Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas

After waiting over a whole year, which makes up 20% of the little guy's life so far, Jonathan finally received his very own bicycle for Christmas!

After waiting over 11 years, which makes up about 33% of my life so far, I finally received my very own (digital) piano for Christmas!

Tim got socks.

Much rejoicing

Sometime soon here, I will upload some photos. And then I can tell you about our fabulous winter visit to the home of Chickadeedee and Hans Juergen and their wonderful children. In which we filled our days with amazing adventures, such as mornings in T-shirts at the park around the corner. And an afternoon on the couch with a book (for me). (Yes, I just abandoned my child to play with Legos that whole time.) (And yes, when the kids got rowdy I didn't even hear -- you know, engrossed and all that.) (And yes, I do feel very guilty about that.) But how amazing is a holiday in which you can read novels and absorb vitamin D?

(Sorry about abandoning my wild child, HJ and C. If you let us come back in a few years, I will promise to be a real parent in spite of all the interesting books lining your shelves.)

Tim and I had long serious discussions about how we could spend all our winters in the warmth, while keeping our current jobs. Honestly, I bet with some work and a little bit of pixie dust I could rearrange my schedule such that January to April, I worked remotely from Arizona on research. The only real problem would be switching Jonathan's schools twice each year, requiring him to meet standards of two different states. But come on, how disruptive could that really be? Really? I'm kind of willing to live with a scarred child for a little more sunshine in the winter.

But since I have not yet uploaded photos, this is instead a post about ch-ch-ch-changes.

Remember how I've been working as a primary teacher? That is, each Sunday at church I have been teaching the five year olds for several months now? With the new year, that will go away. Next year I will only teach adults. And only every other week. And if any of them sneak up and shout into the microphone during singing time, so help me I will send them out into the hall for the rest of the meeting.

I can't wait.

(Yes, Chickadeedee -- your job! Send me pointers!)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What is up with us

Dear Family, Friends, and Lurkers,

I have not written one of those fancy newsletters in a few years. But after receiving a few newsletters from others, and having kind (extended) family members (through marriage) point out that I didn't need to write a newsletter -- I wrote a blog -- the guilt finally hit and I've decided to write the kind of a post that will update all my family and friends and lurkers on our secret lives in a pseudonymous way.

So here you have it, dear Reader. What is up with us.

Tim and I have been living in our current home for about 15 months, having moved to this town in the mountain west for my job. I am employed at the local university, which we affectionately call Good Old Dude's University. Last year at this time I was feeling much anxiety and work-related pressure. I took out my stresses upon a poor fictitious bald guy I named Bob. My long term readers may have noticed that Bob the Enemy has not appeared in my more recent posts. I believe that is because I feel more settled in my position and more content with life. I have reached the point where I can take out my frustrations on real people.

Tim, my husband, still works for the company in California. He has been lucky to work remotely for a few years now, including that year we lived in England for my job and he worked from 2pm until 12am, with a break for dinner each evening. As far as I can tell, Tim is a combination rock star and workaholic. He is still very hot, and I am still glad he married me and not somebody else. Because that might have made our current living arrangements awkward.

In terms of real news about Tim, I should mention that he has not cut his hair now since August 4, 2008, although he has trimmed his beard about monthly. It's a couple of inches below his shoulders by now.

We have one child named Jonathan. He is learning to speak French this year. Or more appropriately, he is learning to sing French this year. He wanders around the house singing various French songs. We cannot hold a French conversation, except to discuss colors of various objects we point to, and what day of the week it is, but we can sing about firemen and green mice and divine children. I suppose these skills will be useful when we actually visit Paris. Especially the green mice, I hear.

My favorite color is orange. Jonathan's favorite color is blue. I don't know Tim's favorite color off the top of my head, but he uses a green toothbrush. I'm having a hard time thinking of other interesting things to put into this newsletter, so I will stop.

Love and hugs,

Us.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Belief

Jonathan wants to believe in Santa, but now that he goes to a large public school, it becomes more difficult. Yesterday he asked again if Santa were real? I turned the question back to him. Why did he ask? Because the other children sang a song about finding Santa is a fake.

The other children. They were the ones who told him about the Tooth Fairy too. And now, with his fourth tooth wiggling freely in his gums, he tells the gushing grown ups that he can no longer be deceived in that respect.

Fine. I don't feel strongly about the Tooth Fairy. I do, however, enjoy the magic of Santa.

We read The Polar Express, and at the end when the little boy hears the bell ring, when it is silent for all others, Jonathan looked at me earnestly and said that he would believe. No matter what. Because he wanted to hear the bell.

I'm guessing, however, that this will be Santa's last year.

And that last sentence makes me feel sad. The boy is only five. Even if I keep thinking he is six.

When I was seven, I was in the same position as my little boy. Aaron M told us in primary that there was no Santa. His father had told him so. I refused to believe him. There had to be a Santa. He was my only hope.

You see, the year I was seven was the year of the Cabbage Patch Kids. I wanted one. I hadn't really wanted a doll or toy like I wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. They were all unique, with different clothes and hair. They came with a name and a birthday and adoption papers to mail in. The Cabbage Patch company would mail you a birthday card on your doll's birthday.

That year, we heard of Cabbage Patch thefts and Cabbage Patch violence, as parents across the United States did whatever they could to find their child one of these popular dolls. I wanted one, too, but at least I didn't have to rely on my parents. Santa would be there for me.


Indeed, early Christmas morning, next to my stocking was a pink clad Cabbage Patch doll. Her name was Rachel. She had brown hair in pig tails and dimples. She was perfect, and her birthday was in September, just like mine. All the pictures of that morning include me with my doll hugged tight against my side. I remember the first day back at school, Mrs. Hansen let us each bring one special new toy. There were gasps and whispers when the other girls saw that I had a coveted Cabbage Patch Kid.

I was so lucky, and so proud. That doll stayed by my side until I finally grew out of dolls. I loved her and her big plastic head so much. She was perfect.

My parents couldn't have found a toy so perfect. My parents couldn't have afforded a toy so popular, as I was one of the oldest of six small children at the time. No, my perfect doll Rachel was proof of the existence of Santa.

But even for me, that was my last year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tis the season

Last night, I was out until after 11:30 pm grading problem number 10 about 850 times. Where were your TAs? asked a friend. They were grading problems 9, 17, and 20. And the other instructors and their TAs were grading the rest.

Two nights ago, I was out until about 10:30 pm proctoring. Three hours wandering around a room of about 150 of those 850 students, seated every other one, with different exam versions every other row. Checking eyeballs. Making sure backpacks stayed zipped. Loose papers tucked away. Watching the clock. Whispering hushed instructions to questions. Pacing. Sitting. Pacing again. Put the bubble sheet on the left in the stack matching your exam version. Exams go on the right, sorted by TA and section number. Recycle the scratch paper. Double check that your name is on the front. Pacing. Checking eyeballs. Put the bubble sheet on the left.

Tonight, I will sit in my living room with my laptop, sorting grades from 80 homework assignments, quizzes, pretests, exams, corrections, special cases. Tracking down section numbers. Weighting totals, sorting columns, trying out different break points.

And you thought this was a post about Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Talk about the weather

I wanted to say a word about the weather here. Even though technically winter doesn't start for another week, we started into winter weather way back in early November. Maybe sooner.

And then a couple of weeks ago, the temperature dropped suddenly and drastically. It went crashing down under the freezing mark. It stayed way down there for a long time, probably a little dazed from the fall -- you know, shaking itself off, wondering if it would be worth the climb back up, seeing that it's nearly winter anyway and all.

Just over one week ago we got our first real snowstorm.

See? We even had to shovel.


It continued snowing Monday, Tuesday. I stopped biking to work and walked instead, past all the cars skidding on the ice and all the cars stuck in the snowdrifts and all the people chiseling their windshields out of the arctic cold. I love love LOVE living close enough to work to walk.

Until the snow plow drives by and dumps heaps of brown slush all over the sidewalk.

Wednesday the temperature plummeted even further, cracking through the zero degree Fahrenheit mark overnight. Hovering just above 0F in the mornings, stretching just into the teens during the day.

COLD!

We bundled Jonathan in layer upon layer upon layer, and showed him how to tuck his face into his scarf when he felt threatened by frost bite, how to pull it out occasionally for air. Walking to school became painful, with the boy stopping regularly to ask if his nose had fallen off yet.

Friday night it snowed again, so Saturday morning we bundled up to shovel, preparing for the worst. But suddenly somehow it was warm! Sweating-in-the-overcoat warm. Buy-a-new-bikini warm. Well, ok. Not exactly bikini warm. But definitely above freezing. Maybe even 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Writing that sentence makes me want to cry. I have suffered such torture that 38F is warm.

So in the new warmth, Saturday morning we hiked up the hill and went sledding.

Yes, that hill. Isn't that picture amazing? It took us 17 minutes to walk to the park in the shadow of those mountains.

We live here! I took lots of pictures, my fingers actually warm enough to hit the button. My body was warm enough that I could be in awe of these beautiful mountains, this spectacular place where we live -- for the first time in days and weeks and months! (Rather than cursing out the miserable winter).

Here are some pictures of my men.



Not even very crowded at the sledding hill. Perfect Saturday morning.


Because it was so warm (balmy 38F), the snow was a nice, wet packing consistency. So then my men built a snowman.


And then kept building....
Until we had a lovely snow thing.

Isn't that nice? See, I should blog with pictures more often.

Anyway, this would be a good place to stop, with me warm and happy on the beautiful hill. But unfortunately, not all posts have happy endings.

A new storm moved in Saturday afternoon, but the weather never really cooled down to meet it. So all that afternoon and all day Sunday, slush fell out of the sky and coated the sidewalks with 3 inches of mush. Sloppy, slippery mush.

And then Sunday night, the temperature dropped below freezing again.

And all that mush turned to 3 inches of ice on everything.

And I've had it. Winter sucks. Time to move.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chinese Christmas tree

We put our Christmas tree up last weekend. It's a huge, heavy fake tree made of fabric and wire. It's actually quite nice looking. On the box, it says it was made in China. Every year I wonder about those Chinese workers who assembled my Christmas tree and what they were thinking as they carefully wrapped all that wire. There is a brown wrap followed by the green wrap followed by the imitation needles. All that work. They must think we are really bizarre.

They are right.

For the first year ever, Jonathan was excited about decorating -- from the beginning to the end. His interest held through two big boxes of ornaments.

We found an ornament he had made when he was three, with a scary looking picture of his face cut from a photograph and glued onto a tile. Since that one was heavy, he hung it down low under the tree.

Then we found a teddy bear ornament. Jonathan thought the disembodied head would like a teddy bear to cuddle, so he hung it next to the face down there on the bottom.

A little while later, we encountered a sled. The disembodied head, apparently, might have fun sledding. So the sled ornament ended up down there on the bottom.

And then eventually we found a glittery carrot ornament. The disembodied head might like a carrot to munch on, so as not to get too hungry down there under the tree.

After an hour or so of decorating, we had a somewhat lopsided tree with a shrine to the disembodied head down at the bottom.

I would offer a picture, but then I'd have to kill 1000 words, and since they're already written....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Impulse house painting

We have no window coverings in the front room. This is because of our most recent impulse buy: a paint job for the upstairs.

Most impulse buys involve food. I bet I am unique among my readers in having purchased a paint job as an impulse buy. Technically, we had been wanting to paint and thinking about painting for a while. Then a trusted painter called Tim about a week ago and said he was available -- did we want him to start painting the next day? Um. OK.

So we've gone nearly a week without window coverings in the front room.

Nothing much goes on in the front room requiring window coverings, except we do have a nice picture window looking straight into the dining area. That means if you stand outside in the cold, you can see what we're having for dinner. (Ramen tonight.)

So far, I have not yet noticed a crowd forming to watch us eat dinner. But how would I know? When it gets dark, I can't see out. I get really nervous during meal times thinking about all the people watching in. I cannot eat in my pajamas -- they would see. I need to dress and comb my hair properly before emerging from my bedroom. No more fuzzy warm robes in the house -- I don't want any of that splashed around the tabloids. I must speak politely to husband. I must speak politely to son. I must ensure son speaks politely to husband. I must keep table cleared and tastefully decorated. I must make sure to serve a vegetable with every meal, and only healthy snacks. And any projects that happen at the table should include art and math tutoring. The lack of window coverings has very seriously improved our life style.

A public blog is like living without window coverings in the front room. I don't hang out much in the Clown and Poker in my pajamas. I must ensure I speak politely to my husband and son. Husband commented (verbally, not on the actual post) that he didn't like having snot icicles as the main focus of my previous blog post, because apparently, every time husband appears in a blog post he becomes the major Focus of the entire thing.

(In fact, by bringing up this comment, I have just changed the focus of this post from painting and window coverings to husband. Now that I think about it, this blog is really pretty Tim centric.)

See? Husband doesn't want to appear in pajamas in my public blog, either.

But for some reason, husband doesn't care about the lack of window coverings in the front room. He suggests we keep them down for another day, just in case the painter needs to touch up the trim. Fine. I agree. But I can't wait to go back to private meal times. I'm tired of dining as though we lived in the 1950s, just for the sake of keeping my neighbors properly deceived.

In related news, our bedroom was painted today. It's a pretty pale green.

Upcoming posts: Chinese Christmas trees, snow, and some third topic not yet determined.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Cold

I have been trying to figure out why anyone would build a city in a place that has bitter cold winters. My little city was founded sometime in the 1800s by pioneers with wagons and handcarts and that sort of thing. It has bitter cold winters. I sometimes sit huddled in my fleece robe with the furnace cranked up and think about those early pioneer settlers. I betcha anything -- anything -- that they kept asking themselves over and over and over "Why didn't I finish the trek to California?" "Why didn't I just keep walking to California?" "Why oh why oh why didn't I finish the dang trek and make it to California?"

Do you know when they were thinking this the hardest? Wishing it the most? I bet it was when they were out their in their little outhouses doing their thing with temperatures well below freezing. I know this is pretty crass, but I can't think of anything worse than an outhouse in winter. I guess at least there's no smell, because all the, er, stuff would be frozen.

Oh Pioneers, why didn't you keep going to California? And why didn't you found my university there? So when I took my current job, I would have moved to California?

These days, the sun doesn't rise until about 9:00 am here. We leave our house, on foot, to walk Jonathan to school at about 8:15 am. Over my underwear, I wear long pants. An undershirt. A regular shirt. A sweater. A down coat over that. A pair of lined windbreaker pants over my regular pants. Socks. Another pair of knee high socks. Shoes. Scarf. Lined mittens. A hat. Ear muffs.

Jonathan's school is only 3/4 of a mile away. But by the time we get there my face is frozen solid red. Tim's beard is covered in attractive snot icicles. We wave goodbye to Jonathan, then Tim and I turn around and walk back. At home, Tim wants to kiss me goodbye with his snot icicle face. (I'm taking goodbye kisses from now on before we go out in the cold.) Then I get on my bike and ride 1.5 miles to work. In all, I'm only outside for an hour or so. Those pioneers may have spent that much time in those outhouses of theirs, depending, I guess, on how much fiber they had in their diets. But it's painful. The cold, I mean, and not just the fiber.

In related news, a guy came and fixed our fireplace fan this morning. We've been using the fireplace in the basement, and it has been amazing. The fan blows the heat out of the chimney into the family room. Walking into the family room is like walking into a wall of cozy and warm, the likes of which you haven't felt since August. Wow.

You know, pioneers didn't have fireplace fans. Their heat went straight up the chimney. And then slowly drifted west to California. They were insane to build a city here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The problem with winter

The problem with winter is wearing sweaters to church.

--Not that I don't like my sweaters. They just apparently aren't compatible with certain church-related activities.

The problem with wearing sweaters to church is falling asleep in church.

--Not that there's anything wrong with falling asleep in church. If you rest your face gently against your wrists you appear to be contemplating the universe.

No, the problem with wearing sweaters and falling asleep in church is the cable-knit-shaped red marks all over your cheeks by the time everything is over.

--Not that I would personally know, or anything....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wierd local customs

We live about a 20 minute walk away from a stadium.

A stadium, for those who don't know, is a large outdoor building which accommodates up to tens of thousands of people at a time, allowing them all to sit or stand or yell simultaneously in the cold and in the dark.

Far below, a group of people huddle around water coolers and benches on fake grass. Occasionally one or more of them makes a run for it across a small field, but that is somewhat rare, and such behavior is usually stopped quickly.

This afternoon, Jonathan and I watched from the playground on the corner as some of those tens of thousands of people parked their cars nearby in order to complete their pilgrimage to the stadium. About 80% of the people were dressed in uniforms of navy, and another 10% in red, and the rest in gray or black coats and some hats.

The day was warm -- possibly 8 degrees Celsius. Most of the people had blankets. Most were smiling.

But nearly five hours later, they have not yet emerged from the stadium. The temperature has dropped to 0. Far below, the little men will break up and run occasionally, but honestly really spend most of their time huddled in packs.

Days like this, I am thankful that I am not a follower of American college football.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

For the benefit of humanity

I feel it is important, occasionally, to write Serious Posts. A post that is Important and can change the world for the better and benefit humanity.

So here goes. Something Serious. Important. That will change the world and benefit humanity.

The cosine is an even function. That is, cos(-x) = cos(x). The sine, however, is an odd function. So sin(-x) = -sin(x). If you can remember this, and remember that
sin(a+b) = sin(a)cos(b)+cos(a)sin(b),
and
cos(a+b) = cos(a)cos(b)-sin(a)sin(b),
and finally that
sin2(a) + cos2(a) = 1,
then you will be able to figure out any trig identity they throw at you. It's true. Throw any trig identity at me. Double angle formula? Well sin(2a) is just sin(a+a), and I know that! Half angle formula? cos(a) = cos(a/2+a/2) = cos2(a/2) - sin2(a/2) = 2cos2(a/2) -1. Solve for cos(a/2). Ha!

You see? Five little identities and you are totally trig proof. I love it. I told you this post would benefit humanity.

For those of you still reading, I wanted to share one of my favorite stories. This is a true story, reported by my high school math teacher. When he was a young college student, he took a math exam and failed to fully simplify one of his answers. Instead of writing the correct answer, 1/2, he left the answer as cos(pi/3). His professor docked him points for this.

My teacher was annoyed. He had done all the hard work, just hadn't simplified at the end. He complained.

"You didn't simplify," said the professor.

"Why do I need to simplify?" replied the young man who would be my teacher. "Everybody knows that cos(pi/3) is 1/2."

The professor called him on it. "Ok," he said. "Let's go outside and you choose any person off the street. If they know what cos(pi/3) is, then I will give you full credit on this problem."

They went outside. My teacher reported that he picked the smartest looking person he could find, but alas. Apparently not everyone knew that cos(pi/3) was 1/2 after all. He did not get his points back on the exam.

That is the end of the story.

But I sometimes wonder who the smart looking person would have been. And what it would be like to be approached by two people and asked the cosine of pi/3. And if I'll ever get the chance to use this with one of my students. I would like that.

Thanks to this public service trig announcement, you are now prepared to help a poor student get exam points back.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Getting the chores done

I have invented a fool proof way to get all the chores done at home.

A few weeks ago, I looked around and noticed that my house needed cleaning. But that unfortunately, I didn't have a free weekend in which to clean it. So I stumbled upon something I hadn't tried since Texas: cleaning during the regular week. That's right, folks. The regular week.

The problem of cleaning during the regular week is where to start? And once you've started, how to keep going until it's all done? Friends, this is my handy dandy new system comes in. Rather than take on all jobs at once, my grand idea is to break the house cleaning into little pieces. One room one day, another room another. And to remind yourself of where you have been, you remember just one little word for each day of the week.

Here is how it goes:

Monday: mop day. Notice how "mop" and "Monday" share the first two letters. See? Totally unforgettable. Monday you wake up, look at the calendar, and remember it's time to mop the floors. But of course, you can't actually mop the floors unless you've swept them. And we don't really sweep here, we vacuum. So Monday becomes vacuuming day. Isn't that great? All the floors vacuumed Monday because we remember we're supposed to mop.

Tuesday: Toilet day. Because Tuesday shares the same first letter as toilet. I used to change towels on Tuesday, waiting to clean the bathrooms on a day that started with a B. Unfortunately, the bathrooms really started to stink, so I had to come up with something new. So there you go. On Tuesday, we clean the toilets. And while we're at it, the Tub and the Tshower and the Tcounter tops in the Tbathroom. Tuesday.

Wednesday: Wash day. As in laundry. Or you could wash something else while you are at it, if you feel so inclined. But for me, laundry is a nice chore to do on Wednesday. And the bonus is, you get to wear clean undies again on Thursday.

Thursday: THe kitchen day. OK, I need some help here. I could use a better Th word that means Kitchen. Anyway, right now I remember the kitchen needs cleaning on Thursday because none of the other days of the week start with K either, and there is something growing in the sink.

Friday: Front room. We tend to let things clutter in the living room, but living room doesn't start with an F like Front room does. So Friday is a good day for cleaning out that F-ing clutter, where here F is for Front room. Friday.

Saturday: Shopping day. As in groceries. Because if we don't do the shopping we get cranky eating ketchup and applesauce and whatever else we find in the pantry. I suppose I could sweep on Saturday, but why? When I mop on Monday?

Sunday: Sabbath. Dude, you get a day of rest built in.

It's brilliant, isn't it? I'm going to patent it and sell it off to the world!

Meanwhile, you probably want to know how this great idea works in practice.

The first week I tried it, I didn't get so much family time, because I spent an hour after work cleaning floors and bathrooms and otherwise playing Cinderella.

The second week I tried it, Tim was away, and there really wasn't any time to play Cinderella. We just kept on top of the dishes and called it good.

The third week I tried it, I was away. It worked really well. I sat in my hotel room thinking, Thursday. Kitchen. Gee, what a pity there's no kitchen here. I think I'll eat another chocolate.

The fourth week I tried it, by the end of the week the house was nearly spotless. Truly. Because the end of the week was Saturday, and we spent a couple of hours that day vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, washing laundry, wiping up the kitchen, and de-cluttering the F Front room. All on Saturday.

So maybe this daily cleaning strategy doesn't actually work in real life. I bet I could still write up a book and sell it, eh? At least if I could figure out how to spell Kitchen with the Th.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A resolution

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. Just a couple weeks after that, we're buried in finals. And then there are exactly two short weeks before classes start all over again.

Resolved. I will actually take a break this year. No working. No writing. No teaching prep. No pulling together files for my upcoming review. All that stuff is going to be done and I am going to go on vacation. My first time off since July.

Just a few short weeks....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who is this woman?

Just read an article about photos posted online:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20091109/sc_livescience/postingpicsonlinewhatyourphotossayaboutyou

Participants in the study, looking just at Facebook or webpage photos, were able to accurately describe nine of ten personality traits of the person being viewed.

I like that idea. Let's try it at home.

Looking at the following two photos, I would like you to please rate the two women in terms of these ten personality traits:

extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness (open to experience), likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation.

Woman number 1:


Woman number 2:


Based on the pictures alone, woman #1 is moderately extroverted, agreeable, perhaps not highly conscientious, and has low emotional stability. However, she is quite open, moderately likable, has high self-esteem, never lonely. She is obviously strictly religious and a Republican.

Woman #2 is an introvert, albeit an agreeable one. She is very conscientious, but probably suffers from depression, so scores low on emotional stability. She is not very open, moderately likable, has moderate self-esteem, is definitely lonely, pious, and a Republican.

Both women unfortunately also appear to suffer from gastrointestinal ailments. Pity, that.

Ha ha ha. I make myself laugh.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Important university buildings

I spent the last week in the East. Not the Far East. I would actually fly West to reach that. How bizarre is that? No, I was just somewhere in the Eastern United States. Much more boring.

Anyway, it was a whirlwind tour for work, involving three universities in three different cities in three different states in four days. Plus a couple of long travel days sandwiching everything in the middle. Because I was working so much, I traveled quietly, and kept a low profile. I wore sunglasses and a hat in my attempt to go incognito, and to throw off the paparazzi and all that. It seemed to have worked. But I do apologize to all my wild and crazy fans in those three cities that I did not stop by for a book signing tour or anything. The real problem is that I haven't yet written any book.

What I really saw was the inside of university buildings, plus a bit of the commuter scene, like the Amtrak and some New Jersey turnpike. But mostly university buildings.

Anyway, I have nailed down the major differences between the three Important universities at which I spent time.

Temple University, in Philadelphia, has the best ladies bathrooms. On the other hand, they are locked. You have to ask the secretary for a key. And each floor has a different key. So if you are discussing a grant proposal on the fourth floor, say, but then run up to the sixth floor to give a talk, you need to swing by the secretaries' offices to pick up a new key during the five minute break before the second talk starts. That's pretty annoying.

According to the woman visiting from Bryn Mawr, U Penn doesn't lock their ladies' rooms, but they have alarms all over their bathrooms "just in case". Makes you think twice about exactly what might happen in a public restroom in central Philadelphia, I guess? Anyway, I cannot comment on the quality of U Penn's bathrooms, as I did not take the time to visit.

But central city Philadelphia is nice this time of year. I got to spend extra time walking as well, taking in the sites, as the public transit workers went on strike in my honor the first morning I arrived.

Second stop was Columbia University, New York. I took the speedy train up there, because I could, and it matched my sleep schedule the best, noting in advance that it would be a 40 minute walk to the train station thanks to the striking subway workers of Philadelphia. (I really must make sure to give them credit for a lovely trip.) The speedy train is the train of choice of the people in fancy suits. Serious business people. I felt somewhat under dressed, until I reminded myself that I, too, was on the train for business. My employer just happens to subscribe to a model of more comfortable business attire. So I happily pulled out my laptop and wrote up a draft of the paper discussed by my Temple colleague and I, and fit right in with the other laptops.

Columbia had the worst ladies rooms. But at least they were unlocked, freely available to a visitor like me. The campus, however, is fenced in and guarded and locked, even more so after dark. We stayed past dark, and had to backtrack to a major entrance to escape the campus. Then we headed into Harlem for dinner. I write all this to scare my mother in law. Harlem isn't really that scary anymore, though it was chilly. Plus, we weren't really out past 9pm.

Princeton University, which is conveniently located halfway between Temple and Columbia, has the most trees by far. Their ladies room seemed to be clean, once I finally found it. The sixth floor only had a mens' room. So I tried the fifth floor, and could only find a closet where the ladies room should have been. So then I tried the seventh floor and met with success. Such struggles help define you as a person, and help you appreciate the unlocked public bathrooms liberally sprinkled throughout your university building at home. At least for me.

All in all, productive visit. Grant proposal finished, two papers drafted, and all this without unduly stressing my bladder. Plus, when driving back to Philadelphia from Princeton, my colleague took me past Independence Hall and the Liberty bell. As we zoomed through a stoplight, he told me to crane my head backward at the right angle, and I might get a glimpse of the bell itself through the closed glass doors late at night. That counts as tourism.

Next time, I need to remember to crane my head for a sight of the Statue of Liberty.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Correction

Tim pointed out an error in my previous post. The tub decal offer actually expired in 1970. Thus the apocalypse toilet paper is actually nearly a decade older than advertised. I apologize for any inconvenience this error may have cause.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Apocalyptic toilet paper

18 months ago, we moved into a house that had been lived in and loved by an elderly couple for nearly 40 years. After 40 years in a house, it seems understandable that it would be hard to move. Not just psychologically hard. Think of all the crap you gather in just one or two years. Now try 40. The former owners had so many cabinets and corners and closets to store their crap in, that they did not find it all. A year after having purchased the house, the former owner came to visit and Tim offered him boxes of photos (he took), fabric (declined), toys from the 1970s (declined), and several packages of toilet paper. Declined.

The former owners of this house left two huge cabinets stocked completely full of toilet paper. The upstairs cabinet was full of regular toilet paper. You know, the kind you can buy at the store that is snuggly soft and yet strong....

The downstairs cabinet, however, was full of package upon package of colored toilet paper. The two colored options are avocado green and mustard yellow. A little while ago, Tim opened one of said packages and put the toilet paper into one of our bathrooms. The stuff was brittle, scratchy, irritating, and definitely no longer matches the decor in that room.

And yet, when it ran out, he put up another avocado roll! Why? I asked. Because we have it. We might as well use it up. This from Tim?

Opening the package, he laughed when he pointed out that we could have mailed in a coupon for free bath tub decals -- if we had acted before 1977.

That's right. Our toilet paper is over 30 years old.

This is where I put my foot down.

We are perfectly capable of shelling out a buck or two per roll of quality, modern, soft, sturdy, quilted, dye-free toilet paper rather than subjecting our tender bottoms to the stuff of the 1970s.

We can keep the other stuff in a hidden cabinet down in the basement, just like the previous owners did. Meanwhile, we will go to Sam's Club like everyone else to buy our toilet paper.

However, in the event of the Apocalypse, assuming that my college community is not among the first to be burned by fire, I'm sure that all the toilet paper will be rapidly purchased from the Sam's Club shelves. And, since it is the Apocalypse, they will be unable to stock more for our consuming pleasure.

If this happens, and we have used up all our snuggly soft stuff, then we may break into the 1970s toilet paper again. But not under any event less dire than the actual Apocalypse.

Dear Reader, in the event of the Apocalypse, if you find yourself low on toilet paper, you are most welcome to help yourself to some of ours.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Strep throat

The title says it all.

Or at least it says a lot.

But I don't want the title to have all the fun, so I'm going to say a lot too.

Jonathan woke up a couple of times last night with a sore throat, so I kept him home today -- in spite of the fact that he was nearly his happy normal self this morning. I say I kept him home, because Tim was willing to let him go if he felt ok after breakfast. But I am the paranoid professor with lots of students with swine flu. Sore throat = home.

Incidentally, it is much much easier to keep a 5 year old home sick than to keep a 2 year old home. Tim and I could both work remotely pretty well while he "played quietly" in his room, which is what we kept sending him off to do. Because he's sick, right? Well, the quietly thing didn't really happen. I do kind of hope he was a little bit bored, because school is way better than home.

Anyway, back to the story.

I got to work as late as possible, since I had a sick child at home. Bumped into the department chair as I walked in and mentioned that Jonathan was ill. He said one of his daughters was also home sick today, with a sore throat, and that the next door neighbors, the Wiggeloo family (names changed to protect the guilty) had strep.

Alarms! Said daughter is in Jonathan's class in school. Said neighbor includes one of Jonathan's best friends, Kimball Wiggeloo (who appeared in a previous post).

Dang. I knew at that moment that Jonathan would have to go in for a throat culture.

So after teaching, I came home, called the doctor's office, and set up an appointment.

Meanwhile, my own throat is feeling a little scratchy....

Maybe I need a throat culture?

Nah. Surely just a cold. Probably what Jonathan has.

After I return home, I find that the boy is marching around the house, designing treasure maps, playing games, and flinging marbles around the family room. I go back to writing grant proposals in the basement, Tim is still working in the office. Occasionally we remind him to "play quietly" in his room, as he is supposed to be sick here.

Doctor appointment is just before 5pm. Jonathan runs in all smiles. No, I tell the nurse, no fever. No headache. No cough. Doesn't hurt to eat. I'm feeling kind of stupid here for even bringing him in. She swabs his throat. He hates that. Leaves. Doctor comes in and shines a light on it. Leaves. Comes back immediately.

Test was positive.

Jonathan suddenly goes quiet.

My throat starts feeling scratchy.

"Um," I ask, "How likely is it that the rest of the family will get strep?"

"Very likely."

"Even the adults? Cause, uh, my throat is hurting a little. Should I get that checked?"

"Yes, you should."

"You couldn't maybe just do it now?"

"Um no."

Anyway, fast forward to 9pm. Jonathan and I are now both on antibiotics. I bought Tim some disinfecting wipes so he can walk around the house disinfecting as he goes. So far, Tim is symptom free.

But wait! You say. What about the wedding tomorrow! Your brother!

Well, around 11pm Tuesday or Wednesday night I had to excuse myself from planning the luncheon anyway. I had been up late writing a grant proposal for the last three nights in a row, and didn't even think about planning until way too late to call around for help. And the grant proposal wasn't nearing the finished stage. And then I remembered I was in charge of grading 900 exams by Monday. And my alarm was set for 5:30 am to get up and do more writing.... I broke down. I couldn't do it. But I think my mother picked up the pieces, so the luncheon will happen after all.

But back to the strep throat story:

My mother is heartbroken, but I don't think we can make it to the wedding with strep. She called my uncle who is a doctor, and he said after a couple of doses of antibiotics, I wouldn't be contagious, so I could make it to the 9am ceremony. But if not, then at least the luncheon. Or the reception?

I don't know, oh readers. I love my brother. But I have strep throat. Jonathan has strep throat. And the wedding stuff is all happening an hour's drive away. Where Jonathan's little cousins are visiting in their Sunday best, all happy and eager to swap Jonathan's germs. I am a loving sister. But I also have to be a responsible parent.

I just don't think I can do a wedding with strep throat.

I can, however, continue to write that miserable grant proposal with strep throat. In fact, here we go again....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wedding luncheon

So.

(Posts that start with "So" are always the worst.)

My brother is getting married on Saturday. Congratulations to my brother.

Yesterday I was asked to please organize a wedding luncheon for Saturday afternoon.

This Saturday.

Because about 60 people have already been invited, and my mother feels too overwhelmed with her quilt making to plan lunch. After all, it wouldn't be a wedding without a new quilt. And the bride's mother is organizing the reception, of course.

Can you believe the organizational skills of my family? How did I ever make it through grad school with those genes in every cell in my body?

By moving out, that's how.

OK, relatives. We have already delegated rolls, turkey for sandwiches, and a couple pots of potato salad. Who wants to bring a few bags of chips? Anyone want to take on the condiments (mayo, mustard)? Fruit? I'm thinking I'll bring a box of apples. That's all that's really needed for a complete meal, right? We are good to go.

Yes, Nathan. You get what you pay for.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On French and Math

Tim's cousin Lisa asked how Jonathan's school was going, with the French immersion and all. I guess I haven't posted much about it since the sad first day story.

The answer is, we think it is a wild success. Within a few weeks, Jonathan was yelling at all of us in French. "Stand up!" "Sit down!" "Come to the carpet!" "Line up!" "Push in your chair!"

He counts to thirty in French -- four times -- as he brushes his teeth at night. He knows colors and a few songs, and runs around the house singing stuff about houses on fire and firemen in French. He loves school.

In fact, there are only two things about his school that make Tim and me a little nervous. The first is the fact that Jonathan is learning all his math in French class. This is fine in theory. He knows numbers and patterns and counting all in French now. What worries us is that there is no splitting of the children into math groups based on ability. On the one hand, we don't want him to get behind in the French. But on the other hand, Jonathan is good at math and enjoys it. In fact, right now he is upstairs counting out numbers by threes and fours and writing them all down, just for fun, completely on his own. As a math geek myself, married to a math geek, I would really really like to encourage this in school as well as outside school.

The other thing that bothers us is his Tuesday-Thursday after school program. Because Tim and I both work full time, we need Jonathan to attend that extra one hour after school program each day (except Friday, when it isn't offered). But Tuesday and Thursday they just put all the kids in a room and tell them to do their homework for an hour. Jonathan is in first grade. He has about 10 minutes of homework total, much of which is of the form read aloud to your parents. So this 1 hour after school is a waste of his time. (Monday-Wednesday, on the other hand, he goes to cooking class, which is really great.)

Anyway, what would be coolest in my opinion, is if we could somehow combine the advanced math and the after school program into a Tuesday-Thursday math club. Wouldn't that be perfect? The kids who went could learn cool math they aren't learning in school, like fun geometry facts, or counting patterns, or tilings, or fractals, or whatever! Just so long as it's fun and they're learning. Perfect perfect solution to both problems.

Now, how in the world would you get such a program going? I think you'd have to have a parent volunteer. Which parent would that have to be? Well, it was my idea -- only there's that serious problem about me working full time. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon would be really hard -- even just for an hour. What if I roped in a few students from the math education department to do it? They aspire to teach kids math for a living. So doing an after school math program would be perfect for them. And maybe a few regular math majors, too. But how would we compensate the students for their time? Do you think they would just volunteer? They're busy too. I don't think it would happen.

Also, what about teaching small children? That's got to be hard. Motivating six year olds and keeping their attention would be very different from motivating college students. And if the elementary school is worth anything, it would make us all go through serious background checks and several hoops before we could get the program got off the ground. And if college students are running it, then since they come and go with the ebb and flow of graduation dates, the background checks would be a continual issue.

Anyway, this is a nice idea of mine, but is there really any chance of making it work? Have any of my (very small) group of readers ever heard of anything like this happening? How would you get an after school math club going in an elementary school?

There is a guy in my department who runs a Saturday club for older children. Probably the right place to start would be to talk to him about it. And my department chair actually has three girls in Jonathan's class (triplets), so I bet he would be interested in such a thing as well. So he would be the next place to go.

Meanwhile, I don't think I want more projects.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fall break

It has been fall break.

-- Not mine. I don't get a break.

Jonathan's. He has been staying at Grandma's house.

The first night, it was so quiet. We went to the library, Tim and I. Right in the middle of bedtime. Then we played video games. And then I worked for a while. And when I was done? It was barely past 9:00 pm. And we tromped upstairs, and the boy's door was open, and we both cringed for a second at all the noise we were making. Until we remembered. No Jonathan. The house was so empty.

The second day, I went to work early, and came home late. And I did it again the third day. I read a 400 page novel in the evening. And day four, my morning writing time extended past 7am. Past 8am. No one came to collect me. I finished the item I was working on. And still made it to work for my 9am appointment.

It was very boring.

Tim and I went out to dinner. And then a long movie. We were gone five hours. But back before 10. This is amazing stuff we haven't done in years. Or at least it feels that way. And yet --

We are so incomplete without the chaos that is Jonathan. Is this what empty nesters feel like?

Empty.

And you know? Being working parents is hard. The tighter schedules, the crazy juggling, the uncompromising school hours, the missed sleep. The worrying. These things are hard. But you know? They are worth it, for that gap-toothed good morning and the dimples in the afternoon. And the cuddles, and talking at night about the best and worst thing of the whole day. I really miss that guy.

Next week: back to normal.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My life history, 12 words

Born. I don't remember much about my birth. There are pictures of me swaddled and lying in a banana box, because my parents were too poor to purchase a baby bassinet. Later they inherited a bassinet from a neighbor, and so I did not grow up in a banana box.

School. By the time I was two, we had moved to the house I grew up in. Its back yard was adjacent to the elementary school yard, and my parents installed a gate directly into the soccer field. By age five, I was commuting by foot daily to school. Over seven years, my best friends were Julie, Kelli, Tiffany, and Abby, in that order. I did not like Krystal, and was bullied by another Julie. I was also very jealous of Brittney, in spite of the Nutcracker incident and the gold teddy bear pin.

Junior high.In seventh grade, I moved on to a daily commute on foot up to the junior high school. Mairi and I walked together. What has become of Mairi? I bet Facebook knows.

High school. I think Mairi and I shared a locker when we were sophomores. I had a crush on a boy whose name I forget, in my AP history class. He had longish blond hair, and was older than I. Perhaps if I could remember his name, Tim would be jealous. The next year I loved Nate from a distance. I danced on my toes and it hurt, and wrote for the school newspaper. I also liked John, who also wrote for the school newspaper. But nothing came of any of that. While I thought all my brother's friends were cute, it annoyed me that my friends thought my brother was cute. They did, Bryan. At least two of them wrote something to that effect in my yearbook. And I am only just now confessing. Just think -- you might have had a different story if I had told.

College. I learned after my first quarter in college that there was even more math to be learned than calculus. Imagine that! Even more! I picked up mentors named Anne and Ellen, brilliant women with PhD's, among the very few in their respective departments. I was disgustingly naive, and my memories of myself annoy me. But both mentors put up with me, and helped me find my interests and talents, and develop them. And to find fabulous summer experiences in New York and Berkeley. And last I found my own summer in Neuchatel, because I wanted to speak French.

Love. As a sophomore in college, I kissed a boy with a funny name. A year later, I kissed a boy with a very common name -- you know, the kind that is completely un-google-able. A year later, I kissed Tim, and it was magic. It was actually quite cold. Our first kiss was out of doors, in the month of February. We spent a cold year apart, him in California, me at Northern Wasteland University. It was too cold. I told him in November that he would be marrying me that spring. He complied.

Marriage. I was 22, but not too young. It was nice to be married. I especially liked the part where I didn't have to go to a separate home late at night after an evening together. Also, the pooled rent was cheaper than two single apartments.

California. Remember that summer I spent at Berkeley? I loved it. But Berkeley was not located in a nice neighborhood. However, we took a bus to visit Stanford, which was, in fact, in a very nice neighborhood, and I decided that Stanford would be a very nice place to go to graduate school. Then I chose Northern Wasteland U. But marriage to Tim changed all that, and we both ended up in California, at Stanford. Imagine that! Stanford, however, turned out to be quite expensive. That whole nice neighborhood thing? Drove housing prices out the roof. But I loved it. I loved commuting by foot and smelling fresh cut grass in February. I loved watching palm trees sway in the rain. We biked to church. Loved that, too.

Motherhood. Fifth year of grad school, planned pregnancy. Defended thesis eight weeks before my due date. Gave birth one week after my due date. Child was massive, and remains so to this day. I accepted a job in Texas. Texas? While still pregnant. With the birth, I had three months to recover. And move. And buy a house. And furnish it. Tim had defended his thesis in December, and started a job in February. By May he worked 10 hour days and commuted two. By August we thought we would die. We didn't die. Otherwise, this post would have been shorter.

Texas. We found a newer home in a quiet culdesac. Tim and I could both take the bus to work, him north, me south. The weather in Texas was warm all summer long, and into the spring and fall. My toes were warm from March to November. Just think of that! To the displeasure of visiting grandmas, we kept the thermostat set at 83 degrees in July. Winters were harder, with ice storms and freak thunderstorms and torrential rain. We bought a weather radio, to wake us up in the event of an approaching tornado, so that we could hide out in the bathroom. ? Alas, our tub was made of fiberglass. Good thing the tornado never came through. We would not have survived. And again this post would have been shorter.

England. We spent just one year in England, but a defining year. I cycled on the left to work in the mornings. It did in fact rain a lot. It never did, in fact, warm up. Not to 83 degrees. Never to Austin standards. Tim worked from 2pm to 12am, with a dinner break in the middle, and spent his mornings in the local shops sampling the local cuisine. Jonathan's school became progressively worse, although he started out learning French and cooking. He was Joseph in the nativity production at Christmas time.

G.O.D.U. So here we are now in the Mountain West, me happily employed at Good Old Dude's University. I am married to Tim, and we are parents to Jonathan. Jonathan is learning French and cooking at school again. Our tub is made of steel, but chances are extremely low that we would need to use it in the event of a tornado. There are no palm trees or orange groves, which I deeply regret. And my toes are cold from October through May. But our house is perfect, our neighborhood reminds us of Mr Rogers, and food falls out of trees onto our heads regularly. Jonathan has never slept in a banana box.

And so now you know everything about me. Because I copied Tiffany. Although it was Oma's project first.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Apples

In a previous post, I mentioned that we had four loaded apple trees. And one that's taking a break this year.

The official scientific names of our apples are as follows:

Green apples

Red apples

Yellow apples

Pink apples.

What do you do with all those apples?

You invite friends and family to come pick them.


You give away huge boxes.


You make applesauce.


So far, we have made about 20 quarts of applesauce, and tried canning 14 quarts. Twelve of them sealed. We have also dried apples and made apple leather. So far, the fresh apples are the best. We will store them in boxes in the garage until they are wrinkly and rotten.

If you are interested, the green and the red trees still need to be picked.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Stupid post

I've decided that toes are about the stupidest body part out there. Not because their *function* is stupid. It's just that they live so far from other important body parts, like the brain or the heart, that they're just ... stupid. Ignorant, uneducated, vulgar.

Almost three years ago I mildly injured a toe under the toenail. (By wearing cute shoes that didn't quite fit for a sequence of 2-day job interviews.) (Why doesn't the shoe industry make cute shoes for really long feet?)

And that problem toenail still hasn't completely grown out. And now it seems to be growing out wrong.

Stupid, stupid toe. Why can't you get it right? The blueprints for the fix are their in your genes, just like in everyone else's. Fingernails don't have a problem with this.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grading

At the large university where I work, I am currently teaching two large sections of a popular course. We have 902 exams to grade by noon this morning.

Last night, six of us instructors were holed up in the commons room, grading stack after stack of the exams.

Occasionally, someone would laugh and show us a student's amusing way to get zero points. (Yup, after about exam 478 we find that stuff amusing.)

The woman grading kitty-corner from me is a high school teacher, visiting my university for a couple of years to train future teachers.

After one good laugh at an exam by a student who obviously hadn't been attending, and who had clearly blown off the exam, she commented: "That's the difference between high school and university right there."

"What's that?" We all wondered.

"In high school, if that student gets a zero, it's MY fault. Our test scores go way down. Our school is labeled as struggling. It's published in the paper. We lose money. They track it back to my class. My student. My fault. At the university, we can laugh, because it's THEIR fault," and she grinned broadly.

"Their fault," I heard her muttering and smiling, all evening long. "Their fault."

I love my job.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why I am a wimp, part I

I scream at bugs.

I do.

Today I was reaching for a container on top of the fridge, and a spider about the size of my thumbnail nearly crawled onto my thumbnail.

I screamed -- (just a little scream)

-- and withdrew my hand.

*Little laugh*.

I then rescued the container from the spider and moved on with life.

A couple of weeks ago I suffered a much more traumatic bug encounter.

Jonathan dropped a timer into an uncovered heating vent in the bathroom. It wasn't the sort of thing that would roll, that timer, which meant it should be right there at the mouth of the hole.

I gathered up all my bravery and stuffed it into the mouth of that part of my brain that would complain that this was a bad idea. I then reached my bare hand into that dark gaping hole, to feel for the timer. I had to twist my arm a bit to even get my hand in there.

Sure enough, I felt something down there, only it felt a little ... bumpy. The timer should be smooth. I felt around a bit more for the timer, but no luck. That bumpy thing was in the way. So I grabbed the bumpy object and pulled out ...

A giant black beetle!

I screamed! And ran to the opposite side of the bathroom.

Jonathan, who had been watching, heard me scream and saw me run. He let out his own bloodcurdling scream, and climbed onto the toilet seat.

Tim came running down the hall in a panic. What had become of his wife and child? Had they lost an arm into the black hole?

Instead of finding our blood all over the bathroom floor, he found the large black corpse of a dead beetle on the bathroom floor. And wife and child cringing away from said corpse in terror.

Tim laughed.

Jonathan shook himself, climbed down from the toilet seat, and laughed.

I shuddered a bit, disposed of the corpse, shuddered a bit more. Then laughed a little myself.

But the timer is still down there somewhere. I'm not reaching into that hole again.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Primary Program Practice

So, 98% of my readers know that I am a member of a church with lay clergy. That means members like me are asked to do jobs to keep things running. In some geographical locations, members like me are vital to keep things running. In others, we get show jobs ("callings" would be the official terminology) so that we don't feel left out because we aren't really needed.

Let me first state that I do not in any way wish to complain about my current calling. It is a very important calling and I feel like I was very much needed in this position, unlike my first calling here in my new home, in which I was the "ladies' email forwarder." It had a better official name, but all I did was receive a message for the ladies each month that had been written, rewritten, and submitted to a higher up for approval by someone else, and then hit the forward button on the computer. Useless. Wasn't sorry to see that one go.

In my current calling, I teach a class of four and five year old boys. Including my son. Their last teachers included an older woman whose children were grown and a younger woman with no children, and these dear women didn't realize that ordinary four and five year old boys don't actually sit through Sunday school. Of course, what I didn't realize is that these are no ordinary boys. One of the original four has zero attention span and a psychologist-diagnosed stubborn streak the size of the church building; the next has an attention span of about 30 seconds, after which he moves into his own world full of song and dance and upside-down chairs; my son is slightly better with what I believe might be an average attention span (38 seconds); and the fourth, the perfect little angel boy with the wide blue eyes, moved to Alaska last month.

We leftovers were over at the church yesterday morning practicing for the Primary program -- the one Sunday per year where all the children (about 30-40 of them?) get to show off for the main meeting, singing songs and giving short talks.

For future reference in this post, the Primary Presidency consists of the three ladies who organize the program, find suckers teachers like me, and keep things running Sundays.

Our Primary Presidency had wisely seated me up on the stand with Mr. Zero Attention Span directly on my left, whom we shall call "McKay", and Mr Own World on my right, whom we shall call "Kimball". "Jonathan" was seated on McKay's right, two chairs away from me. We all began the practice with high hopes.

The following were against me.

First, the chairs on the stand are theater type chairs that bounce up when you get off of them. Kimball and McKay immediately began bouncing on their chairs, while Jonathan, in a regular chair set up next to them, looked on longingly. I found I could put one arm on Kimball's chair, and one arm on McKays, and the bouncing was not quite as loud.

Two, we were seated right in front of the sacrament table, which has its own pull-out microphone hidden in a clever little drawer. It took McKay about five minutes to discover the pull-out microphone.

"What is this?" he asked loudly.

I hissed at him (patiently, as all good teachers do), and put the microphone back, and forbade him from opening it again. So Kimball opened it. And McKay four more times. And Jonathan almost once. But Jonathan has learned to fear my hissings.

I threatened and hissed and shushed and tried my positive feedback. ("Kimball, thank you for listening so quietly during those last 30 seconds. It really shows respect to the teachers and the children speaking.") But it was a total disaster.

Jonathan would stand up and make trumpet noises. McKay would laugh uproariously and I would shush them both. Meanwhile, while I was turned to the right, Kimball ducked under the sacrament table and curled in the corner.

"Kimball! Come out of there right now!" No response. Rather, McKay ducked under the table after him.

"Kimball, I am going to count to five. I need you out! One. Two." He came out. McKay followed, all smiles.

But now Kimball was upset with me. He refused to stand, to sing, to do anything asked of him. He said he felt sick. So I sent him off the stand to lie down on the first row. Within five minutes he was down there making headstands and the Primary Presidency sent him back.

But McKay was worse. He laughed and chatted and bounced and twirled and opened that stupid microphone drawer over and over. I told him he would have to spend the meeting sitting with his parents, at which point he refused to budge from his chair at all. Even when required to sing or speak, until I was busy hissing at Jonathan or Kimball.

During one of these memorable moments McKay took off -- ran off the stage and down the aisle.

Perhaps I should follow him, thought I. No. No. I actually think this will work a lot better with him running around down there.

The Primary Presidency sent him back.

And Jonathan was not an angel, by any stretch. He kept turning backwards in his chair to make faces at the other children, copied immediately by McKay.

"Jonathan, put your bum on your chair!" I said sternly. "If I have to keep reminding you, you get to spend the meeting with Daddy as well." Jonathan turned around quickly.

"McKay! Put your bum on your chair!" McKay turned to me with big,wide, innocent eyes and said, "You just said the B word."

Bum bum bum bum bum! This post is full of the B word. Shield your eyes.

We have been banned. Today during the program, we will come up for the beginning, stick around long enough for our class to say our parts, and then be dismissed back to sit with parents. The Primary Presidency was clever enough to reach this decision on their own.

Jonathan was upset. After all, he only made trumpeting noises and silly faces at the rows behind him. He never ran loops around the benches or did handstands in the front row.

The Primary President has deemed that Jonathan can have another chance, if he is sitting right next to me. Kimball and McKay are out.

They are bums.

****

This post should be over, but it's not. The worst part of it all is that when I flipped through my lesson manual yesterday evening to prepare today's lesson, I found that the topic is "Being reverent during the sacrament meeting." And that the lesson manual expects a full hour of class time during which the little angels will discuss with wide eyes how special it is to sit quietly and think about Jesus. Followed by the sweet dears singing gently in their sacrament program.

The horror! The horror!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

100 things to do before I die

In no particular order.
  1. Clean the bathroom. (Some of these things I may do more than once before I die.)
  2. Vacuum the interior of my car.
  3. Pick up oil painting again. I last painted in grad school, 2002.
  4. Paint that picture I have been commissioned to paint by my mother-in-law.
  5. Hang curtains in the living room.
  6. Hang curtains over the French doors in the kitchen. A little privacy will be needed when the days turn darker.
  7. Learn Spanish.
  8. Live a year in Australia.
  9. Finish that one paper that's been listed on my professional website as "in preparation" for nearly a year now.
  10. Make applesauce.
  11. Can applesauce.
  12. Paint a mural on my bathroom wall. (I'm thinking some hills and trees in summer, with a gate, and a path leading up over the hill....)
  13. Paint a mural on Jonathan's bathroom wall.
  14. Plant a nectarine tree.
  15. Plant a Bramley apple tree.
  16. Store and bake Bramley apples all winter long.
  17. Buy and freeze a cow. Or maybe just half a cow. I've wanted to do this since my taxi driver in New York state recommended it in 2006. A greener way to be a carnivore.
  18. Learn to play that one Nocturne by Chopin on the piano. You know -- that one that I like.
  19. Obtain a piano so I can play the piano again. I've been holding out, hoping that my parents would let me take the one they never use. But I've about given up on my parents.
  20. Appreciate my parents more.
  21. Organize the wood pile in the back yard.
  22. Grind my own wheat.
  23. Bake my own bread with my own ground wheat. Maybe more than once.
  24. Paint the living room.
  25. Get my grant funded.
  26. Vacuum the living room rug. The new one.
  27. Organize my closet.
  28. Play more with my son. Unstructured play.
  29. Publish a novel. Before I lose interest.
  30. Publish more research papers. Before I lose interest.
  31. Buzz my head. Maybe during that year I'm in Australia.
  32. Get my bike fixed.
  33. Ride my bike to work.
  34. In the snow.
  35. Learn to ski.
  36. Before my son does.
  37. Make my students laugh.
  38. During the logarithmic differentiation lecture. (Good luck, eh?)
  39. Publish research with undergraduates.
  40. Supervise a master's thesis.
  41. Get tenure.
  42. With flying colors.
  43. Remember family members' important birthdays.
  44. In time to send a gift.
  45. Wear jeans while teaching.
  46. Make my primary children laugh.
  47. Read nonfiction. Work-related nonfiction counts.
  48. Take the family to Shakespeare.
  49. Purchase a loveseat.
  50. Design a perennial garden.
  51. Plant a perennial garden.
  52. And take out those really ugly evergreen bushes in the front yard. Who would plant those hideous things?
  53. Tame the raspberry bushes in the back yard.
  54. Take out the brambles on the east side of the back yard.
  55. Grow herbs.
  56. Use fresh herbs to cook a meal.
  57. Visit Oregon.
  58. Spend a winter weekend in Arizona.
  59. Visit my sister in Connecticut.
  60. Rake leaves.
  61. Walk often.
  62. Go a week without using the car. (Maybe that week after I vacuum the interior.)
  63. Support public transportation.
  64. Get a haircut. (Just a regular haircut -- not the buzz #32.)
  65. Spend a week in Orkney with the family. Tim and I spent a day and two nights there in 2003, and love-loved it. That's like loving it but twice as much love. I want to go back.
  66. See the Northern lights.
  67. And the midnight sun. (That means two trips to the far north at two different times of the year. Maybe I can pull them both into extended Orkney vacations.)
  68. Identify five constellations in the night sky.
  69. And identify five named stars. I know it's not much, but I'm going for realistic things here.
  70. Finish drying all those #*!@%$ plums.
  71. Help Jonathan to ride a bicycle. Safely.
  72. Reorganize my office.
  73. And get new office furniture.
  74. No matter how many people I have to call. Call them.
  75. Clean the fingerprints off the window on the French doors.
  76. Go one evening without getting cross during the bedtime routine. Just one evening.
That's it. I'm out of ideas. You may suggest items for the last 24 things I need to do before I die.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fortune cookie

Jonathan got a fortune cookie recently, with the following fortune:

If your desires are not extravagant, they will be granted.

After I explained what "extravagant" meant, and "granted", he started expressing desires.

Desire 1: A P.E. whistle to play with in the house.

Mom: Um, I think that's too extravagant.

Desire 2: A little mouse to run around the basement.

Mom: Way too extravagant. We don't want a little mouse running around the basement!

Jonathan, reading over my shoulder: Hey, that's not too extravagant!

Mom: ...

Jonathan: It's just in a little ball that would run around the floor.

Mom: I think you're thinking hamster ball, and a hamster is too extravagant.

Jonathan: Hey, no it's not!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Plums

This spring, we had two plum trees removed from the back yard. One was dead, and one was in the shadow of the large evergreen that was dying and also needed to be removed. Even so, after all the destruction, two plum trees remain back there against the back fence. And in the front yard, we still have one very large plum tree that produces sweet green plums.

I suppose the guy in the front yard heard the news as his brother was chopped down and dragged away to become mulch. Or perhaps the extra snow last winter inspired him. Or maybe he's missing the elderly father figure who used to own our house and care for him lovingly. Whatever it was, the front yard plum tree decided that This Year was the year to Reproduce.

There were more plums than leaves on that tree. As the plums grew, the branches sunk lower and lower to the ground. One night in August, Tim heard a loud crack. The next morning, one-fifth of the tree in the form of a huge limb had broken off, weighted down by plums. Over the next couple of days, Tim stripped it of its unripened fruit, packed them into our two huge camping coolers, and chopped up the limb and removed it.

We had two huge coolers of fruit from the fallen limb.

Several days later, we found the fruit in the coolers was actually turning soft and ripening. In fact, it was all ripening at about the same time. What could we do with two huge coolers of plums?

We took it to relatives. One grandma helped distribute the contents of one cooler to her neighbors. She also made a batch of jam (not even a dent in the amount of plums) and helped me make some fruit leather (using just one bowl full of the plums). The other grandma took the other cooler, including giving a couple of bags to my sister. The sister went home and made seven batches of fruit leather. This grandma did a few things with plums, but not fast enough, and reported that she had to throw some out. As long as they are off my property, I don't care what happens to them.

Meanwhile the plums on the tree were ripening, and the other limbs were straining under them. We decided that if we didn't start picking we would probably have only a stump left, some major tree removal work. So we started picking.

And we picked and we picked. Two more coolers full in practically no time. I made more batches of fruit leather. And scouted around for neighbors. The man around the corner with seven children said he would take some. So we hauled an entire cooler over there. The aunt down the street said she'd love plums. So we hauled another cooler there.

And continued to pick and pit and blend and dry and harvest. And Harvest!

The plums are still not all off the tree. The highest branches are unreachable, even drooping, loaded with fruit. There is half a cooler of plums sitting in my kitchen calling out to me to Do Something! Save us all! Or we will Rot here on your floor! There is a batch of plums drying in the fruit dehydrator and five containers full of preserved plums on the counter top. And I am sick of plums! Sick of trying to keep my plum tree from self destruction. Sick of cutting and scooping and washing and blending. Sick of that little pain I get between my shoulder blades from standing over the sink too long. Sick of the dark brown plum juice that stains my fingernails and doesn't wash off.

Tim says throw them all away and be done with it. But I am done -- just after I deal with this last half cooler. Let the plums on the tree rot themselves. But that last half cooler of food must be consumed!

Thank goodness plum season is almost over. I can't wait.

Next up? Apple season.

We have five loaded apple trees.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Living room rug

I've been trying to find a rug for my living room for about a year. Here by "trying" I mean I have occasionally browsed online collections, and spent some time looking through the tall racks of rugs at various stores. A few weeks ago I got serious about buying a rug. On a Saturday afternoon, I took my favorite throw from the living room to the nearby retailer with the largest selection, determined I would not return home without a rug.

The lighting in the rug section of the nearby large retailer is very poor. Or at least that's the excuse I give.

The first rug I found had everything. It matched the pretty colors on the throw that I love so much. It was bright and cheery and a little bit different. I thought it would be perfect. So I bought it and took it home.

When I unrolled the rug on the living room floor, it was a completely different beast. How do I describe? Imagine a collection of pastel My-Little-Ponies(TM), melted, and then walked all over. I call the style "pastel camo": camouflage gear for Ponies and Care Bears(TM). You could also describe it as Care Bear(TM) Army Bear vomit.

It didn't really work for us.

The second rug I found was somewhat in reaction to the first. In the large retailer, this one had warm muted browns, with a simple, subtle light blue-gray floral pattern creeping over the middle. Simple, sophisticated, clean. I bought it and took it home.

When I unrolled the rug it was so boring that the family fell asleep right there on the floor. We woke up a few minutes later and asked ourselves, "Wasn't there a rug here just a minute ago?" But then upon sliding our feet around we found it by feel. It was exactly the same color of warm brown as the living room floor.

It didn't really work for us.

The third rug I found online. This is the rug I had been coveting for nearly a year. Located at an expensive online retail store, it was bright, modern, and colorful. Also made of high quality wool and sure to last for years and years and years. But it was expensive, and shipping was more expensive, and I'd have to pay shipping both ways if it didn't end up looking as good in person as online. Tim opined that the particular color scheme might end up reminding us of plastic toy vomit again, once we opened it on the living room floor.

So we passed on that one.

Instead, I did some looking online again, and found that a different large retailer carried this rug:
And it was in stock and on sale. So I bought it and took it home.

It's a little darker than the picture, but it looks good. So we're keeping it.

Now to find curtains.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Guess who's not getting my donation this year?

A couple of days ago Tim and I received a magazine in the mail from a university we both attended once upon a time. Curious, I checked the address label to see which of us they had tracked across three states and one country to our current address. Appears they found both of us, and married us while they were at it. Wow. That's pretty good tracking.

Except for one thing.

My name was on the top: Mrs. Jessica. No problems there.

Tim's name was listed next: Timothy, PhD.

Huh? Timothy gets recognized as a PhD, and I get the title Mrs? Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against Mrs. The problem is, Timothy and I both received PhD's the same year. And we both worked hard to receive them. If they're going to do enough tracking to find that he has a PhD, why not do the same tracking to check on me? If they had addressed the magazine to Mr and Mrs, fine. If they had addressed it to PhD and PhD, fine. But why recognize his advanced degree and ignore mine? Why why why? Because I am female, that's why. Women from my alma mater don't get PhD's. They go there to become a Mrs.

Rrrrrrh!

Tim laughs and tells me that in fact, the university is not trying to slight me personally. In fact, in general the world is usually not out to get me. And it's silly to get worked up over something so silly. And yes, it is kind of pretentious for me to call them up and ask them to fix it. (Easy for him to say, Mr PhD.) And anyway, he continues, they probably just updated his info when he donated to his college a couple years ago.

I remind Tim that the donation was a joint donation, from both of us, and that at the time of the donation, we both had PhD's.

So his logic is flawed and mine is just fine and hence the world is sexist, or just out to get me me ME!

Tim rolls his eyes and goes to bed.

I decide emailing the alma mater to fix the problem really is pretentious. So I write this bitter blog entry instead.

Just once -- ONCE -- I'd like to see a piece of official mail addressed to Mr Timothy and Jessica, PhD. Just once, I tell you!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Numbers

Classes started. 500 happy students, eager to learn.

50 minutes, times 2, covering two fun examples, and one too-long syllabus. Blah.

4 TAs, and two TA meetings.

7 graders, three grader meetings.

2 very tired legs. Mine.

Three reams of paper to print all those copies of the syllabus. Next year, they're downloading it online and reading it on their own.

Do you think they'd read it on their own?

Would you read it on your own?

You probably would, but there will be a couple of people who don't realize everyone else is turning in homework until about midterm.

Of course, that's probably true whether or not we go over the syllabus.

I think I have lost even my two readers who care about this sort of thing.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Selling refrigerators

When we moved into this house, now almost exactly a year ago, we found ourselves in possession of five freezers and refrigerators.

The big black refrigerator used to live in the kitchen, back when the kitchen was a dark cave. I bought a white refrigerator as part of that remodel, and the black guy went into the garage.

The super sized freezer had its own special room built into the garage. It was left by the previous homeowner, along with half of the frozen food he and his wife had been storing there. Before we moved in, my mother and mother-in-law decided to clean out the super-sized freezer (thanks moms). At the bottom, they found steaks carefully labeled and dated -- from 1976. Needless to say, we hucked all the frozen food from that freezer, and unplugged it. Can't be energy efficient if it's as old as I am.

The more moderate sized chest freezer had been ours in Texas. The lid was badly dented sometime during moving and storage, and so we were afraid to plug it in.

The refrigerator from the 1940s had lived in the unfinished room in the basement. It was also a donation from the previous homeowner. He informed me that it still worked, and they used it occasionally to store extra food. We had it hauled out to the garage before the remodel.

Anyway, sometime while my sister's family was spending their two summer months with us (we have been missing them this past week, by the way), I became annoyed that we had five refrigerator/freezers, and yet were only using the one in the kitchen to store food for seven people. I wanted a working chest freezer. I then did a little homework and found we could get all four non-used ones hauled away from about $200 total.

Tim took up the challenge. First, he plugged in the dented lid freezer, and found that it works in spite of the dents. So we filled it.

He then took pictures of all the others and posted them on Craigslist. We have sold the black fridge (for $100), the super-sized 70 freezer (for $50), and now a lady who just bought an old house wants the 1940 fridge for her "show" kitchen (not for the downstairs kitchen where she really keeps the food). She's coming tomorrow to pick it up. For another $100. (Knock on wood).

Possible alternative title for this post:

Craigslist: How a cheap husband can get strangers to haul your junk for free.

Monday, August 24, 2009

School starting

School started for Jonathan, not for me. I still have one week to scamper around emailing TA's and graders and undergraduate assistants and course coordinators. One week to prepare for a semester. Except the last day of the week I'll be at a department retreat. And now that I think of it, I'm supposed to speak at said retreat. I suppose I'd better start writing a talk. That takes us down to less than four days. Dang. I hate this time of year.

Oh how I long for the quarter system, rather than the semester system. In the quarter system, the school year is neatly partitioned into three ten-week quarters, with the first arranged to finish just before Christmas, the second just before spring break, and the third in mid June. On the quarter system, the university doesn't have to pick itself up from summer until late September. And the faculty and students wander through August and those first cool days of fall with serene smiles on their faces, watching everyone else scurry and worry and hurry, knowing they have a whole month free to calm down and prepare for the mere 10 weeks of teaching before Christmas. I am a product of nine years of quarter system schools. Oh how I wish my university were on the quarter system.

Ahem. But school has already started for Jonathan, as you know.

How, you ask, is it going for him?

He seems to be liking it. He misses his old school and his teacher and friends. But he is making some new friends, which is good. I need to remember that making good friends takes time. It usually took me a month or two to settle on a best friend for an academic year. I know this because I have a September birthday, and I recall a couple of years of being annoyed in November that I had invited the wrong people to my birthday party. I hadn't become best friends yet with the girl who would be my recess companion through the winter and spring.

No, September birthdays are not ideal from a school year point of view. Unless, of course, your university is on the quarter system, in which case September birthdays fall into the summer holidays, but avoid the crowds, and are perfect.

For my birthday this year, I would like my university to go onto the quarter system.