August 2007

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Disclaimer: If you don’t work at or aren’t familiar with Juniata College, this post won’t mean much to you. You have been warned.

On the day we moved into our new house (Aug, 2) we met our neighbor Sheila; within moments of pulling into the drive, actually. In the weeks since then, we have had dinner at her lake cottage (where we met her husband Jim, formally of DePauw’s History Department) and she and Lisa have begun walking together in the DePauw Nature park.

Anyway, as we were making our introductions, I let fly that I was on sabbatical from Juniata College. Sheila responded by saying that she and Jim knew an Ellis granddaughter who was a history major with them at Wooster College. Apparently, this granddaughter was editor of the yearbook and had an office right across form the newspaper where Sheila and Jim took turns being the editor.

“Wow,” I said. “The Ellis’ are a big name on campus.”

And, with that stunning insight on my part, the subject changed. I didn’t think to ask the name for the person, of course. But, the next day as my echoic memory replayed the conversation in my head and the information slowly percolated through the thick rocky strata of my skull it occurred to me:

How many Ellis granddaughters can there be who were also historians?

Not many, I’d wager. The next time I saw Sheila I asked if that Ellis granddaughter was Juniata’s legendary Betty Anne Cherry.

“Yes. But we called her B.A.”

B.A. doesn’t stand for Bad Attitude anymore.

Lucille Beaty was 96 when she died. She and my Grandpa Rapheal Beaty had had four children, 10 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. For 50 of her years, she was the organist for the First Church of God in Lagrange, IN. My Grandpa Beaty died when I was three or four. I remember only snippets of him although he was the subject of one of my first illustrations (he owned a diner in LaGrange, IN and I drew him in a chef’s hat). My father’s parents died when my dad was seven. Grandma Beaty was the only grandparent I had for most of my life, but she was more than up to the task.

Those who knew her can attest to the fact that she knew her mind. She was supremely confident of her opinion and more than willing to share it in no uncertain terms. She never spoke in the passive voice. Her life was composed of active sentences.

On August 14th, I received an email from my brother-in-law, Russ, that Grandma was ill. My family had been trying to get a hold of us, but in typical fashion, I had forgotten to get them our new phone numbers and never checked the voice mail on our cell phone. They had to resort to the internet.

Grandma had been living for several years in an assisted living home, but on the 13th she had stopped eating and there was fluid in her lungs. She seemed to have made a decision that it was time. The doctors didn’t know how much time that would be, so the next morning I drove to see her. I hadn’t kept in very close communication with Grandma since moving to PA and I was afraid I was going to be too late. I wasn’t. When I walked in to see her, she was laying in the hospital bed they had wheeled into her room. I walked to the side f her bed and told her I was there.

“Jay?” she said and smiled at me.” Ooh, I thought I’d never see you again.”

I sat down beside her and held her hand. We sat that way talking for several hours. My Uncle Larry tried to get her to drink but she only wanted her lips swabbed with water. I dutifully complied. I joked with her, she told stories I’d never heard, I thanked her for my mom and we agreed that my mom and dad were pretty good parents. Through it all she held my hand. Tightly. It could easily be said that Grandma’s body didn’t have the endurance of her mind. Her faculties seemed so sharp even as bits and pieces of her stopped working. But make no mistake about this: she still had a grip. There was nothing cold and weak about her hands. They help mine as tightly as they ever had.

During the course of our discussion, the topic turned to teaching. Teaching sort of runs in our family. Grandma taught elementary school and I’m a college professor. She noticed I was wearing shorts.

“You don’t go bare-legged into the classroom, do you?” she asked.

I paused for a second. “What do you think, Grandma?”

“No,” she said with certainty.

“Well, actually,” I admitted, “I do when it’s hot out or I’m going outside for lab.”

“Oh, well, that’s OK, then,” she added quickly and confidently, patting my hand.

I loved my Grandma. I could do no wrong in her eyes, even when I did. I see those same concessions made for Max and Jack by their grandparents.

Leaving was the hardest thing to do. Our hands did not slip slowly apart as violins played. I didn’t think of the perfect thing to say. I clumsily shuffled away from her bed and looked down at her. We said good-bye. I kissed her three times and I said thank-you one last time.

She died peacefully at about 11pm Tuesday, August 21. She was ready. I wasn’t.

Read-o-rama

The biggest joy of sabbatical is having time to read. Below are the books I have had an opportunity to finish (that’s right – FINISH) since sabbatical began in the Spring. I have categorized them as a good little academic should. I will add to this as the year proceeds, but since I read at a glacial pace, the list probably won’t get too long.

Things I’m Reading Now
The Odyssey by Homer
Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants by Wolfgang Schivelbusch

Nonfiction
Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul by Edward Humes. An excellent account of the Dover Evolution/Intelligent Design trial. I’ll spoil it for you: the good guys win
Einstein by Walter Isaacson

Fiction
The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Graphic Novels
Bookhunter by Jason Shiga
Bizzaro’s World II: Anthology
Heartbreak Soup: Gilbert Hernandez
Maggie the Mechanic by Jaime Hernandez
Levitation Jim Ottaviani and Janine Johnston
Wire Mothers by Jim Ottaviani and Dylan Meconis
Epileptic by David B.
Apollo’s Song by Osamu Tezuka
Swamp Thing: The Curse By Alan Moore and Steve Bissette

Strips
The Complete Peanuts, 1961-1962 by Charles Schulz
Complete Popeye, Volume I by E.C. Segar

Long chapter books read to the boys
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Great Brain by by John D. Fitzgerald
Abel’s Island by William Steig
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread by Kate Dicamillo

August 17th was a lovely Friday and I was riding my bike across campus when I saw Wade and Kevin, two members of the biology department, walking my way. I slowed down to say hi, and when I did, I noticed several other faculty types wandering in our general direction. Since there usually isn’t anyone walking around when I’m riding in a 8:15, I asked Wade what was up.

“It’s Funny Friday,” he replied.

Apparently this is what they call the day of their Faculty Conference at DePauw. Of course, experience tells me that this is a ironic moniker, so I wished them well and prepared to leave.

“You gotta go, too, “ said Wade.

I protested that I was on sabbatical. He countered with the fact that I was a visiting faculty member and that they would probably introduce me along with all of the other new faculty. Now, as many of you know, the lure of public recognition is often more than I can resist. So, I joined Wade and Kevin and I heard my name read by the Neil Abrahms, the academic dean. Neat.

Then it was time for Dr. Bottoms to speak. Bob Bottoms has been the president of DePauw for twenty-one years. My sophomore year was his first year as president. It was also the first year of my career as a mediocre cartoonist. This is his last year and I’m back again.

He started his remarks by saying that there were a number of things that he had recently experienced that made him feel old. One of those was the return of me after all these years. Gulp. He pointed out to all assembled that as a student cartoonist I had had my share of fun at the expense of his administrations. And then he paused one of his trademark long pregnant pauses and looked in my direction.

“I hope you’ve grown out of that,” he said.

Everyone else thought that was a hoot. Later, I would feel quite flattered to be remembered, but at that moment I was too busy smiling sheepishly and wanting to run away.

The truth is, the institution is much better now than when I left it, and that is due in no small part to Dr. Bottom’s efforts. I guess I could find things to make fun of, but a lot has changed since I was here. In the mid 80′s I was paying him to be here. Now he’s paying me.

I guess I’ll give him the last laugh.

The boys started school on Tuesday, August 14th. Jack had an assessment meeting with his kindergarten teacher on Thursday the ninth. Unlike in PA, we sat in the room as his teacher Mrs. Whited ran him through a small battery of tests. Jack did fine, but he did have a few inspired moments worth noting. At one point in the interview, Mrs. Whited asked Jack if he could write his name. He could (and did).

“Can you write anything else?”
“I can write ‘Max’” volunteered Jack and he did.
“Can you write your last name?” asked Mrs. Whited.
“Oh, no,” replied Jack.
“Can you write anything else?”

Jack surveyed the room and his eyes fell on an illustrated alphabet ringing the crown moulding. For each letter there was a corresponding picture and word. After a slight pause, he told his teacher, “I can write Volcano.”
“Reeeally?’ asked Mrs. Whited.
“Oh, yes,” said Jack and he scurried back and forth between the picture and word volcano, mentally transferring one letter at time.

It was an impressive display of using reference material. I wish my college students were as resourceful. Of course, later in the assessment he was asked to rhyme a word with “cat” and he made the “huhh” sound for the letter “H.” There is still work to do.

Max was placed in Mrs. Cantonwine’s class and he enjoyed meeting her on 1st and 2nd grade orientation night (Monday, August 13th). The boys are going to be at Ridpath Lower Elementary (K-2) just a block from where I work. It is a beautiful school and everyone has been very nice.

Anyway, after his assessment meeting, Jack was very excited for school to start. So much so, that he cried several times on the first day. It was a rough start. Unlike his brother Max (who enjoys structure so much he likes creating rules when none exist), Jack (who is my sweet baby boy) is less committed to the idea of toeing the line. In his classroom, there is a stop light: green for a good day, yellow for a day with a couple warnings and red for…well…not such a great day. Students get tickets for green lights and those tickets go towards a reward of some sort. So far, most of Jack’s days have been green. There have been a couple few yellows. And one red.

One the day of August 16th, Lisa and I signed Max and Jack out from the school. As we milled about with other parents and students, one of Jack’s classmates exclaimed to his father that he got an extra ticket. I asked Jack if he got a ticket.

“No,” he said, “I got a red light.” We would later discover that his infraction had been squealing in the library. But, I didn’t have time at that moment to inquire. Because, as my ire was slowly starting to rise and I was about to inform my second born that a red light as not acceptable, the fire alarm went off. I immediately turned toward the noise.

And saw my first born with his hand on the trigger.

Filled with terror at breaking a rule and tears streaming down his face, he stood tap dancing in place, not knowing what to do. Seems he had accidentally lifted the plastic cover of the alarm, activating the “alarm-cover-is-off-alarm” and not the actual fire alarm. The secretary assured him that it was OK, but he was still upset. We slinked as a family to our car and ducked down as we drove away.

It was a red letter day for the Hosler boys of Ridpath Elementary.

But, on the upside, all of the teachers know our boys by name now.

We visited the Indianapolis Children’s Museum on our first Sunday in Indiana (August 5th for those keeping score). Wow. When I was a kid, we would make the trip from Huntington, IN to the museum and I remember loving it. I think I like it more now. The boys spent most of their time on the top floor in Scienceworks. This is the room full of levers, pulleys, water mazes and Rube Goldberg devices. All hands-on and fun.

I liked the dinosaur exhibit because it had a replica of Dracorex hogwartsia, a very cool member of the pachycephalosaurus family whose skull really looks like the skull of a dragon. We also got the see the giant water clock reset at 1pm. It’s a remarkable feat of art and engineering that I do not have the expertise to describe. Consider this a teaser.

We left most of the museum unexplored, so we will be back.

Opening the door of our house the first morning of our sabbatical was like checking bread in the oven. I was hit by a blast of hot humid air and I shut the door quickly. It was already in the high 80′s and humid and the sun had barely risen. This wouldn’t change for about two weeks and we would jealously eye the temperature in Huntingdon, PA, often 10-15 degrees cooler than central Indiana.

Given the prevailing climate, we quickly discovered the local pool. It is a large pool with an expansive 3 feet section and a two-story tall water slide that last about 12-13 seconds per ride (Max and I timed it). Though unwilling to try it on the first pool visit, Max decided to give the slide a go the second time we went and it was all he did for two hours. Jack, unfortunately, was too small to ride so, he took this time to enthusiastically practice the Red Cross swimming lessons that he received with Mrs. Metz in Huntingdon.

The pool is drained now (as off Aug 27), but it was a great way to pass the time while we waited for school to start on August 14th, right in the middle of the heat wave.

Arriving

July 31/Aug 1: With the boys with their Grandma and Grandpa Guerra in Mishawaka, Lisa and I worked on getting our house ready for our tenants, Sue and Andy. In addition to taking car of our house, Sue will also be teaching my classes as my sabbatical replacement. Of course, we had grossly underestimated how long the final cleaning would take, so Lisa stayed up all night to clean and I only slept 4 hours. I didn’t endear myself to my tired wife when I told her I needed to finish writing a letter for someone’s tenure folder that morning.

The ten hour trip to Mishawaka seemed to go pretty well, all things considered. We arrived late and got some sleep. The next morning Lisa was a bit…out of sorts, let’s say. But we pushed ahead and made the final drive to Greencastle in a three car caravan: Lisa in the Accord, Jay driving a packed van and Grandpa Guerra and the boys following in Grandpa’s van pulling a small trailer.

Grandma and Grandpa Hosler met us at the house we will be living this year and we all got to unpacking. That didn’t take long and soon Grandpa G was heading back to Mishawka. Grandma and Grandpa Hosler stayed long enough to get a garlic cheeseburger at Marvin’s before they set-off.

We had arrived.

Welcome to the Hosler Family’s sabbatical blog. We (and by we, we mean Jay) have been a little slow in getting this up and running. Of course, since Jay and Lisa were both sprinters, it will be more interesting to see if we can keep this going. Long distance really isn’t our thing, but we’ll try.

The title comes from our first experience with the computer game Zoo Tycoon. Zoo Tycoon is a game in which players build a zoo, select exhibits, buy animals, erect fencing, dig big pools for crocodiles and perform sundry other menagerie maintenance. Frankly, the appeal of hard work in the virtual world escapes me, but the boys were determined. The first animal we purchased was a moose. Then we bought a second because things have to be Even-Stevens when you have multiple offspring.

We dutifully set up their holding pen and then began casting about for more exotic animals for the zoo. We found a few dinosaurs and set them up in an exhibit. That was pretty neat. But, just as we finished, we received a message from the zookeeper: Moose One was not happy.

We hadn’t a moment to lose!

We checked on Moose One. Apparently, its habitat did not contain the right vegetation. So we bought some. It’s only money right? Moose One perked-up just as Moose Two expressed its dissatisfaction. It was hungry so, we got some food and hired a couple of zookeepers to deliver it. Whew.

Things seemed to be going well for the animals and the boys, but I was starting to worry about money. This is fun? I never really viewed my anxieties as a past time (more of an avocation). In any event, I was just starting to get a good frustration going when the dinosaurs broke out and ate a few patrons. As we raced our cursor across the park to secure the fence, our rescue efforts were interrupted another message: Moose One was not happy. Again.

You and me both, buster.

We stopped playing and went to read a book. Since then “Moose One Is Not Happy” has become our mantra in the face of unknown, new situations. Or when we are laughing at ourselves. That seemed to make it the perfect title for a chronicle of our time on sabbatical.