Monday, April 12, 2010

Dog and pony whine and mutton chop express

I was beside myself with frustration yesterday to come home around 3pm (on a Sunday!) and realize a whole weekend had gone by without a single important chore or project being done, and that I was too tired to do anything, even if there had been time.

How I hate weekend work!

One of the huge potential advantages and disadvantages of the academic profession is the requirement to make some kind of contribution, hopefully useful, to society in general. In my case this has me doing lots of things, but what I call the "dog and pony show" is the most common manifestation. This is when some civic group wants a talk. Talks are often on evenings and weekends, because that is when the civic group meets.

But evenings and weekends are when I must do farm chores and tend to sheep and gardens and machines and buildings. And if I don't attend to these things, well, eventually bad things start to happen around here.

Even so, I generally accept invitations to give talks. It seems to be part of the job, part of the price you must pay for the privilege of being a public thinker. But I often regret it.

Aimee says I accept too many, and don't notice when they pile up on my schedule. She may be right. There are also vast differences in the quality and receptiveness of audiences. I've traveled a hundred miles in a day to give a talk on energy efficiency weatherization and retrofit for the home to a Grange hall group of nine old ladies and one old gentleman, and on the long drive back realized that not one of those old ladies had the slightest intention of ever remodeling their homes for energy or indeed for anything, ever again in the remainder of their lives. I generally think that the Grange is a worthwhile organization, especially in rural areas like ours. But it is aging and anachronistic in some ways. And the Grange system requires an educational talk for every meeting, and each group has an officer in charge of scheduling talkers, and so public academics like me are easy prey. In this particular case any sober assessment would have to admit that it was a complete waste of everyone's time.

That was probably the worst case, but there have been plenty of others just like it. I don't think I would mind nearly as much giving up on a weekend or part of a weekend if the audience were receptive and likely to usefully employ the information.

The other thing I need to think about is getting enough rest from the classroom. Counting lab work with classes and dog and ponies for last week, I was up to 26 or 27 full contact hours. (A contact hour is the measure of how much time an academic spends in front of the class or leading activities.) The norm for Unity College is about 15. High school teachers regularly do 30 and up, but a large amount of that is supervising student work in the classroom, which is not at all the same thing as giving a lecture or running a technical lab or engineering activity, which is what I tend to do for my contact hours.

So. By the end of my last talk on Sunday I was exhausted, grumpy, in a hurry, skipping material and making mistakes. So I made a basic error in teaching a topic I've taught for nearly 30 years. And then drove home upset by this and have thought about it constantly ever since.

I suppose this is starting to sound like a whine, and it probably is a whine. But maybe I feel a little better for writing it anyway. What's the point of having a blog if you can't occasionally file a complaint in the great and totally random suggestion box that is the Internet.

And clearly, on reflection now that I've written this, I need to be more careful about how many dog and ponies I accept, and of what quality and usefulness. The Grange will have to go a long way, for instance, to convince me that it's worth driving more than twenty or fifteen miles to give a talk. And I think I will stop accepting talks for the same day or consecutive days. Especially after a busy week.

Boy, I really am looking forward to next weekend. So far, nothing is scheduled. Let's keep it that way!

The one chore that I did get done, apart from feeding and watering which always gets done, was to go get the mutton from Larkie from the butchers. Thinking that I had more than enough roasts left in the freezer, too many perhaps, I had asked for ground lamb, sausage with garlic, and mutton chops. There were about ten pounds each of sausage, and a huge box of chops. All was perfectly wrapped, vacuum-sealed and flash frozen as usual. The price for the butchering service was $65, an extra $15 because of the extra grinding.

The chops had a huge amount of fat on them, well over an inch in some cases. Poor old Larkie was in prime shape for being a mom. I've seem that much fat on pork chops, but never on lamb. I wonder what it will taste like.

I've never had a mutton chop, not as far as I know. When I had to cull Abraram in the fall, I ground him up completely for burger and sausage, no chops. I thought he'd be too stinky. But in the end the meat wasn't very gamey at all. I've had tons of lamb chops of course, so I suppose I might have had "mutton dressed as lamb" and not known it.

I'm interested to try. But since I have about a quart of curry and half a large shepherds pie left to eat in the fridge, it will take a few days.

Our freezer has enough meat in it for another year already, and the growing season hasn't even started yet.

I guess that must mean that we are succeeding at growing plenty of food on this part-time farm, even if I do lose a few weekends here and there to the odd dog and pony. And Aimee of course, got all her chores done, and some projects, especially in the greenhouse and kitchen, where she has plant starts started and extra bread baked.

So things could be a heck of a lot worse. Roll on Friday, though.

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