Sunday, May 31, 2009

Invoking the Sal

I'm a pretty logical person. Maybe it's because I work in a public health setting and in a lab, but over the years I've become a bit of a skeptic. I've been thinking a bit lately about the logic behind the choice not to vaccinate one's children, for example.

That's serious business, and although I support a parent's right to choose what's best for their kid, I have to disagree with that choice, as the science doesn't back up any link between autism and vaccines. The recent rise in Pertussis (whooping cough) cases (reported here by NPR) is evidence of how vaccinations protect not just the person being vaccinated, but the people around them for whom vaccinations aren't as effective, namely very young infants.

This issue ties in nicely with something I feel strongly about , which is scientific literacy for people who aren't scientists. I'll be the first to admit I don't have the answer for this. It's has to be a combination of the information being accessible, as well as people feeling it's important to know it.

ANYWAY, and this post has veered off into more serious territory than I intended, I wanted to write about a funny incident that happened that defied logic in a fun way.

My sister in law, M, has a wonderful mom named Sally. Yes, my dog is also named Sally, and Mary's mom was one of a couple of Sallys that I thought, "yeah, it's a great name!" about when Mr W suggested the name. Sally lives in northern Minnesota, and I admire her immensely for surviving those brutal winters. Sally is also a pretty lucky person. Yes, this defies logic, stay with me. One of Sally's talents is winning at the casino, and apparently these vibes occasionally rub off on people who are with her.

Another of Sally's talents is finding parking spaces. Yup, as strange as it seems, Sal's got an innate talent for finding parking spots when seemingly none exist. This talent also is apparently transferable, and one can "invoke the Sal" in order to find a decent parking spot. It doesn't seem to matter whether one is late for a doctor's appointment or just trying to get a good spot for dinner, when you invoke the Sal, you sometimes get a good parking spot.

I don't pretend to understand why, and it's probably something along the lines of, say, chance, but it's fun to do and noteworthy when it works. CB and I went to a baseball game yesterday, and there were a lot of people there. We pulled up to a parking attendant, who said we should go back this way and if we couldn't find something, he'd direct us elsewhere.

Well, I invoked the Sal and lo and behold, we got a really good spot. Just like that. See? It works. CB was impressed indeed, and who can say whether that spot would be open? Some things are beyond our power to understand, you know?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ready Set Go

It's undeniable. Summer is pretty much here, and it doesn't feel much different from the rest of the year. Someone should do something about this.

Mr W is signed up for 9 weeks of summer camp at the same place that he's gone to for the last couple of years. He's a C camper now - getting to be a big kid. We'll try yet again to get him to make progress in learning how to swim. They've got a heated pool and swimming lessons are part of the package. He's gone through one level a summer, a rate that is probably unmatched for its slow pace. I'm hoping this year will be the breakthrough year when I can finally feel like he could save himself if he got pushed into a pool.

I also signed the kid up for a week of Lego robotics camp, which a friend's kid is also attending, as well as a month of karate twice a week, a one day BMX bike how-to clinic, and a hip hop dance class after karate is over. It sounds like a lot, but I think he'll enjoy it.

The extra stuff is my attempt to find him his "thing". The thing he does outside of school and the video games that he'd do all the time and exclusively if given the chance. The way I see it, he's got all this potential, and there's so much to learn and see and do, I feel like it's to everyone's benefit to broaden his horizons a bit.

As for me, I'll be trying to get ahead in terms of getting lectures ready for teaching the biology class in the fall. My boss has made murmurings about doing fieldwork this summer, but so far he's been too busy to actually plan it, so I'd say the chances are 50:50 at this point that that project will get underway.

I've also got my garden that is mostly planted, except for buying some dirt to make a raised bed. Then there's the landscaping and patio installation. So there are unfinished projects, but I went ahead and bought the big expensive umbrella, so I'll have good shade when it gets searingly hot outside. Nicer patio furniture might have to wait until the end of the season sales.

I talked to my older brother yesterday, and he said they were thinking of coming through town on their way out to the west coast of Canada for a conference. I'm all excited now, and hope we can coordinate it. I'm also thinking of trying to do a short trip with Mr W and the dog. It's not like I'm not traveling at all. I leave tomorrow for 4 days in AZ, and am going to a conference for work a couple of weeks after that. I'd love to see family, though, and also would like to go someplace with CB for fun. Maybe all that can be rolled into one trip, we'll see.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jelly-side up

"I hope you land jelly-side up".

I've had a couple of opportunities to hope for this outcome lately. Among the people I see walking their dogs at the dog park is J, who until very recently had been an adjunct instructor at the same community college I'm going to do teach at in the fall. Unlike what I'm going to do, she taught several classes and this was her main source of income. She was told very unceremoniously the other day that her services would no longer be needed in the fall.

OK, it's common knowledge that being an adjunct isn't a steady gig, but the way that she got excused was really harsh. The person (department head, I think) made a big sweep and just told her there would be nothing for her, as well as for several other people who had been adjuncts for years. Just the way that it was handled was this weird power play and abuse of power.

Can it be good to be kicked out of your rut? I don't think a person can know this until after the fact. It feels to J only like her livelihood's been torn away from her, screw the personal growth aspect of it. She strikes me as a person who has great people skills and will talk herself into at least a temporary something pretty soon.

The other person to received good jelly-wishes was my former MIL, who is now in another rehab place for two or more weeks until they evaluate her and figure out where is best for her in terms of places to live. I don't know if it's denial or hope that makes her think that maybe, just maybe she can go back to a place that is essentially just apartments, with no assistance. It seems to me that the hard part is that her weakness is intermittent. Sometimes she can transfer in and out of her chair without incident, sometimes she can't.

When I went to see her the other day, she was temporarily in a room on the full-fledged nursing home wing of this facility that has several levels of care. She whispered that she didn't want to be around "all these old people". Indeed, it's her body that's old, not her mind or spirit. I hope she moves to a place that has assistance for her when she needs it, and if that's an "assisted living" place, then so be it. It's better than getting stranded on the toilet in the middle of the night, right?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Home Maintenance

Until I got divorced, it never really occurred to me that I'd own a home by myself. When it happened, we had been living in that particular house for under a year, so I had no sentimental reasons to stay there. The thought of moving into an apartment seemed like it would be cheating my kid out of something, and I sure didn't want to share a wall with anyone.

I gravitated to a particular part of town, the old part of town called, not surprisingly, Old Town. I bought a hundred year old cottage that had been fixed and flipped a few years before. I knew I had made the right choice when there were vegetables on my doorstep the day I moved in. I've paid for a reasonable amount of maintenance and repairs in almost 4 years that I've been here, and overall, it's been a great house.

I imagine it's been the cool spring that has prompted me to pursue a list of projects to make my yard more habitable and the outside of the house look nicer. By the end of the summer (I'm giving myself lots of time) I hope to have installed a paver patio, install mulch and edging about 3' out from my fence line, recycle Mr W's old sandbox into a raised bed, and paint the trim on this old house.

And may I take this opportunity to say: IT ALWAYS TAKES LONGER THAN IT'S SUPPOSED TO!!! Most of it is that I don't have the right tools a lot of the time, and a trip to Home Depot fixes that. Like yesterday, I was trying to prep the trim around my back door to paint it. I had the hose and a scrub brush, and got down to bottom, where it became clear that the paint down there was coming off, down to the wood, and the caulk between the wood and the house came off, so, just like that, I have another something to do before I can proceed.

I also tend to be on the timid side when it comes to fixing some things myself. I don't want to get to a point where I've made something worse by poking around, and it's hard to know that until after the fact sometimes.

I could have predicted that it would go like this, home maintenance projects always do, but geez, it really impedes on feeling like I've accomplished anything. It's partly the money, but I've noticed too, that I wanted to scale all of these projects to be things that I could do myself. I wanted them to mostly be things that I could work on when I could and they'd wait for me when I couldn't. I'll take pictures and we'll see how the summer unfolds...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More knitters

I went to a new knitting group today. I'm a semi-regular at the one that meets through my church, and I like all of the people in that just fine. Heck, my former advisor from school is part of the group and one of the reasons I go is to see her and the fam on a regular basis.

But I was thinking the other day how, darn it, I don't have many friends that I have made since getting divorced. I am so pleased to have made friends with D, but I think she's it as far as post-divorce friends go. Something else I noticed lately was that, aside from D, I think all of my friends are married. And this isn't a problem or anything; it's just a different thing to try to make new friends when one is in a long-distance relationship.

Thus this new knitting group. Not that I'm dissing my first group or anything, but I thought that this might be a way to meet some new people. So I went tonight, and they were very nice and I will likely go back.

I had to leave a bit early to pick up Mr W. My former MIL was supposed to move to a different assisted living facility, and did so for about 24 hours before everyone realized that she actually needs more care than they are able to provide, so she had to go to the hospital and is going to move to another place.

It's weird. It didn't seem like anyone was in denial, but at one point it seemed like she might even be able to go back to the independent living apartment she's been at for a few years. Then she gets a bug and can't transfer herself from her wheel chair and all of the sudden she needs to sort of skip a level and go into a facility that's just a step below a nursing home.

My heart sinks when I think of what this means to her. I know she sees this as a sort of defeat, and nothing anyone can say would change her mind. NPR had a bit on post-polio syndrome (she had polio when she was 16) and they said how people continue to lose muscle mass as they get older.

Grrr. How does one find meaning in these last years? How does a person whose body has failed them continue to eek out a little bit of contentment? I know I need to be more involved, and that I need to be an adult about having to converse with my x about her. I mean, I'm just fine with more or less limiting conversations with him to talk of Mr W's needs.

Anyway, this part of her story will be unfolding over the next few days. I've already volunteered to help her put away stuff in her new place, and just want to be of some help, you know?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"All my training led me to this one moment"

OK, it wasn't that dramatic, but last Friday I met with someone from our local community college about getting an adjunct position there to teach one course for fall semester. Even though I'm one of several people teaching just one class, and the poor guy probably has to go through the process of finding adjuncts every semester, I felt like they were pleased to have me.

I like my job. I love being able to have the flexibility and autonomy that I have, so it's not like I'm itching to get out from under anything. But I have friends and family who are educators and there is an allure about the profession that's undeniable. I mean, wouldn't it be great to get impressionable young minds jazzed about biology? Give them the foundations to be scientifically literate? Bridge the gap between the information gained from research and the knowledge held by the average nonscientist?

So, yeah, I think it would be cool to do it as a regular job someday and this is the first step. Turns out having a Ph.D. helps with where you start in pay, so that's good. It's going to present challenges with getting everything else done, but as I told CB "it's only 15 weeks". He was his usual supportive self.

In other news, it's Mother's Day. Mr W asked me yesterday if I'd take him to the store so he could get me some flowers. Awww, how sweet! Even if I have to pay for them, it's OK. I think this is the first year he's been aware of how Mother's Day works. I think I do a pretty good job of keeping my expectations low, so however it goes is OK. We'll go to the nursery and he can pick out some annuals for the garden.

We'll also go to see my former MIL, who unfortunately is at a rehab place for her shoulder as they make arrangements to move her permanently to an assisted living facility. She's understandably disappointed at having to give up yet more independence. This is the woman who years ago, when she learned that my x had made a large slingshot out of surgical tubing and canvas, happily served as the holder of the pouch, which contained a potato. We went to the dam at the reservoir and she locked the wheels to her wheelchair and we launched potatoes into the reservoir until the bag was empty. An adventurous spirit contained in a failing body.

Anyway, we'll do our Mom Day stuff, and then maybe make some cookies. It's shaping up to be a good day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Podcast Junkie

As far as home electronics technology goes, I limp along. I don't really watch TV, and Mr W watches videos from the library. I don't feel like I'm missing much, because I spend a good bit of time on my computer, and NPR is pretty much always on at my house.

Last fall, when it looked like I was going to have to do a big slog of lab work, and somehow radio reception in the lab evaporated, I looked into getting an ipod. I settled on a Nano, and I must say it has been a really useful little gadget.

My funds never seem to allow me to justify buying music, so I've mostly used the ipod to listen to free podcasts at work and in the car. Somehow my 12 year old car radio came with a jack for plugging in things like my ipod. Go figure.

I've tried a lot of podcasts, and as you might expect, there's a wide range of topics and appeal out there. I thought I'd jot down some of my favorites. In alphabetic order, because that's how they are on iTunes. Here we go:

1. American Public Media's (APM) Speaking of Faith, with Krista Tippet. Not really about religion at all.
2. APM's The Splendid Table with Lynn Rosetto Casper. "For people who love to eat!"
3. Cast On with Brenda Dayne. A knitting podcast connecting knitting with life.
4. CBC Radio's The Vinyl Cafe with Stewart McLean. Sort of like A Prairie Home Companion with more music.
5. The Dinner Party Download. Little bits of conversation starters. They are so California.
6. Le Show, by Harry Shearer. Very funny, and he's pretty normal for a celebrity.
7. Knit Picks Podcast. Another knitting one; more about techniques.
8. Medical Matters by the BBC. Good medical-based features on one topic per episode.
9. The Moth Podcast. Go listen to it now. If you haven't heard of The Moth, you will. Amazing true stories "told without notes". Go. Now.
10. NPR's Talk of the Nation. We don't get it on my public radio station.
11. NPR's Planet Money. Another one to go listen to right now. They have talked me through the economic crisis. Knowlegeable and entertaining.
12. Ready Set Knit. Yet another knitting podcast. More techniques.
13. Science in the City from WNYC. Great features on science from the NY Academy of Science
14. Stash and Burn. Knitting. They knit a lot and talk about the ins and outs of patterns.
15. Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson. Art, culture, some sciencey stuff.
16. Stuff You Should Know. Josh and Chuck tell us all sorts of things about stuff you haven't thought to think about.
17. This American Life with Ira Glass. Somehow I usually miss this on the radio.
18. WNYC's Radio Lab. Another must-have. They only do a few shows per season, but you will be blown away at how they make science to entertaining and educational.

If I were to recommend just a few of these, I would point you to The Moth, Planet Money and Radio Lab. I really like everything on the list, though. I included the links to their websites, which are usually great as well, but you can get all of these through iTunes.

Happy listening!!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The downside of discipline

Mr W, through a series of unfortunate choices, today lost access to his video games, the computer and the TV. If he had his way, he wouldn't leave the house all weekend, he'd just bounce from screened thing to the next screened thing, so pulling it all is a fairly big deal.

But man-o-man today I wish he had a sibling. I spent more time than I probably should have helping him do his alternative thing. I was/am impressed though, that when he knew he had to find something to do, he thought of something creative. He made short videos with his legos.

Now we have about the lowest tech set up imaginable. A 9 year old digital camera that shoots 90 seconds of video at a time that has a set focus and sound, and is not editable. But he had little scenes that he shot and I put them in order and we burned them to a CD and he watched them. And was quite pleased with himself. I was too.

He didn't know enough about how to work the camera and that part of the computer to do it all by himself, so I didn't get a chance to sit down and do anything fun for me this afternoon (harrumph!).

He's going to hate to hear this, but I like him better when he's not consumed by the desire to play the video games. He's more patient and creative. I remembered something today that I had forgotten or dropped because it seems something like punishment, but I don't care anymore, I'm going to try it. I hereby deem one day a week an Unplugged Evening. Get some freakin' balance already.

I don't think he realizes it himself, but he will do sort of a classic "testing the limits" deal every once in a while just to know where he stands. I don't think the particular spot is as important as that he knows there is a spot, a line that he doesn't cross without consequences.

Started writing, but...

I've started a couple of posts, but they've gone nowhere. I'll be back tonight with something(s) that might be interesting to read. Until then.