Thursday, August 30, 2007

Early semester smackdowns

Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s the hot weather, or maybe. . .

The semester is all of two weeks along, and already I am giving curmudgeonly reminders to LEAVE THE CELL PHONES ALONE.

My standard class policy is any behavior that detracts from the classroom—here, you can read it for yourself. . .

Classroom Behavior: During our class time, we should show mutual
respect for each other and for the instruction presented. Successful learning and dialogue can occur where all participants exhibit civilized behavior. The antithesis of civilized behavior is rude behavior. It affects everyone and affects the quality of our class time together. Among examples of rude behavior are the following:

-- persistent tardiness;
-- talking and chatter unrelated to the discussion at hand;
-- talking while someone else has the floor;
-- sleeping in class;
-- any activity that distracts from learning;
-- ANYTHING involving cell phones except turning them off while in class.
Sadly, this list of what constitutes uncivilized behavior has grown over the years. In my earlier versions of the syllabus, I didn’t specify what examples of rude behavior were. And then I had a student who slept in class. Admittedly, it was an 8 a.m. class, and he may even have worked all night. But when he came to class, he would sprawl across his desk, and sleep. Fine. Well, not really—but I initially thought it was a one-time thing. But he slept the next day too. And this time, his open text book tumbled to the floor with a bang, and woke him up. First, I made an observation to the effect of Nice of you to join us. Then I spoke with him at the end of class. You have to stay awake, I said. I know, he admitted sheepishly. The next day, he dropped the class.

While cell phones were around when I resumed teaching in 2002, they weren’t disruptive at first. If a cell phone merrily sprang to life, jangling who-knows-what “tune,” I would make fun of it, and remind the student to silence the ringer.

And then text messaging became ubiquitous. Or should I say—txt msg? (Certainly explains the woeful spelling I see!) So, two years ago, I inserted the “ANYTHING involving cell phones” line. And I laid the smackdown on touching a cell phone during an exam. My rule? You touch a cell phone during an exam, and you are out of the class for that day, and the exam is forfeited.

Usually, I get to make these dire reminders more than half way into a semester. Not this year. During the second class, a student sat in the second row in front, and TEXT MESSAGED who knows? So, I just looked at her, called her by name, and said—PUT THE PHONE AWAY. This interchange occurred after another student had finished a quiz, then got up, handed me a note and walked out of class. Her note said she had to go home for “an emergency.” I didn’t see her with her phone, but I assume she too got a text message. I talked to her today, and told her to knock it off.

Folks, I really do try to keep my sense of humor where teaching is concerned, as it is the one absolute essential tool to survival. But, two weeks into class—grrrrr! Fume, fume. Could be a long semester.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Gift of Days

I have not been as active writing of late, since our daughter has been visiting with us. As she has now returned to England, I am mulling over this brief respite of time with her. And a phrase comes to me to describe our time together: we have had the gift of days.

There is a bittersweet quality to this time together. As her parents, we have many times let go of our daughter’s hand so she can seek her own place in the world.

When she went to college, we left her at her dorm with mixed emotions—leaving her, hoping it was a good choice of a college. Then in six weeks when we visited for a weekend, it was very clear that she was NOT happy—that the college and she were NOT a good fit.

So after that semester was completed, we let her go again—this time to go to London to work for 6 months. And, of course, she came back to attend a new college—this time, a perfect fit for her emerging interests.

There was another time of leaving her go, when she did a semester abroad in Glasgow. The bonus was that we had the occasion to visit with her in Scotland.

When she was finished with college, we let go once more so she could begin her career in New York City.

And now she has gone, back to London, this time to be with her fiancé and to attend graduate school. Of course, we will visit her (and her fiancé). Very soon!

These days together have been sweet. And it is wonderful to see how much she is her own person. But, then, she was that from practically the moment she was born. And, not surprisingly, I see two versions of her in my mind’s eye—the wonderful grown woman, and the very self-willed little girl.

Thank you, dear daughter, for the gift of days.

Here’s a lovely little poem about moments such as these:

To a Daughter Leaving Home

By Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Silver Patterns and Hope Chests

One of the high school classes that likely has long since gone by the wayside is home economics. While I don’t recall much from the class, I clearly recall at least one project—which is eventually the subject of this blog.

Home ec, as we called it, was a girls only subject way back when. . .Girls went to home ec; boys went to shop. By the time our children went to high school, these classes were cross-fertilizing—guys in home ec, girls in shop. Frankly, I don’t know if these classes are still offered to the general high school population, particularly given how many so called non essential courses are being shed for schools to concentrate on core curriculum (thanks in part to No Child Left Behind demands).

I recall the home ec teacher’s name was Miss Mary Moser (a wonderfully alliterative name)—she especially liked me as I was not the usual student. When she asked us to bring in recipes, I brought in one for peanut gravy.

Growing up, as I had, in Northern and Southern Rhodesia, I had seen local people eating porridge. Made from mealies (corn) this porridge was thick, and people ate it by scooping out a handful from the communal pot, molding it into a ball which was then dipped in some savory gravy—for example peanut gravy.

But the project I most recall strikes me now as sweet and utterly useless. We had to design our ideal table settings for a formal meal. We poured over magazines to find photos of silver patterns, china, and crystal. The goal was to artfully match these three elements so that we would create a lovely dinner setting.

I don’t recall what patterns I chose. But I decided I wanted china with a blue design, something which when I got married came to fruition. I never got true silver—having lived happily with stainless steel ware!

I suppose these items were to go in our
hope chests—another tradition long past. Now we have gift registries as the most practical way to gather gifts for couples intending to get married. But, in ye olde tyme days (an expression my daughter uses!), young women had hope chests. They collected linens and things for setting up future house-holds.

Ahh—the long gone days of old and the quaint habits we had! But, from home ec, I did learn something absolutely useful. I know how to sew and mend. And every time our children come to visit us, at least one will ask – Mom, can you mend this for me? Of course—happily.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

“A new king in Egypt”*

*Exodus 1:8
“Now there arose a new king in Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

One of the great American classics is John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. Set in the 1930s, it tells the story of the Joad family as they are forced to leave Oklahoma during the dust bowl years, and migrate along with the thousands of Americans who went to California on the promise of a better life. One of the startling scenes is when the Joads encounter vicious prejudice and are spurned as “Okies.”

When our son was in elementary school, one of his teachers gave the class a most interesting assignment. The students were to interview their grandparents and ask them what they remembered about the Depression. So, during one trip with Grandpa, our son questioned away. What was it like to live during the Depression? Where did you live? Did you ever not have enough to eat?

As it turns out, by circumstance unrelated to the dust bowl impact on farming, my father’s family—his father, mother, brothers and sisters—all moved from Oklahoma to California in 1933. So, like the Joad family, my father’s family were also “Okies.”

My grandfather had been president of a small Bible school in Oklahoma, when an offer came for him to be religious director and Bible teacher at a church college in southern California. So, the whole family moved west in 1933. The trip to California held its own adventure. The family left Oklahoma in August 1933, driving the newly acquired Chevrolet. Behind it was a trailer which held their household possessions. Along the way, they traveled the most used route of that day, U.S.
Route 66. However, to save time and money, my grandfather determined that the map showed an unpaved road that bore more directly west than Route 66. They took the road across New Mexico. Partway along the unpaved, unmarked road, they heard a clatter. Some yards back lay the car battery which had fallen out. When they had stopped to investigate the noise, they had not switched off the car, so it continued to run drawing its spark directly off the generator. They managed to find a small garage which had the correct size battery that was somehow mounted into the engine, and they continued on their way to California.

Ordinarily, the position in California should have been a long term position. My grandfather had a yearly contract that had been renewed several times, and when it came due for renewal in 1936-37, he counted on having it renewed again. Until then, compensation for my grandfather had included tuition for his children. His oldest son had attended the college on that arrangement. When the college president handed the new contract to my grandfather, it contained a major change—no more tuition. With his second son (my dad) ready to begin college, this change was a severe financial blow. So my grandfather handed the contract back, and asked that the old terms be restored.

Several days passed; then my grandfather met the college’s Board chair who informed my grandfather that since he had no contract, he had no job. My grandfather was 53, suddenly unemployed, with five children, and the country deep in the middle of the Great Depression. My oldest uncle had finished college, but my dad was ready to begin, and there were three other children, with the youngest only 4 years old.

I have thought about that event in my grandfather’s life a lot. Five years ago, I “
retired” because the company I worked for eliminated the department I headed. While I was closer to retirement age than my grandfather was, and had no young children still at home, the event still shocked me. And I had to find a new focus for my life.

My grandfather overcame this challenge. He found new work in two separate jobs, and he built his own home after this episode in his life.

Sometimes there are shifts in power in our lives, new kings arise and we find ourselves disrupted, out of place, out of favor. What we do next, of course, makes all the difference.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Snubbed by a dog

Any animal owner will have stories about her pets--here is just another entry in the on-going pet tales that I have accumulated!

When we got our dog, Tipper, we knew we were signing on for walks every day. She is half border collie, and while she doesn’t seem to have the high drive to “work” that a typical border does, she loves to walk.

She is a very sociable dog. In fact, if she weren’t so sociable, we might not have her. Did I ever tell the story of how we got Tipper? In the summer of 2001, we were in upstate New York visiting some friends who have a cottage on Thousand Island Park (called TIP). We spent a day in the small town of Clayton, cruising around the charming shops and local galleries. As we exited one such place, I saw a mother and daughter walking a very cute puppy down the street. The puppy was very friendly, and I said—what a cute puppy. Without hesitation, the woman said—do you want her?

Since our old dog had died a bit more than a year before, we had debated getting another dog, but still hadn’t. I turned to my husband as he came out of the store, and said—this woman wants to know if we want this puppy. My husband, who is not typically given to spontaneous decisions, said—sure. Well, it was completely legitimate. The woman had to move from her house, and no place she looked at to move would take a dog. So she needed to find this puppy a home.

We ended up naming her Tipper (for the white tip on her nose and for TIP, the place we came to “find” her.)

Back to the walks. Tipper may not have sheep to herd, but she wants to interact with every person or other dog she meets. Some she likes, some she doesn’t. As a friend of mine once remarked of Tipper—she seems to think it is her job to tell everyone else what they should do. It’s true—when kids have come to swim, Tipper races around the pool barking at them. Then she runs to me and barks, as if to say—look, there are kids in the pool Are they allowed? Or when the cats fight, Tipper rushes into the fray and barks. She is taking up for Cassidy, with whom she has bonded. Allie, the new cat, can just bug off.

So the four times daily walks are a chance for Tipper to check out a bit more of the world. If she spots another walker, or a dog in the distance, she becomes fixated, and heads toward that potential friend.

One of our walking routes takes us under a row of trees, most welcome on summer days, and then around the corner. At this house, there lives a dalmatian and a beagle. The dalmatian, Maddy, was a great doggy friend of our old dog. Every day, Maddy waited for Wanda (our English setter in photo) and loved to see her.

After Wanda died, there were several months when I took few walks past Maddy's house. Then, the first time I walked along that road with Tipper, Maddy came rushing out to greet us. She took one look at Tipper, turned her back and walked away from me. Six years have now gone by and she still consistently does this.
She is snubbing us. It is as if she is saying—I don’t know what you did with that other dog, but I liked her. I don’t like this new dog, and I won’t look at you until you get the old dog back.

Sorry, Maddy—Wanda is long gone. And Tipper is here to stay with us. Dogs! Long memories.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

North or South?

I am still on my self-imposed hiatus, but I couldn't resist this item.

I am particularly attuned to compass orientation--when I travel anywhere, I like to know what is north, south, east and west. And I can usually figure it out (obviously if the sun is shining!).

So the following item in our local paper sent me into spasms of laughter:

"Two Virginia men have been cited for a fight in a motel parking lot over an issue of geography. Local police said that about 11:45 p.m. Thursday, John S., 26 of Lake Ridge, VA and Jermaine G., 24 of Stafford, VA, who both work for a moving company, got into an argument over whether Virginia is north or south of Pennsylvania."

OK--you can start laughing.

Really--how could they both be FROM Virginia and not know?

Really--how could they work for a MOVING company and not know whether Virginia is north or south of Pennsylvania?

(And a whole civil war was fought over these geographic identities!)

Oh, my. And these people are allowed to vote! Explains a lot, I think.

Back to my hiatus. . .until the next hilarious news story.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sit a spell. . .

Remember in the olden days when all houses had porches, and none had air conditioning? Folks of necessity would go out of doors and sit in the cool of the evening. Maybe even fanning themselves, sipping a glass of lemonade. Even with the horrendous heat we have had of late, I think such an evening would be lovely.

But then things began to change--air conditioning was invented, and people began to stay inside. Then porches disappeared. At least we still have lemondade. And at least we can still sit a spell.

For the next several evenings, I will not be reading blogs. I will not be writing blogs. I will be sitting a spell and enjoying a visit from our daughter. She is here briefly and then she goes back to London.

So, sit a spell. I will be back shortly. . .

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Fair and Balanced?

I am not shilling for Fox News by the title of this post—in fact, I can barely bring myself to watch Fox News, but I want to pose the same question that their signature byline statement should urge us to consider. (I say "should" ironically because the last thing Fox News wants to be is “fair and balanced.”)

This past week’s news coverage in the U.S. has shown in stark contrast how little attention our national news sources pay to various countries in the world. For a long time, the “rule of thumb” for local news has been “if it bleeds, it leads.” And it seems the rule of thumb for
national news is “if it happened in the U.S., it leads.”

Here’s a quick test—how many people died in a
major train crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last week? OK. Now, how many people died when the I-35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis?

My guess is you know the answer to the second question, and didn’t even know about the first question. Briefly, over 100 people died in DRC, and 5 people died in the bridge collapse, although this number may go a bit higher as bodies are recovered.

So what, you might ask? Well, each of these disasters occurred on the SAME DAY—August 2. Yet, national television news coverage in the U.S. has extensively covered the Minneapolis story, and I have yet to see any television mention of the Congo crash. The only press coverage I came upon in the U.S. was a 1 inch story in the NY Times. And, while looking for coverage of this story, I did come upon an online story on the Congo crash on USA Today.

And what does any of this has to do with your day to day life, you might ask next. Well, maybe nothing. There is no requirement that any of us be attuned to what is happening elsewhere in the world. However, I would suggest that if we want to be good citizens of the U.S., and even of the world, we need to have some sense of what happens. Absent information, how can we determine whether our national leaders are representing us well?

I am on a national advisory committee for the Presbyterian Church; this committee overseas collecting and distributing money in response to various disasters around the world. Our committee knows that charitable giving tracks almost exactly the amount of news coverage a given disaster receives. So, after Hurricane Katrina, millions of dollars were donated to
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, but when the earthquake in Pakistan occurred the same year, few contributions came in. Of course—people won’t or can’t respond to things they don’t know about.

I will throw one more observation into this mix—for a long time, I have been concerned that U.S. news organizations do not pay enough attention to news stories coming out of Africa. (I remedy that by reading
BBC News online.) It would be easy to ignore this large continent that many U.S. citizens will never see. But, there is one country in the world that is not ignoring Africa—China. China is pouring astonishing amounts of money into various African countries. Here’s just one such story.

I suppose along about now, I should be drawing some conclusions. No—I think I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Note about the photos used above--the Minneapolis bridge photo came from CNN. When I went looking for a photo of the Congo train crash, I couldn't find one--but I did find a DRC map. . .on the Al Jazeera website. Folks, the rest of the world is paying attention to Africa!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Pottered out

Well, it is over—I have finally finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My daughter tells me that the book is being referred to as HP7 in the UK. So, HP7 it is.

I must say, I am glad. There are many comparisons I could try for, but finishing this book, in fact the series, is rather like finishing a roller coaster ride. It was thrilling while it lasted, but now that it’s over, I am happy to get my feet back on the ground. And, I confess, I was beginning to resent the whipsaws back and forth.

In a previous post, I noted that I had received my HP7, and thereby generated a mini-discussion on the merits of the series, ranging from--

“Harry Potter! Not interested! From all I’ve heard & read [the author] is a poor imitation of the Narnia series”


“Oh, I'm a big Harry Potter fan too! . . .My neighborhood is filled with kids and it is so heartening to see them all on their front porches reading the same book”


As I was frantically reading my copy of Deathly Hallows at 3 AM on Sunday--delivered right to my door by the lovely folks at Barnes & Noble--I kept drawing parallels to Star Wars. Darth (as Voldemort):
"Come to the Dark Side, Luke." Obi-Wan (as Dumbledore): "If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."


“They [the HP books] do (roughly) belong to the fantasy genre, but not all fantasy books are Narnia or Lord of the Rings any more than all mysteries are Sherlock Holmes. . .The ingredients of Harry Potter are not ground breaking, unique, or gourmet, but the combination still makes for a tasty popcorn read.”

Thoughtful comments, all. What I especially like about the Harry Potter series is the way they generated interest among readers of all ages. Some news writers noted that not since people lined up at the docks in New York shouting to incoming ships “Is little Nell dead?” has a book grabbed public imagination so much. (Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop featured the character Little Nell. The work was serialized, and published in sections. Dickens mastered the cliff hanger ending of each installment, so readers clamored for the next portion.)

J.K. Rowling has certainly learned that technique. While her novels in the Harry Potter series were not published in serialized sections, the way each book blended into the next accomplished some of the same effect. And, as anticipation built prior to the publication of HP7, speculation was rife—you could almost hear all her readers thinking “Is Harry Potter dead?’

I also am pleased that J.K. Rowling is quite wealthy now, having recently been recognized as “wealthier than the Queen.” Why not? Why shouldn’t an author experience financial success for her accomplishments. After all, far lesser individuals have achieved great wealth—I won’t even start in on the undeserving rich.

Now, to reflect a bit on the books themselves. This reflection is not intended as a plot analysis or any such thing, so I don’t think I will give away the outcome of HP7—but, if you are still reading the book, or plan to in the near future, you might want to cease reading here.

One aspect of writing that J.K. Rowling has absolutely mastered is the use of archetypal themes. While archetypes and myths have long been the subject for literary analysis, their use formed the core of the 1980s PBS series with Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell. Among the archetypal themes that we can find in literature are the hero on a quest, coming of age, the eternal struggle between good and evil, facing death—all of these should sound familiar to any reader of the Harry Potter series.

In brief: Harry is on a quest—its precise nature is not known at the outset, either to Harry or the reader. Each book adds a little bit to his and our understanding of the quest. Along the way, Harry has to come of age—he needs to learn the truth about many things, and to be at peace with that knowledge. We are constantly reminded that Harry’s existence is due to the power of good to defeat evil, even as good itself may be destroyed. And, of course, we knew there would be a final battle in HP7 between the forces of good and evil. It is this archetypal theme that most links the HP series to the Narnia Chronicles, and to the Lord of the Ring trilogy. Finally, as various characters in the HP series face death, we explore the nature of the eternal. And it should surprise no reader that Harry himself must face death in HP7 as he did at times in some of the books before.

My main quarrel with J.K. Rowling may not be fair at all, but I have a suspicion that she is a serious enough author to want to have her works matter. My quarrel is that her books need some work before they will be literary treasures. Not the HP series, mind, but the next book she writes. Assuming she does want her books to matter, she could use a few tips—that I am happy to give her.

1) Work on your character development. Rowling’s descriptions are rich, but her character development needs some work. A good author paints a picture of a character, and then stands back to see what that character will do. Sometimes, a character takes over and absconds with the plot. Central in good character development is motivation—why do characters do what they do? Good characters (well drawn, that is; not characters who are “good”) have motivation for what they do. Too often, Rowling’s characters did what they did because Rowling made them. A great example—without giving away the end of HP7—what is the motivation for Draco Malfoy?

2) Close behind character development is dialogue. While Rowling creates good dialogue, you rarely get a sense of distinctive voice of a particular character. Of course, there are some exceptions—example, Hagrid always sounds like Hagrid. And some of the expressions of Ron or Hermione are their own. But dialogue is a weak point for Rowling. One of the tests of good dialogue is—if you take a line from one character and give it to another, does it sound wrong? In Rowling’s case, the usual reason why a line of dialogue would sound wrong is because of the information conveyed, not because she has imagined a singular voice for a character.

3) On to plot—here is where Rowling shines. When I finished HP7, my first thought was—that was a thumping good read. (Back to the roller coaster ride.) But I also get frustrated with her use of plot—she spends so much time DOING things to her characters, rather than having the plot arise out of their natures. There were moments when I almost wanted to say—oh, leave him alone, give him a chance to breath!

4) So, now my final criticism—one of the singular hallmarks of good fiction is that an author SHOWS you what is happening, not TELLS. And you the reader are left to figure out why, which you should be able to do because you have well drawn characters, and you understand their motivation. You might be saying now—well, isn’t that what we have with Snape. And my answer is no—sorry, but Rowling whip-sawed Snape back and forth as to his allegiance, even though by the end of HP7 you know why. But I can’t help but feel that Snape’s changes back and forth were due more to the author TELLING you that is what he is doing than to the author SHOWING you and you coming to your own understanding.

Oh, lighten up, you say—these are only children’s books. Yes, good point. But, as I said, I have a suspicion that Rowling is an author who wants to write good literature, and she will keep on writing. So she has some room to grow. Oh, and there are wonderful children’s books that meet all of the criteria I have listed—think Bridge to Terabithia, or Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson, or Stuart Little or Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, or Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl.

Of course the great news is Rowling has established a reputation of being a bankable author, so she won’t have any trouble getting her next book published. And she has enough money to ride things out if the public doesn’t respond as wildly as they have with HP.

Yes, but did you like the book?. . .Of course!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Summer Reruns--

What's My Line Part 2

Well, here's the latest news. The "sandhogs" came today (Friday) and began digging. Then around 4 p.m., they knocked off for the day, left their equipment and their dirt piles as is, and went home. They managed to make a little progress--they have bored past 3 houses, and have 3 to go before they get to our house. They managed to break one neighbor's water line, and they chopped up the edge of his driveway.

Oh goody--I can't wait for them to get to our house.

And this morning, the fanatical robin was back. So I walked very carefully around our house. And then, I saw Junior. He (or she) was sitting in our window well, which is about 2 feet deep. I thought about leaving Junior there, but it has been terribly hot (up to 95 degrees F today), and I thought it might be better to get the baby bird out. It had been there long enough to leave poop behind (I have been learning from my fellow bloggers who are more scientifically inclined than I that poop is an important indicator!).

I pulled on garden gloves, lifted Junior out and on to the lawn. Well, he took offense at being photographed, and suddenly went wildly hopping away, out on to the street, and across the yard and landed under an evergreen bush. Mama Robin frantically followed him, scolding me. I felt like saying--really, Mama, cool it. I checked back later in the afternoon, and Junior had moved somewhere else. I must admit--Junior is very cute with his wonky baby feathers molting away.

Tomorrow--more digging? Nah--it's Saturday. More chirping? Maybe, especially if Junior breaks curfew again.
BREAKING NEWS--It is now Saturday morning and the "sandhogs" were out there at 6:30 a.m.! Can't believe it--but I'll bet they get to our driveway by 4 p.m.--then we will have a dirt pile next to our house for the remainder of the weekend! Oh, Great.
UPDATE--Spoke too soon. This must have been a meeting place, because after a bit, the men disappeared taking their equipment truck with them. No digging today. Also no chirping mama--hope that means Junior has "mastered" flying.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What’s My Line

Our neighborhood looks like it has been hit by a gang of deranged graffiti “artists.” Everywhere there are multi-color lines going this way and that. First, white lines appeared, streaking across our front lawns. Then red lines, followed by orange. Then blue and last green.

As we were admiring. . . no, make that puzzling over the painted lines, a notice appeared on our doorknob. Ah—technology advances. We are about to be treated to Verizon’s insertion of fiber optic lines through our neighborhood. Since we have all our utility lines buried underground, any time any new lines are added, all the existing utilities have to come out and mark where their lines are already inserted.

The notice also informed us that if we had put in any electrical lines, invisible fences, or any such underground wiring, to mark it so the diggers would not disrupt our lines. So, my husband dutifully manufactured little flags out of an old t-shirt and fence post ties.

Now the waiting begins—when will sandhogs arrive. These sandhogs aren’t nearly so grand as those that built such marvels as the New York Subway system. These guys come in with some kind of boring machine, and push through underground, inserting orange tubing.

I watched for their arrival today, as the notice promised some activity within the next three days. All I saw were guys walking around the neighborhood, looking at the multi-color lines.

I also saw a fanatical robin that sat in the Douglas fir next to our house, chirping all day long. This morning, my husband took the dog for their morning walk—and the dog found a baby robin at the base of our light post.

Somehow, the baby robin ended up on our driveway—probably trying to escape the dog who was MOST interested in this little creature. I went out, with garden gloves on, picked up the baby robin and put it at the base of the Douglas fir. I think junior robin was trying to fledge, didn’t quite have the hang of it, and got away from Mama Robin. So all day, Mama kept calling. At one point she had an insect in her mouth, trying to coax that baby back. As of nightfall, she was still out there calling. Better find junior before the diggers get here.

I went looking for a poem on builders and found this whimsical little poem.

The Builders
by Sara Henderson Hay

I told them a thousand times if I told them once:
Stop fooling around, I said, with straw and sticks;
They won’t hold up; you’re taking an awful chance.
Brick is the stuff to build with, solid bricks.
You want to be impractical, go ahead.
But just remember, I told them; wait and see.
You’re making a big mistake. Awright, I said,
But when the wolf comes, don’t come running to me.

The funny thing is, they didn’t. There they sat,
One in his crummy yellow shack, and one
Under his roof of twigs, and the wolf ate
Them, hair and hide. Well, what is done is done.
But I’d been willing to help them, all along,
If only they’d once admitted they were wrong.

Here’s a quick poetry lesson. This poem follow a sonnet form—specifically, an Elizabethan sonnet form which is divided into a first part of 8 lines, with a rhyming scheme of abab cdcd; then a second part of 6 lines with the rhyming scheme of efefgg. The first part forms the dilemma, and the second part answers. And frequently, the gg lines give a little spin on the theme.

This sonnet meets these conventions nicely.

OK—infrastructure to sonnets—what’s the connection? Why, lines, of course. Painted lines, poetic lines—whatever.