Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fire and Ice

It's been what some would call "butt-cold" in Chicago lately - we've been getting February-like weather the last few weeks, which means it's in the teens or single digits Farheneheit most of the time. We went for a run Tuesday evening when it was sixteen outside. I remembered why 15 degrees is my cutoff temperature for outdoor running - I commented to DH that my bad knee was getting iced during the run, and my hands didn't warm up for the rest of the night.

This isn't a complaint. I would take this over crazy-making hot and humid weather any day. But part of what I love about the cold is all the ways one can thaw out: hot beverages, blankets, warm sweaters and scarves, fuzzy socks... and videos of solar flares.

Wait, what?

I don't know. But watching this certainly made me feel warm and toasty. And a little awed.

However, if you're somewhere where you're too warm, reading about the newly-discovered ice volcanoes on Titan will perhaps cool you off. Brr. Back to the solar flares for me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Toddler Phonics Funnies

Since I:

A) know that one of three readers of this blog is a speech therapist/pathologist/person who helps kids talk good, and:

B) am very much looking forward to hearing the ever-closer-to-words babbling of my niece in the very near future,

I wanted to re-post this story, as it made me laugh.

My friend Eddie (Ed? We called him Eddie in college, but now he's a husband and father and overall adult-type. Sir Edward, then.) writes an occasional blog about his growing family over at the Pluchar Baby Blog (this is one of at least FOUR blogs to which he contributes in his not-at-all-ample spare time).

So head over there for a chuckle. Sensitive readers be warned, there is one mildly explicit word used.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Putting some zzzs in to buzzing


I know I don't function as well without a full night's sleep. Turns out, neither do honeybees.

I'm partial to bees by heredity - my dad is a former beekeeper - so I have to say that I found the methods of this experiment to be a little bit mean. Hopefully the bees involved were allowed to take a nap afterward.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mini-geek update

Image from here. And only marginally related to the story.

Katie's story was already going viral when I posted about it a little while ago, but it struck a chord with tens of thousands more people after that. Today, Katie's school is hosting "Proud to Be Me Day", and there's an accompanying Facebook Star Wars-geek-pride online happening taking place, too. The only Star Wars shirt I own is not exactly workplace attire, so I'll just say I'm dressing like Chewbacca because my winter coat has a fur collar. I do what I can.

The really cool thing about all the attention this story received is that folks have been sending Katie things like light sabers and Star Wars toys to show their support of her geekdom. She's such a neat kid, she's passing most of the toys along to kids in need, which is only making everyone feel more warm and fuzzy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Not enough space

Two galactic news bits of late: One which made me laugh, and one that made me marvel:

First, the marvelous one: Some pictures of our planet that "look like art". Maybe it is art.

Second, the crazy: A Spanish woman has claimed ownership of the sun. I'm kicking myself for this lost revenue opportunity.

... oh, and a bonus: alien bacteria. Holy crap.




Thursday, December 2, 2010

Actual progress

I wish every session of the Illinois legislature was a lame-duck session!

Yesterday a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions passed the Illinois Senate, and the governor is expected to sign it in to law. This is going to allow radical rights like the ability to visit with a partner in the hospital. Angry hyper-conservatives can hear the fabric of our society tearing, but all I hear is cheering.

And this week the Illinois House Judiciary Committee recommended that a bill abolishing the death penalty be passed. Apparently there aren't quite 60 votes for the bill just yet in the Senate, but it has supporters in the high 50s. There's an actual possibility that the thing might pass, which is kind of mind-blowing. As I predicted a few years ago, if the bill does pass, it will do so because the death penalty is expensive, not because it's wrong. Whatever. As long as the state stops killing people, I'm good.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mini-geek gets bullied, goes viral


When I was a little kid, I was a nerd.

Those of you who know me in real life know that not much has changed, but let's ignore that for the time being.

In fifth grade, I had glasses and crooked teeth. I laughed too loud, and I spilled my milk almost every day when we had our class snack break. Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my sister and cousins. I was into books that were ahead of my reading level and I got along better with boys than with girls.

So, like any kid who deserves it, I had a bully.

Most of the time, my bully said things that I didn't even understand: she made pop-culture references that I didn't get, and then she would laugh derisively at me. Sometimes she insulted me in ways that I figured just didn't apply to me. Occasionally, I could shrug her off. But her jabs and her soul-crushing laugh worked enough times that I can still remember the sting of it. I can remember her face when she laughed at me.

I had had another bully a couple of years before that - she was much older than me, probably 11 or 12. She constantly called me alternately fat or stupid. I was seven and I believed her.

No matter what I accomplish in my life, the voices and "advice" of those bullies can be conjured up in an instant. More often than I'd care to admit, I remember what they said and wonder if they were right.

It's cold comfort - OK, not even comfort, really - that both of them are fairly miserable people now. That doesn't make things any better.

So my reaction at a nerdy, be-spectacled 7-year-old girl being bullied by boys at her school for carrying a Star Wars water bottle was manifold: I logged on and left a comment of support for the kid, like almost 2,000 other people have already done, but I also found myself wondering if it's even possible to keep something like this from happening.

Kids are such jerks, man. And they're the worst to each other.

Aside from sequestering kids from each other, I don't know how to keep that sort of thing from happening. In the case of my experiences with bullies, there was never an adult within earshot - bullies know what they're doing is wrong, so they do it on the sly. And it's not like more supervision is the solution - kids need some space to learn and develop as social creatures. Katie's mom was savvy enough (and Katie is enough of a Star Wars fan) to pick up on something being off, but that's seriously a lot to ask of most parents. I was the third child and was already weird enough: how could my mom have picked up on some subtle change in behavior due to bullying? Did my behavior even change?

All's I know is, may the force be with Katie. And may I never get a hold of the kids who bullied her.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Abraham Day-Lewis

The "team of rivals".

I have lived for the past ten years in Illinois, called the "Land of Lincoln" because it's where Abraham Lincoln got his start in politics. Before I moved here, I lived with my Civil War re-enactor parents in Ohio - my dad regularly portrays a member of Ulysses Grant's staff - and I've worn a hoop skirt several times for Civil-War commemoration events in my home town. There are bookshelves in my childhood home that are heavy with books of Civil War history, biographies and battle analysis. When the Ken Burns 10-hour documentary came out on PBS, it was an enormous deal: my parents taped every hour and have watched and re-watched it many times.

I share my parents' interest in - though perhaps not their devotion to - what happened during those bloody years in our country. The scale of the thing is impossible to comprehend, and of course the Civil War and its aftermath are still affecting our country.

Which is why I'm pretty geeked about this: according to various sources on the series of tubes, Daniel Day-Lewis is going to play the part of Abraham Lincoln in a biopic directed by Stephen Spielberg. In my opinion, Day-Lewis has the perfect face to be Honest Abe, even if he isn't an Amurrican.

I won't be surprised if my parents are already camped out at the movie theater.

Monday, November 15, 2010

There, I fixed it!

The New York Times has a fun interactive game in which one can fix US Federal budget. The game even tells you when you've "won" by erasing the $1,345 billion deficit anticipated for the year 2030.

How many of these makes a thousand billion?


I was ruthless the first time through, because I thought it was an impossible task. Now that I know that it's doable, in more than one way, I think I'll go through the process a second time and be more thoughtful. But it's encouraging to note that this is not only possible, there are multiple ways to fix the growing deficit. It's just that none of the alternatives will be painless.

Check out how much would be saved by bumping the Social Security age up to 70, for instance. You bet your bottom I checked that box. People my age don't even expect Social Security to exist when we're 70, dutiful as we may be about paying into it. I presume that someone twice my age would be less excited about those savings, however.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guess that's how they fit all those elephants there

So it turns out that the continent of Africa is frickin' enormous:

A cartographer by the name of Kai Krause created this infographic to illustrate just how enormous Africa is, and to stave off "immapancy", which is apparently an affliction of making up made-up words.

Shortly after this was posted, the Economist decided to pick nits and claim that, though that was a nice mental exercise, it wasn't completely accurate.

I'm still busy having my mind blown at how, in both projections, all of China, the USA, India and Western Europe fit within the area of Africa, with room to spare.

What's possibly even more mind-blowing is that one of the commenters on the Economist article noted that the economy of that gigantic continent is roughly the same as the economy of the cities of Chicago and Atlanta combined. Tough to wrap the mind around that kind of disparity.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Edmund Fitzgerald

Until only fairly recently, I presumed that the shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald happened back in the Days of Big Shipwrecks - like, the 20s or something. I had thought the Edmund Fitzgerald was a contemporary of the Titanic or something.


The doomed freighter in happier times.

Or it sank in 1975. Hey, I live by a Great Lake now, but I didn't when I was growing up. This is local history, isn't it?

Anyhow, the lake freighter sank thirty-five years ago today, tragically drowning its 29-member crew in a storm that sported hurricane-strength winds.

Recently, the Detroit Free Press posted some pictures from the ship and its wreck that hadn't been published before, along with coverage of dives that have checked out the wreck, analysis of that famous Gordon Lightfoot song, and a look at the drama surrounding the victims' families. It makes for a pretty interesting glance at not-so-ancient history... and a reminder that storms on the Great Lakes are no joke.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Drinkyscope

It's Monday and I had a nice weekend which felt long because it involved "falling back" from daylight savings time. But now it's back to whatever I do during the week.

So I'll just put up this link to pictures of alcoholic beverages under a microscope.

Have a good week!




Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Inception Button

Not everyone loved it the way I loved it, but I LOVED the movie Inception. DH and I saw it twice in quick succession. I had already loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt after his appearance on Saturday Night Live, when he actually performed "Make 'Em Laugh" on live TV, proving that he is the kind of guy who should populate the dreams of dweebs everywhere. Watching that man fly around in a snappy vest and tie, beating up bad guys and timing important explosions, only deepened the love.

Even better than the acrobatics, however, was the foreboding, bassy score. For weeks, whenever something Important happened, DH and I would make a "bwwwwoooooh... bwwaaaaaah" noise. It was never quite right, but we'd gather it well enough that we could envision ourselves duking it out with bad guys in a spinning, zero-gravity hallway.

Thankfully, we don't have to do that anymore. All we have to do is hit the Inception button.

Some days, I love the interwebs for these little gems.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Today in paleolithic news

The title is incorrect. It's really late Jurassic, mostly.

Anyhow, the folks who maintain both that Catholics aren't real Christians and that dinosaur bones were planted by the devil to confuse creationists can celebrate as much as all the Discovery-channel paleontology geeks about this piece of news: A dinosaur skull was "discovered" in the marble of a church near Milan.

The second picture in that story blew my mind.

Even cooler than that, though, is that the non-fossilized remains of a mammoth were recently unearthed from a peat bog in Colorado. This means that soft tissue is still intact... and scientists are even figuring out how to extract DNA from the skeleton.

This is all making me want to re-watch my favorite cautionary tale: Jurassic Park.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Well, shoot.

I'm wearing a sweater and I just updated all my calendars: it's November. Election Day is tomorrow and I'm going to vote because it's my duty as a citizen and especially as a woman - I think anyone who isn't a white, land-owning male in this country who "forgets" to vote needs to bone up on his or her history. Gotta exercise our rights, people.

Speaking of exercising rights as an American, I saw a billboard on the way home from Michigan yesterday that was advertising skeet shooting, and I thought, "I would really enjoy learning how to shoot a rifle at a moving target".

Then I spent a moment wondering why I had that thought.

Now, I grew up in a rural area, and I knew plenty of people who owned guns. Hunting season was a big deal back home - some high-school kids skipped school with their parents' blessing to go shoot deer. I recall entering a friend's garage in late fall and being faced with the sight of a fresh deer carcass hanging from the ceiling. My friend's older brother had shot the deer, and his parents were thrilled: for low-income families, deer hunting isn't just a hobby, it's a very affordable source of lean protein.

Guns, in the right hands, are tools that can be used to feed a family and cull overpopulation of deer herds. As long as people are educated about their guns and keep them unloaded and locked up around their kids, I have no problem at all with responsible gun use and ownership.

However, I can't say I've had much of an interest in using a gun before now.

A friend of mine here in Chicago had a similar impulse in her late twenties, and eventually she and her father spent a day out at a rifle range and learned all about shooting. She had a great time. Her husband was appalled by the trip, as they are both urban, liberal, crunchy-granola peacenicks. I thought it was a neat idea at the time - though not something I was interested in. Plus, a little outdoor father-daughter bonding is a good thing: I like to go camping with my dad. Heading to the firing range has its similarities.

As I was mulling through my new, more real interest in learning to shoot a gun, however, I remembered this: my friend who spent that day at a rifle range did so a few months before she became pregnant with her first child.

This morning I found myself wondering: as a woman of childbearing age, is wanting to shoot a gun a harbinger of other desires? Does interest in learning how to shoot imply a no-longer-latent yearning both to provide meat and to protect home and hearth... and, eventually, children? Perhaps craving firearm control is the first step toward craving midnight ice cream?

I want to ask my friend if she was thinking in those terms when she was shooting targets or clay pigeons. Because if shooting a gun is an early step to motherhood, maybe I should wait a little while on that trip to the firing range.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Touchdown

When I was in high school, one focus of the sports curriculum was learning how to be sportsmanlike. It was easy to distinguish teams whose coaches rewarded classy behavior, as opposed to teams whose aim was to win at all costs. I never had a prayer (or, honestly, a desire) of qualifying for college-level sports, so I appreciated that, most of the time, my school wasn't on the cutthroat side of the equation.

Even now, when DH and I are watching an NFL game, for instance, we take note when an opposing player helps up the guy he just tackled. Our favorite sports matches are the historic rivalries that involve players who are all friends with each other, like the Packers-Bears game in Chicago a few weeks ago.

I think what makes the story of Zach Beckman's touchdown last weekend in a high school football game in Mount Vernon, Indiana, so nice is that the coaches of both teams involved, as well as the student-athletes on the field, saw an opportunity to give a real lesson about sportsmanship to the rest of the players, and then followed through with it. Or - and this seems more likely - they weren't even thinking about the lesson, they were thinking about the best thing to do.

If high school football was televised, I'd be rooting for Jasper High School all the way.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Getting priorities straight

When this post goes up, I will probably be packing up the car, preparing to pick up my buddy's little sister from college. She's riding with me and DH out of state this weekend, and we've plotted out the music lists, the junk food, the gas money - it's a road trip we've been anticipating. At this point, my buddy's sister is like unto a sister to me, too. She's a cool kid.

The reason for the road trip is, like many trips we've taken in our mid-to-late-20s, a wedding. This wedding, though, is a little different from others I've attended lately.

The groom, whom I will call Bro, is the brother of my fellow traveler, and has been my friend for roughly 26 years, which is fairly impressive when both parties are 28 years old. Bro and I grew up together in our rural town, and each moved away approximately thirty seconds after high school graduation. We both wound up in cities in the Midwest, living the start of the kind of lives we'd both hoped for back in our often-boring farm town. For both of us, those lives (eventually, as I'm glossing over years of hits and misses) included finding someone with whom to share the joy and the mundacity of everyday life.

Each of us sought some kind of seal of approval from the other about our potential life mate. When Bro met DH, the two of them hit it off almost immediately, which was a huge plus in my mind. When I'm not taking it for granted, I appreciate that my oldest friend and my husband are big fans of each other.

A month or two after DH and I got married - an event for which Bro flew himself in, dutifully wore a suit, and proceeded to make friends with both the bartender and everyone in attendance, because that's what he does in social situations - Bro had a date with a woman I'd already heard about many times before.

This is the hard-to-explain part: I'd first heard stories about the Speaker (she's a speech therapist and I'm terrible at nicknames, OK?) from other members of our high school class. She went to college with a couple of them, came back to my home town several time for big events, and met plenty of members of our class and folks from our town. I was probably 19 years old the first time I heard about the Speaker. And what I heard was consistent from all sources: she was cool, she managed to avoid most drama that arises when a group of college women live together, and - everyone said this - she was funny.

Here I will admit that I generally didn't pay much attention to stories about the Speaker, because it seemed unlikely that I would ever meet her. She was a friend of some acquaintances and her inclusion in a story was just one of those details people would leave in.

And then Bro went on a date with her. Followed promptly by a second date.

I wish I could remember where I heard about it first, but I remember thinking it was strange, my friend and this friend-of-all-our-classmates dating. They'd been dating for a few months when they visited Chicago together and stayed with me and DH. The Speaker had heard about me from all our shared sources the way I'd heard about her, which made for this bizarre situation of two people, having heard about each other for years, staying in the same apartment for a weekend.

If there's such a thing as an advantage in such a situation, I had it: we were on my home turf, I was only meeting one new person while she was meeting two, and those two people were her hosts for the weekend. I later learned that she'd been quite nervous about meeting me - she had really wanted to make a good impression. The situation was made a little more strange by the lack of first-meeting formalities. I already knew where she was from, where she'd gone to college, what she did for a living, who many of her friends were... so what does one ask about at that point? It could be awkward.

She needn't have worried. At some point during dinner, Bro said something moderately funny, and the Speaker made a immediate and hilarious comeback quip that almost made me choke. I laughed out loud, but I'm sure I followed that up with staring at her - which probably made her feel like an insect. Because I'm a great hostess like that.

I was staring at her because - and it still hits me sometimes - I cannot believe how perfect she is for my friend. And he for her. They are great together.

So last winter, on another trip to Chicago, Bro proposed to the Speaker, and she accepted, and we celebrated with them all weekend. DH and I were thrilled for them, and we were looking forward to the wedding, but also to, hopefully, years of just hanging out with the two of them as a couple of boring married couples.

When they started planning their wedding, they gave themselves plenty of time - a year and a half - and chose a date in April 2011. Bro would send me the occasional link to a venue, or an idea they had. Over the summer we visited them and we got to see the proof of their invitation suite. The party was going to be amazing and large and lots of fun.

And then, in August, when DH and I had just gotten home from a week's vacation and were just beginning to settle, our phone rang. It was Bro. The tone of his voice was somewhat grave. A disorienting split-second of serious worry struck me: they're breaking up. They're calling it off. Whatever happened, I need to talk him out of this.

"So, I have a question," Bro said.

DH saw the worry on my face and signed that he wanted to know what was wrong. I indicated that he should hold on a second.

"Yeah?" I asked.

"If the Speaker and I... " break up? Have an earlier-than-anticipated baby? Move to Abu Dabi? He was taking way too long with this.

"If we didn't do the wedding in April - " oh, crap. Are they really breaking up? No way.

"But we had a wedding in October, instead - " WHAAAT?

"Would you come to it?"

I hopped up and down. "HELL YES, we'd come to it!"

DH looked totally confused. I put my hand over the receiver and said, "they're eloping! Sort of." To which he replied, "AWESOME!"

Bro explained, "It's just, planning this thing is really starting to stress the Speaker out, and every time I see how much it's going to cost, I start to get sick. And we just want to be married, and buy a house someday, and have kids..."

"So, you want a marriage, but not necessarily a wedding."

"Yeah, exactly."

And thus, in about a week of plan-changing, the enormous springtime wedding in a rented hall with 200 people and a DJ became an intimate autumn ceremony in a park with less than 50 people. DH and I were looking forward to it before. Now we're beyond excited.

Of course, any time this wedding comes up, DH says, "they're doing it right. They're so smart." And I feel compelled to say things like, "We didn't know squat about wedding planning when we got married; we did the best we could."

Then we both remind ourselves that our wedding was really fun. Which it was. But DH is right: there's no denying that we'd do things a bit differently - a bit smaller and simpler - if we'd known then what we know now.

As it is, we get to live vicariously through our brilliant friends. This weekend will be full of good friends, good beer, some tiny pies, a few nerves, some dressy clothes, and a festive dinner after the formalities. As a bonus, my mother - a justice of the peace who's known the groom as long as I have - is officiating the ceremony, so I'll get to see my parents on the wedding day, too.

In that way and in many others, this feels as much like a family wedding as my brother's wedding last month felt. In which case, I'm so happy to welcome the Speaker to the family.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No, seriously, think of the children

I promise there were more pleasant topics about which I was going to post, but when I saw this article about a pertussis outbreak in California that's killed 10 babies so far, I almost threw up. So I'm writing about this.

If you were to meet me in person and we were to talk about vaccines and you were to tell me you weren't going to vaccinate your children, I would consider punching you in the throat. And then I'd probably go through with it. There's zero reason for people not to vaccinate their children - especially against highly lethal, completely preventable diseases - and there are many, many reasons to do so. Sadly, 10 more reasons just manifested themselves in California, and it probably isn't going to change anyone's minds over there.

Wow, schmei, get over yourself. You don't even have kids. Who gives you the right?

Good point. Allow me to explain:

My father was the youngest of 4 children. He had two sisters and a brother. Only, wait, he never met his sisters. They both died, several weeks apart, of pertussis, commonly called whooping cough. The older girl was almost two, and her little sister was only a few weeks old. Some infected asshole decided to stop by and visit my grandmother with her new baby and her toddler at home. Over the next few weeks she watched, completely helpless, as whooping cough killed them both.

The pertussis vaccine came out about 2 years too late for my two aunts.

My grandparents went on to have two more children - two boys - and I can't help but wonder how it affected my grandmother, to lose her baby daughters and then to have two boys instead. Maybe it was better, really, because they were completely different. I don't know. By all accounts she was a loving mother to her sons. Additionally, from what I've heard about her, she never really recovered from her daughters' deaths. She died young, and still heartbroken. Her sons were in their early twenties. They're both in their sixties now, and they don't really talk about it much.

Last year, my graduate program ordered me to get a pertussis booster, which I thought was annoying at the time. But I read more about it, and it turns out that in adults, pertussis vaccination can wear out over time. It's recommended to get a booster every five years or so.

I was very glad I had the booster before I met my newborn niece. And I'm glad my sister is completely reasonable about vaccinating her baby, because the study that claimed a connection between vaccines and autism was terribly flawed and has since been recanted. Sis is a scientist so she gets that... but it's information that really doesn't require a degree in physics.

Sadly, recanting that article hasn't stopped stupid people from refusing to vaccinate their children. What those stupid people don't realize is that it's not their own children they're killing, most likely it's other people's infants.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Re-standardizing the test

The master's thesis on which I'm making (glacially slow) progress is in educational policy. My specific interest is in adult education for imprisoned or formerly incarcerated adults, but there are plenty of factors that go into school kids growing up to be adults with criminal records and without high-school diplomas.

When I was still doing course work, I was part of a cohort of 12 other Master's level students in my program. Roughly half of my classmates were already school teachers, mostly in public high schools in Chicago. Since my experience is really only with nontraditional adult education, I appreciated their perspective. Essentially, they were trying to keep their kids from ever getting in to one my programs. I'm fine with that - it's the kind of work I wouldn't mind putting myself out of.

Any time the topic of standardized testing would come up, the tension in the room would escalate, and discussion would be uncomfortable at best. Every teacher has to deal with standardized tests now, and in many schools the students are subjected to high-stakes testing every two years at the least. I've read in the past about how some states make their tests as easy as possible so their schools aren't listed as "failing" - which is a slap-shod solution to a real school policy problem.

Now the state of Illinois is doing something different. The claim is that the ISAT test isn't less difficult, but a student's score can now be lower and still count as "proficient". I especially appreciate that one of the folks who is angered by the implication that Illinois could be manipulating the test - ("they'd have to be... lying to us") so more students will pass is a man whose job title is "director of research and assessment" for a school district. I'm fairly certain that's a position that didn't exist ten years ago.

I'm sure this is because I've worked in programs that don't receive government money, for the most part, but when we've used standardized exams such as the TABE , the purpose was to establish the adult student's base line of knowledge so the teacher had a starting point from which to work. I actually really liked the TABE - it was a good gauge of adult ability without being insulting in the "You can't really read good, so you must be stoopid" way that some literacy-level materials can be.

I can recall taking the California Achievement Test when I was in fifth grade. The CAT test, as we redundantly called it, was basically used as standardized-test-taking practice and as an evaluation of individual student abilities - much like the TABE is used with the adult learners I worked with. No teacher was going to be fired over CAT test scores, and it was something we took as kindergarteners and as fifth-graders... and that was it.

I looked up the CAT test, and it appears that it's now only used by homeschooling parents. I guess times have changed. And I guess even homeschoolers are taking standardized tests.

All this is to say that, like most educational-types, I'm not opposed to standardized tests as a whole. I think they can be a useful tool for both students and teachers. But they're almost never used properly - rather, test scores are used to exclude students from colleges and professional schools, to punish "failing" schools and teachers with drastic moves like replacing the entire staff, and - in my mind, this is possibly the worst part - to take up valuable instruction time with test drilling. When the most radical re-thinking of standardized tests is to make them harder to fail (but magically not "easier"), I can't help but think that post-prison education is a need that will be around in this country for a long, long time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's getting better

I think Dan Savage is right. I could just end the post there, because I've know that's true since I started reading his advice column when I was in college. I mean, sometimes he's talking about kinks that make me need to draw out a diagram so I can understand them, but even with those, he's probably always right.

Anyway, recently Dan Savage wrote that he thinks the United States is nearing a tipping point in terms of LGBTQ rights. Yes, he despairs at the end. But I think he may have been correct at the outset. People who wouldn't have thought about or talked about gay rights are thinking and talking about them. It seems that everyone in this country is required to have an opinion about gay marriage, gay adoption rights, health benefits for gay partners, etc. Having an opinion about it requires acknowledging that the population exists - which, hey, means we're at least ahead of Iran.

And of course Savage and his husband Terry started the "It Gets Better" project, which was beyond the correct thing to do - it's brilliant. There are so many videos there now that a person could spend days watching them, which is what some people - especially some brutally bullied kids - need to be able to do.

I wouldn't even begin to try to watch them all, of course. But when Savage posts a featured video on his blog, I'll sometimes watch it. And this one made me - a cradle Catholic struggling with the battle against the church I love and the loving God I want to know - cry everywhere.


God bless you, Bishop Robinson.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Now back at me

By now I'm sure almost everyone has seen The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.


But I don't know if everyone has seen this. And to miss it would be a shame.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Right.

Despite the lack of activity around here, I have been thinking about this blog. Blogs are kind of stupid, really, unless you actually have something to write in them. A blog that hasn't seen a post in over 6 weeks is really kind of a waste of bits.

Last year I tried participating my own truncated version of National Blog Posting Month, which was a good exercise. This year I think I'll try something similar, but I'm actually going to let myself be OK with doing the sort of thing I do on facebook: post a link to something interesting and say something _short_ about it. I have drafts of at least 5 long articles that got to about 800 words and then started to trail off. So I'm going to try to finish those, too.

This isn't really for you, readers, since none of you exist. This is an exercise for me. I've been a quitter since childhood, and I'm especially adept at quitting creative projects, or, more accurately, I'm well-practiced in putting projects on hiatus. I have a 70-percent-completed blanket that I started to crochet before DH and I were even engaged. I have some paint supplies that I've basically never used. A beautiful and neglected mandolin hangs on the wall of our apartment. Our sewing machine has seen a little use - because DH has made a few nice things for me.

Yes, I'm still finishing my master's thesis, slowly, and yes I'm working full-time (and I'm in the United States! We NEVER GET TIME OFF!) and months like September of 2010 will happen now and then - I'll tell you about that, possibly. The short story is that it was busy with Family Obligations - but I'm either going to maintain a blog or I'm not.

For now, we'll stick with maintaining it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

School years, intersections, and other flotsam

By all appearances, I celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary and then proceeded to fall off the face of the planet. In reality, I've been busy in several ways, and so here's a brain-dump catch up:

1) First of all, I completed the sprint triathlon in 1:45:31, and though I spent the majority of the bike and run legs of the race chasing my sister, I caught her in the last three tenths of a mile and we crossed the finish line together. It was actually incredibly fun - something I allowed myself to realize when I was breezing along on my bike on some beautiful country roads - and Sis and I have already discussed doing something like this again next year. The afternoon after the race I felt more tired than I have probably ever felt in my life, and our plans to do some kind of hanging out just turned in to a communal nap: Sis asleep on the couch, my niece asleep on her chest, me curled up on the love seat. My brother-in-law was in the basement watching TV, where he - you might guess it - fell asleep. It was nice. Some time I need to write about my poor napping skills and how I'm trying to cultivate them. Apparently triathlons help.

2) I was on a bona fide vacation for a bit over a week earlier this month. As I was packing up for the trip I realized I hadn't taken a full week off just for fun in over a year. I should take more vacations.

3) My thesis is moving slower than expected, because it's a thesis. But progress continues.

4) DH and I are trying to eat more real food. Sure to be more posting about that soon.

5) My brother's getting married in a few weeks. This hasn't taken up a lot of my time, really, but it's exciting. Neither sis nor I have sisters-in-law, so we're both looking forward to acquiring one, and she's very cool - a perfect fit for my bro.

6) My best (and "oldest", though he's a few months younger than me) guy-friend is getting married in October, in the coolest way possible, to a very cool woman. DH and I have had to endure clusters of weddings before, but this time we're actually really looking forward to both weddings. Is this because we're on the "groom's side" in both weddings? Does that make them easier? Both couples are pairs that really work together, which obviously helps. I don't know. But I'm excited to put on the finery and celebrate love this fall.

7) Today marks the beginning of classes at the school where I work, though not the beginning of my thesis "class" because one school is on a quarter schedule and the other is on semesters. This is all within the same university. Makes plenty of sense to me.

And, because of number 7, this post will have to remain a list. More to come, hopefully soon, as the start of the school year means I'm getting back into some routines.

Toodle-pip,
-Schmei

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Four

Four years ago today, about this time, I was shaving my legs.

Stay with me, this isn't about my leg hair.

I was shaving my legs in the shower of a little hotel just outside of Chicago. In the adjoining suite were my mother, my sister, my best friend and a few other women I love. My father and brother-in-law were intermittently present, being sent out on errands.

The shower began like basically every other shower in my life, except that I'd been bustled in to the bathroom by a few of the aforementioned women. That, and it was quite a nice bathroom, large and clean and filled with sunlight. And I'd made sure to have a brand-new razor head, with which to shave my legs.

Somewhere between lathering up my right leg and beginning the removal of stubble, I was struck with an overwhelming sensation. I felt briefly faint, and found myself reaching for the wall to steady myself. My head spun. Something enormous was happening, something much larger than myself or the steamy shower or the people in the hotel room.

I'm getting married. I realized.

Today.

After the shower, one of my friends in the adjoining room would apply makeup to my face while another friend would do the same for my two bridesmaids - my sister and my best friend. Then that friend would do my hair. Flowers would be brought in to the room for all of us. We'd eat sandwiches that my brother-in-law would procure, realizing we wouldn't have a chance to eat again for a while. I would, soon, slide in to a white gown and my friends would place a veil on my head. I'd put on the jewelry and shoes my sister lent me from her wedding. My only brother would drive me in my little Honda to the church down the street. He'd get emotional. So would I.

Then I'd see my fiance, in a black suit, with his brothers, walking in to the same church. We'd all have our pictures taken and we'd drink bottled water in the stifling July heat.

And, shortly thereafter, we'd get married.

Nearly-fainting in the shower was the last moment I had by myself on July 14, 2006. For the rest of the day I'd either be accompanied by bridesmaids and relatives or by my new husband, and I appreciated the company. I loved that so many people were there on that day, helping us in ways large and small, supporting our union.

But I'll always be grateful for that brief, private moment of enormity. Because what followed it was solid, and hasn't left me: it was a calm and joyful sense of certainty.

Much of the time I have a typical American optimism, believing that things will turn out for the best, but I think much of my early relationship with DH was riddled with worry: we're so young, he seems so certain while I'm not. Honestly, he was ready to marry long before I was. But he was patient. When he finally proposed - a sweet surprise - I was excited about marrying him, but I was also nervous and occasionally terrified through the planning process. I'm still not entirely sure what it was, but I do know some things that it wasn't.

It wasn't about foregoing all my other options, because he's certainly everything I want in a man: hilarious, brilliant, strong, good with power tools and kittens and children. He's a skilled writer and a good singer and a great hugger. He has the best laugh, and great facial hair, and beautiful eyes. He is a keeper, in every way.

It wasn't worry about my in-laws, though I occasionally did fret that I was getting "too close" to them. They had welcomed me into the family long before the wedding - which had made me nervous, too, but which I now know is kind of silly. They're just welcoming like that. And they knew, before I did, how this relationship would work out.

So many things about marriage, about joining families, about the wedding, had made me nervous. I am a usually confident person who was plunged into the weird role of "bride-to-be" and became an anxious, fretting mess. Looking back I realize I'm just not bride material. The constant attention, the many parties, the plans that had to include everyone - it was a tiring process and even though I tried to stay calm and be rational about it, I cried plenty of times. I got into arguments with people I love. I cared about the wrong things and dismissed other things I shouldn't have.

But that morning, in the shower, I think the enormity of the moment was in part a realization that the planning is over, the fights are finished, the dresses bought, the cake decorated. The priest was checking over the liturgy. The musicians were warming up. All that was left, really, was to spend the day as it was planned. And that plan involved pledging my life to the best man I'd met. In that moment every fiber of my being told me that this was correct. I may have chosen stupid bridesmaid dresses (and I did) but I chose the right groom. Or he chose me. I suppose we had chosen each other, many times, by that point. We still do.

I was not a good bride. There are skills that brides need: grace, and a certain comfort with the spotlight in a time that is both intensely personal and very public. I didn't have a lot of those skills. But I was a bride for a short time, and we muddled through. At roughly 4:30 that day I became a wife. It was a change I welcomed. I was happy to shed the title of "bride". I felt I'd carried it too long, and too awkwardly.

This was the big surprise: I'm comfortable and happy with being a wife - at least, I'm great with being DH's wife. And he's excellent at being my husband. The words "husband" and "wife" sounded foreign to both of us initially, but the roles didn't take much getting used to. When the fanfare ended and the honeymoon was over and we started settling in to our first little apartment, we both marveled at how natural this was, living together and sharing the small decisions of life. The suddenly-blinding certainty I'd felt on the morning of our wedding has calmed down - for which I'm grateful, as I'd never get anything done if I was fainting all the time - but it hasn't dissipated. If anything, after 4 years and a career change and grad school and moving and adopting a cat and traveling and worrying about money and eating pizza on tired weeknights and arguing over dishes and everything that comes with sharing a life together, that certainty has become more solid. It was enormous when it struck me, because what we share is huge. But we have the rest of our lives for it to play out. For this I am more grateful than I can say.

Happy anniversary, DH. You're my favorite.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Triathlon training as a reflection of my past

Here's how I thought triathlon training would work:

Running: I've run a few 5Ks, a 4-mile race, and an 8K. Training for the 5K run is something I can handle, no big deal.

Biking: I used to bike 1.5 hours to work a couple of times a week. I can bike. No big deal.

Swimming: Scary and difficult. I mean, I know how not to drown, but I've never been a competitive swimmer and I always kind of thought people who swim laps are weird/boring. I taught water aerobics in college, which was fun because it was basically adult pool-splashing time. It was a small class of interesting people, so we chatted a lot. A good workout, but not a swim.

How the training has actually been going since February:

Running: this is a big deal - because I'm enjoying it more than ever. DH (this is his new abbreviation. Not for "Dear Husband" - thought he's that, too - but for "Domestic Hercules". Because that's what he really is.) is running with me. We've already killed the couch-to-5K program, now we've started One Hour Runner. We anticipate long summer evenings jogging together along the lake, which sounds lovely. This actually isn't triathlon training anymore, it's just fun.

Swimming: after an afternoon in February when my sister gave me some much-needed pointers on how to do the crawl, I was swimming laps once or twice a week for a while, and it was working out all right. I think the increased lung capacity I've gained from swimming is what's making running so nice. I have to run hard to get out of breath now. Honestly, I've gotten so into the running that I've slacked on the swimming of late, but I'm not too worried about it.

Biking: what's a bike?

Oops.

Can I show up to the triathlon and say "two out of three ain't bad"?

As I've reflected on it, though, I'm not actually surprised that the bike is the neglected third of my training. See, I learned to run whenever kids learn to run (age three?) and I ran cross-country for a couple of years and have done plenty of running for other sports, as well as for fun. Once when I was a freshman in college I just woke up one Saturday morning in the spring and, Forrest-Gump style, started running and just kept going north until I was tired. Which turned out to be Evanston. (I then walked home and was in considerable pain for a few days).

I learned to swim when I was roughly 4 or 5 years old. My parents took me to the community pool in the summers, where I took lessons from a large-bosomed, leathery-skinned lady named Judy who had a scratchy voice and a natural skill for helping small children face their terror of deep water. I adored Judy like a surrogate aunt. For several years of my childhood, my response to "what do you want to be when you grow up?" was "a swimming teacher." I wanted to be Judy. To have the patience that allows one to tread water for hours in the 10-foot end of the pool, coaxing jittery first-graders off the diving board, is to be just short of a superhero - or perhaps a saint (I learned recently that teaching children to swim is a commandment in the Torah, so maybe Judy really is a saint).

Judy helped me feel the freedom inherent in swimming: by the time I was 8 or so I would leap into the deep end of the pool and just fly underwater as long as my lungs could stand it. I'd imagine I was a dolphin, or a mermaid. Judy did very good work.

Then there was the bicycle. Classically, kids learn to ride their bikes... when? 7 or 8 years old? Maybe sooner? I've seen 5-year-olds tooling around with confidence.

I was not one of those kids.

Had there been a Judy of bicycles, the story may have been different. My father did the usual dad-thing of taking me out on the pink-and-purple bike with the training wheels and coaching me as I coasted up and down the sidewalk on our block. He was experienced in these matters: both of my elder siblings could ride bikes with no problem. Eventually the training wheels came off... and for whatever reason, I didn't really get back on the bike. There was unfortunately timed nagging from my brother, which caused me, at roughly age seven, to declare: "Maybe I DON'T WANT to learn to ride a bike!"

So I didn't. At all.

The summer when I was thirteen, I took my mom's old bike a few blocks away to the empty county fairgrounds. I had had a dream the night before : I was on a bike, wind blowing through my hair, flying along. I decided it was time to teach myself to ride this bike, along an empty stretch of blacktop next to a soybean field, where no one would see me. I got to the point of coasting at a fairly good speed down the gentle slope of the country road. As I picked up speed I realized I was possibly losing control, and gripped the brakes - but the back brake lines were rusted through. Only the front brakes engaged - and I flew over the handlebars.

The good news is that, due to my lack of steering control, I was facing sideways and I landed in a patch of grass that had not been recently mowed. Nothing was broken, except my motivation. I walked the bike the mile or so home, parked it in the carport, and finished my childhood having never ridden a bike.

This could cause the reader to wonder how I managed to miraculously wind up biking to work from the South Side to the West Side of Chicago as a young adult, or - obviously - how I'm planning to participate in a triathlon.

Well, Domestic Hercules (Herakles, if you're that kind of guy, which he kind of is) did what he so often does: he saved the day.

There was a definite advantage to the way we met - studying abroad in Italy - as most of the self-propelled transportation we did was walking. I'm very good at walking. We found, without much difficulty, that we liked walking places together. (Please insert a terrible Hallmark saying about marriage here, because I will not bring myself to do so). But the study-abroad experience has to end eventually, and we found ourselves back in the US, trying to flirt long-distance. I honestly don't recall when or how it came up that I couldn't ride a bike, but what I do remember is a complete lack of judgment on his part.

This is something I like about DH. Usually when I say something that I expect to be a BIG HAIRY DEAL, he treats it like the non-event it really is.

Instead of this being a problem, it was a matter of understanding: I was lacking this particular skill, once which he had in spades. So he offered to teach me how to ride a bike the next time I visited his parent's place, where there were many spare bikes.

In the driveway of my future in-laws' home, I made a wobbly start on the bike. DH gave me the encouraging and counterintuitive advice to pedal faster, and for some reason I listened to him. After a few moments, I was not-very-confidently tooling up and down his parents' short street. And I didn't crash.

He gave me a few minutes to gain some confidence, then he got on his bike and we took a bike ride together. It was my first bike ride with someone. I was 21.

I persisted in not crashing, save a minor run-in with a wall which I saw coming from a mile away and which didn't really hurt that much anyway since I was going approximately 7 miles an hour.

Over that summer we worked on bike riding several times, though I still suffered from some kind of social anxiety about bicycles: when the whole extended family was renting bikes for a summer afternoon ride, I got extremely nervous. DH offered to ride the tandem bike with me, so we did. (When his mother later learned that we did this and didn't get in to a fight, I think she was convinced we'd get married eventually.)

On the same bike ride a couple of years later, I rode my own mountain bike and spent some time racing DH and his brother. It felt a lot like the dream I'd had as a teenager - flying on land, under my own power, with the wind in my hair. I made it there, it just took me a bit longer than most.

This weekend, I'll be attempting what I'm calling a "fake-athlon": I'm hoping to swim, bike and run approximately the same distances I need to cover at the end of July, without regard to speed or transition times. If I can survive that - and I think I can - I should be able to manage the real thing at the crack of dawn in a strange town with a bunch of spectators and competitors, right?

And if I can't manage that, maybe I need to ride my bike a lot more in the next month.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wonderful Wash

Last night I spent roughly an hour doing something I wouldn't have expected to do in a sixth-floor apartment with no balcony: I was hanging laundry.

Of course, when we use the laundry room in the basement of our building I'd sometimes pull out the delicates and hang them to dry, but I was hanging up everything.

As of several weeks ago, we have clothes lines running the length of our small hallway, and another line running through our bedroom. And as of about 9:50pm yesterday, all the lines, and our drying rack, were full of damp clothes. Strategically placed fans helped dry the laundry all night.

Why am I suddenly not using the dryers in the basement?

Because we're not using the washers in the basement.

So how are the clothes getting washed?

With this:


Photo from here, and certainly not from our abode.

While I was hanging the laundry, my husband was in the kitchen, cranking away at our new washer - the Wonder Wash.

We now use less water, less detergent, hardly any electricity (save for the fans, but it's summer and we don't have air conditioning so those bad boys would be working full time, anyway) and considerably less time doing laundry than we used to.

I should probably back up, because I'm aware enough to realize that this - thing - looks bizarre.

Since spring of 2007, we've lived in an apartment building which sports a fairly nice, generally quite clean laundry room in the basement. The laundry room has 9 washers and 8 dryers. The apartment building has approximately 90 units, most of which house 2 or more people - and many of which house 2 or more adults plus several children.

This means our laundry room is in demand.

To make matters worse, when the hubs and I were both taking (or in his case, teaching) courses in the evenings, the only time we'd really be able to do laundry would be on weekends. When roughly 40 other people needed to do laundry. And we'd have at least 5 loads to do.

Laundry time in our basement was a breathless relay that involved running in to the room, claiming as many open washers as possible, cramming laundry in as fast as one can go, spending two dollars a load to wash and dry, setting a timer, heading back up to the apartment (because the alternative is to sit on a plastic chair in a windowless room while people come in and glare at you for doing laundry), leaping up when the timer goes off, running back down to the basement, usually having to move the dry stuff that someone just left in the dryer for three hours - often having the worst timing possible, whereby the person whose socks you just carried across the room walks in and looks pissed - shoving everything in the dryers, spending more money, setting another timer, etc.

The moment when the laundry was dry was even more stressful, because that's when folks decide it's OK for some reason to PAW THROUGH YOUR UNDERWEAR when you're folding.

Don't worry, that only happened once (seriously! This woman walked in, saw me standing at the folding table with my clothes piled before me, and just started... picking up my underpants. Uh... hello? I'm right here. Yes, those are mine. I agree that they're cute. Thank you for putting them down. Yiiiicccchhh).

After that incident, the routine would be to cram all the clean and dry laundry back into baskets (thus wrinkling everything) and haul it all upstairs, where we would then fold our two weeks' worth of clothes while watching some reruns or something.

And then about two weeks later we'd do it all over again.

There was an alternative, but that was getting tiring, too: our families all felt sorry for us, and so even a Sunday afternoon visit with my grandparents-in-law would be initiated with a "bring your laundry!" My parents, his parents, and my brother all have their own washers, as well. So we'd visit family and do our laundry.

But that starts to feel like you're visiting the washing machine and just giving family a cursory "hello" after a while. Because, you see, the laundry situation in our building was unpleasant enough that we just... avoided it. We both went the college route of simply buying more underwear. And we would go two full weeks... and then three full weeks... and then longer, without doing laundry. We'd do an "emergency load" on a weeknight to hold us over until the next time we saw family. And then when we saw family, I would start the first load of wash immediately and basically spend three full days monopolizing the local washer and dryer and nagging the hubs to fold when a load was done, because there are only so many baskets in the house and I'll need another one soon.

We'd looked in to small washers that could fit into small kitchens before, but they were clunky and small and seemed like they'd use a lot of electricity.

And yes, we used to use Laundromats, but that's just taking our same routine and loading it into a car and going somewhere where we don't even have family with whom to visit.

But then, a few weeks ago, the hubs discovered the Wonder Wash. It cost less than $50, and there was a YouTube video explaining how it worked. We watched it, and spent a weekend thinking about it, and then (with my blessing) he ordered it.

It showed up, not-entirely assembled, within three days. Hubs had it put together in a matter of minutes. And then we tried it.

A "load" of laundry in this contraption is about half the size of a regular washer's load, but it's so fast you can do a lot of laundry in not much time. Washing takes two minutes. Rinses (we rinse twice) take 30 seconds each. Throw in a few minutes for draining between those cycles and the average load takes about... 7 or 8 minutes? And the stuff seriously gets clean. We use the most unscented detergent we can use, so if the clothes were stanky, we'd be aware. But they're not.

So now, the hubs cranks through a load of wash, and then I look like this:

Image from here

Or something like that.

Laundry has now been shifted from a stressor in our lives to both a pleasant task and a shared project. Since we started using this washer a few weeks ago, we've been discussing tweaks to improve our system. The hubs has been amazing: he figured out how to hang up all the lines and where best to position the fans for drying.

And perhaps most weirdly, we look forward to doing the laundry. We get dishes (another household annoyance) finished more quickly so we can have the counter clear for the washing machine.

Obviously we'll still need the occasional washer and dryer for bulky things that don't fit in our washer, but that will be something along the lines of one load a month, which sounds fantastic to me - and probably to all of our relatives, too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My 10-week-old teacher

I'm back from the various abysses that had consumed me!

As I mentioned here before, last week I stayed with my sister and brother-in-law and their 10-week-old daughter, my only niece, She of the Smoochably Chubby Cheeks.

I have what I had thought is a non-negligible amount of childcare experience: I started babysitting for a couple of local families when I was 11 years old (and got certified in a Red Cross Babysitter course. I earned a little lapel pin in the shape of a teddy bear for that class). I later worked for three summers as a camp counselor, wrangling groups of Girl Scouts in steamy Southern Ohio weather. I was trusted enough to teach archery, even - though the arrow points weren't all that sharp.

It might be fair to point out that I haven't done much childcare since I was about 17 years old - 10 years ago. I still think of myself as a high-energy person, but after last week I think I understand better why one of my co-workers insists (in jest... I think) that teenagers should be the surrogate mothers for the whole population, because they have the energy to manage babies.

People, a 10-week-old child is exhausting.

My niece is going through a bit of a fussy phase, and I had to remind myself many times that she has DOUBLED IN SIZE in two months, from a 5.4 pound newborn to a 10-pound, 4 ounce baby. I can't imagine what it must feel like for one's body to be doing that much growing and changing that rapidly - probably pretty uncomfortable, right? Of course. Hence the crying.

She's usually just fine if she's being held while someone is walking or bouncing or patting her back while talking to her. She's in the best mood if someone is doing all of that at the same time, she just ate, and her diaper is clean. This is all simple enough, but to do this routine for HOURS is tiring fairly quickly.

Her cuteness is a double-edged sword. One afternoon, when she'd just woken up from a nap (taken, like many naps that week, on me), I was playing with sunlight and shadows to entertain her. She can see contrasts now - dark colors catch her gaze, and she looks mesmerized. So I was moving my face into and out of the sunlight that streamed through the window. She quietly watched, rapt, while this happened, and then after a few moments of this she looked me in the eyes and smiled a broad, toothless smile. A look of pure joy.

Which made me cry.

Yes, it was Friday afternoon - the end of a long week of night shifts and diaper changes - but I think even if I wasn't tired I would have been touched by her smile. She's just beautiful: chubby cheeks (did I mention those already?), big blue eyes, button nose. When people compliment my sister on her beautiful baby, they're not being polite - she's quite lovely.

Which is why, when she's in the troes of a red-faced, clenched-fist, bloodcurdling screaming crying jag, it is deeply upsetting, but not in the way I expected.

My not-yet-in-love-with-this-baby self thought that her crying would be annoying because it's loud and I like my quiet, or it's in the middle of night and I like my sleep. She'd be an inconvenience when she cried. Once I spent some time with the kid, though, her moments of upset were disturbing on a completely different level, one that's hard to explain. She's done nothing wrong, she's an innocent babe, and she's suffering. I just want her to be happy - and I realized at some point that wanting her to be happy didn't have much at all to do with wanting ME to be happy. I found myself willingly changing pooey diapers because she tends to make a satisfied coo when her bum is clean and dry and newly be-diapered. The coo is cute, but it's also correct.

Does that make sense?

When she's smiling away it's like a corner of the universe is in proper order.

I think that's getting at it.

Children should be safe and clean and warm and loved - and they should know it. It's frustrating to be faced with a wee baby who can't know this yet: dozens of people love her immensely. Her parents are crazy about her. She's wanted and protected, but she'll only know this with time and the patience of all the adults around her.

When I described that smiling moment in the sunshine to another one of my co-workers, who is herself a mother, she said, "and that's the second you could have slayed any dragon, right?"

That about sums it up. I'd stop a train for that kid.

I thought I was being a bit histrionic, but fortunately Pioneer Woman helped me feel less crazy when she posted about her nephew recently here. A similar sentiment - she's not my baby, but at this point she's not not my baby. Sort of.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quick update, May's a bust

I realized I was going to be "back Monday"... a couple of weeks ago. Alas.

I ran the 5K on May 1st in 35:09, which was pretty good. I ran the whole thing, no stopping except to hand off my completely unnecessary sunglasses to my husband halfway through the race. It was a perfectly drizzly day to run a race, and my knees didn't hurt much at all afterward, which is always the litmus test for a run.

Meanwhile, the month of May at my workplace is the busiest and certainly the most stressful month of the year, so the quietness of the blog will likely continue in to June.

I'm guessing I'll have all kinds of new stuff to talk about in June, however, as I will be spending the week of May 31-June 4th with my niece, who by that time will almost surely have doubled in weight since the last time I saw her. She's a great eater. She is apparently not a good sleeper at all, however, so I'm wondering which will be tougher on me: the busiest week of the year at work, when I'm responsible for 50 professionals for a 5-day training, or the week when I'm walking around the house at 3am with a screaming 9-week-old? I think I know where my skills lie, but I'm hoping I'm wrong. Regardless, this will be an introduction to the realities of life with a newborn: A life which, to be frank, does not sound at all appealing to me.

Maybe the week with my niece will help answer the question of why anyone would put themselves through such an ordeal. At least, a reason other than "Because people have no idea what living with a newborn is like until it's too late."

Unless there's some serious time to kill between sessions next week, so long until June!

Friday, April 30, 2010

It's ON!

So we're less than 90 days away, and this triathlon training has really started! Sort of.

The last few weeks I've been swimming at least once a week and running 2-3 times a week. The running has been front-loaded because my mother-in-law (She is awesome. And today's her birthday!) signed me up for a 5K run this weekend in my husband's hometown. So tomorrow morning I'm getting up considerably earlier than I usually do on Saturday, lacing up my shoes and running my first 5 K since...

Um, since...

Yeesh. I think the last 5K I ran was in 2008.

I ran an 8K in March of 2009 which was very sloppy - it was the Shamrock Shuffle, which has had nasty weather the last couple of years - and that hurt my knees a bit. So I took a "break" from running.

I'm just now realizing that break was basically a year long.

I walked a 5K in July 2009, because I wasn't quite in running shape any more, and then that was about it for any kind of organized anything until now.

This year I'm already planning this weekend's 5K, another 5K run in July (same one as last summer, but with actual running), the sprint triathlon at the end of July, and then probably a 4 mile run on Thanksgiving morning.

Unfortunately I think I'm just a goal-oriented person. I have trouble learning things like musical instruments or skills of any kind if there isn't a regular class with an instructor. And apparently, my running habit can only be maintained by regularly scheduled races. Which annoyingly have registration fees. And I am cheap.

Interestingly, 2 of the 3 races I'll be doing in the next months are races for which other people registered me. Which I think means they know this about me.

My goal is to finish the race. If I run it all, great. If I run it all under 35 minutes, stupendous.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Readiness

If you're one of the three people who read this blog, you probably already know this, but I thought I should clarify:

I'm a 27-year-old, happily married woman working on the tail end of a master's degree. Friends and relatives my age are all having kids. My husband and I are the kind of people you would probably call to babysit, as we are generally trustworthy and are at least good caretakers of our cat.

Thus, we get asked from time to time about when we're having kids. Or, occasionally, told: "You're not getting any younger". My mom just became a grandmother, so the pressure is off on my side of the family, but my mother-in-law, who I guarantee would be the Awesomest Grandma on the Planet, quietly pines for grandkids. And her youngest son - the one I married - is her only chance for those. (Ah, but a post about my two brothers-in-law is a whole separate topic. One I may never get to. They're nice guys, but they're not settle-down-and-make-babies kind of guys.)

So if there's the occasional post about kids - whether and when to have them, whether they completely destroy your life or only temporarily ruin it - don't be surprised. I am writing through my thoughts about this as they pop up. It's not you, I promise. It's me, and the people and events around me.

This consideration of motherhood is almost purely academic. I mean, it's emotional, too, because of factors like my mother-in-law (no, she really isn't giving me grief... but she adores babies, and kids in general, and the adoration is mutual) but I'm not dying to have a baby like some of my peers are. I find the process of pregnancy fascinating, and - there's no way to say this without sounding terrible - I'd be interested to try it. It just seems like nine to ten months of being geeked out by my body.

But the end of that process is something I'm - we're - not ready for.

I posted that inflammatory dooce post on my facebook page and asked my friends with kids what they thought of it. I was suprised by and grateful for the reaction I got. None of them agreed with her, not even a bit. Even my friend who's a single mom of two, juggling work, kids and school, said she thought the post was crazy. She noted that it gets overwhelming sometimes, but she needs down time with her kids to stay sane.

Certainly the best comment came from my older and wiser cousin who always comes through with great life advice. She wrote: "At 3 PM every day at work I long for my kids so bad it hurts. When I come home and they rush at me, it is so great! I love having time on the weekends to lay around and play with them, do puzzles, etc. I think this is a rant of a parent having a very overwhelmed moment and we all have those as parents, but it is not how you feel all the time."

She also noted, when I mentioned that dooce is on a lot of psychotropic meds, that the severe sleep deprivation that comes with caring for a newborn feels like you're on weird drugs anyway. She noted that when their oldest kid was a newborn, her husband asked her every day for a week if it was Tuesday. And he's usually a pretty with-it guy.

This is the same cousin who told me once, at her daughter's birthday party where her house was swarmed with kids and relatives and neighbors and noise, "Kids are so great... when you're ready for them."

That sounds nice. I'm so totally not ready.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Weekends

I need to tell you about my weekends.

Perhaps because I've spent more weekends than usual traveling this year, I've come to value even more the stretch between 5:00pm Friday and about 11pm Sunday, when I don't have a strict to-do list, I'm not in my windowless office and the only person I have to consult with about activities is, oh, my favorite person on the planet.

At this time in my life, the absolute best weekends are the ones that have zero outside obligations: no family gatherings, no weddings, nada. All those activities are fun, usually, but the Saturday that begins when the cat is head-butting me awake because she's out of food and I didn't set an alarm because I didn't need to are the best.

When faced with a wide open Saturday, my hubs and I always come up with some kind of plan. Often that plan involves rearranging some part of our one-bedroom apartment so it feels more open or works more efficiently. I usually try to sneak in a little cleaning, maybe do our laundry (which is a project because we either have to haul it to the basement laundry room - our building has 9 washers for 100 people - or we go mooch off a relative. We used to do laundromats, but they're not very fun) . I usually get some bit of housekeeping accomplished on a weekend, but the motivation isn't usually that I love cleaning, it's that starting Monday with a clean space is pleasant.

This past weekend was just one of those perfect weekends: No schedule. We moved furniture, washed windows, did all the laundry and the dishes, fixed our bikes after a winter in storage. This was over a two-day period: nothing was rushed. We spent just as much time lounging around, surfing the internet, drinking coffee, reading. We watched an action movie we've seen ten times, and we ate pizza. We got some gin, mixed a couple of drinks, admired the new furniture setup. Stayed up late and slept in late.

Our weekends manage to be lazy and efficient at the same time, but though I enjoy that, that's not really the point. Even if we do have hard work to do or we're heading to my in-laws or we have to go to a wedding or baptism or something, I look forward to weekends and the down time we have together.

I like weekends because I like the person (and the cat) with whom I live.

This reflection has come up because a post by Heather Armstrong, aka dooce, just bothered me considerably. Before anyone points out, "uh, Schmei, you know dooce is mentally ill and on a lot of medications, right?" Let me make it clear that I understand that. The post itself was just her being her neurotic self, I thought. Kind of entertaining, a little uncomfortable - her usual writing style.

But her commenters scared the bejeesus out of me.

Dooce's post - it's here - is all about how she hates weekends. Hates them. She can't relax because she can't work, and she gets all anxious without a schedule and starts cleaning everything compulsively. When I read the post, I thought, "I guess I could see that. If I worked from home I'd have trouble shutting it off for two days when my office is right there, too. Not everyone is able to do that..."

But there are two wrinkles. One is that she has two young children, and I know babies are terrible creatures to live with sometimes, and her six-year-old daughter certainly does not sound like a picnic either, so I guess I can understand her anxiety but I always thought weekends with kids could be nice. I guess I just assumed they'd be like weekends are for us now, only with an additional small person who can't eat pizza just yet and needs poopy diapers changed, and then later that small person might be doing something like playing outside when the weather's nice, but that would be fun, right? I love to get outside on weekends. I don't even mind soccer games that much.

Here's the other wrinkle - and this is the thing I should never do on anything besides this blog - I started reading the comments. And every. single. person. agreed with her. Weekends with kids? Suck. Across the board. They are a terrible period of constant suffering. There is no sleeping in, no enjoying coffee, no quiet time, NO FUN. Children with no routine flip out and abuse their parents, needling them constantly. They never shut up. They don't take naps. Things don't even start to pretend to improve until they're at least 10 years old, but then they're pre-teens and we know how awful THOSE are...

I am not kidding when I say those comments made me want to never reproduce in any way. Not even adoption, which, whenever I hear a horror story about childbirth, is my fallback position - "We'll just adopt!" - it's like takeout for babies. Who has time to gestate anymore?

Anyway, that post and those comments made me try to remember what weekends were like when I was growing up. Did I torture my parents when I was a kid? Sundays were fairly routine: church in the morning and then usually breakfast all together, the whole family passing around sections of the newspaper. I would always read the lame kid's joke aloud to Mom because I found her groan entertaining. (Sigh. I still love awful puns. They still make my loved ones groan.) Some Sunday afternoons Dad would go for a hike and take one or two of us along. Sunday dinner was usually something made of chicken, because it was a dinner with my family.

Did my parents hate that? I always thought Sundays were kind of nice.

Saturdays are harder to recall specifically because they were more nebulous. I do remember a time when all three of us were playing soccer, on different teams, at different places sometimes. I'm sure that was stressful, but once they got the transportation figured out it all worked out all right. And besides, that wasn't the whole day, just a couple of hours, usually, and then we'd all go home or hang out with teammates for a while or something.

I remember playing outside in sun or leaves or snow, or reading books. Entertaining myself, or playing superheroes with my brother. Or boardgames with my sister.

How bad was that? Was it that bad? It didn't seem bad, but I was a kid. Are kids that bad? Do they really ruin weekends? Can I never rearrange furniture with my husband again if we have a kid?

I suppose this is bothering me in part because, while I know plenty of women my age who have "baby fever," I don't really have it. What I would like is a child. Like, a seven-year-old, who will later be a twelve-year-old, and then a twenty-two-year old who I can take out to buy a suit for her job interview like my mom did for me. I would enjoy having a son or daughter, or one of each, or hell, two of each, and watch them grow up. It would be interesting to see what combination of traits kids would get, between my husband and me. I hope they get his mechanical smarts, even if that means they disassemble the thermostat. And they'll hopefully get his height, which will be nice for them... and for me, really. Once they're grown, I'll have more than one person I can ask to get things off high shelves. However, I kind of hope they get my hair. Because I am a vain person.

But I'm just not that in to babies. And the more I learn about newborns (my three-week-old niece, for instance, is both beautiful and a relentlessly demanding tyrant all at once), the less I want one of those. And the more I read articles like dooce's post, I find myself worried that the newborn stage never really ends. According to posts like that, newborns just morph in to kids who are potty trained, able to speak, and still just as awful to live with. If not worse.

All of those commenters sounded like my greatest fear about parenthood: they sounded regretful. And I hate that when I think about potentially being a parent some day, one of the questions I ask myself is "which would you regret more, NOT having kids, or having them and not liking them?"

That is a gross question.

I am happy with my life now. I've always kind of thought I'd be happy with kids, but posts like this make me worry that kids would ruin everything I love about my life, and then I couldn't take them back, and my husband and I would be stuck resenting each other and the little monsters we created for the rest of our lives together.

But there has to be a way to train kids to move furniture, right? Maybe that's all we'll need to do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quasi brain dump.

I'd just like to note that I have twelve drafts of blog posts, several of which keep growing. This is a nice mental exercise, but I need to stretch that _posting_ muscle. It's been a month since I've used it.

The lovely and talented Jenna over at That Wife does weekly "brain dump" posts, which I enjoy, so for a change (and for a bit of a shout out to her - she had her baby boy on Monday! Go Jenna!), I shall dump a few things that have been rattling around my brain lately.

First: speaking of recent arrivals, my sister had her baby a bit over two weeks ago, and I was able to fly out at the last minute (thanks to my parents who paid for the ticket) and be there. The actual story is long and it was, to keep it short, not exactly what my sis was hoping for, in terms of a birth experience. However, her baby girl is just beautiful, is very healthy, and loves to eat. If one has to make a choice between a birth that kind of sucks and a baby who's not healthy, well... not much of a choice, right? My niece is strong and beautiful. At the risk of over-the-top schmalz, she resembles her mother.

I first got to see my niece when she was just under 2 hours old, and I got to hold her when she was 23 hours old - the newest baby I've ever held. I expected to be scared, but I don't know if it's pheromones or the fact that she was completely asleep most of the time or what, but I didn't have my usual newborn worry about breaking her at all. She's cool.

Second: another lovely and talented blogger (and one of my only readers!), Erin over at Just One Week, had a giveaway a few weeks ago for those cool LobotoME notepads... and I WON. I've never won a giveaway on a blog before. Thanks, Erin!

If you're reading here and you like blogs that are actually updated regularly, you should check out Erin's. Her project is cool and her writing style is very enjoyable.

Third: my best bud from preschool-through-high school started an online book club, which is a brilliant idea. I'm too cheap to buy a book every month and I think all the copies of the first book had been stolen from the library, so I didn't get to read the first book. But I own the second book, so I have no excuse. I just have to finish the great book I'm reading at the moment, which shouldn't take long.

Fourth: I'm not actually all that behind on my master's thesis. I'm in the final stage of approval before I can go out in the field! I'm looking forward to doing actual work on this thing rather than proposing.

Fifth: Something else that is starting to take up more of my time and energy these days is triathlon training. The last couple of weeks I've been alternating running and swimming each day. My 13-week countdown starts next week, so I suppose this could be called pre-training before I start actually training (which will have to include a day or two on my bike each week).

What's surprised me so far how tired I am these days. I've trained for races before (nothing longer than 8K... I have crappy knees) and I usually had more energy once I got into it, but I think this triathlon training is a different animal: there's not really a lot of space in the schedule for an all-out rest day, and I think I just need more sleep than I did before. I probably need to change what I eat, as well. I do crave sugar less than I use to... and I want protein all the time. Which presumably means I'm developing muscles.

I need to note that this is for a sprint triathlon, (6 laps swimming in a pool, 12 mile bike, 5K run). I cannot imagine what those Ironman people do. Or how much they eat and sleep.

Side note: for pretty funny commentary on Ironman training, go to Fat Cyclist. He's nuts, but he's doing this to impress a chick. Except she's already agreed to marry him, so I'm not sure why he's doing it, really...

Another side note: my husband has been running with me, which is so nice because he's my favorite running partner and we can chat while we jog. Also: my mother-in-law signed me up for a 5K in hubs's home town on May 1, which is good timing for my training. I totally lucked out on in-laws.

OK! Brain dump complete! How's everybody doing out there in internet land?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Get out and ROWE

This morning on NPR I heard a story about "Results Oriented Work Environments" - the office environment of tomorrow, today!

In ROWE workplaces, people can work remotely, for the most part, unless they're scheduled to cover some face-to-face customer service type meeting. This means that "cubicle farms" are left mostly empty while workers rotate who's actually present. Managers of ROWE offices claim that the workers who do this are more productive because the hours they are working are actual working hours, rather than "butt in a chair at the office" hours (or what they call "presenteeism"... a term that's a bit too cute for my taste).

My taller half disregarded this idea, saying it's just another way to squeeze even more hours out of workers, for the same pay. As I was commuting to my office, though, I found myself wondering just how much of my job I could do from somewhere else... and whether I would be more productive and possibly happier if I tried it.

Which inevitably got me thinking about how much more time I could spend in natural light.

You see, at my workplace I have my own office, which I understand is a luxury, especially for someone my age. To be able to close a door is very nice on days when I need to be on the phone for a while, or am working on number crunching that needs concentration, or just don't want to deal with interruptions (though a closed door isn't necessarily a guarantee of that).

But my office is windowless. I spend hours of my life sitting at a desk, facing a wall, under fluorescent lights, and seeing zero natural anything, unless you count the plant that lives on my metal office shelf. I'm fairly certain this contributes to the lack of fulfillment the job gives me, which I've written about before.

Really, I could just as easily call people or reconcile receipts from... anywhere. Except for running the occasional conference and being secretary for the occasional meeting, I could do, probably, 80% of my job remotely. And the rest of that stuff could be scheduled for days when I plan to be around.

Heck, if I was able to work from somewhere else, my boss could give me a cubicle and assign my office to someone else.

Listening to the story about workers telecommuting, or only going in to the office once a week, I caught myself dreaming about setting up shop on a screened-in porch, with my coffee, in jeans and a sweatshirt, and logging my work hours to the sound of birdsong.

(Note: I don't have a screened-in porch. But it sounds nice, doesn't it?)

All this daydreaming is made worse by the fact that my desk at home just got moved and rearranged (does anyone else out there correlate "rearranging furniture" with "fun weekend"? Or is that just us?) so that it now faces two windows. As I was finishing a class project yesterday, I enjoyed swaying trees, changing evening sunlight, and puffy clouds. Just the occasional glance up helped my mental state considerably, and I got the project finished hours before I had originally expected to.

Of course, the usual tradeoff of working from home and/or working someplace comfortable is that you'll just never stop. This is certainly the case for most people I know who work from home, but the difference is that those people work for themselves. They're either running small businesses or they're independent contractors. My brother is a solid example of this: he has a home office, which means he works, like, 18 hour days, then staggers down the hall and falls in to bed, basically. And he's usually doing that six or seven days a week. He's got to be the most demanding boss ever, but he's his only employee, so nobody complains.

But if instead of running your own business you were reporting to a supervisor via e-mail and Skype, would it work? In a mostly self-managed job like mine, I think it would. And I think I'd be willing to give it a try.

Perhaps it's time to chat with my boss.