, in the selection and editing today, I’d used the next shot because it looks like a world class photo-bombing by a wide-eyed reef fish. Alas, the exposure was lacking.

Instead, I offer you this much better photo, which will also make the front page of the site. It has the added bonus of making you wonder if I was just diving in an aquarium. (I was not.)

And this isn’t the best composition, but it is the best shot this Atlantic blue tang gave me. Look at those incredible colors!

OK, that’s enough for now. I’ll have more diving photos and something from ground-level, as well. (Which is to say it is sunny and mild, and you should go wander around outside for a few minutes when that happens.)

Jan 24

A happy cat reunion

Three weeks or so ago we took the cats with us to The Yankee’s parents. They celebrated the holidays with us there, and stayed on as we continued our many travels. Today, though, was the day that we set out to go pick them up.

We went over the river.

We went through the woods.

And so on.

This visit also allowed us to attend Special Church services, which is a program my lovely mother-in-law runs. We saw friends, we made crafts, we sang songs. I found myself in a thoughtful conversation about the meanings of the word shalom. I’ve always heard that it means peace. But, it turns out, it also means wholeness. So there was this conversation that led me to ponder the idea that maybe they’re not separate meanings, but perhaps they could be, should be, interrelated. Maybe you can’t be whole until you have peace. So I learned something, and sang Beatles songs. It’s a great hour.

And, of course, we got our happy reunion with the kitties. I was sure they would shun us for a while, but they both came around before the night was over. I don’t know why. I kept telling them, they never had it so good as they do in Connecticut. There are people who play with them and pet them and basically let them rule the place. Plus, there are cozy spots and fuzzy blankets everywhere.

They made it clear, pretty quickly, that they hadn’t forgotten us. We got good pets and good purrs.

And then we left them again. Because they never had it so good.

We had dinner with The Yankee’s college diving coach. When she retired as a gymnast she decided to do the springboard for fun. And they’ve kept a lasting friendship with her coach for all the years hence. We had burgers at a little dive where she waited tables in college. You can drive there, or sail your boat up to the back door. A few years ago they worried the place would fall into the river. It’s a place where the floor slants, even after they reinforced everything.

A local band was playing Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire tunes. A woman was dancing, by herself, for most of the night. Her gentleman friend danced one song, and we saw why she was dancing alone. (He could not dance.) She wasn’t dancing as well as she thought, but the libations were telling her otherwise. She was just far enough away that the three of us couldn’t decide how old she was. Turns out I was wrong, she was a bit older. And it’s funny how that works. I figured she was a certain age, which just made the whole thing a bit sad. But, as we left, I could finally see she was much older than I thought, which allowed me to think Good for you, lady. Now be sure to call an Uber.

Today’s SCUBA contribution is a couple of quick fish clips from somewhere along the Palancar reef off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico. Beautiful fish here, and all you have to do is hold your breath for 41 seconds.

More photos from under the sea tomorrow. And we’ll enjoy some legendary Connecticut pizza. It’ll be a great Friday.

Sep 23

Welcome the weekend

This is how parking works on the Rowan campus: You park. If you work there, you don’t have to pay for it. Which is a novel approach for some campuses, and more of them should look into it.

I would ride my bike to work more, but our house is a little too far away and no one wants to watch me sweat during a lecture. So I have to drive, which means I have to park, which means I have to get a parking permit. No problem.

This is how the parking permits work on the Rowan campus: You go online through a series of website links, with each click wondering why they didn’t send you to the third-party vendor site the first time. Eventually, you fill out some information asking about the color of your car and so on. You put in the mailing address and, eventually, the permit arrives. Mine arrived today, which will come in handy next week.

This was on the note inside the envelope.

Helpful stuff considering I had been looking for this in the mail and the return address sort of gave the game away about what might be inside the envelope.

The parking permit is a sticker. I prefer the hang tag style, as I am old school like that, but whatever puts me in a good spot with a relatively easy walk on campus, ya know? The only problem is they want you to put the sticker on a particular spot on your car. You can tell that from the instructions, the instructions found on that insert. But the instructions might leave you with the impression of having been edited by someone moonlighting in the assembly manual department of IKEA. They say put the sticker here, unless that spot is unavailable, in which case, put the sticker here. The way I’ve read the sentence, several times, it sounds like the two places are the same place. This is only a problem for people like the security guard hut in front of my parking lot and any people tasked with doing parking enforcement who are looking for these stickers, affixed to cars in one of two places, which are the same place.

This is only the second most first world problem of my beautiful Friday.

We had a bike ride today, and the weather was grand. Sunny, not windy. Mild enough so that you didn’t get a lot of sweat in your eyes. I’ve been getting dropped a lot lately, and I’d resigned myself to more of that. But it wasn’t too bad. My lovely bride stopped about a third of the way through the route to stretch her back out and I pressed on, knowing she’s particularly strong on the next segment and she’d catch me soon.

That road is 2.5 miles and she didn’t catch me, but I saw her over my shoulder as I turned left.

I divided the next 10 miles or so up into short segments in my head. “If I can make it to this overpass in front of her, then I’ll be able to stay out front until that next intersection.” So for 10 miles I rode as fast and as hard as I could, knowing she’d catch me just before the end, because she’s done that a few times.

And I made it over that overpass. I got to that next intersection. I put in a lot of effort over two sticky little hills and through another left turn. Here, I knew, was where she’d find me. And probably pass me like there was nothing to it. Only she didn’t. And then there’s one more left, and on that last mile she didn’t catch me.

Checked my phone, which I suppose your supposed to do, but, there’s a lot of information coming your way through your phone. Take this, for instance —

So I put the bike inside, changed my shoes, had the brilliant idea to grab a kitty carrier and drove back out to the scene of the cat.

We brought her home. She was young, hungry, angry, and desperate for pets. We didn’t take her inside, no need to mingle with our furballs. Called around for animal control, no answer. Called some vets, one of which told us to not call that animal control, but do call this one.

Eventually, we found a place where we could take this kitten to get the care and attention she needs. And, soon enough, some kid or some adult is going to all in love with that little face.

Our friend Sally Ann flew in for part of the weekend. The Yankee picked her up at the airport while I took a trip to the inconvenience center. I rearranged some things in the garage, picked some tomatoes and soon enough there we all were, reunited once again. We went to a nearby winery for dinner. The atmosphere is as causal as possible — there was a DJ tonight, and it was nothing but coffee house hipster vibe covers.

They make really good pizza, it turns out, and so we went for pizza. Except they only make pizza on Saturdays and Sundays. On Thursdays and Fridays they do shortbread.

Not as good as their pizza, but, still, a great way to welcome the weekend.

Aug 23

Is August too soon for ghost stories?

One of my former students, I learned yesterday, is beginning her new job as a reporter in Savannah. Great city, of course. The Yankee and I were married there. We visit often. And I’m excited for my young journalist friend. It should be a great market for her to start polishing her skills.

The day before yesterday I learned another former student has just begun a job reporting at NBC in Chicago. Her third stop in the business is number three in the Nielsen rankings. Only New York and Los Angeles are bigger markets, of course. In the media, the dues paying a young employee does sometimes means starting in smaller newsrooms, or in smaller markets, or both. Over time the successful worker bee moves up the ladder. Courtney, who is now in Chicago, started in market 138, moved to 35 and is now in market number three. To make it that high, that early in her career is a testament to my innate ability to her incredible talent and superior networking skills. Success stories are successful for a reason, and I’m always so proud to see my friends continue their success.

I keep a map of where my former students are. They’ve spread out across the country, of course. But I know, from my map, that four of them are working in Chicago. A few are working abroad. The problem is that I’ve been doing this long enough that inevitability some people fall off my radar. I only catch so much on LinkedIn. (I updated four of those map locations last night, for example.) So please keep me updated with your success stories, my friends.

Someone I met 15 years ago in my first year on campus went out into the world, and then law school, and is now teaching classes at a law school. That’s the one that aged me.

Today’s errands put a few new lines on my face too, I’m sure of it. I took the garbage to the garbage taking place, because, again, no one picks up garbage in this neighborhood. Despite two companies which pick up garbage in the neighborhood. I have witnessed it and taken photographic proof. Monday, a truck stopped at the house across the street. A gentleman stepped off and grabbed our neighbors’ discarded materials and drove off to … wherever garbage trucks go when they’re through on your street.

We had a little chat with our neighbor yesterday. A wonderfully pleasant and cheerful man. The sort that knows everyone, and talks about them like they’re all old friends, and you are too. I should have asked him about the garbage truck. Probably he owned the company, or the person that does owes him some not insubstantial favor.

Anyway, in and out at the convenience center, as it is locally called. And, except for the location, it is convenient. Of course, if that isn’t too convenient, or at least upwind, that’s OK, too.

From there I went to the Tractor Supply to inquire about peach baskets. They have no tractors, a thin selection of supplies, and no peach baskets. The woman I spoke with there suggested I go to the Coal and Ice, which is a local hardware store that has kept it’s name, if not it’s original products. The Coal and Ice does not carry peach baskets. (I wonder if I can make a gag of renaming that store everything they don’t have. This would be unfair, it’s a small store. And it would become a long gag pretty quickly. For example, so far it would be the Coal and Ice, and Digital Deadbolt, Sliding Glass Door Lock and Peach Basket. They do carry, however, weather stripping for basement doors. I have to be fair about this inventory gag I won’t pursue.)

A nice lady at the Coal and Ice suggested a farm market. Produce stands on the side of the road. That was, actually, my next option. They’re ubiquitous, and that’s lovely. But most of them are all stocked and sold on an honor system, which is charming. I needed to talk with someone, but no dice.

So I set out for a distant grocery store to buy Milo’s. They did not have Milo’s. So I visited a sister store to try my luck again. I think maybe the delivery guy has been under the weather or something, because I went oh-for-two. I need that driver to get back on the road, quickly.

My next stop was a Lowe’s, but on the way there I ran across a place called Bloomer’s Garden Center. A big, sprawling, someone-has-to-water-all-of-these-plants-daily place. A place with a water garden wing, and another bird sanctuary wing. Everything smelled of rich nitrogen soil. These people are in the business of selling things to people who want to grow things. The woman there had no idea about peach baskets. I think they must appear from the very air.

So I went to Lowe’s. I looked there for peach baskets. No luck, of course, because that’s a pretty small, and obviously obscure, item for a box store. I did get two garbage cans, because see above, and a spool of weed eater string. You could purchase this in spools of one or three. I had the three-spool pack in my hand, considered my traditional weed eater habits and opted for the smaller, less expensive version. Rolled my two garbage cans to the self-checkout, and then out to the car.

Next to the Lowe’s there was a Dollar Tree. I walked in there. No peach baskets. But I did find small plastic baskets that are about the proper size, have a big breathable basket type pattern and a convenient handle. I got six of them. Paid eight bucks, which is probably close to how much gas I’ve spent on that search today.

Picked up some Chick-fil-A for a very late lunch and then drove it the 20-some minutes back to the house. Whereupon I learned that one of the two garbage cans I picked up … doesn’t have a lid.

So I’ll go back there tomorrow.

We went on a bike ride early this evening and it was obvious almost right away that I had no legs. My lovely bride waited on me twice, but finally I waved her on. No need for her to slow down if I can’t speed up. This is a training ride for her, anyway.

I just turned mine into a scenic experience. Here’s today’s barn by bike.

The last four miles on this route are uphill, which is to say, have a gentle, gradual slow ascent. There’s nothing bigger than a roller, but you gain the same 70 feet a few times over and over. Also, I was developing a soft rear wheel. I titled the ride “Slow leak, Slower legs.”

Tomorrow’s ride will be a bit better. But I have to allow for a few minutes to swap out that tube. Some first world problems feel insulting even to the concept of the first world problems meme.

For dinner, we took some of these tomatoes from the backyard …

And some of these peaches from the front yard …

And mixed them with some things we purchased at a nearby grocery store to make a tasty little peach salsa.

It complimented everything nicely, but the cilantro and the onion muted the peaches just a bit. Anyway, we’ll have plenty more opportunities to try this concept. We might also soon be eating peaches as an entree. I mean, aside from breakfast and midday snacks.

And I have those baskets now, so we’re now important produce power players, locally speaking.

I have started tracking down the local historical markers. New county, new goals and all of that. I found a site that lists 115 markers in this county, so there’s a ton of easy content!

This is the second installment. You can find them all under this brand new blog category, We Learn Wednesdays. What will we learn about today?

This is a place called Seven Stars. Built in 1762 by a man named Peter Lauterbach, it is architecturally significant, and there are important bits of social and military history inside those brick walls as well. The side features Flemish patterned brickwork, which was once a common thing here, and will come up again in a later post. In this case, the pattern carries the initials “P-L-E” for Peter and Elizabeth Lauterbach.

Their son John Louderback changed his name and lived in the tavern during the Revolutionary War. The British came through and raided the tavern, looking for him. He had a price on his head because he was thought to be giving food to the Americans. Louderback and his family hid in the woods. And, a few years later, he marched with a unit out of Pennsylvania. Earlier he’d served under Casimir Pulaski.

Peter, the father, died in 1780. John lived to see the country independent, and died in 1802. His mother lived until at least 1806, which is where historians find her name on a church roll. She also voted in 1800, presumably because of the property she held, inherited from her husband or otherwise. During that period, depending on where you were, it is estimated that between seven and 25 percent of the tallied votes were cast by women. (A state law that was billed as progressive at the time disenfranchised women and Blacks in 1807.)

Seven Stars has a lot of ghost stories attached to it, as well. In the early 20th century, the residents claimed seeing figures on horseback riding up to the tavern window, that small one to the left of the door, which was where people got their orders. Someone is said to have seen a ghostly figure checking on a baby. Supposedly Peter roams the ground looking for valuables he buried during the Revolution. Another spirit is said to be a spy for the British who found his end at the end of a rope in the attic. A Halloween-type site says loud footsteps and scuffle sounds can sometimes be heard in the attic. A pirate is thought to be a frequent haunter, as well. Be as skeptical as you like, but someone also needs to go camp out and see if the ghostly ghosts and their ghostly horses trot up to the tavern window.

It is now a private residence.

In the center of town you’ll find this wonderful bit of signage. There’s a lot going on there, because, for a small town, a lot has gone on there.

I’m sure we’ll pick up on some of those themes again in future installments. For now, here’s the door to that bank, which is still standing, sturdy and beautiful as ever.

Some day, I’ll go back and photograph the whole of the building. When I was there for this, it was small-town rush hour, and people have to get where people want to go.

(Update: A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to improve on the shot. Here’s the First National Bank.)

Which is what you should do, right now. Go to the next place. But come back here tomorrow. There’s going to be a lot more fun to discuss here tomorrow.