Sunday, August 31, 2014

In the week

It has been an eventful week.

We bought a car. Not just any car. We bought an electric car, a Nissan Leaf. So far, it looks like it will run about 90 miles on a charge. No more belts or oil changes or gas expenses. And it's a nice car. We have driven it once. And we are happy.

The goldfish died. Mr Fish, the goldfish Jonathan won on his 9th birthday, did not make it to Jonathan's 10th birthday. But when we got back from Australia, we set up the tank and bought a new goldfish from the big box pet retailer and named it Comet. Within a week, Comet's scales were infected with parasite, probably from the pet store. In spite of all our efforts, well informed by Google, Comet died last week. There were tears. And we were sad.

I won an award from Good Old Dude's University, which included a bit of extra salary money and some money for my research. And I was happy.

We picked the nectarines, because Tim waded out through the overgrown raspberry bushes and found that two branches on the nectarine tree were broken, laden too heavily with fruit. And we were sad.

I started volunteering at Jonathan's school. I will be teaching an honors math class to nearly 20 kids two afternoons during the week, 30 minutes each session. That will be interesting. The kids are wild and crazy and noisy and distracted and, apparently, actual kids. Not fake ones. We started Thursday's lesson with some multiplication problems, and they all complained that it was too easy -- they already knew how to do this. So I asked them to do the problem with letters representing numbers -- a bit of pre-algebra. And no one could do it. Mass confusion. I think we are all going to learn a lot this semester, but especially me. And we will all be happy. I hope.

Last night I dreamed that someone spoke my name, my full name, in a very disappointed voice. So disappointed. The voice woke me up, and I felt like such a disappointment. It was heart breaking. I don't know if I felt that way because I missed a work meeting to buy the car, or because the fish died, or due to an upcoming mid-life crisis, or the fact that I only got two stars on my Clash of Clans battle for the team right before bed. But I was such a disappointment. And I still feel sad.

Classes start Tuesday at G.O.D. University. My calendar, which was so free and empty through seven months' sabbatical 2014, is now nearly colored solid with orange work meetings and classes and blue seminars and green appointments. And I've been trying to prepare all week, to get ahead! If I could only finish two articles and three weeks of course prep, I would be happy.

And that was the week.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Great Salt Lake

When you know you are living in Australia, say, for exactly seven months, you think of all the things you would like to do in Australia, and plan various trips carefully over the school holidays, and you see a lot of great things.

When you are living in the Mountain West of the United States, say, for an indefinite amount of time, you think of the occasional thing you would like to do, but then you file it away somewhere in the back of your mind and you don't do it.  Because you will be living in the mountain west for an indefinite amount of time, so why not do it later?

Spending seven months seeing interesting things around Melbourne has inspired me.  I hereby resolve to see something new and interesting in the great Mountain West of the United States every month of the year until I have seen everything I want to see, or I get tired of this exercise and quit without saying anything more about it. 

So without further ado, the first of the Interesting Things in the Mountain West that our family has now seen and done is a swim in the Great Salt Lake.

As a teenager living in Utah, I found that one of the most interesting places to take visitors was Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake.  At Antelope Island, you could see spectacular views of the water, hike around the rocks, and wander down the beach to the salt water and swim!  The water was a little gross, with brine shrimp and brine flies near the shore, but the experience was truly memorable and unique. People loved it. 

And now, I live in the mountain west, a little further away from Antelope Island, but until last week, I hadn't even taken my own son out to the island to swim in the Great Salt Lake.  So we put it in the calendar, and went.

In case you are planning your own trip to the Great Salt Lake, Reader, I have a couple of suggestions.  First, don't go in May or June.  Apparently, the biting gnats hatch during those months, and swarms of biting flying insects can make the experience somewhat less pleasant.  We didn't go in May or June.  We went in August, and there were no biting gnats.  I am not saying that our visit was free of swarms of flying insects -- more on that later -- but I think there were fewer bites than there might have been in June. 

Second suggestion: check the water level.  In the 1980s, the water was so high that you couldn't actually get to Antelope Island except by boat. Otherwise there is a causeway. Last Sunday, as we drove along the causeway, dry salt desert extending to either side, I asked Tim if the lake wasn't supposed to be higher? We had driven a couple of miles before we even saw water.  And the boat harbor, where there used to be sailboats moored, was completely empty.  It was not until we returned home that I found out that the lake is actually six feet lower than average this year, due to severe drought conditions in the summers of 2012 and 2013.

Stuff is different when the water is low.  For example, you have to walk a long long way to actually get to the water.
See that green line way out in the picture where the bushes end?  The water used to come up to there.  We had to walk and walk and walk past that to get to the lake.

And then, near the lake, the sand was covered with flies.  Brine flies.  Harmless, but really really gross when they swarm. 

In the photo, the dark gray at the edge of the water is one massive swarm of flies, about six feet wide.  I just read all about brine flies and their life cycle at, thinking that I might add a little something educational to this blog post, but just reading about the billions of brine flies swarming the lake creeped me out, so I'm not even going to summarize here.  Go follow that link and learn about them on your own. I'll just say that when we left our shoes and bag on the lake shore, and went out to the water, and then came back, the bag and shoes were covered, and completely black with flies.  Gross gross gross! 

Anyway, the flies mostly live by the shore.  If you step over them into the water, they swarm around you in some confusion, but then go away and leave you alone.  And then you can enjoy the warm water.

The water was exceptionally warm.  Definitely in the high 90s (Fahrenheit) at least.  Bathtub warm.  To me, the unusual warmth of the water was not a feature, but added to the creepy feeling I already had from wading through a beach-sized swarm of flies.  But if you overcame that creepy feeling, and lay down in the water, you would float.

The Great Salt Lake is so salty that you cannot sink.  Your body pops up like a cork.  Your feet and hands naturally float out of the water, as does your head.  No reason to take your hat off -- it won't get wet unless you want it to. 

Tim floating with hat and sunglasses.
As we floated in the water, we occasionally drifted into slightly cooler currents, and then back to warm, and then back to cooler.  I don't know why the water was cooler in some places.  Decomposing bacteria made it warmer?  Less salty recent runoff floated above (below?) the denser salt water?  I am sure there is a very good scientific reason for why the water was hot with cool currents.  To me, it kind of felt like someone had recently been peeing in the pool.  And I was swimming in it.

And to add to the overall quality of experience, floating on the surface of the water were globs of slimy foam, with flies on the top.

After having read all about brine flies -- (if you haven't, Reader, you should go follow that link above.  It's educational.) -- after having learned all about brine flies, I now believe that these may have been masses of brine fly pupae, ready to hatch into flies and join the swarms on the shore.  Maybe it was their pee warming up the lake.

But really, aside from the flies and the slimy foam and the water that felt like urine on your legs, swimming in the Great Salt Lake was a really awesome experience that I ... ahem ... highly recommend.  I just don't know why I didn't remember it being so incredibly disgusting back when I was a teenager. I think the fact that the lake was six feet too low this year concentrated all the disgusting-ness in a smaller area, and added to the unique experience. 
In average years, whatever those are, this picture would have had more water.
When we got out of the lake, and shook the brine flies off of our sandals, and ran screaming up the shore until they stopped swarming us, we noticed that the salt water had evaporated and left rivulets of salt against our skin.

See?  That's more cool than gross.  Except that the widely out-of-proportion picture of my leg there, with the massive sized calf, looks a little gross.  It didn't look like that in person.

And then when we walked all the way back -- way way back over the dried out lake shore and past the green desert bushes and up the hill -- there were free showers.  And a package of oreos in the bag untouched by the flies.  We swarmed the cookies until they were gone. 

The view from the showers was desolate and lovely.

So there you go.  The Great Salt Lake, checked off of my bucket list.

Leave your suggestions for next month's Outing of Interest in the comments.  Meanwhile, I promise you that whatever it is, it will not involve flies. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stuff that is great about being here...

...and not in Australia.

Hummingbirds.  The morning after we returned home, a hummingbird flew up to the kitchen window and hovered there for several seconds while I was looking out.  Hummingbirds are beautiful, and they do not live in Australia.

Quail.  A family of quail has been living in our back yard, complete with mother, father, and about five little fluff balls.

Summer night breezes.  These sweep down from the mountains and send cool, fresh scented air everywhere. 


People.  I am finally home, finally.  And I spent a long time today talking to colleagues, talking to friends, and talking to neighbors, all of whom act very happy to see us.  We have also been able to see family again.  There are good people here, and we like them. 

Google fiber.  Self explanitory.

Regular work hours.  Actually, I haven't decided if this is good or bad.  I don't feel like I've accomplished so much in a day if I haven't already worked two hours before 7:30am. 

Full sized washing machine.  With a one-hour wash cycle.  I no longer have to wait 90 minutes for each half-sized load to finish.  And its companion, the Full sized dryer, is also lovely.  Laundry no longer consumes the day.

Fruit trees.  Aside from the apricots, which had become a rotten orange slime pile under the tree, much of our fruit was still in reasonable condition.  We have a refrigerator full of summer apples and cherries.  What should we do with them, Reader?

Things are not perfect here, or there.  Or anywhere.  But things are very good, in many places.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Iowa City

This is my first post since moving back to the US.  But not my first post at home.  I'm still not at home -- or again not at home. 

I spent a few days at home -- enough to turn on the water heater, have Tim find that it leaked, call the plumber to replace it, and then later, to flood the basement by running the washing machine.  The machine wasn't broken, the plumber had just forgotten to re-attach the washing machine drain after he used it for the water heater.  In any case, the water mainly spread around the tiles in the laundry room, so no real problems. 

I also spent an evening with Tim at his high school reunion.  And then I missed my own, to give 5.5 hours of talks in Iowa.

I've been to Iowa before, but this is my first time speaking in the state.  The university town is smaller than I expected, deeper into the cornfields as you drive from the airport. 

On Wednesday after the talks there was a farmer's market, and I purchased dandelion jelly and an ear of sweet corn -- because I'm deep into the corn states anyway -- and two apples and several small tomatoes.  That was dinner.

The city is small enough that no one had change for my $100 bill, nearly the only money in my wallet.  I couldn't change the bill until Friday night, when enough colleagues paid cash at a restaurant for me to exchange it for twenties. 

How is the jet lag? You ask.  I have been sleeping well since reaching Iowa, aside from one 2am to 4am period.  I'm sleepy by 9pm, central time.  But the 6am alarm still startles me awake.  The sleeping is apparently good, here in Iowa. 

My hotel is on the river, near the mathematics building.  On the other side of the river, across the university hospital campus and the golf course and student housing in several forms, lies a park named Mormon Handcart Park, two point five miles away by foot.  I can run two point five miles.  I think I will jog over there to see the park early tomorrow morning, before the sun rises too high.

My only problem is that I can't jog back.  I only do 5Ks.  It may be a long morning. 

If you don't hear from me again, Reader, look for my body on the Mormon trail.