Wednesday, August 12, 2020

random and disjointed

 Trying to write up notes for first day of stats. I want to have extensive notes for all my classes, at least for the first week, even for the things I've taught 20 times. Because I suspect that I'm going to be rattled and unhappy and having the notes will help me not to forget things. Also, if I keep up (at least with the stats notes, since I have not Powerpoints for that class) I could post them on BlackBoard just in case the video technology fails me. 

But yeah, it's tiring and time consuming. I will probably teach better for having done it but I have a feeling this is not going to be a very good semester teaching-wise any way.

* I slept badly last night because I was upset about....well, everything. I also spent too much time playing stupid games on  my phone; I downloaded a few and while many of them seem to want to run you up to an impossible level where you go "okay" and pay the $2 or whatever for a cheat code to beat it, I'm stubborn and cheap enough I won't, so I wind up doing the same level 80 times when I really should just be knitting instead, because that will relax me more and I'll have something to show for the effort. But somehow the games seem easier when you're tired.

* Something I was thinking about driving in today: one casualty of the pandemic for me, sadly, is "loving my neighbor." I find it hard to love people who go to crowded places and hang around unmasked, or who are unpleasant to store clerks who ask them to mask, or who mock people who wear a mask (it happened to a friend of mine - someone harassed her at a store until she hauled off and said "I am the caretaker for my 90 year old mother, I know this disease is real because my brother had it, so leave me alone" and she walked off). 

and I know, I know: not loving your neighbor is a sin, and all of this is maybe a test to see how we can do this, continue to love our neighbors even when they act in ways some of us find profoundly unlovable? I don't know. 

it makes me sad though because I miss people, I miss simple friendly human contact. But then I hear of stuff like that happening and I'm not sure I WANT human contact. Though I also think I'll die if I have to go very many more months like this. I can tell it's taken a toll on my mental health; I cry a lot more easily now and I get angry a lot more easily now and I am less patient with myself.

I also know some people say "despair is a sin" and I can kind of see that but it's been very hard for me through a lot of this NOT to despair. Part of it is it's the usual summer doldrums - it's too hot to get out, even to hiking trails, even really to mow the lawn, it's not rained in a long time, there's no change in the weather and it feels a lot like Groundhog Day right now (the movie, I mean). Like we're trapped in an endless loop. And every late-summer kind of feels like this for me, but this year it's worse because I'm staying home so strictly. 

I don't know. I don't know how to repair the broken things in my life and my personality. Maybe an end to the pandemic will allow that. Right now it just feels like being stuck in a bad place and not being able to get out.

* I've been spending too much money, but then again, other than groceries, I'm not doing in-person shopping. I recently ordered some yarn from Herrschnerr's for some knitted and crocheted toys I recently got patterns for (and they take the super chunky type of yarn I don't keep on hand).

I also broke down and pre-ordered another stuffed horse; this one from Lunar Shine - her name is Apogee and she is slowly making her way (along with all her clones) across the Pacific. I'd been watching the page for a while because she was eternally in pre-order but I guess they are actually on the way now so I decided to risk ordering. Anyway, I've ordered from LunarShine in the before-times (that's where my two batponies came from) and the quality was good and they seem reputable enough. Apogee is from a comic I've never read but I don't care - new pone, and I can also imbue her with whatever personality I want, if I've never read the comic. She is a yellow Pegasus and yellow ponies are my favorites.

Yes, yes, I know. But it's one of the very few things that makes me happy right now. 

I also ordered some reprints of "classic" children's books ("The Diamond in the Window," which I just barely remember but want to re-read, and Miss Suzy, which I may have even had a copy of once upon a time as a kid). I don't know. Right now I want fall to come, I want to be able to curl up in  my bed with my blankets and a stack of fun books and maybe even spend some chilly Saturday with the blinds up and the windows even open (maybe) and read. I also have my Asterix books which are good relaxation reading. 

* I would feel happier if we had some substantially cooler weather. I mean highs down in the lower 70s, not this "oh it's a nice little cool down, the high tomorrow will be 92" business that we get here. 

* First faculty meeting of the new year is tomorrow, and it's going to be in person, masked and distanced. I hope it's not long, but those kinds of meetings often are. 

* Board meeting is tonight or frankly I'd just go home and go to bed (except I'm also supposed to call my mom tonight). Probably I should just close down all the electronics as early as possible this evening and go to bed early and read Asterix until I feel like going to sleep.

* I am on the second to last repeat of the big cabled blanket so it seems most reasonable to work on that in hopes of having it done soon, even if it's too hot for a heavy acrylic blanket right now. Then maybe I move back on to the vest. I need to get back to doing more knitting again: I am happier when I do it and Lord knows I have enough yarn to work through. But somehow in recent months it's been harder - partly I hang out too much on social media, maybe because I have so little human contact otherwise? I don't know.

Thought for today

 This "comic" is not as clever as I'd like it to be, but it's something I'm thinking about

Yes, globally speaking, I am one of the comfortable - I have a safe place to live and enough food and health care if I need it. I am going back to work next week and I admit some anxiety about that, especially since there seems to be considerable diversity in the seriousness with which people are taking the pandemic (and some people may be concerned but unable to do anything about it - like nursing-home workers who must go to work in this).

I desperately need some comfort but I can't find any. So I don't know if the "lesson" in this is that I need/deserve more affliction, and that bothers me, that sits uncomfortably with me. 

I am materially comfortable but my spirit is definitely not easy. I've learned some hard things this year about my fellow citizens, I've lost some of the remaining idealism I had. I can't see how I'm going to make this semester work. I don't like the idea of trying to make myself heard in a mask, but I must. I don't like the added technical burden of livestreaming lectures even as I know that's important for people with health issues or childcare issues. I am already bone-weary and the semester has not even started. And most of the sources of comfort I had in the past are closed off to me because of the pandemic. 

This is a time to be endured. I hope I make it through and there's something good on the other side of it but I admit every day I lose a little more hope there will be an other side.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Holy cow, guys

Redacting totally.

I chose unwisely to try to make the admin happy by teaching my upper division classes in person. Too late to change that now unless someone actually shows up sick in class. So I just have to live with it

And anyway  - we have so many commuters and people who work that it will come to campus eventually. I'd feel better if we were testing people but there's no plan in place for that.

Also, perhaps a big part of my irritation over the "I'm taking a vacation the first week of classes" is pure sour grapes from me having done almost NOTHING for fun (and NOTHING worthwhile in the way of work) all summer, and I shouldn't let my bad feelings about how my life worked out color my feelings about my students.

My concerns were stupid. I should have realized that; I spent my entire childhood and adolescence being told that, and also, often in adulthood.

I hope things get better some day. I hope I survive this. But I don't know at this point. 

I may take a few days off from the blog, I know I am boring everyone and I am boring right now. I hope that changes at some point too

This is what I get for being a people-pleaser. That's why I said do the upper division classes in person; I knew it would make the administration and the students happy

Monday, August 10, 2020

this and that

 * Mail seems to be working again. I wonder if my usual delivery guy was on vacation, or if some of the sorters were on vacation? At any rate, I got a great postcard from an ITFF friend today:

The card makes me happy because it feels like the "vintage" cards I remember from when I was a kid - the deckled edge and all. (Maybe these are more common in tourist spots or national park/state park areas? The postcards I get around here all have flat edges).

It reminds me very much in style (if not content) of the postcards my dad used to send from summer geology field camp when I was a kid - for a number of years, he went out to teach in Casper, Wyoming every summer. It seemed like the whole summer but I guess it was maybe just four or six weeks? I know he was often gone for the Fourth of July when I was a little bit older (when I was very small, we would go to Blossom for Fourth of July). 

I also think my parents saw this formation back in the mid-90s when they took a trip to the Pacific Northwest - I cat-sat for them (I was working on my graduate work then). 

* I dunno. Postcards are just one of the Good Things in my mind, and something we're maybe losing a little bit of in the Age of Instagram? It still makes me really happy to get one in the mail, though, and I periodically will send some out as I get my hands on some. I don't travel a lot (less now than I ever did in the past!) but I do try to track down nice scenic postcards when I do.

* I also had a letter from my doctor's office and I had ALL THE ANXIETY when I saw it in the "informed delivery" view because immediately my brain went to "oh no, she's moving or closing up practice and I am going to have to find a new doctor in a pandemic!" I tried to tell myself: Maybe it's a satisfaction survey from your recent appointment. Or a notice that she's taking on another PA (she has a PA working with her now, I've never seen him). Or a reminder I need to make an appointment in January.

It fact, they MADE an appointment for me in January because I forgot. This is a new thing but maybe they want to work out their calendar well in advance? At any rate, it was about the least ominous thing it could be. (A satisfaction survey might have been less ominous, but whatever). 

* I got the prep done (making "arenas" for EACH student to use, rather than the old ones that would be shared among four, and gathered up the post-it notes the AA bought for me so I don't have to cut 2000 squares of each of 2 colors of paper) for the natural-selection simulation lab and I confess I am going to be slightly angry now if we go to all online by the end of the first week or something - this is the Week 2 lab. Maybe tomorrow I set up the bead-based population-growth lab, which will probably be Week 3 at this point....since I bought beads and ziplock bags for it. (I had NO IDEA how much of ecology labs would be "Arts and Crafts Supplies," but here you are, in a pandemic, when you can't do field trips and everyone has to have their own set up).

It is taking more time and more energy to do all of this, and so I admit I am mad at the calls I am seeing for "cut the professors' salaries since they aren't working as hard since so much is online" and PARDON ME about that try pivoting to online like this, and planning basically a bifurcated semester where maybe you'll be in the classroom and maybe be online, and then tell me if I'm worth less than the just-under-$60K a year I currently earn. 

 *I also finally got the BlackBoard/McGraw-Hill "pairing" thing fixed; it took yet another call, this time I got a rep who knew what she was doing and said "I'm going to reset something on  our end, then you will need to shut down and restart your computer, that should fix it" I told her I was going to ring off and not waste any more of her time - it can take close to 15 minutes for that computer to become functional again after being shut down. She told me to call back if I had a problem but once I got through the shut down it was fine. But it's not reassuring to see tech stuff failing in a semester when we are going to need to lean extra hard on tech.

*Big storms in my mom's area, but she called me to let me know she was OK after they passed. And also - and this may be a personality trait I inherited from her - to run what she did by me to get some reassurance it was OK - her central air conditioning, if the power goes out while it's running, it gets "locked out" and has to be reset by a tech. Okay, maybe it's a safety thing? But mine seems not to do that. But anyway, she lost power, got locked out of the AC, and it's almost as hot there as it is here. So she had a choice: pay a tech after-hours (so: more money) or wait in a hot house overnight for one the next morning. She chose what I would have chosen* - get the tech out ASAP. I think she wanted me to say I didn't think that was extravagant and I didn't. Anyway: I'm grateful my dad left her in a financial position where she can do this; some widows wouldn't be able to afford to pay for air conditioning, let alone getting it serviced after hours

 (*Well, I have the little window unit and I might have been just stubborn enough to stick that in the window and wait on the tech - though also sometimes the company I use gets backed up and can't get out right away) 

But I'm glad she called; I was watching the weather radar for that area nervously and it makes me glad to know she's okay.

* So yeah. Kind of a stressful day. I need to change the sheets on my bed tonight and I also might take a warm-ish bath (despite it being hot out) because I kind of hurt today. Not sure why though I notice that on humid days.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Afternoon mask making

 After having a horror of trying to make more sewn masks for a long time (I have been wearing some from Society 6 - including several designed by South Korean artist Pikaole, who I follow on Twitter and whose drawings of animals I enjoy), I decided I really needed two work-weeks' worth of masks, because you need to wash the reusable kind after each day.

Also, a Ravelry friend sent me a card of elastic she wound off from a giant cone she bought - this was when elastic couldn't be found anywhere and you could only buy industrial quantities - and I felt like "She went to the trouble to mail it out so I should use it."


And also, maybe, I am getting better in terms of acceptance/learning to live with this thing.


I still don't like making pleats though. 

I made six masks:


There they all are, along with the rubbery ear-saver I bought from someone on Etsy (I got a pack of six, this is the one I could quickly lay my hands on). I need it because my ears are floppy and the elastic makes them fold forward and then the mask falls off. (I don't know either. Maybe I have some kind of cartilage weirdness?) Also, it snugs the masks up to my face better so there are fewer gaps. I still want to get some filters to put inside these (they are double layer with an opening on the reverse side) because I can tell they allow more inward airflow than the Society 6 ones. 

 I just grabbed fabric and started choosing "what do I like/will match with my clothes/isn't cutting into a piece I will want all of for a quilt later on" and also "which admit the least light when you hold a double layer up to a lamp" because you don't want too large a space between the weaves (I mean, virus can still get in, of course, what you are trying to do is block spit droplets, and a non-woven filter will help with that too*)


(*I ordered some "mask inserts" from Amazon, based partly on the "MADE IN US!" claim on the listing. We'll see. If they don't work I can sacrifice one of my unused furnace filters - the reason you can't get the really high-filtration ones right now is people are buying them up for this purpose)


Anyway. This is not the kind of fashion modeling I ever wanted to do, but then I'm too fat, short, and funny-looking to be a model anyway. (And now you can add: too old)


Hedgehogs, because if you have to wear a mask you might as well be cute
Unicorns, ditto
A folk-style print that will go with some of the more primary-colored clothes I have
A floral - a bit more sophisticated
Butterflies, for biology
 Cupcakes, because why the h*ck not?

Anyway, that took the remaining spoons I have for today. (I might also invest in some "Hollywood tape" if I can find some - this is what actresses use to help their strapless dresses stay up - and it might help close some of the gaps between upper cheek and mask. I did put my one remaining chenille stem in the unicorn one and it helps, but I think I'm out of those now - though perhaps I could order some more)

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Some Saturday stuff

 Today was a better day than many recent days. One of my CPAAG (a group on Ravelry) friends invited some of us to an online get-together and I got a chance to just talk "stuff" with other people (instead of work-talk or other "targeted" talk) and also I worked on the simple Opal socks while talking there.

In and around that, I cleaned house - the kitchen had gotten bad, and right now I am letting vinegar soak in the toilet bowl because it was having some problems with limescale buildup.

(Thought: someone should manufacture a dissolving tablet, like the denture-cleaning tablets, that would acidulate the water enough to dissolve scale; it could be done weekly or monthly. That would be easier to remember and maybe less of an effort of flushing/bailing the bowl so you can get the vinegar concentrated enough to have an effect). 

Kitchen is clean now, bathroom is clean now. Living room and dining room are picked up "enough" and have been swept and dusted.  I scrubbed the tub and might take a warmish bath later - it's very humid and I tend to have a little pain when it's so humid, and maybe some Epsom salts will help. 

Also, the yarn for my Cooper sweater came yesterday

It's Lett-Lopi, the recommended yarn, but I guess I will still swatch, since it's a new-to-me designer. The original is done in sort of steely greys but I look better in brown (and like browns better) so I went with "acorn," "Oatmeal" and I think the light color is "cream"

Also, that's Mochi in the photo, Mochi also came yesterday:

He has a bell on his collar (does not actually ring)

I think I'm going to continue with some of the ongoing projects before I start the new sweater - I have a vest I am working on, and a blanket that I could probably finish with a couple hours' work. 

I might also just get out some of my knitting books and contemplate other future projects

I feel better for having cleaned the house though now I wonder - do I feel better after cleaning the house because the house is clean/I don't worry about "what if someone had to come over" or did I clean the house because I was in a better headspace? It's kind of the same thing with healthful eating/cooking: am I feeling better because I do it (because I'm better nourished and also on some level I enjoy cooking) or am I able to do it because I'm less stressed? Is a mystery.

Friday, August 07, 2020

What a week

 But at least today there's no Jack Donaghey to say "But it's only Wednesday!"

Today was very long and while it wasn't exactly *unpleasant,* things took a lot longer than they ought to have.

First, I came in and thought, "Now that they've updated the smartboard software, it would behoove me to test out the combo of smartboard, my little camera/microphone, and Zoom recording. 

So I went down to that room. Couldn't get the projector to go on, meaning the smart board won't activate. Okay, first thing - look at the batteries in the remote.

Turns out, whoever changed them last* put one of them in upside down. My stomach dropped because sometimes that mistake fries the electronics in a thing. (Sometimes it just drains the batteries, which is what seems to have happened here).

(*Definitely not me, this projector is new since the last time I used the room)

So okay. Find new batteries. Except the AA, who usually keeps the battery stash, was out. Did I have any in my lab? As it turns out, I had exactly the right number of the right size I returned, said a little prayer, swapped them out.

That worked.

Then, I had to go through the morass of "YOUR SMARTBOARD SOFTWARE HAS EXPIRED, UPGRADE NOW" (that's if you want all the bells and whistles) and finally get the whole thing open. Then open Zoom. Then fight with the camera/microphone to get it positioned - I can share screen so that people can see what I am writing, but if they want to hear me, too, I have to have the microphone somewhere.

The first try, no audio.

So I got the tech guys in. They changed SOMETHING but as is the habit of tech guys everywhere, they did it FAST and didn't show me what it was so if it goes wrong again I'm helpless. (I do not like that. I need to be shown how to fix things myself).

At any rate: I finally got it to work for as long as it will recognize the little microphone I have. 

 It may be a moot point - this is a small class and everyone can come and distance, and maybe everyone can be there. If we have to "abandon campus" (well, if the students do: faculty will most likely be permitted to stay), I can do a test run of a brief recording every time. (Heck, I even could the first day - I am the first class in there). 

 Then I had to set up the link between my intro class and the textbook-publisher's website because we're expected to do homework through them (though now, I wonder: why do we HAVE to? Because we're told, but I wonder how much trouble I'd be in with just my own homebrew homeworks....)

 Couldn't get it to "pair." Deleted the thing, re did it. Nothing. Tried everything I knew how. Finally I called the publisher and spent nearly an hour on the phone with a rep, her final conclusion was "Well, that's a problem. I will need to send it along to our coders" and so I don't know if it will ever work or not. If it doesn't, eh, I can write my own homeworks and do them through BlackBoard though I know the students will be angry about buying the code - maybe they can get refunds.

 There were other stupidities: I got "schooled" on how I pronounced something by someone that is, well, my charitable interpretation is this is someone who is insecure and who "medicates" that by making sure they feel smarter than everyone else. Whatever. I will admit the correction stung because it was very long and pedantic and the person made sure to repeat the "correct" pronunciation to me over and over again, like I was six. (It was a word I had only ever read, so whatever).

Later on, I brought the word up with someone who is even more of an expert in the field than this person is, and she was like "Uhhhh....the way you are saying it is a secondary pronunciation and actually the one many people in my field prefer" so whatever, but someone ELSE (someone on ITFF) noted "it's rude to correct an adult's pronunciation" and yeah, I kind of think she's right (though I have, on occasion, when a student was practicing a talk they were going to give somewhere for me, and they hit a hard scientific name - white-tailed deer's genus name, Odocoileus,  can be hard the first few times - and if they look at me and flail, I'll quietly give the correct pronunciation. That seems different to me, though, because I get the sense they are asking "help, how do I do this"

 And then finally, since we are in the Sod's Law Alternate Universe: apparently a number of faculty on my campus were mistakenly given parking tickets through the new "self-serve*" system that covers things like payroll and the like, and some of the tickets were real but some were an error (???) and apparently the university president just forgave all of them because it's too hard to track down which ones were wrong but....yeah....

Stuff just keeps going wrong and failing and it is very unsettling because I tend to see patterns where there might not be any. But also it's exhausting to spend HOURS on things like the whole BlackBoard/McGraw-Hill not talking to each other thing.

(*"Easy? Oh, easy for Leonardo!" This is "self service" but it is NOT intuitive, and of course in the middle of a freaking pandemic when you can't simply ask someone into your office to walk you through it is the WORST time to roll out a new system, but apparently we were already committed. At least I managed to figure out how to get my class rosters, everything else can come later)

At least my Mochi-cat came today, after apparently taking a roundabout trip (first to Dallas, then to OKC, and finally split the difference and got to me....I am guessing it was being shipped via Amazon's own homebrew parcel service, which doesn't exist here - I have seen the Amazon vans in my mom's neighborhood but we are too rural for that so USPS brings everything. 

On the other hand - the Oxo measuring cup I ordered a couple weeks ago is still reported to be in San Marcos, though I doubt it was actually ever sent. I did get a refund for that, and was able to get a set of cups for not much more money at the local place, so that's neither here nor there. 

At least I got my BlackBoard pages MOSTLY set up for when they "go live" Monday morning - they become available a week before classes start. I am still not sure how classes are going to go and am not in love with the idea of having janitorial, mask-police, and other duties added to my already groaning load of mental tasks, but "it is what it is"

As I've been saying before: if this were the NICE fairy-tale universe, we'd all get some good reward at the end of this but I don't see that happening. I just hope ALL the disruption of everything is not for too much longer.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Thursday evening things

* Got some things for the first day taken care of, got to talk a little bit with my department chair and my newest colleague (hired over the summer). It helps to be able to talk a little bit with other people. Also, my chair said she wasn't any more prepared than I was - she hasn't pre-recorded anything (apparently some faculty have).

* It is going to be a challenge. I will have to have a "go bag" I remember to take to and from work with me every day (though I suppose I could leave it in my car overnight if I don't need the stuff ) so the textbooks I don't have duplicates of and also my nice webcam (I have a webcam and a microphone on my laptop which will do in a pinch, but the clarity and resolution are worse than the newer plug-in one). Just in case I get the word late in the day "oh you might have got exposed, quarantine for two weeks" because unless I'm at death's door apparently I need to keep teaching.

* I hope it will be okay. I really really really hope it will be okay. I hope people aren't foolish about things. Yes, I will wear a mask and I will make a big fat hairy deal about students needing to wear masks but still it's not perfect protection.

though who knows? Maybe it will be okay after all and either we will have to go to all online because there's an outbreak in another department and not mine, or maybe we won't have any outbreaks at all and everything will be cool.

* Some happier things though:

- Decided to break down and get carry out for dinner, so I went to the good local bbq place and got ribs and corn on the cob and sweet potato fries. And I can eat corn on the cob again! I had not been eating it because I was worried about my teeth (I had big pain with one front tooth a while back, from a sinus infection, and biting was bad).

- I've been invited to a "Microsoft Teams" virtual knitting circle on Saturday and it will nice to be able to sit and talk with some people and either knit or crochet for a while. Not sure whether to work on the simple socks (no counting) or the Wooloo, or what.

That might actually be one positive thing to come out of this? People doing that more, so if you are far away from people with a shared interest, you can get together with them.

- Bought a smallish chuck roast, going to try making carne machaca (well, a modified form of it) in the slow cooker this weekend - it's supposed to be super hot out and not running the oven is a good idea in the heat.

- Confession - I did break down and order a Mochi the Cat plush (from Big Hero 6). No, I don't need more stuffed animals, except I kind of do. Supposedly he (Mochi is a calico, but they call him a "he" in the cartoon, so they are either not being biologically accurate or Mochi is the rare XXY calico male cat) will get here tomorrow. I hope, this is another Amazon purchase where the shipping details seem....odd (like my still missing measuring cup, which may never have been sent at all).

I am also continuing to work on the crocheted Wooloo Pokemon. The body is huge (comparatively) and takes a lot of crocheting, the other bits are a lot smaller so hopefully once I finish the body it will get done fast. After that, maybe I make the long-planned Ranibow Sprimkle pony....

Plan all things

So, listening to the news, hearing about how some schools that have started up (K-12, not universities, but still) ALREADY have students and teachers needing to quarantine, and I realized, if that happens here, I will have to be prepared to go from 0 to "teach fully at home" in about five hours if there is someone who shows up in my department who is infective.

The biggest issue: I suspect the contact-tracing call comes in the afternoon or evening, after I've come home for the day, and I'd be told not to come back to campus for ANYTHING at all for two weeks.

(Again: this is how people without family nearby have a hard time. While I GUESS if someone had to quarantine, a spouse would have to quarantine too, if you had siblings or close cousins or whatever in another household, you could lob your campus keys to them from a safe distance and have them go get your stuff).

So, first I thought: oh crap, that means hauling all my textbooks AND the webcam/mike I use for recording lectures with to and from home with me every day. Better invest in a rolling suitcase! (why are textbooks so heavy? The Principles I one we use feels like it's 15 pounds).

I also should probably make a clone of my flashdrive I use to teach from - or at least put everything on it in cloud storage somewhere - so I can access those files even if I leave the flashdrive on my desk - which is something I could easily do. (That's on the docket for today, then - I have my extra little flashdrive that holds all my patterns now, I could also download the important teaching stuff on to it and just keep it at home).

Next, I had a brainwave - maybe the old webcam on my laptop still works? Even though I've not been able to take a photo from it in ages because of the death of Flash?

So I logged onto Zoom through my campus account. No, the picture quality is not as good but that doesn't matter much, and the microphone still works, so in extremis, I could use that to broadcast lectures from home.

Textbooks would be the next issue. My ecology book is already at home from this spring, maybe I leave it here? The Principles I book would be an issue because it's a new edition but maybe I check my online login with that textbook company, and maybe I could use the online edition if I needed to.

That leaves stats. (Fortunately, for Policy and Law, I just have readings of articles that are available as .pdf files.) I suppose I could card home the OLDER edition of the textbook - they are similar enough - and use that as a reference when I need one.

But WOW do I hate this kind of contingency planning. I mean, I suppose I should be glad I'm good at it but I wish I were using this to plan something fun instead. I hope someday again it's possible to use it for something fun.

That doesn't solve the problem of "fresh food" but maybe it's still kinda legal for me to do pick up at the curb? I don't know. Or maybe I could authorize someone to pick up for me and have them leave it on my porch?

Or maybe I just eat crap out of cans for two weeks.

I hate all of this so much.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Wednesday morning things

Added: this is shaping up, for no clear reason (other than all the ongoing horrors big and small, in the world) to be a Very Bad Day for me. I'm vertical and at work right now because I have an obligation in about 10 minutes but.....not sure I am going to accomplish much else today.

if you're the praying type, they would be appreciated. I really don't see how we're going to get out of this, and I'm not sure I'm going to LAST until we get out of it, to be honest.

Edited about noon: the tour went okay (this being Zoom, with me doing it on my phone and walking around the building and talking.

Two things though, that I think explain my discomfort;

- We have apparently had 13 people reported who either got sick/tested positive over the summer. This was with maybe 200 employees and maybe as many as 200 student workers/athletes on campus. Nine are listed as recovered, but still. And the fact that one of the dorms has a couple floors designated as "quarantine wards" is kind of a chilling thing. (Again: what will I do if I have to quarantine? I guess I just keep enough canned/frozen food on hand for two weeks at all times? No word as to whether there will be help for us lonely live-alones in all this)

- As an "older" (both in terms of age and seniority) person and a biologist, some people are looking to me for answers and guys? I have so few answers that I have like negative answers. And it scares me. I don't know what to do and no one else does either and this is a case where - granted, with a very small probability, but still greater than many of the risk-probabilities we have ways of dealing with*-  there is a probability you get get sick enough to die or have permanent disability

(*I am thinking of the "avoiding needle sticks" training we ALL have to do. ALL. Nevermind I'm an ecologist and the only "needle stick" I will ever suffer is if I'm not careful while handsewing, never mind that the people in History literally never work with needles)

The whole: "I have literally no clue how to do this so that we're safe" thing is what is scaring me right now

* Hanging out at home while a storm passes over. I don't have to be to campus until 11:30 (another virtual tour) so there's no need to go out in the rain or risk the lightning. This is the last rain we're going to get for a while and it's supposed to get deadly hot again, so I guess I don't try to find a place to go hiking this weekend :(

though I might go out tomorrow or Friday afternoon to the local reservoir that has some trails and is where I used to take students for herbaceous vegetation sampling; we are supposed to get GoPro cameras and some technical help and I am considering trying to at least demo the field labs (we can't do any kind of "travel to them" field labs - vehicles aren't safe to cram people in and we're told it's illegal for us to ask students to drive their personal cars). So I'm thinking, demonstrate how the sampling is done and then give data from a previous year. Or, heck, if I have the time - just collect data there and then as I demonstrate the lab.

This is all a lot of work. Work for which we won't be paid any more or probably even thanked.

And yes, I know it's deeply petty of me but I would like to be thanked. I would like some recognition that these are deeply, deeply abnormal times and that preparing to teach and having labs my students can do without coming into contact with each other (working alone instead of in groups) and establishing a bunch of NEW labs where they can do them on the computer, either in the computer lab here or at home if they have to - well, that took work and I"m dealing with the same existential horror than everyone else and.....I would like a little recognition that "this isn't easy" but of course because there are people who have it worse than I do - or who have it better but are more Important - what I does doesn't matter and it will be ignored.

And no, I can't any more look at my work and go "even if no one else seems to care, you did a good job." One way in which I am broken right now is I need to hear from SOMEONE ELSE. I can't trust my own perceptions of things any more

* I had to bow out of the ITFF card swap; I have not received a card in over a month. Have received barely any "personal mail," for that matter. I feel really surprisingly sad about that but I realized: this pushes one of my "buttons," the one marked "on the outside looking in."

This is something I COULD be a part of if things weren't so screwed up; people want me in the card swap* but I don't want people wasting postage on me for cards I never receive, and I get sad sending out cards that never reciprocate.

(*Unlike the things in my childhood that established that "button" where I was explicitly told "no one wants you" or also the case of a girl in my class very pointedly handing out birthday-party invitations and NOT giving me one, and making sure I saw that)

And there is so little "fun" to be had right now that losing one source of fun and hope and something to look forward to makes me despair a little more.

Also no sign of any Doki Doki or Gachapon crates, even though I SHOULD be receiving June's at some point and then July's. I don't know - I have until the 15th to decide if I just discontinue them and not have my card charged but I may have to do that.

I wonder if we do have a local mail thief again.

I hate not being able to trust anything any more. I hate how we've become a low-trust society now.

* I just want to laugh at things again. I may get an occasional "ha" out of a funny cat video or similar but sustained laughter has been very rare these six months and I don't know if it's the state of my mind or the state of the world but I want it to change.

* I MUST clean house this weekend. It's gotten bad, the empty cardboard boxes (recycling no longer being collected from the convenient places, so what do I do? I have only so much room in the trash cart. I've been breaking them down and putting them in the garage but I am running short on room for that too). And the clutter - I keep losing things and not knowing where they are, even stupid things I use daily like the tv remote. And mess and untidiness prey on my mind and maybe I'll be happier if I take a couple hours Friday afternoon and Saturday morning and do a deep-clean?

Also: If I catch the 'rona early on when classes restart and someone has to come to get me to a hospital, I'd be embarrassed at them seeing the mess. So I have to clean up and keep the place clean.

What I really need is less stuff. I can't figure out what stuff I would be most comfortable getting rid of but I have more stuff than my very small house can really hold.

* I'm working more on the big cabled blanket; I have about two repeats and the border left to do. I have attached in the last ball of yarn and I HOPE I have enough, because I think Red Heart stopped making this.

At any rate - even though we're drawing in to the hottest part of the year (so I won't be able to use it for a while), it will be nice to have the blanket done and nice to have a big, long-term project done.

I need to try to pivot myself more to working on stuff, I think it helps me be resilient. I also need to finish a lot of the stuff I have hanging around half-finished.

I've been watching cartoons while I do this - Cartoon Network moved the Bob's Burgers re-runs to 7-8 pm here (Central Time), I suppose on the grounds that it's slightly more "family friendly" than the Seth whats-his-face shows or Rick and Morty. I've seen them all many times but I don't care, it's a little world that is weirdly appealing - even though the family seems usually on the brink of eviction or failure, and weird-bad things happen, there is still a love there. (And Bob is one of the rare cartoon dads who's not a total buffoon - sometimes he gets off on his own mad tangents, but more often than not he's the "one sane man" in the stories).

Also I flipped over to the animated-cartoon-show version of Big Hero Six after that. It's not the same as the movie, but in its own right it's pretty good. The good guys win, there's some mild humor, there's a cat.....more often than not, cartoons are the most tolerable form of television for me.

I should probably also start cycling through the dvds I have again - I have the movie version of Big Hero Six, and I have many of the Ghibli movies, and I have Babe....maybe familiar entertainment that is basically "nice" is what I need as a backdrop for knitting or crocheting. (Or handsewing; I have another quilt I need to bind at some point).

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

This and that

* Horrible news of the world today, on top of all the ongoing horrors, very large explosions in Beirut that killed at least 50 people, injured many more, and rendered an even larger number homeless. Some days I really do wonder if we are witnessing some kind of cosmic actor trying to make the human race extinct, and bad things will just keep on happening until we are all gone. And of course those of us among the later groups to die will have to watch all the horrors first.

My family slightly knew some people from Lebanon but I think they were from the rural area, and most of the family had emigrated here, and anyway, we've lost touch with them after my dad died.

* Also, it's not my story to tell so there are minimal details given here, but someone I was friends with on a certain level is being hounded off of social media for basically "mean girls" reasons and it breaks my heart to lose contact with yet another person.

I think people ARE getting meaner right now, and crueler on social media. It's a very ugly efflorescence of all the stress and unhappiness we are feeling - people are acting out in bad ways and they are just adding to other people's misery and I dislike that.

* All of my old abandonment fears have ramped up to 11. Part of them are that I am not "special" enough to deserve help if I need it (I am not rich enough to pay for help, but not needy enough for the people who do assistance-type things to do anything but look at me and go "you've got resources, help yourself.") and that I have no one here to advocate for me (like: if I were to be hospitalized seriously ill). But also that I will wind up all alone with no one to talk to. And I know on some level these are very deep and primal fears, related to stuff that happened when I was a kid (being abandoned by friends more than once, having false friends who pretended to be my friend only to turn around and mock me) but when you are alone as much as I am, your head becomes kind of an echo chamber for your ruminations and it's hard not to look at everything going on and wonder if you're going to have anyone in the future to care about, and if you're even going to survive this time - because it's all on me to keep myself going, and it's so hard some times

* I also hit a wall again this afternoon. I had the video to watch today, had to do a virtual building tour/answer session for a prospective student (who either was not that interested, was shy, or was overwhelmed, and so I feel like I kind of failed at it). I read a few chunks out of "Horizontal Yellow" and the author says some...uncomfortable and possibly false things and it didn't help my mood.

And then I got up to come home and almost forgot my mask (we can take them off in our offices, and also I was the only person in the building today) and I stepped back to get it, and as I put it on - to be technically-legal in the hall, because I am a rule-following nerd - I said to myself, "I will probably be doing this for the rest of my life" (I have very little hope we will ever beat the virus at this point. Even IF any of the vaccines work). And I thought "Is this the rest of my life now? Never going anywhere, never seeing anyone except from a distance, always alone, always lonely?" and I'm just....I don't know. It's just hard.

Part of this is being tired, it being summer, me being worried about both "how on earth am I going to make this coming fall even work" coupled with "dear God I hope no one gets seriously sick" coupled with "it's just horrible to have to walk around like this now" coupled with "holy crap, my workload this fall is going to be twice what it is in a normal fall, but I cannot expect any help, or any slackening of other duties, and of course any extra pay is out of the question, I will be happy if I still have a job at the end of  this"

It's like when you have one of those big drink cups from somewhere, and it's got a lot of that dumb crushed ice in it, and you're almost out of your soda, and you tip the cup just a little too far to get the last bit, and all the ice hits you in the face, and it's an unpleasant shock? It's like that, again and again and again.

* I find myself looking at stuffed animals online even thought I (1) do not need any more, do not have room for any more, (2) should not be spending the money, and (3) they are not actually substitutes for friends and I know that intellectually but there is enough weird buried lizard brain emotion to make me think if I find exactly the right one it will make me happier and will make me feel better but of course that's not true. 

* I don't even know what to have for dinner. If I didn't need to reduce I'd just get some kind of carry out food, a pizza or barbecue or something, let someone else go to the effort of cooking.

(I think one of the other things in this that gets to me: I have no one to take care of me, but me. And conversely: I have no one to take care of. And I didn't realize how important that was to me)

* I am working on stuff. I put the binding on a quilt but I just don't have the motivation to go photograph the whole thing right now (carrying it out to the backyard, finding a spot clean enough to spread it out on the's too big to hang on the clothes line)

so here is a tiny photo for now. Maybe this weekend I will feel up to photographing the whole thing.

I also carried the socks in progress with me today because I was sitting through an hour long video on "bells and whistles in Zoom" and honestly it probably could have been a five page handout, but whatever.

I made a tomato pie last night (basically: pizza crust, slightly parbaked, sliced fresh tomatoes covered with a ton of Italian herb mix and powdered garlic, cook for about 10 minutes, top with cheese). I suppose I could heat that up but I don't always love eating the same thing two nights in a row, especially something this acidy - I have to be careful about acid foods these days and space them out, having stomach issues again, probably stress.

It's a good use of tomatoes BUT I should have put the slices between paper towels for a bit to drain off more of the juice - I'm afraid the leftover pie may be a bit liquidy.

Still, not sure I want that for dinner. I don't know WHAT I want. The burden of feeding myself gets to be too much some days. Especially when I'm trying to only go to the grocery once a week - there's relatively little in the house right now. I have cheese, but I eat too much cheese. I have eggs, but I'm not sure I want eggs, and what veggies do you eat with eggs anyway? Part of me wants to throw a tantrum and say "OKAY then I am eating NOTHING for dinner because there is NOTHING I WANT and NOTHING is APPEALING" but I also know I have to take some evening medication and it absorbs better if I have food, and so I'll have to figure something out.

Monday, August 03, 2020

in weird times

I did my first ever Zoom departmental tour - a couple prospective students wanted to see what the place was like and I was not entirely comfortable admitting a couple of unknown high schoolers (from different locations) to the building and being close to them, so I suggested a Zoom meeting and that seemed to work.

Spent about 20 minutes answering their questions and walking around the building showing what the classrooms were like, going out and showing the little area in back where there's a flower garden and picnic benches.

But there was the unpleasant undercurrent of "Oh, I guess they haven't removed the chairs from this room they said they were removing yet" or "well, I don't know how many people will be allowed in the student lounge this fall" and all that. A combination of "Wow, These Times are going to upend some of the things we did" coupled with "holy crap, for all their big talk about being ready, Physical Plant has literally done nothing other than glue a few more Purell dispensers up on the walls" and I don't even know.

I am not going to be happy to find out on the first day of classes that I am tasked with moving the chairs that need to be removed for "distancing" and finding a place for them or similar. (I won't. I'll just put masking tape across the ones not to be used, or push them off to the corner of a room. Physical Plant is supposed to come with a trailer and take them to storage)

This doesn't bode so well, but then again: we haven't heard anything about whether anyone is going to be tested, or how tracing of contacts of infected people will be done other than "faculty need to report to some central location if someone tells you they're sick" and there's not even a really final-final word on if we are indeed re-opening in person.

We start back up in 2 weeks.

My anxiety is in overdrive because I hate uncertainty. Though actually....I've passed through that point to some kind of weird acceptance: it will be a dungshow, we should probably get a betting pool going on how soon before we have to abandon campus (I am saying 3 weeks), and I am just praying my little masks and trying to remember to keep 6' from people and washing my hands like I'm Adrian Monk will be *enough*.

Again I say: I didn't appreciate how good I had it before all of this hit. My life was boring but boring is good. I didn't appreciate that I felt safe picking up and getting on a train to go visit my mom, that it wasn't at all likely I'd be taking a deadly disease to her*

(*I get that it's still sort of unlikely, but it's passed into the realm of "likely enough neither of us wants to risk it." She is still telling me not to try driving up here for Christmas but we will see. I have driven five hours in a day....maybe I could drive 11, including a Mississippi River crossing?  Especially if I don't stop for meals)

Anyway. I need to get a bit more reading done then run home for lunch; I have another Zoom meeting at 2.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Short day out

As planned, I went out to a Corps of Engineers managed area near me.

It wasn't as excellent as I had hoped. For one thing, we had heavy rain Thursday night - seems like they got worse than we did in town - and also the trails have been very heavily used by horses, so a lot of them were torn up, and some areas were very muddy and slick. I'm glad I took the big piece of driftwood (probably part of a cedar tree) that I use as a hiking staff, it helped me past some areas.

Also, the camping site adjacent to the trail has been expanded recently (I think) and it was *very* full. I should have realized that but I'm normally only out there on weekday afternoons in fall or early spring with students. I could hear noise and there were a lot of dogs - which is why I cut the trip short, I heard one barking and couldn't tell if it was just the sound carrying over the arm of the lake, or if it was actually coming down the trail I was walking up, and I had no interest in meeting a dog, especially in an area hard to get out of quickly (because mud). No, I didn't know the dog would be mean, but generally - when people let their dogs be unleashed in areas where they're supposed to be leashed, that's also a person who tends not to expend a lot of energy in training, in my experience. (I am also just super leery of dogs whose owners I don't know).

So I only got in about a half hour of walking. Which was kind of a shame because it was really nice

I only met two people - a couple who were on horseback. I was able to step off the trail to let the horses get past me; they seemed pretty well-behaved (sometimes horses shy a bit at an unfamiliar person)

There was one low spot where it was really wet and muddy and hard to get past, it was a good thing I was wearing old sneakers and khakis.

I might go back before classes start, but maybe on a weekday. I could also hear a lot of boats on the lake - there was supposed to be some kind of political-rally-boat-thing today and I didn't want to get hung up in the traffic or noise for that, so.

I also want to try to find more areas I can just go and walk, I might try to go out and do some walking in less-trafficked areas on weekends into this fall, since I can't go much of anywhere else. (I think especially with trying to teach in person it behooves me to minimize any other places I might come into contact with a carrier)

When I left the area, I realized I was about 3/4 of the way to the Amish foods store in Calera, and it would be an easy trip on a back road to get there. And I was out of the pickled baby corn I like for snacks or to cut up on salads. And I figured: I have my credit-card case (left my purse at home for security) and a mask, I might as well go.

It was an easy trip - easier to get there that way than going out on to the interstate and then having to get off it. Offramps and onramps are a place where a lot of accidents happen here.

There should be an asterisk on there: no free tastes because of COVID. But that's okay, I didn't go there for fudge anyway. I got my picked corn, and some dilly beans, and a big big jar of honey from an apiary in Sulphur, and a small jar of sauerkraut (I can eat it, in moderation, if I rinse some of the salt off of it first) and a jar of lemon marmalade that I thought might be good on a dessert (like gingerbread) instead of frosting.

I was the only one in there and both I and the guys working there (it is not actually staffed by Amish people, it just sells Amish products) were masked up, so that was good. I may have to remember that as a place to run to if I need a bit of time away and want some jam or cheese or something.

Also, I actually got mail today!

The first two "Gideon Fell" books. I finished "The Crooked Hinge" (which I think is the third, chronologically speaking) last week and really enjoyed it, and decided I wanted to read the rest of the series (at least, the ones I can get copies of - some of them may be OOP). I take considerable comfort from "series" mysteries with a recurring character or characters - it's like revisiting old friends. (I do not like it when a character is killed off, though; a few series have done that at or near the end of the run - "Curtain," of course, by Christie, and also if I remember correctly, Orrie Cather in Nero Wolfe)

I also re-started reading "The Professor's House." I'm going to count it as a "read this summer" book (if I finish it before Sept. 21) because I started again from the beginning and I only got about halfway - I think this was when I was going to be traveling to my mom's for Christmas last year and I put it aside because it's an older hardback (not very very old - but a book-club edition from the 50s or 60s) and the binding is a little fragile and I didn't want to carry it with me.

I had started reading "Everyone Brave is Forgiven," a modern novel set in WWII Britain but I'm not sure I'm up for more wartime reading right now. I know there are sad events that happen in "The Professor's House" (Tom Outland kind of permeates the whole book) but it's different somehow than the mass chaos of children being evacuated and people having to shelter in the Tube and all that.

I also started reading the Asterix omnibus the other night and will hang onto those for nights when I really need something diverting and fun.

I need to do a bit more piano practice but this evening I might FINALLY try to handsew the binding down on one of the recent quilts, and also watch some "Murder, She Wrote" re-runs on Amazon Prime. I decided to give up on "30 Rock" because the humor is just a tiny bit too mean-spirited for me to be able to take. ("Parks and Recreation" is more my style, or your average aimed-at-kids cartoon - the DuckTales reboot has regularly made me laugh, and even though it's "family friendly" it's also clever and makes some allusions that adults would be more likely to get - like, there's an older episode that draws on both the 1960s-era "The Avengers" spy comedy-drama and "The Prisoner" and I don't know too many eight year olds who are familiar with those)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Mail service problems

I am going on three days of no mail. This is unusual for here. Yes, I know there are New Rules in the Post Office, that, depending upon who you ask, are designed to save money or to undermine confidence in the mail/screw over people dependent upon it.

I get informed delivery which shows me my mail for each day. I started this when I was losing mail a couple years ago (ultimately, someone was arrested in the local post office for theft).

I have not received a card from the card swap I am in for over a month. If anyone has sent me anything it hasn't come. I am going to have to quit the card swap even though that makes me sad and makes me feel like I'm letting others down* but the lack of reciprocity is too depressing, and I don't want people wasting postage on cards that never reach me.

(*I feel a lot like I am letting people down right now - my blog is not more interesting, I can't do volunteer work, I don't have any groundbreaking new pedagogy prepared for if we have to go to all online in the fall, I'm going to fail at this. But failure is my life now, I think, and I just have to learn to live with it. Maybe this is a life lesson: be comfortable with being barely adequate at most things and failing at some things.)

I don't know where my mail is, which is upsetting.

I also had to order a new Oxo measuring cup - one of the nifty slant-read ones, which is the only measuring cup that works for me for liquids, with my bad eyes. The old one, purchased at the sadly-now-closed Hollow Tree got a crack in the bottom - probably from running it through the dishwasher after using it with raw eggs. (And also - well, I get lazy about hand washing some things).

It was supposed to be here Wednesday. It's been stuck in San Marcos, Texas, and a couple other people tell me San Marcos is like a Bermuda Triangle for packages. If it doesn't arrive tomorrow I can request a refund, and you bet that's what I'm doing.

I needed the measuring cups, so I went to the small local shop (Kopper Kettle), which I should have done in the first place, but didn't want to go out among people if I could mail-order. They only had three-cup sets, for more money (but not a LOT more, really) so I bought that.

(Also, minor annoyance: the guy at the counter was ON HIS PHONE and I was standing there for a while, like five minutes. I cleared my throat but I guess he didn't hear me through my mask.. I was on the point of just throwing up my hands and walking out when he saw me there. I HATE that. I hate feeling invisible and these days I feel invisible a LOT of the time. Yes, I know I am too polite but I am not good at making a fuss and I wondered if he was doing something of vital importance for the store but I guess not)

So anyway. If the cup doesn't show up tomorrow I am telling them I want a refund and WHY I want a refund.

It makes me worry though: I live in a town with pretty limited shopping. AND if we get hit with another bad wave and "nonessential" businesses must close again (AND I am not going into wal-mart in person until the plague is over)....AND you can't get stuff delivered by USPS.....well, I guess it's "Make do and mend" time or "do without" time.

(Legitimately: I found myself wondering if I could duct tape the bottom of the cup. I probably could, but it would be ugly and hard to clean and it would bother me DEEPLY every time I used it, because things like that do me a discomfort. And I do NOT need any more discomfort right now.)

I have a couple books on order, see if they make it to me. And I have a Webs order, though it's not been shipped yet....though they sometimes do UPS, and UPS may be a jot more reliable. (Fed Ex, I am still angry with over their treatment of my Imperfect Foods boxes).

I am tempted to address a bunch of cards to myself and drive around and drop them in different mail  boxes (and mark the envelope about where I'm mailing it from) and see how many, if any, make it to me.

I did a version of this back when I suspected the mail thief - recruited a dozen friends who wanted a card but who understood it might not make it to them, and asked them to e-mail me if and when they received it. I think 10 of the 12 cards actually arrived (all the ones I sent from the post office, 3 of the four from my own mailbox, 3 of the four from an on-the-street blue box). That's kind of disheartening - an 83% success rate. I wonder what it would be now, though. And how long it would take.

But I am tired of feeling like literally EVERYTHING is breaking down and failing and it makes me worried because....I am all alone and on my own. I don't have any help and I am not always assertive enough to demand proper treatment (see - the store today). This is also why even though I take a couple "maintenance" prescriptions ( the blood-pressure meds, and one to keep me from coming out in hives) I would NEVER trust to get refills through the mail, not now.

My dad had to do that with his prescriptions (the way CareMark or whoever it was did things) and more than once he had to get an emergency fill-in prescription called to the local pharmacy when the meds didn't show on time. And that was in the happy, blessed before-times and not the reality we have to inhabit now.

Also, none of my Japan Crate things for either July or August are anywhere on the horizon (both have been shipped, but who knows if or when they will arrive). It is tiresome in the extreme, and worrisome when it involves things like bills I have to pay (e.g., my homeowner's insurance) or paperwork I must deal with.

I mean, yeah, maybe we all should be able to rent postboxes? though the local post office is very inconvenient to get to, and I'm not sure I want to pack into a small unventilated space every day with some of the local folks here, who don't take precautions.

(What we MAY have to do? Have mail pick-up stations in neighborhoods, like the boxes at apartments, and the mail delivery guy can just deliver mail to a single spot, that might save time. Though for packages it would be bad unless there was literally a locker for nearly every house)

But yes, this is my annoyance/worry of the day.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

it's getting there

I've been working on the Hygge blanket. (This was a Red Heart yarn - it's kind of a fluffy, fuzzy acrylic - that came out when the idea of hygge was hot - I think I bought it in late fall 2018). It's a big, loosely cabled blanket.

It was one of those cases where I saw the yarn and kind of went "want" (this was a yarn from JoAnn's. It' a while before I experience that again). And I saw the pattern on the ball band and thought, "Eh, I could use another fancy blanket"

I've been working on it since early 2019, put it away last summer and kind of forgot it.

I will say, in this climate and with the few bugs that I can't keep out of the house no matter how hard I try (not that I have been trying EXTRA hard right now, cleaning seems to have fallen to the bottom of my to-do list), I get silverfish and the occasional carpet beetle and so sometimes a woolen yarn doesn't survive so well. But none of those things eat what is fundamentally plastic, so.....I've kind of come around to a more positive view of synthetic yarns, at least for home goods, in recent years.

I'm about 2 1/2 repeats (plus a border) from finishing it. I made a few minor mistakes but they're aesthetic more than structural so I am trying not to worry about them.

It'll be nice to have something else finished, and to free up the row-counter I had been using here for another project. I have a skein of Mineville dk weight yarn in a colorway called Gumdrops that I want to turn into a cowl, and for some reason I feel in a cowl-knitting mood, so that might be the next thing I start.

It's also possible the cowl pattern I chose (a Casapinka pattern from one of her e-books, it's a slipped-stitch cowl) will be simple enough I can knit on it while watching the many videos that I probably should on "Best Practices" in Zoom and BlackBoard, and that may be a chunk of my Friday.

Saturday - the weather is supposed to be good then but tomorrow morning might be rainy - I still plan to go out to the Equestrian Area near Platter to go for a walk/hike for a while. If it's really nice I might stay out there a a couple hours; there are lots of little side trails.

(Today was not a good day, too many things reminding me of all the extra duties and worries in the coming fall, and I got my first "oh hai, I see you are doing your lectures in your big class online, does that mean I can change my work schedule so I don't have to be "there" for the lectures" request and nope, if we do these asynchronously there is more paperwork on my part and maybe an additional charge for the students, so I am doing "synchronous but don't tell anyone, I am recording them so that if you have technical troubles you can watch them later" because Internet in this part of the world goes down from time to time (it has happened to me with some regularity this summer). But nope, I am not doing the "asynchronous everything" because that requires, as I said, more paperwork and some additional training/certification. This is not true online; it is "emergency remote" teaching instead.

Still, I have anxiety about this fall.

And we're getting storms tonight. I should probably wind off the yarn for the cowl (so I will have it ready to work on tomorrow if I want to) and then maybe just go to bed a little early and maybe read the Asterix and Obelix omnibus I bought a little while back (and probably will buy the rest as they come out - I have volumes 1 and 2, and I know for sure a 3 and 4 are coming.....)

I slept badly last night, lots of sad thoughts about dire things kept me from falling asleep and so something funny and clever and very different from my daily life might help.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Wednesday afternoon things

* I got three of my four syllabi written today, which is kind of a big deal, because I was basically rebuilding them from zero in order to account for all the changes due to the pandemic. I also tested out and found that I CAN do share-screen with SPSS in Zoom (I will just have to remember to toggle between the different windows I want to show) and that means I can teach biostats with an analysis package EVEN IF we can't all cram into the lab room, or EVEN IF the students have been sent home (but faculty can still be on campus) because I can do it from my office.

My plan now is to do those tutorials remotely like that, and....if it's possible....assign homework for the students to do on their own time, with the understanding that they can e-mail or Zoom in if they have trouble.

The fourth syllabus is for the gen-ed class, and I am one of three teaching it, so I need to collaborate with the other profs. I have a couple weeks yet so I can hold off a little. But I do feel better for having the main syllabi done. Even if they are extremely provisional in the sense of "I don't even know what's going to happen, LOL"

* I also came to a decision for weekends/days off for the nonce: there are a number of low-traffic trails around here, places I could go and walk. Based on how much better I felt after Monday's day out, I'm thinking once every week or once every other week - weather permitting - I should go out to one of them and just walk around. Bonus if I come up with some kind of future research idea while doing it. Most places here are pretty safe, and I will have my phone in case I get hurt or something (I suppose I should put the Corps of Engineers' station number in my phone - most of the land I'd go to is Corps land - so I could call for help if I stepped in a hole and hurt my ankle or something)

Saturday I am thinking - if the weather is good and I get myself together early enough - I am going to go out  to a horseback trail about 15 miles from me. It's a nice place to walk, an easy-enough trail. I'll go early, and anyway, I can always step off the trail a moment if someone comes along on a horse.

I can probably do without restaurant meals or even in person "fun" shopping for a while longer if I can get out periodically somewhere in nature and just walk. (Added bonus: another form of exercise). I might also go out to the area that we used as a research area some time; it has some trails. And if I get very ambitious, and can find a day when they're unlikely to be very busy, I could go down to Hagerman and walk around there.

I have Friday afternoons scheduled to be "off" and my plan now - because of viruses - is to not be on campus except right around class time (most of my office hours are going to be from home via Zoom) so I could even take some Friday afternoons once it's a bit cooler and do that.

That is much better than just driving aimlessly around - that can make me sad, because there's so much empty space and so little to "do" from the road. But walking is different because you can see stuff and hear the wind in the trees and smell the cedar needles and sometimes flowering plants.

* I pulled out the big fuzzy blanket I was knitting of a yarn called "Hygge." I'm about 3/4 of the way done but I made an error (purled where I should have knitted). I mostly fixed it but the blanket may still look a little funny, though I am telling myself it's just one row (so probably not that noticeable) and also the blanket is still *functional,* it won't unravel. But I admit it bugs me and I find I make a LOT of little mistakes now and I worry that my brain has permanently been damaged by the months of stress and isolation. Some days I can't even play piano very well and it makes me rage. (My teacher e-mailed me a while back about lessons but I admit I was in a Slough of Despond on that day and never e-mailed her back, anyway, at this point, I'd rather wait until next spring because God only knows what my teaching may look like this fall and also if I have to self-isolate because of an outbreak on campus. And anyway, I don't play well at all some days. I should e-mail her back though)

* That said, hope springs eternal and I bought some Lett-Lopi today for a sort of ombre-striped sweater called the Cooper Sweater (I got the pattern free off of Ravelry, which is now its own hotbed of controversy over issues for people with various visual disturbances being unable to use it, so no link....the designer is Jaimie Bortolotti, they are also on Instagram (which I have now joined, so I can see their stuff)). I am doing it in a dark brown, an oatmeal, and a cream color....well, I will, once the yarn gets here and I decide to start it, but it looks like a fairly simple pattern and might make good knitting for while I sit in virtual office hours....

I've also been picking away at the vest I am knitting on; at least that's fairly straightforward knitting.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

State of reading

This is the stack of books I have read since May.

the (four) books-for-fun are on the top, the remaining (eight) books are books for edification/continuing education.

I finished "America's Forgotten Pandemic" today. I ordered a copy after reading the Kolata book on the flu; she drew on it for some of the background in her book. It was....a pretty harrowing read. The worst was reading the accounts of the men who sickened on troop ships, either going "Over There" or coming home.

Crosby devoted some attention to the account of Private Robert James Wallace, who survived the flu (and the war) and apparently wrote his experiences later. On the crowded ships it was impossible to find space for all the sick away from the well, and a lot of the men were sent up to lie on the deck. Wallace was one of them; he recalled his mess kit, puttees, and a few other pieces of kit being washed overboard while he was too unwell to account for them (and he got cussed out later by a higher-up for having lost them. I know "that's the Army for you" but I also admit that kind of thing is the sort of thing that just...bothers me, as a conscientious person, getting chewed out for something that was beyond your control)

Anyway, when he finally got moved indoors (these ships were apparently repurposed civilian ships; Crosby comments that he was moved to what had been a salon for paying passengers). A nurse came to him and asked him if she could wash his feet for him.

And I admit, that was one of the points where I teared up. Both because of her comment - as she removed his socks and asked him how long it had been since he had put them on, and he reckoned twelve days. But mainly because the image of someone coming to wash someone's feet - well, that resonates with me; the whole scriptural allusion and the fact that for several years running the Maundy Thursday service at my church had a symbolic version of it*.

Later, a fellow patient asked Wallace to call the medics, because he needed water. Wallace was too weak to get it himself, and he called for help again and again. Eventually the other man told him "Don't bother any more....I won't need it" and by the time the medics arrived the man was dead.

(*of course, this year we didn't HAVE a Maundy Thursday service. Or an in-person Easter service)

And other things, harrowing in the sense of "history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme" - repeated waves of disease, many starting in the weeks following big celebrations or get-togethers. Masking, and people who refused to wear masks. Quarantines, and apparently some people breaking quarantine. In some households, nearly everyone being too sick to tend to themselves, in some cases a child being the one having to care for everyone. Schools being closed (In those days, no instruction whatsoever - at least now there can be some semblance of distance education, at least in families that have a device and the internet), public venues being closed. Also "rhymes" in the fact of the science so often being wrong - there was talk of "useless vaccines" being produced (most against what what known as Pfeifer's bacillus, which caused pneumonia in some but wasn't the proximate cause of the flu)

I will also note a couple of things:

First, some patients reported intestinal disturbances, and that makes me wonder if the whole idea of "stomach flu" got started then. You hear people still talk about that - when what we call "stomach flu" is really often some kind of norovirus or some other little gastrointestinal virus that isn't really an influenza.

And also - some reports of neurological issues. People's personalities changing after they recovered. The comment about how Wilson - even before his debilitating stroke - seemed listless and disinterested (after having been someone who apparently drove himself hard) after recovering from the flu. And I wonder - yes, I know coronavirus and influenza viruses are very different viruses - but if we don't fully appreciate some of the neurological toll serious viruses may take?

At the end, Crosby addresses the "forgotten" pandemic idea - that not much history was written about it. His argument is that the war took precedence, and in those days pandemics were a more common thing (there had been a flu pandemic around 1890, and ironically that may have been what protected older people - they had some degree of immunity). But I also wonder if people just wanted to forget the horror of what happened - I know after the coronavirus pandemic is over, ten or more years hence (if I am still alive; if we actually see an end to this), I will not want to tell some young whippersnapper what it was "like" to live during that time.

He also addresses the "Lost Generation," though of course many of those writers (the men at least, though I think Gertrude Stein was an ambulance driver in France) were more affected by what they saw in the war. (Then again: Katherine Anne Porter wrote a series of short stories addressing the 1918 pandemic, "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" - which I want to read some time, just....not quite yet.)

It was a worthwhile read, I think, but very difficult (Emotionally more than structurally/vocabulary wise, though it is more densely and academically written than Kolata's book)


So that makes eight continuing-ed books; I draw nearer to my goal.

I think this one will be next:

More natural history/geography, and I need a rest from death and disease for a bit.

I do plan to read more than ten; I am thinking this fall while I am holding my "distanced" office hours (especially the ones I do from home), I can have a book going while waiting for students to "show up" to the Zoom meeting room).

I have a LOT of academic books I've bought down through the years and not gotten around to reading. I guess maybe that's my big pandemic activity - doing a lot of catch-up reading. Not as sexy or cool as writing a symphony or designing knitting patterns (or writing King Lear or developing The Calculus), but I guess it's better than nothing.

As for fun reading: I am about halfway through Taran Wanderer (the next book in the - what would you call it? Quintogy? Of Prydain novels) and I'm *almost* done with a John Dickson Carr mystery called The Crooked Hinge (which is really good - the "detective" - well, the amateur detective - is basically a pastiche of GK Chesterton and he is very entertaining. The story is good too, just enough creepiness and hints of the occult/supernatural which looks like they will be rationally explained. I may finish this one tonight...>)

Monday, July 27, 2020

Probably needed that

This will be long and have a lot of photos, so settle in.

So I set off this morning, even though the talking heads on the tv were once again suggesting a "hard lockdown," for four to eight weeks depending on who you ask - harder, in fact, than what we did before. (I hope it does not come to that. I hope people see the light in re: masks and distancing and hand-washing, and that's enough to knock back infection rates; not being able to go anywhere has really been bad for my mental health, I can tell that now, based on how I feel this afternoon)

I admit I felt vaguely guilty driving up - but then, everything makes me feel vaguely guilty these days. I told myself I could just do as I planned and zip over to Bromide Hill, say a little prayer, take a few photos. Usually there are few people up there; the main attraction of the park for most folks are the waterways where you can swim and slide down little rapids.

I also got to thinking as I drove - all the memories. We traveled to National Parks (and Recreation Areas, which this one is) a lot when I was a kid. Part of it is I think our parents figured it was fun, not too expensive, and educational. But more importantly, I think: my dad taught a class in National Parks for the Geography Department where he taught, and he could get material for it (and, yes: write off part of the trip on taxes). One big thing I remember was how you used to be able to buy prepared photographic slides - six or eight of them, different things, lined up and encased in a heavy plastic sleeve. And books - in fact, often we got books too, if there was something that interested us and was age-appropriate.

I'm trying to think of the places we went: when I was 10, we flew to Atlanta and from there drove to the Everglades in a rental car. One thing I remember from that trip was going out early in the morning (as I remember it: my dad and I were the early risers of the family, and we'd get up and be ready and while my mom was trying to get my brother (he would have been 5) up and ready, my dad would take me over for a bit to the visitor's center - I think it was the Flamingo Visitor's Center, the one right down there at the southernmost part. Two stories, two buildings connected by a bridge. There were those big mounted binoculars and I liked looking through those at the birds - anhingas and spoonbills, mostly. I *think* they were free, but if they cost money my dad was there and must have fed change into them so I could look. We also went to Disney World afterwards, on the way back towards Atlanta, but that was less magical for me; I was a bit old to enter into the whole thing (though I think there is a photo somewhere in my mom's album of me hugging the costumed character of Miss Bianca).

The year after that, we went to Cape Cod. Cape Cod in March is chilly and the vegetation isn't spectacular, but it has the benefit of being uncrowded - I remember the ranger there gave us a LOT of time and talked about shell collecting when he found out I had a shell collection - in fact, he went and got, I think it was an egg case from whelks, and gave it to me because I was interested in shells.

(The Grand Canyon trip - where I posted the photo from it back on Father's Day - was earlier, 1976, so I would have been about eight. We saw a number of Western parks that year.)

We also went to Hawaii a couple times - first, in 1982, with relatives, and then later a couple times as a university workshop trip on Hawaiian Volcanoes. (These were done on the cheap; my dad's trip co-leader was a Major in the US Army Reserves and he was able to get us space at one of the R and R camps, and we were allowed to eat the excellent food served there).

When I was in high school, we took a trip to Harper's Ferry on the way to Williamsburg.

And we lived near Cuyahoga National Park (then: Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area) so we spent a lot of time out there. One of my first research projects was testing out a summer class he wanted to do for high schoolers in water analysis; I analyzed water from Furnace Run and several tributaries and actually presented it at the Ohio Junior Academy of Science.

One other thing I remember, now: driving me back to the University of Michigan after some holiday, he commented to me in the car: "You know, if anyone tells you that something academic you enjoy, that you can't do it because you're a woman, just go and prove them wrong."

That was part of my reaction to - forgive the word but I have to quote my dad here - the "asshole professor" I got for one summer class I took on his campus. The guy was patently unfair and rude to the students, and did a couple slightly underhanded things. And one day when I was just fed up, I had gone to my dad's office after my class to wait for him (we often went and got lunch with several of his colleagues, or on Thursdays walked to the nearby Greek Orthodox Church, because they did a gyros lunch every week as a fundraiser). And he could tell I was upset, and asked why. And I explained, and as I explained I started to cry - this is typical of me when I am frustrated. And he grabbed me and hugged me tightly, and then whispered in my ear - very softly, so the secretary would not hear him - "I'm sorry you got the asshole professor." Which startled me, because he generally didn't use that kind of language around me, and it sort of made me laugh, too. But also: in that moment I felt so HEARD.

And he helped me find a tutor to help with the class, and I worked my tail off, and wound up earning an A. I doubt the a-hole professor CARED, but it mattered to me. And I think it mattered to my dad.

One last thing: some years after that, someone was talking (in front of my mother) about how sometimes there were sexist attitudes among geologists and my mom made a comment like, "You notice that Bob had most of the women graduate students working with him?" and I take it that she said that because he had a different attitude than many of those other men....

So anyway. I wanted to do something to mark the day. I think it was good for me, I had a lot of good memories thinking about it today and the sting of losing him is less than it was.

The first place I wound up was at the bison overlook. (I have a photo of my parents standing in front of the fence, with the bison in the background, from around 2002 or so when they were down here). I had to walk a ways in on the trail and was on the point of turning around and going back to my car  - figuring the bison either had been moved from the enclosure, or were bushed up so well in the vegetation they couldn't be seen, when I spotted them:

(You can click on any of these photos to get a bigger view)

Even a baby in the last shot! The woman at the nature center - where I went later on - said there were three babies born this year.

They also have some nice signage (hand for scale; my hand is probably on the small side of average for a woman's hand)

I also saw a tortoise (probably an Ornamented Box Turtle) on the trail. And there were butterflies visiting animal scat. (Some butterflies do that: it's for minerals)

It was a nice walk. I would have kept going, maybe, except there were other places I wanted to go.

A lot of the places around here smell like cedar (Bromide Hill especially did) and even though cedar is somewhat invasive, it's a nice smell to have around.

I decided to run down to the nature center: I wanted a restroom, and I also figured maybe getting a map of the park would make it easier to find where I wanted to go.

They had a nice sign:

"Respect each other" is a good instruction. There was one small family (four people) and another couple in there in addition to the one worker. EVERYONE had masks on, and as I was leaving I saw other people walking up with masks they were getting ready to put on.

I took a quick one-way walk (they have directions on the floor) past some of the displays. Some scientific ones:

That third one - I remember it from the first time I was there. I remember my dad taking a photo of it. It shows items coated with travertine, which is deposited from some of the mineral water flowing in the park. (Travertine is a carbonate mineral, I think this form is a calcium carbonate, mostly)

There were also historic ones, like this quilt (which I think is actually a NEW quilt, but they talked about history)

The nature center itself is interesting; like many of the structures in the core of the park (which used to be Platt National Park years ago), it was build by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

From there, I drove up to Bromide Hill. This is one of my favorite places in the park because it's an overlook of the whole "old" part of the park, and you can see really far. I also remember once when I came here with my parents we saw a tarantula and also a roadrunner.

So I went up to the overlook, and sat for a bit, and just....said a little prayer, because that was my only real plan to "mark" the day in any kind of spiritual way

I also walked down one of the little trails up there, the area is an interesting mix of wooded area and these little prairie areas, which I presume are on limestone outcrops (shallower soils, so dryer)

And one plant - maybe a Ruellia?

At that point I was hungry enough that I had to eat - the only easy to get "distanced" food was the Sonic, so I blew my sodium budget for the week on a corn dog and fries. But it's okay - I probably walked a couple miles today also.

On the way back towards the park I stopped at the Vendome Fountain (Vendome Well) which is kind of on the very border between the park and Sulphur. It has sulfur water. You can smell it. I remember my dad collecting some of the water for analysis (he had permission from the NPS) and some of the little concretions of sulfur that formed. There's a drinking fountain and also a spigot there; people used to (I guess some still do) drink the water, believing it cures disease. (My dad joked with as much sulfate as it had, one thing it would cure for sure was constipation....)

I ran back to the nature center because I decided I wanted to walk up to Bison and Antelope springs - Antelope is "natural," Bison has been corralled by a wall and basin built by the CCC

Unfortunately, there was a family up at Bison, loud-talking and one of them kept dipping his camera (!!!) in the water to take photos, I guess. So my photos from there are just partial, I tried to keep people out of them:

There are lots of water striders ("Jesus bugs") on the water. You can kind of see one just above the middle of the second photo.

Antelope Springs are more naturalistic - you can see the water flowing out from the rock. There's also more flow there than at Buffalo Springs

And then back to the nature center...and then home.

I did purchase a couple things. The "bookstore" at the nature center really didn't have books any more (I wonder if the larger "Visitor's Center," on the edge of the park, which is new, has a bigger shop). None of the items were out to be handled, they had display versions and you asked at the desk if you wanted to buy something. I got some postcards - there are a few people I like to send to, and because I never go anywhere (!) it's nice to get a few when I can.

And also....well, when I was in there when the family was in there, they were buying the young daughter a stuffed bison and I admit I was kind of like "want, too" but kind of held off. And then, when I got the cards (about $2.50 total) I remembered how supposedly credit card companies charge a fee, and it makes transactions less than $10 or so not really fair for the merchant, so....I wanted to be fair.

but I also kind of wanted a stuffed bison, darnit.

So I got one.

Her name (yes, she is a she: female bison look enough like the males that this could be a female) is Brunhilda. And there's even a meaning to that! When I was a kid my dad used to tease me that they were going to name me something like Brunhilde (because of German heritage). I'm glad they didn't, but...I remember how mad I used to get as a kid but it's funny to me now.

And heh - I hadn't touched her before I got home (as I said, just saw the item out on display) and when I pulled her out of the bag, I impulsively said "Oh, you're SOFT." Because she is. (Wild Republic brand, in case you're curious)

(They also used to call me "Godzilla" or "Zillah" when I was a baby learning to walk, I'm told, because of the stompy way I walked when I was first learning. But I think almost all babies are like that? But then again - my parents were first-time parents with me so maybe they weren't used to stompy babies)

I'm glad I went. I avoided the swimming holes which really WERE crowded (the open camping areas seemed pretty cram-jammed, too) so I think I was able to appropriately distance. And I really needed a day out.

Here's hoping we DON'T have to do a strict lockdown in the coming weeks so maybe I can think of some other park like or natural area to go to - getting out into nature helps.