Monday, December 31, 2012


I want it to be last week again.

I want to be sitting here in this same spot in space, but in last week's time.

This week, the vacation ends.  Jonathan goes back to school.  I go back to work.

I want it to be last week, when I had a whole week of work-free vacation in front of me.  When I had promised my family and myself that I would not spend time thinking about work responsibilities, but instead I would read novels, play video games, visit with far flung family, and eat chocolate.

Last week, at this same spot in space, the voices in my head wondered where to spend my leisure hours.  This week, the voices remind me that I need a syllabus, a few lectures prepped, an end of year faculty profile, and I should get those two papers submitted that were supposed to be submitted in mid-December, preferably by this time next week, same location in space, unfortunately.

And then when I feel a little melancholy thinking of my upcoming week, in spite of two more vacation days, I wonder if I should be setting some New Year's resolutions to increase my happiness.  Would that help?  Would that make the panicky feeling go away?

Actually, I think the only thing that makes the panicky feeling go away is getting the work done.  And so luckily, the holiday is ending.  We all get the privilege of going back to school and work and checking things off the accomplishment list.  Happiness, here we come!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On optimism

I still attend church regularly.  That surprises some of the people I know, and occasionally they want to know why.  One reason is it offers me set-aside time for introspection each week.  As a highly imperfect person, in  meetings with other highly imperfect people, I get the chance to think about improving, changing, growing, and exactly what I want to grow into this time.

Last Sunday we discussed what it means to live in troubling times.  For the record, I wonder if the times we have been given are more or less troubling than any other times.  In any case, it is true that the times we are given are often troubling.  We lived through a very troubling Friday, December 14, 2012.  A discussion on troubling times was apropos.

So what did the discussion unearth for me?  The take-home message was one of optimism.  Not only is this the worst of times, but it is also the best of times.  Life is hard, but there are more people trying to do good than there are those trying to tear down the world.

And the message of optimism, it reminded me of my maternal grandfather.

Grandpa was optimistic sometimes to a fault.  When I was a teenager, I often spent time in his kitchen, discussing life and future over homemade bread and yogurt.  To him, the world was a wonderful place, bursting with opportunity.  He was sure that for me, as a young person in that world, there was nothing I couldn't do.  He was ever happy, encouraging, teasing, and proud.  Me, I was more of a realist, but even so, his words helped me see possibilities I had never considered, and from there, to map out a future.

Grandpa was an educator.  He had earned a PhD from Columbia University, funded by the GI bill.  He worked for a time at G.O.D. University, like me, until he couldn't stand the politics there.  He was the first religious liberal I knew, at a time when all my friends and neighbors, and parents, were conservative.  His intelligence, his wit, and his eternal optimism helped me to understand that life is not painted in black and white.  It is painted in color.

Looking back, I wonder how he remained an optimist.  His employment with G.O.D. was a complete disaster.  There were times his family lived through extreme poverty, in places far from friends and family.  He ran for political office multiple times in an extremely conservative state, and was defeated soundly; even the signs he posted were abused and vandalized.  He was acquainted with failure.

I'm acquainted with failure, although not to the extremes he faced.  And then add to that the troubling times, and life becomes heavy.  We carry on, beaten, sometimes only because the alternative is more frightening.  But he carried on laughing.

Looking at my life last Sunday, and where it needed to grow, I realized that I could do worse than to be more optimistic, like Grandpa, for now. There is still so much that is good.  Find that.  Encourage that.  Be that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ending the semester

On Friday, I walked a mile through the streets of Philadelphia and caught a train to New York City.  The train stopped under Manhattan, and I walked through a tunnel full of people to catch a subway running uptown.  After an hour under the city, I finally climbed concrete steps into the rain.  Lunch, and a talk, and then I walked back into the subway and under the city and a train carried me out and away into the dark.

Three hours later, exiting another metro station and lugging my laptop to a gray hotel, I glimpsed the Washington monument stretching into the fog of a winter evening, lit like a torch.

These are things that people come to see, said the lights.  Except to you, it is only a little architecture against the skyline to remind you which talk comes next.

This morning, the common final exam began at 7 am.  I left my house just after 5:45 am, and made my way through the dark to my office.  In my building, I hurried around the cleaning staff to and from the printer, to and from the computer.  Why hasn't that TA picked up his exam box yet?  Can I move the proctor in your room to the basement of the Martin classroom building?  Someone found a printing error on form B; please announce it to your students.  We are out of scantrons in the chemistry building.  There isn't enough light in the business auditorium.  My student is ill.  When is the alternate?  And meanwhile, 1500 students sat with pencils in hand and tried to remember, for three hours.

This is how semesters end, in a blaze of light and motion and anxiety, with faculty and students hurtling past the major monuments, the lit torches pointing up into the winter fog.

Monday, December 3, 2012


... is already starting out well.

Jonathan's cast was removed.

Tim's mustache, grown for a good cause in November, was also removed.

Things are looking better and better around here.

Somewhat problematic:  big crunch time until finals.  Two more classes to teach, then I fly out to visit three cities and give two talks before I return home to give two finals.  But then things ease up a little tiny bit.  Maybe.

Maybe I'll start writing again.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


A few weeks ago in church, while in the midst of a discussion, a woman asked a rhetorical question.

"Doesn't it just make you feel wonderful when you're helping someone?"

And I thought about my latest foray into volunteerism, and honestly answered:  No.

I have been volunteering since October at Jonathan's school, running a once-a-week after school math program for kids.  I wanted to be able to include all the kids who were interested, so I paid all the up front expenses myself (particularly the background clearance fee to work in the school), and have been charging the kids nothing with the idea of helping them have fun with supplementary math.

It hasn't really worked as planned.

The first issue was that too many kids were interested.  We had 25 sign up and turned 10 away in a single day.  I have not been trained in managing 25 kids that age.  The meetings have been chaos.

The second issue was one I discovered later.  I want to include kids who like math, who come there for the fun of it. I have a couple of kids who haven't been participating, who complain all through the hour long session, and can't wait until it's over.  When I pulled them aside and suggested they stop coming, since they clearly hate it, they said their mom would be mad if they didn't come.  She wants them to attend and learn something.  So the kids show up and resent having to be there and drag the class down because Mom thinks that they should be learning something.  I'm not running the program for Mom.  I told the kids they would not be able to come back if they don't start participating.  We'll see whether my talk has any effect.

Another problem is location.  Because of space issues, we're borrowing a teacher's classroom.  The teacher has almost no blackboard space at the front of the classroom.  I can't plug in my laptop.  That means I get to communicate via interpretive dance....  ?

So how does volunteering make me feel?

Completely exhausted.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quantum states

It snowed all day Friday, making for a scary bike ride home.  This afternoon Jonathan and I took a couple of neighbor boys up to the park near the mouth of the canyon and went sledding.  There were lots of people out, and the snow was wearing itself off the local sledding hill.  Jonathan had his arm cast wrapped up in a couple of plastic bags, with his coat sleeve pulled over on top.  After the first time down the hill he said it hurt, and I almost took him back home.  But the arm felt fine quickly, and he was ok after that.  We spent at least an hour running up and down that hill afterwards.  That's good for everyone.


This week has been an eventful one, locally, nationally.

Lots of losing.  Failing.  My mother's big cause, the culmination of a lot of work on her part, was voted down.

Is it really better to have tried but failed?

In quantum physics, the state of a particle is generally changed by the action of measuring it.  In real life, before having tried, there are two possible states: success and failure.  Before you invest the time to try, you have to believe that success is a more likely outcome.  But after you've tried, and the measurement has been taken, and you have failed, there is only failure.  There is no more potential for success, unless you re-run the experiment, adjusting something.  Unless you start over, you're just a failure.

That hurts.

Let the world run without trying.  Leave the quantum states unmeasured.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Broken arm

Jonathan broke his arm on Wednesday.  He was out gathering candy from the neighborhood, in the dark, and he tripped over a scooter left on a lawn between houses.

Wednesday night he came home in tears, and Thursday morning I spent the time with him at the doctor's office, waiting, and then at the radiologist's, waiting, and then waiting, until I abandoned the waiting to Tim, who took Jonathan in to get the cast.

The boy is fine now, and was happy to show off the cast to his friends in school on Friday.  In four weeks we'll go in for more waiting and get the cast taken off.

Meanwhile, watch out for sharp toys on dark lawns.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Assorted evidence of insanity

I woke up at 5am on Tuesday, and as I rolled over to drift back to sleep, a little voice reminded me that my grant proposal needs to be submitted a week before its official deadline.  And then I started counting backwards from the official deadline, and jumped out of bed.  It's due at the end of this week.  Not next week.  Stupid, stupid voice in my head.  So I spent the next two hours writing.  And guess what I'm doing tomorrow morning?  

Speaking of writing, I have far too many writing projects looming over me, and I don't seem to be able to finish any of them.  All those projects are really stressing out that same little voice in my head -- the one in charge of keeping things organized and running on time.  It can't keep track of what needs to be done and when, and it is lashing out against me in its frustration.  I'm not quite sure what to do with it.  To make things worse, the writing projects themselves keep bothering me, too.  They all clamor for my attention, and when they don't get it, they pile on the guilt -- at least the work projects do.  The fiction projects don't just pile on guilt.  They scream at me to do something about them.  And unlike the work projects, which stay down when I tell them to except for a whimper of guilt, the fiction ones climb after me, and attack when my guard is down, such as when I'm drifting off to sleep, or walking over to work.  If I were this single minded about work projects, I'd be winning my Nobel prize.

Jonathan needed a Wednesday after school program.  So I volunteered.  I offered to run a math program for kids, grades 3 through 6.  I have taught it three times so far.  There are too many kids.  There are so many kids that even the simplest example takes forever to explain.  And every kid has an idea for an answer to every question.  Or if they don't have an idea, at least they have something else that they really really need to share.  And if I don't have a question for them to answer?  Then they have one for me!  They talk on top of each other and on top of me.  And they generate random, unexpected answers that I have to think about, and that I have to ask everyone else to think about, but it's hard to think when you really really need me to call on you.  Oh!  Oh!  Please!  Please let me spew something random!  Me, I come home totally wiped out.  But I don't think there is anything I can do about it.  How could I justify squelching such enthusiasm, especially for math, of all things?  

Today I forgot my keys.  I biked to school in the rain, and then went to lock up my bike and found my keys were not in my pocket.  So I looked at my watch.  I had to teach class in eight minutes.  Home was a 15 minute bike ride in the wrong direction.  So I wheeled my bike up to my department office, begged to borrow the master key, let myself into my office and parked my bike behind my desk, and ran off to do my teaching.  Later in the day, someone saw me wheeling my bike out of my office, and said I was very smart to have brought it in out of the rain.  Except that I felt like a complete idiot for having forgotten to bring my keys.  

I think I'd better stop.  I am coming up with too many items that point to my insanity, and I can't afford the time to see a therapist.  Must write....  Aaah!  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Gender bias

Soon after my birthday, I read a couple of articles that I found extremely depressing:

From Scientific American:  Study shows gender bias in science is real.  And from Inside Higher Ed:  Study shows scientists are biased against women.

I read the Inside Higher Ed article first.  The article depressing in and of itself:  Scientists were given identical resumes for hypothetical students, with just the names changed.  One name obviously female, one obviously male, and asked to rate the students.
... [T]he scientists were asked to rate the students' competence on a 5-point scale. Male faculty rated the male student 4.01 and the female student 3.33. Female scientists rated the male student 4.10 and the female student 3.32. On salary, the gaps were also notable. The average salary suggested by male scientists for the male student was $30,520; for the female student, it was $27,111. Female scientists recommended, on average, a salary of $29,333 for the male student and $25,000 for the female student.
That's bad. The scientists didn't think they were being sexist. They just honestly thought that Jane wasn't as competent as the identical John.  Which makes me wonder (a) do I do this?  I hope I do not.  I must be vigilant and try to make sure I do not.  And (b) am I a victim of this?  Would I ever know if so?  Is my work valued less because I have a very distinctly feminine name?  (I have wondered in the past, but what can you possibly do?)

The most depressing thing about the article, however, was the comments.  The blog from Scientific America summed it up best:

[M]ost people who read this will have one of four reactions:
1) This is not surprising, but I’m glad we have something concrete to show what we’ve known all along.
2) This is surprising and disturbing.
3) Figure 2 is misleading because the y-axis does not start at zero. Therefore, I will reject everything else exposed by this study.
4) Equally qualified women should be discriminated against, because they could go off and get pregnant. 
On the Inside Higher Ed blog, which is supposedly of interest to my academic colleagues, there seemed to be a huge number of comments #4.  And also comments along the line of "The women are rating the female students just as badly as the men, so it can't really be sexism."  And "Yeah but maybe the women looked the same on paper, but they wouldn't be as good later in life because women never are the best of the best.  Those are the men."

These are comments from educated people, the educators of America.  Sometimes America sucks.

You know what, American educators?  (1) It's none of your business if they go off and get pregnant.  And the fact that they might doesn't make them less effective workers and poorer scientists.  (2) Women can also be sexist to women.  In fact, historically women have been our own worst enemies (see for example women's suffrage).  (3) Studies show over and over that it isn't the gender that's holding the women back from performing at the top.  It's the culture.  A relatively recent study published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, for example, showed that we Americans are hurting both our men and our women in science by our cultural attitudes.  Sure math is great later in life, but you're a loser if you're good at it as a kid.  The peak performers in the highest tier math competitions in high school and college are both male and female, but they're coming from other countries where kids and adults value math as much as basketball.

As I have mused about this in the past, the advice I receive is along the lines of, "just put your head down and do the best work you can and don't worry about it."  Which is excellent advice, and how I've lived my life.  But sometimes things need to be worried about.  But I'm not big enough to do all the worrying on my own.

Reader, please go worry for me.  Thanks.  That's much better.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Today it is my birthday, the first day of fall, and the birthday of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins.  I am reclining on my couch with a stack of papers, which I graded earlier today in orange ink.  I used the orange pen because it is my favorite, and it is my birthday.  On one's birthday, one should grade only with one's favorite pen.  Also, orange is a good color for the first day of fall.

For my birthday, I purchased myself a pair of black platform heels.  I have never owned a pair of high heeled shoes in my life, because I am already almost six feet tall, and it's already hard to hear the conversations way down there when you're so tall.  Why add three inches?  But recently I decided that I'm old and deaf enough now that I'm not going to hear the conversations anyway.  So I would buy a pair of heels.  And then I decided that if I were going to increase my height some, why not increase it as much as possible?  Hence the platform heels.  They add 5 inches to my stature.  When I put them on, I am nearly a whole head taller than Tim.  I can't wait to wear them to church.  They will go really well with my short black skirt and my orange striped tights.

In other news, I am still on the mailing list for Bosinver Farm Cottages, in Cornwall, England.  I received their fall mailer yesterday.  "Have you ever thought about coming to Cornwall to celebrate Christmas or New Year?"  Hmm....  Thinking about it now.  Stormy seas below wind swept cliffs.  Green moors and gray skies.  Warm fire in my farm cottage and a stack of novels to read.  Christmas here is nice, with family and maybe snow and a library card.  But Christmas in Cornwall sounds perfect.

I would even leave my orange pen behind.

But maybe I'd bring the platform heels in case I want to go anywhere posh.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Today, I am feeling super skilled at this parenting thing.  This was a star-on-the-forehead kind of parenting kind of day, so I have decided to write it all here and publish it to the world so that you, World, can go home and put a little checkmark by the box that says:  Artax is a good parent.  For today.

First, I walked Jonathan and his friend over to school.  Star for walking over in the morning.

Second, I was two minutes early to pick him up.  Star for timeliness.  And I brought a popsicle for him to eat on the way home.

On the way home, I gave him math puzzles to solve in his head while we walked.  And he thought about them and asked for more.

When we got home, I asked Jonathan if while he was outside, he would please pick some grapes for dinner, and I handed him bowl and scissors.  He went out and made a huge amount of noise with the whistle he picked up at scouts (come on scout masters, a whistle?), but eventually he did return with the bowl completely full of grapes.

After dinner, I told him if he would please do the dishes for me, we could watch TWO episodes of Avatar: the Last Airbender on Netflix.  He did the dishes.

So I sent him off to get the TV ready to go.  He called me when it was ready.  And then when TV was over, he ran and got his jammies on and brushed his teeth and read for a while, until my bedtime alarm went off, and then he packed himself off to bed with a good night kiss.

What a charming child.  I must be a really good parent, right?  Go mark that little box that says "Artax is a good parent."  Go do it now, today, before we all go to sleep and wake up with a completely new day tomorrow and I lose my temper and forget to do the laundry and have a nervous breakdown and my child turns back into a regular child again instead of a mythical purple unicorn.

I sure love my purple unicorn.  I even love him when he is a multi-headed hydra, or when I am a multi-headed hydra.  Sometimes it's hard to know the difference.

Have you marked that box yet?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

New Office

I moved into a new office yesterday, just next door to my old office.  With the help of a couple of student employees from the department office, I got all my stuff ported and adjusted within about ... three hours.

One reason it took so long is that I took my furniture with me.  And we had to figure out how to get my L-shaped desk appropriately situated.  The window is in the opposite corner in this new office, so the computer couldn't go there.  And if it went in the other corner it would block the whiteboard.  And in either of the other two corners it would block the door.  So I put a leg of the L jutting out into the room, and the other leg near the window, but with enough space that I can still stand by the window when I need some natural light.

It is unfortunate that it took so long to move.  And the other negative thing about the new office is that two of the four walls are wood paneled, which means the room looks dark and cave-like.  But otherwise, it is great.  The window looks east, across the library, to the wall of mountains that holds the university on one side.  I can already watch autumn creeping down into the valley.

And space-wise?  The new office is 25% bigger than the old one.  With that extra space, and my L-shaped desk jutting into the middle of the room, there is a place against a far wall to put a couch.  That, my friends, is all I have ever wanted in a job since I was in grad school:  an office large enough to fit a couch.

Of course, it will have to be a small couch -- less than 70 inches long.  And it shouldn't have any arms, because those waste space.  So I've been looking at options.

Here is one from Ikea:
Nice, eh?  But pricey.  And I would have to buy a new cover, because white isn't really going to work long term with dust from the whiteboard flying around in a small space.

I like this option for a cover:
Casual, yet durable, in light gray.  But it would cost an extra $320, on top of the pricey sofa.  I don't think that's in my budget.  Because I don't actually have a couch budget.

So then I started looking around even more, and found true love:
Perfect!  Arm-free, not too white, but not too dark.  It would add lovely color to a gloomy space.  It's a little short:  just 40 inches, which means only a couple of people could sit on it comfortably at a time.  But the price is awesome:  on sale for just $215 (plus shipping).  And I can buy a matching chair for $139.  Although I don't know where I would put that matching chair.

Actually, maybe I'll move them both into our spare room downstairs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First days of school

Jonathan went back to school one week ago.  We bought new notebooks, colored pencils, crayons, scissors, rulers, and pencil boxes.  

I went back to school yesterday, for my first day. 

Out in the back yard, the bind weed has been growing.  It grows up and over the other plants, wrapping around them and burying them in a pile of green leaves, white flowers.  I got behind on the weeding sometime in late June, which was really only a few weeks ago.  I stopped trying to catch up sometime in early August, which was just the other day.  During the past couple of evenings, when Jonathan has needed to be away from glowing screens, we've been in the back yard and I've been exploring the hidden territory under the bind weed.  When I pull it back, I find that the pretty ground cover with the yellow flowers has been spreading, along with the wild strawberries.  Did you know that gardens could grow under all those weeds?

Jonathan has been pulling the summer bind weed from his brain.  Multiplication.  Spelling.  French.  It seems that it doesn't take more than a few nights of weeding to find all that knowledge buried underneath the weed growth.  All that information is still there where we left it at the end of third grade, late May.  

I feel like I've been pulling bind weed from my brain, too.  I kept changing my mind on how I wanted to teach my new course up until just a couple of days before the class began.  And then I rearranged the schedule the day after we met the first time.  But I'm not as scared as I was last weekend.  Having met my students, and having spent an hour in front of them, I feel like we will be friends.  Or at least reasonably polite fellow travelers in our semester long journey.  I'm so glad it's only a semester.  Wish we were on quarters.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On writing. (Not scholarly.)

About a year ago, I told you I finished writing a novel.  It was something that had been in my head for a while, and totally different from my day job.  In my day job, everything is logical and cold.  I wrote a story about magic and emotions.  Probably a balance thing.  Part of my brain felt heavy, so I wrote something to put the other part back into whack.  And then after I finished the writing, the responsible part of my brain had to put it all aside for months when my day job got too busy.  (The academic year started up.)

I pulled out my novel again several months ago on an airplane, and I really liked it.  I polished up some parts.  I figured out how to twist the tone of the ending to be the conclusion I really wanted, and felt super proud about that.  I let a few family members read the book, and they also (said they) liked it and gave me some helpful suggestions.  I know Deborah liked it -- she read it twice for me, and spent hours on the phone with me talking about it.  Tim read it twice, too.  He has been really encouraging.

So now the next step.  I'd like to publish it, I think.  The next step is to attract the interest of a busy literary agent with a very brief email message.  I've written a draft of the very brief letter.  I've made a spreadsheet of ten agents who have sold books similar to mine that I have read and liked.  Only eight of them are accepting queries, and only four of them take email queries, which makes my list very very small.  So now the real step is to send the queries out and pull in the four rejections.  I wanted to do this before the school year started.  But the school year is upon us.

So why hold back?  Why not just send?

I asked a friend, Norma to read the book -- the first non-family member I have asked.  She read it quickly, and said she liked the first 2/3 of the book, but then three things happened that didn't make any sense to her.  She told me what they were, and all three are important to the story.  I've been mulling over in my head how to fix them -- how to add a few sentences here and there so that they don't catch any other poor unsuspecting reader by surprise.  And I'm feeling kind of discouraged, I guess.  Lazy, maybe.  That was the word that Norma used (there is a reason I asked her to please read it).  She said it seemed like I got lazy 2/3 of the way into the book and I didn't prepare her well enough for those three things.

I get papers rejected all the time in my day job.  I make mistakes.  Sometimes I make big mistakes.  I pick myself up off the floor and get back to work.

Why has it been so hard for me to send the emails to those four people?

I'm scared of them.

Also, I guess I don't want to send the queries out until the book is the very best that I can make it.  And it won't be the best that I can make it until I fix Norma's three things.  And the second one of them should be fixed with a few sentences in a particular scene, and the third will take more fixes in more scenes, but will follow if I can explain to the reader exponential growth (still promise it's nothing like my day job).  But I don't know how to fix the first.

And now that the academic year is upon us again, and I have to teach a class on some of that cold logical-ness on Monday morning at 9:00 am, and I haven't even printed up the syllabus yet.  I am out of time again, and totally terrified of my Monday 9am students, whoever they may be.

Reader, are the things that seem most important to you also things of fear?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Philadelphia, August 2012

Jonathan and I just returned from a week in Philadelphia.  Jonathan spent his days at the Franklin Institute, at their kids' science camp.  I worked with a colleague up north.  Evenings and weekends, we were tourists.  

We stopped by the Liberty Bell and Independence hall, and picked up a Junior Ranger pin.  

We also stopped at the Constitution museum, which I hadn't been to before, but I thought was very well done.  

Inside, one of the exhibits concerned the current candidates for the 2012 Presidential race.  The computer asked which issues were most important to you, and how you would vote on certain questions.  It then computed your match with the two major candidates.  Jonathan's score:  He matched Obama 81% of the time.

He matched Romney only about 20% of the time.  (I forget the exact number.)

My little boy is growing up to be a democrat.

Me?  I was at about 55% one, 57% the other.  

And you thought you had me figured out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

BBC Olympics

Four years ago, we were living in England during the summer Olympic games, and we fell in love with BBC Olympic coverage.  This year, in the US, we are denied the option of watching the Olympic games aside from the filtered and censored version allowed us by the communist major TV network.

Luckily, Tim can still log into work in England and pick up a British IP address.  From there, we can access all the BBC Olympic coverage we came to love four years ago.

And I tell you, my friends, it has been wonderful.

Sunday morning, we were enthralled by live women's weightlifting, in which a short Kazakhstani woman won gold, then broke the world record by lifting 131 kg over her 53 kg body.  Last night, we watched the taped coverage of men's gymnastics, with British commentators going crazy with excitement as the British team won their first medal in gymnastics in 100 years.  We have also watched swimming and rowing and diving and archery, and we can see what we want without being interrupted by advertisements, and without having the coverage cut off once the US has done their thing with no care for the other countries or athletes involved.  With the BBC, you really get a sense for the whole competition, although you miss out on the fuzzy back stories with the tender glowing gold lighting that the US TV network has put together.  And with British commentators, the performances are "massive" and "brilliant", rather than strong or amazing.

Ah love.

Apparently, you can purchase access to a British IP address for somewhere between $5 and $15 per month, depending on your location.  Even if you have to buy a year's subscription, it's probably worth it just for the Olympics.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Where have I been?

Well, we spent a week in Florida.

And then a week in Yellowstone.

And then three weeks in Park City.  But I didn't get any pictures of that.

Now that we're caught up, I may write more soon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Academia: the mystic quest

Welcome Readers!  Today, we will take you through the adventure that has been my employment for the last ... many years.

We are currently preparing for an Epoch Battle, in which my heroes will fight against the Forces of Evil who make up the World 3 End Boss.  Recall that in my employment history, my heroes have already wandered their way through the Enchanted Graduate School Forest (World 1), and then through the Marshes of Postdoc-land (World 2). We have been in the rocky Escarpments of Pre-Tenure for the last four or so years, trying to level up our heroes for the Epoch Battle ahead.  This summer, I prepare my team for this final battle.  If we win, we will gain access into the Mountains of Tenure, with the freedom to scale its snow-clad peaks or wander its verdant valleys at will.

Let me introduce you to my party of heroes.

My first hero is a warrior named Research Productivity.  She has leveled up rapidly in the last four years, and is currently a level 20 fighter, which is quite strong for my particular area of the Escarpment.  Not only is her battle level quite high, but also several side quests in recent years have helped her gain fancy equipment.  For example, last year she discovered the extremely rare and valuable Shining Armor of Sloan.  This armor has the ability to blind enemies to my party's weaknesses, and to mesmerize common villagers into rising and applauding when the warrior enters the room.  My warrior is strong.

My second party member is a magician who will introduce herself by the name of Teaching Prowess.  However, in the last four years we have discovered that her real name is Student Ratings.  Luckily for us, knowing the secret name of the party's magician gives one a huge advantage in the Epoch Battle.  My magician also has leveled up rapidly, reaching level 15 in only three years, but unfortunately she has not leveled up quite as quickly in the past year as has my warrior.  On the other hand, the magician carries several important relics that will be valuable in the Epoch Battle.  For example, she was the first magician in the Escarpment to wear the Jewel of the Eye (Clicker), and she has been able to teach its proper wearing to other local magicians.

The final member of my party is a dark elf, who goes by the name of Citizen.  Unlike the warrior and the magician, she is a tricky creature.  Her unpredictable actions can either help or hinder the other party members, which means Citizen is a wild card.  In fact, because of their unpredictable nature, most parties approach the Epic Battle with a rather small dark elf.  Mine is somewhat large.  Luckily, she is well liked, and rather pretty.

And whom, you ask, will we be battling in the Epoch Battle?  We will encounter three main enemies.  The first is the one-eyed monster Department, whose eyeball sits upon the mystic Chair.  The second is the flying wyvern Dean, who has the power to breathe fire.  The weaknesses of these two enemies have been well-documented, and we have developed strategies which we expect will defeat them.  First, we will blind them with the Shining Armor of Sloan, and then Student Ratings will cast spells against them which were mastered in the Dungeons of Large Lecture Calculus.

However, the third enemy is the most frightening of all.  This enemy has the form of a man (white male) with a pale face in a dark suit, who sits on a throne high in the Tower of Administration.  Do not be deceived by his common appearance -- the enemy's smile reveals Vampire Teeth.  The Vampire is by far the worst of the three enemies, because he cannot be pinned down by documentation.  His weaknesses change unpredictably and at random.  He has been known to cut down whole parties with a single blow, and leave their rotting corpses stinking on the ground without giving a single reason why.

Not even my level 20 warrior will be immune to the Vampire in the Administration Building.  All I can do is prepare my party as best as I can, equipping them for battle with the appropriate armor and spells.  Unfortunately, I am hindered somewhat in my efforts by the fact that the warrior is waiting for a Mail-Order Sword.  The department sent out requests to other Warriors throughout the country, asking them to fashion a sword for me.  Depending on how they view my warrior, I will end up with a sword ranging in quality from Excalibur, mythical sword of Arthur, to a broken plastic light saber.  I am hoping other warriors will be impressed by the level 20.  I fear I will need a strong sword to defeat the Vampire.

In any case, stay tuned over the next 12 months to hear more about my party of Heroes and their preparation and participation in the Epoch Battle.

Mountains, here we come!

Monday, May 28, 2012


The week after Jonathan's birthday, I was away at a conference in the south of France.  The setting was spectacular:

The above photo was taken about a 40 minute walk from the conference center.  I didn't take the picture, because I didn't bring a camera.  I tried to take a picture using my tablet, but it didn't work.  So I stole these off the internet instead.

You see why I haven't been blogging?

(To be fair, the conference center itself was actually not so spectacular.  Mid-sized auditorium, large window looking out into a lot of trees.  But the view from 40 minutes away was spectacular.)

On turning eight

Jonathan turned eight this month.  For his birthday party, he invited friends to play laser tag and mini-golf at a local establishment.  He invited four boys and four girls, including two brothers and three sisters (triplets), ranging from age seven to age nine.  

We forgot to bring a camera.  Oops.  So no pictures of the party this year.  (It was pretty dark in there anyway -- probably they wouldn't have turned out so well.)

The kids did have a fun time, even in spite of the lack of picture taking.

Just days later, we received our local city summer recreation guide, and there was Jonathan, smiling on the middle of the front cover.  You can see him here:

So even though we forget to take pictures, at least someone is taking them.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stuff that's been happening

I already told you about how we made it through graduation at my university.  That was an event.  I came totally prepared this year, with pen and paper and stuff to think about.  By the end of Thursday's ceremony, equipped only with pen, paper, and time, I had discovered a new result.  By the end of Friday's ceremony, I had disproved Thursday's result.  Good times.

Our tulips bloomed.  Nearly two years ago, I planted 260 of them -- remember?  For my birthday?  This year I think 500 tulips bloomed.  That is, they seem more densely packed -- already.  Every three years, I read once, you are supposed to dig up your bulbs in the fall and separate them and thin and re-plant.  It hasn't been three years yet.  Not until fall 2013.  We'll probably be in a different locale in fall 2013, because I am planning a sabbatical.  So my tulips will just have to wait.  Poor things.

The fruit trees also bloomed, all except the Bramley apple, which was finally large enough to grow fruit this year.  Only it didn't bloom at all.  So no Bramley apples for us.  This is a major disappointment to Tim, who has been anticipating Bramley apples for the last three years.  Maybe next year.  Except we won't be around in fall 2013.  Maybe the year after.

With spring comes yard work.  Yard work is still fun in the spring.  Jonathan has his own garden and has been enjoying yard work this year.  He has planted a circle of large rocks, and lots of mud.  No plants, but lots of mud and rocks.

For the boy, it is the end of third grade.  I remember third grade.  I played jump rope and went to speech therapy, in which a speech therapist explained that the "s" sound should be made with your tongue behind your teeth, and not on top of them.  I remember being bewildered that no one had bothered to tell me this before.  Once the speech therapist pointed this out, I didn't have any trouble with the "s" sound again, that I remember.  But I still got to be excused once a week during singing time for my private speech therapy sessions.  This is also where I learned the difference between an oven and a stove.  The oven, it turns out, sits inside of the stove.

I also remember having my first crush in third grade, on a boy named Nick.  Two girls in Jonathan's class have professed their secret love for Jonathan.  He seems to take it pretty well -- happy to remain friends with the offenders without appearing to make a big deal about it.  There are only five boys out of 26 kids in Jonathan's class.  Luckily, Jonathan seems to be friends with both girls and boys in third grade.

This morning, Jonathan found a snail in our garden, named it "Snail-y", and carried it all the way to school, talking to it and declaring it was his new pet.  He left it in a pile of leaves just inside the school grounds.  Moving snails to someone else's garden seems like a humane way to dispose of them.  Tomorrow, we will see if he would like to have a few aphids as pets.

Last story.  On Saturday, I gave Jonathan a haircut.  He collected a lock of cut hair and divided it into little paper pouches he had made, along with bits of shredded tulip petals, grass clippings, and cat nip leaves (the stuff grows rampant in our back yard).  He declared the mixture was his poison.  And if you would like, you can buy a paper pouch of the stuff from him.  Price lists are posted on his door.

The little guy still makes me laugh.

Happy May.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Classes ended.  I wrote finals.  Proof read them.  Proctored them.  Graded them.  Submitted grades.  And attended graduation, Thursday and Friday.

It's the end of my fourth academic year at G.O.D. University.  Three of the students graduating in my department were students who took that first year class with me back in 2008.  *Sniff*.  They get so big in such a short amount of time.

I knew people at the department reception -- graduating people this year.  I smiled and shook hands and congratulated, met parents and in-laws.

One of my students plays the carillon.  After the reception, he invited me and a few other professors to climb the bell tower with him, where he played a few pieces for us on the bells that ring out over the entire city.  The top of the bell tower gives the best view of campus.  Who knew?  You need a special key to get in.  I wonder if I'll ever make it back, now that my student has graduated?

I was supposed to finish a project.  One small key piece was missing, and I was going to think about it during those boring graduation talks.  And I did think about it, and I ran into trouble.  So then I climbed a bell tower, and picked up Jonathan, and did a lot of yard work, and read a long novel, and finished an epoch video game (die, Orphan).  And I never did get that project finished.  My collaborator is seven hours ahead, which means he'll be waking up to Monday in a couple of hours, wondering what happened to me.

What did happen to me?

Do you think in heaven we will get to play epoch video games all weekend long, without guilt?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Right and wrong

Jonathan has learned a song in church with a line that goes, "There's a right and a wrong to every question."

This morning, after he sang the line, I argued that in fact, there is no right or wrong to most questions.  

Most questions?  Jonathan was skeptical.  Maybe some questions.  But most?

How would you determine whether there is a right or wrong to most questions?  We started making up questions.

*What should I wear today?

*What do you want for breakfast?

Then we started keeping track of the questions that naturally came up in conversation.

*Will you please clear your dishes?  (There was a right answer to that question.)

*Did you finish?




*Were you going to put that away?

After I got to work, I was able to spend a huge chunk of the day dealing with grading, or rather, assigning grades.  Right or wrong to every question?  No.

*Is the common grading scale fair?

*Is that cutoff too strict?

*Can I give more A's without giving more C's?

*What should the average GPA our low level service classes be?

This evening, I got to grade my students' finals.  There was a right to every question, but fewer wrongs.  More questions were of the form:

*How much partial credit is this worth?

I stand by my original statement.  Most questions have no right and wrong.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Day off

Classes ended at G.O.D. University on Wednesday.  And this week happens to be Jonathan's spring break.  So I took the day off yesterday and we drove to Salt Lake City to see the new natural history museum there.  It was a very nice museum, and I do recommend it.

However, Thursday mornings aren't really as good a time for a visit as you might think.  You do miss the weekend crowds, but you will be smack in the middle of the field trip crowds.  When we arrived, the parking lot was completely full, and three large yellow bus-loads of elementary school children were just entering the building.

Then once inside, the museum was an ocean of children, all about Jonathan's height and noise-level.  In our party, there were two adults (me and Tim), two seniors (Grandma and Grandpa), and one child, and the school groups swirled and spiraled around us, pushing forward and sucking back and making little eddies around the tall people.  I was sure that our short one would be swept away into the crowds and disappear forever with some field trip group from Tooele.  Luckily, he did not.  But purely in terms of mental stimulation, it was somewhat more difficult to appreciate the museum with the noise and swirling foam of children.

Although I did like the dinosaur bones, most discovered "nearby".

And the Great Salt Lake exhibit, with the squishy floor and live brine shrimp.

And the wall of giant horned dinosaur heads.

And the sandstorm-under-glass.

I do recommend the new museum.  It was very nice.

The view from the museum, all the way across the valley, was spectacular.  When we arrived, dark storm clouds hovered far away at the edge of the distant mountains.  They moved closer and closer through the morning, until we left in heavy rain.  We ran through the rain to the car, then drove to the other side of the university campus to eat at the Xi restaurant, Tim's favorite.  We put too much money in the parking meter.  I suggested a walk through campus?  Vetoed by the rain.  We went back to Grandma and Grandpa's house instead, and I read a book while the rain turned to snow.

Today I've been back at home, writing and cleaning and preparing for finals.  Days off are good things.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dying batteries

The battery in one of our smoke alarms has been dying.  We knew the battery was dying, because the alarm was sending out chirping noises. In fact, it was chirping sporadically for days before we were able to identify the alarm with the dying battery.  It would chirp a few times in a row, and we'd go off on a quest to the basement to find it, and then it would stop chirping for the rest of the night.

Eventually we did find the alarm with the dying battery, and we replaced the battery and hung it back on the wall to do its smoke alarm thing.  But within a few days, it was chirping again.  Wrong battery.

I am a smoke alarm with a dying battery.

I was in Paris just a couple of weeks ago, attending an amazing conference, having the honor of speaking to a crowd of people, many of them well known internationally in my research area.  I returned home, jet lagged, to find myself a week behind in my grading, a week behind in my class preparation, a week behind in my administrative duties, a week behind in my family life, having missed a week of family work and family weekly ups and downs, a week behind in laundry and yard work.  Behind.  And there was no extra week of spare time in which to catch up.  So I crawled to bed exhausted, and woke myself up in a panic early in the mornings, to write research papers.  And in late night frustration, I turned back to editing my novel.  Ha!  That will show them!  And weekend video games.  New battery?


Our last day of classes is Wednesday.  That means I only need to prepare two more lectures.  I only need to grade 21 more assignments.  I have to finalize an exam for 650 and two exams for seven.  And organize lunch for 20.  And find a local hotel for the conference I'm organizing....  I can't even keep in my head all of the things I need to do this week.

Chirp chirp.

But I'm taking Thursday off, because this week is Jonathan's spring break.

And it one month, I am speaking at one more important conference, to honor my graduate advisor on his 60th birthday.  Many of the people who were in Paris will also be honoring my advisor, and so I need to speak about something new.  The something new I have in mind is a project I have been working on with a colleague in England, but that we haven't quite finished.  If I can get a good draft of a paper written within the next two weeks, I can comfortably speak about that project and impress my colleagues.  Otherwise....  Trouble.

Chirp chirp chirp.

Oh, and I need to pull together my file for promotion and tenure.  And a major grant application.


I need more video games.

In the book I read on the plane, flying through my sleeping time, the author reminded the world that it is boring to talk about how busy you are.  Because -- guess what -- the whole world is busy!  We are all busy, and your particular flavor of business is not particularly interesting.

I keep thinking about that, writing this post, and I agree.  My flavor of business is boring.  I'm bored myself, writing it, or I would be, if my heart would stop making that annoying chirping noise.  I have decided that I should probably delete the middle of this post and talk more about smoke alarms, and pull the whole analogy thing together that I started.

But I can't do it.  I can't delete the middle.  If I do, how will I remember all the things I'm supposed to accomplish this week?

Happy Spring Break to you, too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fruit flies!

Aack!  We have a fruit fly infestation!  Here, inside our house.  And I don't know why, and it is driving me crazy.

When I was in high school, I grew fruit flies in blue oatmeal in test tubes, and I learned important things about fruit flies.  Like they can have red or black eyes, and sometimes wrinkled wings, and they multiply exponentially.  And most importantly, that they eat blue oatmeal.

I swear there is no blue oatmeal anywhere in my house.  So where are the flies coming from?  What are they eating?  We have taken out the compost, cleaned the sink and double cleaned the sink.  There is no fruit outside of our refrigerator.  And yet I have smashed about a bazillion fruit flies this evening.  And then a bazillion more have come to take their place.

I can't take it anymore.  I am throwing out all the houseplants.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Packing for Paris in Spring

I am at a conference in Paris this week. (I know, hard life.)

This trip, I had a more difficult time than usual time figuring out what to pack.  Because, you know, I would be in Paris.  In the spring.  And in Paris, I don't want to look like a stupid American.  I want to blend in, like the natives.  Camouflaged.

But what do Parisians wear in Paris in the spring?  To conferences?

Tailored trousers, shimmery button up shirts.  A cashmere sweater if it gets chilly.  Black leather boots.  A fine black handbag.  Unique accessories.

What am I going to do?  I don't have anything like that in my closet!


In the end, I packed myself a quality pair of jeans and a few cotton button up shirts.  Boring but comfortable shoes.  Back pack instead of handbag.  Reliable watch and prescription glasses instead of unique accessories.  A couple of pony tail holders.  It didn't even occur to me that I might want a little makeup.

I shouldn't have been concerned.  I'm at an academic conference.  When I showed up and looked around the room, I realized that everyone was dressed just like this:

Just like me.


By the way, that guy in the cotton button up shirt and jeans?  There at the board he is claiming something very remarkable and even historic.  I will not say what it is, nor allow my colleagues to put technical, google-able words in the comments, because this is a personal blog and I don't want my colleagues all over it -- at least not more than those who have already found it.  (I'm happy to have you here, btw.)

But anyway, very important result announced at this conference.

And, um, yeah.  This afternoon?  I gave the talk just before his.

Since I couldn't compete with that result, I should have at least tried to wear a more fashionable outfit.  Seriously.  This is Paris.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


A couple of people have asked how the meeting with the dean went.  It was ok.  He met with all the women faculty in the college.  We fit into a pretty small meeting room.  I went in fully intending to be supportive but to try to avoid saying anything I would regret later.  And I did pretty well for a while, until my impassioned plea for quality child care took me a little over the top, and I had to stop talking before I started crying.

Come on, stupid, the dean can't do anything about child care.

Dude.  I'm such a calm, confident professional woman, eh?

Want to hear other examples of my calm, confident professionalism?

I promised a colleague I would evaluate her teaching, and completely forgot to show up to her class.  I handed back midterms, then got back to my office and realized I never recorded the scores.

And most recently, I offended a good friend.

Tim claims you can tell when I have a migraine coming on just by the tone of my blog posts.  Happy-go-lucky in between migraines.  Gloomy just before.  (No writing during migraine, thanks.)

But this seems like more than just a migraine.  This is chronic stupidity.

I will let you know.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Braces off!

Jonathan got his braces off yesterday.  

I think the new face looks kind of scary.  What do you think?

Monday, March 12, 2012

In support of sex ed

My state legislature just passed a law severely restricting sex education.  If we don't hear about sex, the thinking must go, it won't happen.  At least, teenagers won't do it.

Others have argued about the truth of that statement elsewhere, and I don't want to go there for this post.  For the point of this post, let's assume it is true.  If we don't tell teenagers what sex is, then they won't have sex while teenagers.  No more unwed mothers.  No more abortion clinics -- or at least, no teens in there. That's great!

The thing about sex, though, is that it's actually a pretty natural, normal thing.  Eventually, these teenagers are going to grow up, and be in healthy, loving relationships, and happily married, and they're going to want to have sex.  And then what?  Well, sex is this scary thing that we don't talk about.  So now the healthy adults don't know what they're doing or what to expect, or even that there are options for birth control besides abstinence and abortion.  Where do they go now to learn these things?  How can we teach them?  How can we let them know that sex is a healthy part of a normal relationship?  How do we teach our daughters to stand up for their sexual well-being if we are afraid to use the word sex in front of them?  We missed our chance.

So let me be honest.  As a teenager, I hated health class, and sex ed, and I really didn't want to be there.  On the other hand, the intention wasn't really to teach the sixteen year old me frozen in time.  The point of health class was to help me and the rest of these teenagers to develop habits and learn facts that they would need into adulthood.

For example, most of us had parents who took care of our cooking, and yet we all had to learn about nutrition.  Why?  Because someday in the near future we would all be adults, making choices about what we would eat that would affect our overall health and well being.  Daily.  And all those parents who didn't want their kids messing up their kitchen when they were teenagers?  Tough.  They didn't let their kids opt out of the nutrition week.  Because nutrition is about the adult the teenager will become.

So back to sex.  Eventually teenagers will be adults, and living on their own, and they'll need to make their own choices on food AND sex.  And the more education we can give them now, the better those choices will be.  The more fear and secrecy we build around this horror called sex, the more ashamed they will be to learn about it, and the more their relationships will suffer.  Not just their teenage relationships.  Also their healthy, normal adult relationships.

Dear state legislators, I don't mean to offend you, but sex is totally normal and natural.  In fact, even your parents had sex.  At least your biological ones did.  And those teenagers?   Knowing a little about sex, even including options for contraception and not just abstinence, can really improve their future spectacular marriages -- the ones that I know you are aiming for when you pass this law in the first place.

If we don't teach our kids about sex in high school, we are missing an important chance.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Visiting Teaching

I went over to Norma's house this afternoon.  Norma, who is now 83, has been retired from her job as a professor for many years.  My next door neighbor Cassia came, too.  Cassia retired recently from a teaching job, and her husband retired within the last couple of weeks from his university job.  

Norma and Cassia and I, we laughed a lot, and read over the new instructions for visiting teaching that were just released in the most recent church magazine.  We then scratched our heads and agreed we didn't know where the changes were.  It has always been a program we had to adapt to our own needs and the needs of our neighbors.  It's always been more about helping people than checking dates off a chart.  Hasn't it?  Then what are the changes?

And then Norma and Cassia began reminiscing.  They've been neighbors for decades, and visiting teachers to one another many times in those years.  Cassia recounted how impressed she was the very first day she attended church in this neighborhood, and Norma was teaching, and keeping the class on its toes.  She laughed at the way Norma had teased her decades ago when she dropped her husband off at the university without giving him a kiss goodbye.  

Norma reminded her, do you remember the fun we used to have when I was your visiting teacher with Gail?  And they laughed, and then told me that Gail had died.  And then the conversation turned sober, and Cassia asked, do you remember when I had cancer?  And she told the story of how she had survived.  But Gail had not.  And she said she felt badly for years that she had survived and Gail had not.  

And Norma told how when she had her own cancer, in her late 60s, how she had asked God if He would please let her live to be 70.  And she lived.  And then she told God she was very grateful, but if it be His will, could she please live to be 75?  And she lived.  And then she thanked God, and told him she wouldn't ask for anything more.  But could she please NOT live to be 90?  

And me, I sat back and watched these women laugh, and felt ... an ache.  I was watching something beautiful, but outside.  I was born too late.  Too young.  Moved too recently.  Here these two amazing women had been such friends for so long, and had heaped so much of life upon themselves.  Two impressive careers, illnesses, friendships, neighbors, parents, caring.  What became of the woman who had lived on the corner?  She moved to Arizona years ago.  Do you remember?  Yes, but I was too busy then, with baby and full time job and dying brother.  Did you ever meet my grandmother when she lived with me?  The woman up the street helped me care for my mother.  And as they laughed and reminisced about all the people they had cared for, and the ones who had cared for them, they knew that visiting teaching had been good to them, through the years.  

Someday, when I am 83, with life heaped upon me, will I laugh with my neighbor, and say, did you remember Norma?  Who lived in so and so's house just around the corner?  She showed me how to do visiting teaching. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I'm afraid of a lot of things.

In two days, I'm meeting with the dean, about women's issues, and that scares me.  Sometimes I am afraid of having a job at Good Old Dude's University.  I am a feminist, meaning I believe women and men should receive equal opportunities, and I believe they can perform equally well with said opportunities.  I have never been silent on these beliefs.  And I am also a religious person, although my personal spiritual experiences have led me in different directions than, say, the dean.  Or at least, I presume that to be the case.  Which brings us back to where we started.  I'm afraid of meeting with the dean.

I like my job.  Is it dishonest to want to keep it, and yet still be a feminist?  Is it stupid to hang on?  Should I be applying for other jobs while I am still pre-tenure, and therefore easier to hire elsewhere?  


But I'm very afraid of the idea of moving an entire family.  

That is what the only other woman in my department with family reminded me.  She is a postdoc, and she doesn't think her family has another short-term move in them, in order for her to take another postdoc position elsewhere in two years.  Which probably means in her case that she won't end up with a research job.  And then she'll end up spectacularly happy, because studies have been done, and people who end up in the lower-paid and less-prestigious teaching jobs end up happier than the mean and nasty researchers who claw tooth and nail over each others' sad carcasses to win the last measly crumbs of grant money.  

Ha ha.  It's not really that bad, or I wouldn't like my job.

I'm afraid of writing my next grant proposal, because it has to be a big one.  And if I get the grant?  I will have to run summer programs or organize conferences or something else Big, to match the big proposal, and I'm scared of the very idea.  

I'm also afraid of stuff in my calendar between the dean's meeting and the grant proposal due date, like travel at the end of March to speak at a conference on a topic I haven't yet chosen.  And hosting visitors for a few weeks in a row.  And I'm afraid that I won't get anything done, and yet my task list is deep and wide and stinky.  

I'm so scared I'm going to cry.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Single parent

Tim was out of town last week.  When he travels, I think about how life would be different if something were to happen to Tim and I were single.

When I was very young, my father was in a serious bicycle accident, and ended up in the hospital with a severe head injury.  I only have vague memories of the event.  It was summer, and I think I was about five years old.  It happened in the evening.  Dad was expected home and didn't come.  My mother must have been frantic with worry, but I don't remember that.  I remember hearing that they had found a man unconscious after a bicycle accident, and it might be my dad.  I remember my just-older brother identifying the bicycle.

In the ensuing days, I remember being shuffled from house to house around the neighborhood as our church members took turns caring for us, so that my mom could be with my dad in the hospital.  In retrospect, those church members showed some very serious Christian charity to our family.  If I was five, then my older brother was six, and I had three younger siblings.  I may have been only four.  In any case, there were somewhere between four and six of us, very young children.  We were taken into neighbors homes and cared for.  I liked seeing other people's homes.  I didn't understand the seriousness of the situation.

My mother, however, must have been frantic with worry.  There was a very real possibility that my father wouldn't survive the accident.  There was also a possibility that he would come through it disabled, or with a completely different personality.  Head injuries can do that.  My mother would have had to care for all of us children alone.  She was well educated, with a master's degree in social work, and she had been employed for several years before deciding to have all those children at once.  But if I was five, then she hadn't been employed outside the home for over six years.  Her children were very young and needed constant care.  It would have been very difficult for her to find a job, and then put us all into daycare or hire a nanny.  Even if she had been more recently employed, a master's degree in social work didn't pay that well.  It would have been very hard for her to draw the kind of salary that could adequately support her large family.

My mom's story had a happy ending.  My father completely recovered.  She went back to caring for children full-time (essentially running her own private daycare out of our home, with just my siblings enrolled).

When Tim goes away, I reconsider my own situation.  What if something were to happen to him?

Unlike my mom, I am currently employed, and I have a great job.  And our family is tiny.  We would be ok, financially. There would be a lot of things that would be hard.  It would be incredibly hard to always be the responsible parent, 24/7.  Tim and I take turns now picking up from school, cooking dinner, cleaning dishes, folding laundry.  When Tim goes away from a week, it gets tiring taking over all these chores on my own.  But it's not a big deal when I know it's only for a short time.  However, it would be exhausting to be responsible for all these things day after day, week after week, year after year, with no end in sight.  And in spite of our egalitarian marriage, there is some division of labor.  I would have to learn again to do the tasks that Tim has taken care of for both of us for many years.  And with Jonathan's school schedule, I would have to work evenings, every evening, whereas now I can take many evenings off.  It would be exhausting.

And then I think about the single moms I have known over the years, especially those whose kids were my friends growing up, and my heart goes out to these women.  I had no idea how hard it was.  But they did a really great job.  At least, their kids turned out spectacularly.  It can be done.

That brings me so much relief.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Real-life things I wish my students would understand

1.  Jobs are competitive.  They do not land in your lap.  You have to go out and find what it takes to get the job that you want, long before you start to apply for the job that you want.  Then in the ensuing months or years, you have to make the effort to fulfill the requirements.  The other people who are applying for that job?  They figured this out two years ago.  (But yeah, I'll write you a letter of reference anyway.)

Our grad students, even our good ones, seem to have no clue as to the nature of the profession they are planning to join, and its weird mating rituals (i.e. job application processes).  I think I'd better start running some workshops, ASAP.  

Here are a couple of things for my undergraduates, along the same lines:

2.  Even though the world is a little scary, there are amazing things to do outside of your comfort zones.  And people will pay you to do those amazing things, too.  (Why is no one applying for an REU or internship?)

3.  God probably doesn't want you to sacrifice your talents on the altar of religion.  God probably gave you those talents for a reason, and wants you to actually develop them in order to make the world a better place, and to make your life a better place.  (That one for my women, especially.)

I'm only speculating on #3.  But in a religious university, you have to wonder.  Our best students aren't even trying to reach their full potential.  Especially our top women.  Why not?  They won't even apply.  What is going on?  We need them to be more, to reach higher.  We need them.  I need them.  I don't want to be the lone female in my research group for the next 35 years until I retire.  Step up, ladies.  

And then for those that do apply, and head off away from sheltered G.O.D. University into the wide world, more advice:  

4.  When you do go out and find amazing things in the world, and that helps you suddenly see all the warts on those things you left behind, remember that unfortunately there are warts in lots of places.  This doesn't mean that the warty things should be chucked completely.  It does mean that you will have to revise your opinions, and do some thinking.  But perhaps it's a good idea to do that thinking privately.  Because if you don't flame all the bridges behind you as you go, you may actually be able to use those fancy new skills you're developing to help improve things back where you've been.  (Here I am thinking of angry religion exit stories posted regularly on Facebook.)


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Some stuff I should do:

  1. Write papers.  Three work papers are in limbo, waiting for me to bring them to life.  The research is all done.  It's all there.  Somehow I just have to write....
  2. Read papers.  I have two student meetings tomorrow, and a thesis defense in a few days.  And I need to look at all of their writings and give them useful feedback before they go off into the wide world.
  3. Review papers.  Because people want to know whether they should publish or extend funding or give job to said paper writer. 
  4. Prepare lecture.  I'm speaking in our seminar tomorrow on stuff I haven't read for a while.
  5. Grade.  Because grading never goes away.  
  6. Learn French.  That's the first item that's only marginally work related.  I have a couple upcoming work trips to French speaking locales, and I grow nervous that I will not be able to communicate.  
  7. Exercise.  30 to 60 minutes per day.  
  8. Eat vegetables.  
Some stuff I'd rather do:
  1. Read online news.
  2. Skim recent events on facebook.
  3. Angry birds.
  4. Eat candy from the Valentine's day stash. Not until tomorrow.  
*Sigh*.  Back to work.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ten times

Jonathan:  I can multiply ten times anything.

Me:  Oh yeah?  What's ten times Bunny?

Jonathan:  (Blinks.)  Bunny Zero.

Me:  I think you say, Bunny-Oh.  What's ten times finger?

Jonathan:  Finger-Oh.

Me:  What's one hundred times finger?

Jonathan:  Finger-Oh-Oh.

Me:  You say Finger-Ooh.  What's ten times "you're my ear"?

Jonathan:  You're my ear oh.

Me:  Oh thank you.  What's one hundred times "I can't ear"?

Jonathan:  (Grins.)  I can't ear you.

(We continue for a while.)

Me:  What's ten times ten?

Jonathan:  (Slight pause.)  One hundred.

Me:  No.  It's ten-oh.

Me:  What's ten times one hundred?

Jonathan:  (Smiling.)  One hundred-oh.

Me:  No.  It's ten-ooh.

(We both laugh our heads off.)


Tim:  It's not actually that funny.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Life without glasses

Jonathan is near sighted.   We've known that since last summer, but I've been dragging my feet on taking him into the eye doctor, because I've read that kids who wear glasses end up with much worse vision than kids who don't -- and that matches my own experience.  Anyway, we've been monitoring Jonathan, making sure his eyesight isn't getting in the way of school work or activities, checking that he can still see the board, stuff like that.  At the beginning of this month, his English teacher rotated the room around so that he was at the back of the class, and he reported that he couldn't see assignment instructions anymore -- he had to wait for the teacher to read them, then quickly write down what he heard.

Anyway, so much for eyesight not getting in the way of school work.  We contacted the teacher and requested that she move him up a couple of rows, if possible, and she was happy to do so within the day.  

Then Thursday, I finally took Jonathan into an eye doctor, who officially diagnosed Jonathan as being near sighted (myopic).  His vision is fine otherwise.  The eye doctor then explained our options.  He confirmed what I had understood: for kids who are myopic, wearing glasses will accelerate the myopia.  That is, if Jonathan gets glasses and wears them, his vision will just get worse and worse, faster.  However, if he doesn't get glasses, his vision will still probably get worse and worse, just not as fast.  Contacts, on the other hand, have been shown to slow myopia, but who is going to suggest contacts for a seven year old?  

In the end, the eye doctor recommended managing Jonathan's vision the way we have been:  no intervention as long as it isn't affecting his schoolwork.  Now that his eyesight may be affecting school, the doctor suggests  either continuing to do what we've done (i.e. no intervention, except asking the teacher to please move him up a row when possible), or possibly getting a pair of glasses for Jonathan to wear only when he needs them.  Jonathan should never wear them at home, for example.  There's nothing good enough on TV to require glasses, he said.  

Anyway, that's where we stand with Jonathan and his eyesight.  But that's not really where I wanted to go with this post.  Basically, the last few paragraphs are a long introduction, setting the background for the real reason for this post, which is my amazing discovery.  Within the last 24 hours, I have discovered a fool-proof way to look amazing every time you walk past a mirror.  I have!  Read on.

Yesterday, I was exercising in my basement, dancing in front of the TV.   As the rim of my glasses started slipping off my nose, I recalled what the eye doctor had said:  "There's nothing good enough on TV to require glasses."  So I took mine off.  I couldn't really see the dancing game so well after that -- the arrows became floating blobs on the screen.  But I could make them out well enough to continue.  And actually, it was pretty fun seeing the world in blob form.  Me, I've been wearing glasses religiously since I was about seven, and my myopia is four or five times worse than Jonathan's by now.  But dancing in the basement, I could function -- no problem -- without them.

So I kept them off.  All day yesterday I wandered around home without glasses, seeing the world in fuzzy colors rather than the sharpness of detail.  You don't need glasses to fold laundry, or make up a batch of granola, or even to read a book in the afternoon.  Who knew?

And here was the best part.  Every time I walked by a mirror without my glasses on, I could see that the woman who was my reflection had flawless skin.  Without glasses, I couldn't see a single mole or pimple on my face, much less small wrinkles or wide pores. Instead, I saw just these big blurry dark eyes looking out at me from my glowing skin.  And my hair!  My hair was smooth -- I literally couldn't see a single strand out of place.  In its new fuzziness, it looked full of health and volume.  And best of all, while standing between the mirror and the window with my glasses off, I looked really slim.  No more belly bulge for me.  Actually, if everyone had -5 vision in both eyes, I could totally be a model.  A super model.  I looked that good.  

Today?  I kept the glasses off in the morning, but I needed them in church to read the music while I played the piano.  And now, I can't see my computer screen without them, so they're still on.  However, I'm thinking I may take them off again when I'm done here, and go and gaze at my beauty.  


Thursday, January 26, 2012


On light.

Lately, it seems that mornings just get darker and darker.  After the winter solstice, we were supposed to be having longer and longer days, right?  Which should mean earlier sunrises, right?  


Tired of the alarm clock going off in the dark, I finally looked it up.  Although the length of time between sunrise and sunset has increased 32 minutes since January 1st, this morning the sun rose only seven minutes earlier than it did on January 1st, at 7:42am, in my city.  The sun set, on the other hand, a full 25 minutes later.  So although our days are getting longer, it's happening mostly in the evening.  

Which makes it harder and harder to wake up.  There are days I wish that artificial light had never been invented/discovered/whatever.  

But then I realize it would be difficult to read my computer screen if it were not back-lit.  

On colds and haircuts.

Tim's man cold is mostly gone, but it lingered for a long time.  Poor Tim.

Very recently he cut his hair again and donated it to charity.  So he no longer looks like a pirate. 

I like the long-hair Tim and the short-hair Tim.  He is a handsome guy.  I just don't like mustached Tim.  

And Jonathan got a haircut, too.  From me.  About a week ago.  It looks good.  I can't believe none of you readers have noticed.

On stuff to do.

I have lots of it.  

Among other things, I've been writing letters of recommendation, which is an indication of seniority.  Only people who have been around a while are asked to write letters.  Time to move?

First there were the job application letters, then the grad school application letters, then the summer program application letters, then more job application letters, and now more grad school application letters.  I am getting faster at writing letters.  But you know what slows me down every time?  Requests by various programs for me to assign some sort of a numerical value to the applicant.  For example, is their "initiative" in the top 2%?  Top 5%?  Top 25%?  And how many students are in the pool of comparison?  And what others are in this pool?  And has the pool water been chlorinated?  Is a life guard on duty?  

How do you rank "initiative" amongst your acquaintances?  I think, well, the person turned in all their homework, so they must be chock full of initiative....  But where does that put them in a ranking with the rest of the students who turned in all their homework?  I still can't turn that into a number.  And then I start to wonder, why are they even asking me to turn "initiative" into a number?  Are they trying to come up with some fake cutoff they can use to avoid reading all the letters they specifically requested?  I spent the time writing the stupid letter.  They'd better read every word.  


I hate admissions committees.  Especially the fake ones I have invented in my head.  

(Sometimes I just leave those number questions blank.  What do you think happens to my letter then?)