Sunday, August 06, 2006

Things I Learned This Week

1. Kathy and I went to Cornell Adult University this past week, where we went non-stop between our classes and the various activities when class was out of session. We had a fantastic time, and fully intend to go back in the future (not likely in the next couple of years, as its children's program requires that the child be toilet trained). We were two of the younger attendees, but there were plenty of people in their 40s and early 50s, so we didn't feel out of place. It really was a treat being in an environment where we had the chance to talk with intelligent people in a hot house setting, just like college was the first time around. Not needing to cram or even take an exam, and being treated especially well (we might not be big donors, but we were among them), were just bonuses. In other words, I learned that even years later,

College still rocks.

2. I was worried about not remembering where anything is on campus or in town. I hadn't been back to Cornell since 1990, and aside from there having been many changes and additions to campus, and a few changes to the town off campus, the fact is that Ithaca's roads had often given me trouble, even when I lived there. So I was relieved that when I got back, it didn't take me too long to regain a comfort with stuff on campus. Sure there had been plenty of changes, but there were more than enough buildings I remembered for me to find my way with minimal difficulty. Off-campus, however, was a different story. I managed ok using a map, but I pretty much always needed one to get anywhere. I guess what I'm saying is that I learned that

No one in Ithaca will ever mistake me for a local.

3. Kathy's instructor announced the evening before class began that she has shingles, which meant that anyone in class who had not had chicken pox was at risk of contracting the disease. Kathy thought that she had had them, but then she wasn't sure. So she called her mother (on Mom's birthday, which she had forgotten (pregnancy is causing her to forget everything but her own name)), but her Mom didn't remember her having had chicken pox either. We called my Dad for his medical expertise, and found out that although the risk of transmission would be small, there could be serious complications if Kathy were to contract chicken pox as an adult, and risk of harm to the fetus. Kathy had pretty much decided to take the class, when my Mom called while we were on our way to breakfast, hysterical over concern for Kathy and the fetus. And while I'm not one who normally would use the word hysterical, when someone says she didn't sleep the night before due to worry, and that she has no new information but is happy to throw out her unsupported fears onto the situation, I feel that the word is warranted. So Kathy began to have second thoughts, because she didn't want my Mom to be all stressed for the week. Kathy related her concerns to a classmate we saw at breakfast, a former public health nurse who, by some strange quirk of fate, as a hobby likes to look at people's faces to spot the scars from chicken pox. So after the seven seconds Carol took to examine Kathy's face, we learned

Kathy has had chicken pox.

4. Cornell has some of the best food college campuses have to offer. And while that's not a source of pride on behalf of my alma mater, it means that I acquired my freshman 15 in a tastier fashion than did the average college student. And actually, there was nothing wrong with acquiring a freshman 15 all those years ago, given that there were only 125 pounds on my six-foot frame when I enrolled. These days, however, I have no need for any weight gain, which was a problem when confronted with all-you-can-eat meals, free morning, afternoon and late-night snacks, and free wine in the adult lounge all afternoon and evening. Plus a couple of afternoons Kathy brought back food from her cooking class. Plus a few trips to brewpubs up there and to-and-from Ithaca. If the weather had cooperated, I'm sure I could have exercised away at least one-tenth of my caloric intake for the week, but the heat forced modifications to my class to make it less strenuous. And so, after confirming the obvious by weighing myself this morning, I have learned

I need to lose a few pounds.

5. My class was called "Underground Ithaca" -- it was a potpourri, and a veritable cornucopia of information. The instructor is a paleobiologist, and so we examined rocks, earth layers, the earth's history, fossils, and collected rocks, fossils, and fossilized mastodon poop. We also visited a mine that sits atop one of the largest salt deposits in the world (the deposit extends past Cleveland). But so much more happens underground, so we learned about lake source cooling, which uses cold water at the bottom of Cayuga Lake to cool the air at Cornell and Ithaca High School. We visited a waste water facility and learned about treating wastewater. We visited several places that were part of the Underground Railroad. We checked out the Cornell synchotron, located below a large part of the campus. We received a lecture from a dendrochronologist, located in the sub-basement of a campus building, and in the same building got to examine to various antuquities and plasters thereof. We got a lecture from someone who fights against toxic waste in the ground. We examined a site where a house blew up from gas in the basement. But the instructor took underground in additional directions. We went to Babbage's Basement, which is a used computer store that's really on the top floor of its building. We visited Mark Twain's grave, in nearby Elmira. We saw a documentary on Robert Moog, who invented the Moog synthesizer while living in nearby Trumansburg. The instructor also discussed and showed us additional tidbits of the area's history (for example, that the Oregon Trail had its origins in Ithaca), and took us to a Hortorium, where we learned how to press plants and looked at several interesting plants in its collection (such as a specimen of the world's largest seed). In other words, I learned

Tons of stuff.