Monday, December 05, 2016

Monday afternoon things

* Experiment has been broken down, data collected, everything cleaned and put away ready for the run NEXT semester. It feels good to have this done; I was worried about making time.

It took most of the day excepting times for internet breaks (while stuff was soaking or when I just needed to be off my feet for a couple minutes - the floor in there is HARD).

If I have time and feel like it early next week I might play around with analyzing a little of the data. I'm thinking a chi-square contingency table will work for the germination data and maybe some kind of analysis of variance for the growth data.

* Three of the stats exams are in. I graded the first one but the other two came while I was working on the experiment so they will be done tomorrow.

* The brownies were well-received. Funny, I have noticed when I use the Ghirardelli baking chocolate in these as opposed to the brand I had used (German? I think?), the brownies turn out more cakelike than fudgelike. (Unless it's the effect of doing a double batch in a 9 x 13 pan). Maybe Ghirardelli chocolate is a little different in its chemistry? Less fat, or maybe more alkaline? I know there are differences when you use "natural" vs. "Dutched" cocoa in recipes calling for cocoa.

They weren't BAD, I just prefer fudgelike brownies.

* While working on the research stuff, I had a few random thoughts:

 - Maybe it's better to embroider the "stripes" on the mints for Minty's cutie mark. For one thing, these are REALLY small, and for another, I KNOW I have the right color of floss for the green and pinkish-red stripes. Maybe use white felt circles and then embroider on them.

- I came up with a name for my Pinto pony, unless I change my mind when I finally look at it. Boy horse, named Pfred. Because Pferd is German for "Horse," and if you rearrange two of those letters, you get Pfred. And also because I like puns and visual gags. (The P, of course, is silent*)

(Yes, I think there was a character in Doonesbury named Phred, but my Pfred will be a different kind of Pfred). 

(*Dad joke of all dad jokes: "Why can't you hear a pterodactyl in the bathroom? Because the P is silent")

And yes, his delivery is a bit delayed. The package originated in Richmond, Virginia, and then went to Illinois (Hodgkins, which the Internets tells me is home to a big UPS sorting facility) and then it got "unavoidably delayed" (It snowed in Illinois so I wonder if that was it). He's SUPPOSED to arrive tomorrow (was supposed to arrive today). I'm trying to be patient. 

and today's song

When I am doing some repetitive research task (right now: washing all the glassware before I break down the experiment), I often sing some catchy song under my breath. (For a while, it was "Shake it Off").

This one, though, right now is the current favorite:

Bad Lip Reading takes on The Empire Strikes Back. It's gloriously has R2D2 being used (nonconsensually) as a cowbell, and Luke calling Yoda a "Psycho Wiener." It's also very catchy.

Yes, I know everyone's probably seen it but I felt the need to share.

This is the kind of thing that makes me laugh the hardest and I confess I feel a little sorry for people who can't appreciate the absurd humor in it. (I know some people don't)

Back to work

Classes are done, and today is a day before I get hit with more grading, so I'm going to break down this run of the experiment.

This will involve measuring the height (or largest leaf length on the forbs) of each plant and recording it, then dumping the soil out into a bucket and finding somewhere to dispose of it. And then probably scrubbing the Conetainers.

I picked a less-than-ideal day, though - the high today is supposed to be 49 F so I doubt I will do it outside. Also, it's been chilly in my building (we have constant HVAC issues and while I usually prefer it to be slightly chilly, it's not fun when your hands are in water all morning).

It's nice, though, to be able to say "I am going to do this ONE THING today" and not have to worry about juggling it in between classes and meeting with students and the like. I think one of the big sources of frustration in my life is that it's hard for me to focus on any one thing because I have so many things tugging at my concentration. And as a result, I get "ADD-ish" from it - it's hard to buckle down and read research stuff if you're half expecting a student to come and need something, or if a colleague somehow locks up their computer and you know more than they do about how to fix it, or whatever.

Tomorrow morning I give exams but they are my intro class, it's a common exam, and they're machine-graded. So that's easy.

Wednesday is the due date for my stats exam (but I am hoping some of the students will be diligent and will get it to me early - I made a big fat hairy deal about how I'd be happy to get them early because it means I have better time to grade them)

I also give my ecology final on Wednesday but warned the students they might not be graded before midday Thursday - I have two meetings (well, a "meeting" and a meeting) Wednesday afternoon - the "meeting" is the annual departmental lunch and I'm not skipping that, and the meeting is another meeting about the local eco-park.

The other tasks for this week are to put together my PTR packet (I might be able to do that tomorrow afternoon; I have been told it doesn't need to be too elaborate - just the past 3 year's annual reviews, an updated vita, and a letter. A colleague is going to loan me his to use as a pattern). I also need to write syllabi.

Even though it's going to be cold Friday it will be sunny and I have tentatively told myself if I get my stuff done I can go antiquing. Even if it's just to Denison it will be fun and it will be good to have a day out.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sunday morning things

* Did the last bit of Christmas decorating - put the poinsettia tablecloth I bought at the antique shop back in November on my dining table. (I have a few things - bottles of various spice mixes supposed to take the place of table salt, for example - on there so changing tablecloths is a bit of an effort). I also put up a couple little random decorations here and there.

It DOES look like a production of "The Nutcracker" exploded in my house and I openly admit that pleases me. One place where I go cranky-contrarian is at the people who want to decorate "minimally" or the people who complain that decorating is a "waste of time." (They are free to not decorate their houses if they so choose, but it gets my back up when someone tries to tell me what I "should" do with my free time or disposable income).

And yeah, I guess there's the usual raft of "I-don't-like-Christmas-so-you-shouldn't-either" editorials coming out right now?

I have a reaction .gif for those:

I don't particularly care if you choose not to keep Christmas (or to keep it in your own way) but don't tell ME what to do or that I'm "stupid" or "wrong" for doing it the way I do it.

And yeah, I get that those editorials are probably done largely because they get reactions from the readers. But honestly: if you don't care for it, don't do it, but don't tell other people they need to be like you.

* Minty is progressing. Head is done, body is within a couple rounds of being done, and later today I plan to at least start the legs. (The legs are the most tedious part). I'm gonna have to dig around in my felt to make sure I have the right colors for her cutie mark (reddish pink and pale bluish-green; I know I have white felt). If I don't have it, I may have to plan a JoAnn's run the end of this week. (She can exist for a while without a cutie mark if she has to).

* I break my experiment down and take the last data on it tomorrow. I give exams Tuesday (but machine graded ones, so they will be fast). Wednesday I give exams but also have a couple meetings so I am figuring Thursday will have to be the grading day.....and that means I could take Friday and go have fun going antiquing or something. (I do need to make my PTR packet but I have a couple days the week after where I could do that, and I could also make up my syllabi for next semester too).

So if I need to get some unusual colors of felt I could do it then. (But I bet I have the colors I need, or at least ones that are close).

* Apparently Freeform is currently the winner for holiday programming I want to see. This afternoon they show "Elf" (I already watched it Friday night off the dvd but I might watch it again, especially if I'm working on Minty) and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (Standard disclaimer: in some ways it's a horrible movie - language and all - but it's also pretty darn funny) is on tonight.

I'm a little sad that TCM seems to be scheduling the Christmas movies when I'm busy. ("Christmas in Connecticut" - the original one, with Barbara Stanwyck - was on when I had to be out somewhere). (No, I don't have dvr; I already write a big enough check to my service provider every month).

* I did go to Five Below (which has fast become one of my favorite stores even if it sells mostly cheaply made, disposable stuff) on Friday. One thing I bought was a cookie cutter of the Leg Lamp from "A Christmas Story." (They also had the moose-head mug from "Christmas Vacation"). I bought it because that movie's been a favorite in my family and I might do either a separate small batch of cut-out cookies of that, or do a few of the regular kind with it. (My mom has something like a hundred cookie cutters, some of them those old red plastic ones that have started showing up in antiques shops).

* Another thing I plan to do today is get my cards ready to go out. When I did the experiment back in October, it seemed the ones most likely to reach their destination (and reach it fastest) were sent direct from the slot at the post office - and as I have a card that needs to go to Australia, I need to go down there anyway, so I think I'll just take the cards along and drop them in the mail when I go, maybe on Tuesday.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Small happiness bundles

One of the vintage-pony bloggers (well, it was a Tumblr, but I think of those as blogs) commented that one of the reasons she liked Ponies was they were "smol bundles of happiness." I like that idea. And yes, they are little bundles of happiness for me - a way to recapture a little of the innocence and imaginative happiness of childhood. (Even if I was a trying-to-be-sophisticated young teen when G1 came out, and therefore thought I was too old for them. How wrong I was....)

Anyway, the newest-to-me (actually somewhere on the order of 30 years old) ponies arrived today.

Bowtie, who is a pretty common one but is still pretty (and this is the first one I've got with her original brush):

And Baby Tic-Tac-Toe. I've said before how fond I am of the little baby ponies:

Yellow ponies are best ponies. And I also love his (I have decided he is a he) hair colors.

He's also a "first tooth" pony, a concept I find wonderful and hilarious:

The tooth is a little hard to see, maybe, but it's there. (I have another one named Baby Bouncy - he is a Pegasus).

It's kind of ridiculous how happy these make me but then again is it any less ridiculous to be that happy over a purse or new shoes? (And these are certainly cheaper....I think I paid $12 for Bowtie)

a little confession

As I've said before, I love Christmas, I love all the craziness surrounding it, I love giving people presents, I love the festive food, I love the music, I love the lights, all of that.

And I confess: I feel a little sad when I hear someone saying they don't like this time of year, ESPECIALLY if it is because they are far from family or don't have family or have sad memories of past Christmases, or something.

And I admit I am too prone to "solutioneer" (that is: to try to propose fixes for problems. Because I want to fix problems! I get frustrated when a problem doesn't have a fix). But I find myself wanting to scoop those people up (figuratively speaking) and go, "Oh, come with me, friend! I will make you tea and bake you cookies and show you "Elf" and will do my best to MAKE you enjoy this time of year!"

But I don't, really, because I know some people don't like that, and for some people, they just either need to work through whatever it is (if it's grieving someone) or maybe they just do need to avoid the festive trappings of the season (if it's bad past memories or an ongoing thing like a family estrangement). And I admit, some people might see me trying to cheer them up in the way Sweden* sees Norway** in this comic (NB: one harsh word).

(*Blue shirt. **Red shirt. Just in case, like me, you sometimes have trouble keeping the Scandinavian flags straight.)

But yeah. I wish people didn't have to be sad this time of year even as I recognize some people are. (Then again: I get cranky in the hot summer when lots of people are happy because it means picnics and swimming and everything else, so I don't know)

(Edited to add, Saturday morning: Maybe I do have more of Pinkie Pie in my spirit than I realize....)

change in plans

Supposed to be in the low 40s and raining tomorrow, so....I don't think I'm gonna go tomorrow; when it's that cold that early in the day there's a risk of icing on bridges and I don't want to risk damaging my car two weeks before I need to travel. Also it will be icky, and I'd rather do my grading on an icky rainy day than on a nice day when I could be out running around.

So instead, I'm gonna go after I get out of class today. I might not do EVERYTHING (I am reserving the possibility of antiquing for late next week IF I get everything else done) but I think I'll hit the "usual" places (and go to the grocery store. And yes, I'd rather go to the Kroger's on a payday Friday than to the Wal-mart on a Saturday morning. Partly because in Sherman there are multiple grocery stores so the crowds get spread out; here, Wal-mart is the ONLY large grocery so it gets hit by EVERYONE. But also because Kroger's house brands are better and they have a bigger selection of things)

I gathered up the couple of mailers (Jo-Ann's and Books A Million) from places I might be going. And I noticed something about the Books A Million ad - it was a booklet, but there were 3x as many pages advertising toys or tchotchkes as  there were pages advertising actual books, and that makes me a little sad. (I used to snark about one of the big chain bookstores in my parents' town, how they used to push toys and mugs and wall-plaques and oh, those book things, too). Then again, perhaps people who buy books as gifts already know they want to buy books as gifts (and what book to buy) and they don't need advertising to. (Then again, there are poll results claiming somewhere over a quarter of Americans didn't read a single book - paper, electronic, OR audio - in the last year, so I don't know.)

most of what I asked for for Christmas this year was books. And a few pieces of clothing from LL Bean.

And then AGAIN again - every time I go to BAM! I wind up coming home with at least a Pusheen blind-bag toy or a goofy keychain to give someone, so....

Last night was AAUW party. A couple things:

a. Nearly all the meatballs I made (>50 and it was a group of 12) got eaten; not many people brought what I call "real" food (as opposed to desserts) and a lot of us use the party as our dinner, so....

b. I ate too much. And too much stuff I normally should not eat (one of the other savory things was cheese wrapped in prosciutto, which is waaaaaaay too salty for me under normal circumstances but I ate it because it's Christmas, because I'm super careful otherwise, and because it looked good. I find with too-much salt, my diastolic bp spikes up a little (like, 10 points above normal, so it reads in the low 80s instead of the low 70s) for a couple days but then goes back down so I figure a rare indulgence is okay)

I will say I had no GI issues afterward, which I count as a win. (When I was having the problems, eating a fuller than normal meal would mean pain and a night of bad sleep). I am assuming the afternoon exercising is a big, big part of this, and I continue to hope I can work it in to my schedule that way because it works so much better.

c. My gift was well-received, and I got a Useful Gift  (a la "A Child's Christmas in Wales") - a large-ish (six-pack of water bottles sized) cooler thing. It's not very pretty and it's too large for a lunch kit (and anyway, I have a cute lunch kit I use now) but I am thinking maybe I can use it during the fieldwork season to keep water cool. In fact, I will probably be happy for it then.

d. The Applejack I bought for the toy drive is now on her way to whoever her new owner will be. I confess it was a little hard to give her up even as I have my own Applejack. But hopefully she will make some little kid happy.

e. Several women referred to me as "cute" or "pretty" and I find myself wondering on that a little. Perhaps they are right, I don't know. My own perception of my appearance is very skewed (maybe everyone's is?). I think mine got skewed because of some nasty things kids said to me 30 years ago now, and I internalized the idea of "I must be *hideous*" and it's hard to break out of that. (Kids are stupid and cruel sometimes). Now, my feeling is more, "My nose may be a little too large and my skin may be a little uneven without makeup, but at least everything *works* more or less as it should." Also, I had a long awkward period in junior high and high school, and I think I've finally 'grown into' my looks - and also, my face is a little thinner now (weight loss) and I actually look like I have cheekbones, so. And I haven't abused my body so I look younger than some women my age and that may be a factor.

Of course, I was also wearing a cranberry-colored velour dress and had freshly washed and kind-of set (as much as I ever do) my hair, and that cranberry color is a good color on me.

Also, the woman I talked to last meeting - the minister - thanked me for the card I sent to her and expressed surprise that someone would thank her for a conversation but you know? Sometimes it's so hard to know if what you're doing is having an impact that I do think sometimes it's nice if someone did something meaningful to help you to let them know in a concrete way. I know the occasional card I've got from a student who went on to grad school has meant a lot.


One other good thing: My old (? former? Don't know what you call him. He's not really "former" in the sense that I completed out my degree with him, and "former" sounds like I left without completing) graduate advisor e-mailed me yesterday. A paper I helped out with (was involved with data collection, helped with some of the analysis, and helped edit) and am on as a co-author has been accepted by the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society. This is fantastic news, especially now, because I can put it on my CV and that's another publication to feed into the "look how awesome I am" for post-tenure review. (I have been reassured again how unlikely it is that someone who is not a Major Problem or even a Minor Problem would lose their job or even have disciplinary action after PTR, but I am compulsive enough and wracked with enough Impostor Syndrome to be nervous).

Torrey is the journal that (finally, after 5+ years of trying different places) published my dissertation results, and that was in 2006, so it's kind of a nice bookend that 10 years later they accepted another paper on which I am author. (It will probably not come out until 2017, but whatever). 


My property-tax bill came. I might run down and pay it today (I prefer to pay in person and the office where I do that is just blocks from my house). My property taxes are pretty low, considering, and I see they did NOT do the recalculations they were threatening to do (there was a claim that we were all paying way too little and to brace for property taxes to double). They are about the same as last year - a bit over $500 (Small, old house on not very much land - I think I am on an eighth of an acre). I have money budgeted for this so I can write them a check with no problems.

I prefer to do it in person because then I KNOW (rather than trusting the mails and waiting for the receipt).

I've said before: when I feel like I'm not "enough" of an adult, I remind myself I pay property taxes (and pay them in full just to get them out of the way).

Thursday, December 01, 2016

online advent calendar

this one is a nice one.

Each day is Christmas/Advent traditions from around the world (today it's Malta). And there's no annoying loud music or animation like on some of these things.
I like advent calendars; we did them when I was a child. The one we had was a banner with a big felt Christmas tree on it and 24 little felt ornaments that could be pinned on. (You could pick what ornament you wanted EXCEPT the Santa Claus which was reserved for the 24th).

My mom made it when I was about 3, and it was there all through my childhood (in later years, I had to share "picking" with my brother). They still have it and my mom usually still puts it up.

two Christmas pieces

(And don't read the YouTube comments, but you knew that).

I like Sufjan Stevens' rendition of some of the traditional/religious Christmas music. They are more or less contemporary in feeling, and yet, at the same time, I think they honor the integrity of the music. My complaint with so many "modern" renditions of Christmas carols or even sometimes Christmas sacred music is that the singer or instrumentalist makes it "all about them" - showing how many high notes they can insert, or how much "artificial sweetening" in the form of string overlays they can do, or how much they can alter the basic tune.

(That said: I don't mind it, and when it's done well, I like it, when someone "churches up" [as they say around here] a traditional song - Ray Charles' version of "America, the Beautiful" is one I can think of that in his "churched up" rendition sounds good)

But I think a GOOD piece of music is one that can be played simply and still sounds good - it has a certain structural integrity. "Silent Night" is like that - legend has it was originally just voice and guitar (the story being the organ bellows in the little German church were broken, more legend says it is a mouse chewed on the leather bellows and caused a hole). "Silent Night" sounds good with a guitar, it sounds good with a piano, it sounds good a capella.....

Bach is the same way. I don't like Bach "overdone" - I think there is enough complexity in most of his melodies/counterpoints that you should play it more or less straight. Which Stevens and his fellow musicians do.

This first piece is called "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light" which is from the Christmas Oratorio but has also been reworked as a stand-alone hymn. I think this is very keeping in this week's advent theme of "Hope" - it is a very hopeful song ("And usher in the morning...."). And yet, I admit, there are times when I've heard it these past couple of years where I put my head down and cried a little....

The second is one I actually knew the tune of FIRST as a Good Friday piece ("O Sacred Head Now Wounded") but it is actually originally from the Christmas Oratorio and I admit I like the sort of full-circle effect of that.

Again, the music on this is so beautiful. The words are beautiful, too. (And reading the original German title, I am beginning to be able to understand it....I know some of the words in the title if not recognizing the sentence structure).

I'm not the only one to recognize the "Hey, isn't that tune also...." This writer has some thoughts on it (I don't agree with everything the writer says, partly because Resurrection, partly because I tend to believe Jesus totally knew what He was getting Himself into and it was a choice, a choice shocking to us maybe, but a choice made out of love, and also because....I think "How shall I fitly meet thee" also reminds us - the word FITLY - that we need to stop and examine ourselves and how we are living our lives as Advent progresses. I don't see it as a purely warm fuzzy thing. And anyway: life is hard and brutal, sometimes retreating into a bit of warmth is good for the soul; good for helping us to go on in this life and to keep fighting whatever good fight we have chosen to fight)

I should find some piano arrangements of these and try to learn to play them. Maybe for next year.

I am trying to play a little Christmas music. I found a book of fairly-simple arrangements of traditional carols and with a little work, I was able to mostly play the arrangement in the book. Yes, maybe it's not "stretching" myself very much, but it is satisfying to realize I've gotten good enough to be able to mostly play even a simple arrangement after about a half-hour of working at it.

And Minty begins

I dug out the pale bluish-green yarn last night, and got out the same old "Friends Forever Fawn" pattern, and started on Minty. I'm  happy to be working on her now. I hope I can get her done before Christmas break.

There's something about making toys for me around this time of year. It just makes me happy. When I was a kid, of course, one of the features of Christmas was toys (Yes, I knew what Christmas is really about, and that's the most important thing, but toys are also nice). I always make toys over Christmas break because toys are fun. I plan to take the Shetland-Pony-in-a-Sweater pattern I bought (and buy yarn for it up there; I use simple acrylic for my toys so it's easy to obtain). I also have a little "Ocean animal" kit (can make a whale, a starfish, or an octopus with the provided yarn) that came free with an issue of Simply Knitting and I'm going to take that. (And have to decide if I want the little whale or the little octopus more, and make that - there's just enough yarn for one).

All the toy making is even though I have a lot of clothing-projects I want to finish (two sweaters that just lack one sleeve and finishing; several socks; a couple scarf/shawl things). And this could be a concern:

That's the Yule Cat. Some old bit of Icelandic folklore; supposedly it eats people who don't get at least one piece of new clothing before Christmas.

(Yes, this is apparently a really real thing and there are some terrifying yet hilarious "artist's renditions" of that cat over there)

Though, apparently, the legend is more based on "it eats people who don't want to work hard" so maybe I'm protected even if I don't finish one of the sweaters before Christmas.....

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday morning things

* After this morning I will be done with teaching for the semester (give an exam in the two sections of one class tomorrow, Friday is just student presentations). Yes, there's still grading to be done, but at least I can give my voice a rest.

* Had an entertaining (and possibly enlightening) dream as the last dream last night - it involved the NCIS staff (well, I watched the episode last night - it was a Season 13 rerun but I had not seen it, the one with Ducky's half-brother). Anyway, they (plus a couple of IRL friends I have) were all working in my department and for some reason offices were getting rearranged/redecorated. At one point I joked that a hammock should be put up in a shared office where there was someone who liked to nap at their desk.  There was also a French bulldog puppy. But the biggest thing was at one point Ellie Bishop took me aside and said, "I know DiNozzo and McGee tease you and bug you a lot, but that's really because they like you and don't know how to show it." (Not "like-like," just regular like, but still).

And while dreams are probably little more than the subconscious sorting its recycling, sometimes I wonder if my brain does give me a bit of a deeper truth. (I had some students sort of gently teasing me in class the other day and I never know how to respond to that. I generally either weakly laugh or roll my eyes and do the sarcastic "har de har har" depending. But a lot of times I think some of the young male students don't quite know how to relate to me - I'm not quite "one of the guys" so they can't treat me the same way they treat the male professors, and a lot of them were raised in pretty traditional families (where you showed older women a bit more respect) but they also don't really have a good pattern for relating to a woman who is not their mom or grandma).

I dunno. Human relationships are messed up a lot of the time because so many of us are taught not to show affection when we might feel it - that it's "uncool" or that the "philios" or "agape" type of love might be interpreted otherwise. And yeah, I've heard the "this person is busting your chops because they like you" thing a lot around here, and I admit I have a hard time working around it because it's not really how things worked in my family, and I was teased enough (in a hostile way) by my peers as a child that I immediately default to the "this person is trying to make me look small and put me down" thing when someone teases me. Then again: it probably says something that my students are comfortable enough with me to tease me a little; they know I won't grade them down for it or snark back at them.

* I did have one student e-mail me to thank me for notifying them of the other student's death - she had been his lab partner a couple times and said she was totally shocked by the news (as was I). So I guess I did the right thing there.

So much of adulthood is making it up as you go along and having to trust your gut on things.

* I tentatively think the couple of changes I made (cutting out the loratidine, taking the other antihistamine with food rather than before breakfast, and especially exercising in the afternoons) are really helping my general well-being. I am less achy (I suppose that's from exercising after your muscles have been warmed up by the day) and so far, my stomach has been FAR better (though then again: the episode before Thanksgiving could have been hormonal or I could have contracted another dumb little virus).

I also wonder if a lot of this past year's malaise has been me going through the start of (or the entire process, who knows) menopause. I had days of awful brain fog, I had abdominal cramping, I had complete and total loss of appetite on some days, I had really weepy days, I had weeks where friends were telling me, "Maybe you need to go on an anti-depressant," I had a couple of things that, had they been worse, I would have called them panic attacks. (I guess force-of-will is a thing. I kept telling myself, "You have no reason to be this anxious, this is just your body going a little haywire" and eventually things settled down). I had times when NOTHING interested me to do and that was the scariest thing because normally I'm going off in eighteen different directions with different interests and I hoped it wasn't a sign of something really bad - but this past week I've snapped back to normal so I am wondering if it's stupid hormonal whipsawing. And if it is, I hope it's over, or at least over for a while. And I had times when I felt like nothing would make me happy but fortunately that's gone away, too.

* First card is going out today but it has to go "across the pond" so I need to send it early. I have to get glitter for some of the other cards because for the Bunny Staplus exchange we were asked our "favorite tradition" and several people I got said glitter-filled cards, so okay. (If I go shopping this weekend I can probably pick some up at the Target or somewhere).

I also have one or two little gifts I need to package up and send out. Yes, it's early, but I would like to hear that the people got them before I leave for break. 

And yeah: if I send out a gift to someone I don't expect a gift in return. (And you have to be careful about that because some people do feel obligated). If I give someone a random gift (as in, we haven't exchanged gifts before) it's either because (a) I saw something I thought they would like or could use and I wanted them to have it or (b) they seemed to need a little cheering up and I wanted to take a stab at it.

* Am up to the WWI part in the Influenza book I am reading. Much is made of the push to prevent/avoid "unpatriotic" behavior, including harassment and, in some cases, imprisonment-without-cause of German-Americans (I wince, because half of my dad's family is German-American and now I wonder what the Huttmans went through in that era....). And also Wilson's push to somewhat censor the press, and the extremely creepy coercion used to get people to buy War Bonds. And while I get that history is often exaggerated to fit the needs of the writer, still - I don't know much about that era and I didn't realize how creepy it was. (And also, shuddering a bit, because while history may not repeat itself, it often rhymes, and I see some things in our own times that could be taken as similar. I also wonder if maybe "understanding" or "knowing" a little history is going to become popular again....for so long it seemed pop culture was pretty ahistorical and the general man-on-the-street idea was that "history is bunk" (a la Henry Ford). But the thing is: it's possible to learn from your own past mistakes but it's also possible to learn from OTHERS' past mistakes, and generally that second option is less painful. I don't know. Some of the calls I have seen from certain individuals to restrict the press, or to jail those who would burn the me it does smack slightly of Wilsonian attitudes. I don't like someone burning our flag but don't like abridgement of free protest speech even more, so....)

I dunno. I tend to come down on the side of "the more you know the better off you are" whether that "knowing" is being aware of your country's history, or being able to speak a language other than your mother-tongue, or being able to darn socks, or being able to accurately estimate weight or distance. Not-knowing allows a certain helplessness to creep in, and I tend to think self-reliance is a good thing.

And "vintage" ponies

Past me (from December 2015): "I don't THINK I will get any more vintage Ponies, though it is nice to have these two" (Posey and Bubbles).

Current me: "AH ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha":
ponyshelf 1

ponyshelf 2

ponyshelf 3

Future me will have two more - I ordered a "First Tooth" baby Tic-Tac-Toe and a vintage Bowtie (but I don't HAVE many cool-colored ponies: they are mostly pink and yellow, the ones I have now, and I "need" her for balance!). They are on their way to me right now.

Yeah, well: these things make me happy like few other things do. And they're cheap enough, compared to what some people by, so.....

(I especially love the Baby Ponies for some reason, I think it is that they are smaller and chubbier than the others and there is just something endearing about them.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday morning things

* My office computer (university supplied) has started acting weird on start-up. For about the first 40 minutes that it's on, it's prone to locking up. At first I blamed Firefox or BlackBoard (what I was trying to use when it locked) but I don't think that's it. Once it's been on for a while, it seems fine. Which tells me that unless I think a power outage is likely (thunderstorms in the area), it is best to just leave it on all the time but in "sleep mode" when I'm not here.

I did print out my other exam (the first exam I have to write is already copied and ready to go) and e-mailed a copy of a third exam to my .gmail address in case of major malfunction.

Yes, it's defragged and the virus prevention is up to date.

* Still feeling a little sad and freaked-out after the news of yesterday. I suppose one thing I really should do at some point is actually go in to a lawyer and get a formalized will (rather than a "manuscript" version or whatever they call the handwritten quickie thing that is apparently legal in my state). I do have some money - mostly in retirement accounts - and if I cack it before I have time to use up that money, I want half of it to go towards my niece's future (whether college, trade school, setting up a business, whatever - anything BUT spending it on things like frivolous stuff or partying). The other half I want divided between Mercy Corps, the Nature Conservancy, possibly a scholarship fund either at my school or my grad school (If the congregation I belong to still exists - I expect I will outlive it - I would want some of the money to go there). As for the stuff - oh gads, the stuff - my ideal would be for my relatively-few friends and family to pick out an item or items that they want as a keepsake and the rest be sold or donated somewhere, and if sold, the money going back into the estate to be divided as above. My books - I would want my university library to have first dibs on anything they can use or sell to fund further operations, and the rest either donated to a literacy program or sold with the proceeds going to a literacy program. And my yarn and fabric I would want to go to some group that can use them - a group making quilts for the homeless/injured veterans/people in hospice/Project Linus/whatever or the yarn maybe to one of those prison groups that teaches the inmates to knit or crochet as a rehabilitation thing.

it's hard to think that way though, and harder to formalize it down on paper, which is why I've put off going to a lawyer but I also do need to find someone to be executor - I wouldn't want to force my brother into that role; I think I'd rather pay for an attorney or a legal firm to do that.

I probably also need to think about "advanced directives" - when I went into the ER with stomach problems in January, thinking I'd have to be operated on, the intake person asked me about those and I almost cried and said I'd do one if I actually had to have surgery. (My general feeling is: heroic measures yes at this point, if I am likely to have reasonable quality of life afterward. If my brain is gone, no, let me go.)

Ugh. It's hard to think about that.

* So something happier: I decided yesterday to order the Pinto-Pony body pillow I had been contemplating ((can be seen here)

I haven't decided on a name or even which gender it is yet; that will be for when it arrives.

Confession: I kind of want a miniature horse but I know that:

a. where I live (in town) they would not be legal and it's too expensive to board here
b. I know nothing about horse care and it might not be fair to the horse without me going through an extensive learning process first
c. horses probably need companions and I think I could only afford one
d. I believe I am actually allergic to horses; I think that was on the list last time I got allergy tested

So this is an easier way for me to sort-of recreate this:

(I love that ad. I also love the newer Amazon ad with the priest and the imam both sending each other knee-pads so they can kneel to pray in their own ways without it hurting their knees)

Also, having a body pillow will be nice - something to lean against while I read in bed, something to prop myself against when my hip bursitis is bothering me (it's hard to find a comfortable sleeping position then), and just generally, something to hug when I'm a little sad.

No, I don't think at this point I will ever "outgrow" stuffed animals.

* At least my desire to knit is returning, especially now I have the "obligation knitting" done (mom's mitts, the little toys for my niece, the mitts for the AAUW party). I want to finish a couple of the "on the needles" things before break - hopefully will get the Pronk socks done, and maybe also the Hagrid scarf.

I also want to make myself a g4-ized Minty. When I cleaned up the guest room the other day I found the yarn I got for her and the leftovers from Cheerilee I put aside for her mane, so I could start her any time.

And yeah. I have a TON of yarn. I need to start using it up before I buy any more. Or maybe I dig through and randomly send sockyarn to people that I know knit...I think I have, in a few cases, bought duplicates or yarn in very similar colorways. (If I had more time, I'd knit things for charity and use up/give away the yarn that way. But I don't have that much time).

I should also print out the various patterns I want to use, put them in sheet protectors, and store them with the yarn I intend to use them for.

* Also my desire to practice piano in the absence of lessons is back - for a while I was only doing 20 mins a day (if that - some days I did none at all). Part of it was busy-ness, part of it was just not wanting to. I don't know - I have occasionally gotten a week or two stretch here and there where I don't feel like doing some of the things I normally enjoy. I would be worried, except I can probably chalk it up to peri/menopause (not sure which I am in right now) because then I get happier again later on. (Also my stomach issues seem tied to it in some way, as does the anxiety I've felt this fall. I'm hoping all that will resolve when the change is finally complete).

* Though I have made three changes that seem to be helping: I now take my antihistamine (monteleukast) WHEN I eat breakfast, not 20-some minutes before and maybe it was messing with my stomach a little. I also cut out the loratidine and so far have not hived up too badly, so I hope maybe I can drop that one (also, since it's OTC, I pay the full amount, and even the generic is sort of expensive).

And the biggest thing is trying, as much as I can manage, to do my exercise in the afternoon when I get home rather than on a totally empty stomach when I get up. Other bonus: my muscles and joints aren't so "cold" so I probably am less likely to hurt myself. This will pose a scheduling problem come Spring semester because I will have afternoon labs three days a week but maybe I can force myself to get home early enough to do it. I know some exercise physiologists say working out later in the day is more effective for things like metabolism and also not hurting yourself....just not to do it within an hour or two of bedtime because being "revved up" can affect sleep. (Other bonus: I can sleep until almost 6 am if I need to. And it's a nicer start to the day to not have to jump out of bed into a cold house and flail your limbs around)

* And I am generally feeling a looking-forward-to of simple things again: being able to bake cookies when up at my parents' in a couple weeks. Putting up the tree at their place. Getting to see some of the people up there I knew when I lived there before. Thinking about what projects I am going to work on over break. Going out antiquing this weekend (I turned down a volunteer opportunity I possibly should not have but I had already made the plans, and also, I just need more time out to be happy. And anyway, being asked less than a week in advance to give up a whole day doing something really doesn't work.). The AAUW party, which is Thursday (I am making the same old turkey meatballs in raspberry sauce I always make, but everyone likes them, more importantly **I** like them, and they're not that hard to make). Finding some of the silly old Christmas movies on tv (I do have Elf and A Christmas Story on dvd and maybe should watch one of them Friday evening).

* Also am looking forward to sending out Christmas cards. CPAAG is doing its annual tradition and I eagerly await my five names. I also have a few other people I plan to send cards to....and if you're not someone I've sent to in the past and want a (paper, sent through the mail) card, e-mail me your address....I have some extras and also may stop in by Five Below again (which has an excellent selection of not-too-expensive but funny or cute cards) when I am out antiquing.

I'm glad I got my energy or whatever it is back and feel like doing fun things again, instead of just staring at a wall when I get home at the end of the day.

Monday, November 28, 2016

and that's done

I waited until the end of class, after everyone presenting today had presented, to make the announcement. Apparently a couple people had already heard (Facebook, maybe).

I held it together okay though at one point I had to stop and take a deep breath to steady my voice. It still feels kind of surreal. (We've been asked to just go ahead and assign whatever grade the student was earning at that point as a final grade).

This is the first time I ever had to do something like this and I heartily hope it's the last.


What especially stinks is I now have somewhere around 20 student papers to read, comment on, and grade. I can't put it off as I have things I must do tomorrow after class.

2016 just needs to stop already.

I just can't

I don't even know. There is something cursed about 2016, I think.

I just got an e-mail: a student who was in two of my classes, someone who was an interesting and engaged student, who was always friendly and polite to the others in the class, died suddenly this weekend.

(I was kind of wondering when he didn't show up for the 9 am class of mine he was in: he was usually there).

I'm in shock. I don't quite know what to do about the second class he was in: do I make a small announcement? It's presentations day and I don't want to unduly upset anyone or throw anyone off their game, but I think if the students don't know, they need to.

This is kind of uncharted waters for me; the only previous student death I had experience with was someone who had already taken my class and a general announcement was made later on.

I feel really bad for his family. I know he was close to his parents.

An Advent hymn

I know, I'm hitting the Advent/Christmas stuff hard already, but there are two reasons for this:

a. This really and truly is my favorite time of the year and it is allowing me to recapture some of the old happiness

b. It's been an awful year so far and I need things that I find good and pleasant and reassuring.

There are a few Advent hymns out there. Different denominations (and even different congregations within a denomination) vary on how "strict" they are about what of Christmas is "allowed" before Christmas. (My brother and sister-in-law belong to a fairly traditional Episcopalian church, and they said that their congregation does not decorate until right before Christmas. My more lax Disciples congregation decorates right after church on Christ the King Sunday, so the church is decorated for all of Advent. We don't light the candles (except for those on the Advent wreath) before Christmas eve, though)

But I do notice that we don't *generally* sing the Christmas hymns and carols this early in Advent, instead using other pieces. (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, which, if I remember correctly, the tune is based on an old "plainchant" and so probably has very old roots).

And this one, which is my favorite of the Advent songs:

And yes, I prefer Hyfrydol as the tune (it is one of my favorite hymn-tunes and is used in a few other hymns, though I know it best as this one). There are other tunes sometimes used for this - when sharing "church music," I often default to the various British choirs because they do it so well, but it seems they use a different tune for these words, and I like Hyfrydol.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Hope is ridiculous"

In the denomination to which I belong, each week of Advent has a theme or a keyword: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

I like that. I think those are four things the world desperately needs - shoot, they are things I desperately need - and it's good to be reminded of them and to celebrate them.

The traditional Advent wreath we use has three purple and one pink candle. The pink candle is for the third week - Joy. Which makes me smile because Pinkie Pie. And the minister this morning, commenting on the different weeks, referred to "joy as a full-contact sport" which again I love and I think that's an apt description of Pinkie Pie. And yes, I know Ponies are totally secular and all (even as some fanfic writers have tried to either Narnia-fy the world, or create its own religion). But I maintain that things that are good, even if they do not intend to point to the ultimate Good, still remind us of it. And the idea of full-contact joy....I said earlier on Twitter it's been a while since I felt that. Oh, I've been happy, but the kind of happiness I have is a quieter sort. There's an ad running right now, I think it's for Wal-Mart? Or one of those other Stores That Seemingly Sell Everything and they play Chic's "Freak Out" over video of kids going NUTS over getting what they wanted for Christmas. Confession: the ad makes me slightly sad because I cannot think of anything - well, any THING - that would make me that happy. I could be that happy over, say, finding out a cure for cancer has been discovered, and it's one that will cure someone I know. Or seeing the too-many people in my life who are hurting experience some kind of improvement in health or mobility or finances or job prospects or relationships or whatever. Or I could be that happy over having worked to build a relationship with someone and having him declare, openly, his love for me and his desire to spend the rest of our lives together. Or I could be that happy over a good friend of mine that I see too seldom happening to move to my town or at least nearby, and have the opportunity to spend more time hanging out with them. But I cannot think of a THING that would make me happy in the way those kids are happy over a toy. Maybe that's a mark of maturity and I should be happy over that, I don't know. But it does making an "I want this for Christmas" list a bit more complicated, because all of the things I really and truly want cannot be bought in a store.

But anyway. This week is Hope. The title of this post comes from an Advent devotional my mom picked up at their church; she got copies for both me and my brother's family. Interestingly, it's one put out by Phillips Seminary - go figure; a church in Illinois having a devotional from an Oklahoma Seminary, but my local church doesn't have it.

Anyway. The reading for today is from Dr. Peluso-Verdend and is about hope, and he talks about how hope is ridiculous - in the sense that the gap between how things are and how things "should" be in a Kingdom sense is as large as it's ever been. But still - he says he has hope, and lists a variety of things, like the rapprochement (following Vatican II) of Catholics and Protestants (And I would add: largely a cessation of violence, at least as far as I can tell, between Irish Catholics and Protestants). And the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the greater acceptance of a diversity of people...

I know I've said this year on many occasions, "People are bad and seem to be getting worse" or "the world is bad and getting worse" but it's hard to keep going thinking that. And really, my own life is pretty good, and in some ways pessimism is a rejection of gratitude, of not being thankful for what you do have. 

But yes. Hope is ridiculous. And yet, I try to cling to it. I haven't been hopeful enough this year, and I think that's part of my distress - losing some of my ability to see the good in people or in situations. Granted, it has been a year that has battered a lot of us in a lot of ways. (For me: the financial uncertainty at my university, seeing someone who had been there longer than I had lose their job because they lacked the protection of tenure, illness and injury among a lot of people I cared about (starting with the Friday night trip my dad took to the ER back in January, which fortunately ended happily, but which raised the specter even more strongly for me of "There will come a time when you will be making one last trip up there"). My own ongoing abdominal issues which do seem to be partly stress, partly re-pulling a persistently damaged muscle, and perhaps partly perimenopause. Instability in the world, worries about the geopolitical future. The closure of several small businesses I liked and frequented.

But still I hope: I was thinking the other day, "Downtown was bleak and empty when you first moved here, then a lot of shops opened. Now they've closed but couldn't it possibly cycle back around to more shops opening some time, if the economy gets better?" Or that maybe the educational establishment way-of-thinking will cycle back to "you know? Technology is fine but it's over used and it can be used badly" and I won't feel like such a Luddite dinosaur for using chalk-and-talk. Or maybe they'll come up with something new to fix the chronic pain in people I know who have it.

The idea of hope, though - the minister this morning pointed out that it has to be an active thing; it has to grow out of faith. The kind of hopes I listed - for some new shops, for a change in how we do higher ed, for pain relief for people - is more wishing than hoping; hoping is something where you can make a difference and you choose to do it even if it is small. And I don't know. I have no head for business (and no time) so I know I wouldn't open a shop downtown. And the research I do is about as far from pain-relief research as you can be and still be in biology. I don't know. All I can do is what I can do, and I try to do my best.

Another thing about hope, though - hope is the faith that says, "Things will somehow be okay." I've talked before about how I think there's a certain courage in decorating for Christmas - pushing back the early dark with lights and candles, putting up things that are sweet and pretty and remind us of happy times, setting up a Nativity to remind us (even as most Nativity sets are probably pretty inaccurate - my own has a pale, blonde Mary, and I am sure the real Mary would have been olive-skinned and dark-haired, and the baby Jesus is blond,  but then again - perhaps there's something to be said for the Divine appearing to us in a form that is like how we are, to remind us that we have some spark of it in us.

And I saw in some of the little towns I passed through, coming back, those decorations it seems many small towns have - the trees or stars or candles made out of a sort of stiff garland, that are made to be hung on light poles. Some of them even light up at night. And again, to me, there seems to be something brave about that - the budget for putting those up, whatever it is, some would argue could be "better spent" on other things - patching a pothole or two, adding a few shares to the police retirement fund. And yet....after having gone through a time of very strict budgeting this spring of just buying the essentials, there is something about being able to spend maybe a LITTLE frivolously that makes life seem more worth it. And it does represent a certain hope or trust - that the however-many dollars were spent paying the guys to put them up, or to repair/get new ones, or the little cost of the extra electricity to light them - that it won't break you, that there is money in the budget for that.

In a way, it's kind of like the check I write each week to put in the offering plate; I know once or twice I thought this spring, "Can I really afford to keep giving like I do?" but I did, because.... I don't know. I didn't want to go down the path of stopping giving. Oh, I dialed back some on other causes: didn't give to a couple scholarship funds because I felt like giving through church and also to some disaster-relief/poverty-relief groups I contribute to were more important at the moment. But to me, it did represent a trust - saying "I can afford to do without this money even as my paycheck has been cut" because one of the problems I DO have in regards money, I know, is insecurity - I still haven't replaced the fence on the back of my house or the broken ceiling fan because even as I look at the money in my savings account (earning its grand .05% every month) I think, "But what if something really big and bad happened and you needed that money? You can do without a ceiling fan." I do still sometimes operate in what I call "grad student mode" (and not just with money: I still believe that somewhere there is a "permanent record" where my every work-related trespass is recorded, and once a certain critical mass accrues, I will be out on my ear).

But I really do need to gut up and tell myself: you know how to budget. You have stock investments that could be sold in a major emergency, even if you think of them as your retirement. Your parents would help you in a pinch. And I need to call the fence guy and go buy a new ceiling fan and schedule the electrician....and tell myself that this is no different and is perhaps even more essential than the town putting up the bells and stars and other decorations.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

And more thoughts

* It was just a lot of togetherness. Six people plus a dog in a normal-sized house that is really set up for two people (and occasional visits from one kid or set of kids). Nowhere really good to graciously get away from noise other than by walking the dog (which I did several times).

Sometimes I feel sad about living alone, because I do tend to get inside my head a bit much and caught in the one-inch picture frame and things look much bigger than they actually are (problems are BIG problems, even if I can't throw a tantrum about them). But I'm not sure being in a packed house would be any better for me.

* My niece wasn't in to hugging people goodbye when they left, but I can understand that and respect it. I had the idea of offering her my hand to shake and she took it (I figured she knew handshaking as they take her to church with them). And that was fine with me - I usually shook hands with my aunts and uncles and cousins when I was a kid because I wasn't really a hugger.

* She must be getting ready for a growth spurt (she is tallish but slender for her age) because she was CONSTANTLY eating. It kind of amazed me. Though then again, I am used to a nearly-50-year-old appetite, where I do better eating small meals at regular times and generally not snacking or, if I do, on something like a little bit of cheese or a boiled egg. 

* The dog knows how to shake paws, and also give "high fives." He's actually a very well-behaved dog: I don't know too many dogs who will listen to a stranger when they ask him to "sit" or similar commands, but he listened to me.

* I watched a little bit of the Thanksgiving parades but I spent more time on the Chicago one - which is smaller and less glitzy and less of an ad for Broadway shows than Macy's is now. (I miss the Macy's parades of my childhood: it seems there were fewer advertisements, and there wasn't a stop every five minutes for a number from some Broadway show or some tv starlet to promote her new show. Or maybe I was more tolerant of that kind of thing, I don't know.) I mainly watched for the big balloons and they seem to get less time now. (I also wonder at the whole "advertising Broadway" thing - just how many people in the TV audience are going to pick up and go to New York City? And get tickets to a show? I'm betting, not most of them.)

On Friday I also watched part of Peoria's "Santa Claus Parade" which is apparently the oldest annual parade of this type (something like 126 years). Again, it was less fancy and less glitzy and I like that. Sometimes I think people try to make things too slick and technological and the things lose some of their heart in the process.

Or maybe I'm just getting old and I remember how things used to be in the 1970s.

* I finished "The Cornish Coast Murder" on the way up. In general, I highly recommend it: good story, it has all of the elements of those Golden Era Mysteries that make them fun: a likeable "amateur" detective (Vicar Dodd), a young couple who are in love but have some obstacle (which is ultimately removed) to their being able to marry, comic "rustics," a rural police force that varies in their level of intelligence, an interesting setting,  a victim who was probably better off dead, the horror of suspecting (for a short time) sympathetic characters, and an ultimately satisfying denouement (the vicar is swearing off crime fiction, having lived a real murder case; his doctor friend, an agnostic, admits he is willing to give the God thing another chance).

Only two minor complaints: Bude, like many first-time thriller writers uses far too many exclamation points. It maybe becomes less (or less noticeable) later on the book but at the beginning it did irk me slightly. And second - without spoiling too much - the murderer was a bit of a deus-ex-machina solution to avoid blaming any of the sympathetic characters.

* I also started the big book about the 1918 flu. This is one you have to stick with because it spends some 150 pages on the history of American medicine before it gets to the meat of the epidemic (and if the hypothesis of the influenza's origin is correct, it should really be called the Kansas flu rather than the Spanish flu).

The doctors profiled - I almost called them "characters" but of course they were real people - from William Welch to Simon Flexner to Oswald Avery (I knew a bit about Avery from some of his pnemococcus experiments, but not a lot of detail). One striking thing: many of the men and women (and yes, there are a few women involved in the story) never married, and seemed to have very limited personal lives. (The author supposes that Welch COULD have been gay but very deeply closeted, but argues that seems ultimately unlikely for lack of much evidence. And anyway: I think our attitudes towards relationships and things are different now; someone who is never involved with anyone at all is seen as deeply weird, whereas in years past, it was perhaps that they were "devoted to their careers" or of course, in the case of women, they didn't marry because they'd have to give up their careers - and also, there was no reliable way of avoiding pregnancy if you were physically involved with a man).

There's also discussion of some of the biology behind infection, and it's a good layperson's description - you maybe need a LITTLE understanding of biology, but I'm not an immunologist and it made sense to me.

And something I mentioned to my classes, and then was worried I was wrong about, but it turns out I was not misremembering: the 1918 flu was an H1N1 flu, just like the swine flu of 2009, which may have been part of the reason for the panic. (We were asked to write up plans of how we could finish up our classes, including giving finals, if the university had to close temporarily because of an outbreak. Luckily it never came here in a big way and we didn't have to, because that would have been a nightmare).

Another interesting thing: in the pre-antibiotic days, a lot of work was done on "antitoxins" for certain bacterial diseases (a particularly successful one was used against diphtheria, especially in the era before the TdaP vaccine) and Berry hints that maybe that's a useful path for researchers to follow NOW as antibiotic resistance grows.

(Also: whatever happened to typhoid as a disease? It seems that you read a lot about that in old books, but you never hear of anyone getting it any more. Is it treatable with antibiotics? Has better hygiene all but eliminated it?)

Safely home again

Thanksgiving break is too short. It still seems weird that I left Monday and here I am home again.

Some random thoughts:

* I forget a lot of things about small children (my niece is 4). Like, how they can get wound up so easily (one evening she was running around snorting like a pig. Apparently she is a "night person" like my brother - hard to get to bed at normal little-kid bedtime, grumpy in the morning. I am just the opposite and my mother tells me I have ALWAYS been that way - that there was no fight to get me to bed and I was always up early and usually cheerful first thing in the morning. I still am - I usually feel most content with life first thing in the morning and if I feel bad at night, a night's sleep often cures that.)

Also, how something that an adult would shrug at, or chalk up as one of the thousand small disappointments you weather in life (like, the house being out of black olives when you want some) is a MAJOR TRAGEDY when you are a small child. I suppose because most of children's "agency" is in things like throwing tantrums when you can't get what you want, but most mature adults realize that tantrums are counterproductive.

I will admit, Thanksgiving night, to feeling some minor annoyance - my mother and I were rushing around trying to do the last few things (mashed potatoes, making the gravy, getting the table set) and my niece thought it was greatly amusing to sit there and repeatedly chant "Where's the food! Where's the food!" (My brother and sister in law were amused by that. Perhaps had they been cooking they would have not been so amused, I do not know).

I think ..... I think my decision not to have children was the right one. (Well, it was a decision largely determined by the circumstance of not having a male partner or husband....I would not want to raise a child on my own). But I lack patience with unreasonable beings, which children by definition are. Oh, I could bite my tongue or leave the room when things got bad, but the thought of dealing with that day in and day out? No.

* The dog seemed to remember me better than my niece did. And he wanted more to spend time with me. (Granted: she doesn't get much time with her mom, who works long hours, so she was pretty stuck to my sister-in-law the whole time).

And yes, I said I lacked patience with "unreasonable beings" but a well-trained dog is actually somewhat reasonable, and this dog is well enough trained that I can sternly say "Leave it!" if we are out walking and he wants to eat a leaf or roll in something untoward and he will obey.

* I had been thinking, "Wow, it would be nice for me to get what I wanted by crying for it" but then again - coming up on the train, the car attendant was one I know (Brad) and he came to me at first apologetic - he knows I like to eat dinner early but the only time left was 7 pm. I said that was okay (I didn't want to make him bring dinner to my room - it was a full sleeper and I figured he'd be busy enough). A few moments later he came back and said, "There's a cancellation at 5:30 if you want it" Yes, I wanted it, and I thanked him for thinking of me. (And I always tip). And I suspect that my history of tipping, being polite, and not being overly demanding got me what I really wanted at that point.

* I did finish a pair of simple socks, ones I'd had on the needles since July. And I got about 100 rows done on the new scarf. Other than that, I didn't do much (other than the random odd jobs that get found for the unmarried child of the family on vacations like that).

* I had been having troubles with my stomach again on Monday - I don't know if I got another little dumb virus or if something else is going on. They cleared up by Monday night which was good because I was afraid of eating a "normal" train-diner dinner if they were still bad. (I worry about my gall bladder, but I'm becoming convinced that that's not it, because I ate several rather heavy meals while on break and had not a problem at all). I am now wondering if it is

a. I can't take my antihistamines before eating; I will have to take them WITH breakfast like my blood-pressure medication, rather than before. Ideally, I'd like to taper off of them and I am trying an experiment of not taking the loratidine for a few days to see if the hives get any worse or stay the same. If they stay the same, I'm going to quit taking THAT because I do worry about all the meds I am on frying my liver.

b. Something down here I'm allergic to that is causing internal hives. I actually kind of suspect this.

c. The early-morning workouts on an empty stomach are not good for me but I don't know how to fix that; I can't insist on having 40 minutes open every afternoon to workout, nor can I get up an extra hour early and eat FIRST and then wait for the food to settle and then work out. At least on days when I can be fairly sure of being able to steal 40 minutes in the afternoon I can sleep in and work out later in the day.

d. Stress. I notice I get indigestion worse during busy times of the semester

Or  some combination of those. It may just be something I have to periodically live with, as unpleasant as it can be. At least, as I said, I don't think it's anything that will necessitate surgery, which was my big worry.

* I found out driving home Fidel Castro died. I....don't really feel sad about that death. I doubt it will mean much change for the people of Cuba, though. It's just weird. (I think of my mom talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis that happened a few years before I was born)

But also - the allergist my family used to go to, who had had a form of leukemia for years (and had undergone an experimental treatment) died. That one is sadder and yes it does seem that 2016 has taken a LOT of people (Florence Henderson, too, I see)

Monday, November 21, 2016

The flip side

Is where I will catch you all.

(Sorry. Child of the 70s, even though I really was a CHILD in the 70s. I have also occasionally said "groovy" but mostly in an ironic way).

My train is back on time so I need to leave here in just a few minutes (because of the construction detour I have to take).

I got the first big set of exams graded; the second set can wait until I get back. Part of my stress earlier was I don't like having work hanging over and waiting for me.

I guess I'm glad I'm going; I just don't deal well with too many people in too little space and having to sit around and wait on other people when something needs to be done. (Barbara Holland once wrote about how live-alones tend to 'fossilize' into certain behaviors - she suggested that some became hardcore conspiracy theorists and the like. My fossilization is more on the order of "I like things done the way I like them done" and "I don't like sitting around for an hour while people dither about whether we should go for ice cream at Ice Cream Place A or Ice Cream Place B.")

I think I have taken care of everything I need in advance of leaving.

If nothing else, I do have a good number of quiet hours on the train when I can read.

and conflicted feelings

Normally I am sorry when one of my fall classes ends but this year I will not be. I have someone with, let's just say, issues requiring an accommodation in how I teach. They are attention-related issues and I regularly get stopped dead and asked to go back to something about five minutes previously. Also person makes mouth noises, which I try to ignore but more than once I've made a mistake because I am VERY distractable these days (combo platter of allergies, being overmedicated, being tired, etc) and it frustrates me.

I am also not looking forward to break as much as I'd like because I fear the house will be chaotic (toddler, dog, my brother's loud media - he is one of those people who liked everything set on "11," my dad's continuous news-watching....all of it.) I can't graciously escape all that often so I don't know. (And I can't wear earplugs, though I will put them in at night I think). I'm kind of jangled after this semester and I would really love some quiet, but cannot in good conscience cancel my trip or stay home just because I "want" quiet and probably won't get it where I'm going.

I almost snapped in front of my morning class today because the person I share that room with left one, lone, dried-out whiteboard pen, and as half of the chalkboard area is covered by that blasted whiteboard, and this is a class that involves copious writing on my part....well, I finally ran down to my office to get a pen I knew I had in there (and brought it back after class. Sorry, I'm too broke for people to free-ride on my whiteboard pen largesse, and it seems the department is no longer able to supply them).

(I really hate whiteboards but I also hate our "black" boards which are actually grey and not black so almost no chalk shows up well on them, because someone, I suspect someone in a fit of passive-aggressiveness because we were originally slated to have ONLY whiteboards until a couple faculty complained about being sensitive to the solvents in whiteboard pens, ordered the grey ones. I have threatened on Occasions to do a midnight run with blackboard paint except I suspect that would not adhere well and would make things worse)

Ugh. I need to adjust my attitude. I read something somewhere (can't link it because it was one of those chain-of-clicking things and I've now lost the site) about striving to be grateful in the face of an ungracious world. And that's one of those things that when I read it, it made me sigh a little and go, Yes, that's it. But it's something that's hard to do when the entire building you are working in is about 10 degrees too cold for comfort, and someone is muttering under their breath while you are trying hard to think and you're reminding yourself that for the next several days your wants and desires won't matter, because you're the uncoupled person at the family gathering and so it's better to just suck it up and get along and remind yourself that when you get back home you can have quiet and NO NEWS on  the tv and no loud video games.....

I try to be a good and gracious person but right now I'm mostly failing. At least I can keep from outright saying stuff to people but I have been doing the slow simmer where then I turn around and rage at some inanimate object if it happens not to be working right while in my least an inanimate object won't get its feelings hurt.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Gift Knitting achieved

I finished the gift-mitts (these are for the small-gift exchange AAUW does every year - the suggestion is to spend $10 or less. Some people have excellent sales-shopping-fu and find good stuff at that price point [frankly, I think a lot of them go to Tuesday Morning]. I don't, but I can knit, and I don't count my time as part of the price because I enjoy knitting).

These are a pair of worsted-weight fingerless mitts. I went pretty simple on the yarn this year - it's a Caron acrylic yarn (called Party Time or some such because it has a tinsel strand wound through it; that's what those vague sparkles are):

gift mitts

The pattern is "Astilbe" from Cozy Stash-Busting Knits by Jen Lucas. They're nice, but I admit for my own use, I prefer ones from thinner yarn - I usually use fingering weight.

I'm glad I have these done. This time tomorrow (hopefully, if it's not late) I will be on a train bound for Illinois. I'm taking a couple projects: the current simple socks, another skein of self-striping yarn as "project insurance*," and a new scarf from the book I mentioned. I like the yarn I bought for this - it's an ecru color with little sequins strung on it here and there.

(*Project insurance: a project over and above the ones you figure you will have time to work on just in case).

I'm starting the scarf tonight and am going to take it as invigilating knitting tomorrow.

And books are planned - the other night I started John Bude's The Cornish Coast Mystery. The British Library is republishing a huge number of 1920s-40s mystery novels (apparently a great many were written). I admit there was one (A Scream in Soho by John Brandon) I jettisoned mostly unread because it was pretty terrible - but this one looks to be REALLY good. It is very atmospheric, there are already a couple of sympathetic characters (a vicar and a doctor) who are probably going to be the ones who ultimately figure out whodunit, and there are nice descriptions of the locale - which is a big part of the reason why I read these.

(I also admit a love of this one in particular because much is made of the vicar and the doctor both being bachelors, and I admit sometimes I long for books where there are characters who are unmarried but seem to have made happy and comfortable lives for themselves.)

The really good news is apparently Bude (actually a pen-name for a "serious" author whose name I forget) wrote a bunch of "regional" mysteries - I have another one (The Lake District Mystery) and apparently British Library is slowly going to republish many of these.

It's always a delight to find a new-to-me mystery writer I enjoy. Especially when it's one who's written a series of books.

I'm also taking that book on the flu epidemic, and one on the history of cheese (no, really), and an Angela Thirkell novel that may be replaced by The Santa Klaus Murders if I can find my copy (I know I have one)

I'm just hoping vacation will be somewhat restful but with a small child and a dog in the house, one never knows....

Saturday, November 19, 2016

And "mischief managed"

It's Harry Potter weekend on "Freeform." I like that; I have the movies going in the background while I go about other things - had part of "Sorcerer's Stone" going while I did the Sunday School lesson. And I confess: I like the earlier movies, before the real force of evil and the obvious fact that many would sacrifice themselves in fighting it appeared, and when the "kids" were younger. I suspect one of the reasons Harry Potter is so popular is the idea of "belonging" - you get sorted into a house, and the people there (at least from what we see of Gryffindor) become fast friends - and for some people, like Hermione, who don't come from wizarding families, it's maybe the first place they felt they fit in.

Hm. Kind of like prep school for me - it really was the first place, or at least the first place since about third grade, that I felt I fit in.

Anyway. I did my necessary tasks (Sunday school lesson, taking some data on my little plants, preparing communion for tomorrow) and then ran down to Sherman for some shopping.

I found out yesterday that CPAAG **IS** doing the card exchange again, so I had fun getting amusing cards for that (Including one that made me laugh a lot, and I bought several, because I want to send it to other people as well). And I bought a few little bitty gifts, and a "joint gift" to my parents, even though I have individual gifts for them - it is a large nice calendar of scenes from Ireland, and both my parents (my father more than my mother) have Irish heritage, and I know they like having a good big calendar next to the front door so they can keep track of things like meetings and appointments.

Buying gifts makes me happier than buying stuff for myself. (I hope that's not a humblebrag but it is true)

I also bought my toy to donate to Toys for Tots - I do this every year, I buy a toy that my brother or I would have enjoyed as a kid and donate it. This year, I got one of the big "Chubby Puppies" - these are battery powered dogs that kind of waddle all over the floor when they are turned on. (I  got a pug dog, it was the cutest one).

I did buy a few things for myself - the knew UK Simply Knitting, some of the expensive-but-good shampoo and conditioner I use (they are coconut based; the natural-foods store is the only place that I know that has it). And these:

tree rarity


Yup! Five Below had the Rarity and Luna ornaments. Now the only one of the Mane Six I lack is Applejack, and I don't know that they've made one of her. (Maybe next year, if Pony is still on the air, it will be her and Celestia?) They also had Rainbow Dash and a new-style Fluttershy but I already have RD and my Fluttershy is more important to me because she was a gift.

And, why not, here's a photo of the tree as a whole:


I'm glad I put it up last night. It will be lovely to come back to it after Thanksgiving.

And all the critters underneath it:


(Yes, the Christmas!Fluttershy is new; Target had them and I couldn't resist)

And the other side - you can see the manatee origami

Merry Manatee

Now I need to make the brownies for tomorrow, when I get to do more decorating (and, as I said, hang out with a group of people I really care about).

So much better

Nope, I didn't feel the need to cry a little (over things that have changed or people who have left this plane forever) this year while decorating.

And it did make me feel a lot cheerier. I have my little tree up in the front window. I went heavily with the "idiosyncratic" or toy-themed ornaments this year - my little Snoopy ornaments (years back, Whitman's had a thing where they'd have tiny boxes with just a couple chocolates in them - four, maybe - and a Snoopy figure in some kind of holiday-themed pose on the top). And my four Ponies. (I have Fluttershy and Pinkie - thanks to Purlewe - and I found a Twilight and a Rainbow Dash in the shops here last year). And several little stuffed-toy ornaments I've acquired through the years.

I can't fit all the ornaments I have on the tree but that's okay. I keep saying I should buy a larger (like, 6') tree and just stand it on the floor (this one stands on a table) but fake trees are kind of expensive and I couldn't see any at the Lowe's I particularly liked. The tree I have now is just under 4' tall so when I stand it on a low table it's as tall as I am, which is good enough for me. It IS getting a little tatty as it's close to 20 years old now and I've hauled it from the apartment to here and stuffed it back in my storage closet every year. (I did have to replace the lights - it was not a pre-strung tree, fortunately - a year or so ago),

I put away the stuff that was cluttering that little table but I found my ITFF manatee in with it, so now he is under the tree with a couple teddy bears and the "spaghetti hair" Pinkie Pie-in-a-Santa-hat I bought last year.

I moved my singing Baby Groot to the piano along with the big Sapphire Shores dressable/brushable pony. 

I also have the lit garland over the window, and the Nativity set out, and the Christmas themed pillows on the sofa. After Thanksgiving I will change out the wreath on the door for a Christmas one - probably the same tinselly one I had last year unless I see a wreath I really love and want instead when I'm out.

I know I probably go overboard a little bit on it (especially considering I am not actually here for Christmas), but by this time of the semester I need a little brightness and happiness. And especially need it this year.

I broke down and put the heat on this morning - it was 68 in the house when I got up and with the beta blocker slowing down my heart I tend to get cold a bit easier. I set it on 70 which seems a reasonable compromise with a turtleneck and wool socks on. It clearly works as I've been smelling the toasted dust. That doesn't bother me because it tells me the furnace is working as it normally does.

Today, after I finish my Sunday school lesson and take some research data, I'm going to Sherman, going to hit the Five Below to see if they have Pony ornaments (online they advertise having Rarity and Princess Luna, neither of which I have) and to the JoAnn's and maybe out to lunch (my stomach is better, hooray - which makes me wonder if some of the issues are stress related). I might run to the natural foods store. I don't NEED groceries for the coming week (will stop at Kroger's on the way back home on Saturday) but I could get a few things ahead - and I need to get some unsweetened chocolate because I'm to make brownies for the pre-church-decorating lunch tomorrow.

I finished the first mitt for the AAUW gift and now I really kind of like them, the glitzy yarn was probably a good choice for these.

I can't find my copy of "The Happy Hooker" so will have to figure out another carry along project. I am considering just saying to myself, "just be careful where you leave it and take knitting" - I had thought of taking a crochet project because I know (I remember from my own childhood) how tempting it is for little kids to pull the needles out of knitting and unravel it.

I might take the almost-finished simple socks, and maybe the new scarf that I bought yarn for when Laura and I went to Stitches and Stuff in October. I feel the need for a nice, simple scarf. (I do need to finish the Hagrid scarf, but that's a more complex pattern, and I think I want something so simple I don't have to look at it.)

Friday, November 18, 2016

A gratitude list

I am gearing up to decorate for Christmas, yes (and in the course of putting some things away, I found the origami manatee an ITFF friend made for me last year - manatees are kind of a thing on ITFF and she was offering to send one to anyone who asked. I'm glad I kept it - I thought I hadn't.)

But I feel like I need to at least nod at Thanksgiving first. I have no idea how many, if any, embargoed posts I will have between Tuesday and Saturday - I leave Monday night and should get back Saturday, although a student already teased me about "what happens if the train tracks freeze up" - he was in a class I was late getting back for a couple years ago because of the Polar Vortex. And they have a big, big paper due that day. I laughed and said that it wouldn't happen, and even if it did, I would FIND a way to get back even if it meant flying. (But I do not anticipate it being a concern).

But I do have a lot of things to be grateful for, even though this year has seemed to be more bad than good.

First up: the things many of us share and enjoy, but that I think it is good to stop and think about, because some people don't have them:

1. Clean running water, where I need only turn on a tap and I have abundant water that is safe to drink - and it is almost free; I use as much as I need and I only pay the minimum charge per month (for the water itself, about $20).

2. Hot water. I lived without a functioning hot water heater for ten days  or so a dozen years ago and it really brought home how much an effort bathing can be when you don't have hot water on demand.

3. Climate control. It's supposed to get cold tonight, I will see tomorrow if I have to flip the gas switch on my furnace and turn the heat on, though up until now I've used the air conditioning (though there were several blissful days when I needed neither, and with the way I've been carefully budgeting, yes, I do appreciate that.)

4. Electricity in general. The fact that I don't have to risk burning the place down with candles if I want to read after dark, the fact that I can keep food cold and cook things easily and have access to radio and television and the Internet and stuff like that.

5. To live in a country generally free from chaos. I've mentioned before how on occasionally particularly "busy" Fourths of July, sitting in my house listening to all the firecrackers, I idly thought: this must be what living in Mosul (or Kabul, or Sarajevo, or any of the places where order fell apart in the past however many years) is like. And I was very grateful that for me, the noise was a mere annoyance, and would be gone in a day or two, whereas people in those places have to deal with it regularly.

6. That despite things like school and workplace shootings, I can pretty much trust that I can go out to the grocery store or the coffee shop or the Five Below without worrying about getting killed. Most places in this nation are really pretty safe - I think of the people in parts of Israel, or the people in London during the heydey of the IRA, or any of the other places that was besieged by small-scale bombing type terrorism, and wonder at the sort of fortitude it would take to keep going out, day after day, knowing that one day there might be a canister full of nails with your name on it.

7. All the freedoms we enjoy. (And a hope that they remain protected....) The fact that I can go to church on Sunday, whichever church I want (or, were I a different person, synagogue or temple or mosque) or nowhere at all....and I am not subject to official harassment or additional taxes or loss of other freedoms (as sometimes happens in countries where there is a "state" religion. And without saying too much that is too pointy, may this freedom be protected for *everyone* in this nation, not just folks like me)

8. Being able to drive and having enough money to own and keep up a car. My life would be much more challenging otherwise (I probably could not live in the semi-rural area I do without it). Being able to pick up on a Saturday morning and go grocery shopping and not have to worry about how I'm going to get five pounds of flour and a gallon of milk and a package of hamburger meat and a sack of potatoes and everything else home....

And then, some more personal things:

1. My faith, and the way it keeps me going and lifts me up and challenges me to be better in so many ways than I would be otherwise. That fundamentally I have some kind of a hope, even though there may be bad times now. And that it connects me to other people who believe similarly who may be very different from me otherwise (color, national origin, socioeconomic class, even sexual orientation) and yet we still have that one big thing in common, and we can love each other even though there might be many things we disagree on that are "of the world."

2. That the congregation I belong to, even though it's small and broke and struggling, is still going. That people are working to try to make things better, that the people in it love each other, that I go to church on Sunday morning and then come home and think, "Oh, I feel so much better for having gone to church" - that it provides me with that uplift I need for the rest of the week.

3. That I have a lot of interests. Sometimes I wonder if being a dilettante like I am is undesirable and if I'd be better off with a laser-like focus on just one thing - I think of those kids who grew up to be Olympic athletes by giving up nearly everything else, and I wonder if that might be a better path....but I kind of like being a dilettante and being interested in a lot of topics and having a lot of hobbies.

4. That I have a generally-fulfilling career. It's hit some bumps these past couple years with budget cuts and the like, but by and large I'd rather be doing this than just about anything else I could earn a living at.

5. Some of my students: the ones who are kind and polite and considerate of others in the class (and of me). The ones who are super-engaged. Even the ones I can tell, "You're really overthinking this and don't stress too much, you are doing a good job" because that student is like I was and I see a kindred spirit in them. The students who laugh at my dumb jokes. The students who bring up things they have read or heard about that relate to the topic at hand, and sometimes it's something I don't know so I learn from them.

6. That I have enough funds to cover my needs and some of my wants and also to be able to give some away to groups I consider to be deserving.

7. That I have generally good health. Oh, I'm a little too fat and a little too anxious and apparently perimenopause (or the Real Thing) is hitting me kind of hard this year and messing with my stomach and my moods, but in general I enjoy good health - I tend to resist most of the viruses that go around, I don't have anything too dire in the way of chronic conditions, I'm still pretty strong and flexible.

8. That I can take care of myself. By that, I mean that I learned how to cook and balance a checkbook and do basic home repairs and do laundry without turning my underwear pink and just in general all the life-maintenance tasks that a few people I know IRL don't seem to be that great at, and I kind of wonder, "why didn't they learn that?" That I have just plain good practical knowledge. (And that I'm wise enough to know when to call in an expert rather than trying to fix something myself.)

9. That my family is still mostly intact, despite the losses we've suffered over the years (most recently, my cousin Chum). That my parents still have okay health and that even though my dad's knees may be shot, his brain is still good - I think (and he agrees) it's far preferable to have terrible knees but to recognize who his kids are and be able to converse with them when they come to visit than the reverse.

10. That once in a while, I get what I really need when I need it most, even though maybe I didn't realize it was what I needed until I got it.

11. Being able to get into bed at night, and stretch out, and be warm enough (or cool enough as the case may be) and feel safe in my own house and to be able to sleep. And to have a ridiculous number of pillows on my bed because they make me more comfortable, and to have a ridiculous number of stuffed toys on my bed (especially for a woman my age) because they make me more emotionally comfortable. And for the super-fluffy and cushy velour blanket I bought at Target a month or so back.