Monday, December 28, 2009

In praise of my 1995 Honda Civic

I love my car. I bought it new when I lived in Toledo, and it will be 15 years next April that I have owned this vehicle. It has almost 172,000 miles on it, and, aside from three or four mufflers, three batteries, three or four sets of tires, and some miscellaneous "normal" repairs, it's been a relatively trouble-free car. I know I might be jinxing myself, but at this point, I'm ahead of the game, so I'll continue.

I know that my days with my beloved Civic are numbered. I put $500 into it a couple of months ago, which included me getting a new battery, which I am extremely thankful for each morning when I start my car. There's nothing wrong with it right now, but odds are I'll get to the tipping point in the next year or so, where it makes sense to get another car instead of plowing more money into this one. I take my car to Tom, who laments (in a nice way) most of the time that there's nothing expensive that needs to be fixed on it, and promises me that he will tell me when I'm at that tipping point. Pretty amazing.

I've had such a good experience with my Honda, it only makes sense to consider buying another. And I, for one, consider gas mileage to be almost the most important thing when deciding who the contenders are for Linda's next car. People who use their cars for actually hauling stuff or driving in potentially treacherous conditions of course have more to consider than I do here.

My old car gets about 35 mpg, and often more than 40 on the highway. This is what I'm used to, so naturally I'm looking for something comparable in my next vehicle. I can't imagine, given how I will use the car, settling for less.

So, what are my choices? Well, today's Civic gets a dismal 25/36. Yawn. The Civic Hybrid gets 40/42 mpg, but costs about $24K. Civic also makes the Fit, which I think is "so me". It costs less, about $18K for what I want, but it only gets 27/33. To its credit, there are websites that tout how people are getting much better mileage out of their Fits, so maybe I could get mid 30's overall? I like the style of it enough that it will likely be a contender. I've also read things online that say Honda is going to put out a hybrid Fit in the next couple of years, and if that were available, my decision would be made.

Finally, there is the Insight. I remember when my SIL bought one at least 6-8 years ago. She's got a long commute each day, and that model is a two seater. Today's Insight is a five seater, gets 40/45, and cost about 21K. I feel a sense of responsibility toward promoting this kind of consumerism, where we talk with our wallets, and that is a good reason to buy an Insight.

I'm thankful I don't have to make the decision quickly. I need to explore other makes of car as well, and also see if a diesel would work. One thing I've noticed is that American-made hybrid cars are more expensive than I thought they'd be. For example, the hybrid Escape, a small SUV made by Ford, is $30K! So, the search is on.

New (to me) Blog

I found a new blog on Science Blogs the other day. It's called Casaubon's Book, written by Sharon Astyk. She's homesteading, but was (and was?) trained as a scientist and writer. A fresh perspective on some of the environmental issues I've been pondering lately. I like her description that she and her husband decided to live "using a fair share of the world's resources".

I've also updated my blogroll with some new things I've found lately. Local food and crafting movement sites, as well as a very nice introduction to the science of evolution.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Aack! Enough relaxation!

OK after two days of hanging around the house, I'm really ready to get some stuff done! It was nice to have the down time, and today's list includes going to work for a bit, organizing school stuff, and continuing to look for good end-of-the-year deals on stuff that I'll have to buy in the next six months anyway.

I went to JCPenney's yesterday and bought Mr W four pairs of pants and two dozen pairs of socks. His dad has bought socks for him in the past, and now we've got about 4 different kinds of socks floating around in the laundry. The plan is to pitch them all (they look like they need it anyway) and start over with one kind of sock.

BTW, Why don't they make pants with double-fabric knees? I have several pairs of Mr W's pants that are perfect except for large rips in one or both knees.

Anyway, I did finish this pair of socks yesterday. I'm disappointed with how the colors pooled, but they will be good sturdy warm socks, so that's a good thing. I'm currently working on a pair of felted mittens, using up some odds and ends of yarn. My hands are pretty much always cold at the dog park, so this is needed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pre-Holiday Thoughts

It's funny what a double edged sword this holiday stuff is. On the one hand, I am really happy that all I have to do at this point is the fun stuff: put out the presents, cook the chicken, bake some gingersnaps, work away on my knitting, head down to Denver tomorrow night. Ahhhhh. OK, I also need to work half a day today and tomorrow, but it's researchy stuff, so no big deal.

On the other hand, it's going to be a quiet Christmas. I really love spending time with my family, and Mr W is going to be with his dad for half the time. It's OK, though. I'm looking forward to a bit of solitude, and whenever I get bored, I can always go to work or get going on organizing my course materials for school.

Nevertheless, it's time to wish all who actually read this little blog a happy holiday season filled with good times, good food and and good will.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Accounted for

Being single again, and having already seen my family for Thanksgiving, I didn't know how I would feel about spending the rest of the holidays alone. On the one hand, it's a relief to not be traveling by plane. On the other, there is a tendency to get mopey when I'm all by myself for too long or in certain situations.

I am happy to say that I have been accounted for. I had both an invitation to visit friends on Christmas, and have been invited to a New Year's Eve party. I guess it seems like a small thing, but I was really touched to be remembered and included. Mr W will be with his dad xmas eve and xmas morning, but I'll have him in the afternoon and we'll go visit friends in Denver after we open presents here.

I've also signed up to volunteer at our First Night celebration downtown. It's funny, I find the idea of having a kid-friendly New Year's Eve celebration that involves the arts so darn appealing. My kid, however, has never agreed with this sentiment, and has never wanted to go. So this year, darnit, I'm going by myself! I'll help out at one venue for a few hours, and then am free to wander around the others for free before I head over to the party.

This is good stuff.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just give me money

I decided to refinance my mortgage in order to pull some equity out and do some improvements. I've been approved pending the appraisal, which happens this morning. For some reason, I'm a little nervous. There's no reason it won't appraise for more than I paid for it, considering I've done some improvements already.

Maybe it's just the idea of someone looking at my stuff, in my space. I feel like I've let go the putting-crap-away aspect of housekeeping since I started teaching. For example, there have been cardboard boxes on my enclosed front porch for several months, and I just got them cut up into the 2x2 ish sections and bundled so they can be recycled. The place looks great, only now I need to go back and pull stuff out of boxes and out from under things and actually organize them. That's OK, it will happen.

Mr W and I will go see some holiday lights tonight, and he's got a play date tomorrow, so the weekend is shaping up to be busy in a good way. It's so nice not to be worrying that I need to get a lecture outline done, or a quiz made. I might take a stab at starting to organize my school stuff, though.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


It's been a lean few months for knitting around here. I've gotten a couple of things done that I posted the other day, and I'm almost done with a pair of socks, but I have to frog (that's rip out in its entirety) one because I made it too big and ran out of yarn).

I really do enjoy knitting in the evenings. It's relaxing, and most of the time I am content to listen to NPR and knit and that's it. It's sort of meditative. Well not this semester! It was almost like BEING in school, remember that? When, no matter how much time you had, and no matter what you got done, there was always something hanging over your head that needed to be done.

Eesh. So, needless to say, I'm thrilled to have gone through preparing for the bio class I teach once, and getting stuff organized is part of my between semester plans.

However, I have declared the weekend after Christmas: Knittypallooza. I have this sweater, this, ahem, summer sweater, that I started last spring, and would very much like to do a big push and get it done over the next couple of weeks. You know, so I can start something else! I also have the aforementioned sock to reknit, and then yet another sock to rip out and redo. I actually do love to knit socks, it's just hard to tell in the first few inches if they are going to fit, and my second one is often not identical to the first.

Knittypallooza will require me to sit around an knit most of the weekend, and I think I'm up to the challenge. Going for that long will let me feel like I've made up for lost time and get it out of my system.

There is a local knitting group that meets weekly and is getting together tonight. I might try to make that, although it's waaayyy on the other end of town. I'm starting to feel like I need to get out, after a few weeks of hermit-dom.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Just about there

I'm just about ready to turn my grades in for this first semester of teaching at the community college. In what amounts to the epitome of going through every little thing for the first time, yesterday I went to campus to get the finals scored on the scoring machine. As these things go, I had learned how to use the OTHER machine, not the one I had gotten forms for and my students had taken their test on. So I had to trudge over to the department office and bug the extremely nice and helpful admin assistant, who was her usual helpful self. She's so helpful that I feel bad when she drops everything to help me, you know?

So my finals have been scored, I just need to tally up the two parts (multiple choice and written) and add that to the rest of their grade, which I've already calculated. I'll turn it all in tonight.

I did get a chance to meet briefly with the lead instructor, who is my supervisor, and it made me really want to get a full time gig doing this. It's very unlikely at this institution, but one never knows. I've resolved to look around, and see what comes up between here and Denver.

I knew I would like it, and for all my complaining about being buried under the prep work and grading, I very much enjoyed it. The students come in with almost no scientific literacy at all. I tried (and will hit this point harder next time) to expose them to ideas that had relevancy to their daily lives. Two things I used were the Science and the City podcast, and Ted Talks. Both were about 20 minutes long per segment, and I had students do write ups on the topic.

During the break between semesters, I'm actually looking forward to getting my stuff organized into folders, so I can do more of a grab and go sort of thing. I hope to also get out and socialize more, I feel like I've been a bit of a homebody the last couple of months.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Projects

Here are two projects I've completed lately. We had a cold snap here and it was good motivation to get these done. The hat is a pattern called Stella's Hat and is made from alpaca, which is kind of droopy, but very soft. The cowl is a pattern called Crofter's Cowl, and made from Cascade Venezia, which is silk and merino - great stitch definition and quite soft. It's a dark purple, which looks a bit yellowed in the photo.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Old me's

My dad's been getting the family photos organized. Yesterday I received a package with "my" photos in it. I had long forgotten about most of them. I need to get them scanned and will post some when that happens. How was it that we thought those huge eyeglasses looked stylish? So funny.

One thing I've noticed, though, is about how I look as a teenager and adult. I've always been about this size, always been a little heavier than I wanted, always thought if I could just lose those 10 lbs, I'd look so much better. Looking at some of these pictures, I realize that my shape has been pretty consistent over the years.

If I was exercising and eating healthy in a way that I thought I was doing all I could reasonably do for myself, I guess I'd be more inclined to accept that this is what I look like. But, while I do OK foodwise (I don't eat much meat, and I try to eat a variety of foods) and I walk several times a week with Sally at the dog park, it always feels like I should do more.

Maybe I should try what I call the "red wine-noodles-sorrow" diet. When I was going through the divorce, I dropped that pesky 10 lbs. (not intentionally) by drinking a couple of glasses of wine in the evening, eating ramen noodles (no seasoning, just a little peanut oil and soy), and walking around the house crying. I'm kidding (mostly).

No, I don't want to go that route. I do want to have good tools to cook good food for Mr W and myself, though, so yesterday I bought this. Better yet, I used a gift card that my brother in law gave me that had been sitting around. I took it to Macy's yesterday and the very nice clerk was able to reactivate it. So, I paid $25 for a pot that retails for (OMG) $139. I hope to have it for years.

I like the idea of having the right tools to cook with, and I do want to grow and actually eat some vegetables that we grow next year. I hope this kind of mindfulness towards what I eat contributes to a healthier me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cold and hopeful

I snapped this of Sally the other morning when it was about -10 outside. She has the tough job of sleeping on my bed most days, but is always on the look out for opportunities to get out and go to the dog park or to "dog school", the doggie day care that wears her out and lets me off the hook for dog park duties once or twice a week.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A good night's sleep

It's been cold here. As in dipping down below zero for the last few nights. The year I bought this house (2005) I had the house insulated. It seemed like the furnace wouldn't go on much at all at night, which is a good thing, because in this small house, the furnace wakes me up every time it kicks on. I'm happy to use earplugs when I don't have Mr W staying at the house, but if he is, then I want to be able to hear him if he calls.

Last year I thought I had the cleverest of solutions because if the furnace turned on during the middle of the night, I had a little space heater set on the floor below the thermostat that I would turn on low to fool the furnace into not turning on for the next few hours. That worked like a charm, but now the dog's got the run of the living room at night, and I'm just not comfortable yet leaving the heater running while she's in there. It's not like she leaps around, she's good about plopping down on her blanket and staying put until morning. I still might put the heater on a small table and try that.

Last night, though, I was all about putting in the earplugs and taking an Ambien. It worked really well, and when the alarm went off this morning, I could just tell that I rested well. And today was a good day. When I get a good night's sleep, I feel like I'm at my best. I was playing songs on my ipod in the lab, and had a smile for everyone I crossed paths with.

This makes me wonder what the world would be like if people routinely got enough sleep. How would we treat each other if we were all well-rested? People would be less stressed out in general, I would predict, and have more patience with other people and themselves.

Just my two cents.

One down, a couple to go

I finished shopping for Mr W last night. And before I revel in my great purchase, I do want to acknowledge that I'm happy/relieved to be able to do any shopping this season, and will do a post soon on how I'm trying to foster some sense of giving to Mr W, who gives lip service to the idea, but is just starting to understand that someone's gotta give for someone else to get.

I wanted to get him an inexpensive video camera because he's shown some interest in making short movies with his Bionicle toys. I love the Flip cameras, it's just the all in one sort of thing I was looking for, but they were just a little to pricey for an 8 year old.

So this is what I got: Which I see this morning is $1.20 cheaper today than it was yesterday - 'doh! That's OK. It was about $40.00 which is low enough that if something tragic happens, no one will get too upset.

I need to do other family shopping, for nieces, nephews and my dad. His birthday is Dec. 23rd, and godhelpyou if you combine gifts. He is easy to buy for, though, and desires restaurant gift cards. I do one of those for his birthday, and then for Christmas, I go rogue and for the last few years have gotten him something that he hasn't asked for, but uses anyway and this pleases me greatly. It's fancy jelly from Harry and David. I don't know, to give a person who has a very narrowly defined gift list something they will enjoy pleases me.

Oh, and as for myself, my LYS (that's local yarn store, for non-knitters) is having a 30% off sale on a brand of yarn that I like. I'm going to buy a sweater's worth of yard tonight for me. Now, if I could only gift myself the time to knit that sweater....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More Mom Pictures

Here are some more pictures I found when I was home last.
This is the most recent. 1961 when she took Dad home to meet her parents.
Mom in her Nursing School gradutation portrait. I love how the name tag says "Miss Temple"

I'm guessing this is her high school portrait. That locket is still around, but I'm not sure who has it.

I love this one - she's probably 15. So sassy!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Another project

So here's another thing I'd like to get done to my house in the next 4-6 months. This is a picture of a pair of windows in my living room,which runs almost the length of the yard. My plan is to replace these windows with a sliding glass patio door. This side of the house faces north, so I don't want to sacrifice any light by putting in a single door. A patio door is almost this size, and I'm hoping that fact makes the job a little simpler.
The other part of this is that I want to have a 10 x 10 deck built on the other side of the doors, so I can spend time outside comfortably. It will also be great not to have to leash the dog and walk her out to the yard. I'm looking forward to creating sort of an extra room, and I want the deck covered with a pergola of some kind to block the sun in the summer.

Right now, though, the Christmas tree is in front of these windows, and there is about 8" of snow on the ground. Forecast is for another 3-5", and it's going down to -1.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's only December 6th?!

I'm so ready to start planning yard and garden projects, I can't believe it's not even Christmas yet!

I have decided to boost my efforts to grow food next year. To that end, I'm going to plant raspberries, and devote Mr W's old sandbox to veggies. This is a picture of the entirety of my yard, from the corner farthest from the house. It's a small lot, and I have no front or back yard. As far as potential garden space goes, there is this side yard, and then a strip along the alley on the other side of the house, where I have flowers, shrubs, and ornamental grasses.

I think I'll put the raspberries in some kind of container along the fenceline, to keep them from overtaking the yard and keep their soil isolated from the veggies that will be close by. Then I'll put veggies in the old sandbox that's in the other corner. I have a trellis for peas/cucumbers that I'll put over there, and then just sort of see what fits and what I feel like planting at the time. I tend to get overoptimistic with regard to the amount of vegetables I think I'll eat, so I want to plan realistically.

I also have the two old T posts that someone used to hang laundry on. I have visions of stringing something between them and having some kind of wind-powered, painted, fanlike arty something. Obviously still in the planning stages.

Other projects are afoot as well. I'm considering having work done on the house to make the yard more accessible from the house and will post about that in the future. For now, I'm content to research berries and dream of warmer days while I procrastinate about having to go out and shovel the 6 inches of snow that fell last night!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving - Take 3

For whatever reason, probably because I handed off a manuscript to my boss yesterday, today was a good day. I also got to work in the lab most of the day, and after being deskbound at work lately, it was nice to get back there.

Anyway, as I was doing a few go-rounds with Sally at the dogpark (if I stand there, so will she, so I walk and we both get some exercise), and it was cold and dark, I thought to myself that I was thankful to be walking at the dog park just then. Nothing hurt, I was warm she was happy to be loping along, and it seemed I should acknowledge that somehow.

This got me thinking about Thanksgiving, and how it really wasn't the same without my sister there, and in the future we'll gather elsewhere, and that's all OK. It's just how it is. On the way to arriving at this conclusion of it being OK, I realized I forgot to kind of acknowledge what I am thankful for, which is a good thing to be acknowledging this time of year.

I'm thankful for having a healthy kid. I am so proud of Mr W, I could just about burst into tears sometimes. I'm also thankful that my health has been good, and furthermore that I have decent health care. Related to that last point, I am thankful I have a job that I really like, with coworkers who are good to work with and a boss who lets me do my projects without hovering over my shoulder. I should buy him a bottle of scotch or something.

I am very thankful for my family. My dad continues to be healthy and active, and my brothers and their families mean more to me than I can convey. I'm thankful I have a circle of friends near and far that are there to celebrate and commiserate. I'm thankful for this house. I was fortunate to come out of my divorce with the financial means to buy it, and it has served as a source of security in a number of ways. I'm thankful I got the opportunity to teach this semester.

OK, that's a good list for now. It's supposed to go down below zero tonight - I'm also thankful for my sweater and slippers!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Of Course!

I'm a big fan of clever solutions. There's just a special kind of satisfaction associated with figuring something out with an answer that is resourceful and creative. I've gotten these sorts of forehead-smacking solutions for a couple of things lately that I wanted to share.

The first one happened when I was visiting family in Ohio. I was telling my sister in law about my desire to get the hardwood floors refinished in my house. There is hardwood in the living room and my bedroom, which comprise over 50% of the square footage in the house. I'm sure you can see the problem here. There simply isn't room to move everything out of those two rooms. My SIL looked at me and simply said, "rend a POD". Brilliant. I can get one of those big plastic boxes put in my driveway and keep the stuff in there for the few days it takes to do the floors. Ta-da!

The other thing was that, living by myself, it's hard to make arrangements to take my car into the shop. I borrowed Mr W's dad's truck last time, and took the bus to the repair shop. And felt pretty smug about it to, I might add. But as a taxi was behind me in traffic today, I thought to myself, "hey, I can just arrange a taxi, or our Dial-a-Ride program next time". Yea! I much prefer not having to rely on someone I know for a ride.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Old Photo

I got some family photos when I was home, and intend to scan them sometime soon. Here's one from about 1967-68. I was the baby of the family at the time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving recap - Take 1

Mr W and I got back late yesterday evening from visiting family in Ohio. It was a mixed bag, and I have enough thoughts to make a couple of posts out of it. The kid traveled like an absolute champ, being helpful hauling luggage and looking for information on signs, and bravely facing his fear of flying, which I think he has conquered.

It was really, really nice to see my family. I hope to host a summer gathering for my brothers and their families here in CO.

I succeeded in getting some pictures of my mom digitized, and borrowed a few in case I need to rescan them. I visited the cemetery, where both my mom and my sister are buried, and paid my respects. I took pictures of their grave markers too, which feels a little strange but I'm glad I did it.

Thanksgiving itself was the usual debauchery, and I ended up a bit hungover the next day. To show how out of practice I am at this sort of thing anymore, I was into my third or fourth glass of wine when the thought occurred to me, "if I keep going, I'm going to be hungover tomorrow". Too late. It's such good motivation to not do that again any time soon.

I had some great pictures of the family, and one in particular of my sisters in law and myself I was looking forward to printing out. Mr W was trying to take some pictures and erased everything off the card - darn!

So, more later on family and gathering.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chopping carrots

I've just been enlisted to chop carrots for the scalloped carrots, so this will be brief. Mr W and I arrived in Ohio without incident yesterday, and it's been great to see folks so far. We're expecting my brother and his family any time now, and my sister in law will be here this evening.

I went to the grocery store with my other brother this morning, and we bought a cart and a half of stuff. About 25 people are expected tomorrow, my sister's husband's family and then my brothers and dad. Life is good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I think so

I think I'm ready to go to Ohio tomorrow. It was more of a challenge to fit our stuff into two small suitcases than I thought, but we'll do laundry after a couple of days there. Mr W is both excited and scared to get on a plane. Thankfully, he's come to terms with it, and is more of the mindset of "well, I don't have to like it, but I'm looking forward to being at the destination".

And I feel a bit of retrospection coming on with the holiday and all, so there will likely be a post or two about that. I've also got some plans for my garden next year that are starting to form (such a bummer that it's only November....). Looking back and looking forward. Does that make me firmly rooted in the present? It never seems that easy.

The day before

I'm sitting in my usual comfy spot, on the couch with my feet up. I've got my list of last things to do before Mr W and I fly to Ohio tomorrow, and it's not too long. Looks like we will be able to fit everything into the two carry on suitcases, and we'll each carry a backpack.

I downloaded a few episodes of TV shows Mr W likes to watch onto my iPod. You'd think watching anything on the little Nano screen would be uncomfortable. Not so. The clarity is so good that the picture is quite good.

Hmm...Slippers, or no slippers? I think we can squeeze them in, so I'll try. I need to take Sally to the kennel this morning. We could do it after work, but the cost is the same, so I might as well make our evening a little smoother by taking her in first thing. I think I'm going to get her evaluated for work as a therapy dog after the new year (or after the semester is over, anyway). I think she's got potential.

I'm of course looking forward to seeing everyone. I was in church yesterday, and the minister was talking about Thanksgiving family dynamics - we love to see our families in small doses - and I think mine is at the upper end of family tolerability. It will still be hard to stay in my sister's house without her there, but I need to do it at some point. I'll go out to the cemetery as well, bring some flowers. Note to self: put Kleenex on that list.

And one last thing happened yesterday that I wanted to note. I was talking to an old friend who lives in Denver, and after getting caught up, she asked me what I was doing for Christmas. She invited me to come to their house for the afternoon, and I was so touched. You know how when you're not expecting anything, and then someone offers you something nice? It was like that. So I will go and eat pirogis and homemade kielbasa, and try to keep my expectations at a level where I can be pleasantly surprised as often as possible. Life is good.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Toot toot

OK, I'm going to toot my kid's horn a bit, but this post isn't really about that. Each month, Mr W's school has an assembly and each teacher honors kids who demonstrate IB principles. IB stands for International Baccalaureate, and the program "focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside." I like their emphasis on the fact that we are part of a larger world in lots of different ways.

Mr W received an award for demonstrating Knowledge and Curiosity, and I was able to come over for the assembly, so I did. As I gushed with pride that my kid was up there, I realized in horror (well, in small way) that his clothes are too small - both tops and bottoms. Time to get to the consignment store...

But what really struck me was when they walked in. Each class was filing in, and I'm looking to catch his eye. His class starts in, I see him, and instead of his face lighting up when he saw me, it was filled with, filled, nothing, really, that I could see. I was a little taken aback until I realized that this is actually a good thing.

It's OK that he expects one or both of his parents to attend these events for him. The fact that he doesn't know the disappointment of not seeing his parent in the crowd is OK with me, and one of those things that will pay off when he's older and is comparing childhood experiences with someone else and says, "yeah, my mom or dad came to all my stuff".

Friday, November 20, 2009

Way back when

I went to our local Barnes and Noble yesterday to pick up some things for Mr W to read and do while we travel to Ohio next week. I paid way too much for a couple of graphic novels I think he'll like, and got a couple of activity books. Remember Mad Libs? I think he's at the right age where he'll think they're hilarious.

As I wandered through the children's section, I walked past their toy train table, and was transported back to a time when Mr W was about 2-3 years old, and LOVED Thomas the Tank Engine. I was fairly certain at the time that I knew the location of every store in town that had a train table, and we'd often go and spend an hour at one of these places.

There were a couple of little kids around the train table last night, and their adoring families were sitting close by, being encouraging. It really was the very same thing I remember doing. Since there are several trains on the table, parents see this as a great opportunity for kids to get used to the concept of sharing. It is, certainly, but I laughed at the memory that they sure as hell don't want to share at that age!

It seemed like long time ago, juggling school and raising a young child with the x. This is evident in the stuff we are packing for the Ohio trip. As recently as our trip a couple of years ago, I devoted half a suitcase to carrying toys. Now, he's got his Nintendo DS, and we'll have a few books and travel games. The plan is to pack light and carry it all in carry-ons. We have to change planes coming and going, and I want to have all our stuff with us in case the schedule goes awry. Moving forward.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A 16' ladder as a symbol of independence

If you were to look at the north side of my house right now, you'd see that I started to paint the trim. I started this project back in the spring. I picked a nice combination of a reddish brown and a warm tan out of a paint sample brochure and the two shades do look nice together.

However, you'd notice right away that the paint job stops about 7' off the ground. Yup, that's as high as I could get with my 4' step ladder. My neighbor (the same one who trimmed my trees the other day) offered the use of their 16' ladder, but I've never taken them up on it. I'm not sure why, but it probably has something to do with doing things for myself.

It probably also has something to do with how busy I've been teaching this class, but it's also true that for the last couple of years I didn't want to put too much money into this house because I didn't know how long I'd live here. Well, the answer to that question has changed to "for the foreseeable future" so now I'm starting to think about things I'd like to do and have for the place.

Somehow, the purchase of a 16 foot ladder is becoming symbolic both of me realizing I don't want to move any time soon, and also of trying to do things for myself. I have an old friend who is establishing a homestead in upstate NY (hers is the Blueberry Hills Homestead blog in my blog list and she posts often), and she turned me on to a few other blogs written by women who are doing that sort of thing by choice. I can't say my situation is just like that, but it looks like I could learn a thing or two here.

So, I'll be pricing ladders over the new few weeks.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday goodies

It is so soup weather out there. Last night it went down to 20. Here's a picture of my default soup, chicken noodle. Nothing fancy, it's got onions, carrots and celery, noodles and chicken. I've taken to seasoning things with Penzey's dried Buttermilk Ranch salad dressing mix. A tablespoon of that stuff and it's quite yummy.
I also was overtaken by a desire for lemon squares. Dunno, I've never made lemon squares, but for some reason it sounded good. And they are also yummy, although next time I'll put more lemon juice in there. They are surprisingly easy, and I got my recipe from here. I do like both the lemon stuff and the crust together, but I could also just eat the crust, which is made from flour, powdered sugar and butter (wow).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Scratch these off the list

Do you ever have a flurry of activity when you get a bunch of stuff done? Here's my Sunday morning so far:

1. Feed and visit with the neighbors' cat
2. Shovel my walk and the neighbors' (who are out of town)
3. Fold laundry
4. Sweep basement floor
5. Block two wool sweaters (not knit by me) to get them to fit better
6. Threw away an old pheasant tail given as a gift to Mr W (ick)
7. Put away the Halloween lights
8. Started cuttings of some house plants
9. Changed my windshield wiper blades (huzzah!)

Now it's off to work for a few hours and then home to work on school stuff for a few hours. I'm very much looking forward to getting this semester in the bag and then being able to take advantage of the fact that I've done everything once.

From Today's PostSecret

You never know where you will find inspiration, I guess.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Sometimes the shoe universe smiles upon us and we can't help but just be grateful. Mr W and I were shopping at the thrift store to get a shirt for him to wear in his school play (he did fab - nailed his line and got a laugh - yea!) and I wandered over to the shoe area and saw these:
Now, you may think these are too close to being like circus shoes, or they may otherwise not be your thing. But I loves me these shoes. They're Danksos and practically brand new. Many pairs of shoes at the thrift stores have seen many better days.

I have to wear thick socks with these because they are a tad big, but it's winter, so it's OK. I think one of the reasons I like them so much is because I wouldn't splurge and spend the $85 that these shoes likely cost, and these became mine for a mere $7.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Kitchnered like a Rock Star

I like knitting socks. They are the ultimate compact knitting project. You can justify splurging on expensive-ish yarn because you don't need all that much. There are tons of patterns to choose from, and once you have your method down, they aren't technically difficult to make.

Two main schools of sock making have them made from either the toe up or the cuff down. I learned cuff-down, and have been trying to teach myself toe up. I admit I've gotten kind of bogged down with the toe-up world, and will likely rip out the second sock (shown here on the left in green) of a pair that has been languishing for months and do a cuff down.

Socks are usually knit on really small (like 2-3 mm) needles, and with a fine guage of yarn. That gives a nice look and small stitches. For these big reds, I used a 6 mm needle (comparatively huge) and the next step up in yarn width, sport weight. Wow, combine those two and this thing practically knit itself.

But, I'd like to draw your attention to my Kitchnering. At the end of the sock, at the toe, the two sides need to be grafted together to close up the tube of knitting. The Kitchner stitch is a way to sew a knit stitch with a tapestry needle that closes the tube and looks like knitting. I almost always screw this part up, which is sort of a heartbreak when it's the last thing to do on a sock and it's hard to rip it out and go again.

So here are photos of the best Kitchnering I've ever done. I looked at the instructions, tried something a little different and it worked nicely.

Now, we'll see if the second sock gets made - maybe over Thanksgiving...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Low spot

I recently ended my relationship with CB, and I've been melancholy ever since. I know it was the right decision, but owing to how his personality isn't to blame, and what I potentially gave up, well, it's just going to take some time to feel better.

We met online, on a site for science-y types, and from the beginning we were 900 miles apart. We talked on the phone, sometimes for hours, and exchanged emails. About five or six weeks into it, he asked if I would fly out to meet him, and then we'd drive the eight hours to Los Angeles for a concert he had tickets to. Even though I've told this story several times, it still looks like I took this huge chance with this person I met online. I never felt any red flags come up and we had a great time. Nothing like spending eight hours in a car to begin to spend time together!

Since he travels for a living and is on the road for two or three weeks at a time every three or four weeks or so, we settled into a routine of me flying out there for a few days every 5 weeks or so. Sometimes we'd have to wait longer, and I remember the first summer we were dating I waited an excruciating 7 weeks while he went to Alaska, and then to Nova Scotia, and then I had to travel for my work. A big concern for me for the first year or so was that he'd determine that it wasn't worth the trouble, and would decide to end it. But he didn't.

We went to California twice to go whale watching, and I looked forward to the opportunity to travel with him while he was working. He leads bird watching tours and that would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the money was never there, and I spent all of my vacation time on our monthly visits.

I will miss my time with him. We started dating a couple of years after I was divorced, but I was still, in retrospect, feeling the effects of having been married for 15 years and having the rug pulled out from under me. To be with someone who accepts and appreciates you for who you are is a rare and wonderful thing indeed.

I'm looking forward to doing more in my community, maybe getting some work done on the house and have decided I'll teach again next semester. I've missed talks with my sister acutely during this time, and it's been odd and sad not to have her counsel.

Thanks, CB. Our time together changed me for the better.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!

When you have a "OK, whatever you want is fine with me" kind of dog, doesn't that obligate you to set up and take these kinds of pictures?


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What a day (and a half)

I knew this was coming, but yesterday, my car wouldn't start. Thankfully I have AAA, so the tow to the mechanic was free. I have a great repair shop, whose only downside is that they are too small to have anybody around to give me a ride to or from work. Mr W's dad was nice enough to lend me one of his cars, and my plan was to ask my coworker to help me get my car this afternoon.

Unfortunately, she was out today, so I ended up dropping off the borrowed truck and taking the bus to the repair shop. I have been lucky to not need public transit often, but it always reminds me of my first year of college, when I lived at home and took a bus down to Cleveland State University for classes. It started to rain a very cold rain about 5 minutes after I got into my car, and I was grateful for not having to do my car-getting in the rain.

At 170,000 miles, I asked the car guy, "when is it time to buy a new car?" He said my car is doing fine, has lots of life left in it, and that they'll tell me when that tipping point is reached where putting any more money into the car is a bad idea. It's good to have repair people you can trust.

The other thing that happened today is that I got the results back from the x-ray of my lower back. I had gone in on Friday, because my lower back starts to hurt after I stand for a while, and it's gotten to the point where it doesn't feel like I can stretch it out anymore to make it feel better. As these things go, they left a message on my home answering machine yesterday, which I didn't get until after the office closed.

It's so hard to read anything from "we've got the results from your x-ray, give us a call", so I tried hard not to read anything into it. The verdict: a low degree of bone degeneration (i.e. arthritis) in my hip, which I knew about and doesn't bother me, and what they called "mild scoliosis". Huh. As in a mild curvature of my spine. The recommendation is to get started on physical therapy and go back in a month or so.

Mild scoliosis? My initial reaction was something like, "That's awesome!" out of relief as much as anything else. It's been named and now is a dealable thing. I was thankful, but it's been a busy day and a half.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Health coverage guilt

I went to the doctor on Friday for some low back pain I've been having. It seems to be related to the hip injury I had back in 1991. The initial thinking is that I've compensated by shifting my weight to the left side and now my left lower back hurts.

I had PT for the hip at the beginning of the year, as it had gotten stiff and hurt sometimes when I walked. It's good. It feels pretty darn good. But my back is getting worse, and it's aggravated by standing, so it needs to be looked at.

So I went to the doctor, and they recommend starting with an x-ray. I go over to the imaging center, and the sign says, "Please have your I.D. and your insurance card ready to hand to the receptionist". I have these things, so it's not a problem for me, but it got me thinking about the health care debate and that there are plenty of people who would not, could not go to the doctor to get themselves checked out because they simply couldn't afford it.

I feel guilty for having coverage and not doing anything about other people not having it.

It's too soon to know what the x-ray will show, and I have to admit that there's always a fear (always) that there's a big old tumor back there that only feels like back pain and off we'll go on it being Linda's turn to die young. I know, I'm getting ahead of myself. This class thing has been stressful, and I know that I don't want more stress in my life. I'm all about the balance stuff. On the flip side, it's been nice to put some money into savings.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall Color - Colorado Style

We don't get much in the way of fall color here. There's yellows, but really it's no comparison to what was routinely seen in Ohio. This pic is of one of the trees on my tree lawn, a Serviceberry. The robins love the berries in early summer, and it puts on a good show in the fall. We got a few inches of snow a few weeks ago, and I thought that would put the kibosh on nice color. This ain't bad.

Out of the goodness of my heart

I just got back from hosting a study session at a local coffee shop. After the first exam, I felt badly that some students were just not "getting it", and this was something I was willing to offer to help students understand the difficult concepts.

We've been studying cellular respiration and photosynthesis, which are two reasonably difficult topics, especially if all you've had was high school biology. I scheduled what I thought was a perfectly reasonable time of the day, 10 am - noon on a Saturday (today) for the session.

I brought my notes, the textbook, and the study guide. I got there a few minutes early and got a table for 4, thinking we could easily move to one of the larger tables if there were enough people to warrant doing so.

So I'm sitting there, feeling benevolent, and the first person walks in. Then, shortly after, the second (and last) person comes in. Who were these students, you ask?

They were two of the five who are in no danger of getting anything other than an A for the class, two of the best students in the class. They each had a couple of questions about the lab we did yesterday, which they had already stared writing up.

So, no one that really needed the extra help showed up. I was of course happy to help these ladies, who, being close to my age, have built-in cred with me. This experience has helped me to realize something, though. My teaching contributes maybe half of what they are going to learn (as measured by the quizzes and exams) in this course.

The other half comes from their efforts - to read the chapter, study, come to and pay attention in class, and do the online learning stuff. It's their deal. With the exception of a couple of them, they are more than smart enough to "get" the material. For those students, they really will get out of it what they put in. I feel sort of bad, though, for the ones whose expectation is that they will be fed this stuff and then all they'll need to do is memorize most of their notes and spit them back.

I'll do more of these sessions, but now my expectations are a little more realistic.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Man, I miss knitting - to my own peril!

This past weekend, it was my turn to watch Mr W, and we did a nice assortment of kid stuff and house stuff, and I worked on my school stuff a bit. Not enough. Throughout, I had this really strong urge to knit. Man, I miss knitting. So I started something small - a little knit ornament - and picked a scarf pattern that I haven't started yet.

I really got into knitting a couple of years ago. I was perfectly content in the evenings to listen to World Cafe with my feet up and knit for a couple of hours before bed. This worked well in the winter, especially. In the summer, my interest kind of wanes, and small things that don't warm my lap up (like socks) are good to work on.

You'll notice by the picture that I have several UFOs - that's unfinished objects, in knitspeak. From the left, there's the second sock of a pair I've been working on since spring - I'm trying to teach myself to knit socks from the toe-up instead of from the cuff down - I have to rip out the heel on these before I can continue, and the pattern makes it hard to do so, so I've done nothing. Next is a scrumptiously soft merino/alpaca yarn that I'm going to make a hat out of. Hope it gets done before it warms up in the spring. After that is the gold yarn for the ornament - just a few rows of that are done. Next is my Clapotis, which is done in sock yarn and is a scarf/wrap thing. Finally, there's my Radiate sweater that I wanted to complete this summer.


Oh, lest I forget, I have a vest for my niece that I really do need to finish. Before she's in high school (she's in second grade this year). Mental block on that one. Someday soon, I hope.

School has sucked out all of my free time. I am nervous because I'm going to AZ in a couple of weeks, and also going to Ohio for Thanksgiving. It's almost too much. I was barely prepared for class today, and completely forgot to write the quiz that was scheduled. I felt terrible. I'm hoping to get a lot done this weekend, which means no knitting, no housework, no projects.

I still like teaching, though.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's a good thing

In the class that I'm teaching, we are finishing up respiration today, and I have one more chapter (Photosynthesis) of material that I've learned, but learned a long time ago, to get through before we start something I know something about.

After we're done with Photosynthesis, we start Genetics - phew! There's still stuff I need to bone up on but this is much more familiar territory and I've felt like a bit of an impostor by presenting some of this stuff about metabolism and cellular respiration when I've just relearned it for myself and my knowledge of it is pretty shallow. I guess it is to be expected, and if I were to continue teaching, I'd "get it" more and more myself each time.

I did just find out, though, that my chances for a full time gig went down dramatically because a former full time instructor is coming back after doing a stint as a dean. All of the sudden, I'm not as motivated to stay on at the expense of feeling too busy. He's a great teacher, as is the lead instructor, so it's not like they are hiring poor instructors.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to talking about genetics stuff, and think I might have them do a - gasp - group project! Maybe a pairs project that is on some aspect of biotechnology. They respond really well to the extra stuff I throw out there, so I think they'd learn something from the exercise.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's only 5

Is it time to put up the storm windows already? We can't possibly be done with fall, can we? Well, we are for a few days, anyway, and there's snow and cold temps a-coming.

I almost missed my opportunity. We got a break in the weather today, and it was about 50 out. I came home a little early, put up the storms, and went to the dog park. A minute before I pulled in, it got all blustery and the cold front that was predicted to come through started coming through.

I hate putting up and taking down storm windows. There are only 5 of them (it's a small house) that need to be put up and taken down each year, but three of them are the old fashioned kind. The rest are a mish-mash of windows with integrated storms and screens, and one window with just a screen, that I need to order storm window for (come to think of it).

Those big kahunas, though, are a bit of a challenge. They are a little taller than me, and made of wood and glass, and are about 20-25 lbs. each. They hang on these hook things mounted to the outside of the house, and I have to lift the window so its parts catch on the hooks and it hangs there. Of course, being over 100 years old, they don't fit like they used to, so I bang a bit with my rubber mallet and try to wedge them in their spots.

This task is the epitome of living by myself. I can do it, but it would be easier with some help, but it takes me less than an hour, so it's not worth making arrangements to get help. Nevertheless, I curse, and I sing, and I talk to the dog, who almost got bonked with a screen that I was trying to push out from the inside ("Sally! Look out! Good dog - nice reflexes"). It's a task that tempts me to feel a little sorry for myself that I can't say, "Honey? Do you think it's time to put up the storms? I'll clean up the garden. Thanks."

I recently passed 4 years in this house. Mr W noted the time as well, doing the math to see that we moved here when he was half his present age. He lives in two homes, really - but that's fodder for another post. I'm satisfied that all he can really remember is the present routine.

But for now, I have my sweater on, I'm going to made some tea - or pour a glass of wine maybe, and knit for a while. I miss knitting.

At Last

I've been working on a project at work that was one of those that was supposed to be pretty straightforward, but wasn't. The data mostly told the story we were hoping they would tell, with one exception. The most isolated population was supposed to show signs of that and have a measurable amount of inbreeding. Instead, the other 5 populations showed it, and this one didn't.

This led to several weeks of trying to figure out a biological answer to explain these results. In the end there wasn't one. It was more or less user error (i.e. my error). When we amplify fragments of DNA, the process, called PCR, cycles the temperature of the reactions up close to boiling, and back down to 50-60 degrees C, over and over again. I was using a cycling program that was recommended by the company that makes the machine that we visualize the PCR fragments on. Turns out the program was too hot, and some fragments must have dropped out to give me these results.

I figured this out by rerunning some of the samples at a lower temperature, and lo and behold, no inbreeding. Just like that. So now I'm trying to get the rest of the 300 or so samples processed as fast as I can, so we can get the manuscript out. My boss and another investigator discovered a new population of this certain form of mosquito and I've been holding up the show as far as what their population genetics look like.

This is one aspect of my job that I would change if I could. The part of the CDC I work for doesn't generally look at population genetics, so if I run into a problem, I have to go outside to get help. Since I'm still living where I went to school, this isn't too big of a deal, it's just that there's no one to bounce ideas off of in house. I think things run slower sometimes because I have to figure them out on my own.

I feel like there's something I should do to "make up for" the fact that this took so long. I'll have to think about that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Three down

In a class of 21 students, I had one out last week, and two emailed me this morning to say they've got a fever and likely the flu, and thus would not be coming to class today. My response was, "Good! Please don't come in until you've been without a fever for 24 hours. We'll work out the details when you come back. "

So here we go. Hopefully, the sick ones will stay home and I won't get sick. We're as ready as we can be, I guess. I got my seasonal flu shot about a week ago, and the CDC will offer H1N1 vaccines as they become available. I'm OK with getting the vaccine, especially after I heard that it's prepared the same way that seasonal flu vaccines are prepared each year.

I have thought, though, about what I'll do if I get sick for a week. I can't imagine excusing myself from my responsibilities for that long. Not that I'm particularly essential for anything, I guess I just usually feel pretty busy with this and that. But I would heed my own advice, and make soup and hopefully feel good enough to knit.

A friend sent me a useful email the other day, listing things people could do, besides hand washing, to help reduce their chances of getting the flu. I hadn't thought of a couple of these. The advice centered around the fact that the virus has to physically be at a point of entry (i.e. inside one's mouth or nose) for a while, an hour to a few hours, to be able to get into one's body. With this in mind, the advice encouraged drinking plenty of warm liquids to wash any virus down to the inhospitable conditions of the stomach. Also, it was suggested to use a saline nasal spray a couple of times a day, followed by "vigorous" nose blowing, to dislodge virus in nostrils.

Simple stuff, but stuff I had not really thought of. It's definitely getting to be the dry season here, and I'm trying hard to keep my hands from cracking due to all the hand washing. I'll try these things (maybe with moderate nose blowing), cross my fingers, get enough rest, and hope for the best.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tough week, once removed

Isn't it strange how things sometimes happen in waves? This week, a dear friend's hopes for the start of a new relationship were abruptly halted when the other party ended things, and the wife of an acquaintance died young. I read on Facebook of another friend who attended three funerals this week. Ouch.

Sometimes tragedy does seem to come in waves. What a great time to take stock. I saw yet another friend today who has had some health issues lately (including the flu making the rounds) and when he said, "So, how are you?" I laughed sort of nervously and said, "Fine! Just fine, nothing hurts and the kid is healthy".

I've been washing my hands a lot, and being extra careful to have Mr W do the hand sanitizer and/or wash his hands as soon as he gets home. Trying not to touch my nose or mouth too much during the day, and also to drink enough fluids. I realized the other day that this is just the start of the vigilance - it's still not quite seasonal flu season yet.

In other news, Mr W's dad has been out of town this week, and I didn't get my usual couple of days kid-free. It makes me appreciate that aspect of the parenting arrangement. Funny, though. I was remarking to someone on Friday that I've got Mr W just the way I like him. He's getting enough rest, is not too sassy, not testing the limits too much. And then tomorrow or the next day he'll stay with his dad for a few days, and the cycle starts again.

Not that his dad does a bad job, I imagine it's more just the transition from house to house that makes the kid want to verify what the rules are at the moment, and that's fine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Miss you, Mom

My mom passed away on this date in 1993. Sixteen years. It seems like 16 years; it seems like she's been gone a long time. Her death came as such as surprise to us all at the time. I guess it was because we couldn't imagine what life would be like without her.

I was thinking whether I had an electronic picture of her and realized that I don't and I'm kind of shocked. I'll have to dig around and find some snapshots to scan. She passed away before people really started keeping their photos on their computers.

Shitfire (for some reason this word is not in the dictionary, and it is the only word flagged as misspelled in this post). There are times when I'm as OK as a person can be when she's lost both her mom and her sister young. Mom was 56, Kris was only 45. I try to look forward while having learned from the past; that's how I want to live my life. But there are times when I'm tired (like now) and the loss still seems so profound that I have trouble measuring its consequences.

So that's it. Just a marking of the day. Remembering.

Eight Hours Earlier - The Next Day

That's the time difference between most of Australia and Colorado. CB's off for three weeks of working in southern OZ (as the cool people refer to it) and I have a few thoughts.

First it IS a long way from home. It's about a 14 hour flight from Los Angeles. Usually CB's trips keep him in this hemisphere (although he did go to Spain in May) and this trip seems different both because it's longer and farther away. Never mind that he'll be home for three weeks then goes back to New Zealand for another tour in November. Bounce bounce bounce.

By the end his internal clock has been thoroughly messed with, and it takes some time to figure itself out. In the meantime, he's overcome by the need to sleep occasionally and not much can be done about it. We've figured out that me waiting a week and then coming down for a visit seems to work best.

Also, the time change is wacked, in terms of trying to talk every few days. I'll need to be better at carrying my phone around, and crappy connections are more the rule than the exception. It's a mixed bag to be all excited to talk only to have to keep saying, "I'm sorry, I didn't hear that" and "I'm sorry, you just cut out".

That being said, connectivity is apparently a lot better than it used to be. For example, CB said it's possible to go to Google Earth and get street views of the hotels they are staying in. I can only assume that means that the place in general is moving towards better and faster internet, but at least I can see the place!

Finally, I think about how I was the first two years for this trip. For some reason, the combination of factors for this particular trip made me anxious while he was gone. Anxious about whether the relationship was going to work out, anxious about his safety, etc. I have since come to a realization, and I had to go through a few trips to get to this place. The realization is that, left to my own devices, I worry too much about things that aren't worth worrying about and that further, I can do nothing about. And knowing the process can happen sort of names it, and then it goes away.

So this year, I'm too busy to worry! It's not just that I have the teaching gig to keep me busy. We've now done this enough that I know the routine and know that I'll hear from him when he's able to call. So simple. But keeping busy does help, and if I ever feel like I've gotten ahead, I've got a pair of socks, a sweater, a scarf and a bag waiting as unfinished knitting projects that are just waiting for me to come back!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

That's not how it looks from here - oh wait

It's Saturday morning, I slept well, and the day will be full of getting things done. Unfortunately, it's mostly going to be related to making up hours at work and doing things for class. Playing catch-up, as it were.

I've been in a grading vortex the last couple of days, where I'm plodding through a stack (and it's not a huge stack, only 21 papers) of lab reports. These mostly first-time college students who have no experience writing scientifically are expected to churn out a lab report that conforms to and is graded based on how people write scientific journal articles. If they put me in charge (ha ha) we'd start with the pieces of it, because no one gets it. I write lots and lots of comments (hint: never say "First you take a measuring tape...") and I've already put 8 hours into grading these damn things and I've got another 8 reports to do. Harumphhhhh.

It's times like this when it's really important for me to step back and look my situation from a different, wider perspective. One that takes into account the temporary nature of this "problem" and the fact that I have it because I have a full time job plus took this on. It's going to be a beautiful day, and I'm meeting up with a friend for dinner, and once I get over this hump of grading, I'll be able to actually work ahead on lectures a bit.

That's a good thing, a really good thing, because I think it's getting more important in this class that I don't spend the time yakking up front. I'm on the look out for activities they can do in class, and so far it's worked well. I gave the first exam Monday, and while the average was 70%, a lot of people didn't do as well as they had hoped and I want them all to succeed.

And for all my kvetching (I'm sorry to those of you that have had to listen to it) I really, really like it. I wish someone would hire me to do it full time. I have noticed that my effectiveness and maybe my skill as a teacher are directly related to how comfortable I am with the material, and the students of course respond well (both with their attention and with good questions) when I'm in that zone. I suppose that's a no-brainer, but it's been my experience (teaching three labs a week in grad school) that getting to the "I've done this before, so I'm comfortable" stage doesn't happen the same way when teaching only one class - I have to be really well rehearsed instead.

So with that, I'm off to get ready for the day. I'll start out at work, where I owe them some hours and am looking forward to seeing some results of a test. Then I'll maybe go someplace nice and get the rest of these lab reports done.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Word to My Boss

Dear H,

A couple of days ago, I was getting myself, my kid and my dog all ready for the day and it struck me how amazingly great it is not to have a set clock-in time for work. Your attitude has always been one of, "You guys are adults, you know how to get your hours in, and as long as the work gets done, I don't need to hear the gory details".

I was thinking, then, about the implications of this attitude. For starters, it has allowed me to carry on a long distance relationship with CB by letting me work weekends to bank hours in order to visit (or be visited) a few days every few weeks. With 10 measly days of vacation, I couldn't swing it otherwise. And while I'm thinking of it, thanks for hiring me at a decent wage. If I'm there for another year I'm going to ask to be upgraded a pay level, but I think it will be worth it for everyone.

Perhaps most importantly, being freed from a set start time has promoted a calm and largely anxiety-free atmosphere in the mornings at my house. I know what time I want to get to get out of the house that day, and if I miss that by 5 or 10 minutes, no one cares. I see women putting make-up on at stop lights, and hear about "breakfast on the go" and am thankful we don't have to do that.

And while I'm at it, I also appreciate the way you let us work on our projects without hovering. There's sort of this understanding that we'll come to you with updates and problems, and it's really great to be free to work on my stuff at my own pace.

So that's it. Thanks again, and I'll try to have that manuscript finished by the end of next week.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Don't look now, here come the holidays

My family is scattered around the country - Ohio, Minnesota, and South Carolina. It used to be assumed that I would come in yearly for either Thanksgiving or Christmas and spend a few days.

I've been thinking lately about how some things have changed, though. Since my divorce, it's Mr W and I who will travel together (CB's working for most of that time). Last year, which was the first Christmas after my sister died, I simply couldn't bear to be in her house without her, so I didn't go to Ohio at all. I elected to meet up with my siblings in South Carolina, and had a great time.

But the desire to meet up with family during the holidays stays the same. I guess there are more choices now.

I'm getting the same feelings of anxiety when I think about how they'll have the house decorated without Kris there. Hmm, I'm a little surprised about this myself.

Anyway, plans are shaping up, and I need to decide where Mr W and I will spend Thanksgiving or Christmas. Thankfully, Mr W's dad is flexible as to the holiday schedule, so I don't have to worry that a battle will ensue over holiday time. That IS a good thing that I often take for granted.

Mr W's developed some anxiety of his own regarding flying, and I need to help him work on that. CB suggested we get some books about the ins and outs of flying because, as I often say myself, knowledge is power.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Back from radio silence

I've fallen off of posting and intend to get back on it soon. CB was here for a few days, and we were BUSY most of the time. I need to see if he can send me some of the video from the bike parade that went past my house last Saturday - it was fun to watch. Next year, we're doing it, though, not going to be spectators.

Teaching is going well, but I feel a bit behind. They have their first exam on Monday, and I haven't written it yet. Good thing those copy machines are available on Saturday.

Finally found some music lessons for Mr W that I think will work - more on that later. The short version is that they were going to have him in a class, but all the other kids were 6, so he'll get private lessons for the same price.

I'm starting to think about the holidays, too. Looks like Mr W and I will go somewhere, just not sure where yet. Probably Ohio for a few days.

I just noticed the date. My recollection of 9-11 includes spending a lot of time in the basement of the house my x and I were living in at the time. Mr W was 7 months old, and I remember having him on my lap, and he was gnawing on my fingers like babies will do. At one point, I felt two little ridges in his bottom jaw, and there were his first teeth just starting to poke through. Life marching on.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Musical Wumpkin

Mr W is the nickname I use for my son Zach. After he was born, they brought him into the room and I said something like, "there's my little wumpkin". Or maybe it was pumpkin, but no matter, wumpkin stuck and he, as of this writing, will still answer to it.

He's an only child, and spends his time equally between his dad's house and my house; we all live in the same town so this usually isn't too much of a problem. He does well in school, and given the choice, he'd play on the computer or his handheld DS game thingy for the remainder of his free time. OK, that's not entirely true, but his dad and I (mostly I) felt that he should develop some other interests.

I did not come from musical people. This might be revisionist history, but I remember coming home in 3rd grade and wanting to play the clarinet. And my parents said no. As a parent of a kid who to date hasn't shown the initiative to say "I'd like to try X" I'm still surprised I got turned down. But my parents weren't musical either, so they didn't have a basis to know what they were getting into.

And, neither do I, but I'd like Mr W to have some musical background. A friend's son takes lessons from the terrific music director at our church, so I contacted him and was put on a wait list for private piano lessons. I think Mr W would benefit from the lessons, but looking back, I don't think he's ready to dive in. And, while Mr W's interest right now is an electronic keyboard, those lessons' point is to make him into a piano player.

This was a bit frustrating for me because I don't know what makes a good music teacher or program. I want him to be engaged and like it, despite the fact that he's got to practice.

And then, by chance, I found the place and program.

I was driving by our sad excuse for a mall (vacancy rate = 50%) and saw a colorful sign that said "Foundation Music School". Yup, I was attracted by the sign (hey look! color!). I looked at their website and they've got a program for kids 6-9 (Mr W is 8) that introduces them to piano through aural and visual means, and they play games and imitate sounds. I talked to one of the teachers yesterday, and she was enthusiastic and from the conversation, I think this would be a great introduction to music for the kid.

Phew! It's odd how chance played into this, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I just realized it's September

It's been a good summer. How is this measured? Well, partly by the absence of tragedy, but also by the extent to which the fact that it was summer was taken advantage of (if that's a sentence). Last summer we were all reeling still from my sister's death, and a couple of years before that was the whole divorce thing, so it may be the absence of tragedy. But we did do some good stuff:

Mr W, Sally and I went hiking, something I'd like to do more of, especially given this one trail that allows dogs off-leash. We also went to an amusement park and pushed his boundaries a bit as to what he was willing to go on ride-wise. I keep saying I'll go on whatever he'll go on, but I'm going to have to modify that to exclude rides that go around in speedy queasy circles. We rode our bikes fairly often, and he had a good summer at camp.

I got a decent garden in this year, although my landscaping projects have not come to fruition. Good thing about Colorado is that I've got some time yet before the snow flies to make some progress there. CB and I visited the Grand Canyon and looked for condors. Saw the former, looked for the latter for several hours with no luck. Over half the visitors seemed to me to be foreign - welcome, of course, but where's the Americans? I did some fieldwork for work and have concluded I prefer fieldwork on plants to that with mosquitoes. On the up side, I got to visit several cities in western CO that I had not been to, and they were lovely. Not to mention I collected specimens that will be my work for the next few months!

The weather wasn't too hot, which is always nice when one's house doesn't have AC. There is usually a stretch of a week or so when I contemplate putting the window AC unit in the living room, but it never stayed hot for that long.

So all in all, it was a good summer. Mr W was asking just yesterday about how long each season is, and I told him that if we end up with a mild winter (like we did last year) fall lasts a long time. Ah, sunny, jacket weather during the day and cooler temps at night. But there's always a chance of a blizzard in October as well, but that's the price of living here.

CB's coming in on Friday for several days. It's been a while since he's come here, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Yes, that's pretty much what I thought

I've been sort of struggling to get up to speed with lectures and the other stuff (so much other stuff!) involved in teaching this class. Getting to bed late, not sleeping as well as I usually do, that kind of thing. But it's getting better, and as long as I'm a chapter ahead, I'm good.

I had this dream the other night that was kind of telling. I was driving, and twice I was going over a hill, and it was so steep that I couldn't see what was ahead of me. The second time I remember saying to myself "I can't see what's ahead". I go over the top of the hill, and can see at the bottom that the river that runs alongside the road has flooded so that it is crossing the road and it's just about impassable. I start to get panicky, as I feel like I'm going to have to go into that flooded area. I look again, and there's a spot on the side of the road, just before the flooded area, where I can turn around. I was really relieved.

I think this is my mind reviewing how I was looking at the situation: first, not knowing what was going to be ahead, then getting caught up in this fast moving thing that I didn't know how to deal with. And finally, the relief of there being a place to turn around, which I think is the reminder that after the semester is over, I can go back to the old routine.

On a related note, I had a realization when I was talking to a student in the hallway before class. There is no way I can speak all of the information they are expected to know by us "covering" the material at the pace that we do. An instructor has no choice in this kind of class but to hit the high points and convey their expectations that the students read the book. I'm grateful that the book comes with this really extensive online learning program and I'm going to use it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good Morning, I'm Linda and this is Bio 111

Aaaaaand we're off. I think I'm going to like this teaching thing. If the thought of "wow, 45 minutes has passed" is any indication, I'm fully capable of listening to myself talk for long periods of time.

It's funny. Where I work, there are lots of people who have their Ph.D.'s, so it's not like anyone goes "oooh", although I guess people expect you to write papers instead of just being a tech. However, yesterday, I saw nods of approval when I said I had a doctorate. Instant cred. Well, for that moment anyway.

Of a total of 24, there are lots of nursing students, lots of people returning to school, a couple of people who don't know why they are there, and overall I think they will be a good group, if first impressions are telling.

I need to rehearse my shtick a little more. I found myself pretty much reading from the slide when it was something I just lifted from the book, and then expounding on how cool this or that was if I already knew a lot about the topic. I also do need to get more class activities into the mix. So far, I've spent my time getting all the necessary stuff done (book keeping stuff) before I can think of cool and relevant activities for them to do. I'll get there.

I had them answer some questions so I could get a sense of where they were in terms of biology courses and to get a sample of their writing (to compare against written work done outside of class) and I'm so glad I did. Most of them had biology in high school, but they are coming into this with a blank slate. Good to know.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tomorrow's the big day

Tomorrow is my first day of teaching. I'm ready content-wise, although I can't seem to get into my campus email account. There's also a bunch of little things to remember and book keeping things to do.

I feel like this is the time to take a deep breath and head on in there. I've sort of figured out how I'll allocate my time, and on the days during the week that I have Mr W, I'm just not going to expect too much school stuff to get done. I was also hoping to bank some hours for CB visits, but it's been hard to both take time off of work to do school stuff, and get ahead in that regard. I have a week's vacation yet, so that' good.

Here we go.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"There's been a small glitch"

That's how I approached my boss yesterday with the news that this awesome data set, which I had just finished a second draft of a manuscript for, had something wrong with one of the analyses. Oops. There's a lot to this population genetic stuff, and I discovered an inconsistency when I was going over the results for something else and I have to get it figured out before we can publish the paper.

One of the measurements one makes when doing population genetics is a measure of inbreeding. Big populations of organisms, like mosquitoes in general, should be random with respect to who they are mating with. This more or less absence of mate choice means there should be NO inbreeding in these populations. Small, isolated rare plant populations? Sure, they're expected to have some inbreeding. But big (like 10's or 100's of thousands - geez, maybe more) populations of flying organisms shouldn't have detectable levels of inbreeding.

But mine do. My feeling this is most likely a scoring error. I put the bits of DNA of interest through a DNA sequencer that is able to detect the size of the bits. Sometimes, especially when the bits are close in size, it's hard to tell what they call stutter, from actual data.

So I'm going back over the whole data set today - let's see, that's 10 markers times 247 individuals. I sure hope I can tweak the machine so I don't have to score all of them by hand, but I might have to look at a lot of raw data to get this figured out. *sigh*

To my boss's credit, his main concern was that we didn't put out erroneous data, so he's OK with me re-doing this part. I don't think it's going to change the gist of the data, but if the problem is what I think it is, what I'll do over the next few days will fix this finding of inbreeding that shouldn't be there. If it doesn't, well, I guess we'll have to come up with an explanation, but I'll feel better that that finding is genuine if I go through this exercise first.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend? What weekend?

I've burned through an entire work day this week going to meetings for my second job (and getting my hair done :-)). I'll need to work Saturday to make up that time, and then wanted to work another half day to bank some hours for when CB comes in a couple of weeks. That may or may not happen. Yea for vacation time...

Like CB said yesterday, when so many people are out of work, no one wants to hear the travails of one's SECOND job.

Classes start Monday, and I'm well on my way to my goal of being two weeks ahead in terms of lecture prep. It's enough and it's all I'm going to be able to do this first semester. I'm having trouble getting into the college's class management sites; the system doesn't recognize my user ID and password. I called tech support this morning - nice of them to have it up and running 24/7 - and they'll fix it soon. *twiddles thumbs*

Gaa. I'm still off balance. Yesterday, we had a meeting with the textbook rep and they have a whole site devoted to helping the students master the content. There are animations, quizzes, homework - and the students pay to use this service whether I get my act together and get it organized or not. I intend to have them do some homework each week, to keep up with the reading and help them use the site, which will help them in the class. But it's one more thing, beyond the classroom management program where I'll post my lectures and keep track of student grades...

I'll get there, but I'm not there yet.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I went to the part-time instructor's orientation yesterday at the community college, where I'm going to start teaching on Monday (gulp!). I'm more or less ready, I've given up the idea of being fiendishly ahead in terms of lecture in favor of being a couple of weeks ahead and able to think of those in class assignments that will relieve some of the drudgery of lecture.

There were a lot of people there. The first part was just for the department, which is natural and environmental sciences. It seems the lead instructor is the only full time faculty member; the rest are adjuncts. I can't believe this is a profitable way for a community college to go. There are, let's see, about 7 adjuncts teaching biology. I guess I look at it in terms of me possibly getting a full time job someday, and the odds just seem overwhelmingly against it, even though I think I would like it and do well.

The second part of the orientation was college-wide, and there were about 100 people there, all part-timers. Probably 2/3 were returning. They had most everyone except for the new president (who I guess hasn't started yet) come out and say a few words. I was impressed by the resources available to these students. Writing, note taking, stress management, tutoring, if a student shows any initiative at all, and nothing weirdly unexpected happens (which sometimes does), he or she should be able to get their two years of schooling and get on with life.

I'm pleased to be part of this. Colorado doesn't seem (and this is just my opinion) to support higher education to the extent that some other states do. My brother works for a community college in Minnesota, and they really seem to have it going on. It's presented as this really viable option for students who don't want or need a 4 year degree, or who want specific training. In his department, there are 4-5 full time faculty, and the students go through a program that leads to a certificate or associates degree.

I guess biology at the community college level isn't really a stand alone thing, like other subjects. You take your biology courses on the way to getting some kind of specialized training.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The new reality

I often struggle with the question of whether I'm doing enough for my son. Since he's an only child, the reality is that on the weekends, when I'm trying to keep the place from looking like no one cares what it looks like, he's got to entertain himself sometimes.

His preference has strongly gone to what I call "screened things". The TV, computer and his Nintendo DS. In a pinch, and particularly when I've said "no more" of those things, he'll ask if he can play on my iPod.

The question of an addict. Or is it? Recently, he go the idea to reconfigure the 10 or so Bionicles he's got so that they have pieces and parts of different ones on each. Hybrids, Franken-onicles, whatever. I like seeing that spurt of creativity, especially because he used to be very reluctant to take anything apart once it had been put together. Over this past weekend, he spent a lot of time doing this on his own. He wants to photograph or video them and put them on Youtube. I wish I had more than my very old digital camera that shoots a minute of uneditable video at a time to give him.

I think that, overall, this summer was a summer. That is, even though he went to camp most every day, it was primarily a playing camp. He certainly went to bed later, and got to play more screened stuff than he normally would. He read books voluntarily maybe three times, and I failed miserably at getting him to read aloud daily. On the flip side, we rode our bikes downtown for ice cream almost weekly, and that's a good thing. He also is starting to do chores, which I like and appreciate.

Oh, the sweet days of summer. Well, now it's the first day of school, and I'm looking forward to him actually learning stuff again. He'll bitch mightily, but I'm implementing a new schedule.

I think that he, like a lot of kids, actually finds some comfort in knowing what's expected of them, so with that in mind, we'll try to have a routine in the evenings. It mostly involves me keeping a better eye on how much screen time he's getting, and of course he's got to have his homework and chores done before the fun stuff. His dad and I are wanting him to learn an instrument, so we'll have to work that in too.

I'm looking forward to having him read to me again, and I think we'll wean ourselves off of the Calvin and Hobbes (he can read that on his own time) and I'll start reading him chapter books at the end of the day. I've seen some great recommendations lately, and it won't be hard to find something for us to read.

But for now, I need to get him up so we can start our day.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Clear as mud

One thing about having a blog is that the communication is so often one way. Yes, I lurv to read comments! But since no one proofs this stuff, and by golly, I'm often tired (or pre-coffee'd) when I write, sometimes it makes sense to me but perhaps no one else.

So I was writing about not feeling as much anxiety about teaching because CB and I had had a conversation where it got put into context. He noted that the lab frog cartoon was confusing, so I thought I'd clarify. The cartoon was unrelated except that it had to do with teaching biology.

I had been reading and getting lectures ready for this class, and it seemed like it was just prep and prep and there was no way I was going to be ready. The conversation with CB reminded me that, once I met the students, I'd make a connection with them, and the preparation would be put into context because I'd be helping the students learn.

We don't dissect frogs. Good thing, that.

In other news, we went to the annual Pooch Plunge yesterday, among other things in a very busy and fun weekend. I took some video, which has Mr W voicing concern over the thunder he hears and wanting to go home, but it's otherwise fun. I'll post the video soon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Time, time, time

Last weekend, I started to prep lectures for this class that I am teaching. It starts in about a week, and my goal is to be 3 or 4 weeks ahead in terms of having lectures ready to present. I had wanted to do things other than lecture, because I think it's good for both students and the teacher to do that.

But I think that for this first time teaching, I'm going to barely keep my head above water presenting lectures that are more or less from the textbook manufacturer. I've edited them some, but am using pretty much what they have. It's not like the material is hard, it just takes a lot of time to process it!!! I have about an hour at the end of the day, and it's enough to get through half a chapter.

I should have started this process earlier. Coulda woulda shoulda. It will be fine, but I hate this feeling of disequilibrium before I settle into a routine of... of..., well, handing over almost all of my free time to this endeavor. It's only 15 weeks, right (insert weak laughter here).

I'm not at the "what the hell was I thinking?" stage (yet), but I feel woefully underprepared to start. Now, I haven't gone to the new instructor orientation (which is tomorrow), and there's another 5 hour (!) deal between the college and the department next week that I imagine will get me where I need to be.

*sigh* It will be OK, I think I'm just off kilter (why doesn't anyone ever say they feel on-kilter?) at the moment and things will settle into some kind of pattern soon. Just starting it is a big deal too. Funny, I haven't had any "I'm back in high school" dreams lately. They're just normal dreams, but I'm waking up more frequently during the night.

I remember when I was in graduate school and my lab stuff wasn't working, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and all of the sudden get hot, like a temporary fever for about 10 minutes, then I'd be up for an hour and finally fall asleep (about 30 minutes before the alarm went off, it seemed). I got that once last week, but have somehow convinced myself that the stakes aren't as high this time around, and that my time management skills are pretty good (and I don't have an infant...).

I hope to resurface here at the beginning of next week and say that it feels more under control.

And the picture is unrelated, but an old PostSecret entry that makes me smile.