Friday, December 23, 2011


I had two free tickets to the women's basketball game this afternoon.  Since Jonathan was out of school, I took him along, and we had a fun time.  Our team won by 30 points.  Yay team!

Women's basketball is pretty great.  We got to sit up near the very front where we could see everything, and still the seats all around us were empty.  Jonathan used the row of seats in front of us for a foot rest.

The part that is difficult for me, however, is the whole "team spirit" thing.

You see, I was an undergraduate at the university that is the arch-rival of the place that offered me a job.  So when I attend sporting events at the university that is the job, and they play the job fight song, I only know the impolite lyrics.  But when there are only 50 fans in the entire basketball arena, and our girls are doing so well, I feel I ought to cheer them on.

But if I sing *that* fight song, what does that make me?

My compromise is that I can cheer and applaud politely.  But I cannot rise and shout.  Still no.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Some stuff we did last month

In November, we took a trip to Antelope Island, on the Great Salt Lake.  

Tim decided to grow a mustache, as part of a fund raiser for work.  I think he looked really scary.  The mustache is gone now.

We purchased and put together a compost bin, as we've been wanting to make our own dirt for some time now.  Yay dirt.

One of the doorknobs broke going into the garage, so we replaced all three with shiny new ones that don't stick and actually use the same key.

I sewed mittens.  Here is the deal.  When you bike to work in the winter, it gets pretty chilly on the hands. I've figured out exactly what those chilly hands need.  First, they need a mitten, not a glove, so that the fingers can warm each other, rather than be insulated against each other.  Second, they need a warm fleece layer, to keep them snug.  Finally, they need a nylon windbreaker layer.  I've been looking all over for these mittens.  A couple of years ago I found something almost right in a boutique in Philadelphia.  However, the outer layer was knit wool rather than nylon, and the wind cuts right through them.  So finally I made my own.

Alas, I was inventing the pattern as I went along, and the outer nylon layer was a little too snug on my big bear hands.  So these mittens went to Jonathan, and I will try again.

We installed a new light in the bathroom.  When I say "we", I mean that I bought the light, read the instructions, watched someone else install a light on YouTube, brought in the ladder, pulled off the cover hiding the bare wires, and stared at the mass of colored wires in there.  On YouTube, they said I was supposed to expect one black and one white, and maybe a copper ground wire.  But we had four white, four black, a red, and a copper.

I consulted with Tim.  He pulled out our little wire tester to detect hot wires, had me run back and forth to the circuit breaker downstairs for about an hour, and finally figured out that the black and white wires should be left alone, the red wire was the one that would connect the light to the switch, but it needed to be reconnected at the switch....  Anyway, it was an interesting project.  But the result looks better than our camera makes it out to be.

That's all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December oranges

There are things I don't like about December, such as the darkness and the grading of giant piles of final exams.

But there are more things that I do like about December, like classes ending and building wood fires and playing Christmas songs on the piano.

One of my favorite things about December is that oranges are in season.  On Saturday, we bought a 40 pound box of oranges, to eat amongst the three of us.  There are things I like about having 40 pounds of oranges sitting around the house.  Oranges!  Any time!  Eat all you want!  40 pounds of oranges is pretty much a never-ending supply of orange goodness.

There are also things I don't like about having 40 pounds of oranges sitting around the house.  When you eat all you want, really, your insides can't keep up.  And then that can get stinky.  Hypothetically speaking here.  I don't really post about stinkiness in public.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Post

I think Thanksgiving is a good time to make New Year's resolutions.  You get those two extra days away from school and work, and you think you will spend just a teensy bit of time doing those little tasks that need doing.  But instead you end up stuffing yourself and being grumpy with the family and going back to Monday feeling round and fat. 

So this Thanksgiving, I hereby resolve not to be grumpy with the family any more.  Even when Tim does commandeer the television to shout at a bunch of fat guys in skinny suits jumping on top of each other.  Football.  I will not be grumpy anymore because of football.

I hereby resolve to exercise 60 minutes every day until the holidays end or I freeze to death outside in the frozen winter wasteland.  Whichever comes first.  And thereby I shall banish all the stress that fills my life and maybe tighten up the jelly that begins to fill my jeans.  Ah middle age.

I resolve to eat lots and lots of fiber, to scrape away all that extra Thanksgiving rich stuff that is clinging desperately to my insides.  It will not withstand an onslaught of broccoli and oatmeal.  And neither will my family. 

I resolve to finish the stupid paper that I resolved to finish last week, but that I only looked at for all of 15 minutes once on Friday while Tim was in front of the television anyway and I had nothing better to do.  Pacing around feeling grumpy is apparently preferable to getting the stupid paper finished. 

In short, I resolve to be kind, beautiful, and productive, from here on out.  And if I should fail, I will dig myself a hole and crawl into it and not come out until late June.  Take that, winter!

Monday, November 21, 2011


So Tim is still growing a mustache for his company's Movember challenge.  I must say, I am not really a fan.  He looks pretty creepy.  And when I go to kiss him?  This mustache comes after me.

You know where it goes from here, right?  Once the mustache is established, we move onto the mullet.  Then the beer belly.  Then we buy a lot of guns and six packs and move into a trailer park.

Yup.  That's what the mustache does for Tim.

The following comic kind of sums it up for me.  (You will have to click on the link.)

Ten more days of mustache.  Then Tim will have to choose between the two of us.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Timothy is growing a moustache for Movember.  He shaved his beard, and is growing the hair back just on his upper lip, as part of a fund raising event his company is holding this month.  It is an interesting look for Tim.  Jonathan and I can't wait until December.

I stopped teaching Sunday school a month ago.  My new job is Relief Society pianist.  I didn't think I'd ever have that job again when we moved here.  I'm mostly happy to have it, because in theory, this is an easy job where I show up and play the well-known hymns the chorister has chosen.  But our chorister likes to choose tricky and/or unusual ones, which means I stumble around a lot.  And one of the reasons I thought I'd never get the pianist job again is that there are so many more talented pianists in this area -- more talented than me.  I envision a large group of women sitting at home, shaking their heads over the state of the Relief Society when their pianist can't keep up with the chorister.  Tut tut tut.  What is the world coming to?

The end of the semester is in sight -- so much so that I am contemplating the writing of final exams.  ... In addition to the writing of a couple of talks, a paper review, a journal article, and a bit of grading thrown in there for good measure.  Maybe the end isn't close enough.  Maybe it's too close for all that stuff.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chemistry week

(I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but did not post, so now I shall post retroactively with the date it was written.)

Last night we got free tickets to a chemistry demonstration for National Chemistry Week.  The room in the science building was packed with kids, mostly under five, it seemed, and maybe a parent in every sixth chair (we, with two parents and a single child, do not come anywhere near matching the typical family demographic in this town).  You could barely hear the professor at the front of the room over the din of squirming children.  But the show was still fun, and Jonathan liked it, and has decided that when he grows up, he will do his own chemistry show.

The professor up in front mixed chemicals in large flasks, unlike anything you'll ever get to do in a real chemistry class (costs too much).  He made things change color, foam, burn, EXPLODE!  Jonathan's favorite was when the guy burned the balloon filled with methane.  It didn't explode like the hydrogen balloon, but the fireball burned longer and hotter.

And then this morning, we did morning math for kids.  If everyone in a room gives a high five to everyone else in the room, how many high fives is that total?  And there is a kids' play running, put on by university students in the drama department.  And the music and dance departments do shows for families.  And there are free museums, with animals (dead and stuffed), dinosaurs (dead and fossilized), art (nonliving), and even a planetarium, if you know where to look.

There are perks to living near a university.

Except right now, the traffic near our house is pretty horrendous as 65,000 people try to cram themselves into the nearby stadium for football.  Blah!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nebraska October is gold and green and gray, and very lovely.  Yesterday afternoon, after I left the airport in Omaha, I drove west for over an hour.  My rental car had a Minnesota license plate and a massive blind spot on the left side.  I think, actually, all rental cars have massive blind spots, and hyper-sensitive brakes.  These are requirements for rental cars.

But anyhow, Nebraska in October is lovely.  UNL seems like a nice university, for those of you who, like me, are keeping track of nice universities.

A colleague tonight mentioned that he is trying to give a research talk in each of the 50 states.  So then I had to count.  Since 2004, I have given talks in California, Utah, Texas, Georgia, New York, Philadelphia, Michigan, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Illinois, Tennessee, and now Nebraska.  I don't think I will try for all 50:  too far to go.  And honestly, who in North Dakota would listen to my talk?

Tomorrow I will drive east for over an hour, back to the airport, and back home (late), and back to work Monday morning.

Nebraska has been lovely.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


What is the difference between da Vinci and your typical high achieving student with three majors who acts in the school play and serves as student body president?  One blog I recently read argued that da Vinci's science influenced his art, and vice versa, and so he is a Renaissance man, while the student had no purpose for their scattered interests, which makes them a dilettante.

I had to look up the word dilettante.  I didn't think it was as negative a word as the writer seemed to think it was.  ("Nobody wants to be a dilettante", they wrote.  They don't?)

So let's shine the light of my own personal experience on these ideas.  I have a lot of scattered interests.  Unlike da Vinci, my art doesn't influence my science.  So I am not a Renaissance man.  (Ignore here for a second the obvious problem with gender, and pretend I could be.)

I wouldn't say that my scattered interests therefore serve no purpose.  Instead, I would say that they balance each other.  For example, I like doing research at work, but my brain can only take so much cold hard logic.  Then I need to switch.  I can switch to do people things, like teaching.  Or, over a weekend, I can work with emotions, reading fiction or personal writing.  These are totally different compartments in my brain.  Each little bit of brain likes to be exercised, however, even if it doesn't speak to the other bits.  Balance.  Physical.  Mental.  Emotional.  Social.  Spiritual.

So what about the student with three majors acting in the school play and serving as student body president?  Well, there's something to be said about blood pressure.  But assuming the blood pressure is not a problem, what's wrong with people having different interests?  And putting in the effort to excel at different things?  Balance.  That student sounds pretty balanced to me, still ignoring the blood pressure thing.

Will my child be negatively affected if I sign him up for sports and art and cooking?  On top of his regular school day?  I don't think so.  He may learn to use his brain in more ways, and learn to enjoy more of the wonderful things that make us human.  Why not let our children see much more of the good in the world, from many different lenses?  Physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual.


As for me, the pendulum is swinging backwards.  Those of you who volunteered to read my novel draft, thank you.  I will probably take you up on that.  However, you'll have to give me a while.  I've decided I need some time away from it, thanks in part to a billion deadlines hitting me on the head at the same time.  And especially the need to do something else for a while.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


While reading something else today, I encountered someone's favorite interview question:
Describe a time you failed at something, and what you did about it.  
Here are some answers.

Failure 1:  Last month.  Two of my research papers were rejected, within a week of each other.  That was a disappointment.  Two disappointments. Adding up to several months of rejected work.  

What did I do about it?  I gave myself a week for each paper, to mourn the failure.  Then I resubmitted each to another journal.  Now that they're both under review again, I find that I don't care so much about them.

Failure 2:  Last week.  And the week before.  And the week before that.  My graduate students asked me questions on the homework problems I had assigned, and I didn't know how to answer them.

What do I do about it?  I apologized, sent them away, thought about it overnight, then reported back.  Maybe I should try to get ahead on their homework, so this doesn't happen so frequently.

But those are mild failures, both.  Let's go back further and find bigger failures, with more lasting consequences.

Failure 3:  September 1999.  I failed my qualifying exam.  I had worked all summer to prepare for it, and taken a class on similar material the year before.  This was a big deal, because my graduate program would throw me out if I didn't pass by the end of a year.

What did I do about it?  I started from scratch.  I signed up (again) for the qualifying exam prep courses.  I formed study groups with my peers.  I walked through all the old qual problems I could find, and organized them into a binder.  I spent the next nine months learning the material so that I wouldn't fail again.  And I passed, in June 2000.  But that was a painful year.

Failure 4:  April 1998.  I failed to get into graduate school at the university my True Love decided to attend.  And he didn't seem to care about that at all.  So this was a double failure.  Failure at school, failure in love.  Again.

What did I do about it?  I went to graduate school somewhere else, and opened myself up to dating others.  When True Love and I decided it was worth the work to be together, I applied to his university again, this time armed with an independent fellowship, and was accepted.

So far all of my failures have happy endings.  Let's bring in some others.

Failure 5:  High school, junior year.  Tried out for the school dance team.  Failed so badly that the judges laughed at me.  They did.  I was devastated.

What did I do about it?  Crawled in a corner with a blanket over my head.  Did not ever leave the corner.  Decided dance was not for me.  Ever.  Again.

If this question ever comes up in an interview for me, I think I'm going with answer #5.  That's the answer the future employers of America are looking for.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Biking home in the rain

I've done this before.  Northern California in the El Nino years.  Central England in ... well ... my English year.  I checked the forecast this morning, and came prepared to work, with waterproof gear and bike lights.  And actually, once past the intersection where I am likely to die, the ride is enjoyable.  Different.  Raindrops patter against my ears, muffling the traffic noises.  The gray clouds hang so low that the entire landscape has changed.  Quiet.  Gray.  Cooler.  This storm marks the breaking point of Indian summer.  Autumn, which has been hanging hesitantly high above the valley on the mountainsides, will swoop in quickly now, claiming the trees in the valley.  Not that I can see the mountains, with the clouds hanging so low.  Not that I would see them anyway, with my chin tilted as far down as is safely possible, to keep the water from washing into my eyes.  My glasses fog up, and I remember that on rainy days in California, I would wear contacts.  No matter.  Almost home now.  My feet are soaked through.  My jeans are wet where their nylon coating presses against them.  Backpack wet, but it contains just a lunchbox and some notes.  I park the bike, shake off the wet things, change into cozy pants, and sit on the sofa to listen to the water running through the rain gutters, muted by the traffic noises now, not the other way around.  And here I sit now, trying to bury my reality in words.  It will be a rough two or three days, I think.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

September summary

September is over.  This post is written for the sake of my family, who want to know how we occupied our time over the month.

On Labor day weekend, Tim and Jonathan and I traveled with Tim's mom into Idaho, to spend the weekend at Tim's grandfather's cabin, because we hadn't been there all summer. We read books, spent a day at Yellowstone hiking around Old Faithful, and basically enjoyed a quiet weekend.  We found out that my parents, three brothers, and a sister and their families were spending the weekend at Yellowstone as well, but we didn't try very hard to meet up.  We did, however, come home and call my mom crying that they didn't love us enough to invite us to go to Yellowstone with them.  It is always a useful practice to instill guilt where possible.  But it didn't seem to work.

Another highlight of September was that Jonathan got his gums lasered.  Two of his top teeth fell out about two years ago, but the replacements never grew in. At first they didn't have space to grow in.  But over the spring and summer, his entire top palate was pried apart with metal, and they still weren't growing in.  So in September, the orthodontist ran a laser over his gums, and now the teeth have popped out.  It was apparently quite painful to the little boy, in spite of assurances that it would not be.  And the result was kind of disgusting, too:  two mean-looking burn marks on the gums.  But the teeth are now out.  Free at last.

I gave a talk at the university one hour north -- put them all to sleep -- then visited my mother and sister and her family for dinner.  We ate pie, and watched two-year-old Maddy stick pears upside down into Mom's outdoor swinging chair.  Dinner and entertainment.  It doesn't get much better than that.  Except it did.  My mother let me take home an extra pie, for my birthday.

I had a birthday.  I turned 35.

Tim's parents brought me a cake and a super-powered stand mixer.  These are the people who gave me 260 tulip bulbs for my birthday last year, and I spent the next month planting.  This year, I get the gift of making cookies.  Luckily, Tim likes to make cookies.  He doesn't like planting tulip bulbs, so this year's gift is way better.  Way better.  (I am, of course, being silly.  The tulips last spring were spectacular, and the neighbors can't get over them.  But they won't get over Tim's cookies very readily, either.)

I spent an hour on a Saturday teaching about 12 boys and girls, ages six to nine, some fancy geometry.  A few of my colleagues have kids the age of Jonathan, so we've decided to take turns running a Saturday math camp for them.  So far, the first two meetings have been successful.  I'm thinking I ought to compile a book of the activities that worked.  Then you can try them at home, too.  On your 6 to 9 year olds.

That's all I've got.  What did you do with your September?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My secret

Dear People who love me, and also those of you who still follow this blog out of some sort of morbid curiosity,

Recently, I did something I have always wanted to do:  I finished.  I finished writing my novel.  Just putting that sentence down on the screen makes my heart get all swollen with pride and accomplishment.  I've wanted to write a novel, but I put it off (too busy), until I started reading the inside back covers of other novels with growing jealousy, realizing those writers who were getting their novels published were people just like me.  And then Letterpress wrote a blog post (long ago now) in which she said that sometimes, when we retire?  We don't really want to do all those things we've been waiting for retirement to do.  Like write a novel.  Only she said it much more eloquently.  And that chilled me enough that I finally sat down to get to work -- at least during Decembers and Junes, when I had a the time.  And this June, I decided I had taken enough time, and the story had been in my head long enough, and I was going to finish.  And I did.  I did!  I finished!

Reluctantly, possessively, I allowed the two people who love me the most in the whole world to read my novel:  my husband and my sister.  And because they love me most in the world, they liked it.  And even better, they both claimed they liked it in spite of the fact that they love me most in the world, and they thought it was Really Good.  And I should get it Published.  Which is exactly what they were supposed to say, and exactly why I let those two read it and not anyone else.

So then, my beloved novel tucked under my arm, I began to do some research into how to get a novel published, now that all the hard work of actually writing it was done.  And I feel like crying.

There is so much more work to do.

Apparently this hard thing that I did?  This writing of the novel?  Billions of people have done that.  And reputable literary agents get about 50 to 100 queries per day by people like me who now want to sell that novel.

But I have begun to gather my courage around me, and I have written about seven drafts of a query letter, and one draft of a synopsis, and I have even given the precious novel to the two more people who love me next best in the whole world:  my mother and my blunt sister, to see if they like it.  But in two weeks, my mother has not touched the file, and it occurred to me that, realistically, she never will read it unless it actually gets published.  (She does not understand that this is like another grandbaby, this project.  And, yes, she would be thoroughly scandalized by that last sentence, as she should be, if she bothers to read my blog.)  And the more blunt sister has not yet opened the book to read it, since I just mailed it to her last night.

But the other sister and the husband have now read drafts of my query, as well.  And the helpful sister wants to run it by her writer friend and another friend who is well-read in my genre, for additional feedback, and after reading about how hard it is to actually sell a novel, I want all the feedback I can get.


Except that these people who my sister knows, who would be very helpful, live 3000 miles away where my sister lives.  I could really use someone local to help me out.  But I don't know if my neighbors have ever written a novel before.  I've never even talked about taste in books with my neighbors.  These people who read books like mine?  I don't know where these people live.  I could use the help  of a supportive writing group.  But I don't know how to find one.  Or build one, whatever.  And I am afraid to gather my neighbors and tell them I have done this thing:  I have finished writing a novel.  Because the words that make up the novel?  Those are my words.  My ideas.  My feelings.  I put myself all the way through that novel.  And they may not like it.

And finally, just today, one of the blogs that I read had a long post about how important it is to find "mentors", which is code in my profession for "people to explain what is really going on".  And I think that is true here, in this weird world I have entered by this weird thing I have done (writing a novel).  But in my professional career, I know who to ask.  Not true here.

Oh, my readers who have already finished writing a novel (and I know there are at least three of you out there):  I now understand much more what you have been through, and I commiserate.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mid-life crisis

I turned 35 this week.  It would have been just another birthday, except for several other events that happened at the same time.

One, after many years of ignoring my health, I finally scheduled a comprehensive physical exam, and the most convenient date for the exam happened to be the morning of my birthday.  Two, around 2am the night before, I woke up with a pretty bad migraine and took the usual high dose of caffeine that knocks out the migraine for me.  By the time of my appointment, the migraine pain was gone, but my blood pressure was really high, probably due to the caffeine.  I had to get a follow up visit scheduled to check on that.  Third, I got poked in the arms three times with needles during and after the appointment.  I came away feeling bruised and mortal.

Fourth, the day before my birthday I had dinner at my mother's house.  She mentioned that her 35th birthday was one of her worst.  My paternal grandfather had just died at the age of 70.  She had to face the fact that her life might be half over.  Fifth, I've been feeling kind of low.  Part of that is the migraine.  But part of that is an inability to keep myself interested in tasks that I used to find enjoyable.

Anyway, I have decided the fix for all this is to have myself a really nice, big, whopping mid-life crisis, and so I've set out to plan a good one.

Unfortunately, I've already run into several snags.  Many typical mid-life crises involve the purchase of large toys, but I'm not very interested in a new sports car, since I don't really like to drive and the freeway is totally torn up here.  I missed the season for a boat, and frankly I don't want the hassle of getting it licensed and hauled around.

I've also considered and discarded the idea of having an affair with a younger man.  That just sounds really creepy.  Ew ew ew.  I don't know how all those middle age men stomach the idea.

I looked into a possible career change, but apparently it will be more difficult than expected to sell my first novel.  And even if I sell the novel, there's still a small chance that I won't reach the best-seller list immediately, and somehow the bills have to be paid in the mean time.

So anyway, I'm feeling kind of stuck, which isn't helping (see feeling low, above).

For now, I'm going to settle with folding laundry and then doing some homework.  But meanwhile, if you have any good ideas for a fabulous mid-life crisis, I'd be happy to hear them.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Tim cleaned the garage over the summer.  It looks spectacular.  And what do you know?  It really can fit two cars.  After all.  The garage hasn't been this clean since it was built.  No, it wasn't cleaned out by the previous owner when we moved in.  In the freezer that was left for us, for example, we found steaks dated 1976.  There was also a box of the former owner's photos, a box of toys with the name of his 44-year-old daughter on the outside, and some old fabric.  To this collection and more, we added our stuff over the past three years, including construction supplies, boxes, bikes, windows, wood, paint....

Cleaning out a garage involves several trips to Habitat for Humanity, and a couple of trips to the dump.  But when you're finally done, you can take out the patio chairs and just sit out there and gaze at the clean-ness. Wow.  That was a project.

Me, I've been processing fruit again since July.  This year, I tried making more jam.  Cherry, black raspberry, plum, blackberry.  I've also made a lot of fruit rolls, in cherry-apple, black raspberry, plum, apricot, and pear.  In late July, I dried sour apples, and made some dried apricots.  It's lovely to live in a former fruit orchard, but there is a price to be paid.  The price is in time, evenings and weekends.  Taking care of fruit is a huge project.

Oh, and guess what Tim found when cleaning out the garage?  A massive fruit dehydrator, much like the one we purchased last year to deal with all our fruit.  Maybe I'll clean it out and we can use two massive dehydrators in parallel, but frankly, that sounds too exhausting.  I am ready to move onto other projects now.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not remembering

Some things ought to be remembered.  But I don't want to be the one to do the remembering.  I've been avoiding images, articles, analyses, reflections on that date 10 years ago.

I was a graduate student in California.  I had been married just over two years, and Tim and I lived in a small, 600 square foot apartment.  On the west coast, we didn't even wake up until the tragedy had happened.  It didn't unfold for us.  It had already happened.  We woke up, tried to get online to read the news, but found our favorite news site phenomenally slow.  We showered, dressed.  The online site showed a picture and a headline, and that was all.  We thought it was a hoax, and tried to reload.

I didn't sleep well that night.

Do you remember how we all wondered what to do with ourselves for many days afterwards?  When would it no longer be disrespectful of the human victims to carry on our normal lives?  We used to read daily comics on a website, Tim and I, and for a few weeks nothing changed -- the writers had all submitted their daily comic strips several weeks in advance.  One by one over several weeks, each of the writers of the daily comic strips replaced their usual silliness with a tribute, now days late.  

The skies were empty of airplanes for several days, except military aircraft.  Once, within a few days, a huge military helicopter on unknown business flew near our apartment, and I worried.

I only had nine classmates in my class in graduate school, and only four were born in the US, and only three to US parents.  The other woman, Yu, was from mainland China, and had recently been investigating spirituality and religion.  She would go running around a campus track in the evenings, and I remember going with her one day, not long afterwords, in the light of a sunset.  The moon was high and full over us as we ran, around and around in circles, and we talked about religion and God and why.  She told me that in China, it was the festival of the moon that night.  Her loved ones were gathered far away from her to celebrate the full moon of autumn, and eat moon cakes.  It was my birthday.

When we were living in Texas, several years later, a beloved woman in our ward suffered a head injury in a bike accident, miles away.  We women flocked to the relief society president and asked if there was anything we could do.  The answer was no, everything had been taken care of.  Don't worry.  And I realized in that moment that when tragedy strikes, people want to be allowed a meaningful way of showing their love.  Please don't tell me there is nothing I can do.  If I do nothing, how will I let you know how much it hurts me, too?  Your loss?  Give me a toilet brush and some cleanser and let me scrub out the bathroom, please.  I know you don't need it, but I do.

There was nothing I could do, in California, except hold Tim a little tighter and run around that track with Yu.  And I still feel helpless.  I don't want to think about it, being helpless.  Hold my family a little closer, harass the neighbors with a toilet brush and cleanser.  Hope it doesn't hurt too much, to die, when my turn comes.

I don't want to think about it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Stress related

My gums were swollen this morning.  After several conversations with my dentist, I now know that for me, swollen gums are an indication of too much stress in my life.  It's actually pretty handy.  Everyone else has to walk around wondering if they are suffering from too much stress.  Me, I just run my tongue around my gums and I know immediately.  

So let's think for a minute about stress. 

Has it been a minute?  

My thought is that I don't deserve to be suffering from stress.  How can I be feeling stress, when my country is not suffering from catastrophic famine?  My family is healthy.  I have a good job that pays the bills on time.  I am happily married.  I am a member of the dominant race, religion, and sexual orientation in my neighborhood.  My accent matches their accent.  My life is a model of middle class harmony.  There is something selfish and deranged about a woman who suffers stress related gum disease while living such a life.  

And yet the gums are swollen.  

I need a therapist.  (Oh, and still looking for a good hairdresser, too.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011


In 1906, to build school unity, a group of high school students spent six hours hauling lime, sand, and rocks up a nearby mountain. They were going to leave an emblem of their school upon the hill, three letters long. But after six hours of heavy labor, only the middle letter was finished, and they abandoned the project.

Today, the single letter still stands, about 380 feet long, on the side of the mountain, visible for miles and miles across the valley in the summer when the snow is gone. This year, it has been less of a school symbol to me and more of a question.

Why? It asks. Impassively. Uncaring. Why?

Since the snow melted this winter, I've been wondering that question a lot.

In early May, I heard that my request for early promotion had been denied at the VP level, no reasons given. I was calm and polite as I heard the news, but it really hurt. And then for the next several days, I would leave work and see the question on the mountain, calm, imposing, without offering any answers. Why? Tall and stern, it seemed to be a warning that I needed to reflect, carefully, upon my job, upon our location, upon whether or not this was really a good place for our family to be. Why? Why should it be?

One of the people who is most dear to my mother in the whole world lives a few houses away, across the street. In July, she lost a son. Her immediate family rallied around. And me, I didn't know what to do. I wanted to be able to do something, anything, to help. So I offered to walk the dog for a week. Carrying bags of dog poop with a massive animal on a chain, I walked up and down the hills nearby, under the shadow of the single letter. Why?

Today I heard, from my mother, that a second tragedy has struck the woman's family. Why? Why twice in a single summer?

It's a solemn letter, and a sobering question. I suppose no one in this valley is immune to having to ask it, although perhaps, if they don't look up, they can forget it is there. You can see it from the Empty Sea, where young people stop on their way to give up two years of their lives. Why? it asks, and they must be certain they are serious about their sacrifice.

You can see it from the interstate, where traffic lanes have wobbled drunkenly under two years of bridge construction. Why, commuters? Why do you put up with this? And they hunker in their cars and wonder.

And the college students see it from their dorms, and it haunts them as they sign up for classes, study for finals, choose a major. Why?

I wish those high school students had bothered to finish what they began back in 1906.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Park City

Jonathan and I were in Park City, Utah, last week, while I was at a conference.

I have to travel a lot for work -- something about working on research with people scattered around the world. But travel gets tricky, with a family that I like to be with, and a husband who also works full time. This last week was particularly tricky, because Jonathan's summer camp was over, but school hadn't started. And then I recalled some queries earlier in the summer, and started looking again, and found that a couple of the major ski resorts in Utah have their own summer day camp for kids. The kids go swimming, ride the gondola, take field trips to Salt Lake, make arts and crafts, and do all sorts of fun things. So this time, Jonathan came with me, and we left Tim home by himself.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, he was at his camp, and I was at my conference. Evenings, we went to the hotel pool, the conference picnic, and watched Sponge Bob on the widescreen TV in our room. Thursday, we took an extra day, and bought Alpine Slide tickets at the Park City Mountain Resort. We rode the ski lifts up and back, and tried out the Alpine Coaster, and roasted in the record hot sunshine. Sunburns for both of us. Phew! But it was fun to get to spend a little more time with my boy before school starts (tomorrow).

What about the conference? One important aspect of travel for work is the boring evening stuck in a blah hotel with nothing to do but work on that research you came for. I did certainly miss that this time around. And yet -- I think next time I have a conference in Park City, I'll take Jonathan along again. Maybe we'll invite Tim.


Saturday, August 13, 2011


Ben M. was the first person who made me think that I might be beautiful.

But not how you think.

In 11th grade English, Ben wrote an essay that was a parody of our class discussion, and Mr W. thought it was so funny, that he read it aloud to us in class.

Um. I played some part in the said 11th grade English discussion, as I decided on my own, late at night, that Lady MacBeth was the unfortunate victim of a misogynistic society, and compiled a page of Shakespearian citations to back myself up. This long list, giving detailed evidence of Lady MacBeth's innocence, I presented the following day to an unsuspecting class of 16-year-olds. Rock. Solid. Evidence.

Anyway, Ben thought the ensuing discussion was hilarious, and he wrote about it in his little essay, which Mr. W. thought was hilarious, and read aloud, to all of us.

And honestly, I have no memory of what Ben said about the validity of my arguments, but I do remember the way he described me. He said I was, and I quote, "beautiful and intelligent."


Did he really think I was beautiful? Or did he just put that in for dramatic effect? Probably dramatic effect. Because in all honesty, as a 16-year-old, I knew which girls were really beautiful. They were the ones who were getting asked to prom, for example. Or maybe they were just getting an ice cream or going bowling, but with a boy. Because boys like beautiful girls. I, on the other hand, was spending my evenings digging references out of Elizabethan literature in an attempt to vindicate imaginary Scottish women.

But you know, it stuck.

Me. Beautiful.

Fast forward a handful of years, to me, late at night on Saturday, looking at myself in the mirror, deciding I could really use a haircut. Right Now.

So I turned to my friend Google, and asked her how I could give myself a haircut, and she helpfully pulled up a few clips on YouTube, and within an hour, I had given myself a very modern layered cut and style.

And looking at myself in the mirror when it was over, for some reason I thought of Ben M.

Wow, I said to myself. I am beautiful.

But unfortunately, the haircut looked like I'd turned my head upside down and clipped off the end of my ponytail.

I wonder what Lady MacBeth would think of that?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Late summer

Technically, summer begins around June 21 and ends around September 21, so we are technically only mid-summer here at the end of the first week of August.

But with only two weeks until Jonathan goes back to school, and only three weeks for me, this is pretty much the end. I'm taking Jonathan with me to a conference in the mountains his last week, and then the following week when he's in school, I'll be Miss Meeting, so I'm calling this week my last true week of summer.

Now, I know I abandoned you back in Paris in June with this blog, and we didn't even make it to the science museum there, which was one of the best stops on that trip. And then I have a whole pile of July posts that haven't been published yet, including how my sister-in-law and I boogie boarded in the Pacific during that 4th of July week -- off the Oregon coast. I'm planning to describe how we nearly got hypothermia, but as a trade off, the beautiful pristine beach belonged only to us. The crowds were down in So Cal in the sunshine.

I also still plan to describe my brother's visit with his three kids, and how we climbed, questioning, up the front of a nearby mountain to take in a view of a thunderstorm. And how it really wasn't that great of a climb, because Jonathan whined the whole way up, and one of the other three tripped and limped, bleeding, the whole way down. But we got our thunderstorm.

And I haven't described picking fruit, walking the dog, hosting the water gun party, the weekend at the northern lake with my other brother.

The whole summer has slipped away, leaving only a long to-do list.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Paris: On the purpose of a woman's education

(This post was written in a hotel room, Tuesday, June 14, 2011.)

Because of the nature of the second paragraph of this post, I would like to start out by saying that I strongly believe all people should get as much education as they can. Brains are meant to be stretched: studies repeatedly show that educated brains are happier, healthier, and lead to happier, healthier families. This is true for both boys and girls.

Now, when I was a child, growing up in a conservative religious neighborhood, sometimes I was told that girls should get an education because they would need it to teach their children. (Naturally, only girls were told this.) This really rankled, for multiple reasons. It still strikes me as a pretty poor way to convince girls to go to college. They aren't stupid, girls. They realize that 90 percent of the education picked up in school will never be used in teaching children. They know that their child will never ask them on the street, for example, to describe the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, or to compare and contrast Gothic architecture with that of the late 19th century industrial revolution.


We are in Paris this week. Tuesday morning we took an elevator to the top of the Eiffel tower, for a panoramic view of Paris. When it was built, late 19th century, it was the tallest tower in the world, and remained so until just before the 1920s. On the first floor, there are a series of pictures of the buildings you can see all around in Paris, and some description of what they are and when they were built.

"Do they still have a king here?" asked Jonathan, looking across at the Louvre.

"What was the French Revolution?"

From the Eiffel tower, we took the metro to Isle de la Cite. When we realized our transfer was on the Champs Elysee, we stepped out and made our way to the center of the roundabout where the Arc de Triomphe stands. This huge arc is visible from our hotel room, and was built by Napoleon to honor his grand army. Now beneath it lies the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I.

"Who was Napoleon?"

"Who is the unknown soldier? What was World War I?"

Next stop, Notre Dame cathedral. Construction began in the 10th century, AD. They were building a tall cathedral to point to heaven, but constructed it out of heavy stone. Therefore, they used all the architectural techniques available to them in the Gothic era.

"What's a flying buttress?"

Inside, a sculpture of Jeanne d'Arc stands in a corner.

"Who was Joan of Arc?"

We were pretty worn out after these three buildings, and the crowds, and headed back to our hotel to take a break.

From there, thinking about the day, and what I did and did not remember, I wished I had taken more humanities classes in college, so I could have better taught my child.

I suppose I have now fulfilled the purpose of my liberal education.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Paris, June 13

We arrived in Paris Monday afternoon. First thing after checking into our hotel,

we took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower,

and bought some crepes for dinner (in the rain).

Nothing says Paris like a chocolate and the Eiffel Tower.

Ah, Paris.

Three nights in Germany

From England, we took a train to London, then to Paris through the Chunnel, because I've always wanted to do that. It was actually not a particularly interesting train ride. The part through the Chunnel was mostly just dark. You couldn't actually see any fishes swimming by or anything, as we were well under the English Channel, with tunnel walls made out of reinforced concrete, or some other such material. I think it would be much more interesting to build a thick glass tunnel straight through the English Channel, and send the train there. Perhaps it the track should spiral around a few times while it travels, upside down occasionally like at the amusement park, for the best views out the train window. That would be a very interesting ride, if a little bit nauseating.

Anyway, in Paris, we walked from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l'Est, more quickly than anticipated, as the Chunnel train arrived a little later than expected: It had to be stopped, turned off, and then turned back on again somewhere in Northern France, due to an electrical problem. I didn't realize that the reset trick worked with passenger trains as well as computer operating systems. But there you have it.

We still arrived in plenty of time to catch our express train to Saarbrucken, Germany. Tim has friends who live in Saarbrucken: Jorg and Anja, with their two little girls ages 6 and 4. Actually, although they were originally Tim's friends, I now count them as my friends as well. Back when we were all childless and free, we toured Ireland together, and since then, we've kept track of births and Christmases and other events, stopping by to say hello whenever travel happens to take us withing a few hours distance of each other. Which is not very often.

But back to the record, Jorg and Anja speak English very well. Their girls speak only German. And I speak a handful of German sentences and an armful of French ones and mostly just English. And Jonathan, who is just older than their eldest, didn't know what German was until he was surrounded by it, at which point I realized I ought to teach him how to say please, thank you, and excuse me. However, in the end, he didn't even try communicating with language. By the end of our weekend together, die Kinder were all screaming happily and jumping off the furniture together. Mischief: the universal language.

For our weekend in Saarland, we ate extremely well. Jorg and Anja like to fill their lives with organic fruit and yogurt.

We visited a wild animal park near the university,

hiked a hill to see a boot made of stone (der Stiefel),

ate Spaghetti Eis,

and took a walk by the Saar.

We also learned the words for currant (Johannisbeere -- because Anja makes a mean currant jam), and ladybug (Marienkäfer -- say Maureen Kae-fuh), and little witch (Kleine Hexe).

We only spent three days with Jorg and Anja, which was not enough, but they have promised to come visit us within a few years.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Photos of Oxford

I've been getting behind on my writing here, mostly because my life has become a giant circle of writing elsewhere. But now, safely home and ensconced in fruit harvesting during spare time, I would like to devote a few more posts to travels, and what we've been doing with our summer. Some of the upcoming posts I (mostly) wrote during the event, but I was away from internet or didn't bother finishing, and so I will clean it up and post soon. Some posts I need to start from scratch. This post must be written from scratch. However, as I am a bit tired of writing, because my life is a giant circle of writing elsewhere, I will save on writing by posting photos.

Let me remind the reader that we were in England this summer for two weeks, May 27 through June 10. I worked from 6am to 3pm, with a break for breakfast. Tim worked from 3pm until midnight. Jonathan played and toured from about 8am until 6pm. We managed for two weeks. And ended up with many photos of Jonathan. Here are a few highlights.

1. Atop Carfax tower, for a view of the City Centre.

2. In Oxford Castle, recently a prison.

3. Outside Oxford Castle.

4. Bramley apple crepes.

5. Punting boats on the Cherwell.

6. Sheldonian theatre.

7. Mind the nettles.

8. Boat trip on the Thames.

9. Chocolate cake at the cafe outside St. Mary's Church.

10. Climbing into the tower, built 1280 AD, of St Mary's Church.

11. View from the top.

12. Magdalen College interior, with map.

13. Addison's walk.

14. Fellow's garden, contemplative.

15. Magdalen college.

16. The punting dance, 1, 2, 3.

17. Pasty (rhymes with nasty) on Cornmarket street.

18. Behind Christ Church College, near meadows.

The end. For now.