Wednesday, July 30, 2014

the flip side

Which is where I will catch you all. I have a few "embargoed" posts lined up (the typical thing, sort of nostalgia-fests, because I seem to think more about my past when I am ready to go on vacation).

I've got everything packed (well, I hope I do. I know I have the most essential things: tickets and driver's license and money and medications and books to read on the train.)

I may leave just a bit early this go-round; because of trackwork the train I get on is originating in Fort Worth, two stops ahead of where I get on, rather than in San Antonio, which is like six or seven. So it's more likely to be on time. AND it's raining, and there might be heavy rain on the way. I can't complain about the rain, we need it, but I do not like driving in heavy rain, especially when it's been long since we had rain and people forget how to drive in it.

I did have to drag out a belt again after putting on a pair of jeans I'd not worn in a while. I've been more active this summer (mostly yardwork stuff) and I guess it's having an effect. Will have to figure out some way to continue it into the fall and winter.


And a spot of good news: The local AAUW branch I belong to had lost their tax-exempt status (long story, but what it looks like is the national leadership claimed they'd send in the paperwork in a big batch if we sent it to them first, and then a lot of branches' paperwork got lost - we were not the only ones in this boat). Thanks to some incredible pro-bono work by a local CPA, and lots of work on the part of one of our members doing all the paperwork and calling IRS many times and lots of other stuff, our tax-exempt status has been REINSTATED.

Considering that when we did the full accounting, we made a profit of $77 in the past five years, I would hope it would. (Nearly all the money we take in either goes to pay our dues with state/national, or is distributed in local scholarships). 

And I'm done

...well, for a while.

Packed last night.

In addition to the projects I listed, I am taking books:

"Cahokia" (which I restarted and plan to finish this time. Last time I bogged down in all the human-sacrifice stuff, especially since someone I cared about was going through hospice and it just got to be too much. I still boggle at the idea that there were apparently societies where people were groomed for this, where they willingly and apparently docilely went to their deaths for the "good of the rulers." It's not quite the same as the Christian martyrs, who died in service of their own deeply held beliefs and who often gave up their lives because the other option was even more awful...I wonder if there were people in the to-be-sacrificed class who questioned everything and really WEREN'T all that willing)

Another book, by Brian Fagan if I remember, on the first inhabitants of North America. (For some reason, that boundary between prehistory and recorded history is fascinating to me.)

"The War that Ended Peace" (I want to finish this even though it's an enormous book. And I feel more driven to finish it seeing as Monday was the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. That seems really weird to me, that something that happened in the same century as I was born is now 100 years old. Somehow, there seems to be a bigger and sharper division between 1899/1900 than between anything that happened AFTER 1900 to now.

I was born more than 50 years after the end of WWI. It's still farther away from my birth than now is from my birth. And yet, I think of it as a "modern" thing because I had relatives who were involved. (A great-uncle that I never met was in the infantry; one of my grandfathers was an experimental pilot but he never went "over there")

World War I is such a strange war. It's not a fight against communism or some other extremism like recent wars have been about. It's not a fight to defeat fascism like World War II. It's not like we were attacked like in World War II. It seems, from what I've read, it was a war that started over territorial over-reach and also over people (leaders of countries) feeling "dissed" (to use a modern term) by others. As I've said before, this one is taught badly in many schools and yet, so much of it at base seems to be the same stupid stuff that goes on on the schoolyard.

For a bit of lighter reading: "The Provincial Lady goes to War." About the adventures of the Provincial Lady (a fictionalized/exaggerated character, but somewhat similar to other British women of the period) and the run-up to WWII. Yes, it is lighter reading, because it's the Provincial Lady. Nothing too very bad happens (I think it's set mainly during the so-called Phoney War) and she and her family are never in that great of danger.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Random with pony

One more full day, one more sleep. And then I'm on break.

I did get the introduction for the paper rewritten (and it is much better now) yesterday. I guess I still can't compose at the computer screen; I need to write stuff out longhand first. And I need to have all my notes, and stop periodically, and go through them to find the information I need to add in from the previously-published papers.

This morning I need to mow the lawn in preparation for being away for a while. I sprayed the poison ivy last night (I found an herbicide supposedly specially rated for it, so we'll see how effective it was). I wonder how long it takes after poison ivy dies for it to stop being poisonous? I'd like to cut the stuff out after it dies but if it's still active, no.

Anyway, the pony. I always said I didn't care a bit for Trixie, despite the fact that there seems to be a certain degree of Brony love for her. Part of that is, as I said, she reminds me of every Mean Girl I went to school with, everyone who trumpeted how Smart or how Athletic or how Fashionable they were (and because if someone isn't a good example, I tend to take them as a horrible warning, so I have a hard time speaking positively of my own accomplishments....actually not at all unlike Twilight in the first Trixie episode ever)

Anyway. Then one of the fan artists produces this comic and it changes things. (Dangit, now I feel SORRY for Trixie. Because I can totally headcanon how she was sort of ignored and neglected as a filly, and now feels the need to point her greatness out to others in the hopes of getting attention).

It's funny how easily things enter headcanon. (And I wonder what happens when something in  a future episode changes headcanon). We've seen Rarity's parents and Twilight's and Pinkie's family. We got a glimpse of Rainbow Dash's dad. But we don't know a whole lot about their families (to the point where there was some consternation, a couple of seasons ago, when Twilight was suddenly revealed to have a brother with whom she was allegedly close, but who had never been mentioned up to that moment).

There's some fanon about the Apple family: the general conclusion is the parents of AJ, Big Mac, and Apple Bloom are deceased, which is why they live with their Granny. (I suppose there are other, less-depressing options: they are traveling apple researchers who go around Equestria and are never home. Or they have their own farm elsewhere but knew Granny needed help to run the traditional family farm.) But anyway, the first explanation seems most plausible though I bet it will never be explicitly mentioned (too sad) in the show.

However, we've also never really seen family for the two Pegasus ponies. Rainbow Dash's father is briefly shown in a flashback (holding RD on top of his head). My headcanon - and I suspect a few fans share in this - is that she grew up in a family with a lot of older brothers who taught her how to fly and flying tricks and were kind of protective of her when she was little (and because of all the brothers, that's why she comes off as a tomboy).

Even though I once said I suspected Cloudsdale of being like Sparta, where young Pegasus were taken from their families and trained up in the art of weather-manipulation (and apparently, in the Pony Past, the art of war), I have to admit I like better the idea of RD coming from a large and loving and slightly rough-and-tumble family. (I knew kids growing up who had lots of siblings - I only had one - and I admit at times I envied the kids with older siblings, partly because sometimes a big brother would look out for you a little, and you could learn the social ropes from a big sister. Hm. I wonder if there are higher rates of social awkwardness among oldest children; I know I always felt like I was having to learn all the social "rules" on the fly - I was an oldest child)

Fluttershy, my personal headcanon is that she grew up being raised by an older (unmarried) female relative. Either a widowed grandmother or perhaps an older maiden aunt. And this pony, although a Pegasus, didn't fly much any more, so Fluttershy didn't get quite the same flight training when young, and therefore turned out to be a weak flyer. (Fluttershy wouldn't have to be an orphan. In fact, I like the idea of her parents being a team of Magical Creature Researchers, off looking at Breezies and three-headed dogs and whatever other mystical beings inhabit the outer reaches of Equestria, but they knew there was no way they could bring a child along).

Alternate headcanon: Fluttershy's parents are present and she grows up in their household but they are both extreme introverts and weak flyers and do something like teach Ancient History or Dead Pony Languages at the Pony University....and so she grows up kind of quiet and sheltered.

But yeah. The idea of Trixie being overlooked by her (too busy? Too important?) parents as a child changes how I feel about her a little bit.

Edited to add: depending on what yarn I obtain (I'm planning on a Michael's run when I get up to Illinois), I may consider doing the unicorn as a chibi Trixie. She would be different from the other ponies I've made, but, eh, Big Mac is a lot different from the other ponies I've made. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer hits hard

These past couple days have been the hottest of this year so far. (I am now wondering if the tree guys rejiggered their schedule to do my work ahead of the indoor plumbing job they had so they could avoid the Death Hot we had Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

Sunday after church I pretty much just sat at home in the airconditioning. I didn't feel like I could do much. It was *extremely* humid (at one point we had a heat index of 116, because the humidity was so high). My chest hurt - it often does when it's humid - and I just didn't feel like moving. (And last night I ran the window air conditioner as an 'assist' to the whole-house one, mainly to try to suck some more humidity out of the air)

(The upside? I finished the body of Queen Chrysalis, crocheted the neck, and attached head to body. I also just barely started on one of the legs)

It's still humid today and I feel headachey. Not bad enough to justify staying home, but enough for it to be annoying. (I took a dose of ibuprofen, but that hasn't really altered the headache any). I'm trying to rewrite the soil invertebrate paper; I'm about halfway through the introduction.

I've also off and on felt lightheaded. I can't tell if that's the weather, the fact that my blood pressure has been lower than it was in a while, being out of a regular schedule, allergies, or what. It's not bad, but it makes me feel not like running around a lot outside. (Though if I feel up to it I'm going to try to kill the poison ivy late this afternoon. I found an herbicide that was specific to poison ivy and while I hate using herbicide, pulling it out is not an option and leaving it is not an option)

I'm starting to think about take-along projects. Part of me wants just to FINISH all the long term stuff hanging around (like the Little Ice Age socks) but part of me wants to start a bunch of new stuff. I do know I want to take the Belvedere Cardigan to work on, and also to try to get buttons for at the dressmaker shop up there. (I'm not going to try to take Chrysalis; she's too huge and would be hard to cart home if I finished her. I'd either have to strap her to the top of my carry on - and probably get some strange looks - or bury her in the suitcase.) I do want to do some kind of toy project; that's kind of tradition while on break, but I have a couple small options - I bought the v. cute Farfalla pattern a while back. Or I have an issue of one of the British crochet magazines that has a cute unicorn in it. (It also has its "free gift" kit - a tiny dreamcatcher sort of thing - that I want to make some time, so that would be two projects in one).

I also dug out my copy of the Aestlight shawl pattern and yarn I had put aside for it, with half a thought of starting that. (Though I have another sockyarn shawl tucked away that I need to finish).

I think some of these things - especially the Aestlight Shawl - are sort of part of my desire for it to be fall and for it to be cooler out. We have had an unusually cool summer this year (for some values of "cool") but still, I'm ready for it to be done.

Also, the grasshoppers are out in force, and I don't like having grasshoppers jump on me or squashed all over the sidewalks, so I'm ready for that to be done.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Finished Lakkos cloche

This took longer than anticipated. You don't really need an accurate stitch count until you start the decreases. And I got there, and I was all "Wait. You don't have enough stitches."

Yeah, I cast on 100 instead of the required 120. So, realizing the hat would never fit me as made (and the decreases would come out wrong), I ripped it all back and started over. It's frustrating to have to do that but then again, the nice thing about knitting is that the worst you can have to do is rip out and start over.

I finally finished it last night.

It's hard to photograph. Here it is lying flat on the piano bench; doesn't look like much.

lakkos cloths

It's shaped with short-rows, so the part that goes over your brow is higher up and then the "ear parts" extend down farther.

Here it is on:

wearing lakkos cloche

It's hard to take a selfie when your camera is as heavy as my old one is. (I need to get a new one, but that's going to have to wait until I've saved up a bit more disposable income)

Here's another photo:

lakkos cloche 2

It looks way less elegant and Art-Deco-y on me than it does on the model. That may be the rather brilliant color I chose. (I used the specified yarn, Verdant Gryphon "Traveller," but in the color called "Lac Rose.") Or it may just be me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

And more done

Submitted grades yesterday after grading the finals. A few people in each class will be happy (and should be proud of themselves; earning an A in a summer class isn't easy because they move fast and are essentially a regular semester's material in half the time). There are a couple people in one class who will be retaking it, but that's kind of the nature of the beast: it's the "hurdle" class for pre-meds, and for someone fresh out of high school who maybe didn't have to work that hard to be the top of their high school class, it's kind of a shock to find out that yes, you really do probably need to spend a half hour or so every day studying the material in order to learn it.

I'm taking today off. I have some errands to run out of town, and despite my comment about enforced austerity, I'm taking myself out to lunch. (Because I get paid on Wednesday, and I looked at my checkbook last night and realized that the "OMB, I'm broke" is largely in my head. I mean, I shouldn't be *profligate* but some extra work I did this spring coupled with the un-spent tax refund (and, um, some money from my parents: my dad sent me a check to cover half the cost of the new furnace with the justification that he did something similar for my brother and sister-in-law - who, truth be told, have considerably higher expenses than I do and I don't think they make any more money than I do)

Tomorrow I'm going to try to force myself to go in and do fall syllabi, and also update some things like my CV.  (A CV - for curriculum vitae - is like the academic's version of a resume.) We're asked to submit updated ones each fall.

And I had a thought: I wish I knew if my chair was a Weird Al fan. If I knew she was, I would do a preliminary version of my CV in Comic Sans and send it to her. (Closely followed by the real one, of course, but I think anyone who was a Weird Al fan would get at least a chuckle out of that). I may just do a version for myself, for the laughs. (It would only take a couple minutes and it might be worth the amusement.)

Monday and Tuesday I'm going to try to work a bit on the manuscript. Though my fall looks a good bit less dire than I feared it would be - instead of teaching ecology, biostats, 2 lectures of PI, GIS, and two lab sections of PI on top of everything else (ecology has its own lab), because we have an adjunct who needs more hours, I'm not teaching any PI labs. So that means I'm only overloaded by 2 hours instead of 4. (I don't get credit for teaching GIS; it has to do with how team-taught classes are broken out, so every four years I get to teach it "for nothing." But that's okay.)

So I have Monday and Tuesday afternoons (and Friday) totally open at this point, and a gap from about noon until 5 pm on Thursdays, where I can work on other stuff. I've decided as much as possible in the two PI sections to coordinate, i.e. give exams on the same day, so I can use the same BASIC exam with scrambled questions. (The two sections are back-to-back and the chances of people talking to each other are unlikely though not impossible. But I will probably do forms A, B, and C of exams in those classes because they both look packed and you might remember I had an issue with a weasel in a section who actually gamed it so he could cheat. Not that it helped him at all...)

I'm almost done with the Lakkos cloche and I may try to finish the Hermione's Everyday Socks before I leave on break. I did finish the right front of the Belvedere cardigan while invigilating, so I will probably start the left front, and then take it with me on break, with slight hopes of finishing it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

And it's done

Oh. my gosh, guys.

So I came home at the end of the day today, and put my car away. As I was pulling up the drive, the tiny glimpse I had of the backyard and alleyway...I thought, "That looks different."

So I went into the backyard.


I walked around back to the alley. Wow, it looks FANTASTIC. I can't believe how much better it looks. They came, they cleared everything out. Cut back all the tree limbs of the trees that are IN my back yard but were overhanging the alley. They even picked up the trash that had accumulated in with the vines and brush and stuff. It just looks so great. Now I just have to decide if I feel up to getting poison over the weekend and going into my back yard and spraying the poison ivy. (I might; it's supposed to be cooler Monday. And I could cart some of my own brush out to the curb.)

When I went into the house, there was a message from the guy that they were out doing it, just to see if I was home. Well, I called him back, partly to tell him how impressed I was but mainly to arrange to pay him. (He said he had to come back into town later this afternoon and will swing by then).

But they came FASTER than they said they would, the work is done, it looks great, the city can't pick at me now. Darrell Bailey is SO HIRED the next time I need tree work done, I'm really impressed. I guess you have to keep casting around until you find a good person and then hang on to them (like I have with my HVAC guys and with the plumber.)

I'm so glad this is done; this is a huge load off my mind.

(And I was thinking the other day about the running gag in Regular Show, where something needs to be done, and Muscle Man says, "I know a guy...." Well, now I know a tree guy.)

People making stuff

Or, "It seems like when there's something I really want to watch on TV, it's when I don't have time, and then when I do have time, there's nothing."

This morning, taking a few minutes' break before dressing, packing my lunch, and practicing piano, I flipped on the PBS channel. There was a show on "natural beekeeping" on. What first caught my attention was how it was filmed - fairly long pauses just showing the bees doing their thing, with snippets of music in the background. This was then interspersed with segments of the man the show was featuring talking a little about how he did his beekeeping - how he harvested the honey, how he maintained the supers, stuff like that.

I like programs like that. I enjoy watching people make stuff or work on stuff. And things like beekeeping (or alpaca-raising, or having a small herb farm, or making traditional instruments the traditional way) are just inherently interesting to me. I also eagerly read "Mary Jane's Farm" (I have a subscription) and when I visit my parents, I read my mom's copy of "Grit." (I should probably take out a subscription to that one. It has some good recipes and even if I never do own a hobby-farm, it's still interesting to me to learn about the heirloom breeds and stuff like how you keep ponies on small acreage.) And I like shows like the beekeeping show. Not just because it's about "making stuff" but it's also calm and slow-paced and no one is screaming at anyone else. (I suppose to be a good beekeeper, it helps to be a calm and slow-paced person.)

(We have hundreds of channels out there. Why can we not have a "people making stuff" channel that just has slow-paced, documentary-like (or PBS-show-like) programs on these different processes? That's a kind of "reality tv" I'd actually enjoy)

I also tweeted about this article on sheep-shearing yesterday, with the comment that I can tell I've hit end-of-semester burnout because I find myself looking at all these other careers and feeling a "the grass is greener over there" sense about it. (Of course, another article on raising animals starts off with "There will be poop..." so that helps bring me back to reality a bit. Then again, would dealing with ungulate poop be so very bad?)

Part of it, I think, is that all of those things - beekeeping, breadmaking, cabinetmaking, raising fiber animals - it feels to me like there's an immediacy there, you can see the results of what you do every day and that must be tremendously satisfying. With teaching, you never know who's going to succeed in their career and how much you actually helped them. (And perhaps we aren't helping them all that much; today a fellow pony-fan linked an article discussing innumeracy rates. And at least some of those innumerates had to have attended college...) And it's easy to get frustrated with that seeming lack of results; I regularly find myself looking around and going "Surely there's some job where you don't have to take it on faith that you're doing some good in the world?"

Oh, I know: beekeeping has its problems. Especially in this part of the world, where the so-called killer bees could come and take over your hive. (One semester I had a student who was a hobbyist beekeeper, and he spoke of how he had to "eliminate" one hive after they showed suspicious swarming behavior and were acting like the Africanized bees. I guess later inspection of the queen showed that in fact the hive had been taken over...) And with raising animals for fiber, there are the vet bills and the creatures that mysteriously die out in the field and the getting up at 2 am to assist in a difficult lambing. And with being a baker, there are all the inspections and the constant cleaning of the kitchen and the having to worry about labeling everything with potential allergens...

But still, when I'm frustrated with my "real" job, I fantasize about the ones I don't actually have and think about how nice, and how wholesome, and how fulfilling it would be to start my day by, I don't know, going out and looking at the hives or going out and harvesting eggs from the henhouse or whatever other thing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

And yet again:

I know, I know. I claimed last week that my motto was "give no one back evil for evil" and I do tend to try to follow that. And a person (well, for person = me) doesn't want to add to the sum total of the ugliness in the universe by acting in an ugly way myself.

But it's also tiring going out into the world day after day and seeing others who choose to act in ugly ways. The person who screams at the cashier at the grocery because they aren't fast enough. The person who yells at their child for a minor infraction. The person who graffitis on a building and the owners have to find a way to clean it off. And it seems that being nice sometimes is like tossing a pebble in the ocean.

And also, there has to be some middle ground between being so meek that people run over you, and being a monster of ego who only sees others as means to an end.

(And an aside: I always wondered about that beatitude. Was there something I didn't understand, or was something lost in translation? What would the meek want with the earth anyway? It's a pretty messed up place.)

And I do have to say that the guy who will ultimately be paid in this whole matter (the tree guy) was nice and friendly and treated me with respect, so there's that.

I'm just really tired right now. Tired of people and tired of fighting against the current that is day to day life.

I found one

Waiting for my office hours to end, too tired to write on the manuscript, so surfing Ravelry.

A pattern for my "mulled cider" colored Swans Island yarn (a deep cranberry-red):

Maple Leaf Shawl (Ravelry link).

Oh man. Oh wow. That's gorgeous. I love knit patterns that look like "things," I mean real things, anyway, but that will be perfect. And despite my fussing about "I've spent too much money this summer, from here on out it's All Austerity All The Time (until I build my savings back up), I bought it. 

Is niceness overrated?

I'm beginning to wonder that.

I strive to be a nice person, to be friendly and polite and helpful, but I admit sometimes it just wears on me. People take advantage of me. I have a guy with a stupid work schedule in one of my classes. He missed a quiz so I had him make up the quiz. He missed today's exam and hopefully he can come in and make it up before I have to leave for my meeting at 3:30 but then I will also have to make time to grade it (I already graded all the others).

I took time to do an extensive pre-final review in my other class and I"m exhausted. (Remembering all that stuff, the highlights of an entire semester, is hard brainwork).

I also try not to be obtrusive in my daily life. I almost didn't call BC/BS over the bill thingy because I thought it was being pushy. I really, really hated calling the guy I had to fire back to fire him. (But, then again, as he said: he had told me he'd get back to me and he didn't, within a reasonable timeframe). Part of this reluctance is me being an introvert and not liking to deal with people I don't know. But part of it is that I LOATHE it when people take it upon themselves to "remind" me multiple times of things. (I don't tend to forget to do things, and calling me on the phone to "remind" me when I'm up to my haunches in alligators with other stuff just makes me either angry at you or feel like I'm a failure because you have to remind me)

But I'm also not very assertive, and not good at it. My dad counseled me to go down to city hall and tell them to 'cram it' (well, I think he meant for me to be more polite, but) over their note-thingy and the short notice and the bad timing. (Because really? Learning about this in May, I could have handled it. Learning about it right before the hottest week of the year, in the height of lawnwork season? Not so much.) And I tried to tell them: Hey, the guy you recommended? Flaked out on me but I couldn't say it forcefully enough to make it stick and I just got told, "Well, call one of the other people on this list. IT'S NOT THAT HARD." (Oh honey. Oh. You must not be an introvert with a fear of the phone.)

And I'm wondering: is being a nice person, is being mild and gentle over-rated? I cut lots of slack for other people, I'm there to help, but it seems like when I ask for help people are too busy to help. Or if I need a little slack cut, I don't get it. And I do feel taken advantage of at times, like when someone needs help and I wind up dropping everything to help and then I don't get my own stuff done.

And yeah, I know, on some level, this is a choice. But it's also a part of my personality because I kind of grew up with the mentality that the way to get people to like you was to do stuff for them. (And that seems to work about as well in adulthood as it did in seventh grade.)

And probably part of this is the tiredness and the fact that it's like 105 degrees out and really humid, and the fact that I used up all my emotional energy for the week yesterday in my dealings with different people. But I'm beginning to wonder: If I were less nice than I am, would I get more of what I wanted? If I hadn't been so deferential to the City Hall lady, would she have treated me as less of a deadbeat idiot?  IS niceness overrated? Is it a way to lose in this world? Because a lot of the time it seems like I lose in interactions because I'm not forceful or mean enough.

(Another ugly little question: If I had 8 more inches of height, a deep voice, a full beard, and a set of nuts (sorry), would I be treated with more respect by random bureaucrats than I am currently?)

(And yeah, I know, this sounds like a lead-up to one of the Fluttershy-centered MLP stories, doesn't it? I wonder how much of a monster I could turn myself into....)

I don't know. But I'm getting tired of being nice, just as I get tired of being responsible. And it's not a good place to be, feeling tired of something that is fundamentally who you are.

In a week

One more week. One more week, and then I'm on break. (Well, break for a week. Not much of a break, but whatever). I can do this.

I think part of my summer distress is that every single day seems so long because there's so much packed into it. I realized it was only a week yesterday since I got the notice about the brush; it seemed like it had been far longer.

I give an exam today and do a review in the other class. I have to grade the exam and then do the last couple soil samples. And tomorrow I give and grade finals and total up grades. So this is kind of like the end of April or the end of November, which are also times I get stressed out.

And it doesn't help to have logistic stuff layered on top of that.

I think I'm going to take at least one solid day this weekend and only do things I WANT to do. Which will probably be staying home and knitting, because I feel kind of skint right now (I am not, literally, in a bad way financially; that's why I have a savings account) but I feel like I shouldn't be spending money frivolously. But also it's going to be Death Hot out - they're calling for heat indexes close to 110. (This morning our dewpoint was 75, which should be against the law.) It's especially painful because it was SO NICE last weekend, I really hoped it would stay.

And the heat and humidity, despite my air conditioned house, has affected my sleep negatively. No Kafkaesque nightmares, but had a dream where a (platonic) male friend of mine (who doesn't exist in the real world) and I were traveling to Europe via cargo freighter, and it was going to take two months, and I was running around trying to gather up enough clothing, books, and knitting projects for two months of enforced downtime. And I had less than a half hour in which to do it. And another one about trying to bail out a flooded basement. And I'm awake a lot at night.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Full-on Rarity


Well, maybe the seventh time was the charm. I just started randomly calling people whose names I had as tree-workers, and finally reached one. He offered to come out this afternoon to give me an estimate. He brought two coworkers, they looked at it and went, "Yeah, maybe a half day at most" and he said "I could do it either Saturday or Monday, depending on our other jobs, and with hauling off, it would be $400."

That's less than I had actually budgeted (and less than I was thinking of desperation-paying). This guy seems trustworthy AND he was someone I had talked to a couple years ago about tree work (and then never had it done; if he does well with this I'll get him out in the fall to trim my pecan and elm). He knows me a little - he used to work with the plumbers I use before branching out on his own (he has a plumbing and tree trimming business AND he is the plumber my church uses, so that reassures me)

He's aware of my time concerns and he said he'd call me, they'd probably be out around 8 am whatever morning it is. I'm just going to trust that this time it will work.

I had to call ALLLLLL the other people (or I felt I had to) and tell them I didn't need them. Most were easy, it was just an answering machine. But guess who I got in person? Yup, the first guy who had never called me back. I was kind of apologetic (heh, full on Fluttershy) about "firing" him but then HE apologized for not getting an estimate to me, so I guess it really was on him.

But, grah. I will be glad to be done with this and next year I'm calling someone in the EARLY summer to cut back the brush for me.

And now I kind of want to re-write a couple verses of Weird Al's "Tacky" to be about calling up a workman, not waiting very long for him to call back before you call someone else, and then calling the first guy to tell him you don't need him. Because I suppose in some people's books that kind of behavior is tacky. But whatever. Maybe I'm tacky too....


Well, maybe not quite. But I went as Rarity as I ever went this afternoon.

I had three tasks. (I am never one of those people of which it can be said "YOU HAD ONE JOB" because I never have just one):

1. Call my health insurer to make sure that the $2000 and change for bloodwork wasn't a mistake

2. Go talk to the city in the hopes that maybe there was some misunderstanding and to let them know that I am really working on this, really, and I don't want to be tardy with my letter to the Princess and get sent back to Magical Kindergarten (to mix a pony metaphor)

3. Go and get a prescription refilled (the doctor involved still uses paper script forms, which complicates things).

Item 1 was easy enough, once I got past BC/BS's weird phone tree, the lady I talked to was very nice and very helpful and thanked me for wanting to check up on it (But yes, it does cost $2000, according to the local hospital, to have a CBC, a CMP, and a fasting lipids done. Hm. I wonder if there are other facilities that would do it more reasonably)

Item 3 worked out okay with some waiting, and I was able to pick up another refill I had waiting at the same time. (What a drag it is getting old. In the past three years, I have gone from taking one pill and one supplement daily to taking four pills (one twice a day) and one supplement. Three of those pills are prescription)

Item 2....well, I wound up doing the Ugly Cry in my car after it was over. Yes, I am responsible, although no, I do not own the alleyway property. I have "a little time" to get it taken care of but I was given to understand that it needed to be done by the end of the month (coincidentally when I leave for break). I told the woman, calmly but firmly, that I called one of their "recommended" guys and he never got back to me after saying "Yeah, yeah, I'll do an estimate and get back to you."

And rarely does anyone here work on Saturdays or Sundays, so that means I have effectively three days to try to line someone up.

She also said, "Well, consider yourself lucky you just got the door hanger. If you had gotten a letter, you'd have to appear before our Board."

I realize she doesn't know me, and she doesn't know my reaction to being told stuff like that, but now I'm going to have Kafkaesque nightmares until the brush has been cleared. I actually said, sitting in my car: "Well, okay. I'll write up a note saying if I'm found dead of a heart attack in my alley*, that it was because I was struggling to remove the brush when the city told me to and I couldn't even HIRE someone to come do it, and then pin it to my shirt and go out there and start cutting."

(*It's like 106 with the heat index right now. I get winded walking out to my car from the humidity)

I really really really really really really don't want to have to go before a jury of my peers or whatever the hell it is. I just want this taken care of. I got another name from my secretary but of course everyone is busy right now.

I'm serious - I would pay $1000 right now, nearly 1/3 of my take home pay in a month, for this just to be fixed. That's how helpless I feel. That's how desperate I am. I hate calling people on the phone, I hate having to harass people who supposedly agreed to do something and then never call me back to say they will, I hate the fear that I'm a scofflaw because I'm not strong enough or gifted enough with a saw to take care of it myself.

Dangit. I should have just cut the dang brush this weekend when it was tolerably cool and then worried about how to get it hauled off later on.

This can't be as big a problem as I'm making it out to be but then again, I have had such bad luck getting help with stuff in the past. I don't know why. I don't know if it's me or if I expect too much or what. But I'm terrified that this won't get done in good time and then I'll have to go up and defend myself and then....I don't know? Can they take my house from me? Can they cut off my water? Throw me in jail? What? I'm fundamentally such a rule-follower that I freak out when someone tells me I'm breaking a rule and I think it means the WORST POSSIBLE THING is going to happen to me. (And with the way things go for the rule followers vs. the rule breakers, it probably WILL.)

I think the worst of this for me is that I feel so utterly ALONE in this. The city doesn't give a flip that I'm trying, they just want it DONE. I hate calling people up and nagging them but I have to. I don't even really have a sympathetic shoulder to cry on; everyone is either incredulous that the city is insisting on this (What? I wouldn't make this up) or they tell me that I'll manage, and from here, right now, I don't see how that's going to happen short of me going out with a saw and somehow loading all the brush in my car and staging a late-night raid to dump it out at one of my field sites (which would be SO illegal, but.....) Part of it is I feel like no one locally is taking my worries seriously. 

creepy local news

Apparently there have been a couple of late-night home invasions. Granted, those are way on the other side of town (and the fact that there are two so close makes me think it's someone in that particular area). But still, it's creepy.

The commenter over there says that "but maybe the doors were locked, people can get in anyway" but I have known people in rural areas who still don't lock their doors.

I don't know. I lived in Ann Arbor for long enough to get the "always lock your door even if you're going out for a moment, and lock it when you're at home" mentality drummed into me.

I remember late one night, in my apartment there, I heard what sounded like someone trying to jimmy the lock open. Now, I had the regular door lock, the deadbolt, and the chain lock on but I was still scared; I got up and crept to the door and was steeling myself to say in my loudest and deepest voice "HEY YOU. TELL ME WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU ARE DOING OR I CALL THE COPS NOW" but just as I was getting to that point, a voice said, "Oh, S***, this isn't 807!"

Yeah, drunk dudes coming back from the bar, got off the elevator too early. But still, scared the daylights out of me.

Anyway. I even lock my door if I'm going to the backyard to work in the garden for more than a minute or two, on the assumption that bad stuff can happen fast and it just takes that one time.

But I did make doubly sure the door was locked last night - and the screen door. (It's loose, and if you don't pull it perfectly to, it can be opened even if the lock is on). And I have two deadbolts on my big heavy front door: one I have a key for (the one I had put in when I bought the house) and another one that I do not have a key for but can lock when I'm in the house. I normally never lock that second one on the thought of "what if I fell and broke a leg and could get to the phone to call for help but couldn't get to the door?" but last night I decided the likelihood of that was lower even than some goon trying to break in my house, so I locked both of them.

To be honest, if someone's going to steal from me? I'd much, much rather they do it during the day (burgling the house rather than robbing it) when I'm away from home than break in when I **AM** home. Stuff is just stuff and anyway the stuff I really value isn't pawnable, so they'd be unlikely to take it, the stuff they would I can replace. But having someone break in the house while I was in there - creepy.

I hope they catch the guy.

And then this

I have started a few new projects, with the thought that, "If you can't think about ordering new yarn, at least you can begin new projects."

I started a pair of "simple socks" using the hot pink tiger-striping yarn I bought a while back. I am doing a spiral rib on them (which means if I take them over break, I'll photocopy the directions for that from Folk Socks so I don't have to carry the whole book just for that). They're not "tigering" as much as I had hoped they might.

I also pulled out the skein of Verdant Gryphon "Traveler" I bought almost a year ago for the Lakkos Cloche from Knit.Wear. I had put off doing this pattern because (a) it's done on very short circular needles and that sometimes bugs me (though I'm finding it not that bad, on 16" needles) and (b) it has shortrowing, which always looks harder in the pattern than it actually is to do. Here, the shortrowing allows for the back and "ears" of the hat to be longer, and the part over the forehead to be shorter, so you don't have to wear the hat tilted back on your head (or bagging off, like a Rasta hat) so it's not down in your eyes. I can kind of see the way that shortrowing works here.

I still have dreams of designing, I mean really designing, not just fitting a lace stitch pattern into a standard 64-stitch sock, some day. And I like to think that each time I use an "unusual" technique, I'm learning a little more about how that technique works and maybe some day I will suddenly be able to design. (Yeah, and maybe someday I'll see the light and suddenly be able to play by ear or improvise on the piano). I know that's unlikely but I still hope.

I don't know. I might start something else. I was looking at a couple of skeins of Swan Island yarn I bought a while back for a shawl. I cannot, for the life of me, remember what pattern I was going to use. I even flipped through the issues of KnitScene I had sitting out because I thought it was for one in there, but I'm not finding the one that made me go, "You want this yarn for that." I might have to try searching my library on Ravelry....I'm quite sure that I bought the yarn FOR a particular pattern, rather than just "oh, that's pretty, I want to knit with it, two skeins would make a shawl."

I suppose that's the mark of having too much yarn, just like when you buy a book and realize you already own a copy is the mark of having too many books.

I'm just done.

I'm ALMOST done with classes for the summer: finish a tiny bit in one class and do an exam review today, other class is not meeting. Tomorrow I give an hourly exam in one and do final review in the other; Thursday is final exam day in both. I have the grades nearly calculated.

But I'm just getting DONE. The dude I'm trying to hire didn't call me back despite my call and message requesting a call. I don't know whether to call back AGAIN and say something like, "I'm going to try another service, thanks" or what.

Because now someone who has lived here longer than I have is telling me "They can't be complaining about your back alleyway, you don't own that. Are you SURE they didn't mean the north side of your house? (Which is as narrow as an alley, and which I have cleared out, in fact, I did that Tuesday afternoon). So I don't know whether to be "that woman" and go down to the city hall (because I get sick of playing phone tag with people) and ask them point blank, "Do you mean the paved alley on the East side which is just outside my fence, or did you mean the narrow area on the North side of the house" and get them to draw it out for me. And then tell them the guy THEY recommended is flaking out.

Then again, everyone else on my alleyway has theirs largely cleared out, so maybe that's an expectation, I don't know. And I'm unwilling to fight the city over "you own it, it's your responsibility" because I know they'll find some way to make my life miserable over it.

I wouldn't be so stressed about this except I'm leaving for a short break in about a week and I don't want the "deadbeat" tag applied to me, and further penalties levied. (They couldn't cut off my water over this, could they?)

In the past couple years, every interaction I've had with the city has been negative. Last year there was the month when they lost (or rather, the post office lost) a bunch of people's water payments, and rather than doing anything like giving a benefit of the doubt or even a second notice, they send letters to arrive on the day the payment would have been due, that said, in big red letters, "YOU DID NOT PAY YOUR BILL THIS MONTH. IF YOU DO NOT FIX THIS WITHIN FIVE DAYS, YOUR WATER WILL BE CUT OFF AND IT WILL COST $100 TO RESTART IT" Never mind that I've paid early or on time for the twelve years I've been a city water customer. Never mind that apparently 100 or more people were in that boat. Nope. Banhammer. And yeah, I get that some people are deadbeats but this is apparently how the world works: the rule-followers get slapped and have more rules to follow and the deadbeats go on their merry way.

(This is also partly why I don't do the trash-off days any more. Well, that, and walking multiple miles over rough terrain on a mid-November Saturday is not so good for my bum hip)

You know? Maybe I WILL be "that woman" and go down there and talk at them and let them know I'm doing my danged level best but that a lot of us work full time and then sometimes some, and the work-people you can hire in this town are often unreliable. And also, this is practically the freaking TROPICS, when it rains in the summer you can HEAR the weeds growing.

I also have to call my health insurer. I got the statement for my bloodwork. I had blood drawn, and a CBC, CMP, and fasting lipid panel done. All routine. Not a rush job. I didn't even go in on a weekend for it. According to the accounting my insurer got, that's over $2000 right there. (I am apparently liable for $160 or so of that, but that's not really the issue here). Does bloodwork really cost that much? I'm wondering if someone entered the wrong code somewhere and if that needs to be investigated. (I'm not saying it's fraud on anyone's part, but rather a mistake. But still, I don't want my insurer to be out some $1800 if the bloodwork actually cost $500....)

I'm just TIRED. Really, a person needs a personal secretary to deal with all the paperwork stuff. (I tried calling the insurer last night but their chipper automated voice told me they closed at 6 pm (it was 6:02) and that if it was an emergency, I was to call my primary care doctor.).

All the logistics, all the stupid little stuff you have to take care of as an adult is what gets me down. I can deal with my job just fine. I can deal with some of the big things in life. But little stuff, like a bill that's in error or something breaking that it's not my responsibility to fix, and all the calling and the waiting on hold and the fighting through phone-trees and the having-to-call-back-because-the-person-you-need-to-talk-to-is-on-another-line is what makes me want to run screaming into the night.

And that's why, when stuff happens like the transfer student coming in on short notice yesterday, and wanting advisement into the program my chair is less familiar with, and when the chair sent her to me, I sat down with her and advised her and even called a couple of offices to get a problem fixed. Because I know I hate ping-ponging around and not being able to get help, so if I can use whatever tiny bit of pull I have to make it so a new transfer student can enroll in classes the day she's up on campus to do other paperwork - rather than having to wait until something gets fixed on the office's own schedule - I'm gonna do it.

I just wish that courtesy would get extended to me sometimes.

(And yes, again, this is partly a broom-on-the-roof issue.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

the right thing?

I hope I did the right thing here. I tend to be really committed to my "job," even stuff that's auxiliary to it, so I never know:

I came in this morning to several e-mails. Two of them were questions about things, easy enough. The third was from a student who lost a scholarship (I won't go into details). I don't remember the student all that well but I could go spelunking in my files to see how they did in my class. The thing is, they want me to write a letter of recommendation for them for the appeal, which is apparently tomorrow evening.

Okay. It's the last week of the summer semester. I collect the "big" ecology papers today and I need to grade them. The students do their oral presentations today. I need to go over my ecology final to be sure it all makes sense before sending it to the printer. I have another exam to give in the intro class (It's written, but still, I will have to grade it).

I told the student "no" because of time pressures. In truth, I possibly could have made the time to do the letter, either by delaying my grading a bit or by staying up here later this evening. But asking a prof to do something with essentially a 2-day turnaround seems a bit much (the students know, I have told them many times, it is in my syllabus and has been for years, that I don't generally check campus e-mail on weekends and NEVER on Sundays).

I dunno. I feel a bit like I'm flaking but then again, at least I said, "No, I can't do that" up-front. (I called the guy who's supposed to come and clear out the alley again....still haven't heard back from him and if I don't by tomorrow morning I'm calling another service because I just want this DONE and I get tired of wrestling with logistical issues that are far more complex than they should be.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Another Sweater Back

I finished the back on Hagrid yesterday:

hagrid back

I started the front, too, but am not very far along. I find I get faster at patterns like this with experience, because I know what I'm doing.

I did make this a few inches shorter - this back is 24" rather than the 27 1/2" the pattern calls for. (It's a man-tailored sweater, and obviously for a tall, long-waisted man, because 24" is going to be long on me; 27 1/2" would practically be a minidress. (I am not unusually short for a woman - 5' 7" but my legs are proportionally longer than my waist)

A couple other things:

* I went to see "As You Like It" today. More about that later but this is going to be my next Shakespeare read. It takes me a while to get into the stories of the ones I've not read because I start off going "Okay, who's that?" when a new character comes on stage. I did get the plot but I'm sure a few of the jokes sailed over my head. (But not one that, I think it was Oliver? made, after he caught Ganymede/Rosalind in drag when she fainted....his comment about how s/he "had not a man's heart" while making a bit of a cupping motion (like a breast) over his own chest. Yeah, I'm 12, but a lot of the jokes in Shakespeare are ones that the 12-year-old in us can appreciate)

* I also mowed and edged the lawn. That was a hard job. It's very humid here right now and at the very end, when I was mowing the front lawn, I kept having to stop and "take a knee" for a few moments to get my breath back. (Also, the stupid edger, the line kept breaking, and ultimately the cartridge ran out, and I had old line but not a full cartridge, so I rewound line into the old one....ugh. Didn't work well).

* Current dewpoint is 72 and it "feels like" 92 out there, so that's why I was having such difficulty working. My body doesn't like humidity.

* I've been enjoying Weird Al's resurgence - he's introducing a video a day for eight days. One of my favorites so far has been "Tacky," a parody of Pharrell's "Happy." Part of it is that it's one of the few current pop songs I'm actually somewhat familiar with, but the other reason, it just feels like a "classic" Weird Al video: loud, silly, goofy, good wordplay. (I also liked "Word Crimes," but I admit I love "Tacky" just a little bit more.)

* I also really liked Sports Song, even if some of the online commentators aren't giving it much love. Rather than being an actual parody of an actual song, it's a parody of a STYLE: the college fight song. And oh, it's just chord perfect. As someone who's spent really her entire life in some way affiliated with a university (from being a kid going to University of Akron football games because my dad could get cheap/free tickets as faculty, from being a student at Michigan and then Illinois State, and now a prof where I am now) - well, it just makes me laugh because it does kind of both skewer and celebrate the silly bombasticness of sports-combat.

I also fully expect "We're great and you suck!" to become a rallying cry in the student section of many university stadia. Even if, as I said, the song is a giant parody of the attitude (And a few moments later, there's "Okay, full disclosure: We're not that great. But nevertheless, you suck")

Also, marching in time and drum-leading is not easy and I'm supposing Weird Al was either never in a marching band or hasn't been involved with one for years.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Locally, it's good

I need to remind myself that even if the world looks like it's falling apart (and really, there's nothing material I can do to fix that), things in my own little circle are pretty good:

* I got some more done on the manuscript the other day. I guess I had more done than I was remembering; I might actually have something submittable by the start of fall semester, if I work really hard on it.

* Had my six-month checkup with the internist this morning. Everything is good. Blood numbers are good (she didn't give me a copy of the bloodwork this time but I'm going to trust that everything is good - in fact, she didn't even discuss them with me beyond saying that everything looked good, so I figure that means everything is where it should be). My blood pressure readings have been the lowest they've been since I started this whole mess. (I don't quite know why. It could be being more active this summer, it could be more sunlight exposure. Or it could just be the medication finally really started working well). Heart and lungs sound good, carotid arteries sound good. AND I was down five pounds from the last time I was weighed, back in May.

* My weight seems to bounce around a little within a ten to fifteen pound window. I don't worry about it too much; it's not like I'm yo-yo dieting (which I've read is even harder on the body than staying a steady higher weight). My weight goes down when I'm more active and goes up a little when I'm less active. I was even whining earlier this week that I felt "fat" (based on a photo of myself where I was seated and could see a love handle) but I guess I'm not doing TOO badly. And my doctor seems monumentally unconcerned about my weight, even though if you calculate out my bmi, it's a little scary. I think she realizes that I work out (and I am fairly solidly muscled, just not around the midsection) and that I'm careful about what I eat. And except for blood pressure, all the other health markers I have point to general good health. (Also, I almost never get sick, and she's remarked on that too). I'm thinking that as much as it hurts some mornings to drag myself out of bed early to work out, in the long run, it's doing a tremendous lot of good for me.

* I have leftover mac and cheese in the fridge to heat up for a meal today (and probably, for a meal each day this coming week....) I wonder if macaroni and cheese is related to, or derived in some way from, Alfredo. I suppose it would take tracking down the history of each. I know macaroni and cheese has been around a long time; I seem to remember seeing a recipe for it that Thomas Jefferson liked. And I think Alfredo is a more recent development. So maybe pasta Alfredo is a development (a sophistication of) macaroni and cheese.

* Mostly knitting on the Hermione's Everyday Socks (in fact, I took them to the doctor's with me and knit on them while I waited for her to come into the room). After these, the next small project might be a pair of mitts out of similarly colored yarn (except this yarn is a sport weight and is a Louisa Harding yarn. I've had it in-stash for a while. (And she commented on the "skill" it must take to knit on such small needles. And we talked about crocheting a little. She doesn't knit, apparently, but she does crochet.)

* Because of this having been an expensive summer, and also because I do have a giant yarn stash, I'm trying to work on working down the stash a little (I know, I say that a lot. "Oh, Erica says she's going to work down her stash, LOL"). But I also want to start something new so I think I'll just go ahead and start a few new things, at least until I run out of row counters for projects or run out of appropriately-sized needles.  This cooler weather we've had the last couple days makes me feel like summer isn't this unbreakable grip on us and that sometime soon again it will make sense to wear fingerless mitts and wool sweaters.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A little cooking

I finally got around to making the Skillet Macaroni and Cheese I had talked about the other day. Because it was rainy and cool for July, and I was tired, and following the news this afternoon made me sad and distressed (and my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the people on Malaysian Air flight 17.)

I pretty much followed the recipe as written, just used much less salt. (I put a little in the cooking liquid for the macaroni; macaroni aren't much good totally salt-free.)

I was skeptical the macaroni would cook up right; I was always raised to cook pasta in a very large amount of water at a rolling boil, and this is a much smaller amount of water mixed with canned milk that you just barely boil.

I should have known: I've never made an America's Test Kitchen recipe that wasn't good. This one is no exception. The macaroni and cheese is lovely and creamy and cheesy. It's not much harder to make than the box kind from the grocery store but is WAY better (and you can use whatever ingredients you want - you could sub other cheeses as long as they'd melt. And I think it would also be good with either chopped fresh tomatoes or well-drained canned tomatoes added to it. Or bacon. Or cooked and drained ground beef.)

There are different kinds of mac and cheese. When I was a kid, my mom most often made the baked kind: you boil up the macaroni, then combine it, a sort of custard base with eggs and milk, and the cheese, in a casserole dish and bake it. (My mom also used to add a little bit of onion, and I think the next time I make the skillet mac and cheese, I'll saute a little bit of onion before adding the liquid to the pan; I think a little onion would add good flavor). I've only rarely made that kind because it takes longer and is more involved.

Then there's the stovetop kind, which, if you're doing the box mixes is super simple (back when I was not worrying about sodium, I used to buy the Annie's white cheddar kind, and it really wasn't bad, for a nearly-instant meal). Or you can make a white sauce and add cheese and then mix in the macaroni. This recipe works on that principle but to save on dirtying pans, you start by heating the liquid (including canned milk, which is a nice touch: skim milk, which is what I usually have on hand would be too lean, fattier milk would curdle, something like half-and-half would be too rich) and then cooking the macaroni in it. THEN you thicken the sauce, not with a roux, but with cornstarch (and the cheese thickens it some, too).

The hot sauce called for is fairly important to the flavor. I used Cholula brand chipotle sauce, which is my favorite hot sauce. (An earlier iteration of the recipe - the one in my Cook's Country cookbook - calls for less hot sauce but also some dry mustard, which would be good too. Or dry mustard and paprika and maybe a little cayenne.)

It does make a really large amount, it looked like maybe 8-10 servings to me (but I tend to eat smaller servings of stuff than the usual recommended serving, it seems). I hope it heats up well. In the future, I may see if I can reasonably cut the recipe down to 1/2 or so of the amount. (I suppose the stuff might freeze....)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

then there's this

As a result of a chain of Google searching (what I was looking for was the old Steve Allen bit where he read lyrics of rather insipid 1950s rock songs like they were poetry), I ran across this again.

Seeing as I read Richard III earlier this summer, it seems apropos.

Peter Sellers was nuts but he was also brilliant.

(On YouTube, they say he's mocking Olivier's King Lear, but I clearly see a boar applique on his hat, and the boar was the symbol of Richard III... Also Richard III, as portrayed by Shakespeare, was somewhat of a creeper (he wanted to marry his niece), so it seems appropriate)

Back to reading

(I don't have an estimate for the de-brushing yet, but I went back there this afternoon. If I had a buddy with half a day to kill, access to a pickup truck and/or trailer, and somewhere I could dump the torn out vegetation legally, I could do it myself. Most of the stuff is small stuff and also a crapton of that #*%#$&#(*$&% Cynanchum vine. It also looks like someone else in the recent past may well have dumped a small load of their OWN torn-out brush there, leaving it for me to pick up. If that's true: well, Bad Show, Very Bad Show, person, and I hope karma delivers some kind of dope slap to you for that.

The biggest hurdle is where to dump the stuff. I could rent a pickup, in a pinch I could do it without a buddy....but I think the city dump only allows one load to be dropped off per month, and also, they're not open on Saturdays, which would be the most likely day I could do it. If the estimate for the work is reasonable, I'll have the guy do it, but if it feels like more money that what my time and effort would be worth, I will do it myself.)


I tend to cycle back and forth between books. I'll read pretty solidly on one for a while and either get bored with it, or get interested in something else, or something in the book will become distressing to me (I never finished Gulliver's Travels during a particularly difficult period; it seemed SO negative in places and like there was NO race of beings that wasn't venal, stupid, or selfish. No, I didn't quite get to the horse-beings, but they were also purely rational and had rather Peter Singer-like ethics, from what I've read, and that would bug me too)

I've been trading off between "The War That Ended Peace" (an account of the states and attitudes of various countries and their leaders in the run-up to World War I; mainly it reminds me of how much the European aristocracy of the past annoys me), one of the early Poirot novels ("The Death of Roger Ackroyd"), and, recently, I restarted "Pietr the Latvian" by Simenon. I had kind of buried it under some other books and forgot about it, so I just restarted it. Also, the story has some weird twists and turns (there's a doppelganger in there, and there's some question as to whether the man the police are seeking is actually the one who was murdered at the very start of the book in a train washroom)

"Pietr the Latvian" is the first Maigret story ever. Apparently it was first published serially in a magazine (Few magazines, I think, do that any more. Or at least, the kind of "general" magazine that lots of people read, as opposed to specialty magazines (Does "The Strand" still exist? It used to be known for its quality short stories; I have several compilations of stories from it). Penguin is putting out a nice series of new translations of the Maigret novels and I'm taking advantage of that to get the ones I've not read yet. (Well, had I money enough and space enough, I'd buy the whole set to have a complete MATCHING SET of Maigrets, but that's not gonna happen.)

One minor quibble: like so many reprints that seem to have been scans-without-proofreading, there are a distressingly great number of typos. Oh, not one per page, or even one every five or ten pages, but they are frequent enough to annoy me. The Campion novels that Felony and Mayhem put out suffer from the same problem.

I like detective novels, especially those from the Golden Era.  I suppose Maigret qualifies, even if Golden Era is mostly thought of as a UK and US phenomenon. But Simenon did a lot of his writing at the same time as the Golden Era authors were active, so....

I like Maigret. He's very unflappable and solid. He's actually pretty unemotional; some BIG stuff happens in this novel and he barely reacts to it. For him, getting the job done is the whole thing and he just keeps going, fairly relentlessly. (At one point, I think he goes 48 hours without sleeping or even eating much, if I understand the timeline). I like Maigret because he's very low drama, and yet at the same time, he has Mrs. Maigret waiting at home for him. She loves him and he loves her, there are occasionally nice little domestic scenes between the two of them, mostly involving them eating a meal she has prepared.

In fact, there's even a Madame Maigret's Cookbook out there. I have a copy. I don't think I've ever made anything from it but it's fun to look at.

There's such a businesslike quality to Maigret. And yet, there's also the whole Paris-as-a-character-in-the-novel aspect to the books: Simenon describes the locations so well you can picture them easily in your head, even if the only "Paris" you've seen has been photographs.

Someone, I can't remember who, also noted that the books have a strong existentialist streak, or there's this sort of underlying despair as Maigret philosophizes about the criminal mind. I don't really find that depressing, though some might. For me, it's a look inside a mind that operates differently from mine, and that's interesting. Also, I think Maigret does have his pleasures in life: Dinner with the Madame, a beer and sandwich (or several) from the Brasserie Dauphin, the good hot potbelly stove in his office in a cold Paris late-winter.

As I said, I like Maigret because he's so low-drama. (Yes, sometimes I choose the characters I read about based on whether I'd like them as a person). I think I'd like Maigret if he were "real" and if I worked with him. Other series-detectives: I think I'd like Inspector Alleyn; he also tends to be low-drama but he's also sort of aristocratic-in-a-good way (cultured and with the sense to behave in a classy way).

As much as I like Poirot and Albert Campion on the page, I might not like them so much in real life. Campion's upper-middle-class twit act would probably get profoundly on my nerves after a while, although maybe he'd have the sense to tone it down a bit around me. And Poirot is so fussy and vain - especially in the earlier novels, like the one I'm reading - that I'd find that annoying too. Even though Poirot does seem to be a fan of intelligent women and not overly swayed by mere youth and what we would today term "hotness."

The mystery novels from this side of the Atlantic that I've read the most are the Nero Wolfe series. When I was younger, I loved Archie. Now that I've gotten older, I like to imagine that while I'd be out of Archie's age range (he likes them young and slim and pretty, and isn't above critiquing a woman who isn't), I may be drifting into the range Wolfe would like (he does, on occasion, seat a woman so he can have a view of her legs, so he is not immune to females). And I can converse intelligently on a number of subjects, I don't use "imply" and "infer" interchangeably (heavens, no). And I'd be smart enough to know not to pull my knitting out of my purse while sitting in his office. The food thing might be an issue because I'd be a bit of a food-crank in his estimation, with my sodium restriction and my inability to eat carrots or celery.

(Perhaps it's a bit odd to think of fictional detectives and wonder how they'd react to you, the reader. I don't know. With series novels, though, you get to know the character more or less.)

Another interesting thing about most of these novels: the series tend to span a very long time, longer than the career of a typical detective. And in some cases, the characters do not age over time; things are adjusted in the later books (I believe in the sci-fi universe this is called retconning?) For example, Fritz Brenner is no longer a veteran of atrocities from WWI in the later books; he would have been too old to have worked as Wolfe's chef. And Archie doesn't age, so he can still be the late-20s/early-30s ogler of young women without it getting creepy. And there's also some subtle retconning of Poirot, also: initially he's a Belgian WWI refugee, and in some of the early books he is presented as being a retired police detective, with the assumption that he's already fairly old. But Christie kept him going up into the 1970s (I will never read the "last" Poirot novel, because of Reasons. I prefer to think of my detectives as kind of living in a time warp where they don't age and don't die....). As I remember, something also is true of Maigret: in this first novel, he reminisces about The War (Pietr the Latvian was written in 1930, so The War would have been WWI), whereas in later novels, of course, that would be too early for him.

Oddly, that kind of thing doesn't bother me; I can kind of over look it. (Another odd retconning thing: if Bart Simpson had aged normally? He'd be 34 this year. That's actually kind of scary, though I can see Bart as sort of a grown-but-not-grown brodude type.)

Except I do

No, I'm not out of darns to give. I never probably will be, until I either finally snap or until I die. And that's part of the problem. I care about junk too much. I get to the point where I say I'm "done," except I really am not; I still care, it's just that I'm overwhelmed and don't know how to easily make the problem go away.

I try hard to be a responsible grown-up citizen, so stuff like the citation push ALL my buttons because to me it feels like someone's pointing a big finger at me and either saying "FAILURE!" or "FAKE GROWN-UP! WE GOT A FAKE GROWN-UP HERE!" and that I'm going to be dragged back, not to Magical Kindergarten, but to seventh grade (the very closest thing to a circle of Hell I have experienced here on earth) and be forced to relive all of that so I get it "right" next time.

And yeah, I know. A lot of people have a harder time managing adult life than I do. But I'm not trying to raise a kid on my own, I'm not caring for a disabled family member, I'm not working three jobs, I feel like I don't have an excuse.

At the same time, I feel like people don't tend to see the eighteen balls I'm successfully juggling, they only see - and point out - the one I happened to drop.

I glanced down the alleyway as I drove by this morning (I might go back there this afternoon to look). I could see more of the danged grapevine that is starting to take over in the neighborhood; that may be a big source of the problem, which means it will be fairly easy for the guy to take care of.

The thing is, I don't want him to cut down all the trees back there (and I hope that's not his plan; I just want the brush removed and the vines). I like having a little privacy - the fence on the alleyway is a chain link fence so people can see in my yard. And for a while, I had horrible across-the-alley neighbors who would fight with each other out in their yard and yell horrible words at each other (You can imagine what kinds of words). The man once cat-called me while I was working in my garden, which felt really horrible and icky and creepy and like "can't I be left alone on my own darn property?" and it was extra icky knowing he had a wife/girlfriend/female companion that he had been yelling at not so very long ago. So I admit, maybe letting the brush grow up was something I thought of as more a feature than a bug. But whatever. I'll see what the estimate is, if it's like $1000 or something, I'll just go back there myself and try to rip the grapevine down and maybe spray some stuff (I hate using herbicide but in this case I may have no choice) and try to deal with it myself. It's just, I don't have a manuscript written and that was one of my summer goals and part of the reason that didn't happen is too much of my mental real estate got taken up by just DEALING with stuff that broke.

I didn't have any fun this summer, either. And I won't now, can't afford it. So: Didn't get anything useful done; didn't have any fun. I wasted a lot of this summer. Or at least that's how I feel right now. And I'm teaching an overload this fall (including a 2-hour class I get no credit for doing because of the idiotic way they assign hours in team-taught classes here) so I don't anticipate getting much done then. My chair has already told me the overload will not be "used against me" in any way if my scholarly productivity lags, but there are people above her who don't always pay attention to that stuff. (At one time there was talk of post-tenure review requiring publication of an article a year. At a teaching-heavy school with almost no institutional support for research, that's pretty much impossible if you're going to be any kind of a decent teacher. If they instituted that, and if somehow it became a condition of keeping tenure - well, they'd wind up firing a lot of us, and I dare say they'd probably wind up firing the more committed teachers rather than the people who tend to phone it in in the classroom. No, I don't see that happening, but stranger things have happened on campuses.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How I feel

This pretty much sums up how I am beginning to feel now about all the stupid little stuff going on.

Yeah, I'm approaching "MAYBE I'LL RENT SIX HORROR MOVIES" territory, to use another Internet meme.

An expensive summer

Yeah, this is what it's shaping up to be.

So, I come home from work and find a green tag on my porch. Okay, I think, that means ONG has been in the neighborhood or something and is letting me know the gas was off for a while.

Nope. It's from the city. "Tall weeds or brush." I don't know if someone reported me or if a city guy just saw it. And I admit, it stung my pride: I used to be on the Beautification Committee, before it was subsumed into another committee that meets while I'm in class. But the thing is: when you're allergic to contact with many, many plants, and you're busy, you tend to forget things like clearing out brush in the alley.

Of course, they don't tell you where. (My lawn is mown. Yes, the yaupon hollies in the front haven't been trimmed recently but they're not BAD. Yes, I need to edge but again that's not BAD. There's some stuff in the backyard, but it's all fenced in and I figure most people can't see it).

So I have to call. (I'm sure that's part of the deal: make you supplicate before the City "Authoritehs")

It's the alleyway. Out behind my house where I never look because of the fence and because I mostly worry about the street-view from the street I'm on. Um, okay. I thought the city owned that. But I guess it's my responsibility to de-brush it?

I felt a certain sadness: what do I do now? Do I risk massive hive attack or getting killed by a falling branch or fall off a ladder or give myself a heart attack trying to use my little handsaw to cut things? (Or destroy my hands and elbows for days afterwards and not be able to play piano or knit or write) Or do I call a "guy" and have him do it, and shell out more money?

I decided to call a guy, figuring that the time, frustration, and possible injury probably weren't worth it. I got a recommendation and called him. He called back fairly fast, too, and is doing an estimate for me. He's also going to try to take out the poison ivy infestation in the back end of my back yard, which I'm sure will cost more, but it's not worth it to me to risk hospital time. (For all I know, that could be the source of the complaint; the city is not exactly forthcoming with information).

The first he can get out is a week from Saturday, which tells me he's probably a decent guy (someone who could come out tomorrow, maybe not so much). City tells me that's OK. (I suppose people who fail to comply get a yellow tag, and then a red one, and a fine somewhere in there).

I will just pause to observe: dog that barks all night long, perfectly okay in the eyes of the city. Teenaged kids shooting off fireworks past the supposed noise curfew, perfectly okay. Homeowner gets a little behind the game in shrub maintenance? Oh, we can't have that. (And I will note that there are many yards that are worse than mine. Not in THIS neighborhood, perhaps, but in town)

But whatever.

Then I thought: wait. Could "alley" maybe mean the area to the north of my house, the narrow passage from front yard to back? I had let that get bad, too - the dang grapevines that the birds poop out had taken over. And some kind of Apocynaceae (I looked it up once but don't remember the name, I think it's a Cynanchum): a horrible, climbing, twining vine with nasty milky sap. And it smells. Oh, how it smells. It reminds me of when I had all the teen boys in Youth Group and they'd come to church after sports practice and take their sweat socks off. The smell gets on you and you can't easily get rid of it. And the stupid mulberries and the stupid winged elms. And it had all gotten tall and jungly and I kept looking at it and going, "I need to take care of that" but never got around to it.

And then something snapped. And although I should have been in practicing piano, I just grabbed my clippers and the wheelbarrow and started rage-gardening, ripping EVERYTHING out.

Rage-gardening is like rage-cleaning: you're angry, you're out of darns to give, you just want the project DONE, you don't care if you damage stuff or if it's an imperfect job. I cut and stacked stuff in the wheelbarrow and swatted mosquitoes and mumbled like Yosemite Sam under my breath.

I had a half-hour I could spend and still get the piano practice in. I actually got the area pretty darn well cleared out - or at least, stuff is short enough that I don't think a reasonable person could complain - in that time. Yes, my hands and arms are a little hivey, and my legs got cut up (I didn't bother to change clothes, just barged out there and started working. That's a family trait; my grand-dad changed oil in a white dress shirt, my dad has been known to mow the lawn without changing from his suit pants.) I may have ruined the skirt I had on with sap. (Then again, it's a Deva Lifewear skirt, and they're pretty tough and pretty washable)

But, gah. It's like I get one fire put out and another one crops up.

(I think the nasty plant is Cynanchum laeve, also known as honeyvine. Honeyvine? I don't THINK so. Though it could be C. louisae, they don't mention a horrible smell for the honeyvine, and the smell is the most distinctive thing about this dang plant)

Apparently this is what  my yard is, according to someone somewhere:

(Warning: loud and screechy)

"lame" blogging, too

Lynn did the so-called "famous Proust questionnaire" and remarked that "these are the kinds of things that make lame blog posts." But I admit, I also love these things, so if it's lameblogging to do them, then I'm lameblogging this morning:

What is your idea of perfect happiness? – working on something, making progress on it, having it go well. It matters not if it's data analysis or teaching prep or knitting a sweater or working in the garden. Being busy and seeing progress.

What is your most marked characteristic? –Lots of people talk about how diligent and dependable I am. Kind of a lame thing to have as your best characteristic, but whatever.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? – It's either remaining a kind person and trying to treat others well, or coming back from failing out of grad school (well, not really) the first time and earning my Ph.D. and having a job offer even before I had defended
What is your greatest fear? – Rejection. Or that everyone secretly thinks I'm boring or lame and talks about it behind my back.

What historical figure do you most identify with? – Beatrix Potter.

Which living person do you most admire? – Oh gee, I don't know. I find lots of the people I used to admire tend to wind up having, if not feet of clay, toes of clay.

Who are your heroes in real life? – The people who do stuff like step in and defend kids who are being abused. Doing anything that helps another but makes you vulnerable to being attacked. Military men and women. Good cops. Firefighters. ER doctors.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? – I tend to let everyone's opinion into my head, even those of people who are unfairly criticizing me.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? –  big giant senses of entitlement, where they see all others as their servants.

What is your favorite journey? – Riding home to see my parents in a sleeper on the train.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? – I think most virtues these days are underrated. Being too diligent, perhaps? Because it winds up hurting you?

Which word or phrases do you most overuse? – "Anyway." "I mean." "I don't know, but"

What is your greatest regret? – That I wasn't more social when I was younger, that I didn't date more. It's kind of late now.

What is your current state of mind? – Working on a couple things at the same time

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? – Health stuff. That everyone would enjoy good/better health than they now do. And that we were all closer to each other.

What is your most treasured possession? – I have a toy leftover from my childhood. It's very beat-up and kind of unsightly, so I keep it under a pillow on my bed. But it's very valuable to me.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? – Believing no one loves you.

Where would you like to live? – I'm pretty happy where I am, can I suggest changes to the place where I am? I'd like it to be where I am but with less-hot summers, more rain in the summer, a better big grocery store close by, a real bookstore close by...

What is your favorite occupation? – Knitting, sewing, reading, playing piano

What is the quality you most like in a man? – Compassion, having a kind heart. Being interested in something besides making money or making the next "conquest."

What is the quality you most like in a woman? – The same as in a man.

What are your favorite names? – Never really thought about it. I used to give weird, overly-elaborate names to my stuffed animals when I was a kid, like Ermentrude or Theophrastus. I would never saddle a kid with that name, though.

What is your motto? – See post below. Or: "Give no one back evil for evil; hold fast to that which is good."

Monday, July 14, 2014

Into my head

In the course of putting out the minor fires that sometimes an online board moderator has to, a Bible verse popped into my head. The general wording is in a couple places (Romans and 1 Peter for example), but the one I thought of was this:

"See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people." (1 Thess. 5:15). Later on in the chapter, Paul also exhorts the people to 'hold fast to that which is good.'

Those two verses have long been a touchstone of mine, something I carry around and think about from time to time. The "do not give back evil for evil" (which is how I first learned it) is how I try to live my life. I don't always succeed at it, but one thing I've learned is that when someone lashes out at you, you have three choices:

1. You can lash right back at them. This is often very counterproductive and usually makes you feel worse.

2. You can ignore them or leave the situation. That's what I tend to prefer to do with most Internet kerfuffles; just not responding. I don't think of it as being a wimp so much as I think of it as a form of passive resistance; I am not going to stoop to the person's level and I am not going to rise to their bait. Because so very often on the Internet, when someone says something insulting or outrageous, what they WANT is outrage back at them.

3. If it's a friend or a family member (including internet friends), I try to decide if there is something I can say to make things better. Or if there is a way I can refute the hurtful thing the person said without inflaming the situation more. (If I don't see a way, I tend to default to #2 above). Or I try to move on to some point of agreement.

I don't know. As I said, maybe that's a wimpy way to do it. I'm really NOT a pacifist in the classical Quaker sense; I do believe one should defend oneself when physically attacked, and defend someone weaker than yourself if they face physical attack. And I'd probably move to defend a weaker brother or sister against a verbal attack. (For example, if someone in my class called a student who either wasn't doing as well, grade-wise, or even had a learning disability, a "retard" (and yes, I wince to type that word, but people do still use it, and saying "the r-word" might be confusing to some). And maybe I'd respond to someone using a harsh word with me with "Hey, that's really not cool" or "That's not an appropriate word to use when talking with a colleague/professor/whatever" and then let it drop. 

However, I've seen too many situations where snark and snipiness was met with more snark and snipiness, and stuff just escalates. And it gets ugly fast, and there's hurt feelings everywhere, and sometimes people who are innocent third parties wind up getting sucked in to the controversy. (I find myself sometimes having that happen, one of the wronged parties going, essentially, "Hey. You. Be the peacemaker here," or more commonly "Hey. You. I'm going to tell you my side of things and I expect you to agree with me that the other person is wrong.")

And I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't have the energy for that. I've found that perhaps 8.5 times out of 10, when someone who is normally not prone to saying hurtful things says something that is, either they are making a joke that came out really badly, or perhaps they're hurting in some other way and they lashed out at you. ("Small input, big reaction, something else is going on in the reactor.") And it's really hard, when it's someone you love who said the hurtful thing, to take a deep breath and go, "They are having some other trouble right now* and they aren't themselves"

(*In my case: it's really humid and my asthma is acting up. Or my hip bursitis is acting up and I hurt. Or I'm worried about someone else I care about because they are ill or in trouble. Or I have something else going on in my life that is worrying me.)

I will say: as much as I love the Internet for a lot of things (there are lots of people I'd never have gotten to communicate with otherwise; it's lovely to be able to order books and yarn when you live in a town with limited buying options for each), it does seem to do strange things to some people. Anonymity (or, really, pseudonymity: you can almost always find out for sure who someone is if you really want) emboldens people to say things they probably wouldn't say in person to someone. It causes, I think, a lessening of tact and "filtering" in some cases. I don't know. Some might argue that it allows people to be more "real" but frankly, it seems to be that being really "real" would be a kind of Rousseau-gone-bad un-civilization. And when you live in a world where weapons of both mass and minor destruction are a part of the technology (and the human population is far denser than it was in the caveman days), we probably NEED that "artificiality" of civilization to keep from killing each other.

But the internet, or some corners of it, there is ugliness that crops up. Even in areas that are usually fairly civilized.

But, as I said, I lack the energy any more (not that I had very much of it to begin with) for going head-to-head with someone and trading barbs. I know the few times I've got in an argument with someone where I said stuff "in self defense" (or really, more, because I was stung and I hurt right in that moment and was lashing out) and I really regretted it later on. Much better, I think, to either walk away from the situation, or to say something neutral, not respond to what's been said with the HURT and ANGER that is the first inclination of every person.

Incidentally, here's the verse from 1 Peter, I like it too:

"Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."

I read these things and I kind of take a deep breath and my shoulders drop back down to the position they're supposed to be in: "Yes. Yes. I don't HAVE to respond to that person in kind, there is a different way and that works better for me."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Weekend in pictures

I decided that since that new bottle of nail polish felt so hard-won (it was the one I bought right before my car's battery died), that it was time to change the color on my toes.


Not a perfect job; I wasn't very flexible Friday night after putting a day in leaning over a microscope and then standing out in the heat.

The color is "Plumberry" from Essie. Yeah, I pretty much stick to the pink/red/maybe  slightly purplish spectrum. I can't quite get used to the idea of orange, green, or blue nails for me.

And I got the tomato sandwich made for lunch Saturday:

'mater sammich

Toasted the bread, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise (Duke's, which I DO think I prefer to Hellman's), the whole tomato (I dipped it in boiling water first so I could easily peel it....I don't like the skin on tomatoes). I also added a sprinkle of garlic powder, which is not canon, but which adds a lot to the sandwich (IMHO).

And yes, it made kind of a big sloppy sandwich, using an entire tomato, but I wanted to use it all up (it was a beefsteak type, I think the varietal name was German Johnson) and anyway, the tomato is both the point of the sandwich and the most nutritious thing in the sandwich, so.....

I suppose if you were making fancy little tea-type sandwiches, you would use a single layer of tomato and one big tomato would make several sandwiches.

I decided I really like tomato sandwiches and the next good-sized tomato I get will probably become one.

And it was hot. Granted, this is perhaps an exaggeration because the sensor for my outdoor thermostat gets the afternoon sun, but:

yeah, it's hot

I will say 77 was what I had the a/c set on, so so far the new set-up is doing a fine job.

I also finished the back of the Belvedere cardigan:

back of Belvedere

I wanted to do this partly so I could start one of the fronts to have for invigilating knitting tomorrow. (Front has been started and the ribbing done; I just began the lace section).

This will probably require aggressive blocking before I sew it up; the edges want to curl a lot.

Also, the Zecora I ordered from Build-a-Bear came. I ordered this even before the giant a/c repair, or else maybe I wouldn't have. (This has been an EXPENSIVE week - getting the new furnace at the start of it, and a new car battery at the end, and even before the furnace, buying a window-unit air conditioner)

I'm glad I bought her, though. Build-a-Bear did a good job on this design. And she's HUGE. I put the clothes on her that I ordered along with (it was a way of getting free shipping, which in the long run was cheaper):

Zecora dressed

"I find myself with a very great wish/
to go and see this band called Phish."

Well, maybe not. I thought she'd look kind of hippieish in the clothes but frankly she looks more like a Bangles fan than a Phish fan in them.

(She is smiling but there's something about her eyes that makes her look vaguely annoyed to me, about being dressed in that get-up)

Anyway, I think I like her better in just her fur, so probably another critter will get the clothes at some point.

Zecora hug

Like I said: as stuffed animals go, she's big. And very squishy and huggable.