Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I went to my second old time music jam last night, and was disappointed and frustrated. Boo. And intimidated, I felt intimidated as well. This was all internal, no one made any comments or in any way discouraged me. I just didn't know how to keep up, besides strumming with the rhythm (which is really fast!)

Here's a random video I pulled from youtube of one of the tunes, where the player is going about as fast as they were going last night.

The tunes they play at the jam all sound about like this. There's two phrases that get repeated and I know (so they tell me) that one can either play the melody, like in the video, or one can do rhythm, which means just doing chord changes, and not the really quick stuff on the neck. My goal for the short term is to be able to play rhythm. It's an endurance thing as well, my hands got tired!

Bleh. I've been practicing what my teacher has been giving me, and doing well at that, but it's like I'm learning a different language that doesn't translate into keeping up with the playing at this jam. At my lesson this week, I'll be able to say, I want to play like the guy does above. I also got a list of songs to learn from friend B, who is an awesome (really impressive) fiddle player and dog park friend (who watched Sally when I was out of town last time), and who coordinates the jam. It's because of her and her boyfriend, an awesome banjo player, that I'm even going to the jams, as I would die of embarrassment if I didn't know anyone.

The banjo may look like a simple instrument, but there's lots of ways one can work either hand, and that's one of the things that is taking me time to learn. Different styles. And tunings. About three or four different tunings.

I know I need to do what I've been saying all along. Practice and I'll get better. Now that I know specifically what I want to learn, I'll learn it.

Monday, February 27, 2012


So I signed up to usher at my church yesterday. I didn't know the person I was doing it with, but had seen her at services before. It feels a little weird writing this, but I'll share my two reactions to it all and my lesson learned.

I'll start by saying she, let's call her G, is a transvestite. The first time I saw her at a service, I caught myself staring for a few seconds. It was as though my brain was expecting to see one thing, and saw another. I felt ashamed of myself, especially at church, where it is very much our thing to accept all comers who want to worship there. As I write that, it wasn't that I felt that she shouldn't be there, it was that she looked different.

I started thinking about how it seems that society is being forced to deal with (meaning be less judgmental about) people who don't fit cleanly into our notions of what a male or a female should look like. And then I thought about how I have what feels like enough social anxiety, thank you very much, about meeting new people, and I'm pretty average in dress and looks; nothing out of the ordinary. OK, let's not call it anxiety, but I make an assumption that the way I look is "normal", and that keeps people from staring, but meeting new people and interacting in social situations sometimes takes an effort.

I mean, most of us want to get along, we want to fit in and have positive social interactions with other people. And yet, we all have an image of ourselves. When we look in the mirror, we think, "Yes, this is what I want to look like", or at least, "This is what I look like". And if it's not working, we change our hair or our clothes or lipstick or whatever, until it feels right.

It was my impression that G wasn't dressing to attract attention. She didn't hang her head in shame, but she wasn't flaunting herself either. It felt to me like she was looking for acceptance. When we were counting the money after the offering, I introduced myself and shook her hand. A man's hand, no doubt about it. I also thought this: Who would "choose" this? Who would choose to dress in a way that attracts so much attention, unless the person felt they were being true to his or herself? I couldn't see it any other way. She dresses that way because that's the way she sees herself.

I think society is moving closer toward accepting people who don't fit into the neat categories. It seems to me that kids are less concerned about our definitions of what looks normal, and I think that is a good thing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

All good

It's been a normal weekend around here, and it's been nice to be feeling better. Finally. I'm still having to blow my nose a few times a day, and have a little cough, but will gladly take those because I feel fine. Mr W picked up something this week, and has been snotty (in the literal sense) but said he's feeling better today.

We went to a hands-on science demo thing at the university yesterday, and that was fun. We probably would have stayed there longer if he had been feeling 100%, but saw and got to try lots of the demos. Magnets held in front of old TVs, sounds translated into light, liquids moving around, echoes, I had fun too.

Today I'm scheduled to usher at church. It's an easy way to volunteer: pass the basket, count the dough, hand out the bulletin. After that, I'm going to work on more clay stuff. I've been thinking about ways to package the buttons, three to a card. I'm meeting a former coworker friend who has worked in the printing business for coffee next week and will ask about options there. I think I could make a wire display rack and would like to see if one of the shops downtown (a sewing store, or the yarn shop are my first two ideas) would be interested in selling them.

And work is humming along. We received mosquitoes from Japan and they were preserved in alcohol. I extracted the DNA, and wasn't getting any results, when I decided to use less in each reaction instead of more. For some reason, that worked. Phew! Picture me relieved. It'd be a bummer to say, "sorry, I couldn't get any of these to work". Our thoughts are that the mosquitoes in CA, where we've been working with collaborators, might have hybridized with this species from Japan, perhaps brought into one of the CA ports in a shipping container. I love this stuff and am looking forward to sequencing a few individuals next week.

It feels really good not to be sick. Good to get the reminder now and again when nothing hurts or feels weird, that THAT is reason to be thankful.

Friday, February 24, 2012


The wonderful and awesome program Radiolab's most recent episode is called Escape. If you've not checked them out, I highly recommend subscribing to their free podcast and listening to it when you've got an hour where you'd otherwise be listening to the TV or radio. They do science in a way that is so appealing, I can't say enough good things.

Two of the stories were about a people that escape, and I'll leave that for another post. There was also a story about the Voyager spacecraft. You remember them, right? From the 70's? Well, they've been chugging along toward the outer edge of the solar system. Way, way out there. This link is NASA's site on the project.

They don't quite know what they're going to find as the spacecraft get to the boundary of the solar system.  And they'll start getting some answers relatively soon. I loved this story because these things were launched so very long ago, and have traveled so far. They also talked about the picture of Earth that Voyager took from 3.7 billion miles out, and it's a great dose of perspective. I found the picture, here it is. Earth is the "Pale Blue Dot" in the middle of the tannish stripe of light. That's us, in a small corner of the galaxy. You might have to clean off your screen; on mine the earth is about the size of piece of dust on the screen. :-)

It came around for me to that idea of being kind to people I meet, that that is the very basic application of thinking about the pale blue dot and of the other stories in the show, which touch upon the idea that people's backgrounds, which I don't get to know, shape who and what people are right now. Jumbly thoughts and bad grammar. But it's a reminder for me. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Biology spy

Video streaming by Ustream

The Decorah Eagles are back! I read last week about the first egg being laid, and Mr W and I have been checking in on them frequently since then. I was looking on Sunday night when we watched the female lay the second egg. Very exciting.

The Raptor Resource Project's (who sponsors the camera) blog has a lot of good info on raptor biology.

The site that hosts the camera has a ton of advertising unless you want to pay for the service, so be prepared for that. I also turn off the streaming comments by clicking the tab that wants me to sign up to chat (and leaving it blank).

The opportunity to observe wild animals do their thing like this has been really interesting. This pair usually lays three eggs (seen in only about 4% of clutches) and successfully raised all three chicks last year. It got pretty crowded in the nest.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It feels right to mark the day

My sister, on the right in this photo, passed away four years ago yesterday. For some reason I had it in my head that today was the date, but it was yesterday. The ladies in the middle are our sisters in law, who are really and truly like sisters to me still. 

I was going through old pictures on my back up disk (how's that for 21st century perspective) and found this one. This was taken in 2005, the summer I filed for divorce and my siblings and their families came out and stayed at the house (where Mr W's dad lives now) for a few days. It's a big house and there was plenty of room for all. It was so good to see them, seeing this picture reminds me of how relieved I was that they came out. 

Kris was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer a year and a few months after this picture was taken. Early detection could very well have saved her life, but no one thought to look for cancer in an otherwise healthy 43 year old. One gift of this very sad affair is that my brothers and I now get checked regularly by getting our colonoscopies. So far so good. 

I think now about how I miss having her as a confidant and general sounding board. We would talk once a week or so. I still consider myself blessed with good friends and a loving and supportive family, but there is a hole there. One thing I've noticed is that I write in a journal more often than I used to. It's pretty mundane stuff, working things out. Seems a good system. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2012 Mouse Wars

My house was built in 1905, or 1910, depending on whether you believe the neighbors or the paperwork. Either way, it's been here a while. It's got the feel of a house that was built for the grandma of a family that would have lived on the adjacent lot. When I bought it, it was a one bedroom house, and I had the back porch bumped out for Mr W's room. They made bedrooms small back in the day, and I can look on the floor of my bedroom and see that the front part of it used to be part of the front porch.

Anyway, it's a good solid little house and I've been very happy here. I've mentioned before that The Plan was to stay here for a year or two after my divorce, and then meet Mr. Right, move into another house, and live happily ever after. I try to say that without rolling my eyes, but here six years later, I laugh at myself for my presumption that I would know how my life would unfold.

Oh yes, the point of this post. So, about a year ago, I started seeing evidence of mice in my kitchen. Eww. They had quite the party and left quite a mess, but I snap-trapped them and was mouse-free until a couple of weeks ago. IMO, I don't see the point of live trapping mice to make them someone else's problem.

It's funny how there's an initial period of denial. Is that a mouse dropping? No, couldn't be. Well, the evidence is incontrovertible, so I went out yesterday and bought four more traps, for a total of six. I don't want to draw this out any longer than necessary. Last year I had a bag of dog food in the basement (oh, my naiveté), that in retrospect makes me wonder why they even bothered coming upstairs. Maybe they had to get a drink to wash it all down with. Anyway, there's no food stored in the basement, and the dog food is in a plastic tub that as far as I can tell has not been breached.

I set the traps last night and haven't caught anything yet.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pity party - party of one - your table is ready

If you don't want to read about me complaining that I have not kicked this cold yet, I totally understand. Come back next time and I promise I'll write about something more interesting.

I cannot remember the last time I was laid out by a head cold. I left work early Tuesday and Wednesday, and am staying home today.  I mean, I just don't get sick like this. Until now, that is. I was already sort of a hand sanitizer zealot, so I'm not sure what more I can do. It's too bad because there are things at work that need to get done, but my boss is sympathetic.

Starting yesterday, I have been most comfortable just laying on the couch, listening to the radio. The cough medicine didn't really work, and upset my stomach, so I stopped taking it and it's been OK. I have a low-grade fever, which responds well to ibuprofen, and I'm letting this thing sort of run its course.

Sally the dog's been an attentive companion. She'll come check on me every half hour or so, and I tell her I'm OK and she can go lay down. I couldn't muster the energy to get to the dog park yesterday, but will have to get her there today or we'll both be annoyed. I can do it.

Eesh. It's funny how nothing else is quite as important as just sort of sitting here and being quiet. Hopefully taking it easy tonight will help me turn the corner. Blech.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I suppose it's an indication that thing are going fine that I am going to post about this breaking topic today.  I did get some cough medicine (she prescribed these little gel caps instead of the more sleep-inducing narcotic liquid, but I think they are working) and hopefully will kick this thing for good in the next few days. After that, I promise! I will try to remember what this feels like to better appreciate when I'm feeling good.

The first Screen-free Tuesday night was a little rocky, but overall a success. We had dinner, and went out to buy Mr W a new pair of shoes. Sadly he's crossed the threshold from boys shoes to mens (mens'?), where the prices jump quite a bit for basically the same shoe that is just a smidge bigger. It's funny what kid's tastes are for shoes. Mr W is not a kid that really cares what he's wearing, but he sure liked the running shoes with neon accents. Too bad those were $85, and were vetoed. Also interesting how different brands actually do fit differently. He tried on another brand next, and they just felt better on his feet.

With shoes in hand, we went home for a refresher in, I'm a little embarrassed to say, shoe tying. How is it possible, you ask, that a kid who just turned 11 does not know how to tie shoes? Well, it just worked out that way. Between slip on shoes, velcro and laces with those little plastic keepers on them that keep the lace tight, he did not know. But he got the hang of it pretty quickly.

When he was going to bed, I said something like, "Goodnight, shoe-tier". And he said, "Mom, don't praise me for that. You should have taught me how to tie my shoes years ago." Ouch. True, but he didn't want to know, either, so it's kind of a draw.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Screen-free Tuesdays

Oh, and a happy Valentine's Day to you as well.

(I still have a cough hanging on from the cold I picked up while traveling, and it's been a couple of weeks now that this thing is playing out. The last three nights I've had trouble staying asleep because I wake myself up coughing. Then I can't believe that I forgot to get some over the counter cough suppressant. Again. Dufus. Well, I'll start with that today and see if it helps. )

It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that my kid loves his video games. On the one hand, when he shows me his elaborate strategy that he's set up in the game he's playing (and has played since Christmas), which is obviously the product of planning and gathering resources on his part, I think there is some redeeming value to video games. Then the part of me that wants a kid firmly planted in reality, and yes, engaged in his world, pipes up and calls out for the need for balance here.

Enter Screen-free Tuesdays. Well, Tuesday nights. The idea is for both of us to turn off the computers and DO something. As the weather warms up and Mr W is out of school, I want to go play music with the old timey music group that gets together on Tuesdays. I can't really justify keeping him out late on a school night, but I can if it's summer!

We don't necessarily have to do something together, but the default for both of us when we have downtime now is to pick up the laptop and see what's going on on the screen. I wanted to encourage both of us to do something else. Maybe even encourage the kid to pick up a new hobby perhaps.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I'm anti- anti-

As I sit here writing this on a Sunday morning, Sally's sleeping on my bed and Mr W is playing on his computer. I am still bothered by a tickle in my throat that kept waking me up last night, so I slept in an hour after Mr W was up. I marvel at how things have evolved so that my two charges can be very low maintenance at times. A lot of the time, really. I remember when both were younger and I felt like I was always doing something for one or the other. I suppose one can look at it as an investment that pays off eventually, allowing typing on a Sunday morning.

Well, it's that time of the year that those of us who are single and hoping to someday be in a good solid relationship (Prince Charming where are you?) are pummeled with messages about Valentine's Day. I admit freely that I will bounce around from eye-rolling to "aww, that's sweet" to "enough!" but in general I am anti- anti-.

As an aside, things that get the "aww, that's sweet!" response tend to be when couples that have been together for a long time do something cute. It's not when someone young makes a showy gesture. I guess that's where my head is.

There seem to be strong feelings about Valentines Day, and I don't think the anti-Valentine's Day stuff gets me anywhere. I've never been able to make myself believe (or act, really) that I didn't want to find a partner (and soul mate - is that too much to ask? Hope not). No matter how long it's been and how much I feel like I'm doing fine on my own, I still want it. I want to find the right guy to go through life with and I'm just not one of those people who feels like it's right for her to go it alone.

So the anti-Valentines' message that love sucks and we're all better of alone sounds goofy to me. I've noticed that there are several anti- events going on with the various Meetup groups I'm part of. I won't be attending. I suppose it's an excuse to get together, maybe even to commiserate. I also like the notion that the day can celebrate all kinds of love, although that kind of smacks of a merchandising effort, doesn't it? Tell your dog how much you care, buy her heart shaped treats! I heard about this piece, where they suggest people go out and celebrate the weekend after the holiday to beat the crowds, and get sale prices on Valentine's Day items. Smart.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Six degrees of Kenny Loggins

Mr W has his school's music program tonight. A few weeks ago they sent home a flyer telling the kids what they should wear. After not doing anything about it for all that time I asked him a couple of days ago what he was supposed to wear. Now, to be a stickler about it, I did ask this question when I got the flyer and was told "normal clothes". I asked again to be sure, and was told "something 80's", and the flyer said they would be covering the song Footloose.

Something 80's, huh? Now, I was there, I'm sure of it. Those were my high school and college years. In the middle to late parts of the decade, I was going through my retro thrift store phase, where I would buy old men's dress shirts and wear them fully buttoned with the collar cut off. Oh, and jazz flats. I even had a tail (the hair kind) for a time. As I think about it, I had several blouses with shoulder pads. However, I don't really remember how males dressed in the 80's . So I did some research, and if you think something along the lines of Duran Duran, that's what people are thinking.

Buying a yellow suit wasn't in the cards, so I bought him a bright green polo shirt at the thrift store, and he'll wear it with the collar up. That's 80's, right? It'll have to be for tonight, anyway. His hair is getting long, so maybe his dad can help him sweep it up on the sides with some hair gel.

Given all this 80's stuff, it's not surprising that the song Footloose has been going through my head the last couple of days. Remember how Kenny Loggins had a string of movie theme songs? Top Gun, Caddy Shack, Footloose. Anyway, we get to the thrift store and there's actually a Kenny Loggins song playing, although it wasn't Footloose and I can't remember what the song was at the moment. I pointed this out and Mr W was unimpressed. No context, I suppose.

We do one circuit around the back to see if maybe, just maybe there are some appropriate shoes for the kid to wear (no), and go past the LPs. Yes, the LPs. You know, those big black disks old people used to play music? They had a bunch of them. There at the front was a Loggins and Messina album. I don't know what the title was (wasn't much of a fan). I point this out to Mr W as well. Isn't that oddly coincidental? Two Kenny Loggins things in the thrift store while we're shopping for a Footloose-y shirt.

Sciencey (or even remotely logical) people would point out that I was tuned into things Loggins, not that there was anything supernatural about seeing this stuff. Fair enough.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Wow, nothing like being on the tail end of a cold (man, I hope so!) to engender a little bit empathy for folks that deal with chronic conditions. I'm such a baby about being sick, I suppose because it doesn't happen very often (knock wood).

My minor ailments set up a little Occupy Linda movement at the front of my mind for a few days. I never felt bad enough to take to my bed, but always was thinking about the stuffiness/sore throat/junky cough.

I know there are people out there who have back pain or other chronic stuff that impacts their quality of life. I'm going to try to remember what it feels like to not feel 100% to ramp up my output of kindness. There's a quote I've seen on some people's email to the effect of "Everyone is engaging in some sort of battle. Be kind."

As the ex used to say, feels good not to feel so bad.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mind tricks

As expected, there was a banquet held as part of the conference I went to. Funny how there is a huge range of outfits for these events. Plenty of suits and cocktail dresses, and then the rest of us. I just wore what I wore to speak that day (slacks and a jacket), and it was fine.

Something different they had (it was California, after all) was a magician who did 3 or 4 short acts during the course of the evening. He did card tricks and the expected stuff, but then he did a couple of tricks that weren't  sleight of hand at all. Instead they relied on reading people. It was really interesting.

He got a volunteer from the audience and asked her to think of her best friend from childhood. Then he asked her to think of the first letter of her name. He asked her to say "no" as he went through each letter of the alphabet. So it went: "Is it A?" "No" "Is it B?" "No" "Is it C?" "No" regardless of whether that was the right letter for the name or not.

He guesses the first two letters correctly, L and I. I'm thinking the name is Linda, so I tune in to hear what she says as he gets closer to N. L? No. M? No. N? No - but her voice went up when she said it. It was so goofy. He was tuned into it, so he easily guessed the rest of the letters.

I think it's a good thing that we aren't generally good liars. I find the details of life quite enough to keep track of without having to remember things that didn't happen or happened differently than my story says they did.

He did another one, and I can't remember the details, but it was another thing where a volunteer was asked to recall something, and he asked her each number or letter. This time, she held her palm out, and he pushed lightly on each of her fingers in turn while he asked and she answered. Something about the amount of resistance from each push on a finger gave him the information without his volunteer giving it directly. J from the dog park, who is up on things psychological, had a name for this and knew of the phenomenon.

It was pretty entertaining. Whether people who can read people like this use their powers for good or evil is another matter. I'm guessing that TV psychics use similar tricks to seem legitimate, while the client is giving them most of what they need to know. On the other hand, I've met a couple of people who I would call truly intuitive, and it does seem like a gift.

In other news, my cold is taking its sweet time to exit my system, stopping to visit lungs, head, throat, etc. This morning, I woke up with what I'm guessing is sinus pain - ouch. I can't recall having it before. I still have a junky cough, but my throat doesn't hurt. Mornings definitely are the hardest. I haven't felt much worse, just differently icky over the last few days, so I guess that means my system is fighting the good fight. I did go to Spin class yesterday, thinking I'd take it easy and leave if I started on a coughing jag. It was fine though, and it felt really good to do it again after being absent for a week. When this clears up, I will appreciate my symptom-free condition a little more!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mr W turns 11

Still as sweet.

Just bigger now.

I was looking for a baby picture tonight to post here. We've got very few actual pictures, it's all digital for this kid. I was looking on an external hard drive that I've used for back ups, and spent the last 90 minutes reminiscing. Fun to see old pictures.

Friday, February 3, 2012

You already know this

When I was in Ohio over Christmas, my brother and I went over to my dad's house to look over some things he wasn't going to take with him when he moves to Florida in a few months. One thing was a box of flat wear that my mom used in the Oneida "Classic Shell" pattern above. At the time I felt just slightly burdened at having to take a 10 lb. box of silver wear with me on the plane when Mr W and I just packed carry-ons. My brother, who drove with his family, graciously said he'd take it and mail it to me. How cool is that? So nice.

And he did. A few days ago, I picked it up from the post office. There's a few other things in there, one of which I think is the silver cake server from my parent's wedding. Have to check the pictures and see if that's the case.

I had decided as soon as I agreed to take it that I would use the stuff. I honestly can't remember if it was my mom's good stuff or everyday stuff, but it's very shiny. I believe if she were here, she'd say, "Yes, for heaven's sake, use it. Don't put it away". The truth is, I don't eat formal dinners enough to change out the silver wear I use, so this is the best way to go.

And, you probably already knew this, but it reminds me of her whenever I use it. I'm pleased to have such pretty things to eat off of, and feel happy that I've got something that I use that she picked out because she liked the pattern so much. I'm glad my dad saved it, and glad I've got it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Well, perhaps because I was using my teacher voice to practice my talk, or maybe I picked up a bug somewhere, but I've picked up a sore throat and that general feeling puny feeling. But I'm on my way home, and sitting in the Sacramento airport writing this.

The conference was good, and I feel like I am on my way to making a contribution to this little taxonomic conundrum that is the group of mosquitoes I work with in California. Yesterday, I visited some of the study sites and talked with the PhD student whose project this is about what we want to get done in the next few months.

One of the places we visited is called the Heronry, as in a place where water birds nest. I and my clothes are grateful that they are away at the moment, so it wasn't a crapshoot (ha!) to walk under the nests. This is a site where the mosquitoes are different genetically, and it could be sort of a genetic congregating spot.

This is what the area functions as, in addition to a home for protected squawky bunches of birds. It's an apiary. Isn't that cool? A family lives here, and it's a woodlot island in the middle of a lot of farmland. I didn't get all the details, but the hives are transported to various fields so the honeybees can do their jobs as essential pollinators. The whole place was maybe a couple of acres, but they had at least a hundred hives around. The place buzzed, literally! But the bees left us alone, as I guessed they would.

We also visited a couple of the sites in downtown Sacramento and Old Sacramento. In this area of CA, Victorian architecture is the norm, not much Spanish influence in the places I visited. The sites were manholes and areas that led to underground drainage/sewage sources. Apparently the mosquito control folks are pretty good at what they do, because the populations get wiped out pretty regularly and reestablish because the habitat is still there.

All in all a good trip. Hopefully I'll be able to kick this sore throat without it getting any worse. Fingers crossed.