Sunday, May 7, 2017

Reading old posts

I've been browsing my blog archives, reminding myself of the lovely chaos that has been life since I started this blog in 2008, nearly ten years ago. Wow. Really ten years? That's kind of sad and sobering.

In any case, Blogger told me that I had 29 unpublished drafts of posts, the earliest from 2010. I looked back over some of those posts, and most were just little things I began but never finished, including several awesome titles that never developed accompanying text. (Like "Going places" and "Through a glass darkly".) Some of the draft posts were more complete, but never published for various reasons, reasons such as the topic at hand was a little too private to post on a public blog (family planning and my parents), or my thoughts were too scattered or too controversial and might affect my position at G.O.D University (religious issues).

I really liked the following post, though, from June 2015. At the time, I was worried about moving and starting a new life in a new country. And change. Change is scary.

But reading this old post, and knowing that almost two years later I still swim in the same sea of lovely chaos and worries about the future and attempted optimism, every day, I think that maybe the change was not so huge. Sure the seasons are completely swapped around, and the living arrangements are entirely different. But we're pretty much still the same, that me then, and this me now.

****

Friday, June 19, 2015, Mountain West, USA

Little things that keep me up

There are scars on my lungs. No sign of disease, but scars on my lungs. You would never know it, unless you took a picture of the inside of my lungs. And why would you want to take such a picture? Someone wanted a picture for a visa application, along with a police report from every country we've lived in over the last ten years, and my entire life work history. I didn't tell them about the time I taught piano lessons to the neighbor girls for ten dollars per week when I was in high school. Do you think that will be a problem? Why would I have scars on my lungs?

This could be a pretty good life right here, summertime. Hollyhocks starting to bloom. Raspberries turning from white to pale pink to dark red to black juicy ripeness. Mountain breezes sweeping out of the canyons late at night. What am I doing, swapping this life for an unknown life? In the unknown life, I will have to lead the group, and train the students, and bring in grant money, and walk and talk as though I am Senior and Intelligent and a Leader. Some days I don't feel like a Leader. Not even a leader. But then the next day, the guy in G.O.D.'s grants office refuses to budge on my financial request. Refuses! Because he is made of refuse! And I get really, really, unnaturally angry. Thank goodness I am leaving! I can get angry at the grants office people somewhere else. Important to spread the angry around the world.

And speaking of grants, I received preliminary reports on the grant proposal I wrote for Australia. The grant was sent to four external reviewers, and now I get to respond to their assessments. I haven't ever been able to respond like that in the US. But the assessments were extremely positive! Extremely positive! They think I can be Senior and Intelligent and a Leader. They know nothing of my fatigue and inability to get that one result I've been working on for the last month. And I won't tell them. I won't tell them about how sometimes, lately, I find myself just staring at the wall and wondering what in the world am I doing? I shake it off, and I remind myself to keep writing. And I'll fake it and be fine. Panicked underneath, but fine.

In my ice skating lessons, I am learning to skate forward on one foot, and then without switching feet, to turn my whole body and continue skating backwards. I have learned that the only way to do this move is to start by pushing off as hard as I can, to go as fast as I can, with my leg bent as deeply as I can. And then somewhere with the speed and the muscles and the pure fear of death coursing through my body, I twist, and it happens, and I'm skating backwards on my left foot. And I'm awesome! Did you know that I'm awesome? Nothing says awesome like a one foot turn. Especially on the left foot. Inside edge.

The new job is like learning to twist from forwards to backwards on one foot. You just need to push into it, as hard as you possibly dare, and bend that leg as deeply as you can, and then go for it! Go for the turn! And suddenly you're skating backwards, on one foot, because you were already awesome. Already awesome.

****

Monday, May 1, 2017

Flat Stanley's visit to Melbourne, Australia

Stanley's Trip Report.

Date: 1 May, 2017
City and State: Melbourne, Victoria

Dear Diary,

I, Flat Stanley, have been having a lovely visit to Melbourne, Australia. I left Oregon where the weather was cold and rainy, and spring was just beginning to arrive, and then spent a very very long time in an envelope making my way across the Pacific Ocean to the Southern Hemisphere. Because of the long journey, I'm getting back to Oregon later than all my friends. But believe me, it was worth the trip.

When I arrived in Australia, I noticed that many leaves were falling to the ground. I had forgotten: when it is spring in Oregon, it is autumn in Australia. In June and July when it is warm in Oregon, it will be dark and cold and winter in Australia. Upside down seasons!

Here is a picture of me with some cool looking mushrooms, standing in fallen autumn leaves.


The first thing we did when I arrived was head to the market. There is a lot of shopping in the Central Business District of Melbourne. We went into the Central Station to shop. Here is a picture of me with the big clock in the station. This clock opens up and plays Waltzing Matilda once every hour. (In case you didn't know, Waltzing Matilda is an Australian song.)

There's an old historic tower near the central station, too. When they built the shopping around it, they just put it inside a huge glass ceiling. Now you can look at the building without getting wet.


Ok. Shopping is kind of boring. What I really wanted to see were Australian animals. They have all kinds of weird animals in Australia. So our next stop was the Melbourne zoo.

We took the tram to get there. Melbourne is famous for its trams. Here is a picture of me on the tram heading to the zoo.


At the zoo, the first thing we saw were the koalas. Here is a picture of me with a koala. Koalas live in eucalyptus trees. They pretty much just sleep in trees all day, and eat leaves and poop otherwise. Sounds like a good life to me. Except the part about eating leaves. Yuck.

Here's a better picture of the koala, sleeping.

Australia has lots of really big and pretty birds, too, like these red-tailed black cockatoos. These big black parrots live about as long as humans do. They make their nests in burned out eucalyptus trees.


Did you notice how both koalas and cockatoos live in eucalyptus trees? Eucalyptus trees grow wild in Australia. But sometimes people cut them down to make a lot of toilet paper. The zoo doesn't think it's a good idea to turn koala and cockatoo houses into toilet paper. Would you like it if someone turned your house into toilet paper? To remind people not to buy toilet paper made out of animal houses, the zoo had funny signs all over. Like this one:

And they had a giant toilet paper roll. I bet none of the other Flat Stanleys got their pictures taken with a giant toilet paper roll.


Next stop: kangaroos and emus. Kangaroos are big jumping mammals that carry their babies, called joeys, in pouches. They live all over Australia. You can see them out in the fields outside the city at dusk.

Emus are the second largest birds in the world (after ostriches). They also live wild in Australia, although my host family tells me they haven't seen as many wild emus as wild kangaroos. In the zoo, the emus and kangaroos were hanging out together. Here we all are together.


And a little closer shot of just the animals:

Next, I really really wanted to see a platypus. A platypus lives in the water. It has the body like an otter, flippers, a tail like a beaver, and a beak like a duck. And it is a mammal, but it lays eggs. What!? Oh, and the male platypus even has a poisonous spur on its back foot. When the English people first arrived in Australia, they told everybody back home about the crazy platypus, and their friends and family didn't believe such an animal really existed! They thought there could be no such thing as an otter with a duck bill. Surely it was just a joke!

Anyway, I saw a platypus, and it is not a joke. I did get a picture with a platypus, but the platypus was swimming pretty fast, and it was dark inside the platypus home. In this picture, you can just see me and the platypus's beak. It really is a duck bill, I promise.

Final stop at the zoo: the butterfly house. In the butterfly house, butterflies from all over Australia flutter around and even land on people.



After seeing all the Australian animals in the zoo, we were pretty tired. We headed home on a tram again, passing the Queen Victoria Market, where people buy and sell all kinds of stuff. But remember how shopping is kind of boring? We decided not to get off the tram to check out the market. I did take a picture of the outside, though.

Do you see that sign with a 60 in a circle? That's what a speed limit sign looks like in Melbourne. And be careful! The 60 means you can only go 60 kilometers per hour. That's about 40 miles per hour. If you go 60 miles per hour on the road next to the market, you will have to pay a lot of money for a speeding ticket!

We stopped next on the south bank of the Yarra River. The Yarra River is the river that runs through Melbourne. There were a lot of people out walking along the river, because it was such a lovely autumn day. There were also non-people out, I guess kind of like me.
We could see the city skyline from the river. Melbourne is such a beautiful city. In this picture you can see the orange coloured Flinders street train station, and the spires of St Peter's cathedral, and other buildings. Notice that I spelled coloured with a "u" in the middle. They do that here.


We stopped very briefly at Federation Square, which is the central square near the river and just across the street from Flinders Street Station. There wasn't anything big going on, but they sometimes have shows and things in the square. The buildings you see include the Australian Centre of the Moving Image (a museum all about movies), an art museum, and a cafe. It's a lovely square. And did you notice how I spelled Centre? They spell it that way here.


Final stop: One of the most famous buildings in Melbourne: The Shrine of Remembrance. During World War I, over 100 years ago, many Australians left Australia to fight, and many many young people were killed far away from home in places like Turkey. Their families were so sad that they built a beautiful building, called the Shrine of Remembrance, to help them remember how much they loved their families, and how sad it was to fight wars. This is a picture of me at the Shrine at sunset.
And looking back at the city from the Shrine:

I had such a lovely time in Australia. I hope I can come back soon, next time with my good pal Jake and his family. There are a lot more things to see and do!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter weekend

My holidays overlapped Jonathan's for four days. Three years ago, we took about four days and went to Tasmania. But this year we took the four days and, at least three days in, we've had a lovely weekend at home.

So what did we do?

Friday we walked to Federation Square. Jonathan and I watched an Argentinian couple perform acrobatics, as part of the international comedy festival. That was pretty awesome.
 Tim met a friend at an Aussie rules football game instead.

Saturday Tim and I walked our favorite loop around the Botanic Gardens, from the lily pond to the fern gully, once around the lake and back past the volcano. It is the season for bunya-bunya pine cones again. Danger!
The cones are massive and will kill you if they fall out of the tree on your head. So every few years when one of the pines has cones, they rope off the area around the tree.

There are a few pine trees in the park behind our house that have been roped off for a while with no explanation. We walked over to see if we could spot massive cones in their canopy.
But no luck. I don't think they're the same kind of tree.

On Sunday we went to church in the morning. I played Easter hymns for the congregation on the organ. Easter hymns are hard. But lovely. That's because there are only a few of them in our hymn book, and those that exist were mostly written by professional organists in previous centuries, beloved by congregations for more than 200 years by now. Because they are hard to play, I was worried that I would ruin the Easter experience for the overfull chapel. But it went ok. I think my mistakes were subtle enough that not many people noticed.

What else have we done with our free days? Long walks in the park. Chores: Shower scrubbed. Bathmats clean. Floor mopped. Dirt wiped from the windows. Bathroom cleaned. Five loads of laundry washed, folded, or hung to dry. A little work: Paper draft finished. Another paper resubmitted after revisions. Chapter outlined. Notice sent to colleagues on research. A few video games. Ok, a few hours of screen time resulting in my hands aching. I can't do that with my breaks anymore, apparently. Boooo.......

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Lyre bird

Jonathan has been on school holidays for a week now, and still has a week to go. My semester break starts just at the very end of his break, and we overlap for a long weekend, and then he is back in school while I'm free from teaching. Because we don't overlap, we haven't made any big holiday plans. But it's kind of nice to have unscheduled days -- at least Jonathan thinks its nice. He's been walking around the neighborhood, reading books, and playing video games. Life is good. 

The weather has been very nice lately, with many warm autumn days that feel more like late summer. But many trees are turning gold in the park, and we set the clocks back an hour last weekend, so the trees and the early dark remind us that summer is long gone. We know we're moving into winter. But we're still enjoying the warm.

Until today. The weather report predicted a major storm moving in this weekend. Saturday was still supposed to be lovely, but Sunday was predicted to be wet and cold. So we decided to take advantage of what might be a last warm Saturday for a while and head out to the Dandenong ranges.

When my parents were visiting, we wanted to walk with them from the Belgrave train station to Sherbooke falls in the Dandenongs. However, the train line was damaged in a rainstorm, and so we didn't make it out that far. We checked yesterday, however, and the trains were back up and running with no problems, not even construction, all the way to the end of the line. So off we went. To Sherbrooke falls!

Nearly every time we spend an hour or two going outside the city we are amazed again at what a nice place we live in. The fact that we can get to the Dandenong ranges national park on public transit and on foot is a really great thing.

It was our first time walking to the falls, but it was a pretty short walk. We had to walk along the side of a road for a little while before turning off into the park. From there, it was really only a short walk to the falls.
The temperature cooled off a lot once we stepped into the fern tree forest. And then we heard a scratching on the side of the path, and looked carefully, and it was a lyre bird! A male lyre bird, just scratching around in the dirt right there on the side of the path!

Our readers may remember back in January we spent a long time in Tarra Bulga national park hoping to see a lyre bird. We heard them. They are not quiet birds, and when they are making their calls they are very loud. But we didn't see any. They were hiding under and around the thick ferns.

Yesterday in the Dandenongs we saw the lyre bird just scratching in the dirt. But it was not calling. So no audio. Even so, seeing a live lyre bird made the trip all the more exciting.

 And then we walked back, down through more fern trees and eucalyptus trees.
And all my photos are of Jonathan because he was either running ahead or walking behind. No photos of me. But I was there too. I show up in some of the pictures on Jonathan's phone camera.

It started to rain just as the train was pulling out of the station on its way back to the city, and it has been gray or rainy since. Actually, it has been quite a nice weekend. I wish my holidays started this week too. But I have to wait another week.

I will end by linking to David Attenborough, who will show you what a lyre bird looks like and sounds like.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjE0Kdfos4Y

Happy autumn!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Shopping mall

Shopping. It has to be done. Things wear out. Children grow taller. As much as you want it to, stuff doesn't last. For example, take my lovely comfy black shoes that have walked all over the world with me. By February, I had walked the soles completely off of them, and I was treading around on the smooth sponge layer that makes them so comfy. After a slip in the mud, two big bruises, and then finally getting sick of that squish sound with every step, I decided it was time to replace them. And yet I still delayed the actual shopping trip for about four weeks.

Once I announced that I was really going. No really, this time I really mean it and I'm leaving, the rest of the family remembered all the things that they needed at the Mall as well. So we made an event of it! Why just go shopping alone when you can bring the family and count it as family time?

First stop, shoes for Jonathan. No, those are ugly. I wouldn't wear those. No, not sure what I'm looking for but that isn't it. Ew. I'm not getting white ones.

In the end he settled on the green sneakers. With the steep price tag. But whatever. He'll wear them for at least six months, I predict. Unless they get lost somewhere in transit.

Next stop, shoes for me, somewhere upstairs in the large department store. In that store, my shoes have cute feminine names. There was a pair named "Jess" that was almost perfect, of course. Only unfortunately, not on sale and not in my size. But the pair named "Lass" was in my size, super comfortable, and on sale for less than half the price of Jonathan's shoes! Win! So now I have comfy black shoes again.

Third stop lunch. And apparently phone break.


Fourth stop: Hey let's go in the Storage Solutions store! Hey how about the arts and crafts store! Look! Phones!

Real stop: sewing and crafts store. I needed iron-on patches. Because in spite of those first few sentences at the top of this post about things wearing out, sometimes it's a lot easier just to patch them a few times rather than try to find a replacement in the correct size and style.....

Final stop: Outdoor goods store. I bought a rain jacket 10 years ago before moving to England, and it has been the greatest jacket ever but it is literally falling into little bits every time I shake it open. We are heading into the rainy season here again, and I need a rain jacket that will keep me dry during my hour of walking outside every day. The price tag on the jacket I really liked was ... Gulp. High. I talked myself into thinking about it and then coming back to buy it later. And then I talked myself into Good Grief. Just buy the jacket and save yourself a trip. Because if it lasts 10 years again, the price per year is tiny. The price per day is less than pennies.

Math. We use it.

All done! Let's go catch the bus home.

Until Jonathan stopped us. Wait. What about a haircut? I thought the point of me coming was so that I could get a haircut. I haven't got a haircut yet! So we swung by a place called "Cuts only." Jonathan looked through a book of haircuts and picked one out. And then the guy with the clippers starts in and ... woah! Tim and I look at each other. He really wants it that short?

And after watching curly lock after curly lock fall off of Jonathan's head, Tim stood up. I want to do that too.


So we got two haircuts. 

And then we went home.


Look how good they both look today.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Assorted chocolates

When I was flying home from Germany a month ago, I found myself in the Frankfurt airport with about eight euros in coins. Who wants to lug a big purse full of coins halfway across the earth? Not me -- not when coins can be exchanged for chocolate, and chocolate is available at the airport duty free shop. So I stopped in at the shop. I looked over all the chocolates on offer, in an attempt to maximize the amount of chocolate I could obtain for less than eight euros. In the end, I bought a bag of assorted flavours, not from Germany, or Switzerland, or other countries you think of when you think chocolate and you're hanging out in the Frankfurt airport. The chocolates in my bag were made in Serbia. At a pretty good price. And it was delicious -- enough.

This blog post has a few assorted topics, chosen to maximize value for money. Maybe the post was not made in the same part of the brain where the best, fanciest blog posts come from, but it was made not too far away. And it is delicious -- enough.

Topic 1. Shopping with the child. The child seems to be hardly a child anymore, as he is nearly as tall as I am. And yet, shopping with the child is still not as easy as shopping with a fully functional adult, even one shorter than I am. The child still insists on driving the cart. The cart has funky wheels, causing the child to turn his entire body each time he tries to go around a corner. Then once around the corner, the child is not content to wait while the mother (me) finds the item needed and puts it into the cart. The child instead runs up and down the aisle, narrowly avoiding other shoppers, until the mother says -- again -- that the child needs to stop. Does she have to take the cart away? Seriously, when does the child stop being so ... "helpful"?


Topic 2. The snugness of life. Three weeks have passed since classes started, and I'm feeling a little better. I'm finding some rhythm, some time to prepare for class and research and student meetings and breathing. All my tasks are fitting into the week, although honestly the week fits a little too snugly, like a shoe that's just a little too small. I should have bought the half-size bigger. But at least the rubbing has stopped a bit, and I'm not getting blisters on my heal.

Last Saturday was a turning point. I got up, ate breakfast, looked at the family and the calendar and the task list and realized that I wasn't needed urgently. So I went back to bed, and stayed there until past noon. And it was lovely, except for the mild headache I got, brought about by weird sleep patterns. This Saturday, Tim was away again, so I went shopping with the Child instead of sleeping. See above topic. I was more prepared for this Saturday after last Saturday, though. So all was well.

Topic 3. Church dinner. One of the many reasons life has fit too snugly is that I was in charge of a dinner for somewhere between 20 and 40 women and girls -- it's hard to estimate for a church event how many will really come. I was organizing the way I typically organize: we had a theme and an idea for food and activities, and a committee of people who were taking care of parts of it for me, and tasks I would have to do a few days before, a day before, the day of, etc. But the leader over me was super nervous that it would all fall apart. After many, many messages, her nervousness had transferred to me, and I was sure it would fall apart. Which made it difficult to do those tasks starting a few days before, a day before, the day of.... I would have rather crawled back into bed and stayed there until noon. But I didn't. And my committee came through. And the leader over me realized I was hopeless and pulled a few touches together on her own (thank you, leader). And the dinner happened and was really very lovely as far as dinners go, with around 35 people in attendance. And only two chickens and a box of rice left over.
Everyone kept thanking me for organising such a lovely event. If it had really been just me, though, it would have been a lot less lovely. Thank goodness for committees who care. And thank goodness that is over. Now I don't have to use those organisational skills for a couple more months.

Even though the title of this post is "assorted chocolates", really there were only three flavours in the bag I bought imported from Serbia. So I will end with those three topics. Enjoy.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Autumn

I've met a lot of Australians whose favourite season is autumn. Here in Victoria, the weather doesn't seem to be as variable in autumn. It settles down into the 20s centigrade, after a summer of flying way up into the 30s and 40s and then way down into the 10s. The days are slowly getting shorter: we wake up before dawn again. But the afternoons are full of long golden sunshine.


Autumn is here. My semester started last week. I'm teaching one class by obligation, five hours in front of students, and one class by choice, as I'm trying to get notes polished into a book for graduate students. That's three additional hours in front of students, and hopefully three to five hours writing. My calendar has turned a pretty solid orange: the colour of work obligations.


It's a little harder to begin the semester with Tim in California. I also had someone visiting for work last week who wanted to talk about research projects, along with the new teaching obligations, so there ended up not being enough time for everything. It was one of those weeks in which I repeatedly dropped balls at home and at work. But having a weekend helps. The visitor is gone. The bathrooms are clean. The last load of laundry is in the machine. There is food in the fridge and we are ready for another week.

I read an article recently about how much we celebrate busy-ness, and how we compete with family and friends to sound the most stressed out. And how it isn't healthy. So I've been trying to mentally put a little more positive spin on my busy-ness. Sure the calendar is solid orange, but I chose those orange things. No, I can't do everything. But the things I'm doing are things that are fun and cool and make me happy.

Mostly.

But yeah, it will be a little rough settling into the new semester.