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.