Story time

September 17, 2014

I have, like, a thousand things I need to be doing right now that do not involve dinking around on the Internet, so obviously this is the optimal time to tell a story.

My best friend in high school was a quiet, unassuming Muslim girl who made good grades; said “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir” at appropriate times; and basically did whatever she wanted, because adults always assumed that whatever Saadia was doing at any given moment was precisely what Saadia was supposed to be doing at that moment.

Saadia and I were pretty good kids, but by November of our senior year, we figured we had some comp time coming for all the extra hours we’d put in writing papers for honors classes and doing extracurricular activities while the cool kids were out getting drunk and pregnant and stuff, so we started cutting class and going out for coffee whenever we could think up an excuse. We always took the backroads to the coffeehouse, and if we hit a pothole too hard on the way, the glovebox in my 1985 Nissan Pulsar would pop open, and a box of Dramamine would fly out and land in Saadia’s lap. Which in no way should be construed as a reflection on my driving skills. But I digress.

This story isn’t about Dramamine or our senior year or the many ways one can traverse Southern Illinois on county roads to avoid being busted for truancy. It’s about our sophomore year, when we hadn’t yet figured out we could get away with cutting class, so we settled for blasting the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack on my parents’ stereo and making outrageously inappropriate sexual innuendoes about Michael Crawford while we did our homework. As one does.

We had biology together that year, and let me tell you: We were amazing at dissecting things. And by “amazing,” I mean we sucked. Which may or may not have been* my fault, because the day we dissected a shark, I inadvertently disconnected every vein and artery in its body with one ill-advised swipe of the scalpel.

Oops.

We obviously performed very well on the practical exam for that unit.

We squeaked through the next unit by the skin of our teeth, and by the time we got to the final project in the cutting-up-dead-animals series — a fetal pig — I was starting to worry. I was on a field trip the day our irascible but hilarious biology teacher handed out the pigs, but when I returned, Saadia knew everything there was to know about porcine anatomy.

I later learned the following exchange had occurred in my absence:

COLLINS: (Puts pig in front of Saadia)
SAADIA: (Stares at pig)
COLLINS: What’s the matter with you?
SAADIA: That’s a pig.
COLLINS: So?
SAADIA: I’m Muslim.
COLLINS: So?
SAADIA: That’s a pig. I can’t touch it.
COLLINS: Your brother touched one. He didn’t have any problem with it.
SAADIA: (Shrugs) Yeah, well, he’s probably going to hell.**

So Collins ended up dissecting the pig for Saadia and showing her what all the parts were, which she then showed me.

And that, kids, is the story of how Saadia and Emily passed sophomore biology.

Emily

*Was.
**Last I knew, Saadia’s brother was a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai. In retrospect, I probably should have been more careful with that shark.


Hippie lessons

August 10, 2014

The only thing better than doing a bunch of hippie crap is teaching somebody else to do a bunch of hippie crap.

The first time I did anything along those lines, we lived in Belleville, and a colleague who was particularly impressed with my salsa recipe came by for a canning lesson. We had a lot of fun. I got some help with the prep work, which can be tedious, and I sent her home with a few jars of salsa and a new skill.

A couple of years ago, I taught a neighbor to extract honey. That was mostly penance for a dumb stunt he’d pulled involving one of my beehives, but he really liked the bees and wanted to learn about them, and I won’t be at all surprised if he ends up establishing a hive of his own someday.

Last week, one of my editors mentioned she’d like to learn to can. She’s kind of fascinated with the DIY stuff we do around here, so I promised her I’d schedule my next salsa-canning project on some Sunday when we’re both off.

I like showing other people how to be more self-sufficient — partly because I’m an old teacher and enjoy watching their eyes light up when they learn something new, and partly because it feels as if I’m repaying a debt to someone who unwittingly did me a favor before I was born.

About 40 years ago, my mom worked for the school district in my hometown. A counselor who worked in her office made killer homemade bread. When Mom asked for the recipe, rather than simply scribble it down on a card, he invited her over and spent several hours teaching her to make bread from scratch.

One man’s willingness to share one afternoon of his time with a young secretary is still paying dividends 40 years later.

I like to imagine that 30 or 40 years from now, the children of the people who have spent an afternoon in my kitchen, learning to do something I enjoy, will be standing in their own kitchens, remembering their parents’ lessons and smiling at the thought.

To teach is to own a little piece of eternity.

Emily


Folk Thursday: Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

May 1, 2014

We haven’t heard from Judy Collins on Folk Thursday in a while. Today seems like a good time for it — partly because it’s her birthday, partly because I’m getting psyched up to go see her in concert again in a couple of weeks, and partly because I’ve had this song in my head since I went wandering around the SIU Student Center and Faner Hall last night and saw my youth through eyes that were simultaneously 13, 19 and pushing 39.

I do not fear the time.

Emily


‘Shopping

February 10, 2014

While I was sorting my hard drive a while back, I ran across a pair of images of my younger siblings that Mom had asked me to Photoshop together for her several years ago, as Oliver had his back to the camera in one picture, and Grace was rolling her eyes back in her head in the other. Thanks to the busy background (wallpaper, stepstool, mini-vac, etc.) and the ever-so-subtle difference in angles and depths of field between the two images, I decided that was another task for another time, saved the images into whatever folder was handy, and promptly forgot about them.

I had some time on my hands this evening, so I spent an hour ‘Shopping:

kidshoppedweb

Don’t look too closely. The background didn’t quiet down any, and the angles and depths of field didn’t get any closer to aligning while I was ignoring them, but at least nobody is making a weird face or turning around backwards.

And yes, Mom, I saved a high-res version. I’m still tinkering with it, but I’ll send it to you after I make a few more minor adjustments.

Emily


Route 66 memories

January 27, 2014

In sifting through my digital photo archive the past few days, I’ve run across quite a few images I’d forgotten I had. Most of the stuff in my archive is stuff I shot myself, but some of the most gratifying photos were the ones other people shot of me doing things on or for the Mother Road. For about 12 years, my life more or less revolved around Route 66 advocacy. Here are some highlights I found in my archives:

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I’ve identified the photographers as far as I can remember. If you recognize something you shot, and I didn’t give you credit, please let me know in the comments. Some of these images go back a decade or more, and I’ve slept since then.

Emily


Sorting it out

January 22, 2014

The glory of digital photography is that you can take 30 shots to get the one you want, without having to worry about the cost of film or processing. The flip side is that you end up taking 30 shots to get the one you want, dumping ALL of them off onto your hard drive, and keeping them forever, just in case you might need them, as opposed to looking at prints and scanning only the keepers.

This is fine until you end up with so much crap on your hard drive that you realize it would take a full day to back it all up, so you just live dangerously until the inevitable happens and your hard drive goes bad, at which point you start using language that would make Samuel L. Jackson blush as you contemplate dropping the damn thing off the Bill Emerson Bridge on your way to pick up film and a new typewriter ribbon — except you can’t, because you pretty much have to order typewriter ribbons online. Kind of like how you have to download a slide rule app for your iPhone, because video killed the radio star. Or something. You kids get off my lawn.

Anyway, while I was rummaging through a flash drive last night in search of the one folder of images I was sure I’d backed up and absolutely could not stand the thought of losing, I ran across a keeper I’d scanned a little over 10 years ago, when I was still using 35mm:

vega

 

Ron shot this during the weekend in 2003 when we repainted the sign at the now-shuttered Vega Motel on Route 66 in the Texas Panhandle. Last time I was through there, a little over a year ago, the sign still looked pretty good. It’s probably in better shape than some of the buildings at this point.

Emily

 


Eco-Saturday: Switchplate insulators

January 18, 2014

When I was little bitty, we lived in a huge, drafty old house that was in the process of being renovated. During the bitterly cold winter of 1978-’79, that house was unbearably cold, and Mom did absolutely everything she could think of to try to seal out the drafts and keep us warm. One of her projects involved recycling styrofoam meat trays into insulation for the electrical outlets. Thirty-five years later, it’s still a good project, especially for outlets on exterior walls, where the space around the sockets traps cold air.

I like this project because it doesn’t cost anything and can be done in a matter of minutes.

switch1

1. Start by removing the switchplates you want to insulate. You’ll use them as patterns.

switch2

2. Lay the switchplates on the styrofoam trays and trace around them with a pen.

switch3

3. Cut them out. On the outside edges, don’t cut along the lines; just use them as guides to cut about an eighth of an inch inside them.

switch4

4. Check the fit. If the styrofoam doesn’t fit inside the switchplate, trim the edges until it does.

switch5

5. For light-switch covers, cut out the openings and use a pen to make holes for the screws to go in. For outlets, instead of poking a hole for the screw, completely remove the narrow strip of styrofoam between the two openings.

6. Slip the styrofoam insulator into the back of the switchplate and screw it back onto the wall.

This works best with fairly thin styrofoam. The pink tray you see above worked fine; the green one was a little too thick and made the switchplate stick out from the wall.

Emily


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