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


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.


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


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.