I read this article with great interest, as it touches on a lot of the reasons I’m not teaching anymore: a highly respected professor of organic chemistry, the man who literally wrote the book on the subject, was fired by NYU because students felt he was grading too hard. (archive link) His students got together and petitioned the university and their response, instead of upholding the academic standards of the institution, was to end his contract.

“I think this petition was written more out of unhappiness with exam scores than an actual feeling of being treated unfairly,” wrote Mr. Benslimane, now a Ph.D. student at Harvard. “I have noticed that many of the students who consistently complained about the class did not use the resources we afforded to them.”

My experience felt very similar in the last two semesters I taught design: there was no desire to learn, just to get a passing grade to continue on to the next class. I’m terrified what kind of doctors this program will produce.

Date posted: October 6, 2022 | Filed under teaching | Leave a Comment »

Hazel is at the vet this morning for a two-for-one deal: an x-ray to check on her pelvis, and to be spayed. They told us they’d have to put her under to do the x-ray so we figured we’d have them take care of her girl parts while she was out cold. Because nothing says Enjoyable Holiday Season more than a dog in heat.  When she gets back home she’s on crate rest again (OH JOY) for a couple of weeks, and we have to find a way to get her down the stairs to pee without busting her stitches or throwing out our backs. I think maybe I’m going to bolt the slide from Finn’s playset to the back stairs so she can just walk out there and pretend she’s evacuating from a burning airliner.

* * *

The new windows in the dining room and living room are awesome. It’s currently 30˚ in Catonsville. I was sitting in the dining room catching up on email this morning, and I noticed that the back of my neck wasn’t cold. It’s downright toasty in there now. With the perimeter winter proofing I did last winter and the new windows this year, there are no air currents blowing leaves around in there, and the heat from the radiator actually stays in the room. The living room windows are also tight, although I still need to caulk the edges to seal off the gaps. And I have to haul a huge pile of stuff to the dump—12 windows, stacks of old lumber, and a half ton of pig-iron window weights, all stacked not-so-neatly on the front porch.

Looking back at that link, I see the picture and I’m reminded that I haven’t been called upon to teach for two semesters now, and most likely won’t be for next semester. I’m a little conflicted by this, because while I enjoyed teaching I’m relieved that I’m not spending every weekend thinking about and worried by what’s due in the next class, or looking at a mountain of grading on the dining room table. I suspect this is because the schedules don’t work out; from what little we know, the class times that work best for me are high in demand by full-time faculty, so I haven’t been called up. Either way, I’m enjoying the break.

Date posted: November 13, 2019 | Filed under hazel, house, teaching | Leave a Comment »

Saturday Karean and Zachary were coming over the bridge to hang out with us, so Finn and I went out and did some grocery shopping for lunch and dinner, came back and prepared everything, cleaned up the house, and organized our gear. Finn set up her lemonade stand while I was prepping food, and made about $10 in an hour and a half.

It was sunny and warm so we thought we’d take them to the pool. They have a set of built-in barbecue grilles there so that it’s easy to bring food in and cook it on the spot, so I figured some standard burgers and dogs and a salad would be perfect for the day. It was a little more crowded than our first visit but the kids hit the pool and stayed in while Karean and I caught up under an umbrella. It was great to catch up with them, and we have dates set aside for rock fishing on the Bay, some baseball games, and camping in the late summer.

We got sugar back on our menu on Saturday, which led us directly to bacon. Most bacon is filled with nitrates as preservatives, which we’ve always tried to avoid anyway. Some of the nitrate-free bacons have turbinado sugar added along with celery salt for their preservative properties, which meant even when we could have pork we couldn’t have bacon. It’s a cruel, callous joke. But Sunday was a banner day: I woke and made 4 lbs. of hash browns and nine links of bacon, and we had a fatty, starchy breakfast of VICTORY. Next up we get chocolate, which is awesome except for the fact that most chocolates have other stuff we’re not allowed to have in them, or are processed next to gluten and soy. I’m just going to pour the cacao and sugar directly into my mouth.

The rest of Sunday was slow and easy. We did some shopping to find Finley a new case for her iPad but struck out at all five stores we tried. Her focus was solely on a PopSocket, those round things that mount to the back of a phone; I think this was because she’d seen them on her friends’ phones and HAD TO HAVE ONE. So we dragged ourselves home, hit up Amazon and found her a case and the PopSocket she wanted and ordered them for delivery. After that I took a nap for about two hours in the afternoon; I was wiped out after navigating the newer, brighter, more confusing Target and crashing from the onslaught of starch and pork fat.

* * *

I got an email letting me know I could review my student course reviews while I was at the pool, and in a free moment I looked them over. Frankly, I was dismayed by the polarized feedback I got from the class; there were some folks who seemed to appreciate the class and some who had nothing good to say. Strangely the thing that got me the most was people complaining about having to print out their work each week and how expensive it was; this from students bringing $5 Starbucks cups into class on a regular basis. It’s a good time to step away. 

Date posted: June 10, 2019 | Filed under friends, teaching | Leave a Comment »

Grading is complete, grades are submitted, and all my grading sheets are in the Outbox. The last step is to shoot some pictures of student work and then drop it off at the university.


Stuff I accomplished this weekend, in no particular order:

  • Took a load of stuff to the dump; my nostalgia/hoarding filter is extremely thin right now, so I finally chucked a bunch of stuff I swore I was going to save to “use later,” including two of our old kitchen cabinets I had to take off the wall to be able to fit the fridge. Little by little, the basement is clearing out (aided in no small part by a trip to goodwill last weekend). I still need to figure out where to dump the old CR-V hood, two Scout brake drums and a spare steel wheel; the dump doesn’t take car parts of any kind.
  • Mulched the rest of the front bed with Jen. This also allowed us to find several of the gladiolus bulbs poking through the soil that we’d planted a couple of weeks ago. Success!
  • Ran over to Christi & Glenn’s house to pick up my ladder, which they’ve had in their garage since last fall. While I was there Glenn and I crawled up on their garage and removed about 30 pine boughs from the tree behind it, which were sitting directly on the slate, as well as about 6″ of pine needles stuck in the snow catchers. We threw all the boughs into the yard of the retirement community behind them, who haven’t pruned their trees in decades.
  • Replanted a bunch of marigolds from the big pots Finn and I had planted them in to separate singles, and learned you have to pinch off everything past the first two pair of leaves to promote blooms and keep them from getting leggy.
  • I was taken down by a stomach ache Saturday afternoon, probably from the sushi we’d had the night before, and had to lay down for a nap until dinnertime.
  • Cleaned the gutters over the new bathroom, which were completely filled with helicopters and sprouts from the sugar maple in the driveway. Which is living on borrowed time, because I emailed a signed contract to the tree removal service on Sunday in the hopes we can get it taken down in the next couple of weeks. I’m also hopeful they can drop it and leave the wood away from the central part of the driveway so I can get our cars in and out.
  • Fertilized and trimmed all of the tomatoes back. I’ve been using a different method of pollination and it seems to work better; it’s basically just flicking the flowers with a finger for about 10 seconds. I’ve been pretty lethal about cutting stray shoots and old growth back, and the plants are still alive, so that’s a relief. The romas by the door have gone absolutely crazy—there’s at least 14 tomatoes working on that plant alone.
  • Took an hour or so with Jen to wrap the grape arbor with netting to try and save as many of the new shoots as possible. This involved cutting half of the old netting away and attaching the new netting to the remainder; picking grapes later in the season will be interesting.
  • Rebuilt the edging around the herb bed, which dates back to 2004 or so. One side had collapsed, so we picked up new wood on Saturday and I had the new bed complete by Sunday afternoon.
  • Disassembled and cleaned out the A/C units for our bedrooms, which were disgusting. This prompted me to look into ductless air conditioning systems, something that could be a workable, cost effective alternative to heavy window units or rehabbing the whole house for central A/C. The system uses a single compressor outside and relies on thin hoses that go up the side of the house into wall-mounted units in each room. This avoids installing a giant air handler in the attic and a bunch of ducts in the ceiling; while having an appliance bolted to the wall of each bedroom isn’t the most attractive approach, it’s a hell of a lot better than plugging up the windows. If I’m serious about a home equity loan to finish the bathroom, this might be the other thing we spend on to raise our quality of life.
Date posted: May 28, 2019 | Filed under greenhouse, honda, list, teaching | Leave a Comment »

I spent most of Saturday grading student work at the dining room table, attempting to ignore my stomach. I was able to get through eight resubmissions of the first project, six of the second, and about six final projects by noon on Sunday. It’s been somewhat faster going than previous years because I’m taking advantage of the Mac’s dictation feature, which does a reasonableJob of understanding. What I am talkingAbout (real-world results). Still, it’s faster than pecking out a bunch of feedback and I can do it stream-of-consciousness style which means I’m not stopping and starting my thoughts. What the hell was I just saying?

* * *

The Elimination Diet has been going OK, if not a bit challenging. Breakfast is the worst time of day because the smoothies we’re drinking are delicious but fuel me for about seven minutes and then I’m back to BACON EGG AND CHEESE HANGRY. We’re usually having leftovers of some kind for lunch and then we make something new for dinner so there is some variety; we got beef back yesterday and I am here for it. Because I’m generally grazing lightly during the day, it’s the 10-12AM and 3-5PM hours that are the hardest. There is nothing I’m allowed to snack on other than carrots and air, and air holds me longer than carrots do.

Next up we get pork, which will be nice, but we don’t get bacon back until we can have sugar (nitrates are verboten but there are some brands that are cured with sugars) and that’s after three long weeks of various nuts. I’ll tell you this: when I get cashews and almonds back, I’m going to eat a dump truck full of those fuckers.

* * *

I dropped a pile of stuff off at the Goodwill this afternoon, some stuff that made me sad to leave behind: My old Nikon D70, battered and scratched but still able to take pictures at 2004-era quality, the old IKEA dishes I had in my house in Baltimore, and the Onkyo receiver Renie gifted me around the same era, sadly retired for want of HDMI inputs.

Speaking of that, I brought Dad’s big Denon head unit home and set that up a couple of weeks ago, then reconfigured the entire A/V setup in the den to work with it. The results are stunning. I mentioned setting up his center channel speaker earlier, but I really noticed the difference when Finn and I were watching Isle of Dogs this past week: in a section of the movie the characters walk from left to right and the sound followed them across the speakers. It almost makes me want to have rear-channel sp…never mind. 

Date posted: May 19, 2019 | Filed under life, teaching | Leave a Comment »

As of Monday night, the word is that I’m not teaching in the fall. I’d been offered a nighttime class way back in February via email but hadn’t heard anything from the department since then, and two chaser emails went unanswered. Annoyed, I asked the woman in charge yesterday before class and she noncommittally told me their enrollment was full and things looked liked they were locked in. Thanks for the update.

Class has been pretty good the last couple of weeks, so it’s a bittersweet feeling. I still enjoy helping the students grow and learn, and I enjoy the challenge of art direction without telling them exactly what to do, but all of the administrative BS that’s been happening leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. Oh, and there’s that pile of grading I’ve got to get through too.

* * *

The whole family is on an elimination diet for the next two months in search of any foods that we might be allergic to. For me, it’s more about seeing what my body reacts better to without a gall bladder. This involves going cold turkey on pretty much everything we’re used to eating and (for the adults) doing two days of a “detox” meal plan. What this means is basic homemade smoothies and soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then we go to a limited diet where we can eat some stuff like wild rice, chicken, and some fish. No wheat, processed sugars, caffeine, alcohol, meat, citrus or dairy. Over the next two months, we slowly introduce these things back into our diets every three or four days, checking to see how they affect us.

Jen and I started on Friday and made it through the detox by Sunday; after two days of constant headaches and debilitating joint pain, our bodies had gotten used to the new diet and in my case aren’t missing coffee as much. During chemo and both surgeries I had gone to decaf until early winter, and then I was back on the horse.

We’re now able to eat simple chicken and fish meals until we start introducing other stuff. For me, morning coffee has been the hardest thing to give up, followed by baked products of any kind. I’m a carb fiend so when I need quick energy I go for bread or pastry. Smoothies are pretty good in the morning but they don’t fuel me like a bagel or yogurt & granola do. I also tend to graze during the day, which makes hunger that much harder to ignore; my go-to snacks are things like nuts, which give me a protein boost.

* * *

I was invited to brew some beer this coming weekend, which sounds great, but half of the fun brewing beer is drinking beer while you’re brewing your beer. Jen convinced me to go anyway, so I ordered an IPA kit from Northern Brewer on Sunday. I’ve also got two new (used) pots from Dad’s basement that I brought home with me which could be excellent replacements for the oversized Blichmann I bought used a couple of years ago. These are professional kitchen-grade aluminum, which apparently conducts heat much faster than stainless, but they’re both in good shape. I picked the taller and skinnier of the two and scrubbed it out this weekend. I also came home with a leave-in turkey frying thermometer which will come in handy, and Dad’s turkey burner, which looks similar to the one I’ve got. I figure by the time the 4th of July rolls around I should be able to have this new batch kegged and ready to drink, which is good because the grapefruit IPA is just about kicked.

Date posted: May 1, 2019 | Filed under brewing, teaching | Leave a Comment »

I had a bin full of projects from my UMBC class sitting at my desk waiting to be graded last weekend. Saturday was all about the greenhouse, and Sunday started out rainy, so I spread them out on the coffee table and dug in. By 1PM I was about halfway through and by 6 I had grading sheets written out, grades entered, and printouts ready for proofing. That’s the first time I’ve turned grades around in one week, but it was worth the effort. I’ve got several students in danger of failing who needed the feedback as soon as possible, and I’m going to be tapped out for the next two weekends with other commitments.

* * *

We’re gearing up for a huge event at work, being held at Hudson Yards in New York City two weeks from now. It’s a huge deal for WRI because it’s our biennial fundraiser and this year we’re honoring one of our biggest donors in the middle of his largest project, which as of right now isn’t even finished yet. I’ve been tapped to assemble and oversee the video backdrop for the whole thing, as well as all of the printed visuals, and take photos on the night before and the night of the event. It’s exciting and interesting and will be a challenge to execute, but right now it’s taken over everything else I’m doing at work–which is itself an above-average workload.

* * *

Finley’s business is moving forward through profit and investment; she’s increased her net to $21 through a second day of sales, completed a page of color studies, and is now ready to go to final on her logo. I had a long chat with her about profit, loss, and partnership after she mentioned she’d made a friend a co-owner of the business. Digging deeper, I got her to tell me she’d invited a friend to work the stand with her, which sounds great, but I asked if she was going to split the profits as she’d done before. When she told me that was her plan, we got into a discussion about profit-sharing with partners who don’t invest the same amount (I’ve been teaching her about re-investing her profits into supplies as a way to teach her basic business skills) and after a couple of examples I got her to see that maybe giving half of her profit away to friends who just come and hang out might not be the best business model.

Date posted: April 3, 2019 | Filed under teaching | Leave a Comment »

The New York Times (apologies, paywall) did an article on “snowplow parenting,” a new term that describes a parenting style beyond helicopter parenting:

It starts early, when parents get on wait lists for elite preschools before their babies are born and try to make sure their toddlers are never compelled to do anything that may frustrate them. It gets more intense when school starts: running a forgotten assignment to school or calling a coach to request that their child make the team.

Later, it’s writing them an excuse if they procrastinate on schoolwork, paying a college counselor thousands of dollars to perfect their applications or calling their professors to argue about a grade.

Jen and I have struggled with the appropriate amount of parenting oversight since Finn was born. On one hand we are free-range adherents, and believe she should fall down and get up on her own. On the other hand, we are terrified of anything that might happen to her and not being able to shelter her from the evils of the world, because she is our only daughter. I understand the instinctive urge to seal her in a bubble until whatever magical time we decide she’s fit to face the modern world, but I know this will cripple her emotionally, physically, and psychologically.

A few weeks ago a friend of hers rode her bike over to our house after school, and the two of them played at the house for a while. Then they asked if they could ride bikes to the playground across the street, which Jen and I both agreed to. After they were down the road and out of sight, Jen and I admitted we were both freaking out a little bit; this was the first time we’d let Finn ride her bike out of sight, without us, across the road. But as we talked about it, we both had to remind ourselves that we had been riding farther than this on our own a at a younger age, and she’s not going to learn or grow independent without us trusting her.

That trust can be hard to come by. We are currently struggling with where the line is between being involved and letting her fall down on her own. There are certain things that require us to step in (do your homework, remember to bring home your report card, etc.) where failure will set her up on a bad path for the future. But there are other places where we’ve backed off to let her fail on her own and suffer the consequences in the hopes that it will WAKE HER THE FUCK UP. As I look back to my own struggles with responsibility at her age, I know that it’s something she needs to step up and accept on her own, but I hope to god it doesn’t come as late in life as it did for me. And the lectures are getting tiring.

* * *

Sixteen percent of those with children in college had texted or called them to wake them up so they didn’t sleep through a class or test. Eight percent had contacted a college professor or administrator about their child’s grades or a problem they were having.

I recently ran into a similar issue while teaching. I’m not sharing details but suffice it to say someone revved up the plow.

When I found out I was accepted at college, found out how much it would cost, and understood what was at stake, I took the entire experience seriously. My parents, god love them, had no idea what I was doing from month to month unless I called them from the pay phone in the hall outside our dorm room. I knew it was my responsibility to get to class on time, turn my work in on time, talk to my professors about issues I was having, and get the best grades possible, because this was my one shot to stay out of a waiter’s uniform or a manual labor job. I didn’t bug them with issues about grades or money or relationships, even though I had issues with all three, but I was damn proud to show them my grades at the end of each semester.

I cannot imagine calling a professor or a dean to complain on behalf of my daughter. If she was being abused or exploited I’d certainly be doing more than picking up a phone, but her grades are her grades. It’s up to us to teach her to value her education and to have agency in her own life; the teachers are there to build on that.

Date posted: March 23, 2019 | Filed under general, teaching | Leave a Comment »

So I had a long list of stuff I wanted to tackle over the Christmas break. I thought, “I’ll have seven full days to get all of this done! No problem!” And suddenly it was day 6 and I was still in my pajamas from Christmas Day and there were still boxes and piles of wrapping paper on the floor and I hadn’t done a thing. 

I did get to spend a ton of quality time with Finn and Jen, and for that I am grateful. It’s rare I get to be with them all day without involving some kind of errand or job around the house, so it was really nice to devote hours to building LEGO robots or playing on the XBOX. 

That having been said, I have a list of shit I need to accomplish in the next couple of weeks:

Clone the hard drive on my work laptop and upgrade it to High Sierra. I was given a second-hand Mac a few years back with a tiny 128GB drive, and one of the first things I did was replace it with an off-brand drive. It turns out that the latest flavor of OSX doesn’t like some of these drives. This means I’ve got to repeat this process for three other laptops at work. It’s  important because the latest versions of Creative Cloud won’t install on Mojave, which is what three of the four machines I’m responsible for are running. I did rebuild the intern’s laptop, which is a start. I have to put together a High Sierra install thumb drive and continue this project over next weekend. Done. Needed to be Mojave, though.

Get the Accord emissions checked, and then get the rear brakes fixed. The former is easy, but the latter may wait a little while, as the Oh-Shit fund evaporated when we had to replace the refrigerator, and Nox had to go in to the vet for some expensive tests this week. Done and done.

Shoot pictures of student work on the light table. I’m giving all of their work back but I need to have some record of what they did and how it looked. Luckily the table is still assembled in the basement so it should be a pretty simple workflow to build. I did this! It didn’t take that long and I got the most important pieces shot.

Clean the Scout seat belt tensioner. It’s getting harder to pull over my shoulder these days, which means the mechanism inside is dirty and needs to be opened and serviced. I did this! It took 15 minutes and made a HUGE difference.

Continue pulling toe moulding off the kickplates and caulking the gaps. I do notice a difference in the dining room wearing socks now, but the house is still drafty.

Rewrite my syllabus. Having a class under my belt after an absence of a year, I realize there’s a lot of stuff they need to know and a lot of stuff I need to overhaul. The syllabus I inherited is probably 10 years old and besides being boring it focuses on the wrong stuff. I’m going to narrow the parameters of the assignment so that I can expand what I’m covering (grids and guides, best practices, color, presentation, craft, production, etc.) because it sounds like they’re not getting half of this in their previous classes. I’m also going to add in an earlier grading point so that they’ve got an idea of how they’re doing earlier in the process. 

Date posted: January 1, 2019 | Filed under apple, general, house, teaching | Leave a Comment »


I spent most (well, almost all) of a rainy Sunday at the dinner table grading final products for UMBC, which always takes longer than I think it will. I got all but two finished by 11:30 but by then my brain and my typing fingers were toast. I got the remainder finished by 9:30 this morning, which is a huge relief. There’s just one student’s work files I can’t review for stupid technical reasons, but other than that everything is done and ready to submit. 

On Saturday I spent most of the day pulling toe moulding off the walls in the den, the office, and the dining room in order to caulk the gap between the bottom of the kickplate and the floor. When we had the energy audit in January it looked like we were losing a lot of heat at the bottom of the floors, so this looked like an easy way to seal things up. First I did the den, which always feels colder than the rest of the house, and I can definitely feel a difference around the door and perimeter of the room. The office is still a question mark because I have to pull the giant heavy file cabinet away from the east wall to seal up that edge, but I found a section right under my desk where there was a 1/2″ gap letting cold air flow right in. The dining room is also up in the air because of the stupid janky front window that we haven’t replaced yet. 

I’m going to follow up with a couple of the bedrooms upstairs, starting with Finley’s, during the Christmas break, and see if I can make more of an immediate impact. 

Date posted: December 17, 2018 | Filed under house, teaching | Leave a Comment »