Friday, October 30, 2015

Aging out of Halloween

In late October, I'm supposed to do a Halloween post, where I show you all our awesome decorations and my child's cute costume. Thanks to a care package from Grandma, we do have a few decorations. There are three paper bats in various places around the living room, and some Halloween stickers on the window. It is Festive! (Thank you, Grandma!)

But alas, Reader, there is no costume photo this year. Jonathan refuses to go trick-or-treating.

What? You say. But there is free candy!?

Yes, Reader. Yes, I know.

Jonathan has decided that now that he is in middle school, he is too old for free candy.


Reader, he is only 11. No one will be upset by an 11-year-old asking for candy. No one. And yet he will not go. And as a responsible parent, I must pick my battles. Do I fight this, or save my parental wrath for the bathroom cleaning?

I don't know, Reader. I honestly don't know. Because I can clean the bathroom for him. But the neighbors won't give me candy if I go trick-or-treating. And this would be our last year of it anyway, since Halloween is not a big deal in Australia. (My American friend told me that last year, she stopped costume-wearing people on the street and told them that she liked Halloween, too. And please come visit her house to take candy! And they did not come.)

Sighs and sadness. It is the end of an era. The era in which the parents tackle the returning trick-or-treater and take all the Butterfingers and Starbursts and hide them. From now on, we only get what we buy at the grocery store. Woe and sadness and woe.

Since there is not much candy in our future, I will show you instead some photos.
Reader, it is autumn.

They really do autumn really well in this part of the world. The leaves are spectacular! Magnificent! That first photo above was just the parking lot of an ice skating rink off the highway. And it is not in any way color-enhanced.

The woods are turning colors all at once. Orange and yellow and red. This was my walk home from church on Sunday.

And this.

And this.
Then Tuesday morning, Tim and I went for a long walk beside the canal. And everything was yellow and orange and it looked like this.

Only brighter and longer -- for over an hour of walking.

It is more than I expected, Reader. I had been told that autumn was beautiful, but all at once? For weeks at a time? Red and orange and yellow and green and gray? It is more than I hoped for. It is truly beautiful.

In the West, there are trees, and they are pretty, but they are spaced apart carefully by a gardener. Life is not cut into the woods like it is here.

Tim thinks it is lovely, too, but he says he is tired of all the leaf blowing outside his office every day. See? Every silver cloud has its dark lining.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Autumn, part II

A little over a week has made a big difference in the season. Many more leaves have begun changing colors, and the world is very lovely here now. Here are a few trees around my office.

The big yellow one just outside:

The bright red ones at the pond:

(You wouldn't know it, but these are the same trees and the same pond. Different lighting.)

The trees near the bus stop.

Last Saturday, Jonathan and I went to a local farm to pick pears and drink fresh apple cider.

And then Sunday, family came to visit and throw acorns into the pond!

I love family, and I will offer all the acorns nearby if you would like to come and throw them in the pond. There are lots of acorns.

I feel like autumn is now being adequately represented by the leaves around our house. Thank you. I am satisfied.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Becoming possible

I started ice skating lessons last January, with the goal of learning how to skate backwards and learning how to stop. My first attempts at both were frightening. But with practice, I was able to go from barely wiggling backwards to gliding backwards to gliding backwards on one foot to gliding backwards on one foot in a circle with my other leg straight behind me in the air. Oh, and I can stop on ice skates in three different ways. Every time I learned something new, I was afraid. This would be the time that I would fall. (And it was. I've fallen a lot.) (But mostly falling is harmless.) (The trick is to land on something fat and soft, like your massive derriere.) (My massive derriere has been bruised a lot.) And amazingly, with practice, the skills became not just possible, but even easy. I remember telling Tim that I didn't think there was any way I would ever be able to skate backwards on one foot twice the length of my body -- that's what I needed to do to pass the skill test. It wasn't fair, because of my height. Twice my body length was several feet farther than what the others in the class had to do. And now I skate backwards on one foot with no problems, several times longer than my body length. Thinking back, the change is purely amazing. How did I ever do that? How did something so very very hard become possible? And then almost easy?

About two weeks ago, at work, I found what seemed to be a fatal flaw in a research project. I had been working on the project for over a year with a collaborator, and we had a (long) draft of a paper already written, and my coauthor was set to speak on the work. And then it all fell apart. Over the weekend, my mind was spinning, sweeping out braids with surfaces (I'm a geometer), trying to understand what was really going on in this construction of ours. And then, by the end of the weekend, I knew how to fix the problem. And it was much easier! And our draft dropped from 40 pages to 20, and the coauthor gave his talk, and there seem to be very good consequences to our work that we had never seen before. How did that happen? How did something so very hard become possible? And then easy?

Just over one week ago, I became aware of another flaw in another paper. But this was worse. Much worse. I had already submitted the article to a journal, and the journal referee was the one who pointed out the error. I got the message on Friday night. I was scheduled to speak on the result at a major conference on Wednesday, in front of all the famous people in the field. I almost panicked. I would have liked to panic, but I didn't feel I had the time. I had to figure out exactly what was going on before my talk on Wednesday. So instead of panicking, or even letting myself cry, I immersed myself in papers from the 1980s. My mind was spinning, waking me up at all hours drawing circles inside of spheres inside of circles. And then, by the end of the weekend, everything clicked back into place, and I knew how to fix the error. (Draw the green circles first silly! Not the red ones!) And it was even easier than the original argument. And I was saved from what seemed to me to be a huge professional embarrassment. It was truly amazing, to the point of being almost miraculous. (My coauthor didn't think so -- he seemed to have no worries at all. In fact, he thought the referee comment was a good sign -- it meant our paper wasn't rejected outright. But then again, he wasn't the one giving the major presentation in a few days.) To me, it was amazing. How did that happen? How did something so very big, and so very scary, become possible? And then easy?

Yesterday evening, back on the ice skating rink, a new coach showed me how to string together some of the basic moves I had been learning since January. Three-turn to backwards crossover, leg up, step forward, and start over with the three-turn. I watched her do the moves, smoothly and easily. And then as I stepped up to try it, on my left foot no less (I have always been strongly right-footed), for the first time ever the thought popped into my head that this might be a good place to stop. Really. I'm almost 40. I'm too old to be learning how to combine three-turns and backwards crossovers. And then I forced that thought out of my head, because the coach was standing there waiting for me, and I did the combo (kind of). And it was slow, and very weak, and my arms were going the wrong way with respect to my legs and my head and my core (a year ago, I had no idea how much there was to think about when skating). But I tried it at least. And after trying it a few times, I thought to myself that I really really needed to practice this again, on my own. No more head telling me to stop here, you are too old, but telling me instead to go -- go do it more! The craziest thing? The weekend has just started, but my mind is spinning again -- not with geometric constructions this time -- but with figure skating moves. I want to learn to do those combos the way the coach did them. She didn't even notice that it was hard, and scary. She just put her feet together where they were supposed to go, and held her arms just so, and it was easy -- for her. That could become possible -- for me?

I think there is a moral to this post, but I'm not sure what it is. It's probably related to the amazing ability of human beings to learn and to change. And not just human beings in the abstract. Me. I learn. I change. Even at my age. (I'm almost 40!) This body of mine is truly, truly amazing. It thinks. It skates. I have no idea how it does any of that. How is any of it even possible?

Monday, October 5, 2015


It is autumn now. A few people have asked if the leaves are beautiful. No. They're not really beautiful yet. A few trees are starting to turn colors, like these on the walk to the bus stop.

And there are some golds and oranges and browns mixed in with the trees when you go driving. We don't really go driving much, but we've been renting a car on weekends. We've driven to three ice skating lessons, for example. And there are places on the road to the ice skating rink that look like nice fall leaves. But there aren't many such places.

I feel like we are supposed to have a spectacular fall here, with so many trees and in so many different varieties. I will feel ripped off if we don't get a spectacular fall.

Just to be sure we aren't already missing that spectacular fall, Jonathan and I took a walk to the canal this afternoon. The walk was nice. The woods are still lovely. But no, not much autumn color. Here is the view of the canal.

You can see a little color behind the bridge, but not much. And there is a tree we can see from our window that has some color.
But not much more. Kind of hoping for all the trees to turn red and yellow and orange at the same time. Does that happen? Could it happen this year? Maybe in another week or two it will happen.

In other news, the weather here is very wet. We had a couple of days last week where a thick heavy, and somewhat warm cloud settled over the place. The air was sticky inside and out, and everything was gray. The air conditioner in our apartment was ineffective in blowing out the sticky gray cloud. We spent two days being hot and wet.

And it then the clouds moved up higher, and it was cloudy the night we were supposed to have the major lunar eclipse. I could log into Facebook and see pictures of the eclipse elsewhere in the country, but there was no view of the moon here. I guess that's a good thing. It means that the apocalypse was diverted.

And sure enough, the major hurricane that could have potentially wiped out all our power lines has now moved off into the Atlantic Ocean.

That was the other weather news. I received messages from church and from the institute warning about the approaching hurricane. Apparently last year a storm cut off power to locals for a whole week. And the year before that there was flooding in the area. We were warned to be prepared with food, water, medicines, and to help others be prepared. But then clouds covered the blood moon, and the apocalypse moved off into the Atlantic. Thank goodness. I think today's walk in the woods was much more fun than it would have been to hunker down for a hurricane.

We did get a lot of rain, though. It rained most of the day Thursday, and heavily all day Friday. And it got cold enough to switch the ineffective air conditioner (attempting to blow the damp warm cloud out of the apartment) to an ineffective heater.

Mushrooms love this weather though. We've been watching these beauties across from the bus stop. 

Wet and orange. Autumn.