Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Odds and ends

Xmas travel plans:
Tickets are bought and I'm excited about Mr W's and my upcoming trip. I guess because it's getting late in the ticket-buying season, there weren't any flights home on the day I wanted, but we're coming home the day after that. I didn't want to wear out our welcome, but at the same time the tickies are expensive and I'd like to get my money's worth. As long as everyone's happy with hand-knit gifts, we're good. Anybody have a knitted Lego set pattern?

Trip to AZ:
Home again today. The visits with CB go so fast. I have gotten into a rhythm where I work most of the weekends when I don't have Mr W, and then take a long weekend off to either go there (most of the time) or have him come here. I do have vacation time, but not that much, hence working weekends. He's pretty swell indeed.

This new obsession with Knitting:
I'm almost done with one of the purple socks shown a couple of posts below. I've gotten a lot of satisfaction from the craft lately and have spent a lot of time on Ravelry, an online community of yarn people. It's been useful to see what certain yarns look like when they are knitted. This is good because some stuff that looks cool when it's on the shelf can be horrendous when knit up.

A reason to be annoyed with myself:
This Friday, Halloween is a school-out day for Mr W. I blew it by not calling to get him into the all-day day care and now they are full. Sh*t!!! I'm hoping his grandma can watch him for half the day, and then his dad and I can split the rest. I was good, even called too early about the last one, but forgot about this one.

Doctor visit:
I have a new doctor. No, nothing's wrong, but I saw an advertisement for this new doctor who is an internist that specializes in women's health and cancer screening. Sounds good to me. I have a doctor, but could take him or leave him, and he doesn't have these specialties. Having lost two family members to cancer that went undetected until it was ready to kill them, I want to be proactive.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The cost of a good time

I'm close to buying airline tickets for me and Mr W to fly to South Carolina after Christmas. It's been a weird year. Well, it's been a year of some losses. My sister died in February at age 45 of colon cancer. My one sister-in-law's grandfather passed and the other's father passed. Yikes.

My sister would usually host Christmas and we were always invited to go to Ohio for a few days. We get along well, so it was a treat to see everyone. The first night we were all together was always special, and we'd stay up entirely too late talking, laughing, eating and drinking.

I can't seem to make myself go to Ohio this year. I'm fairly certain that my brother in law will work as much as he can, and my younger brother will visit for a few days. I feel like a heel that I don't want to go, but I imagine they'll have the house exactly as Kris made it every Christmas, and I can't bear to see that without her there.

So Mr W will spend Christmas proper with his grandma and my x, and he and I will fly out a few days later. I know everyone who is traveling over the holidays gets socked by high airfares, but geez. I'm in for almost $900 just to get us there and back. Add on presents, food and entertainment... I'm thankful I don't have to shell out for a car or a hotel (thanks R and L!).

And for whatever reason, there does not exist a direct flight from where I live. I already know it will be worth any inconvenience, though. Mr W is a trooper of a traveler, and given a laptop and some snacks he can survive almost any airport delay.

Seeing my family reenergizes me, and I wish that Mr W could see them more often. We'll make the most of this time and hopefully have a chance to honor those who have died and celebrate what we have.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Consumed by the craft

Have you ever been so excited to work on some project that you get up early and stay up late for it? I started knitting a pair of socks a few days ago and they have consumed me. I was weird, it took me a long time to decide on a pattern; I had bought the yarn a few weeks ago. I guess I was hung up on having to knit it on the tiny (2.5 mm) needles or taking on something that was too difficult.

But I chose wisely, I guess, because, while I'm following a pattern, it was easy to memorize and also (more importantly) easy to know where I am in the pattern by looking at the work. The pattern is called "Spring Forward." I'm really enjoying the process on this, it's fun to see the pattern unfold.

I'll be going to AZ to visit CB at the end of the week, and I'm looking forward (in a way) to having a situation where I have to sit somewhere and wait, like being at an airport. It gives me a chance to work on my stuff. I suppose that could be a sign of this being an obsession? Oh well.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I do knit, really

I joined a Christmas Swap this year. Friend la Guera told me about it, and there are about 30 people from around the world (isn't that cool?) who are participating. Each person sends needles, pattern and yarn for a Christmas-themed item, something warm to drink, some candy and a story from their country.

I have been matched with Ida, from Norway. She is an accomplished knitter, as I've seen from her site. I realized, though, that she hasn't seen much of my stuff, so I figured I'd post a few pictures. I don't want to end up with something too difficult for me to knit, but on the other hand, everything that's been a challenge so far I have eventually figured out.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Time on my hands

Something happened yesterday that hasn't happened for a long time. I was 10 minutes early to pick up Mr W. I signed him up for a pottery class and had to get him right when school let out. It is madness and despair to try to find a parking spot near the school at closin' time, so I tried to get there a little early.

Usually he's at the after-school care, so I can get him anytime within a 30 minute window (that I've made for myself) when I get off work. There have been times when I have been a few minutes late for other pick-up events - really, not more than 5, and he is stricken by anxiety. We want to avoid that.

In the perfect world, I waltz in with three minutes to spare. Yesterday, I got there and wished I had a book, my knitting, whatever, but I didn't, so I sat on a bench on the playground and looked around. It was a beautiful autumn day, and I just sort of went through my to-do list and enjoyed the sun.

School let out, we got to pottery with time to spare and he had a good time.

We got his school pictures back yesterday. Of course to me he looks the same every day, but getting the school picture shows how much he's changed in a year. Sure enough, the shape of his face changed a bit, and for some reason, his hair is turning redder. I think this comes from my side; my mom had reddish hair. Seeing him reminds me of her, and that makes me smile.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This in from my Dad

My dad is great. In fact, as I get older and spend more time as a parent, I get just an inkling of what it must have been like for them to have three children three years apart. He and my mom put a high value on education, and all four of us got four year degrees. I think that one of the unintended consequences of all my education is a high degree of skepticism, which I see as a good thing.

Dad is kind of old school. I'm fairly certain he'll vote for McCain, and is pretty conservative, although I've noticed as he gets older he's able to see more commonalities among people than he used to.

So he sends me an email today, and this is what I see first:

Subject: Women's ass size study

And I think, oh dear, here's another forwarded piece of junk mail that I'll be slightly offended by and then immediately delete.

I read on:

There is a new study about women and how they feel about their asses, the results were pretty interesting:
30% of women think their ass is too fat
10% of women think their ass is too skinny......
The remaining 60% say they don't care, they love him, he's a good man, and they wouldn't trade him for the world.

And I laughed out loud at my desk, almost shooting my Crystal Light out of my nose.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Guilty of a Cliché

Mr W is supposed to read for 10 minutes a day. As his teacher predicted at the parent-teacher conference at the beginning of the year, he'd rather read to himself, as that is getting easier to do than read aloud. But of course the way they test the kids is to have them read aloud, so they need to be good at it, or at least have it reflect what they can do.

We go to our local library about once a week for books and videos. I pick out several books for him to read at home, as well as books we can read for bedtime stories. The last time I got books for him to read, I was excited because I could tell they were a step up from what he was reading over the summer and in first grade.

Fast forward to the first time I say, "OK, pick a book and let's have you read for 10." To my surprise, he looks at all the books and pronounces them "boring." "What?" I say. "You didn't even look at them closely. You know what you just did? You judged these books by their covers." He was unimpressed, so I asked him to read the one on submarines.

So I've been picking the book for him to read. I picked one out on prairie dogs, as we see them in their last vestiges on the edge of town as we take Sally to dog school. He gave me the usual "it's boring, it's too long" stuff and got to work. Lo and behold, he gets through two chapters and says, "we can read more of this next time, right?" Yes indeedy, my budding book lover.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Sally goes to dog school. Sally will be two in December, and as such still has a lot of puppy energy that needs to be burned off. When I got her, one of the benefits was to be that I would get some exercise while she got exercise. And that largely is the case. There is a small group of us who walk while at the dog park, mostly because our dogs would just lay there if we weren't moving.

But a couple of times a week I take her to dog school. No, they don't actually teach them anything unless I want to pay extra, but they do reinforce good manners and let the dogs play all day. Sal comes home exhausted, and I can focus on Mr W or not feel guilty about going out that night.

Dog school is located in an industrial park-type area, and it happens to be across the street from our local food bank. A couple of times a week, if I get Sal to dog school before 9:00 am, there are people lined up outside the food bank, each with a shopping cart that the food bank provides. Lately there have been 15-20 people in line.

I am conflicted about this. Here I am, doing something that is, by any definition, a luxury, a perk, a convenience. These people actually need food, or they wouldn't be standing in line. The simple solution is for me to donate to the food bank, and I sometimes do. But not enough to assuage my guilt over not doing more to help.

By all accounts things will get worse before they get better. I am going to make a bigger effort to do things that help with the basics, and that means donating food or money to the food bank, and also to things that provide coats or toys for kids. I still have a job and am able to pay my bills, and I think that obligates me to give something to those that don't and can't.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Halloween's coming, you know

This caught my eye the other day. What a clever idea!! Thanks, Knitty.

I'm good at mosquito husbandry

Back in February of this year, a colleague and I went on a collecting trip to get specimens from a certain populations of mosquitoes. We brought back live mosquitoes and set them up in our insectary, which as rooms with growth chambers in it. The mosquitoes hang out in metal-frame cages with sugar water. One kind is special because the females will lay eggs without a bloodmeal (they are autogenous), while the other kind's female get blood fed every week to maintain the colony. No, we don't use human volunteers, we use a system that has little membrane-covered cups of calf's blood that are electronically heated.

The point of maintaining the colonies is to have live specimens that we can test new DNA markers with. The autogenous colony is interesting because there isn't a good genetic way to tell them apart from the anautogenous, and they are identical in appearance.

It has fallen to me to do the grunt work to maintain these colonies. It is never hard or messy, but it has to be done every day unless I work ahead so they'll make it over the weekend with enough food. The females lay eggs in a cup of water, and I take the cup out and distribute the egg rafts into 9 x 13 aluminum cake pans with lids. I feed them the fine particles of a solution of water, fish food, liver powder and something called "brain-heart infusion" (I don't want to know any more about that either).

After 5 or 6 days, the eggs have gone from larvae to pupae, and I transfer the water and bugs to a rearing chamber and put it back into the cage. I remove the old rearing chambers, feed everyone so they'll lay eggs and repeat and repeat and repeat.

It takes me about 45 minutes a day to do this, and as I said before, it's not especially dirty, or is it ever difficult. Someone else does the weekly blood feed, so that saves me a little time. My boss hasn't check on how these colonies are doing for months.

Yet, I take some pride in the fact that when I come in in the morning, there are egg rafts to process and I see that as a reflection that I'm doing a good job taking care of these creatures. Yes, I smush the ones that get out, and don't really have any affection for them at all. But I want to do a good job of it if I have to do it.

That said, I realize that I do have a lot of latitude in how I spend my time at work and I am thankful for that. I can work my hours when I want to work them, as long as the work gets done. My boss doesn't peer over my shoulder, but at the same time, I'd better be ready to give an update or know where those specimens are (and I usually do). If taking care of several hundred mosquitoes is the price to pay for those job perks, then I'm glad to do it.

cage image


I've been pretty good about watching the debates this year. I usually avoid them because the verbal attacks, even if I don't care for one or both participants, make me uncomfortable. This year it's too important to miss, so I've watched.

I had to divide my attention last night between Mr W and the debate, so I only got to really watch about a third of it. I kept the TV on otherwise and while I was reading bedtime stories, I kept pausing, prompting Mr W to say, "come on, read please."

Analyses afterwards and this morning seem to indicate that Obama came out a bit ahead, and McCain didn't change too many minds. He apparently sounded more like a typical politician.

Although things can change rapidly, I'm pondering this morning what it feels like to be an Obama supporter when it looks like he might win. I'm thrilled he's made it this far in the contest. I like how he conducts himself, even though his campaign has, like McCain's, aired negative and misleading attack ads.

Only 4 more weeks.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The ever-growing Mr W

Well, it finally happened. I was putting laundry into the washing machine and came across a pair of gray pants. 'Oh, I don't remember wearing those' I thought. Then I realized they were Mr W's pants. Yes, he's gotten big enough that I mistook a pair of his pants for a pair of mine.

Last May, at the end of the school year, I laid in a supply of long pants from the consignment store that I was certain would fit him when the start of second grade rolled around. Lo and behold, I have 6 pairs of pants that he never wore and are now too short.

He's a tall kid already, one of the tallest in his class. I'm thankful that he won't be picked on because of his size (one less thing to worry about). I did tell him, though, that his size then more or less obligates him to speak up for the kids in his class that come up to his shoulder. I don't think he gets it yet, but one of these days I imagine he'll get the opportunity to stand with some kid who is being bullied and hopefully be of some help.

We went back to the consignment store last weekend and bought some more long pants and hopefully he'll be set for a while.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

New Items from Postsecret

Ha! Here are a couple of Sunday secrets from Postsecret.

In other news
Last night I met with friend la Guera for dinner last night, before she and another teacher went off to chaperon the Homecoming dance. We talked about our past experiences, the racy dresses the girls wore, and how the duties of a chaperon include approaching couples who look like they are having sex and telling them they need to cool it.

I walked around to see the props and scenery (the theme was "Neverland") before they let the kids in, and thought about my days at school dances. I went to an all-girls school (which probably explains a lot...) and getting dates for dances was always a challenge. As I think about it, there didn't seem to be an option for a person to attend with a group of friends or without a date. This seems grossly unfair as I look back, although I don't think the nuns intentionally meant to force us into the mindset that we had to attend social functions with a date.

So as I walked around (it's been some time since I've been in a high school anyway), and saw the advertisements for class rings and senior pictures, I felt a significant sense of..... relief. Relief that I'm well past the uncertainty and insecurity that were a big part of my social interactions in high school. I commented at dinner, 'if I knew then what I know now', and well, I'd have had a lot more fun. And I'm glad I'm here not there.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hey Baby! Go Away! Look at Me! Cuttlefish Communication

I've mentioned before my long time interest in giant squid. I am amazed that something so big can remain largely a scientific mystery.

Cuttlefish, which are smaller relatives, have an incredible capacity to change the appearance of their skin in order to communicate with their squidly counterparts. Ed, over at the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science (a good all around science blog, btw) has a great post on the subject and here's a quote about how it works:

The top layer consists of specialised sacs of coloured pigment called chromatophores, which can expand or contract on command. By switching them from concentrated specks to flat plates, the squid can produce rapid bursts of colour.

But the key to secret signalling lies in the bottom layer. This consist of cells called iridophores, which contain stacked plates of protein separated by liquid. When light hits each plate, some is reflected but the rest passes through to the other plates below. The squid can control the size of the gap between the plates, so that they match the wavelength of different colours of light.

Go read the rest of the post, it's very interesting.

Seeing it reminded me of when I worked a couple of summers as a seasonal naturalist for the state park system in Ohio. At the training, we'd go through this catalog of films (yes, like we saw in grade school) on various topics that we were supposed to show at the campfire program on Saturday night. I tried to pick things that were either just entertainment ("What's that Lassie? Timmy's down in the well?") or sciencey.

One was on cuttlefish, and it was one of those things that you think, 'well, that looks OK' and after you see it, you think 'I can't believe there are creatures like that!' As they say in the video below, from a PBS NOVA episode, it's pretty wild that something related to a slug has such a complex brain. Did you notice how big their eyes are when they're not trying to hide them? Wow.

The NOVA link is to their website that has a lot more info on this phenomenon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Independent of the original connection

I was emailing back and forth today with the x about Mr W's schedule and he mentioned that his mother is in the hospital. When I was married, I was very close to my mother-in-law. As MIL's go, she was tops. Very hands-off, but at the same time very supportive. She had polio when she was 16, so she spent most of her adult life getting around on crutches, and has gradually lost mobility over the years. She's in a power wheelchair, and this latest hospital stay involves her shoulder. If she can't get it back to the point where it will support her when she transfers in and out of the chair, she'll have to move from her independent living facility to a nursing home that can provide more care. A rather large concession.

After I was divorced, I didn't contact her much, and she, I guess, felt like the first move should be mine, so I've not really interacted much with her for the last few years. She's in town, and I'm happy that Mr W gets to see her on a regular basis. I of course have thought, "oh, I should call her and stop by" but I never seem to get there.

I don't have any reason anymore, if I ever did. It felt awkward, when I was first single, to think about including her in my life. But now, I can more easily remember that she and I have a relationship that stands on its own. I feel weird for waiting so long, but it's time.

So I think I'll stop by the hospital and see her tomorrow. There are still some nice flowers in my garden and I think she'd appreciate a little bouquet.