Monday, March 4, 2019

For the love of all that is good in the world, just use "we"

It's been a while since I've written anything about prose style, but I'm in the midst of providing feedback to a bunch of student science writers, and I feel compelled to speak up on behalf of beleaguered readers of English-language science writing. Yes, I'm talking to you, you more experienced, published science-writing professionals: set a good example for the grad students.

Just use we.

We.

And put it at the front of the sentence, so you can put a verb right after it.

We examine X.

We consider X.

We investigate X.

X can be simple; X can be complex. With "we [verb]" in front of it, X can throw pretty much anything at readers, and readers generally will handle X without getting annoyed. Or at least, without getting as annoyed as they would were X standing in front of a supremely boring passive-voice verb that doesn't show up until a mile further down the sentence road.

Generally, when I read students' science writing, I don't have to know much about the science to detect whether the prose makes sense. Sometimes, to tell whether my confusion is with the prose or my lack of scientific knowledge, I'll look up a term or phrase to see how more experienced authors use it.

Today, I Googled one such phrase. This led me several articles confirming the phrase's existence. One such article included this sentence:
Prospective applications of targeted compounds derived from display libraries in the discovery of targeted drugs and gene therapy vectors are discussed.
Dear readers, be honest: did you read the entire sentence from beginning to end? If so, did you understand it? If so, did you enjoy it?

Please, people, give in to temptation. I promise it's OK: use "we."

We discuss.
We discuss prospective applications of targeted compounds derived from display libraries in the discovery of targeted drugs and gene therapy vectors.
Readers might not adore the revision, but they won't want to bang their heads against a wall after reading it. Or at least they won't want to bang their heads quite so hard.

This has been a public service announcement. Feel free to complain in the comments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Die Zauberkasu: An Opera in 3 Acts and 15 Minutes

My sister and I wrote an opera in 1983, when I was a first-year college student and she was in high school. We rounded up a cast and performed it at the high school's annual variety show in February 1984, and then we took it on tour to the public library and our old elementary school. The elementary school stage was in the gym. I used to have nightmares about swinging from the top of the giant rope that hung backstage; it took until I was taking college physics to realize that you can't swing from the top of a rope. I remember that before we performed at the elementary school, the cast of Die Zauberkasu asked me how big the elementary school stage was. "It's really big," I said, pointing halfway up my chest; "it's this high above the floor." When we arrived, we saw the stage didn't even come up to my knees. Apparently I had grown since 3rd grade.

As part of the snail's-pace Great Purge of 2018-2019, I decided it was time for my tape collection to move on--but what to do with The Magic Kazoo? The Kaesekaiser suggested I purchase a cassette-to-mp3 converter online.

Consequently, here, for your listening pleasure, gentle readers, is Die Zauberkasu: An Opera in 3 Acts and 15 Minutes. (Blogger doesn't allow mp3 uploads, so you have to click on the link if you want to hear it.) The libretto is below, for those who would like to sing along.

Die Zauberkasu: An Opera in 3 Acts and 15 Minutes
Libretto and music by Elizabeth Paley and Nina Paley (1983)

Original cast performance: "Big Show," 2/11/1984, University Laboratory High School, Urbana IL
Kaesekaiser: Peter McDowell
Heinrich: Andrew Reisner
Velveeta: Becky Davidson
Fondue: Richard WIlliams
Magic Fairy Elves: Lark Huang, Emily Osborn, Cynthia Chow
Ensemble: The 1984 cast of "Big Show"
Piano: Elizabeth Paley
Kazoos: Nina Paley, Sarah Baldwin
Percussion: Rick Burkhardt

[Optional: Explanatory Introduction as Orchestra Tunes]

Overture

Act I. The town of Macroni

1. Chorus: Lo Here Cometh the Kaesekaiser (Ensemble + Kaesekaiser)

Ensemble: 
Lo here cometh the Kaesekaiser, 
riding upon his royal Philly; 
he shall visit our town of Macroni 
and taste our Macronian cheese. 
[Ahh] O it would bring us nothing but bliss 
if he were to like our Swiss, 
but he may shoot it full of holes, 
oh he may shoot it full of holes.

Ensemble + Kaesekaiser: 
Lo here cometh the Kaesekaiser, 
riding upon his/my royal Philly; 
it will bring us great joy and pleasure 
to meet one as Gouda as he.

2. Chorus: Bow to the Kaesekaiser (Ensemble + Kaesekaiser) 

Kaesekaiser:
Bow to the Kaesekaiser, 
I am the Kaesekaiser, 
King of all the cheeses. 
I'm here to inspect the cheese, 
I'm here to look at Heinrich's cheese--
and other things of Heinrich's too. 
Especially the other things, 
the other things of Heinrich's too.

Ensemble + Kaesekaiser:
Bow to the Kaesekaiser, 
he is/I am the Kaesekaiser, 
King of all the cheeses. 
He's/I'm here to inspect the cheese, 
he's/I'm here to look at Heinrich's cheese--
and other things of Heinrich's too. 

3. Duet: O Velveeta/Fondue (Fondue + Velveeta)

Kaesekaiser:
Heinrich, shall we discuss the German cheese industry?

Heinrich:
Okay.

Fondue:
O Velveeta, I love you, 
I love you with all my heart. 
To me you're better than Port Salut, 
or Brie, or Cammembart.

Velveeta:
O Fonduuuuue, 
I love youuuuuu tooooo.

4. Melodrama (Heinrich, Velveeta, Kaesekaiser)

Heinrich:
Young man, my daughter is not to be cavorting around with the likes of you! Depart at once!

Velveeta:
[gasps]

Kaesekaiser:
Heinrich, shall I inspect your cheese?

Heinrich:
Okay. Here's some cheese.

Kaesekaiser:
Mmm, good.

Heinrich:
Here's some cheese.

Kaesekaiser:
Mmm, yummy.

Heinrich:
Here's some cheese.

Kaesekaiser:
That looks real tasty.

Heinrich:
Here's some cheese.

Kaesekaiser:
A little on the moldy side.

5. Recitative (Kaesekaiser + Heinrich)

Kaesekaiser:
O Heinrich! I'm willing to give your cheeses the highest of ratings--if you give me Velveeta's hand in marriage!

Heinrich:
Sure, why not? Okey fine. Alrighty. OK.

Act II. The woods outside of Macroni

1. Aria doloroso: Voe ist mich (Fondue) 

Fondue:
Voe ist mich. Mein Velveeta 
ist betrothen to the Kaesekaiser. 
Vas shall ich do? 
Ich don't know. Ich don't know. 
She ist the fairest in the land. 
How ich vish ich could vin her hand. 
How ich veep. Ich bin drowning in mein tears.
Ich bin drowning in mein tears.

2. Trio: This Is a Charmed Gold Kazoo (Magic Fairy Elves)

Magic Fairy Elves:
This is a charmed gold kazoo; 
it will bring good luck to you. 
Put your lips to it and play; 
the whole town will run away.

Act III. The town of Macroni

1. Aria: All the Town Is Happy and Joyous (Velveeta)

Velveeta:
All the town is happy and joyous, 
but I am without their glee, 
for my love is with young Fondue, 
and the Kaiser is betrothed to me. 
And my father hates my love Fondue, 
for he is better at his Kraft; 
yes, Fondue is better at his Kraft.

2. Melodrama: The handing-off

Heinrich: 
My congratulations on your happy and monetarily successful marriage! Bye bye, Velveeta! Seeya 'round!

3. Instrumental + Reprise: O Velveeta/Fondue (Fondue + Velveeta)

Fondue: [kazoo]

Velveeta (sung) + Fondue (kazoo):
O Fonduuuuuuuue! I love youuuuuuu!

3. Melodrama + Finale: O Joy! (Velveeta, Fondue, & Ensemble)

Velveeta:
Indeed! You've driven away the townspeople!

Fondue:
Golly Velveeta! Now we can get married!

Velveeta:
And we are left alone with the money and cheese shops of the townspeople!

Velveeta + Fondue:
O joy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy! 
We're joy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-ous! 
We're joyous, oh so joyous! 
We're joyous, oh so joyous! 
With a fa la la, fa la la la, fa la la la, fa la la la, fa la! 
We're joy-oy-oy-ous!

Ensemble:
We're joy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-ous! 


We're joy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-ous! 
We're joyous, oh so joyous! 
We're joyous, oh so joyous! 
With a fa la la, fa la la la, fa la la la, fa la la la, fa la! 
We're joy-oy-oy-ous!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Wherein the privileged parent of a privileged kid complains about the college prep industry

Because E is at that point, we began visiting colleges and universities last spring. We visited the three biggest nearby universities (two state, one private), and over spring break we took a how-far-can-we-drive-in-how-little-time roadtrip that would have made my dad proud, seeing nine campuses in two states in six days (five formal tours, two informal tours, and two drive-bys). Having sampled the menu--big, medium, small; urban, rural; public, private; elite, plebeian--E applied to six schools this past fall (three good-fit, two reach, one backup), a number that appears par for the course (if not low) due to the relative ease of the Common and Coalition apps.

I've meant to write about this process for months, but the variety of things that tick me off about it is so great that it's been difficult not to meander. But as the season of acceptances, deferrals, and rejections commences, I want to deposit my scattered thoughts here. What follows is the POV of a verbose parent recalling how simple applying to college was 36 years ago. E, who is the one actually applying to and soon attending college, is happily far less annoyed by all of this than I am; but as his mom and former (!) chauffeur, I have Observations. I begin at the "top":

UHoit

The University of Hoitytoity is a beautiful, elite, private, mid-sized university, an oasis centered in a bustling metropolis. UHoit's gift to us was the term "hyperselective." The Admissions Director gave it to us straight: "Other hyperselective schools won't always tell you these things, but [because we're the hyperest] we're here to tell you what you need to do to get into UHoit and other hyperselective schools."

What gets you into UHoit, other than the requisite burning desire? Like many schools, UHoit looks at the "whole student": GPA, AP and other accelerated courses (a.k.a. "whether you challenged yourself"), SAT/ACT scores, application essays, recommendation letters, and extra-curricular activities.

What does GPA mean for the "whole student"?

UHoit's Admissions Director said, "students always ask, is it better to take a regular class and get an A, or an AP class and get a B? The answer is, it's better to take an AP class and get an A." Maybe your GPA can withstand a B+ or two, he allowed, but be prepared to explain in your essays the adversity that caused your grades to slip.

I was so perturbed by this that I didn't manage to articulate a question about it until after we were home. I wish I had asked, "What kind of counseling and support services do you provide for students who come to UHoit and get their first Bs or Cs?" And then I remembered reading a prominent news story  a few years ago about a suicide at a hyperselective university--UHoit, in fact. The connection is only anecdotal; most colleges and universities do not track suicide data, so there's no way to know how or if academic pressure plays a role. Nonetheless, it was startling. I wish I had asked the question.

Who is best served by AP courses?

Why, the College Board. The jury is still out on whether students are well-served by AP courses.

AP curricula are designed by the College Board, and at E's school, AP courses are the only ones offered for advanced topics (e.g. math beyond pre-calc, languages beyond the third semester). Yet as E's excellent calculus teacher told parents at an open house, "the course is organized [X] way; if it were up to me, I would introduce material differently--but that's not how the College Board does it." Another teacher warned students and parents that she planned to veer from the College Board curriculum because she thought it would be in the students' and the field's best interest--but the school still pays the College Board for the curriculum, and for the exams the students will take in the spring.

Thanks to hyperselective schools like UHoit, many kids feel driven to take AP classes, not because they are necessarily interested in the material or want a challenge, but because AP classes will boost their GPA. E estimates that he's seen ~25% of the kids in his AP classes cheat--some to pass, and some to get As. Research suggests honors students feel more pressure to cheatThis isn't unique to E's school; before he took his first AP class, a friend one county over complained about what she called "rampant cheating" in her AP classes. What works in high school continues in college. Back when I was teaching at Nearly Ivy--a hyperselective bastion of high-achieving students--an undergrad student rep at a department faculty meeting explained that of course students routinely violate the university's honor code: he said students "knew" that the difference between an A and a B could mean the difference between getting a good job or not.

While googling for more info about AP courses, I happened upon this website: a compilation of tweets by the College Board's head of AP testing. Yes, the AP world is such that there's actually an audience for his collected tweets.

Here is an exceptional one:
1 student, out of nearly 600,000 worldwide, achieved all 150/150 points possible on this year’s AP English Language exam. I can’t wait to read her/his essays; a student able to write a suite of perfect arguments within such time constraints sounds like the next Woolf or MLK. 
Yes, kids: we cherish Virginia Woolf and MLK because they wrote prefect argument essays under time pressure. And the person who wrote this is in charge of AP testing. (I'll note the inclusivity implied by mentioning Woolf and MLK; AP classes are still wrestling with that.)

Speaking of testing...

What does SAT/ACT mean for the "whole student"?

The very best article I have read about standardized testing (and how we misuse it) is "IQ Cults, Nonlinearity, and Reality: a Bird-watcher’s Parable," by Simon DeDeo, a professor of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon. Read it.

According to UHoit's Admissions Director, "we require standardized test scores not because we like these tests, but because nothing better is available yet." Many would disagree.

UHoit's Admissions Director acknowledged that "some high schools prepare students better than others for these tests," so UHoit considers an applicant's scores in the context of the average SAT/ACT score at the applicant's high school. Fair enough. What he ignored is that taking the tests repeatedly tends to improve scores, as does purchasing tutoring, as does, well, simply having money. Nor did he acknowledge that studies have shown SAT/ACT scores aren't the best predictors of college success. UHoit and others in its league are in a position to insist on something better--but they don't. Instead, they fuel the standardized-testing industry. (One hyperselective university recently jumped ship; kudos to the University of Chicago.)

Hyper-achieving kids understand the subtext: "If you love UHoit enough, you'll prove it by retaking the ACT or SAT to boost your scores (but not so many times that you look desperate)." Most universities require one or the other, not both, but an increasing number of students are covering their bases by taking both, sometimes multiple times. Kids with money can do this more easily than kids without.

Speaking of money...When registering for the SAT or ACT, students can select up to four schools to receive their scores, at no additional cost. Students who want to wait to see their scores first (goodness, who would want to send crappy scores to UHoit?) will have to pay extra to send them later. Students who want to see their scores before deciding whether to re-take the test will be delighted to learn that the late-registration fee for the next exam kicks in the day before the previous exam's scores are released. Want to expedite sending scores? That will cost extra, of course--even though the entire process is electronic.

Further fueling the testing industry, UHoit does not consider AP test scores. Instead, they ask applicants to submit SAT II subject tests. Why accept the College Board standardized tests that many schools already pay for, when you could require applicants to take yet another set of College Board exams at the applicant's expense? (UHoit waives the SAT subject-test requirement for low-income students--but if you had your heart set on UHoit, would you risk not going all out?)

The University of North Carolina system recently announced it would continue a program by which applicants to three schools (notably, all HBCUs) could be admitted with sub-par SAT/ACT scores if their high school GPAs sufficiently exceeded minimum requirements. News media noted that students previously admitted through this program have been as successful as students with higher test scores. The surprise is that everyone sounds surprised about this.

Remember the Lorax

From the moment a student fills in the first ACT and SAT paperwork bubbles, s/he receives a steady stream of college recruitment e- and snail-mail--most from schools s/he will never apply to, because it would be physically and financially impossible to apply to every single one. Perhaps the snazzy-brochure postage and printing costs pay for themselves by boosting "selectivity" ratings, i.e. by generating the opportunity for a school to reject more applicants.

Of course, tens of thousands of kids do get into highly competitive schools every year, and almost no one gets in without applying--but are those the type of kids who need bucketloads of snail mail help to remind them that those schools exist? A lot of trees are dying to push the applicant recruitment process.

Of the hundreds of pieces of college-recruitment snail mail E has received, only one was interesting enough to motivate a school visit. Indeed, it was so interesting--a text-filled tetraflexagon that simply by its design proclaimed "math! engineering! design! fun!"--that we planned our spring-break road trip to include TetraflexagU. By the time we got there, E had figured out he wasn't interested in urban campuses without grassy quads, so we dropped out of the tour and stopped by the engineering department to cancel E's appointment with their undergraduate recruitment officer. We told her that the tetraflexagon was the best recruitment brochure we had ever seen--and she had no idea what we were talking about. Oh well.

A friend whose daughter saved all of her recruitment snail mail for a post-application bonfire reports that most brochures are coated in anti-flammable plastic coatings and don't burn.

Email offers a paper-free alternative. E started saving college recruitment email in a subfolder this past summer. By mid-January, when college application season was approaching its end, the folder was approaching 2,000 emails--an average of 9 or 10 unread messages per day.

What do extra-curricular activities mean for the "whole student"?

Advice about extra-curricular activities varies from school to school and college-prep company to college-prep company. Show breadth--or show depth. Show passion. Show engagement. Volunteer. Lead. But be you. And while you're being you, keep your growing resume in mind, because colleges prefer certain kinds of yous.

Now write an essay about it

Now that you and your peers have pumped up your GPAs with AP courses, spent some time and money retaking the SAT or ACT to prove your devotion, volunteered (if you can afford it--there's a financial aspect to volunteering) and/or worked--write an original essay that shows how you are different from all of the other thousands of applicants competing for spaces who have also done these things. Be unique!

Backyard State U's website writes that the college application essay
...is your chance to brag about the company/organization you founded, the research you have been conducting, the first place trophy your robotics team won or the fact that you work 40 hours a week and still maintain a strong academic record.
All in a day's work for the typical Backyard State student.

UHoit's website offers somewhat saner advice: "Be yourself" and "Let the real you shine through."

Some schools understandably require supplemental essays, to distinguish applicants who really want to apply from those who are happy to just check another "submit" box on the Common App. I thought it was amusing--although E did not--that Outa State Polytechnic wanted a concise, 120-word response to a question they needed 89 words to frame.

When students are done with their essays, they can listen to an Admissions Director mock application essays on the radio. (He's understandably miffed by parents who pretend to be their own kids; but this?):
Ira Glass: Are there trends in what kids are writing about, the way you feel like you see little fads and you get sick of them?
Rick Clark: Oh. Well, the age-old one that, I mean, again, pretty much anybody that you would interview who's been in college admission for any period of time would be-- you know, we just call it now the "mission trip" essay. And great to go on a mission trip, great to have a cultural experience, but inevitably the way it reads is so predictable.
We flew down to somewhere in Central America, and we got off the plane. It was really hot. And we got on the bus. And 20 miles outside of the village, our bus broke down, but we got picked up by a chicken truck and taken into town. And then over the course of my time there, I went expecting to help others, but it was, in fact, me who was changed. And even just when you first start reading that essay, you're like, oh, here it comes again.
Ira Glass: Most college essays are pretty bad. Rick estimates that only one out of every 20 or so essays that he reads is any good at all, that is, 19 bad ones if you're counting at home. But he says that he and his colleagues believe that they themselves are partly to blame for the essay questions that they actually put onto the applications, questions that always get the same mundane, suck-uppy answers from kid, after kid, after kid. Colleges just market themselves so aggressively to so many people.
What a pain to have to read thousands of predictable essays about life-changing experiences, written by kids who are dabbling in a new genre of writing and haven't had the fortune--or misfortune--to read thousands of sample essays.

(And of course, mission trips cost a lot of money too. There are cheaper ways to volunteer.)

Remembering students are human

It's a big country; we road-tripped through fewer than 0.3% of its degree-granting post-secondary schools. E's attitude about all but the urban, grassless ones and the ones smaller than his high school was "yeah, this would be fine." Backyard State, UHoit, and everything in between: "yeah, this would be fine." He is planning on enjoying college; his heart isn't set on any particular place. I think this makes him lucky.

But for me--the person who is not going to college next year--Historic U stood out. Historic is a pretty, elite, mid-sized public university in a mid-sized university town. We attended their Engineering Open House, where Historic's Dean of Admissions spoke about applying. She said: "it's OK for the application essay to not be perfect. It's OK for it to have a few typos--not a lot, of course, but a few are fine. What we're looking for are essays that sound like they were written by the type of students we seek: bright 17- and 18-year-olds who want to go to college." Whether that's true or not, it was a breath of fresh air.

Even when kids do everything "right"

Rick Clark explains it well: life is not fair. Rejected applicants might understandably feel betrayed by a system whose priorities are so out of whack. May all college-bound students have fulfilling activities and aspirations to sustain them during high school and beyond.

The lesson in all of this

E received his first acceptance notification, from Backup U, in early December: "Hooray! I'm going to college next year!" His relief was palpable.

A few days later, he got in at Big Outa State. "Hooray! Big Outa is one of my top three!"

"Really?," I said; "I didn't know you had a top three. What are they?"

"Backyard State, Big Outa, Outa Tech, Historic, and maybe Nearly Ivy."

"That's five," I said.

"Yeah, well, they'd all be fine."

Indeed, they'd all be fine.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Needle ice and ice discs on the Eno

E and I did our annual January Long Hike today. Instead of the 22.5-mile ATT (the length of which apparently I've only blogged about once, although we've now walked it in one fell swoop for two different January Long Hikes) in favor of ~10.5 miles along the Eno, from the Pleasant Green access to West Point on the Eno. E and I have both hiked this route before, although today was the first time we did so together.


The first amazing thing about this adventure was that when I said "hey E, want to go on a 10.5 mile hike with me tomorrow," he said "sure." The second amazing thing--thanks to a cold front that blew in quickly last night--was the variety of ice.

Puddles: after the surface froze, water underneath either soaked into the ground or partially drained away, leaving delicate ice formations with air underneath.


This fallen tree had large icicles draining from its roots:



Ice discs!


E pierced one of the discs with a stick. They were very thin in the middle and broke easily.


This tributary had frozen over and was remarkably flat on top, while the water underneath flowed down through the dam of sticks and leaves.


Needle ice!





The Eno River was impressively full; we've had a lot of rain in the past several months. This is a view looking east from what Schoolhouse of Wonder calls "the secret beach."


This is what the water level more typically looks like, from a warmer time of year:



Sunday, January 20, 2019

JMM 2019

I'm delighted that this Klein bottle representation* found an appreciative audience at the 2019 Joint Mathematical Meetings (the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America) in Baltimore, where it won an award for "best textile, sculpture, or other medium." Hooray for clay! The gallery of exhibited art is here.

(*Since a Klein bottle has only one side, it can't actually have holes; those come from the artistic license of living in 3D.)



Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Solstrice


Way back in 1991, when I was busy antagonizing my dad by shacking up with my German boyfriend in hippie Oregon, I mail-ordered a box of greeting cards from a progressive company that clearly couldn't afford to hire a proofreader. Sometimes typos etch a permanent place in one's memory. Thus on this joyful day, I quote:

Welcome the return of the light.
Happy Solstrice!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

That penguin lady

Ambassador penguins (Aptenodytes terrae). Height: 2-10cm. Range: North America (!).

The Potters' Penguin Project entered its fundraising phase in May 2017 with the Greensboro Science Center's Tuxedo Trot 5K. The Tuxedo Trot raises funds for the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), with which the GSC's African penguin exhibit has ties. E, S, and I set up a table and gifted joggers with penguins if they made donations to SANCCOB. We raised about $250.

In 2018, pining to have our downstairs shower back (where else does one store 2,000 penguins?), I finally got my act in gear and started actively fundraising for Earthjustice. Claymakers hosted several hundred penguins this past summer, and 200 found "forever homes" in exchange for donations. When the Durham County Pottery Tour rolled around in November, three other potters and I hosted subcolonies at our studios, and I hosted penguins again at my studio open house in December; consequently, another hundred and ten penguins or so have waddled off. Attempting to spread the penguin joy beyond the NC Triangle, I started a fundraiser for Earthjustice on Facebook, so a few penguins have traveled to new homes via USPS. Yesterday, I shipped 25 Ambassador penguins (Aptenodytes terrae) and ~$2,500 in checks to Earthjustice's San Francisco headquarters. Fly, little birds, fly (figuratively speaking, of course)!

Yet...Because this amazing community-building project created over 2,000 penguins, I am still living with roughly 1,650 of them. Let me bear witness: that's a lotta clay penguins. On the bright side, they drive home the point they were created to illustrate, that a colony loss of 150,000 penguins is a travesty. On the down side, I am surrounded by a lotta clay penguins. I would love to adopt them all myself, but then I would become "that penguin lady" who gives over her entire house to an outrageous number of stray animals, eventually requiring a visit from the Animal Protection Society or the Health Department.

Added to the penguin mix were three boxes of organ sheet music that I used to store at work but, having left that gig in early October, I've been storing under the piano. (Remember the Great Purge of 2012, when we cleared out the study to make room for the fabulous piano? See how empty the room was? Those were the days!) Plus, of course, we have pottery everywhere, because it was Pottery Tour and open house season. In need of horizontal surfaces, after Thanksgiving we installed some basic Ikea shelving along one wall of the study.

Voila! Room for sheet music, pots, and 1,650 penguins! Which brings me to today's adventure: rough penguin inventorying! I used to know which boxes contained exactly which penguins, but as the colony has moved here and there and back again, penguins have jumped from box to box, and it's hard to know who's where. Penguin inventorying means greeting favorite penguins again ("oh, I remember you!"). I try to keep the joyous reunions brief, reminding myself that I can't keep every adorable penguin that crosses my path. It turns out I remember most makers--if not individual makers, at least their teams--folks from the NCSU and Claymakers Make-a-Penguin events; area elementary-, middle-, and high-schoolers; summer campers, friends, etc. When the entire colony was exhibited at Claymakers in 2017, I was impressed that makers could pick their penguins out of a crowd of (then) 1,973--but not surprised. Because really, every penguin is an individual.

Want to give some penguins a "forever home"? Contact me or see our Facebook fundraiser for details.