Why I’ve Never Kissed Under Mistletoe

When the world was young and the gods still roamed across the rainbow bridge to sit at the well of Urd, the most beloved god in Asgard was Baldr.

Now the gods of the Norsemen were not like the gods of the Greeks, who could not die – and therefore, as Edith Hamilton points out, could never truly be heroic.

Rather, the Norse gods were as mortal as the humans who worshipped them, and the fate of many gods was to die.

Thus it was with Baldr.

Frigg, queen of the AEsir and wife of Odin, dreamt that death would come to her beloved son, the god of light.

Odin, having long since traded an eye for wisdom, knew that Baldr could not escape his fate. Not so Frigg, who determined to save her son’s life.

After accomplishing her mission, Frigg could once again rest easy. Meanwhile, Baldr’s popularity surged.

The trickster Loki, however, observed these games with bitterness. One day, he disguised himself as a woman and went to speak with Frigg.

The next time the gods were playing hurl-the-weapons-at-Baldr, Loki approached Höðr, the blind god.

Frigg lived to regret skipping the mistletoe. Her son now dwelt in the shadowy realm ruled by Loki’s daughter, Hel. And when the corpselike queen agreed that Baldr would revive if the entire world wept for him, a single holdout prevented the light god’s return.

Moral of the story: mistletoe is for mischief, so skip the smooching.

Mistletoe is deadly, not romantic. In fact, the plant is parasitic and poisonous, and its name may derive from the German for “dung branch.”

This year, find proper uses for mistletoe – like binding your enemies, playing tug-of-war across a volcano, or weaving Viking-shaped lawn ornaments. Don't kiss under it.

Or else.

The Perils of Being an English Major, Music Edition

True story. I love this song, but whenever I hear it my fingers itch to write a paper.

(Click to enlarge image.)

Advent Candle Strategy

Today I got to play with fire in church.

Okay, so it wasn’t as awesome as that. In reality, I joined with three other people to lead the morning’s responsive reading.

After the responsive reading, it was time to light the advent candles, a task that fell to me. Apparently it’s very important to light the candles in the correct order.

The problem with this is that it required me to maneuver around my advent fire-buddies while holding a lit match.

To complicate matters, I had to move quickly enough to light all three candles before the match expired.

Somehow I managed to overcome my severe lack of coordination. I flitted across the stage like a skilled dancer.

Knowing, however, that lesser folk may not be as innately talented as I, I propose the following week-long training regimen for potential advent pyrotechnicians.

Monday: Meditate on the biblical concept of fire. Did you know that forms of the word “fire” appears 364 times in the NIV translation?

Tuesday: Run an obstacle course. Dodging piles of laundry in your bedroom is an acceptable version of this.

Wednesday: Hide a box of matches in a pile of evergreen branches. This will prepare you to grab them swiftly from the advent wreath. Bonus points if you do this while being chased by a large bear.

Thursday: Practice lighting matches and holding them as to maximize their lifetime. Whether or not you get burned in the process is irrelevant.

Friday: Shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. This will prepare you for if you accidentally set the sanctuary ablaze.

Saturday: Update will.

Sunday: Cover self in gasoline. If you catch fire, you might as well make it impressive.

Actual Ways My Classes Have Ended

It’s important for instructors to plan their classes thoroughly, but it’s also essential to exercise flexibility and take advantage of teachable moments. Then there are the small decisions that end up having bizarre ramifications.

Procrastination: A Cautionary Tale

If I’ve learned one thing from watching The Lion King and enduring a childhood of being dragged to my big brother’s Boy Scout meetings, it’s this:

I don’t always succeed, however. Case in point: my supply of cash had been dwindling over the past few weeks, and last Sunday’s lunch expedition was nearly disastrous.

I had a grand total of two dollar bills in my pocket, and the only thing that saved me was remembering that the girl next to me owed me five dollars.

I knew then that it was time to make a long overdue trip to the bank to deposit some checks and get some cash back. However, I procrastinated – foolishly, as it turned out.

Yesterday I left my lunch at home and had to buy food from the school cafeteria. From the depths of my purse and my shoulder bag, $3.50 in quarters magically appeared.

Instead of heading to the bank that afternoon, I put it off another day. I was therefore in something of a quandary when I again neglected to bring my lunch to school.

This time I left no corner, no pocket, no murky depth unplumbed. I even remembered the coin that had been stuck in my top desk drawer for the past year, and I thought longingly of the few cents that had recently been removed from the front passenger door of my car.

In the end, I stared at a motley assortment of currency: six quarters, one dime, six nickels, and twelve pennies. I could afford to buy a bag of chips and a carton of milk, but nothing warm.

I didn’t want carbohydrates alone, nor did I want something sugary, as I’d spent all morning munching on the candy I forgot to give to my third hour class. I wanted a barbeque pork sandwich. For the first time in my life, I sympathized with Jack from Lord of the Flies.

All I needed was a quarter. Anyone would have spotted me one – faculty, students... heck, even the cafeteria staff would have given me grace. The ladies there had eyed me with pity when I used fourteen quarters to pay for my eggrolls the day before.

Unfortunately for my gurgling stomach, hunger is not my primary motivation in life.

The cafeteria was out. My only other option was the school vending machine, which featured a credit card payment option. The problem here was that it offered

while I wanted

Even so, I struck a bargain with my stomach, promising I’d feed it real food later if it accepted a token offering then.

Moral of the story: be prepared. That way you won’t run out of cash and find yourself gnawing bunny-shaped cheese crackers and pretending they’re made from real rabbits.

... or maybe we just need meat vending machines. That would be awesome.

Viking Math

1. Ingvar wants to scale the wall of an Irish monastery. The wall is 20 feet high, and right in front of the wall is a moat 15 feet wide. How tall must Ingvar’s ladder be in order to reach the top of the wall?

2. Thorgils can burn 20 English huts each hour. Hastein can burn 35 English huts each hour. Working together (albeit on opposite sides of the village), how long will it take them to burn all 385 huts?

3. Siggurd is in a blood feud with Ottar. Ottar is also in another blood feud with Illugi. For each relative killed by Siggurd, Ottar kills 3 of Siggurd’s relatives. For each relative killed by Illugi, Ottar kills 4 of Illugi’s relatives. Today Ottar kills the same number of Siggurd’s relatives as Illugi’s relatives. Ottar has killed at least one person today. Siggurd and Illugi do not have any relatives in common. What is the smallest number of people Ottar may have killed today?

4. Hrafn has 5 sons. Skuli has 5 daughters. Hrafn and Skuli want all their children to marry, but they don’t care who weds whom. In how many different ways could the 5 couples be paired?

5. Svein’s longship is fleeing from Gunnar’s longship at a pace of 20 miles per hour. Gunnar’s longship is pursuing Svein’s longship at a pace of 25 miles per hour. If Svein is currently 10 miles ahead of Gunnar, how long will it take for Gunnar to catch Svein?

So, You Want to Be a Teacher?

Task #1: Design a seating chart.

(Click image to enlarge.)

My Short-Lived Modeling Career

After a long day, including a classroom observation by an enthusiastic Chinese delegation observing our school’s international student program and a farewell visit with my parents’ moribund cat, I returned home to find a single flyer in my mailbox. On it was the loveliest figure in all of creation:

I’m not entirely sure how I was chosen as the poster girl for my grad school’s English program, although I suspect it has something to do with the vehement refusal of the first person they asked.

I didn’t find out about this exchange until later, however. By the time I learned of it, I had already given in to the increasingly desperate e-mails from the marketing people, who had cleverly avoided use of the word “photogenic.” Instead, they kept their message to the point.

I showed up at the specified classroom at the scheduled time, expecting to stand in front of a screen and smile. Instead, the photographer handed me a dry erase marker.

For you non-educator types, that’s the equivalent of telling a comedian to say something funny or instructing an athlete to do something athletic. It just doesn’t work on command like that. After a few seconds, however, I began lecturing on the Odyssey.

According to the photographer, it was one of the easiest shoots he’s ever done.

Then I met with marketing person assigned to interview me. Despite my request just to write my own statement, she insisted that it would be best for her to interview me and then write up what “I” had said. Eventually I persuaded her to share her summary with me.

Using my mastery of the English language, I carefully crafted a testimonial both positive and honest (a task tantamount to juggling torches while riding a rickety unicycle on a frayed tightrope suspended over a mob of clueless protestors). After this there was a vast silence.

Two months passed, and then one day I found an advertisement in my school mailbox.

Apparently the photo shoot didn’t work out as well as it had seemed. My hair was in lank curls, my shirt filled with rows of wrinkles, my eyes bulging from their sockets, and my mouth curved into a deranged oval.

Eh, I thought, they’re only mailing them to every English teacher within a hundred miles.

That summer, the marketing people emailed me to ask permission to put me on their website. I agreed, saying that I wasn’t fond of the picture but they were welcome to use it.

In the late fall, I heard yet again from marketing folks. The conversation went something like this.

Marketing Person: We’re doing another photo shoot, and I remembered you didn’t like your picture. Want to redo it?

Me: Meh. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

Marketing Person: We’d really like you to update your photo.

Me: ...

Marketing Person: Pretty please?

Me: Oh, all right.

Marketing Person: Great! We’ve got you scheduled for the photo shoot and video portion.

Me: Video?

Thus it was that I found myself clad in a wrinkle-proof shirt and fake teaching Norse mythology for the sake of the camera.

That was the last I heard from the marketing people... until I opened my mailbox yesterday. There I am, in slightly less demented form, fronting a group of three former graduate students.

Maybe they think I’m photogenic.