Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It's a rough job, but someone's got to do it...

So last Saturday I taught a class on Carolingian Life and Culture. I had a good time- I love teaching, and it's a subject that I (*cough*) know fairly well. Started with a bit of history, the movement of the barbarian tribes through Europe, and rise of the Franks, the Merovingians, Charles Martel, Pepin, and of course, Charlemagne. His expansions, and the basics of his reign. Then we looked at pretty pictures of architecture, an bunch of pictures of clothes, and then of Frankish 'bling'. Lots of bling.

My handouts weren't as nice as I would have liked, as I need to learn some different software- Word Perfect and Word don't really make photo-heavy handouts well. I ended up doing a lot of manual cut-and-paste. And I had the help of two two-year-olds. But they served the purpose.

I'm usually happy about my teaching- I love being up at the blackboard, and I think I'm good at it. And I generally think that my students get something out of it.

The University of Ithra (The Kingdom of An Tir's internal university system) has students fill out evaluation forms at the end of the class- there's several categories to rate in, and space for comments. The rating goes from Inadequate (basically a D), to Adequate (C), Good (B) and Excellent (A). I usually receive Excellents, with the occasional Good. And that is what I got Saturday... except for one. I got my first Adequate. All the way across. And the comments were rather sharp. The person clearly expected something that they did not get (mostly technical stuff about the clothing) and it left me wondering if they had actually read the class description.

So I got a bunch of good rating, and one not-so-good. And which one am I obsessing over? Yeah- the not good one. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and that someone doesn't think highly of my teaching really bothers me. It's like telling Daniel Day-Lewis that his acting is 'meh'

So I have this to work through. I'm judging at the Arts and Sciences Championship this Saturday, and I'm teaching another Ithra class in April- part one of the Survey of the Middle Ages series. Hopefully I'll have my confidence back, and feel good about teaching again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


So cars and I have a... complicated relationship. I'm not especially mechanically inclined. I consider myself to be a fairly informed driver, but if you told me that the hydraulics on the catalytic conversion belt fuse motors needed to be polarized, I *might* believe you. Except that I'm pretty sure that Zippy the Wonder Volvo doesn't have them...

The first car that was really mine was a '73 Ford Club Wagon van. It looked pretty much like this, minus the bumper stickers and kid smudges in the windows:

I loved that van. It was a hard-working beastie, and even though it had no name, it was a fine, fine member of the family. I hauled kids in it, laundry, furniture, camping gear, groceries... I once packed 8 actors, out overnight gear, sets, props, and costumes in it, drove 300 miles, performed, and drove 300 miles back, and no one died. We lost the gas cap on that trip, but it was easily replaced. Pretty much anything was easily replaced. And I once did an emergency repair on the way to an event, with a pair of tweezers from my makeup kit. The only major  un-tire-related incident was when a radiator hose that ran under the dash on the passenger side broke, spraying a then-8-year-old Annie with hot radiator fluid. (I could happily go the rest of my life without hearing screams like that. And that was when I found out just how fast I could run a quarter mile, for help. And what the inside of an ambulance looked like.) That was beyond horrible.

She was a tank, and I really wasn't afraid in traffic. Once I was out with a friend, and I had to back the van up, and hit a light pole. It was lined up exactly where the center of the back doors was, and though I could see the light, I could not see the pole. So it was a surprise when I heard the SLAM! My friend turned to me and said "I think you hit something." I was tempted to make that two somethings. We got out to check the damage. There was a huge chunk out of the pole, with lots of splintering left behind. Looked at the bumper... a smear of creosote, and that was it. Van 1, PGE 0.

The major drawback? 10 mph, rain or shine, empty or full. It burned regular, leaded gas. It started to get hard to find leaded gas about the same time that it began to be difficult to keep her up. At 350,000 miles I finally conceded defeat and put an ad in the paper. I was very honest about her, but I got a call, and a couple came over, with their teenaged son. They were Russian immigrants, and had 8 kids and needed a big rig. Their son was in mechanic school, and was pretty sure he could keep it running. It had fairly new retreads. I got $300 for it. Considering we'd paid $800 for it when we got it, I thought it was a fair price, and my mechanic agreed.

Funny thing was, about a year, maybe two later, my then-boyfriend were out and about, when he suddenly whistled and said "Look in the rear view mirror." It was a Ford Club Wagon... with a certain dent in the front right corner, above the grill. She was still on the road! I felt warm and happy to see that. Someone else was giving her love...

My next van wasn't so great. '72 Chevy van, also blue.  I spent a lot of money keeping her running, including two transmission rebuilds. She got better mileage, 15 mpg on unleaded. She had her weirdnesses; there was a hole in the floor between the front seats, there was a chunk of plywood over it. The sliding side door fell OFF one day when I was leaving the grocery. I managed to wrestle it back on (by myself) but I never trusted it after. The driver's door lock was temperamental- sometimes it would freeze closed, sometimes open. I had to carry a length of rope just in case. The muffler fell off one day. There was water that leaked into the dash inexplicably, and the windshield was often wet inside. And one day I 'ran out of gas' with a full tank; it turned out that the switch to the auxiliary tank had been somehow moved, and there wasn't any gas in that tank.

This is the van that managed to hit three cars in our parking lot- and I wasn't even in it! I was on my way to a meeting, realized I'd forgotten some materials, went back for them. I pulled into my parking spot, slammed it in park, jumped out and ran into the house, with the motor still running. I was rummaging in my stuff when I heard a couple of loud bangs. I went out to see what was going on, only to see the van on the far side of the parking lot. Apparently I'd not gotten the gearshift all the way into Park, it had popped into Reverse, and backed it's way through the parking lot, hitting three cars on the way, with varying degrees of damage. Took me hours to track down all of the owners and get them my insurance information. (I missed my meeting.) And the look on my insurance agent's face when I told him what happened was priceless.

But it was that van that carried me and a pile of girls to many SCA events. The radio didn't work, so they sang to amuse themselves. They got really good, and were popular at bardics. It was that van that has a flat on the way to an event, at something like 1 in the morning. We limped into a rest area, dug the spare out from under our gear, and the girls learned how to change a tire, with Kelly doing the heavy stuff. The spare was really low, and we had to find a gas station and get air, which wasn't easy from the Santiam rest area. We got there, and got to site about 3 am...

The van finally got too mercurial to drive, and I sold it to an ex-boyfriend with mixed feelings. He in turn sold it to someone else. Sort of. A couple of years later I got a nasty letter from the City of Concord, California. I had to look it up. It was in the Bay Area. They said that my van had been abandoned there and I had to pay umpty-gazillion fines. Apparently the couple who bought it never got around to transferring the title and registration.Well, I didn't own it anymore, so I got Oregon DMV to write a letter from , saying just that, and I added in my letter to them that frankly, I was astounded that it had made through the mountains and that far south. And that was the last I heard of Ol' Blue.

Wanda and I then found a Subaru wagon, silver, that I named Gringolet. I'd only just put the SCA stickers (the 'emergency roadside assistance', as SCAdians have a habit of stopping to help each other) when it developed a problem with the rings. Sold it, and bought Zippy.

Zippy is an '82 Volvo 245 Diesel wagon, an odd color somewhere between brown and black. She is wonderful and I love her very much. I've been driving her for about 12 years, and we know each other well. She has her quirks. We had to re-route the switch to the glow-plugs, so now she has a push button. The latch to the glove compartment gave up the ghost a couple of years ago; she would occasionally say Hi! to passengers, smacking their knees if they were tall. I glued a velcro strip on it so now it stays shut. Once in awhile the wipers are sentient, and they'll swipe once and then stop, and awhile later swipe again- erratically, not like they're on the intermittent (which doesn't work anymore). The A/C doesn't work. The overdrive doesn't work. The radio doesn't work. We got rear-ended in front of Powell's a few years back- took forever to find a replacement, and then it took three men, two hours, and a crowbar and lots of cursing to get the smashed one off.

She has seatbelt for 5, but that requires #5 to be really skinny, and very close and personal with #3 and 4. With the back seat folded down, she can hold an AMAZING amount to stuff. (Apparently Hermione used the Undetectable Extension charm on it.) We added ski racks on top, and a fair amount of my tourney gear goes on them. With my tetris packing skills, I can haul about as much as Amalric with his huge van.

Zippy has a broad array of stickers on her back hatch. UO stickers, of course, liberal Democrat stickers, including Obama stickers. There's lots of SCA and related stickers (even a Hwaet! sticker!) There's some liberal religious stickers. And there's a bunch of Harry Potter stickers; my favorite is "Constant Vigilance!" I can tell people which car is mine by saying "the dark Volvo wagon with all the stickers". And they know exactly which one it is.

And while others have a hula girl on the dash, or a plastic Jesus or Mary, I have a Harry Potter action figure on the dash, sitting between the dried roses (left over from Gabriel's vigil). Passengers have a thing for playing with Harry, and when we got rear-ended, after asking Wanda if she was alright, I looked over at Harry, and he was sitting there as pretty as you please, as though he wanted to reassure me that we were ok. And we were, except for the hatch, and the bogus info that the guy that hit us gave Wanda.

I like old cars. They need fixing more, but they can be fixed, and without resorting to computers. And they are friendly and affectionate. Could you imagine naming one of those new boxes Zippy? Ain't gonna happen.

And there's not enough room for stickers.