Thursday, December 08, 2016

The little things

* My grades are all in. The concerned student did in fact earn a B, as did the athlete I was tutoring. (In the athlete's case, I REALLY think it was a matter of "wow, I need to buckle down and actually work" rather than "I don't understand this at all" though. I think he's fundamentally a smart guy but maybe had got a little lazy - it happens a lot to people in high school)

* I gathered up all the old papers I could get rid of and took them to our print shop, where they have an industrial shredder that will chew them up. I presume the paper is then recycled (though arguably, paper recycling is less a good for the environment than things like metals recycling, but I'm not gonna go into that)

* I have a meatloaf in the oven, so fresh different food for dinner tonight. (I eat a lot of meatloaf, but it's easy to make, easy on the teeth if my sinuses are bugging me, and there are a lot of different ways you can flavor it up)

* I dropped off my Toy for a Tot this afternoon at the Chamber of Commerce, which is a nice convenient place (it is like three blocks from my house).

* Antiquing tomorrow is a go. I am excited for this. Even if I don't buy anything it will still be fun. And I am going out to lunch. Maybe to the barbecue place, maybe somewhere else.

* I got a couple cards already - one from a Twitter friend, one from a Ravelry friend. The Ravelry friend also sent me excellent herbal tea (bought at Marks and Spencers!):

The mug was a freebee when I bought a bunch of stuff from Monastery Greetings. It has St. Benedict on the other side.

* Minty will probably finished - at least in terms of crocheting - tonight. She....may wind up coming with me in my carry on bag at Christmas. (Oh, Fluttershy will come too; I have to take Fluttershy as my woobie when I travel)

* A relatively new family at church is hosting a big fun lunch Sunday after church, which will be nice. I might make a snack cake or something to take. (Oh....I could do the cocoa Hershey's cake, it does not require eggs. I am a bit low on eggs at the moment and don't want to buy more with leaving as soon as I am)

* It's cold out, but my furnace is working well and my little warm-mist humidifier is gurgling beside me and I have nice blankets on my bed and my Paddington Bear Christmas quilt and I have warm pajamas.

* The first of the little surprise gifts I sent out has landed and the recipient is happy. I enjoy doing things like that because I know I enjoy getting little surprises in the mail so it makes me happy to think of someone else getting a surprise.

* I'm done for the semester (essentially) now: I do have one more syllabus to write but it's the gen-ed class so I have to hold off until I get the updates from the coordinator. And I need to do my PTR packet but that's for Monday.

End of semester break is best break because you are actually done. And I don't have anything really hanging over my head - no revisions of a paper I have to do (and in fact, there's the one on which I'm a co-author that will come out at some point with no further work from me), no new preps to plan for, no theses to read and comment on. (I am on one person's committee but he's just at the beginning-writing stage).

Oh, it's cold

It finally got cold out. Part of me is thrilled by this (I grew up in Ohio, did some of my education in Michigan, did the rest on the Illinois I'm used to cold). And I'm grateful it's dry - freezing rain can really mess up an exam week.

Part of me, though, meh - woke with a headache which is probably the result of the in-house humidity dropping below 30% (I keep a hygrometer on hand as much for the health of my piano as for my sinuses). So I dug out and cleaned up the little steam generator and had it going for a while. (I turned it off when I left home; I don't like leaving "hot" appliances going when I'm not around). I need to pick up a couple gallons of distilled water for it because it cruds up from our tap water and then I have to do the whole rinsing-with-vinegar process which is a pain.

My exams are graded and I need to be entering those grades. Had a student in my gen- ed class call to see if I could predict her grade (common exam, it gets a curve, but I don't know the curve just yet). Did a little back of the envelope stuff and told her it was highly likely she still had a B, which earned an "Oh, thank the Lord!" Heh. (Though I really wonder how much effort He puts into affecting grades; my philosophy is that the student gets out what they put in in terms of effort, without Divine intervention. At least, I don't ever remember having prayed for a particular grade)

I'm already circling around towards thinking of Projects And Books for break - probably take the "big" flu book I am reading on but I also want a "happier" history to read - maybe one of the biographies of Beatrix Potter I have, I don't know. And I have an Angela Thirkell book I want to take and read.

As for projects: I have two very-nearly-finished sweater: Hagrid, which I haven't touched since LAST Christmas, but which just lacks a sleeve, and Raven, which is almost done (second sleeve is about half-done and then all it needs is the little collar). I don't think I have room for both so I will have to consider.

And I have patterns for the crocheted Shetland Pony with Sweater (will obtain yarn up there) and a free pattern from KnitPicks for a "Kitten Pouf" (a roundish, sofa-pillow kind of thing) that I think would look nice out of Wool-Ease Thick and Quick, which I can also get up there. I will also have to consider other toys - making toys at Christmas is kind of a tradition for me. (And I could see whipping up an extra Kitten Pouf or two if there's anyone who needs a last-minute gift; they look fast and fun to do and are pillow-like enough that even an adult who is NOT besotted with stuffed animals like I am would probably appreciate it)

And I think I'm going to wind off the yarn I bought a while back from String Theory - it's a sort of tealish blue with narrow gold and tan stripes, the color is called "Uranus" which immediately made my inner 12 year old go snerk and decided I wanted a hat of it. (Yes. A Uranus Hat. You can probably imagine the joke related to that). And I'm going to find a simple hat pattern - either the Sockhead hat or maybe a more fitted, beanie-type hat, and make one.

And there will be socks. I think I'm going to dig around for a cabled sock pattern and figure out a yarn for that (I have some really pretty purple blend, a recent purchase, called "birthday cake"). And maybe a couple of plain self-stripers. And the ongoing scarves and the Scottish Thistle Shawl I started back in the summer but never talked about because I never got too far on it, and then got tired/busy/meh and didn't feel like working on complicated lace.

Minty is progressing. I got a little derailed on her when Pfred arrived but I did finish the first back leg last night and plan to do the second one tonight, and maybe even finish her altogether. Tomorrow is to be my antiquing day (if I don't learn the curve on the gen-ed class exam today, I'll have to come in tomorrow first thing to see to it, though). I'm excited for that - going out early in the day, being able to take a day with no real constraints on my time, being able to hit whatever stores I feel like I want to go to.

(Hooray. Just received the curve information so I will be able to compute and submit all my grades today)

An historical moment

I didn't post any mention yesterday of it being the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor (lots of other people did, though). I want to correct that now.

I learned about it in school. My dad was a small child (Six, he would have been) and says he remember the adults being concerned and somber about something but not knowing what. I remember my fifth grade math teacher (who was older than my dad - I think she said she was a young teen) said that she remembered how the radio program her family was listening to was broken into to announce the news and how everything changed. And years later, my friend Dorothy - who was a v. young college student during the war - said she remembered the news of the attack (she lived in California and so it would have been a bigger concern there). Also, she talked about how she learned to drive and actually did volunteer work transporting medicines to hospitals around the area where she lived, because the men who had done it in the past had enlisted in the war effort.

Funny how different times were.

Of course, for my generation, September 11, 2011, would have been similar. Oh, in many ways it was different - for one thing, civilians were attacked rather than a military target (and in my mind, that seems particularly cowardly - to go after ordinary people on their way to work. Attacking a Navy base of a country you are not currently at war at, while it's bad, doesn't seem cowardly in the same way). But the aftereffects were different. I admit, I was patterning "what is going to happen" on what I knew from older relatives talking about World War II - yes, I was actually expecting gas-rationing and food-rationing and was surprised and discombobulated when the call went out from some circles that it was "patriotic" to go shopping because it stimulated the economy. And of course we didn't have the massive mobilization that we had in World War II (I don't think people of my generation fully appreciate just how broad the war effort was - most families in the country had at least one person in the armed forces in some capacity).

I don't know if sentiment against those belonging to the same group as "the attackers" was worse then or now. I heard of attacks against Muslim-Americans in the wake of 2001, and I know the Lebanese family that ran a favorite restaurant of my parents very prominently displayed an American flag and had "God Bless America" on their sign (They are nominally Muslim, but one of the men laughed good-naturedly and said "We accept all well-wishes; we celebrate everything" when my dad once asked him if it was okay for my dad to wish him a Merry Christmas - my dad didn't know at that point if they were Christian, Muslim, or what). Then again, we didn't inter people in 2001, though there may have been a few isolated calls for that. (I knew a man when I was growing up - the husband of the minister* who baptized me - who had been interred because he was of Japanese heritage. He wasn't particularly bitter about it but he did say he wished it hadn't happened). And what I'm reading now about the World War I homefront must have been unpleasant for my German-American ancestors if they were very out about their heritage. (They probably *weren't,* I think by and large that kind of thing was less of a thing than it is now).

And I have heard of people who never trusted those of Japanese heritage after 1941. That's unfortunate but I suppose understandable.

(*A woman minster.....this was long before Obergefell and while the Disciples of Christ are pretty liberal about that kind of thing, I don't think the little local congregation I was in would have been)

I don't know where I'm going with this, other than I think it's important to mark the day. (When I was in eighth grade history, I was commended by my teacher for being the ONLY one in the class who knew that it was Pearl Harbor Day. I think I knew that and it was in my mind because Del and Tom had mentioned in on their morning "news lite" show - my family watched it).

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Okay, I'm ready

This is the follow up to "just leaving this here"

Today was longer than planned.

The worst part was that I had nearly had an asthma attack in my exam this morning. A cold front is coming through and this is finally a big one (they are saying it will get colder than it did all last winter) and often these fronts stir stuff up and bring in new pollen or dust.

Also, I might have brought it on myself - I spent the morning sitting in my chilly office (it's been chilly in much of my building) hunched over my desk grading biostatistics exams. I might have caused my muscles to cramp up a little - with me, asthma often manifests as tightness in the intercostal muscles and what feels like cramps in my diaphragm. (I wonder if that could in any way be tied to the fact that I got hiccups incredibly easily as a child - when I cried too much, or if I ate a little too fast, or if I swallowed air while eating, or even certain food textures did it).

I was pretty miserable for most of the time, hoping I didn't get worse, hoping I didn't wind up gasping or even actually hitting the floor (I have never passed out with these but it feels like it couldn't be impossible to; it's screwing with my vagus nerve and I've passed out before when swallowing too-big antibiotic capsules and the like).

After the exam was over, it was the annual lunch out at the best local restaurant. (This is sponsored by someone who has supplied lab books for us in the past - probably technically we're not supposed to accept the lunch as we are state employees, but it's more of a social/friendly thing than anything). The man involved is a very nice man and when I came in (I was first to arrive) and commented I was having some breathing troubles, he asked me if he could arrange for me to have a beverage and I said hot tea would help. Two cups of strong hot tea (the cheap bagged kind restaurants that don't serve much tea use, but that was fine) and I was better.

It was a big relief. Some ancient Greek philosopher wrote about pleasure being the absence of pain and I often think of that after something like one of those cramping-muscle episodes or after I get over a migraine - it is such a relief for the pain to be gone. (And of course, with the asthma, there's the specter of  "Am I misinterpreting this and it's actually HEART" though when I've gotten checked out in the past with similar symptoms nothing was found wrong with my heart)

But anyway.

I linked this article earlier. It's a year old, but I think a lot of people are melancholy this year. (2016 has been a bad year for lots of folks, and I know some people saying they have no Christmas spirit, even when in other years they have)

I do think it is good to recognize that there sometimes is a little sad mixed in with the happiness. I think an unfortunate strain in American culture (maybe Western culture in general, I don't know) is wanting to paper over any hint of sadness. But sadness is a part of life. Maybe not "sadness," quite, but pensiveness and melancholy. Especially at the end of the year, when it gets dark early and in much of the country it's cold. And when we remember the I commented once before, in the past, there have been years when I had to stop while putting up decorations or listening to Christmas music and cry a little bit because I was thinking of the people who had "left" in the previous year - 2004 was a bad year, and 2008, and 2010, and 2014. And this year, my cousin and my mom's best friend's addition to all the well-known folks. (And I still remember, far, far too vividly, that Friday night back in January when I was having to make panicked calls around to the police and the hospital in my parents' town, and there was maybe a 10-15 minute stretch where I literally did not know if they were dead or alive, and I kept having to stuff down the rising worry of "What will I do if..." Fortunately that ended happily - a medication mistake that was fairly easily fixed - but I do admit it affected me very strongly and still affects me)

Anyway. The funny thing is, I don't find the Vince Guaraldi music referenced therein all that sad. Maybe it's that I never really watched Arrested Development (in which it apparently became a running gag whenever a character was sad, the song played). I find it maybe pensive, maybe even a little melancholy, but not exactly SAD. And again, I think accepting that pensiveness is a part of life is important - not papering over everything with a big goofy smiley face like nothing bad ever goes on.

I don't have problems with moments of melancholy at Christmas. I don't know if that's because I am better than some at seeing the sad side-by-side with the happy in life (you have to take the bitter with the sweet, I think, and it's really only alongside the sad times that the happy ones have meaning) or that I possess a sufficiently sunny outlook most of the time that I can pull myself back up out of the sadness I may experience (the times I feel sad, by and large, it's very traceable to circumstances - a friend of mine is suffering in some way, there is a big difficult change going on, there are budget worries.) Though I will admit I had a few weeks this fall when I wondered....wondered if I'd be able to pull myself back up out THIS time.

And yeah. The whole situation with the promising student of ours who died suddenly still plays on my mind. I was entering grades today and his name was still there and it just makes me sad. I hope his family is doing OK. 

I also think the author is right, about how often our actual experience does not live up to our dream (He must be a good bit younger than I am; he writes of wanting a "Thomas Kinkade" type Christmas morning in his childhood; Kinkade was not painting yet when I was a kid). But I remember even as a kid, how the days before Christmas seemed to last forever, but then, once the presents were unwrapped, there was a sense of "is that all there is?" - or as WH Auden said,

Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school.  There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.  Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
(From "Christmas Oratorio")

I think even as a child I expected some change, some sense of things being different, and they never seemed to be...Oh, there were new toys and books to read and of course the decorations stayed up, but....I don't know what I expected. A coming of the Kingdom, maybe, even though I couldn't have articulated it that way as a child? Or that maybe everything would change and I'd be totally happy? I don't know.

The author of the piece (Tyler Huckabee) I linked also refers to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which in the more-original (not the ORIGINAL original with truly pessimistic lyrics, which Huckabee quotes in there). But I do like the slightly-sadder version, where there is the mention of "next year, we all will be together" and "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow." (Really, isn't that adult life? I talk all the time about "making it up as I go along" but that's pretty much the definition of muddling through). (Of course, not long after the song is when Tootie flips out and destroys the snow family, in a fit of childlike sadness and rage about maybe being plucked up and forcibly moved to New York. And really, that's kind of a sad and disturbing scene, but again: isn't that how some of us want to react to changes in our lives? I know after finding out this spring about my now-former colleague being let go for budgetary reasons I really wanted to scream and cry and kick stuff and break things. I did cry, and I cried a lot, but I guess I really am fairly grown-up because I didn't do any of the other things)

But no. I prefer the movie-original lyrics to the happied-up ones the Sinatra or someone switched to.

Huckabee also notes that we say "making merry" - because it does take work: MAKING merry. Just like I make cookies or dinner or a new pair of mittens, we have to consciously work at it. And we also have to accept that it won't be perfect. And that at times we may be sad, or some of us may have to go off and cry a little bit and we shouldn't be to pressed as to the reasons why because we might not even be able to give good ones. And also that it's okay not to be totally jolly and merry, and even okay to maybe want to opt out of some of the things.

And also that it's not perfect, it will never be perfect - the cat will climb the Christmas tree and break ornaments, or some little cousin will have a screaming meltdown, or someone will drink a little too much and say something they regret later, or someone will regift something not remembering the original giver is right in the same room, or someone will get food poisoning, or, or, or....

I mentioned I liked National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation despite it being a fairly crude and, in some ways, mean-spirited movie. But I think what I like about it is that it's the opposite of a perfect Christmas, it shows a family that's really kind of messed up in a lot of ways....and yet, somehow, they still muddle through. (That said: I'm not sure I can watch it more than once a season). And I like some of the simpler Christmas specials (Even A Charlie Brown Christmas, to bring this back around) because there IS that recognition that perfection is really kind of out of reach, and "the best we can do" is the best we can and should hope for. (One thing people forget about the comic strip "Peanuts" is how *melancholy* a lot of the 1960s-era strips were. I read them A LOT as a child and yes - the kids are mean to poor Charlie Brown, and Linus is that weird kid who is probably "too old" for his age, and Lucy has a crush that will never be reciprocated....and I learned a lot from those comics and I do think in some way they affected my worldview. (I also learned the word "sarcasm" from them; I sounded it out and then had to ask my mom what "bitter sarcasm" was. I don't remember her exact explanation...)

just leaving this here

A link for a longer post later: "Your “Merry Christmas” isn’t necessarily a guarantee. It takes some doing. It’s not easy.".

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


So, the shipment was "delayed" one day (whether because of bad weather or maybe box damage - see below - I don't know).

But I expected it today because the UPS tracking said "out for delivery" and the guy brought it just a bit ago.

I had speculated on how "epically big" a box would have to be to hold a 4' long stuffed toy horse, but it wasn't all that big:


(Foot for scale - I wear a ladies' size 7 1/2 in dress shoes)

I was also slightly concerned about the state of the box - this happens a lot with soft things getting shipped, the box gets crushed under heavier things. At least there was just the one item and he was big enough not to get lost, but the box DID look like it had an emergency re-tape job.

And here is the unboxing. (Looks a bit like an almost-ready-to-be-born fetal horse here. I watch too many vet shows, maybe)

embryonic horse

Yeah. It's a horse! And I'm sticking with the name I hit on yesterday because he does look like a "he" and he also looks a bit like a Pfred. And anyway, the gag is too amusing to me to not do it.

It's so fluffy, I'm gonna die! (alternate caption: "NO YOU CANNOT HOLD MY NEW WOOBIE FOR 'JUST A MINUTE"")

hugging Pfred

And a lot of the fun of giant toys is being able to pose them. For one thing, I can re-enact that "lonely little horse" Amazon ad:

like the Amazon ad!

And...."it's hard to play the piano when you don't have fingers" (aka: One of the Equestrian conundrums: how can there be horse-musicians?)

pony piano

and this was a photo that came across Twitter the other day, captioned "tumm rubs plz"

Pfred is still a little floppy and scrunched up from the box to get that exact posture but this is close:

"Tumm rubs plz"

I'm pretty happy with my purchase. Part of it is that it is a totally frivolous but expensive thing and I really only allow myself one purchase like this a year, part of it is it's been something I've been looking and and considering for several weeks.

I probably need to brush him (or -gasp - run him through the dryer a bit on air fluff) to un-mat his fur. And I might want to trim the fur a bit around his eyes so they are more visible. (And he has one ear that cants off a bit to one side. Not sure whether to try to fix that or to just imagine it gives him character)

And Christmas movies

I think I remarked earlier that Freeform is currently beating TCM in the "accessible" Christmas-movie derby ("accessible" = on when I am home and able to watch).

Minty's front legs got finished last night (and the first back leg started) while I watched "Scrooged."

This is an interesting movie. It came out in 1988 and feels very much of its time even though it's a retelling of A Christmas Carol  (some movie channel, or maybe a theater, should organize a film festival of the different variants of this. And I would argue that in a way, It's a Wonderful Life is almost an INVERSE of the story, in that it's a man who has done good all his life being shown the impact his good has had, rather than a selfish man being shown how being unselfish could make things better for him and others)

Anyway. It centers on Frank (Francis Xavier) Cross, who brags he is the "youngest president of any network" - he runs IBC, a network (like Fox in its early days) heavily drawing on shock and shlock. The big project Frank figures will "make" his season is "Scrooge" - a retelling, of course, of A Christmas Carol but featuring Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim, and it also has the Solid Gold Dancers. (Part of the fun of the movie for me - I came up during this era so all the names are familiar. And I haven't heard anything about Mary Lou Retton in YEARS. I'm hoping that means she's happily retired and enjoying her family or maybe running a chain of gymnastics centers or something).

And you know? The movie is pretty pointed parody. I can imagine a television network of the 80s doing something like that - casting wildly inappropriate people, playing fast-and-loose with the story, all in the name of getting eyeballs.

But of course, the real Scrooge story is Cross' story - at one point he jokes about the good thing about stepping on people on the way up means you get to step on them again on the way down.

And there are the requisite ghosts - Cross' old mentor (who is played by John Forsythe in some truly gross and terrifying makeup, as a rotting corpse). And Buster Poindexter (I SAID it was very much a movie of its era) as Christmas Past (a demonic cabbie), Carol Kane (my favorite of the three) as a deranged Christmas Present, and a scary combination of "special effects" as Christmas Future.

Cross' "Fred Crachit" is played by Alfre Woodard - a widow with numerous children including a little boy (Calvin) who stopped speaking after seeing his father murdered some years before (and therefore, he is the Tiny Tim of the piece). Actually, Grace's family scenes set a nice counterpart to Cross' life - it's a big, loving family, lots of kids, one of the kids wants to be a doctor, there's a Grandma to help widowed mom out.

At any rate, we see how Cross starts out - his grumpy, "those who do not work should not eat" butcher father (Played by Brian Doyle Murray - one of Bill Murray's brothers, and the one who has had the biggest career next to his, and Doyle Murray seems to often play those grumpy, selfish-businessman types). Cross then graduates to being a mailroom intern at the network during the tail end of the Mad Men era (the Christmas party - and debauched parties like that were probably ALREADY on their way out in 1988). And his "hippie years" living with Clare, and how he's gradually corrupted by the network to see his own career advancement as paramount, as more than any relationship he may have - more than his relationship with his brother (played by Murray's real-life brother John) and more than his relationship with Claire.

And then, the ghost of Christmas Present, where we see more of Grace's family, and we see Frank's brother (and their reactions to the gifts - cheap towels - that Frank sent to them).

And finally, Christmas Future. (And there's a gag that startled me - Frank makes some comment about "Am I under Trump Tower or something." Wow. Yeah.....I remember joking about how when it looked like it was going to be Bush v. Clinton in the election about how it was "back to the 90s," but maybe it's really "back to the 80s")

And along the way, there are other things - there's a smarmy new guy (played by John Glover, and again I can totally SMELL the 1980s wafting off this movie, and I mean that in a good way). And Cross fires little Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait), who had the temerity to question a decision he had made.....

Christmas Future's scenes are actually pretty terrifying for a movie that is a comedy - there is Calvin, locked away in a hospital for some reason. And Claire turned into an over-made-up heartless "lady who lunches." And most terrifying - without being too spoilerish - a scene of Frank, after he has died (but of course, in the nightmare, he isn't actually dead) being sent into the crematory.

And of course, Frank decides - as Scrooge does - that mankind really IS his business, and decides to reform.

One jarring note, and what probably wouldn't be in the movie were it "rebooted" for today - Loudermilk showing back up reading to "go postal" with a shotgun. (There have been far too many workplace shootings for that to still be funny, I think, never mind that Loudermilk notes he's "blind, stinking, drunk" and therefore has no aim). But even Loudermilk is used in Cross' redemption - he is the "muscle" (so to speak) that keeps the control room from going to other programming while Cross has an on-screen "meltdown" (it recalls the "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not gonna take it any more" scene from Network, but with a very different spirit).

And yeah: it's a more "public" redemption scene (seeing as it is, presumably, nationally televised) than that of the original Scrooge, and Cross makes some interesting statements (quotes grabbed from IMDB):

"It's Christmas Eve! It's... it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we... we... we smile a little easier, we... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!...I get it now! Then if you GIVE, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you! It's not just the poor and the hungry, it's everybody's who's GOT to have this miracle! And it can happen tonight for all of you. If you believe in this spirit thing, the miracle will happen and then you'll want it to happen again tomorrow. You won't be one of these bastards who says 'Christmas is once a year and it's a fraud', it's NOT! It can happen every day, you've just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you'll get greedy for it! You'll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you. I believe in it now! I believe it's going to happen to me now! I'm ready for it! And it's great! It's a good feeling, it's really better than I've felt in a long time. I, I, I'm ready. Have a Merry Christmas, everybody."

I admit, I like the "you'll get greedy for it" comment, and I do think that's somewhat true. (But I would also crankily add that it's probably also a good idea to give money/give to food banks/volunteer time in April and June and October and those other months, because I KNOW volunteer places are often slammed at Thanksgiving and Christmas and sometimes have to turn would-be do-gooders away, but there are many less-festive, less-family months where they need people. 

Another thing: part of the fun of this movie is spotting the cameo roles (Miles Davis is there, as a street musician....)

Edited to add:

Another fun thing is that this very much was a movie from the era BEFORE movies were made mostly with an eye to distribution on vhs (or later, dvd) - at the very end, during the sing-along, Murray "talks to" people "in the theater" (encouraging one side to sing, then the other).....I don't know that a lot of movies do that kind of thing any more. (Or like the famous "GO HOME! GO HOME!" line from Animal in one of the Muppet movies).

And here are some fun facts. I kind of love Carol Kane even more now that I know she disliked having to be physically abusive to Bill Murray in her role as Ghost of Christmas Present. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

Monday afternoon things

* Experiment has been broken down, data collected, everything cleaned and put away ready for the run NEXT semester. It feels good to have this done; I was worried about making time.

It took most of the day excepting times for internet breaks (while stuff was soaking or when I just needed to be off my feet for a couple minutes - the floor in there is HARD).

If I have time and feel like it early next week I might play around with analyzing a little of the data. I'm thinking a chi-square contingency table will work for the germination data and maybe some kind of analysis of variance for the growth data.

* Three of the stats exams are in. I graded the first one but the other two came while I was working on the experiment so they will be done tomorrow.

* The brownies were well-received. Funny, I have noticed when I use the Ghirardelli baking chocolate in these as opposed to the brand I had used (German? I think?), the brownies turn out more cakelike than fudgelike. (Unless it's the effect of doing a double batch in a 9 x 13 pan). Maybe Ghirardelli chocolate is a little different in its chemistry? Less fat, or maybe more alkaline? I know there are differences when you use "natural" vs. "Dutched" cocoa in recipes calling for cocoa.

They weren't BAD, I just prefer fudgelike brownies.

* While working on the research stuff, I had a few random thoughts:

 - Maybe it's better to embroider the "stripes" on the mints for Minty's cutie mark. For one thing, these are REALLY small, and for another, I KNOW I have the right color of floss for the green and pinkish-red stripes. Maybe use white felt circles and then embroider on them.

- I came up with a name for my Pinto pony, unless I change my mind when I finally look at it. Boy horse, named Pfred. Because Pferd is German for "Horse," and if you rearrange two of those letters, you get Pfred. And also because I like puns and visual gags. (The P, of course, is silent*)

(Yes, I think there was a character in Doonesbury named Phred, but my Pfred will be a different kind of Pfred). 

(*Dad joke of all dad jokes: "Why can't you hear a pterodactyl in the bathroom? Because the P is silent")

And yes, his delivery is a bit delayed. The package originated in Richmond, Virginia, and then went to Illinois (Hodgkins, which the Internets tells me is home to a big UPS sorting facility) and then it got "unavoidably delayed" (It snowed in Illinois so I wonder if that was it). He's SUPPOSED to arrive tomorrow (was supposed to arrive today). I'm trying to be patient. 

and today's song

When I am doing some repetitive research task (right now: washing all the glassware before I break down the experiment), I often sing some catchy song under my breath. (For a while, it was "Shake it Off").

This one, though, right now is the current favorite:

Bad Lip Reading takes on The Empire Strikes Back. It's gloriously has R2D2 being used (nonconsensually) as a cowbell, and Luke calling Yoda a "Psycho Wiener." It's also very catchy.

Yes, I know everyone's probably seen it but I felt the need to share.

This is the kind of thing that makes me laugh the hardest and I confess I feel a little sorry for people who can't appreciate the absurd humor in it. (I know some people don't)

Back to work

Classes are done, and today is a day before I get hit with more grading, so I'm going to break down this run of the experiment.

This will involve measuring the height (or largest leaf length on the forbs) of each plant and recording it, then dumping the soil out into a bucket and finding somewhere to dispose of it. And then probably scrubbing the Conetainers.

I picked a less-than-ideal day, though - the high today is supposed to be 49 F so I doubt I will do it outside. Also, it's been chilly in my building (we have constant HVAC issues and while I usually prefer it to be slightly chilly, it's not fun when your hands are in water all morning).

It's nice, though, to be able to say "I am going to do this ONE THING today" and not have to worry about juggling it in between classes and meeting with students and the like. I think one of the big sources of frustration in my life is that it's hard for me to focus on any one thing because I have so many things tugging at my concentration. And as a result, I get "ADD-ish" from it - it's hard to buckle down and read research stuff if you're half expecting a student to come and need something, or if a colleague somehow locks up their computer and you know more than they do about how to fix it, or whatever.

Tomorrow morning I give exams but they are my intro class, it's a common exam, and they're machine-graded. So that's easy.

Wednesday is the due date for my stats exam (but I am hoping some of the students will be diligent and will get it to me early - I made a big fat hairy deal about how I'd be happy to get them early because it means I have better time to grade them)

I also give my ecology final on Wednesday but warned the students they might not be graded before midday Thursday - I have two meetings (well, a "meeting" and a meeting) Wednesday afternoon - the "meeting" is the annual departmental lunch and I'm not skipping that, and the meeting is another meeting about the local eco-park.

The other tasks for this week are to put together my PTR packet (I might be able to do that tomorrow afternoon; I have been told it doesn't need to be too elaborate - just the past 3 year's annual reviews, an updated vita, and a letter. A colleague is going to loan me his to use as a pattern). I also need to write syllabi.

Even though it's going to be cold Friday it will be sunny and I have tentatively told myself if I get my stuff done I can go antiquing. Even if it's just to Denison it will be fun and it will be good to have a day out.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sunday morning things

* Did the last bit of Christmas decorating - put the poinsettia tablecloth I bought at the antique shop back in November on my dining table. (I have a few things - bottles of various spice mixes supposed to take the place of table salt, for example - on there so changing tablecloths is a bit of an effort). I also put up a couple little random decorations here and there.

It DOES look like a production of "The Nutcracker" exploded in my house and I openly admit that pleases me. One place where I go cranky-contrarian is at the people who want to decorate "minimally" or the people who complain that decorating is a "waste of time." (They are free to not decorate their houses if they so choose, but it gets my back up when someone tries to tell me what I "should" do with my free time or disposable income).

And yeah, I guess there's the usual raft of "I-don't-like-Christmas-so-you-shouldn't-either" editorials coming out right now?

I have a reaction .gif for those:

I don't particularly care if you choose not to keep Christmas (or to keep it in your own way) but don't tell ME what to do or that I'm "stupid" or "wrong" for doing it the way I do it.

And yeah, I get that those editorials are probably done largely because they get reactions from the readers. But honestly: if you don't care for it, don't do it, but don't tell other people they need to be like you.

* Minty is progressing. Head is done, body is within a couple rounds of being done, and later today I plan to at least start the legs. (The legs are the most tedious part). I'm gonna have to dig around in my felt to make sure I have the right colors for her cutie mark (reddish pink and pale bluish-green; I know I have white felt). If I don't have it, I may have to plan a JoAnn's run the end of this week. (She can exist for a while without a cutie mark if she has to).

* I break my experiment down and take the last data on it tomorrow. I give exams Tuesday (but machine graded ones, so they will be fast). Wednesday I give exams but also have a couple meetings so I am figuring Thursday will have to be the grading day.....and that means I could take Friday and go have fun going antiquing or something. (I do need to make my PTR packet but I have a couple days the week after where I could do that, and I could also make up my syllabi for next semester too).

So if I need to get some unusual colors of felt I could do it then. (But I bet I have the colors I need, or at least ones that are close).

* Apparently Freeform is currently the winner for holiday programming I want to see. This afternoon they show "Elf" (I already watched it Friday night off the dvd but I might watch it again, especially if I'm working on Minty) and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (Standard disclaimer: in some ways it's a horrible movie - language and all - but it's also pretty darn funny) is on tonight.

I'm a little sad that TCM seems to be scheduling the Christmas movies when I'm busy. ("Christmas in Connecticut" - the original one, with Barbara Stanwyck - was on when I had to be out somewhere). (No, I don't have dvr; I already write a big enough check to my service provider every month).

* I did go to Five Below (which has fast become one of my favorite stores even if it sells mostly cheaply made, disposable stuff) on Friday. One thing I bought was a cookie cutter of the Leg Lamp from "A Christmas Story." (They also had the moose-head mug from "Christmas Vacation"). I bought it because that movie's been a favorite in my family and I might do either a separate small batch of cut-out cookies of that, or do a few of the regular kind with it. (My mom has something like a hundred cookie cutters, some of them those old red plastic ones that have started showing up in antiques shops).

* Another thing I plan to do today is get my cards ready to go out. When I did the experiment back in October, it seemed the ones most likely to reach their destination (and reach it fastest) were sent direct from the slot at the post office - and as I have a card that needs to go to Australia, I need to go down there anyway, so I think I'll just take the cards along and drop them in the mail when I go, maybe on Tuesday.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Small happiness bundles

One of the vintage-pony bloggers (well, it was a Tumblr, but I think of those as blogs) commented that one of the reasons she liked Ponies was they were "smol bundles of happiness." I like that idea. And yes, they are little bundles of happiness for me - a way to recapture a little of the innocence and imaginative happiness of childhood. (Even if I was a trying-to-be-sophisticated young teen when G1 came out, and therefore thought I was too old for them. How wrong I was....)

Anyway, the newest-to-me (actually somewhere on the order of 30 years old) ponies arrived today.

Bowtie, who is a pretty common one but is still pretty (and this is the first one I've got with her original brush):

And Baby Tic-Tac-Toe. I've said before how fond I am of the little baby ponies:

Yellow ponies are best ponies. And I also love his (I have decided he is a he) hair colors.

He's also a "first tooth" pony, a concept I find wonderful and hilarious:

The tooth is a little hard to see, maybe, but it's there. (I have another one named Baby Bouncy - he is a Pegasus).

It's kind of ridiculous how happy these make me but then again is it any less ridiculous to be that happy over a purse or new shoes? (And these are certainly cheaper....I think I paid $12 for Bowtie)

a little confession

As I've said before, I love Christmas, I love all the craziness surrounding it, I love giving people presents, I love the festive food, I love the music, I love the lights, all of that.

And I confess: I feel a little sad when I hear someone saying they don't like this time of year, ESPECIALLY if it is because they are far from family or don't have family or have sad memories of past Christmases, or something.

And I admit I am too prone to "solutioneer" (that is: to try to propose fixes for problems. Because I want to fix problems! I get frustrated when a problem doesn't have a fix). But I find myself wanting to scoop those people up (figuratively speaking) and go, "Oh, come with me, friend! I will make you tea and bake you cookies and show you "Elf" and will do my best to MAKE you enjoy this time of year!"

But I don't, really, because I know some people don't like that, and for some people, they just either need to work through whatever it is (if it's grieving someone) or maybe they just do need to avoid the festive trappings of the season (if it's bad past memories or an ongoing thing like a family estrangement). And I admit, some people might see me trying to cheer them up in the way Sweden* sees Norway** in this comic (NB: one harsh word).

(*Blue shirt. **Red shirt. Just in case, like me, you sometimes have trouble keeping the Scandinavian flags straight.)

But yeah. I wish people didn't have to be sad this time of year even as I recognize some people are. (Then again: I get cranky in the hot summer when lots of people are happy because it means picnics and swimming and everything else, so I don't know)

(Edited to add, Saturday morning: Maybe I do have more of Pinkie Pie in my spirit than I realize....)

change in plans

Supposed to be in the low 40s and raining tomorrow, so....I don't think I'm gonna go tomorrow; when it's that cold that early in the day there's a risk of icing on bridges and I don't want to risk damaging my car two weeks before I need to travel. Also it will be icky, and I'd rather do my grading on an icky rainy day than on a nice day when I could be out running around.

So instead, I'm gonna go after I get out of class today. I might not do EVERYTHING (I am reserving the possibility of antiquing for late next week IF I get everything else done) but I think I'll hit the "usual" places (and go to the grocery store. And yes, I'd rather go to the Kroger's on a payday Friday than to the Wal-mart on a Saturday morning. Partly because in Sherman there are multiple grocery stores so the crowds get spread out; here, Wal-mart is the ONLY large grocery so it gets hit by EVERYONE. But also because Kroger's house brands are better and they have a bigger selection of things)

I gathered up the couple of mailers (Jo-Ann's and Books A Million) from places I might be going. And I noticed something about the Books A Million ad - it was a booklet, but there were 3x as many pages advertising toys or tchotchkes as  there were pages advertising actual books, and that makes me a little sad. (I used to snark about one of the big chain bookstores in my parents' town, how they used to push toys and mugs and wall-plaques and oh, those book things, too). Then again, perhaps people who buy books as gifts already know they want to buy books as gifts (and what book to buy) and they don't need advertising to. (Then again, there are poll results claiming somewhere over a quarter of Americans didn't read a single book - paper, electronic, OR audio - in the last year, so I don't know.)

most of what I asked for for Christmas this year was books. And a few pieces of clothing from LL Bean.

And then AGAIN again - every time I go to BAM! I wind up coming home with at least a Pusheen blind-bag toy or a goofy keychain to give someone, so....

Last night was AAUW party. A couple things:

a. Nearly all the meatballs I made (>50 and it was a group of 12) got eaten; not many people brought what I call "real" food (as opposed to desserts) and a lot of us use the party as our dinner, so....

b. I ate too much. And too much stuff I normally should not eat (one of the other savory things was cheese wrapped in prosciutto, which is waaaaaaay too salty for me under normal circumstances but I ate it because it's Christmas, because I'm super careful otherwise, and because it looked good. I find with too-much salt, my diastolic bp spikes up a little (like, 10 points above normal, so it reads in the low 80s instead of the low 70s) for a couple days but then goes back down so I figure a rare indulgence is okay)

I will say I had no GI issues afterward, which I count as a win. (When I was having the problems, eating a fuller than normal meal would mean pain and a night of bad sleep). I am assuming the afternoon exercising is a big, big part of this, and I continue to hope I can work it in to my schedule that way because it works so much better.

c. My gift was well-received, and I got a Useful Gift  (a la "A Child's Christmas in Wales") - a large-ish (six-pack of water bottles sized) cooler thing. It's not very pretty and it's too large for a lunch kit (and anyway, I have a cute lunch kit I use now) but I am thinking maybe I can use it during the fieldwork season to keep water cool. In fact, I will probably be happy for it then.

d. The Applejack I bought for the toy drive is now on her way to whoever her new owner will be. I confess it was a little hard to give her up even as I have my own Applejack. But hopefully she will make some little kid happy.

e. Several women referred to me as "cute" or "pretty" and I find myself wondering on that a little. Perhaps they are right, I don't know. My own perception of my appearance is very skewed (maybe everyone's is?). I think mine got skewed because of some nasty things kids said to me 30 years ago now, and I internalized the idea of "I must be *hideous*" and it's hard to break out of that. (Kids are stupid and cruel sometimes). Now, my feeling is more, "My nose may be a little too large and my skin may be a little uneven without makeup, but at least everything *works* more or less as it should." Also, I had a long awkward period in junior high and high school, and I think I've finally 'grown into' my looks - and also, my face is a little thinner now (weight loss) and I actually look like I have cheekbones, so. And I haven't abused my body so I look younger than some women my age and that may be a factor.

Of course, I was also wearing a cranberry-colored velour dress and had freshly washed and kind-of set (as much as I ever do) my hair, and that cranberry color is a good color on me.

Also, the woman I talked to last meeting - the minister - thanked me for the card I sent to her and expressed surprise that someone would thank her for a conversation but you know? Sometimes it's so hard to know if what you're doing is having an impact that I do think sometimes it's nice if someone did something meaningful to help you to let them know in a concrete way. I know the occasional card I've got from a student who went on to grad school has meant a lot.


One other good thing: My old (? former? Don't know what you call him. He's not really "former" in the sense that I completed out my degree with him, and "former" sounds like I left without completing) graduate advisor e-mailed me yesterday. A paper I helped out with (was involved with data collection, helped with some of the analysis, and helped edit) and am on as a co-author has been accepted by the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society. This is fantastic news, especially now, because I can put it on my CV and that's another publication to feed into the "look how awesome I am" for post-tenure review. (I have been reassured again how unlikely it is that someone who is not a Major Problem or even a Minor Problem would lose their job or even have disciplinary action after PTR, but I am compulsive enough and wracked with enough Impostor Syndrome to be nervous).

Torrey is the journal that (finally, after 5+ years of trying different places) published my dissertation results, and that was in 2006, so it's kind of a nice bookend that 10 years later they accepted another paper on which I am author. (It will probably not come out until 2017, but whatever). 


My property-tax bill came. I might run down and pay it today (I prefer to pay in person and the office where I do that is just blocks from my house). My property taxes are pretty low, considering, and I see they did NOT do the recalculations they were threatening to do (there was a claim that we were all paying way too little and to brace for property taxes to double). They are about the same as last year - a bit over $500 (Small, old house on not very much land - I think I am on an eighth of an acre). I have money budgeted for this so I can write them a check with no problems.

I prefer to do it in person because then I KNOW (rather than trusting the mails and waiting for the receipt).

I've said before: when I feel like I'm not "enough" of an adult, I remind myself I pay property taxes (and pay them in full just to get them out of the way).

Thursday, December 01, 2016

online advent calendar

this one is a nice one.

Each day is Christmas/Advent traditions from around the world (today it's Malta). And there's no annoying loud music or animation like on some of these things.
I like advent calendars; we did them when I was a child. The one we had was a banner with a big felt Christmas tree on it and 24 little felt ornaments that could be pinned on. (You could pick what ornament you wanted EXCEPT the Santa Claus which was reserved for the 24th).

My mom made it when I was about 3, and it was there all through my childhood (in later years, I had to share "picking" with my brother). They still have it and my mom usually still puts it up.

two Christmas pieces

(And don't read the YouTube comments, but you knew that).

I like Sufjan Stevens' rendition of some of the traditional/religious Christmas music. They are more or less contemporary in feeling, and yet, at the same time, I think they honor the integrity of the music. My complaint with so many "modern" renditions of Christmas carols or even sometimes Christmas sacred music is that the singer or instrumentalist makes it "all about them" - showing how many high notes they can insert, or how much "artificial sweetening" in the form of string overlays they can do, or how much they can alter the basic tune.

(That said: I don't mind it, and when it's done well, I like it, when someone "churches up" [as they say around here] a traditional song - Ray Charles' version of "America, the Beautiful" is one I can think of that in his "churched up" rendition sounds good)

But I think a GOOD piece of music is one that can be played simply and still sounds good - it has a certain structural integrity. "Silent Night" is like that - legend has it was originally just voice and guitar (the story being the organ bellows in the little German church were broken, more legend says it is a mouse chewed on the leather bellows and caused a hole). "Silent Night" sounds good with a guitar, it sounds good with a piano, it sounds good a capella.....

Bach is the same way. I don't like Bach "overdone" - I think there is enough complexity in most of his melodies/counterpoints that you should play it more or less straight. Which Stevens and his fellow musicians do.

This first piece is called "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light" which is from the Christmas Oratorio but has also been reworked as a stand-alone hymn. I think this is very keeping in this week's advent theme of "Hope" - it is a very hopeful song ("And usher in the morning...."). And yet, I admit, there are times when I've heard it these past couple of years where I put my head down and cried a little....

The second is one I actually knew the tune of FIRST as a Good Friday piece ("O Sacred Head Now Wounded") but it is actually originally from the Christmas Oratorio and I admit I like the sort of full-circle effect of that.

Again, the music on this is so beautiful. The words are beautiful, too. (And reading the original German title, I am beginning to be able to understand it....I know some of the words in the title if not recognizing the sentence structure).

I'm not the only one to recognize the "Hey, isn't that tune also...." This writer has some thoughts on it (I don't agree with everything the writer says, partly because Resurrection, partly because I tend to believe Jesus totally knew what He was getting Himself into and it was a choice, a choice shocking to us maybe, but a choice made out of love, and also because....I think "How shall I fitly meet thee" also reminds us - the word FITLY - that we need to stop and examine ourselves and how we are living our lives as Advent progresses. I don't see it as a purely warm fuzzy thing. And anyway: life is hard and brutal, sometimes retreating into a bit of warmth is good for the soul; good for helping us to go on in this life and to keep fighting whatever good fight we have chosen to fight)

I should find some piano arrangements of these and try to learn to play them. Maybe for next year.

I am trying to play a little Christmas music. I found a book of fairly-simple arrangements of traditional carols and with a little work, I was able to mostly play the arrangement in the book. Yes, maybe it's not "stretching" myself very much, but it is satisfying to realize I've gotten good enough to be able to mostly play even a simple arrangement after about a half-hour of working at it.

And Minty begins

I dug out the pale bluish-green yarn last night, and got out the same old "Friends Forever Fawn" pattern, and started on Minty. I'm  happy to be working on her now. I hope I can get her done before Christmas break.

There's something about making toys for me around this time of year. It just makes me happy. When I was a kid, of course, one of the features of Christmas was toys (Yes, I knew what Christmas is really about, and that's the most important thing, but toys are also nice). I always make toys over Christmas break because toys are fun. I plan to take the Shetland-Pony-in-a-Sweater pattern I bought (and buy yarn for it up there; I use simple acrylic for my toys so it's easy to obtain). I also have a little "Ocean animal" kit (can make a whale, a starfish, or an octopus with the provided yarn) that came free with an issue of Simply Knitting and I'm going to take that. (And have to decide if I want the little whale or the little octopus more, and make that - there's just enough yarn for one).

All the toy making is even though I have a lot of clothing-projects I want to finish (two sweaters that just lack one sleeve and finishing; several socks; a couple scarf/shawl things). And this could be a concern:

That's the Yule Cat. Some old bit of Icelandic folklore; supposedly it eats people who don't get at least one piece of new clothing before Christmas.

(Yes, this is apparently a really real thing and there are some terrifying yet hilarious "artist's renditions" of that cat over there)

Though, apparently, the legend is more based on "it eats people who don't want to work hard" so maybe I'm protected even if I don't finish one of the sweaters before Christmas.....

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday morning things

* After this morning I will be done with teaching for the semester (give an exam in the two sections of one class tomorrow, Friday is just student presentations). Yes, there's still grading to be done, but at least I can give my voice a rest.

* Had an entertaining (and possibly enlightening) dream as the last dream last night - it involved the NCIS staff (well, I watched the episode last night - it was a Season 13 rerun but I had not seen it, the one with Ducky's half-brother). Anyway, they (plus a couple of IRL friends I have) were all working in my department and for some reason offices were getting rearranged/redecorated. At one point I joked that a hammock should be put up in a shared office where there was someone who liked to nap at their desk.  There was also a French bulldog puppy. But the biggest thing was at one point Ellie Bishop took me aside and said, "I know DiNozzo and McGee tease you and bug you a lot, but that's really because they like you and don't know how to show it." (Not "like-like," just regular like, but still).

And while dreams are probably little more than the subconscious sorting its recycling, sometimes I wonder if my brain does give me a bit of a deeper truth. (I had some students sort of gently teasing me in class the other day and I never know how to respond to that. I generally either weakly laugh or roll my eyes and do the sarcastic "har de har har" depending. But a lot of times I think some of the young male students don't quite know how to relate to me - I'm not quite "one of the guys" so they can't treat me the same way they treat the male professors, and a lot of them were raised in pretty traditional families (where you showed older women a bit more respect) but they also don't really have a good pattern for relating to a woman who is not their mom or grandma).

I dunno. Human relationships are messed up a lot of the time because so many of us are taught not to show affection when we might feel it - that it's "uncool" or that the "philios" or "agape" type of love might be interpreted otherwise. And yeah, I've heard the "this person is busting your chops because they like you" thing a lot around here, and I admit I have a hard time working around it because it's not really how things worked in my family, and I was teased enough (in a hostile way) by my peers as a child that I immediately default to the "this person is trying to make me look small and put me down" thing when someone teases me. Then again: it probably says something that my students are comfortable enough with me to tease me a little; they know I won't grade them down for it or snark back at them.

* I did have one student e-mail me to thank me for notifying them of the other student's death - she had been his lab partner a couple times and said she was totally shocked by the news (as was I). So I guess I did the right thing there.

So much of adulthood is making it up as you go along and having to trust your gut on things.

* I tentatively think the couple of changes I made (cutting out the loratidine, taking the other antihistamine with food rather than before breakfast, and especially exercising in the afternoons) are really helping my general well-being. I am less achy (I suppose that's from exercising after your muscles have been warmed up by the day) and so far, my stomach has been FAR better (though then again: the episode before Thanksgiving could have been hormonal or I could have contracted another dumb little virus).

I also wonder if a lot of this past year's malaise has been me going through the start of (or the entire process, who knows) menopause. I had days of awful brain fog, I had abdominal cramping, I had complete and total loss of appetite on some days, I had really weepy days, I had weeks where friends were telling me, "Maybe you need to go on an anti-depressant," I had a couple of things that, had they been worse, I would have called them panic attacks. (I guess force-of-will is a thing. I kept telling myself, "You have no reason to be this anxious, this is just your body going a little haywire" and eventually things settled down). I had times when NOTHING interested me to do and that was the scariest thing because normally I'm going off in eighteen different directions with different interests and I hoped it wasn't a sign of something really bad - but this past week I've snapped back to normal so I am wondering if it's stupid hormonal whipsawing. And if it is, I hope it's over, or at least over for a while. And I had times when I felt like nothing would make me happy but fortunately that's gone away, too.

* First card is going out today but it has to go "across the pond" so I need to send it early. I have to get glitter for some of the other cards because for the Bunny Staplus exchange we were asked our "favorite tradition" and several people I got said glitter-filled cards, so okay. (If I go shopping this weekend I can probably pick some up at the Target or somewhere).

I also have one or two little gifts I need to package up and send out. Yes, it's early, but I would like to hear that the people got them before I leave for break. 

And yeah: if I send out a gift to someone I don't expect a gift in return. (And you have to be careful about that because some people do feel obligated). If I give someone a random gift (as in, we haven't exchanged gifts before) it's either because (a) I saw something I thought they would like or could use and I wanted them to have it or (b) they seemed to need a little cheering up and I wanted to take a stab at it.

* Am up to the WWI part in the Influenza book I am reading. Much is made of the push to prevent/avoid "unpatriotic" behavior, including harassment and, in some cases, imprisonment-without-cause of German-Americans (I wince, because half of my dad's family is German-American and now I wonder what the Huttmans went through in that era....). And also Wilson's push to somewhat censor the press, and the extremely creepy coercion used to get people to buy War Bonds. And while I get that history is often exaggerated to fit the needs of the writer, still - I don't know much about that era and I didn't realize how creepy it was. (And also, shuddering a bit, because while history may not repeat itself, it often rhymes, and I see some things in our own times that could be taken as similar. I also wonder if maybe "understanding" or "knowing" a little history is going to become popular again....for so long it seemed pop culture was pretty ahistorical and the general man-on-the-street idea was that "history is bunk" (a la Henry Ford). But the thing is: it's possible to learn from your own past mistakes but it's also possible to learn from OTHERS' past mistakes, and generally that second option is less painful. I don't know. Some of the calls I have seen from certain individuals to restrict the press, or to jail those who would burn the me it does smack slightly of Wilsonian attitudes. I don't like someone burning our flag but don't like abridgement of free protest speech even more, so....)

I dunno. I tend to come down on the side of "the more you know the better off you are" whether that "knowing" is being aware of your country's history, or being able to speak a language other than your mother-tongue, or being able to darn socks, or being able to accurately estimate weight or distance. Not-knowing allows a certain helplessness to creep in, and I tend to think self-reliance is a good thing.

And "vintage" ponies

Past me (from December 2015): "I don't THINK I will get any more vintage Ponies, though it is nice to have these two" (Posey and Bubbles).

Current me: "AH ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha":
ponyshelf 1

ponyshelf 2

ponyshelf 3

Future me will have two more - I ordered a "First Tooth" baby Tic-Tac-Toe and a vintage Bowtie (but I don't HAVE many cool-colored ponies: they are mostly pink and yellow, the ones I have now, and I "need" her for balance!). They are on their way to me right now.

Yeah, well: these things make me happy like few other things do. And they're cheap enough, compared to what some people by, so.....

(I especially love the Baby Ponies for some reason, I think it is that they are smaller and chubbier than the others and there is just something endearing about them.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday morning things

* My office computer (university supplied) has started acting weird on start-up. For about the first 40 minutes that it's on, it's prone to locking up. At first I blamed Firefox or BlackBoard (what I was trying to use when it locked) but I don't think that's it. Once it's been on for a while, it seems fine. Which tells me that unless I think a power outage is likely (thunderstorms in the area), it is best to just leave it on all the time but in "sleep mode" when I'm not here.

I did print out my other exam (the first exam I have to write is already copied and ready to go) and e-mailed a copy of a third exam to my .gmail address in case of major malfunction.

Yes, it's defragged and the virus prevention is up to date.

* Still feeling a little sad and freaked-out after the news of yesterday. I suppose one thing I really should do at some point is actually go in to a lawyer and get a formalized will (rather than a "manuscript" version or whatever they call the handwritten quickie thing that is apparently legal in my state). I do have some money - mostly in retirement accounts - and if I cack it before I have time to use up that money, I want half of it to go towards my niece's future (whether college, trade school, setting up a business, whatever - anything BUT spending it on things like frivolous stuff or partying). The other half I want divided between Mercy Corps, the Nature Conservancy, possibly a scholarship fund either at my school or my grad school (If the congregation I belong to still exists - I expect I will outlive it - I would want some of the money to go there). As for the stuff - oh gads, the stuff - my ideal would be for my relatively-few friends and family to pick out an item or items that they want as a keepsake and the rest be sold or donated somewhere, and if sold, the money going back into the estate to be divided as above. My books - I would want my university library to have first dibs on anything they can use or sell to fund further operations, and the rest either donated to a literacy program or sold with the proceeds going to a literacy program. And my yarn and fabric I would want to go to some group that can use them - a group making quilts for the homeless/injured veterans/people in hospice/Project Linus/whatever or the yarn maybe to one of those prison groups that teaches the inmates to knit or crochet as a rehabilitation thing.

it's hard to think that way though, and harder to formalize it down on paper, which is why I've put off going to a lawyer but I also do need to find someone to be executor - I wouldn't want to force my brother into that role; I think I'd rather pay for an attorney or a legal firm to do that.

I probably also need to think about "advanced directives" - when I went into the ER with stomach problems in January, thinking I'd have to be operated on, the intake person asked me about those and I almost cried and said I'd do one if I actually had to have surgery. (My general feeling is: heroic measures yes at this point, if I am likely to have reasonable quality of life afterward. If my brain is gone, no, let me go.)

Ugh. It's hard to think about that.

* So something happier: I decided yesterday to order the Pinto-Pony body pillow I had been contemplating ((can be seen here)

I haven't decided on a name or even which gender it is yet; that will be for when it arrives.

Confession: I kind of want a miniature horse but I know that:

a. where I live (in town) they would not be legal and it's too expensive to board here
b. I know nothing about horse care and it might not be fair to the horse without me going through an extensive learning process first
c. horses probably need companions and I think I could only afford one
d. I believe I am actually allergic to horses; I think that was on the list last time I got allergy tested

So this is an easier way for me to sort-of recreate this:

(I love that ad. I also love the newer Amazon ad with the priest and the imam both sending each other knee-pads so they can kneel to pray in their own ways without it hurting their knees)

Also, having a body pillow will be nice - something to lean against while I read in bed, something to prop myself against when my hip bursitis is bothering me (it's hard to find a comfortable sleeping position then), and just generally, something to hug when I'm a little sad.

No, I don't think at this point I will ever "outgrow" stuffed animals.

* At least my desire to knit is returning, especially now I have the "obligation knitting" done (mom's mitts, the little toys for my niece, the mitts for the AAUW party). I want to finish a couple of the "on the needles" things before break - hopefully will get the Pronk socks done, and maybe also the Hagrid scarf.

I also want to make myself a g4-ized Minty. When I cleaned up the guest room the other day I found the yarn I got for her and the leftovers from Cheerilee I put aside for her mane, so I could start her any time.

And yeah. I have a TON of yarn. I need to start using it up before I buy any more. Or maybe I dig through and randomly send sockyarn to people that I know knit...I think I have, in a few cases, bought duplicates or yarn in very similar colorways. (If I had more time, I'd knit things for charity and use up/give away the yarn that way. But I don't have that much time).

I should also print out the various patterns I want to use, put them in sheet protectors, and store them with the yarn I intend to use them for.

* Also my desire to practice piano in the absence of lessons is back - for a while I was only doing 20 mins a day (if that - some days I did none at all). Part of it was busy-ness, part of it was just not wanting to. I don't know - I have occasionally gotten a week or two stretch here and there where I don't feel like doing some of the things I normally enjoy. I would be worried, except I can probably chalk it up to peri/menopause (not sure which I am in right now) because then I get happier again later on. (Also my stomach issues seem tied to it in some way, as does the anxiety I've felt this fall. I'm hoping all that will resolve when the change is finally complete).

* Though I have made three changes that seem to be helping: I now take my antihistamine (monteleukast) WHEN I eat breakfast, not 20-some minutes before and maybe it was messing with my stomach a little. I also cut out the loratidine and so far have not hived up too badly, so I hope maybe I can drop that one (also, since it's OTC, I pay the full amount, and even the generic is sort of expensive).

And the biggest thing is trying, as much as I can manage, to do my exercise in the afternoon when I get home rather than on a totally empty stomach when I get up. Other bonus: my muscles and joints aren't so "cold" so I probably am less likely to hurt myself. This will pose a scheduling problem come Spring semester because I will have afternoon labs three days a week but maybe I can force myself to get home early enough to do it. I know some exercise physiologists say working out later in the day is more effective for things like metabolism and also not hurting yourself....just not to do it within an hour or two of bedtime because being "revved up" can affect sleep. (Other bonus: I can sleep until almost 6 am if I need to. And it's a nicer start to the day to not have to jump out of bed into a cold house and flail your limbs around)

* And I am generally feeling a looking-forward-to of simple things again: being able to bake cookies when up at my parents' in a couple weeks. Putting up the tree at their place. Getting to see some of the people up there I knew when I lived there before. Thinking about what projects I am going to work on over break. Going out antiquing this weekend (I turned down a volunteer opportunity I possibly should not have but I had already made the plans, and also, I just need more time out to be happy. And anyway, being asked less than a week in advance to give up a whole day doing something really doesn't work.). The AAUW party, which is Thursday (I am making the same old turkey meatballs in raspberry sauce I always make, but everyone likes them, more importantly **I** like them, and they're not that hard to make). Finding some of the silly old Christmas movies on tv (I do have Elf and A Christmas Story on dvd and maybe should watch one of them Friday evening).

* Also am looking forward to sending out Christmas cards. CPAAG is doing its annual tradition and I eagerly await my five names. I also have a few other people I plan to send cards to....and if you're not someone I've sent to in the past and want a (paper, sent through the mail) card, e-mail me your address....I have some extras and also may stop in by Five Below again (which has an excellent selection of not-too-expensive but funny or cute cards) when I am out antiquing.

I'm glad I got my energy or whatever it is back and feel like doing fun things again, instead of just staring at a wall when I get home at the end of the day.

Monday, November 28, 2016

and that's done

I waited until the end of class, after everyone presenting today had presented, to make the announcement. Apparently a couple people had already heard (Facebook, maybe).

I held it together okay though at one point I had to stop and take a deep breath to steady my voice. It still feels kind of surreal. (We've been asked to just go ahead and assign whatever grade the student was earning at that point as a final grade).

This is the first time I ever had to do something like this and I heartily hope it's the last.


What especially stinks is I now have somewhere around 20 student papers to read, comment on, and grade. I can't put it off as I have things I must do tomorrow after class.

2016 just needs to stop already.

I just can't

I don't even know. There is something cursed about 2016, I think.

I just got an e-mail: a student who was in two of my classes, someone who was an interesting and engaged student, who was always friendly and polite to the others in the class, died suddenly this weekend.

(I was kind of wondering when he didn't show up for the 9 am class of mine he was in: he was usually there).

I'm in shock. I don't quite know what to do about the second class he was in: do I make a small announcement? It's presentations day and I don't want to unduly upset anyone or throw anyone off their game, but I think if the students don't know, they need to.

This is kind of uncharted waters for me; the only previous student death I had experience with was someone who had already taken my class and a general announcement was made later on.

I feel really bad for his family. I know he was close to his parents.

An Advent hymn

I know, I'm hitting the Advent/Christmas stuff hard already, but there are two reasons for this:

a. This really and truly is my favorite time of the year and it is allowing me to recapture some of the old happiness

b. It's been an awful year so far and I need things that I find good and pleasant and reassuring.

There are a few Advent hymns out there. Different denominations (and even different congregations within a denomination) vary on how "strict" they are about what of Christmas is "allowed" before Christmas. (My brother and sister-in-law belong to a fairly traditional Episcopalian church, and they said that their congregation does not decorate until right before Christmas. My more lax Disciples congregation decorates right after church on Christ the King Sunday, so the church is decorated for all of Advent. We don't light the candles (except for those on the Advent wreath) before Christmas eve, though)

But I do notice that we don't *generally* sing the Christmas hymns and carols this early in Advent, instead using other pieces. (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, which, if I remember correctly, the tune is based on an old "plainchant" and so probably has very old roots).

And this one, which is my favorite of the Advent songs:

And yes, I prefer Hyfrydol as the tune (it is one of my favorite hymn-tunes and is used in a few other hymns, though I know it best as this one). There are other tunes sometimes used for this - when sharing "church music," I often default to the various British choirs because they do it so well, but it seems they use a different tune for these words, and I like Hyfrydol.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Hope is ridiculous"

In the denomination to which I belong, each week of Advent has a theme or a keyword: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

I like that. I think those are four things the world desperately needs - shoot, they are things I desperately need - and it's good to be reminded of them and to celebrate them.

The traditional Advent wreath we use has three purple and one pink candle. The pink candle is for the third week - Joy. Which makes me smile because Pinkie Pie. And the minister this morning, commenting on the different weeks, referred to "joy as a full-contact sport" which again I love and I think that's an apt description of Pinkie Pie. And yes, I know Ponies are totally secular and all (even as some fanfic writers have tried to either Narnia-fy the world, or create its own religion). But I maintain that things that are good, even if they do not intend to point to the ultimate Good, still remind us of it. And the idea of full-contact joy....I said earlier on Twitter it's been a while since I felt that. Oh, I've been happy, but the kind of happiness I have is a quieter sort. There's an ad running right now, I think it's for Wal-Mart? Or one of those other Stores That Seemingly Sell Everything and they play Chic's "Freak Out" over video of kids going NUTS over getting what they wanted for Christmas. Confession: the ad makes me slightly sad because I cannot think of anything - well, any THING - that would make me that happy. I could be that happy over, say, finding out a cure for cancer has been discovered, and it's one that will cure someone I know. Or seeing the too-many people in my life who are hurting experience some kind of improvement in health or mobility or finances or job prospects or relationships or whatever. Or I could be that happy over having worked to build a relationship with someone and having him declare, openly, his love for me and his desire to spend the rest of our lives together. Or I could be that happy over a good friend of mine that I see too seldom happening to move to my town or at least nearby, and have the opportunity to spend more time hanging out with them. But I cannot think of a THING that would make me happy in the way those kids are happy over a toy. Maybe that's a mark of maturity and I should be happy over that, I don't know. But it does making an "I want this for Christmas" list a bit more complicated, because all of the things I really and truly want cannot be bought in a store.

But anyway. This week is Hope. The title of this post comes from an Advent devotional my mom picked up at their church; she got copies for both me and my brother's family. Interestingly, it's one put out by Phillips Seminary - go figure; a church in Illinois having a devotional from an Oklahoma Seminary, but my local church doesn't have it.

Anyway. The reading for today is from Dr. Peluso-Verdend and is about hope, and he talks about how hope is ridiculous - in the sense that the gap between how things are and how things "should" be in a Kingdom sense is as large as it's ever been. But still - he says he has hope, and lists a variety of things, like the rapprochement (following Vatican II) of Catholics and Protestants (And I would add: largely a cessation of violence, at least as far as I can tell, between Irish Catholics and Protestants). And the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the greater acceptance of a diversity of people...

I know I've said this year on many occasions, "People are bad and seem to be getting worse" or "the world is bad and getting worse" but it's hard to keep going thinking that. And really, my own life is pretty good, and in some ways pessimism is a rejection of gratitude, of not being thankful for what you do have. 

But yes. Hope is ridiculous. And yet, I try to cling to it. I haven't been hopeful enough this year, and I think that's part of my distress - losing some of my ability to see the good in people or in situations. Granted, it has been a year that has battered a lot of us in a lot of ways. (For me: the financial uncertainty at my university, seeing someone who had been there longer than I had lose their job because they lacked the protection of tenure, illness and injury among a lot of people I cared about (starting with the Friday night trip my dad took to the ER back in January, which fortunately ended happily, but which raised the specter even more strongly for me of "There will come a time when you will be making one last trip up there"). My own ongoing abdominal issues which do seem to be partly stress, partly re-pulling a persistently damaged muscle, and perhaps partly perimenopause. Instability in the world, worries about the geopolitical future. The closure of several small businesses I liked and frequented.

But still I hope: I was thinking the other day, "Downtown was bleak and empty when you first moved here, then a lot of shops opened. Now they've closed but couldn't it possibly cycle back around to more shops opening some time, if the economy gets better?" Or that maybe the educational establishment way-of-thinking will cycle back to "you know? Technology is fine but it's over used and it can be used badly" and I won't feel like such a Luddite dinosaur for using chalk-and-talk. Or maybe they'll come up with something new to fix the chronic pain in people I know who have it.

The idea of hope, though - the minister this morning pointed out that it has to be an active thing; it has to grow out of faith. The kind of hopes I listed - for some new shops, for a change in how we do higher ed, for pain relief for people - is more wishing than hoping; hoping is something where you can make a difference and you choose to do it even if it is small. And I don't know. I have no head for business (and no time) so I know I wouldn't open a shop downtown. And the research I do is about as far from pain-relief research as you can be and still be in biology. I don't know. All I can do is what I can do, and I try to do my best.

Another thing about hope, though - hope is the faith that says, "Things will somehow be okay." I've talked before about how I think there's a certain courage in decorating for Christmas - pushing back the early dark with lights and candles, putting up things that are sweet and pretty and remind us of happy times, setting up a Nativity to remind us (even as most Nativity sets are probably pretty inaccurate - my own has a pale, blonde Mary, and I am sure the real Mary would have been olive-skinned and dark-haired, and the baby Jesus is blond,  but then again - perhaps there's something to be said for the Divine appearing to us in a form that is like how we are, to remind us that we have some spark of it in us.

And I saw in some of the little towns I passed through, coming back, those decorations it seems many small towns have - the trees or stars or candles made out of a sort of stiff garland, that are made to be hung on light poles. Some of them even light up at night. And again, to me, there seems to be something brave about that - the budget for putting those up, whatever it is, some would argue could be "better spent" on other things - patching a pothole or two, adding a few shares to the police retirement fund. And yet....after having gone through a time of very strict budgeting this spring of just buying the essentials, there is something about being able to spend maybe a LITTLE frivolously that makes life seem more worth it. And it does represent a certain hope or trust - that the however-many dollars were spent paying the guys to put them up, or to repair/get new ones, or the little cost of the extra electricity to light them - that it won't break you, that there is money in the budget for that.

In a way, it's kind of like the check I write each week to put in the offering plate; I know once or twice I thought this spring, "Can I really afford to keep giving like I do?" but I did, because.... I don't know. I didn't want to go down the path of stopping giving. Oh, I dialed back some on other causes: didn't give to a couple scholarship funds because I felt like giving through church and also to some disaster-relief/poverty-relief groups I contribute to were more important at the moment. But to me, it did represent a trust - saying "I can afford to do without this money even as my paycheck has been cut" because one of the problems I DO have in regards money, I know, is insecurity - I still haven't replaced the fence on the back of my house or the broken ceiling fan because even as I look at the money in my savings account (earning its grand .05% every month) I think, "But what if something really big and bad happened and you needed that money? You can do without a ceiling fan." I do still sometimes operate in what I call "grad student mode" (and not just with money: I still believe that somewhere there is a "permanent record" where my every work-related trespass is recorded, and once a certain critical mass accrues, I will be out on my ear).

But I really do need to gut up and tell myself: you know how to budget. You have stock investments that could be sold in a major emergency, even if you think of them as your retirement. Your parents would help you in a pinch. And I need to call the fence guy and go buy a new ceiling fan and schedule the electrician....and tell myself that this is no different and is perhaps even more essential than the town putting up the bells and stars and other decorations.