Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dating ideas for Brent

This morning my little brother Brent stopped by my office and asked if we had a croquet set he could borrow.

What, you ask, was my little brother doing at my office? Well, he actually is a student at my university. Really weird, eh? Anyway, he was trying to find a croquet set for a dating activity.

Alas, I had to tell Brent that we did not own a croquet set. However, I did think of some other fun outdoor equipment that we do own, and I've come up with all sorts of really great dating ideas using our other outdoor gear. So here's a list for my single bro, or any of you who are in the neighborhood and would like some good old fashioned outdoor couple fun.

1. Bikes. We own bikes. Nothing like biking for a date. Of course, both our bikes have flat tires, as we haven't used them since California, three moves ago. But that's where the fun dating activity comes in. Here it is: Fix our flat bike tires. Changing bike tires would be really great as a twosome! Hey, you could even make it a double date, inviting another couple along, since each bike has two tires.

2. Gardening gloves. We own multiple sets of gardening gloves. And the morning glories are crawling all around the back yard. I can think of few activities more fun than crawling around in the dirt back there with a pair of gardening gloves pulling weeds together.

3. Chain saw. Just the idea of asking her out on this one gives me chills. "Hey gorgeous, my sister owns a chain saw, and I was thinking you and I..." We have two bushes, one for him and one for her, that we don't particularly like. Chopping shrubberies would make for some excellent couple time. And, assuming the sparks fly, this activity comes with a really great follow up activity the same day:

4. Wheel barrow. We own a wheel barrow. Perfect for shrubbery haul away. Got to do something with the chopped bushes.

5. Windex and paper towels. These two go together like peanut butter and jelly. Nothing says romance like a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels. Plus, we have a couple of deep window wells, perfect for some private snuggling mid way through.

6. Lawn mower and spin trimmer. We finally bought a lawn mower, and it's really fun. It's a German designed push mower, no fuel or electricity involved. Totally green fun machine. And everyone loves the spin trimmer. Perfect activity for two.

7. Hedge trimmer. Because the previous owner left his, we actually have two of these. So you can hedge trim side by side. And for the sweep up later, we have a couple of rakes, a couple of brooms, and a big green bin to take clippings for two.

8. Ladder. Sweep her off her feet. Or at least off the ground. Spend a cozy afternoon cleaning leaves out of our gutters. Does she have a little fear of heights? No problem. She can hold the ladder and the trash bag at the bottom, while you dump brown gook from 12 feet up. Total dream date. She'll know you're a keeper.

9. Vacuum. This is more of an indoor toy than outdoor, but I thought I'd bring it up anyway, in case it gets too hot for all the outdoor suggestions. We own two vacuums, and a large swath of carpet in the cool basement.

10. And the best on my list: Extra freezers. We own several of these, three left on the property by the previous residents. You are totally in luck, because we haven't gotten around to disposing of them yet. Bring your own truck, and spend a few hours hauling the old freezers out to the dump and back. This date is all about location, location, location. Nothing says romance like a pickup truck and the dump. I picture a huge slobbery dog in the cab of the truck as well, just to make it perfect. Unfortunately I can't provide a dog.

So what do you think? And do you own any outdoor toys my little bro could borrow to assist him in his courtship? I'm sure he'd really appreciate it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The consequences of binging

I have been pushing really hard to finish up a couple of papers.

I occasionally read new faculty advice, and the general consensus is you shouldn't binge on your research writing. That is, you shouldn't write on one project for multiple hours and multiple days at a time. It wears you out and makes you depressed.

Well, I've been binging, trying to get these two papers done before all the other things I need to do come crashing down. And as of last night I'm done, except for one more read through of the long one (ugh). And those new faculty advice people? They're right. I'm depressed.

So research is fun, and I love my job, but sometimes I wonder, what should I be when I really grow up?

Dear Reader,

When I grow up, I'm going to be a fairy princess. I will be beautiful and tiny and have magic powers and get to wear a tiara in real life. And when I wave my wand, you will want to read my research papers. And then when I wave my wand again, the results will matter in real life. And then by wave number three, purple sprinkles will be falling from the sky and we will all ride away on the backs of golden unicorns.

But really, I bet that tiara gets poky after a while, and starts to dig into the skull. And shopping for tiny is probably at least as bad as shopping for huge. So maybe not a fairy princess.

And then I realize, I pretty much write this blog for just two people: me and occasionally my enemy Bob. So if I'm not bothered by just me and Bob reading here, why do I care about low impact of my writing elsewhere?

Because I don't spend weeks binge writing on a blog post, that's why.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Disneyland versus Zion

The first week of May, we took a trip to Disneyland in California. Over Memorial day weekend, we took a trip to Zion National Park, in Utah. Surprisingly, both trips had a lot in common.

Common characteristic #1: Highly organized people moving.

At Disneyland, you can take the Disney railroad to another part of the park. Or the monorail. You wait in line for a while, then when the train arrives, everyone packs in until the train has reached full capacity. You depart the station with a crowd of strangers. As you drive, a canned voice tells you history of Disneyland and interesting tidbits, and points out the major attractions at each stop.

In Zion, you wait in a line at the visitors' center to catch a shuttle. Over Memorial day weekend, people pack in pretty tightly, standing room only. You depart the station shoulder to shoulder with strangers. A fruity voice describes geology and archeology and other interesting tidbits as you drive, and announces the major attractions at each stop. ("There is a short hike to a lookout which departs from the left side of the shuttle.")

Related common characteristic #2: Gazillions of people.

In Disneyland, there are gazillions of people. You stand in lines to go on the rides, to purchase food, to use the bathroom. Wait your turn to buy a souvenir. When that little boy moves out of the way you may get a drink at the fountain.

In Zion on Memorial day weekend, there are gazillions of people. You stand in line to catch the shuttle, to purchase food, to use the bathroom. Hiking up to the emerald pools, Jonathan asked why we kept having to move over for all the hikers. Because there were so dang many of them, that's why. Wait your turn to climb over the boulders. When that little boy moves out of the way you may look at the tadpoles as well.

Common characteristic #3: Desert heat.

In Disneyland in the summer, wear sunglasses and a hat. Eat ice cream. Dress in light clothing.

In Zion on Memorial day weekend, don't forget to drink lots of water. Wear a hat.

Common characteristic #4: different attractions for different ages.

The teenagers love Space Mountain, and consequently it has one of the longest lines in the park. However, Jonathan cried after he went on it. He really liked the Small World ride, along with a lot of children his age.

In Zion, teenagers like to hike up to Angel's Landing. Consequently, on Memorial day weekend there was quite a line of people waiting to use the chains to get up the last half mile. (Seriously -- we could see them from our shuttle stop. There was a huge line up there at the top of that cliff.) The shuttle driver warned us that the last half mile was not for people afraid of heights, and Jonathan was not at all interested in trying it. He did enjoy the emerald pools hike, however, along with many children his age.

Common characteristic #5: Migraine and pre-migraine.

Nothing further to say here.

I have been to Zion before, many years ago, before the canyon's popularity required the use of the shuttle system. I remember solemn vermilion cliffs and spectacular views, serenity and power. I felt something of what its earliest white settler felt, a Mormon man who named the canyon Zion because he found solace there in the silent temples of the towering canyon walls.

There was no silence this time. No serenity or solace. Nice postcard pictures, though. Swarming humanity. Lots of fun rides. A little hot, but good ice cream if you were willing to wait in line.

Maybe next time I'll visit Zion in October. Anyone second my move to change the date of the family campout?

Friday, May 22, 2009

This post is not very long

I have a lot of important things to do. I do. And I know that most of you readers are actually real people in my life. And moreover, most of you are real people in my life who are waiting for me to do something for you.

In fact, that's why I'm writing this really short post. I am writing to let you know that, yes, I am right in the middle of doing that thing for you, and I will be completely done with it really soon.

One thing about blogging is that when you post, everyone knows what you've just been doing. You've just been writing a blog post. Which means you weren't actually finishing that paper draft or calling that retirement specialist or cleaning the toilet.

Unless, of course, you wrote that blog post a long time ago and scheduled it to appear later....

That's exactly what is going on here. It looks like I'm writing this blog post when I'm supposed to be doing that thing for you. However, in fact I totally have my act together and I wrote this post a long time ago for the purpose of entertaining you while you wait for me to finish your task -- that task that right now at this instant I am doing. In fact, I am on the phone with the retirement specialist while scrubbing the bathroom and editing the paper draft. Depending on who is asking.

Anyway, I thought I would post this short note just so you know that in fact, I'm on it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Because life is good

As I left my office today for the Tuesday walk home, a few drops of rain were beginning to fall, and the world smelled heavenly. Frau Magister recently posted, among other things, that her favorite smell was rain in the desert. Our desert here isn't quite as arid as the desert that she was referring to, but my son will still grow up knowing what she means. That is good. And suddenly I had an overwhelming feeling that Life is good. It is. Here are two reasons why.

I love my job. Last week's conference was held in an exotic location: the red deserts of the southwestern United States. We left the afternoons free for participants to enjoy the surroundings. However, I spent each afternoon in the front of the empty conference room, pen in hand, talking research with friends and colleagues at the whiteboard. As I realized that because of these discussions, I would not get to enjoy the red desert, I felt a little sad. And then I thought through the discussions of the day, and the work we had accomplished, and the sadness left. I realized I would rather talk research all afternoon. It was fun. I really love my job.

Jonathan is set for school next year. He has been admitted to a French immersion first grade class at a public school less than a mile from our house. This school has school lunches, cool after school programs, and he'll be mastering French as well as reading and writing and arithmetic. We have wanted him to start learning any foreign language since we were in England, and he picked up all sorts of different accents easily. He should learn languages while his brain still lets him do that sort of thing. Plus, it's first grade. So he'll be with other children as tall as he is, at the same (or higher) academic level as he is, and he'll be stretched. And it's a new program, so he won't be the only new kid in the class. We're excited about it.

So life is good. We hope it stays that way.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Clothing. Again.

Yesterday, our family went to a barbecue at the home of family friends Tim met in grad school years ago. Also invited were many of his colleagues and friends who live in the larger city to the north, including a former professor and friend of ours. This man, who I greatly admire, was one of my favorite all time teachers when I was an undergraduate. He has relatively recently left academia, and interestingly enough now works for Tim's company.

Anyway, we started swapping professor tales, and somehow we got onto clothing. When I interviewed for jobs a couple of years ago, I wore a pair of trousers and a button up shirt. Not a suit. I was looking for a job in which I could dress casually. There were two places I interviewed where the regular professors were dressed better than I. One was a liberal arts college in New York, and one was my current employer. The liberal arts college in New York wasn't a good fit. My current employer was. After a day of interviews, I was actually very surprised at how much I liked the department, how much I had enjoyed interacting with the other faculty, and how ... er ... normal they all seemed. It was a bit unexpected. So by the second day of interviews, I thought I really might like the job. Really. But that meant that I was honestly considering moving to this town. Suddenly, there were many more things I needed to know. I showed up at the office of the department chair with a long list of questions. I don't remember everything that was on the list, but two items that I remember were "Can I really raise my son here without him growing up sexist?" and "Why is everyone dressed in suits? I teach in jeans. Is that going to be a problem?"

The first question needs its own post. As for the second, I was told that several people in the department do teach in jeans, and I could. So I do. (Aside: The admission of this fact has been a huge shock to many women my mother's age. A huge shock. They attended my university when women could only wear skirts. They were shocked to hear that the students were allowed to wear jeans, much less the faculty.)

I told this story to my former professor. Then he began his own story, starting by saying he thought there were two types of people in the world: "nerds" and those who cared about what they wore. The implication was that I belong squarely in the former category, not the latter.

This is not true. I definitely care about what I wear. In fact, I think I care more than most women I know. But my requirements are different than theirs. I require shoes that fit, that don't give me blisters, and that I can walk in for multiple miles per day. They also have to be really long and narrow to fit my feet. Which means most shoe stores don't even have a shoe that will fit me, much less pass the blister and walking test. Sneakers fit me. So I often buy sneakers.

You can't wear sneakers with a suit, or with slacks. I have enough fashion sense to know this. You can wear them with jeans. So I like to wear jeans.

Also, I require pants that fit, that fall all the way to my ankles, that will not show my butt crack or the brand of my underwear when I raise my arms to write on the board, bend over to talk to a student, or twist into the corner to plug in my laptop. They need pockets that will hold my keys, otherwise I will forget my keys and be locked out of my office. They are not allowed to ride up my bum when I sit down. That's really uncomfortable. I also prefer them to flatter my figure, rather than make my hips look wide and my belly bulgy. I am very tall, but I am also skinny, which, like the shoes, means many stores don't even have a pair of trousers that will fit me, much less pass the butt crack test when I do stretches in the fitting room. I currently don't own a pair of trousers that fits, because I haven't been able to find one. I own two pairs of jeans that I like, and so I wear those teaching.

So there you have it. I dress poorly. But there is a reason besides me thumbing my nose at the fashion industry. I guess you could say the fashion industry has, for the most part of my life, thumbed its nose at me. My body type is not on the approved list, and therefore they will make me work extremely hard to find suitable attire. So there, Mr Professor man.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Responses to recent comments

1. The conference has been going very well, thanks for asking. The weather has been ideal, the location perfect, and there have only been a few snags, and those have been only minor. So far. I very much look forward to getting all the participants onto their flights tomorrow, processing all the receipts and requests for reimbursement, and then not organizing a conference again for a long long time.

2. I do not know what has become of the orange T-shirt. I folded it, packed it, and then took my luggage to the airport, where I carried it on. I did not open any of my bags during the security screening. However, upon arrival at home, the orange T-shirt was not in the bag. This means that sometime during the drive to the airport, or the flight, or the drive home, the orange T-shirt found a portal into the 5th dimension and slipped through. It undoubtedly slipped back out into the luggage of a traveler in an oppositely oriented copy of our universe. Somewhere, in some other universe, a polar copy of me opened her bag to find an extra orange T-shirt.

That's the only logical explanation I can come up with.

3. It is not just hicks who have never heard of the pu pu platter. Or, if it is just hicks, then hicks come from all over the world. Sitting at my table at the Chinese restaurant last night were people currently residing in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, and my home state. Among that group were people who were originally from Russia and Greece, and people who had lived all over the world. I asked, and no one knew what the pu pu platter was, although no one found it quite as hilarious as I did. So if you don't know, you are in good company.

Also, I asked Google, and turns out the pu pu platter is fake Chinese food anyway. So you can feel high and mighty and snobby yourself for not knowing what the pu pu platter would be, because people who know eat at fake Chinese restaurants. My good friend and officemate in grad school was from mainland China. She took me once to an actual Chinese restaurant in the Bay Area. They had a different menu, all in Chinese, for their patrons like my grad school friend, and a completely different menu in English for those of us who only know fake Chinese. There was no pu pu platter on her menu!

Ok. That's it. I don't actually get that many comments. But now you see that sometimes I do actually respond.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Potty humor

We went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner tonight. The first thing I saw when I opened the menu was item #13, the Pu Pu Platter. I ordered it. Solely for its potty humor value.

I get along well with my five year old.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Three dreams

I have been awakened from peaceful sleep by three terrible nightmares in two nights. Here is a description of these three visions of horror.

1. Returning from a week of vacation (we were on vacation last week - did you notice?), I open my email inbox to dozens of new messages. I scan the subjects of each message briefly, then freeze. Buried in the middle of the list is a notice informing me that I am being sued.

2. Tim mentions to me that there is an internal investigation ongoing in his company. Apparently someone in his project group has purchased shares of the company's stock when the buying window was closed -- i.e. when it was illegal to do so. I think for a minute, then recall that I recently bought $1000 worth of his company's stock for an investment to go into charity. Nervously, I tell Tim about this. A look of fear crosses his face. "Is that ok?" I ask. He hurries to his office to send some emails. Later, he comes out and tells me that he thinks I might be ok, but my name is currently being passed around his company by email, and the messages aren't pleasant. As he is speaking, I finally realize that buying his stock was illegal --- and I am going to jail!

3. I am walking near a school zone. Lots of kids and a few parents are walking up the street, crossing over, heading to school. Suddenly I notice a grizzly bear running up the road. I scream and try to warn people, but the grizzly attacks a child. A police officer is near me, and he pulls out his handgun and runs toward the grizzly. He shoots it point blank in the head, and it stumbles away from the child. However, everyone knows that a little handgun won't kill a grizzly. Angry and wounded, it starts running again -- towards me. Now I start running, trying to reach my house before I am attacked from behind. But there are too many houses in between! I sprint faster, but I know that I will never make it. . . .

And the interpretations thereof

1. I need to work on my people skills before someone sues me. Or maybe: I cannot really abandon my email for an entire week without suffering consequences.

2. My stupidity is going to catch up with me, and I will be punished. Incidentally, I told Tim this dream the following morning, and he got a concerned look in his eyes and said, "My stock market window is closed." Which means he fully believes in my ability to do something this stupid. Thanks, Love, for your confidence.

3. * The bear represents an approaching evil.

Incidentally, I am currently finalizing the details of a conference I have been organizing, trying to ensure everything is prepared by tomorrow when the speakers start arriving.

* My attempts to warn the children, and the bear attacking the child, represent my inability to adequately prepare for this approaching evil.

This is the first time I have organized a conference, and I keep thinking of new details that need to be addressed by tomorrow afternoon.

* The policeman represents the inability of others, in whom I have placed my trust, to conquer the evil.

For this conference, I have delegated several duties to other people.

* The angry injured bear running toward me indicates my imminent destruction.

Did I mention the speakers start arriving tomorrow? While there are other people involved in organizing this conference, I was the one who sent out most of the invitations to speak and participate. If the conference crashes and burns, these eminent researchers will not remember the other organizers. They will only remember me.

Anyway, I have posts to create and important topics to discuss here. However, I will probably not be writing much this week. I'll be at a conference.

Monday, May 4, 2009


On Friday, walking home, I passed a family of ducks. The proud mother was leading her seven children through the grass. She walked straight, head high, seven ducklings lined up behind. You could just see her smirking, "What a handsome family I have."

A lady next to me pointed out that the eighth duckling was actually several feet behind and struggling. We watched in silence, sending encouragement vibes to duckling number eight. He would periodically stop and rest and call out -- "Peep! Peep! Peep!" Meaning, "Don't leave me! I can't catch up! Hey Mom, can we take the car?"

Mother duck paid no attention. She just kept walking, head high, totally oblivious.

I thought of all the feral cats that lived on campus. The falcons. The driving lawn mower just on the other side of that tree over there. I had to do something! I couldn't let the little guy die! I stepped into the grass and tried to herd duck number eight back to the family. He couldn't do it. He wouldn't do it. He looked up at me in desperation, peeping: "Hey Mom, now there's this huge lady who is going to step on me. Please please get the car!"

Actually, I couldn't herd him toward the family. He was too tired to even worry about me stepping on him. His mom and siblings were by now clear across the sidewalk, heading toward a little stream. None of them were paying him any attention. Eventually he finally reached the sidewalk himself, but then turned the wrong way! Now he was sure to get eaten.

I had to take matters into my own hands. I tried to gently move the duck with sticks and leaves, but that was useless. So I picked up the duckling in my hands (aack! duck germs!), and walked him the half a block to his family. His mom hissed at me as I got closer. I dropped him off a couple feet away and he walked over to the family. Aah, thought I. Duckling rescued. Glorious family reunion.

But no! Mom promptly turned her tail and started walking again. Seven little ducklings followed. Number eight sat in the grass and peeped. "Peep! Peep! Peep!" Meaning "No! Don't do this to me again!"

So after the family was half a block away again, I picked him up again. This time I dropped him off in the water, where Mom and siblings had finally gone. He swam to the family and seemed much more happy. Even when they turned as a group and started swimming, he stayed with the family. I decided this was a good time to assume the ending was happy, and that I'd better leave before the rest of the family started pecking him to death because he now was covered in my scent. Or before he lost the family again and got eaten by one of the feral cats.

Now I had duckling germs all over my hands, and a 25 minute walk home. I held my hands out in front of me, certain they were covered with the duck plague. Or bird flu. Or whatever. Upon arrival at home, I scrubbed them for a couple of minutes in warm soapy water. Then scrubbed them again. But I'm sure that now the duckling and I will both end up dead. And it's all Mother Duck's fault.

Stupid nature.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Goodbye cruel world

Goodbye cruel world. We are going to Disneyland. During a level 5 pandemic.

We will catch something terrible, and die young, and I will never return to complete my novel.

In case this is the end, I would like to leave my orange rug skirt to my sister, because she has a daughter.

I bequeath the fern green curio cabinet to Letterpress, because it would go so well with her red chairs. Of course, she won't be able to enjoy it long, as we are headed to her house directly after Disney while still contagious. Dibs on the red chairs after you are gone, Letterpress. Oh, except dang. I forgot I was going first.

To Bob, my archenemy, I would like to leave my G.O.D. University t-shirt, as a token of reconciliation.

To Emily, I leave my tile kitchen backsplash, which, by the way, was finally installed on Tuesday and looks really really good. For those who didn't know, Emily and I have been in competition to see who can live the longest without a backsplash. As of Tuesday, Emily is the official winner.

My half-empty bottle of grout sealer I bequeath to a MMM. I was going to give it to Chickadeedee, but couldn't do it so close to mother's day.

I would like to leave my copy of Twilight to Brady, in remembrance of our shared high school romance.

To my faithful blurkers Thora and Tiffany, I leave hyperlinks, so that any of my 17 other readers can subscribe to their blogs. If they haven't already. Or, if they think that's lame, they can fight over the sofa.

I bequeath the giant Mexican hat to Al, because someone may want to write a love post about him someday and it will work best if she can include a picture of him in the hat.

Finally, to all my other blurkers, I bequeath my archives. To you, I leave true treasure: a huge heap of stinking words, left here in memory of me until someone at Google decides to take them down, or the apocalypse hits. Whichever comes first.

If you want something else, you'd better write soon. Because we've been planning this vacation for a long time, and so dang it, we're going to go.