Friday, February 25, 2011

Dog Muffins

I think I'm a pretty good pet owner. I take Sally to the dog park just about every day, skipping Saturdays or Sundays sometimes when we've been around the house all day anyway. She is not a working dog by any means, but repays me and Mr W by being an affectionate and good-natured dog. This picture was taken about a year ago at the dog park, and when our friend J crouched down to take the picture, Sally lunged forward. J did get out of the way and didn't get knocked over, I'm happy to report.

I got Sally after my other dog died, and wanted specifically to get a puppy, and further to get something that I knew would be really good with kids, as Mr W was six at the time. I don't remember how I first learned about Labradoodles, but everything I read suggested that would be a good choice. In fact, when I was asking questions of the woman I eventually bought Sally from, she couldn't name anything to really watch out for in their personalities, besides energy. I found Sally by searching the Denver online classifieds ("we met online"). The going price for Doodles at the time was close to $1000 and she was much less expensive, being the product of two pets instead of more papered dogs. And it's worked out great. She's a wonderful, healthy dog.

Now, the dog muffin part. On the scale of how people treat their dogs, 1 being they live outside, aren't considered part of the family and work for a living, and 10 being dogs who have their toe nails painted, get dressed in jewelry and eat exclusively people food, I'm about a 5. She's an indoor dog, and part of the fam, but she gets dog food, cheap dog treats and rawhide. At the dog park, there's a group of us who end up going at the same time each day, so we walk around together. It was one dog's birthday so her owner made dog muffins (like people muffins, but less sugar, fat and salt) for all her dog's friends. This owner has a treadmill for her dog, too. Yes, I can snicker, but there is no doubt this one shelter mutt scored big in terms of the good life. 

So, while I'm not the sort to bake treats for my dog's friends, I'm still a pretty attentive owner. I suppose the fact that the dog can't appreciate how poorly some other dogs get treated is the paradoxical outcome of being a good pet owner. I wonder about the same for Mr W. We are by no means rich, but he wants for nothing and has a lot of stuff, as do many kids of his generation. It's hard for him to get his head around how bad it is for a lot of the world by me just telling him. Indeed, I am of the mind that our place in life obligates us to do something to return the favor, and my efforts are fledgling, but we're on it.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Current Events

I'm just about back into my groove from being out of town. Even when I'm gone for just a few days, there always seems to be a big list of things waiting for me when I return. The night before I left, I was doing laundry, and heard the sound of water hitting the floor in the basement.  I went down to find water coming up out of the vertical pipe that drains the washer. I needed those clothes, so I put towels down and hoped for the best - the load was almost done anyway. 

Fast forward to yesterday, when the plumber comes out.  Do the pipes gurgle when I flush the toilet? No. When I take a shower? Nope. He snaked the line and determined that there was just lint blocking the part of the line between the washer and the main. Lint. Like from someone's early felting projects where she didn't use a pillow case. Ahem. Oops. Well, $90 and no harm done. I use pillowcases now, so hopefully this won't be a problem. I am thankful that previous workers put a cleanout next to the house the last time I had sewer issues.

But I was going to mention something else. I was visiting my dad in Florida last weekend, and my brothers were there as well. My dad is kind of old-school, socially and fiscally conservative. I'm kind of left-leaning. We talked a lot about current events over the weekend. A lot. And I have to say how impressed I was with the degree to which we all have been paying attention. Someone would bring up an angle on some issue, and pretty much all of us had heard about what they were talking about, or something similar. I really liked how, although we didn't agree on how to fix things, we agreed on big issues and respected each other's opinion. It made me wonder if I was spending too much time reading about current events, when I could keep up with my dad, who is retired, but I think I'm OK.

One other thing that I learned over the weekend is that my younger brother has a unique memory of past events. The birth order is my sister, my older brother and me - each a year apart - and then him, six years after me. On the one hand, we will talk of things, and he'll say, "I was too young", or "I wasn't there".  On the other, he remembered things that I had forgotten about, and in wonderful detail. I have a new appreciation for his memories. There was a snake story that I had almost forgotten, and it was fun to hear it again.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back to it

I'm back from my weekend in Florida visiting my Dad with my brothers.  My older brother's flight got canceled, and hopefully he'll get back to MN today.  Darn that winter travel anyway.  This picture is us after we took an airboat ride.  Interesting, a little exciting (the driver had a lot of control and swung us around turns from time to time), but really loud.  They gave us head phone ear protectors to wear.

It was great to see everyone, and we began to have "the talk" with my dad.  Thankfully he's still sharp mentally, and although he has slowed down just a little, he seems to have many more years ahead of him. He showed me the list - 40 items long - of the things he had to do when he arrived at the Florida house back in December. He's so much in the do-it-yourself generation. I wish I was more like that. It seemed like he's done a good job at getting his papers in order so that we know what he wants to happen in case he gets sick.

Florida, as you might imagine, is nice. It didn't feel homey to me, though, and I'm still trying to figure out why. Where my dad lives reminds me of Tucson, with the low strip malls, palm trees and clay roofs. It feels like a place, like Tuscon, actually, where it is a substantial job to keep nature at bay so people can enjoy themselves. My strong preference is a place where air conditioning is optional, I guess.

I sometimes feel like the odd one out.  Mom and my sister are gone, and while no one excludes me or anything of the sort, I feel like there is a bond between the males of the family that I am not part of, and I guess that's a function of loss more than anything else. There is a concept in genetics called genetic drift, where, small changes that don't directly affect survival accumulate over time between individuals or populations that are separated by space. The end result isn't good or bad, it's just that you can tell there's a difference. Not that I feel like I've drifted in a way that influences how well I get along with my family, but I feel like I've had to make my way on my own without their influence because they are so far away.

My dad asks me, every time we are together, if the x and I will get back together, and this drives me crazy, despite the fact that I know he means well and has my best interests at heart. Mr W's dad has never, never ever, wavered in his desire to not be married to me, which is fine.  It makes it easier to move on, and I could never go back. I got a bit  impatient with him when it seemed like he thought I was unpaired because I wasn't looking in the right places, like church (he doesn't read this blog).

It was a great visit, and I hope to get down there every year or so.  It is always nice to see everyone. I guess seeing people who have known me my whole life gets my introspective self in high gear.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Little Change of Scenery

I'm flying to Florida on Thursday to see my dad and brothers for a few days.  My dad's had a winter place in FL for the last 10 years and has always wanted us to visit. I'm glad we're finally getting it together to go down there, and, as dad says about himself, "I'm not getting any younger."  That may be, but he's pretty darn healthy, and I'm hoping I am the beneficiary of those genes. 

Speaking of feeling healthy, I've been doing this Spin (the bike kind, not the yarn kind) and Tone class for about 4 months now, and I feel really good about it.  We bike for about 40 minutes and then do about 15 minutes of work with hand held weights.  My arms have muscles I can see, and my backside looks better (if I may say so), too. Besides that, though, I feel stronger. I feel strong. I remember it was probably a couple of years ago and I was hiking with a friend, and going down a hill and I felt almost like I was going to fall.  It's hard to describe.  Nothing was hurt or wrong, I was just so out of shape that hiking felt like a lot of work. This is better.

Back to Florida. I was able to use miles to purchase the trip down there, and then paid for the trip home.  I was able to get direct flights, too, and I'll bring my stuff in a carry-on, so it should be pretty smooth travel, barring weather calamities. We don't see each other enough, my family and I, seeing as we're scattered across the country.  There's nothing much to be done about it, especially with my brothers and their wives.  The all have good jobs in their chosen fields and have established themselves where they live. I'll have to be content with vacations.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's Done!

 Here's my Liesl sweater.  I had to redo one arm, so it took me a little longer than I thought it would.  But I like it!!  It fits well, and I like the way it looks.

Here it is after blocking.  I wasn't sure if it would be long enough, but it's fine.  The lace really stretched quite a bit.  Yea!  This is my next project:  Cadence.  I'm casting on with smaller needles than it calls for, so the neck isn't so big, and so far so good, but I'm only a few rows in :-)

Friday, February 11, 2011

What you really really want

Feeling better this morning about the job thing.  I had a good talk with my supervisor yesterday and we got caught up on the things projects I've been working on.  It's a good situation, where I go and do my thing and he is very hands-off. He said there will be layoffs, and that I "should be OK".  As these things go, I'll have to assume some duties of people who get laid off, so it looks like learning something about mosquito morphology is in my future.  I haven't had to learn because there's always others around to ID the bugs that way and my thing is to get their story through their DNA.  But I'll look at them in the microscope, and learn the terminology. 

This means of course, that some people are going to lose their jobs, and I can't help but feel bad for them and a little guilty that I got to stay.  Having a couple of weeks of uncertainty and "what ifs" about the prospect of losing my job tweaked me out enough to know these folks are in for a jolt. 

The flowers above are two African Violets that have decided they really like the north-facing window and I've gotten a winter time flower fix from having them around. The one on the right languished in its pot, crowded with offshoots.  I took those out and replanted them in separate pots, and this one, with a little more legroom now, has gone bonkers. 

But back to the job thing.  I pitched my idea of taking a 30% pay cut in order to go back to school and this was met with, "well, I don't know how we'd do that, and either you're here to do the work, or I can find someone else".  Not in a bad way, but my boss wants a full time person to do the work, and I respect that.  However.  The prospect of doing this other thing, the instructional design thing, is still appealing and I'm wondering if I could still pull it off. 

Hence the title of this post. Next year will likely find me in the same position, wondering if I'll be renewed.  There's also no room for advancement in my job. Even if I became and FTE, I'd still be a tech.  Most of me is OK with that, seeing that if affords me to do what I want in my off time.  But there's a nagging bit of me that wants to know how I can be satisfied with just doing that.  I could take these online courses on my own time and get the certificate while I'm working full time. I imagine most, if not all of the people doing the certificate are simultaneously working, so it's possible. I'm daunted by the fact that it's a 6 credit course per semester, which by my recollection is a full load by graduate school standards. So, I'm ruminating on this still and relieved that it looks like my job looks like it is safe for another year. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Little Edgy

The rumor mill continues to churn at work, and it's starting to make me a little edgy.  Nothing has actually been decided, however, and I'm going to pitch my idea of reducing hours to my boss today.  Depending on my mood and how much I let the possibilities swirl around, I can see the potential to get myself pretty worried about this.

I'll need to find out for sure if I'd qualify for unemployment benefits, because it's a contract position.  I also have to find out whether I could, if I can't stay on at the CDC, go to school while on unemployment.  This strikes me as such a no-brainer, although I don't know if it is the case.  A person who loses their job should be able to have the unemployment benefits for, I don't know a year? in order to get retrained for the next thing.  It seems like such a good investment to me.  I'll take on the burden of paying for the school, just let me have something to live on and don't make it hard for me to get health insurance, OK?

But I'll have to find out all this stuff.  The logical part of my brain gently reminds me that I don't have enough information yet. 

I thought that I'd start having trouble sleeping about all this, but I am frankly amazed how exercising three times a week makes it easy to fall (and stay) asleep. I was thinking about work stuff last night before I went to sleep and thought I'd be restless, but clunked out and slept well.  I'm a little embarrassed to say that I haven't stuck with an exercise program for this long (4 months and counting) before. I haven't lost much weight here, but damn, I feel good. It does help my outlook, and that is reinforcement to keep doing it. And I can see changes in my arms and legs that make me feel like I've got something to show for my work too.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Plan B

If you've been following the news at all lately, it seems clear that federal spending faces steep cuts.  I'm not here to go into where those cuts should or should not come from, but it looks like my particular agency is going to face some significant cuts.  I've talked with my supervisor briefly about it, and he just doesn't know anything yet. 

Lots of questions and uncertainty.  A coworker and friend has already gone on an interview in another state for a job.  I am ambivalent about what to me seems like it might be a little too proactive, since we don't know anything about our jobs yet.  However, if you had the means and chutzpah to pick up and move to a job that you wanted, was pretty secure, and paid well, would it make sense to do it?

Unless things got really bad, I'm not looking to pull up stakes and relocate anywhere if I lose my job.  But here's the thing.  I've been taking stock of my skills and it's going to be difficult to get another job like mine.  It's not like I don't have any skills, but I don't think they are all that marketable right now, and employers may not be willing to pay for the fact that I have a Ph.D., when most of what I do can be done by trained monkeys experienced BS or MS degree holders. I can write the scientific papers reasonable well, though, and yesterday I was able to give a new postdoc good advice on doing a project similar to mine, but on ticks. I know, I know, but ticks, mosquitoes and fleas is what we are all about where I work.

So I've been thinking about the Plan.  The Plan B, in case I lose my job and I don't get either of the teaching jobs I applied for, and don't want to languish on unemployment while I get less and less employable.  It calms me a lot to think about what I would do, as it's still just me, and the marrying rich thing hasn't panned out (yet!).

I'm still interested in education, with the overall big-picture goal of promoting scientific literacy as a way to make rational decisions in people's daily lives.  I'm not able to make it financially as a high school teacher, and the full college professor thing would consume my life and force me to relocate, and the community college thing is promising, but may or may not pan out either, and doesn't pay all that great.  What to do?  Learn how to help students learn better and teachers teach better.  There is a certificate program that is all online from the University of Colorado in Denver that is called "Designing e-Learning Environments".  It takes a year, and is 15 graduate credits (which I would have to of course pay for), after which I'd have the certificate and could try to get a job off of that.  The certificate also represents the first year of a two year MA program in "eLearning Design and Implementation", so there's some flexibility.

In my perfect world, I'd get renewed for another year at work, take a 25% pay cut, which would be tight, but I could still live off of, and take a year to get this certificate, which would give me a portfolio that I could show to prospective employers.  I could potentially work from home after that, which would rock, and I'd have good skills that were marketable to a variety of jobs.

This is all still inside my head and on this page, but doing so helps me feel like a Plan is in the works.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mish mash

This is the lake next to the building I where I work.  My little slice of cubeville is on the 4th floor, so there is always a fabulous view. I don't mean to be snarky about being in cubeville, either. At one point, when they were moving our lab to this building, there was talk of our offices remaining in the old building, which would have been a huge pain. So I don't mind doubling up in an office cube meant to be for one person. Anyway, we had a spell of really cold weather at the beginning of the week, and as it warmed up again, into the 40's and 50's, the ice on the lake developed these fissures that now look like someone rode a snowmobile across the lake or something. It's been really cool to see how this water changes, sometimes daily, as bodies of water (even man-made like this one) are kind of rare here.

Today is a kind of gloomy Saturday, but it's warm. There's hardly any snow on the ground, either. I've got a mish mash of things to get done, and Mr W's birthday party is tonight. I need to pick up the food, and shuttle boys to and from Chuck E Cheeses. Indeed, this reminds me I'll need to vacuum out my car before hauling children.  That dog of mine is a one-dog mess generator. There will be a sleepover at Mr W's dad's house, with nerf battles and the like. The x's girlfriend's son, who is 7, is attending as well, and it has been interesting to hear second hand how these two little souls are getting along, after being thrust together. Sort of like instant step-siblings, although not formally. The dynamics are the same, with Mr W kvetching that the other kid hovers, whines, turns the TV channel too much, that kind of thing. And to think that one of my major hopes was to hook up with someone with kids so Mr W would have the chance to develop sibling relationships. I think overall it's good, but there are also times when he's quite happy to be an only child.

I am planning on going to the Denver Art Museum tomorrow.  They are having a free day today, so I'm happily going to go tomorrow and pay the entrance fee to avoid the crowds. Mr W and I went to the Denver Zoo last fall for a free day and it was, well, it was a zoo. Too many people to really enjoy the place, and I can't imagine enjoying an art museum that way. Last night was our First Friday gallery walk downtown, when many of the shops are open late, to search for a birthday present for Mr W.  My plan was to then go over to a nice little restaurant/bar/music venue and get some dinner and perhaps stay for the show, which started at 8:30.  

I really want to be able to do this sort of thing, but I didn't stay for the show. It was bluegrass, which I love to watch, but I'm just not crazy about watching that stuff by myself. I suppose you could argue I wouldn't be by myself, and I watched plenty of singletons walk in to see the show. I feel conspicuous, although I know I'm not. But, I did resist the urge to just change into my PJs after coming home from the dog park at 6, and settling in for a quiet night of knitting.  That counts for something, right?  

One thing I am doing is to sign up for a tiny bit of volunteering. The church I go to had a volunteer form (how convenient!) last week and I signed up to be in rotation for: ushering, doing laundry from the kitchen, cooking meals for folks coming out of the hospital, and something else that I can't remember. I also signed Mr W and I to help at an event for the Food Bank later this month. I say this stuff not to toot my own horn, but to I guess demonstrate to myself that I am doing something to try to meet new people and contribute something. With the gardening muse calling to me again, I really want to parlay some of that interest into something where I do some volunteering and can meet some people. There's a community garden on the way to work that needs volunteers and I'm going to start there.  

Indeed, the thought of starting to plan next year's raised beds has me rubbing my hands together with delight.  I'm going to try to get more vertical structure going this year, as those book cases aren't all that big, I realized after seeing the real estate that one zucchini plant takes up.

Ramble ramble.  OK, I'll stop this rambly post here and get on with the weekend.  Hope yours is fab.

Friday, February 4, 2011

She's back!

OK, a little late to the party, but I discovered yesterday that one of my favorite blogs is active again.  It's called Bioephemera, and it's got all sorts of Science-Art mix-em-ups.  Yippee!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Some updates and a weather report

The shake up of Mr W's evening routine, wherein I had him start to help prepare his dinner, and join me at the table to eat, has gone well.  As I expected (kids are really so darn adaptable) he fought it hard for three days, complained about it for another three, and then accepted his fate from that point on.  We are talking more, although we've also had a couple of nights where what he really wants to do is to play on the computer, and he has to do all this stuff first, like help fix dinner, eat with me, and do his homework.  I have to say this effects the mood at dinner, and making dinner its own valid thing is something I'll have to continue to work on.  But it feels good to be doing it.

The mouse wars continue.  I have snap-trapped five so far, and found one dead inside an open bag of tootsie rolls.  There's some metaphor in there about excess, but I'm not going there; it was probably an icky way to die.  I cleaned out three drawers in the kitchen.  They must be able to get in behind the cupboards and into these drawers, because the mice obviously felt pretty comfortable in there, especially in the bottom one, which I don't go into very often.  I set a trap in that one, and on the stairs, as there is still at least one around.  It/they are good at licking the peanut butter off the trap without tripping it, so I've added a piece of dog food to entice them.  I'd just like to be done with this task, though.  It's gross.

I mailed off my applications for the teaching positions that I posted about here.  In a stroke of brilliance, I asked some teachers I know to give me feedback on my teaching philosophy, and I'm so glad I asked.  So very glad, because they had good things to say that could only come from people who are currently in the field.  I felt really good about the cover letters especially.  They were only slightly different, as one of the positions was for teaching General Biology, and the other one was for teaching Botany, Genetics and other subjects I'm excited about teaching.  Not that cellular respiration doesn't grab me right there, but plants are so cool, and the world should know, you know?  But I went through and kind of gave a point-by-point as to how I met the qualifications and how I would fulfill the specific responsibilities of the position.  The deadline to submit is Friday, so it's going to be a couple/few weeks yet before I hear anything.  It'd be so cool to have an interview for either position, really.

And the weather!  I know it's been a pretty wintery winter for a lot of the country, and it actually hasn't been so much of one here.  Fall was mild and prolonged, and last weekend it was in the 50's.  But we've got this "Arctic Mass" of cold air sitting on CO right now, and it's, let me check, -6 and projected to go down to an eye-popping -18 tonight.  I didn't used to worry about this kind of thing, but now that I'm a home owner, I do.  The ductwork for my furnace is such that the unused basement room gets heat like any other room in the house.  The vent is in the ceiling, isn't easily closeable, that kind of thing.  And when it's cold like this, I suspect that having that warm air in the basement probably keeps the pipes from freezing on nights like tonight.  The kids have scored another day off from school tomorrow, so I'll be home a half day with Mr W.  His dad had him today, so I didn't have to miss work.  Brrr.