Friday, February 27, 2009

The Xi

In college, our favorite restaurant was a pizza place with a Greek name, housed in a basement across the street from campus. The place was dark and cozy, played loud music, and had an alcohol license. Many college students found their way into its belly for pizza heavily laced with cheese and garlic. Good pizza, good times.

The restaurant is still there, and is doing very well. In fact, they are doing well enough that they have opened a new branch a little further south. The ceilings in the new place are higher, and you don't make your way down a flight of concrete stairs to reach the entrance, but they have decorated the new restaurant with the same graffiti on dark brick, loud music, and garlic laced pizza.

We were passing through the neighborhood last weekend, and stopped by the newer Xi. As we entered the doors, we were momentarily transported back in time. Back to when we were college students. Free to find our own music. Write an opinion on the wall. Order root beer on tap. Watch football heavily laced with garlic. We ordered, took a seat, and took turns taking Jonathan to the bathroom. As I waited for the boys to return, I looked a little closer at my surroundings.

The table on my left was filled with a family of about six kids, sipping coke, adults doling out garlic bread, kids teasing the girl on the end. The table on my right was filled by about three different families, with a pile of kids under six all crammed against the wall, asking parents for refills of orange soft drink. The next table up looked like a family reunion, complete with spilled drink and wailing baby in a restaurant high chair.

All these families. All these kids. How did they end up at the Xi? Since when did all these kids fit into the cozy darkness? The graffitied walls? The restaurant for college students, rebels, and other free thinkers? Why the family night?

And it occurred to me. These aging parents had lost track of time. They were the same students who ate the pizza at the tables around me when I was in college. They had grown up. Settled down. Become responsible. And come back for some garlic laced pizza on a Saturday night without a babysitter.

Bemused, I watched the parents as they ran back and forth from the drink machine and tried to calm arguments over garlic bread. Did they ever stop to think about the incongruity of bringing their kids to the Xi? Or did they still see themselves as the same young people? The same rebels? With the same cravings for garlic and darkness and loud music?

My thoughts were cut off by the approach of my child with my husband. Our pizza was ready. Could Jonathan please have some water? And why, Daddy, did we have to sit down? Can't we watch at the kitchen longer? Did you wash your hands? Make sure you use your napkin. Will you cut this for me? What drink did you get? Careful not to spill!

Good pizza. Good times.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I have updated my profile.

While I'm at it, I'm trying out a new name. One that encapsulates all that is me in a short amount of space. Well, maybe not all that is me. But a fun thing with a profile is it is easy to change. For now, I am "Rockbiter". Tomorrow, I will try something new. Like "RacingSnail". Or "Southern Oracle". Then I will leave comments on your blog, and you will think, "Who is this 'Atreyu' who is leaving me comments?" You will click on the profile, see the back of my head, and know me immediately.

"Oh. It's Rockbiter again. Still trying out new names."

(Culminating with "Moon Child" by the end of the movie.)

What prompted the change? Increasing paranoia. Bob the Enemy is out to get me. And not just Bob. It occurred to me that all my disgruntled students are also out there. Reading my blog. Passing judgement. Scaring me. A lot.

So you know from my FAQ's that I'm a researcher-teacher. Both at the same time. It's fun. I get to do all sorts of different jobs at once, so it never gets boring. In the mornings, I put on my researcher hat and write and think. During the days, I put on my teacher hat and teach. I swap it on and off to do things like attend meetings and organize conferences and referee papers and chat with colleagues and give research talks.

But honestly, one part of my job that I do really enjoy is the teaching. My students are very good, and fun, and great people, and I really like spending time with them in the classroom. It's weird, I know, but I do. They make me laugh. In a good way.

But I have wandered from the topic at hand. The topic at hand is "Changes." New profile. New profile name. Even new font color for the title. (Betcha didn't notice that one.)

Anyway, this is Rockbiter, signing out before the Nothing overtakes this post.

Friday, February 20, 2009

US geography lessons

It's such a waste of brain to forget things -- especially things you've spent hours and hours learning.

When I was ten years old, I learned to identify all 50 US states on a map. And to color the map neatly at the same time. In retrospect, I think the teacher was actually more concerned with my neatness than whether or not I could remember the names of all 50 blobs. Nevertheless, I did learn the blobs.

Anyway, the reason this comes up is that Tim is a boy scout. That is, Tim used to be a boy scout and now he's a boy scout leader. So tonight, our family got to go to the church for a blue and gold banquet. A blue and gold banquet is like a party for boy scouts and their families. At parties, they have entertainment. For entertainment at the blue and gold banquet, we got maps of the United States, with numbers instead of state names. Our job was to fill in all the state names by the end of the evening.

There is nothing quite as entertaining as a fifth grade project, without the need to color neatly. I totally got into it.

The numbers on the states ran in order of statehood. I was going to start with number one and move down the list numerically, but that would have started me in all those little eastern states that meld into one blob on that coast over there. You know -- the ones that are all so close together that you cross state lines every few minutes or so while driving. And the only reason you know you've crossed state lines is there's a new toll booth up ahead.

Not for me. I started over in the west, where the states are large and distinct and worth spending a whole vacation visiting. I know all my western states. I even know the difference between Wyoming and Colorado. The trick: Colorado is the rectangle further south, populated by skiiers, whereas only grizzly bears and crazy people live in Wyoming. I can say this as an informed citizen because my brother lives in Wyoming with his family. Most of his family are grizzly bears, but the middle son is definitely crazy people.

Anyway, once you get to the plains states the vacations are over. The plains states are pretty much states that you drive through on your way somewhere else. And they take forever to drive through, because they were built extra long in the east-west direction purely for the sake of road trip torture. (Next time fly.) Nebraska is the one with the chunk taken out of it. North and South Dakota form a nice pair on top of that. And then you pause for a moment before you remember that the one left over has to be Kansas.

Now move further east to deal with the states along the Mississippi and the Midwest. The Midwest can be confusing. For example, Ohio and Iowa are both only four letters long and pretty much made up of all vowels. The only reason I can distinguish them at all is the fact that Ohio State has to be close enough to the University of Michigan to be a major rival, so it's only logical that Ohio is the state just south of Michigan, rather than that squat one way over by Wisconsin. Indiana and Illinois, both with too many I's in them, are also pretty tricky to tell apart, but luckily you know that Chicago is in Illinois and there's a song about Gary Indiana. Singing the song doesn't really help with the map, but it makes the time pass quickly as you finish filling in Minnesota and Missouri.

I used to have trouble with Kentucky and Tennessee, and as I was trying to sort them I had the vague memory of eating Frankforts on the Bluegrass in Kentucky. However, the real way to tell these two apart is to remember that Tennessee is the flat state where my brother Bryan lives. Since Bryan occasionally reads this blog, especially when I have sexual harassment- and marathon- themed posts, I can totally find Nashville, all thanks to Google Analytics.

Now let's move into the southern states, picking out Louisiana and Florida first, because they are boot shaped and have nice beaches, respectively. For Georgia, think of peaches, and then get South Carolina out of the way before too many southern states are filled. This gives you North Carolina for free, because duh, it sits on top of South Carolina. And before you know it, you're back into those tiny east coast states again.

OK then, plowing ahead, New York and Pennsylvania are big enough to be identifiable. Massachusetts is only distinguishable from Connecticut because of Cape Cod. Don't try to tell them apart by the people, because everyone who lives there is pretty much the same.

And now hardest part. Which is Vermont and which is New Hampshire? There's no way to remember by shape, since you get one from the other by just a 180 degree rotation. Here's my secret. Vermont is filled with liberals, like those guys who make ice cream, whereas New Hampshire is conservative. Now, I once knew a woman who grew up in Maine, which is easy to find at the top right of the map. She told several stories of all the crazy red necked hicks who lived in Maine. Since hicks are conservative, and they occasionally bleed across state boundaries, you can therefore remember that New Hampshire is the state right next to Maine! So Vermont has to be the upside down one after all. Brilliant, eh?

From there you pretty much just have to remember that you fly into New Jersey to visit New York City, so Maryland is the state next to Virginia. Then you flip a coin to decide which dot is Rhode Island and which is Delaware, and if it comes up heads you win. And then you stand back and admire your work.

And see a big hole in the south-ish midwest-ish there by the Mississippi river. One shapeless state missing.


It isn't Missouri -- Missouri has a tail. So does Mississippi and so does Alabama, for that matter. It isn't west enough to be Kansas -- plus, you already used up Kansas to fill in that hole in the plains states. And even though it's pretty shapeless, it isn't Iowa or Ohio because those were sorted out by thinking of Michigan.

Basically stuck.

So you eat some food, listen to bad boy scout jokes, hide the hole under your plate in case Tim looks over, and then, near the end of the meeting... BAM! It's Arkansas! Home of Walmart.

Fifty out of fifty! I am so good.

Stay tuned for our next informative post, in which we will cover trig identities.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Love, true love

[This idea for a post went around some blogs I read last February, in 2008. I wrote up my answers then, but never published them. With a few modifications, I have a perfect, pre-written post for February 2009.]

1. What's his name? Tim.

2. How did you meet? We met as freshmen in our first class in college. We then had several classes in common for several years. We just couldn't avoid each other.

3. How old is he? In that first class, as freshmen, he arrived sporting a full beard. I remember being surprised at myself for thinking he was cute -- I had never found men with beards attractive before. I also remember thinking he must be really old, to have a beard and all. The thought was along the lines of "gee, now that I'm in college, there are really old people in my classes." Turns out he is actually only two months older than I, which would have made him 18 at the time. Some men are blessed with hair, and some are not.

4. Who eats more? I do. A lot more.

5. Who said I love you first? I don't know. I said it last, though, so I am ahead.

6. Who is taller? Me, by two inches. I also weigh more, last I checked. We are totally non-traditional. I recently laughingly told this to my visiting teaching companion. She got a concerned look in her eyes, thought a minute, then said she knew of another couple in which the wife was taller when she wore heels, but the relationship was just fine. Yup. Just fine. Tim and I laughed a bit at that one. We have forgotten that we're supposed to care.

7. Who can sing better? Me.

8. Who is smarter? Last time I played Nintendo, I was sporting a brain age of 20, compared to his 23. That means Nintendo thinks I am smarter.

9. Who does the laundry? We both do the laundry. I did it last. He did it the time before that. Neither of us likes to get around to actually folding the laundry.

10. Who mows the lawn? We don't actually own a lawn mower. It's February. Why should we? However, we both shovel the snow off the driveway. Yesterday, when we got another six inches of snow, Tim was the guy with the shovel, as I have a sniffle. (*sniffle*) The time before that, it was both of us, early in the morning, running late, flinging snow as fast as possible. Stupid winter.

11. Who pays the bills? Tim tracks the finances. He likes to watch his stock options. During these economic times, it's like deep sea diving.

12. Who cooks dinner? I do. See number 4. I am much hungrier sooner. Neither of us likes to cook much. We had a deal when we got married that we'd take turns -- every other day. That was a long time ago. Tim still cooks, but it's more like once a week than every other day. Oh well. For revenge, I cook things like vegetables in my meals. Also, to his credit, I should note that Tim washes the dishes more frequently than I.

13. Who sleeps on the right side of the bed? I do. It's the side nearest the bathroom. Better for everyone that I stay over there.

14. Who drives? I drive Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tim drives Tuesday and Thursday, and weekends, if required. I was driving five of seven days, but I negotiated for some walking days to keep me healthy. This was before I knew about inversion. Even so, I love my Tuesdays and Thursdays.

15. Who is more stubborn? Well, we both made it through graduate school with terminal degrees. No one gets more stubborn than that. No one. Except possibly Jonathan at bath time.

16. Who kissed who first? I do remember our first kiss. We were both there. Participating. Wait -- wouldn't that be a bad thing if only one party was kissing?

17. Who asked who out first? We never really went out on traditional dates. A couple times during our early years of friendship we made special plans to hang out away from our standard meeting places. For example, I remember vividly the one time I asked him to a church function. It was deeply embarrassing and some of you are laughing because you know the story. But the rest of you will just have to shake your head in confusion because I'm not ready to post that one on the internet yet.

18. Who proposed? After spending nearly every day together as seniors in college, we moved to grad schools three time zones and 3000 miles apart. It didn't work. Plus the phone bills were huge. There was nothing for Tim at my university, so I started filling out applications for grad school at his. In November I left Northern Wasteland University and flew to visit him in green California. At that time, I made the decision that whatever happened with my application, I would be moving in with Tim as soon as the academic year was over. So I told him he would marry me that summer. Tim has no memory of this. He prefers to remember the official proposal in December that involved the knee and the ring. So the short answer would be, Tim.

19. Who has more friends? Tim. He is friendly, attractive, funny, kind, generous, and intelligent. He makes friends easily. Whereas I am stubborn, hungry, and tall. And make him do the dishes and the laundry.

20. Yes, but who writes the blog? I do. So I get to tell it my way.

I love you, Tim. (See -- I'm ahead again!)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Back up and calm down

Note to self: Don't write when angry. Or annoyed. Certain topics just make me really annoyed.

So now I need to back up and explain some things I didn't mean in yesterday's post.

I did not mean to say that talented people don't do housekeeping. In fact, nearly all the people I know do a little housekeeping. Even those of us abandoning hygiene time.

I also did not mean to say that homemakers are not talented. If my mother ever reads my blog again, and there is the slight chance of that happening now that I have introduced her to Google reader, she may think that yesterday's angry post was trying to say that she and all the other homemakers I know are not talented. No, Mom. In fact, some of the most talented people I know are homemakers. Like you. And Kristen. And Thora. Definitely Thora. She is brilliant and funny and dang, I wish I could get some of her homemade bread. But maybe I won't let her paint my furniture.

I guess what I was trying to say is that marriage takes a little flexibility. Certainly Kristen and Thora and you, Mom, know that.

Lucky for me, Tim knows it, too. After reading yesterday's post, you know that Tim knows it. Either that or we're headed for problems. Although maybe those problems were inevitable with the hygiene decisions, eh?

I also want to reiterate that I have nothing to say against that paragraph of the Family Proclamation which came up in my friend's conversations. In fact, I agree with it totally. I just don't read into it the mandate that women become slaves to their husband. Just the opposite. Yes families need someone to make sure their emotional and physical needs are provided for. I have no problems with delegating oversight of those jobs to the man or woman. Nor do I have problems with the Relief Society counselor in Texas who delegated the nurturing to her stay-at-home husband while she worked as a pediatrician, or the bishop in California whose wife was the primary breadwinner for several years of their marriage. Both jobs were getting done in both families, and both families were happy and healthy and well and making the best decisions for themselves according to their abilities.

Flexibility. That's the key.

That and the fact that sometimes Life doesn't turn out quite as you would expect. And sometimes God has more planned for your life than you do.

And it's easier to accept the bits in that last paragraph if you have a bit of the stuff of the second to last.

That's all.

See, Bob? I'm totally in line here. Totally.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Single, intelligent, and female

I tracked down a friend from college a week ago, and we met up for lunch and had a good talk.

My college friend looked very good. She is single, thin and toned, with long blond hair. She is beautiful and brilliant, with a PhD from Harvard. She is also a Mormon.

From the conversation, I gathered that my friend loves her job. She loves her life. She has excellent career prospects and looks forward to the future. She also wishes she could find an equal partner to share her future with. But she is losing hope.

The tricky part is the Mormon part, I think. She told me that many of the Mormon men she has dated tend to think that the reason she is so successful in her career is because they were not in the picture before. Once they become part of the picture, naturally she will give up everything else to be their servant. In fact, she has had multiple relationships end with the male quoting the Family Proclamation to her. Not the bit about loving and caring for one another, and not the bit about helping one another as equal partners, but the bit just before that about fathers presiding and mothers nurturing. Apparently they interpret this as meaning that if the relationship continues, they get to start making all her career decisions from now on. And Dude! Can't wait to put her in the kitchen!

So, for some reason, my beautiful talented intelligent friend doesn't think that's a good idea. Nor does she agree with their selective reading of certain proclamations.

I hope you're sitting down, because I'm about to make a confession here. I don't agree with their selective reading either! I think they're totally out of line. And the thing that bugs me the most is the implication that my friend is somehow righteously-impaired because she doesn't agree with them.

Hey Mister Uber-faithful, who do you think gave my friend her impressive talents anyway? Who did sin, my friend, or her parents, that she was born talented? I think neither my friend nor her parents did sin, that she was born talented, but that the works of God should be made manifest through her. Naturally, she must give up all these talents and scrub your shower with a toothbrush, to prove to God that she is faithful. Or maybe, just maybe, you can cough up $12 per hour to get yourself a housekeeper, so that she doesn't have to bury her talents in the ground. Maybe.

Of course, if you did stick with my friend, you run the serious risk that she might, um, have some different opinions than you. You might have stimulating conversations that sometimes border on disagreement. You might even *gasp* learn to respect a woman!

Now, when I back up and put my reality glasses back on, it does occur to me that these men with these issues are probably not spending time here at the Clown and Poker. And frankly, I suspect my friend doesn't really want them back. A heavy handed misquote or two from a family proclamation pretty much dooms a relationship in a hurry.

But every time I think about our conversation I get annoyed. Not that I'm particularly bothered by the self-righteousness of morons. I am, however, bothered that my attractive friend is still single when she wishes not to be -- that she hasn't found someone as bright and diligent and faithful as herself to share her dreams with.

So anyway, if any of you happen to know any intelligent, thoughtful, religious, single man -- age about late 20's to mid 30's -- who wants to share his life with a friend and an equal rather than just win a lifetime of free housekeeping, I know a really great single woman who is still looking. Let him apply.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

At least it's not inversion

Another snow day, captured above on a traffic camera near our house.

Walking through campus this morning, my thoughts went like this:

1. I look like a dork in my snow gear.
2. So what?
3. Are those ladies laughing at me?
4. Of course they're not laughing at me.
5. But I do look like a dork in my snow gear.
6. Why should I care if they're laughing at me?
7. Woah that girl just slipped. I will walk around that ice patch and not slip.
8. I am so clever to walk on the edge and not slip.
9. Woah! (as I slip and sprawl onto the sidewalk).
10. Who saw that? Are they laughing at me?
11. Because I do look like a dork.
12. So what if I look like a dork? I am a dry dork.

There you have it. A moment of of insight into the head of a brilliant (and humble) woman.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Blogging, says Tim, is like showing your underpants in public. It is exposing the personal in a very public sphere. Reading blogs, then, is like viewing underpants. It can be good. It can also be very, very bad. Even painfully embarrassing. That's what Tim says.

Me, I prefer French cut panties. They have an attractive cut, showing a bit more leg than your grandma's briefs. However, they still hide the cellulite that would poke out of the thong. Plus, for the practical woman that I am, those French cut panties do ride much more comfortably up the bum than a thong. I try to keep my blog in French cut panties. I think it's the most comfortable and attractive option.

Makes you think, though. What kind of underpants does your blog wear?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hygiene time

I attended a workshop a couple of weeks ago to encourage us to put aside at least 15 minutes each day to do some academic writing.

We participants had to think about some time we had available. Where could we cram in the writing?

Not during our sleep time. Studies had shown our writing efforts will fail if we try to convert sleeping time to writing time. We can't write more and sleep less.

Also, we can't take exercise time. That would be unhealthy.

Those were the only limits we were given. Of course, you already know that I do my writing at 6:00 in the morning. But it did start me wondering about other times I could trade.

Laundry time, for example. How much time does it cost to fold all those clothes rather than just pull them clean from the heap in the dryer? Actually, probably not 15 minutes per day. And plus, I must confess I have been known already to take that laundry folding time and use it for other purposes. Ahem. That's how I know you can just wear most of the clothing clean out of the dryer without bothering to fold first.

OK. What about cooking time? Oh wait. I don't actually cook much. Same goes for baking. Our home teacher asked recently if Jonathan liked to help Mommy bake cookies. Jonathan just gave him a totally blank stare. Um, I confessed. I don't actually bake cookies. Not for years. Probably not anytime in Jonathan's entire memory. Lucky for me. That means I don't have to trade the cookie baking time. Yippee!

Personal time? Not hardly. In case anyone asks, I spend that time reviewing papers. Seriously, Bob. In fact, I'm reviewing a paper right now. Na-now-Now. Yup. Now.

Cleaning time? Could I just let the goo build up in the bathrooms and kitchen? No. That actually ranks higher than exercise time on time spent keeping you healthy. In fact, I might suggest the presenter throw in a comment to the effect that cleaning time isn't legal writing time either.

So it's got to be hygiene time -- you know -- all that time spent showering, combing hair, clipping nails. Changing from clothes to pajamas back to clothes again. Shaving. Putting on deodorant. Cleaning your ears with a Q-tip. That sort of time. Easily more than 15 minutes each day. Easily.

Here's what I figure. If I continue to wash my hands vigorously and regularly, I should stay healthy even if I cut the showers back to once per month. A little body odor never caused disease. And my university has no policy on women's shaving habits. Heck, I could sport two beards -- one under each arm -- and no one could turn me in for dress code violations.

And I betcha if I traded hygiene time for writing, I could also pick up all my office hours time to boot! think about it. Would you go to one-on-one office meetings with the Odor? No way. That adds all sorts of extra hours! Just think of the papers I would churn out!

Wow. I am totally onto something here. Totally.

Anyway, back to that paper review. Ahem.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Daddy pulled down a very long icicle this morning. Jonathan tried to set it gently onto the concrete, but it broke as he did so. Disaster. Tears.

Glue it back, Daddy.

It doesn't glue, Jonathan.

Weeping. Wailing. A heap of hopeless sadness on the driveway. The icicle is broken. Forever.

We poked the pieces into the snow around the driveway and made an ice fence, and soon all was well again.

There's an email forward that I see every now and then about happiness. It points out during a typical day, young children laugh many many more times than adults. Therefore adults should try harder to laugh. My rebuttal, which I never email back, is that children cry many many more times than adults as well. I don't hear any calls for adults to cry more.

I cry too, though, when things I love break forever.

During the day the snow begins to melt. Overnight it freezes again into sheets of ice. In the afternoon, the ice melts first against the pavement, leaving a shelf of unmelted ice above it. I love to step onto this ice shelf, to break it. I love the solid thwack sound of thick ice cracking under my weight. I like to see the cracks shoot out around my shoes. I like to kick the pieces of cracked ice into the road and watch them melt in the sun.

Jonathan likes cracking ice as well. He walked back from the grocery store with me this afternoon, whining a bit that we didn't have the car, kicking at the ice shelves. We decided it was finally dry enough to get out the scooter Jonathan got for Christmas. He rode in circles around the nearby church parking lot while I walked along the edge, cracking ice with my feet.

The more I crack, the faster it will melt. The faster it melts, the sooner it will be spring. The sooner it will be spring, the faster the ice will melt. I try to do a little bit each day to bring back the spring.

You are very welcome.