Thursday, January 31, 2008

This week

moar funny pictures

and that's all I have to say. Thank God tomorrow's Friday.

Better on some fronts, not on others

Well, I called the church as soon as it opened and the secretary didn't seem too concerned since we had done what we could to take care of the window.

And my class today went well; we started out on enzymes and enzyme inhibition and a couple people got interested and started asking about changes that happen in enzymes and natural selection and stuff so it kind of morphed into a discussion of "where does antibiotic resistance come from" which is good, because it tells me (a) the students are thinking about the topics and trying to apply them and (b) they give enough of a damn to ask questions, which is better than some semesters.


My aunt, my 87-year-old, blind and disabled aunt, who had been in a nursing home, is in the hospital. And no one can tell us why. My mom called her nursing home for her regular chat and the person at the front desk was "She's not here. And I can't tell you where she is and why because of HIPAA."

Now, I'm all for medical-records-privacy, but my mom is her SISTER. And her BLOOD sister, as in came-from-the-same-mom-and-dad. And just because my cousin, who is the "medical contact person" can't be arsed to fill out the paperwork to allow the place to notify family members, we're all in the dark until she chooses to illuminate us.

My mom (at least over the phone) didn't seem too worried; she said, "I talked with her the other day and while she was complaining that the area around her [port involved with a medical procedure] hurt, she seemed in pretty good spirits and pretty with-it." Or it's possible she's putting on a good face to keep me from freaking out. I don't know.

But it irritates me that HIPAA makes us jump through these hoops. (Seriously? Once the gyn I see called my mom up [because they had the wrong number on file for me and couldn't reach me] and said, "ricki needs to call us" and they wouldn't tell her why and I was all freaked out that they had seen something bad in my tests and it turned out they just didn't get a good sample for the Pap smear and I needed to come back in...after that I filled out the paperwork and let the doctor know in no uncertain terms that anything that happened to me, my mom WOULD find out. From me. So they didn't need to hold stuff back in the name of "protection." Even including if I got pregnant out of wedlock. [though at that time - and now, as well, for that matter - that is just slightly more likely than my winning the lottery and getting hit by an asteroid in the same day])

It also irritates me that apparently my cousin LIKES having the power to disseminate or conceal information about my aunt as she sees fit. It's just a little power and attention play thing and that kind of mind**** that people do bugs me.


And I've decided that part of Eating a Healthy Diet is also knowing when a treat is good. So I'm going down the hall (as soon as I finish my $*%&$ plain lowfat yogurt) and getting a Hershey bar or some peanut butter cups out of the vendeteria if they have them.

Yes, that is the detestable "using food to soothe pain" but you know, for me? It kind of works. And I only need one Hershey bar for it to work, and then I'm like, "Okay, I'm good now." So it's not like I'm falling into a pool of dysfunction or anything.


I can tell that this is going to be one of those times when I need to practice holding my tongue and such. Because I'm irritated at humanity this week. It's no one big thing, it's just lots of little things:

-- Hillary Clinton's "I want to save you from yourselves!" commercials that are running with unpleasant regularity on the television. This is the one where she talks about, among other things, "predatory student loan corporations." And basically, it's Every Business Bad, Little People Good, Let Me Fight Big Business For You.

and you kind of know that the funds to fight big business - and whatever kind of "retribution" winds up being made, will be out of taxpayers' pockets. Or there's going to be some kind of horrific unintended consequence of her fight.

-- my campus, because they "can't give the faculty a raise" have made what was a pre-tax, tax-free fringe benefit into a "salary increase" that, instead of being put into a retirement account on our behalf, now becomes income. I'm irritated two-fold: first, it means I'll be paying tax on something I didn't have to before, and second, if I want the "salary increase that was retirement savings" to continue to be retirement savings, I'll have to do a little math and THEN truck over to HR and fill out a bunch of paperwork.

look, none of us are likely to jump ship solely because you can't increase our pay for a year. We understand. But it is irritating to have to do a little extra accounting (and 35 years down the line when I retire, try to remember what year the changeover happened).

And yeah, it also kind of irritates me that they think we'll fall for the idea of "Hey, we've got more money now!" We're not that stupid. At least, some of us aren't.

-- the youth group kids broke a small bathroom window last night. It was the classic kid accident - ball thrown badly, window hit. (They were, I hasten to add, playing OUTSIDE. Not in the bathroom.) But I fear this is going to be used as Yet Another Example That Ricki Is Incompetent And Can't Control The Kids by someone who has never ever raised a finger to help out with the program. (Why is that? Why is it that the people who complain most vociferously about people doing unpaid, largely unthanked volunteer work are ones who can never be bothered to take it on themselves?)
I've already volunteered to either pay for it myself, or suggested the money be taken out of the youth fund, but I'm bracing for some kind of blowback.

-- the fact that when you're an adult, the only way you have of knowing you're doing an OK job is that people aren't actively criticizing you at the moment. That's been the hardest thing for me to learn: no news should be equivalent to praise.

-- I have a student in one of my classes who's getting on my nerves. He's very vocal, has an answer for everything, complains a lot. It's like, dude, none of us have it easy. Just make it easier by not voicing your displeasure every 10 minutes.

-- I have another student who asked me if he could do the late-afternoon labs "early" because "My last class gets done at 10 and then I'm stuck here until 3." While I do not deny the potential suckitude of being stuck on campus for 5 hours with "nothing" to do (except we do have this big building full of books and quiet places where you can study, read, or even nap, called a LI-BRAR-Y), I didn't like it that he got really kind of whiny and upset when I told him no, that wasn't possible.

Look, I'm sorry there was a conflict with another class and my lab lost in the deadlock. I don't like a 3 to 5 pm lab either. But I'm NOT going to do two separate lab sections just because one person is put out that he's got a big block of time with nothing to do. (Dammit, I'd love to have five open hours on a single day.)

I don't know what it is with students asking the moon from us and then getting unhappy when the best we can give them is a funky-looking cratered rock. I don't have a problem with them ASKING; the problem I have is that they EXPECT. I deserve a life, too. I deserve enough time to get done the myriad things I must get done, and in order to do that, it doesn't include teaching classes-on-demand.

-- Apparently Brit-ama-ney Spea-ama-ears* is being taken in for an intervention. On one hand, I hope she gets help. I hope she finally decides that the way she's acting can only lead to an early grave. But as I yelled at the tv this morning: "She has more money than God, hundreds of sycophantic yes-men. And those of us out in flyover country, we bust our humps, we pay our taxes, and if we're lucky, someone will say something nice about us at our funerals." I know that's not very charitable to poor Brit-brit (and yes, I do think she deserves a certain sympathy, fame seems to suck pretty badly), but I do think there's some truth in the fact that the whole ordinary mass of humanity, by and large, are going "I'd love to have a $20K clothing budget and people telling me how wonderful I am."

(*Homer-fying words. Like "saxamaphone.")

-- Valentine's Day is coming up. I have rather a hatred of this day, mainly connected to the fact that I'm single, and the implication is that if you're single on Valentine's Day you are a Big Loser (and not in the ABC reality-show sense). And it's stupid. I hope no one out there uses the day as a "get out of jail free" card but I suspect people do: as in, "It's okay that I harp on you all the time for little stuff, because look, I bought you a video game." or "It doesn't matter that I never lift a finger to help out, because here are some flowers."

If it were an ideal world, we wouldn't need Valentine's Day, because people who had someone they loved, they'd show it every day. And they'd also not feel the need to smush the grapefruit-half of Valentine's Day in the faces of the singletons to "prove" that they're worthy because they have love. (And yes, it's happened to me, before you think I'm overreacting. I've had too many female co-workers and others "have" to come and show me the gifts they got, and stand around expecting me to say something about how wonderful their man is. And there's this subtle sense of "I'm better than you, look, I have the flowers to prove it.")

-- And the weather is just for crap here. It's an unpleasant combination of cold, wind, and wet, without any chance of "winter precipitation" that could actually shut campus down and give us a day off.

-- I have a toothache (well, several teeth aching, in fact). Can't tell if it's the tooth or my sinuses. Can't get a dentist appointment any time soon. I hope it's sinuses.

So anyway. I'm struggling a little today.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Yesterday morning, before church, I sat down and sort of flipped around on the television. So many of the channels either had infomercials (bleah) or were running news footage that seemed (as it so often does) to just be a litany of the bad stuff people do to other people. So I kept flipping, feeling kind of down - one of the channels, there were like three stories within 3 minutes that basically showed the suckier side of human nature.

Then I hit PBS. They were running a show on trains. Specifically, on old steam trains that train-buffs keep running. Some of the trains have short, dedicated routes; some of them use track belonging to freight companies that they get permission to use. The program talked about how the guys (mostly guys) who are interested in trains work to restore them- how a lot of the trains had been rescued from scrapyards - and how the train people spend their free time keeping the trains running.

That kind of thing makes me extremely happy. I need to see stuff like that as an antidote to the "People are getting killed in riots in Kenya; there might be a serial killer on the loose in Florida; homes are being foreclosed at record rates" stories. The barrage of bad news.

Part of it is also that when I was a kid, my dad was kind of interested in trains. Oh, not enough (and he didn't have the time) to actually go out and try to buy a caboose or an old steam locomotive or anything - the most we had were HO scale trains in the basement - but some weekends we'd get together with a couple other families and make a trip somewhere where there was an old steam line, and we'd take a ride on the trains. So as a young kid I kind of knew what the old steam trains were like. I remember winding through the forests of Pennsylvania on one such trip.

I love anything, though, where a person has a passion - a deep and abiding love of something - and they follow that. Especially if the passion isn't something particularly "practical," in the sense that the person will never get rich or famous off of it. (Yes, maybe it's snobby of me, but I tend to see the kind of impractical passions as somehow purer). The old steam train buffs are like that - no one is going to give them millions and millions of dollars to do what they do; no Hollywood producer is going to want to make blockbuster movies about them. But they don't care, because they enjoy what they do.

It also makes me happy from the "preserving history" standpoint. My main interest in history revolves around "how did people live?" - what were their houses like, what did they wear, how did they get from place to place, what did they do for fun. Being able to get on an old steam train, although it might never be a 100% recreation of the past, still gives you sort of an idea of what it was like.

And I just find people with a deep and abiding interest in something, especially something that seems kind of obscure, interesting - how did they get into it? What is it about that thing that keeps them so fascinated?

(One of the women who was married to a train fanatic, made the comment, "I get to go on a date with my husband and help drive a steam train at the same time. No other woman in America, I bet, gets to say that." hahahahaha.)

I remember this summer I was at an art festival and I saw a group of people who did clog-dancing. Now, I know boo about clog dancing other than that it reminds me a little bit of Irish step-dancing, it looks very challenging to do, but it looks like it would be fun once you were good at it (and were in sufficiently good shape!). The leader of the group talked a little between each set and described how his group would go to conventions (they have clog-dancing conventions. That makes me smile) and how they'd trade routines with other groups, how people would track down sources of traditional music - all that stuff. And it made me extremely happy - there's this whole secret "underground" world of clog-dancing that I know nothing about, but that there are people who are fascinated by it and want to do it and want to learn about it and want to share it.

It's kind of like a secret identity, I guess - that this ordinary-looking woman behind a desk somewhere has this whole secret life where she knows jigs and reels and wears shoes with taps on them. The idea that everyone is interesting, everyone has something cool about them, if you just take the time to pay attention.

There's also a dulcimer festival a couple towns over once a year. I've never gone - it always seems to fall on a weekend when I have other obligations, and I don't know, as a "muggle" in the dulcimer-world, how openly I'd be welcomed, but it makes me happy that there are people out there keeping that alive.

I also love the shows they do on Food Network about the barbecue fanatics - that there are people out there that do this serious scholarly study of 'cue and how it's made and what the differences between the four types (Carolinas, Memphis, Texas, and Kansas City) are and what the historic recipes are. And they actually argue about what's the best wood for smoking, or whether the meat should have sauce or not.

I think I love all those things for a couple of reasons. First, when I'm enthusiastic about something, I'm enthusiastic about it, and I don't really care whether it's "cool" or not. So it makes me feel happy (and maybe a little less weird) to see that there are other people out there who feel the same way about their particular interest. (And I have to admit, in recent years, because I've been so busy, some of my passions have gone on the back burner, and that makes me sad. And it makes me feel like a little bit of me is slipping away - like, "What is happening to that girl who used to be able to name almost any doo-wop band correctly on the basis of hearing a few notes of one of their songs?" or "How much do I remember any more about the marks of the different doll-makers of the past century?" Stuff I used to be really really into, used to actually STUDY because I had the time).

Second, I often see just the "surface" of people - people I work with, people in my classes. And sometimes that "surface" has kind of a glaze on it - like, you get the feeling, "This person isn't interested." And you begin to wonder, "Are they interested in ANYTHING?" And while I suppose there are people who have either taken the "cool" stance to the extreme that they don't care about anything, or people who are truly so uninterested in stuff that they really have nothing they're passionate about, I bet those people are rare. So seeing people working at what they love reminds me that even if my students don't LOVE biology, they probably have something somewhere they LOVE.

And finally - somehow, I think in some kind of weird mystical/spiritual way, the people who have those deep and abiding passions, who want steam trains to continue to run, who want to preserve traditional forms of music, who care deeply about a particular skill and want to pass it on, they're good for the world. They somehow make it a more interesting and deeper place. And they remind others that what you do to earn your bread - or the titles after your name - are not the sum total of who you are.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


'Member several months ago, how I was fretting about not being able to find my Social Security card, and how it was probably going to make renewing my driver's license far more complicated?

Well, this evening, I decided to listen to some music over the computer* (long story but basically I wanted to hear the original version (the 1963, Bob and Earl version) of the Harlem Shuffle again and couldn't find my recording of it. I realized YouTube MUST have it [they do].) While listening, I decided to sort through my desk drawers, to see if maybe the tape I was looking for was in there.

(*Edited to add: good grief, I sound like my grandmother. "Listen to music over the computer"? Sheesh. Next thing, I'll be saying that someone sent me an Internet.)

You know how they say you find a thing you're missing when you're not actually looking for it?

I ran across a stack of cards that I had formerly carried in my wallet - some business cards from different places (including the Dutch Oven Yarn Shoppe and Bakery in Alanson, Michigan) and my old library card from where I used to live. And I thought, "Wonder if my Social Security card might be in this stack?"

Hey presto, it WAS. So now I know where it is (and even better, I know that some weirdo doesn't have my card (as Bart Simpson once famously speculated about his soul, after selling it for $5, I think for a comic book).

Of course, if the lady at the DMV was right, I already have the "digital" driver's license and don't actually NEED the card to prove I am who I say I am. (But I'm bringing it, and my birth certificate, with me, just in case, when I go to renew next month.)

Now I just need to figure out something else to search for so I can find that "Soul Shots" tape...

(Yes, I really need to buy an iPod one of these days and just spend the money to load it up with all the almost-forgotten R and B artists I like).

Friday, January 25, 2008

random jumble

Oh, thank God I am home. Thank God it is the weekend. I really need some time to let my brain relax.

The meeting this afternoon was not bad at all. It's a committee I serve on on campus, but I'm happy to serve as everyone on the committee is quite sane and usually cheerful and we get stuff done.

Driving this home this afternoon (the committee meeting even ended early enough I could contemplate cooking a real dinner!) I asked myself: what do you want to eat more than anything? What appeals to you? Because part of my distress these past couple days (which could be chalked up to the cold that I'm pretty sure I now have) was that the food I had laid in a supply of - food I normally eat without complaint - just looked awful to me.

And I thought: I really want some nice chewy garlicky focaccia bread, with a bowl of good tomato sauce to dip it in. And maybe even a salad on the side.

So I found a focaccia recipe in one of my books, and it's rising now. I'm relieved that I feel like eating food again, instead of sitting down to the plate and going "do not want."

I always crave tomato things when I have a cold. I don't question it; I figure maybe there's some body-logic reason for wanting tomatoes. Tomato soup, tomatoes stewed on toast, bread with tomato sauce, tomato and cheese rarebit...

I need to go grocery shopping tomorrow. I'm out of a few semi-vital things and maybe I should get some decent cheddar with the thought of making a tomato-cheese rarebit at some point.


I forgot a piece of funny graffiti I saw last weekend. Now, understand - I really hate graffiti. I think it's extremely presumptuous of the "tagger" or would-be artist to assume that the owner of the property he or she is defacing is happy with the modification.

But once in a while there's one, even though I wince at the thought of it having to be cleaned up by some city employee, it still makes me laugh.

This one was a stop sign. Below the word "STOP" someone had (using a stencil) painted the word "Hammertime!" in a fancy curly script. Being a child (well, teen, really) of the 80s, I had to laugh.

I totally forgot about it until I saw this:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

And you know? I still like that song. It still makes me laugh.

I watch too much television, I guess

Because this clip

just makes me think of those creepy Michelin commercials where Bibendum (yes, that's the Michelin Man's name) is fondling the newly-made tires.


(I've decided part of my distress - see outbursts below - is that I am, in fact, suffering from a Ninja Cold - the cold that you don't realize you have until it's kicked your ass. The good news is it's Friday, and after a meeting [luckily not an acrimonious meeting, this one should be fairly pleasant] this afternoon I can go home and get into bed.)


Kate, I've not gone totally low-fat. I do still use olive oil when I saute stuff (and that's supposedly one of the "happy fat" sources) and I do still eat some nuts and cheese.

Though maybe I need to add a bit more back in. My skin is starting to look kind of flakeadelic so maybe I've cut too much.

I also wonder if I've loaded up too much too fast on antioxidants. I've read that people who get too MUCH vitamins A, E, or C (though I'm probably not getting too much E) kind of experience a low-level "blah" feeling, because their energy kind of gets sapped. (It has something to do with free radicals. Too many of them in your body and you die but too few and you're kind of miserable.)

I think a big part of the frustration with the eating plan is mental. I get the feeling of "Fud: Not yours" or "No, You Can Not Haz" (to put it in LolCatSpeak) and I just get frustrated because (for example) one of the skinny-girl students in one of my classes will sit down and unwrap her daily fast-food sandwich and eat it all up and I'm headed back to my office for watery yogurt and high-fiber crackers. (And I don't even LIKE fast-food sandwiches).

I wouldn't do well if I had salt-sensitive hypertension or if I developed Type II Diabetes (which actually, this plan is a frantic and probably over-worried attempt to prevent. I really probably am not at that great a risk because I get enough exercise and all, but when the news is trumpeting "Fatties: you're gonna die soon!" on a regular basis at you, it's hard not to fall into the trap of "must...punish...self...for...liking....sugar") because of the restrictive eating plans those require.

I think a big part of the frustration is a failure-of-the-imagination too. There are just honestly not that many vegetables I like, and of the ones I do, there are only so many ways to prepare them. (And carrots and celery and their relatives are out - I am actually allergic to carrots and their kin. And I can't eat raw broccoli or cauliflower because they cause some really unpleasant digestive issues). And there are only so many sources of "lean protein" - I've been rotating chicken breast, beans, low-fat cheese, and boiled eggs and I'm getting really tired of all of those. I feel like all the food I'm eating (well, except for the veggies and fruit) is white. White white white. Bleah.

I also think I may be fighting some kind of low-level cold or other respiratory virus. I've been sneezing, I've coughed off and on, I've had lots of muscle aches, working out has been hard because my chest feels like it's full of crap. And I'm just tired.

So I said the hell with exercise this morning and didn't, because my back hurts and my knees hurt and my chest hurts and I just feel like crud.

Heh. If nothing else this whiny post gives me another use for the "food?" tag.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I have certain pieces of clothing that I've come to imagine as a sort of psychic or emotional armor.

I wore one of them today. It's a dressy faux-suede vest, with a faux-shearling lining. It's long and straight and closes with clasps.

I've been feeling a little shaky and fragile these past few days - I think it's partly midwinter doldrums, partly tiredness, partly maybe something else I don't know. And today I had a meeting that I knew was going to be kind of acrimonious.

(It was. It ended a little while ago. The outcome was that we need more meetings. Ugh.)

All this morning, in my vest, I walked around thinking, "This is my armor. I will not let my feelings get hurt when I wear this. This is my armor; it will protect me."

It did, sort of. I also told myself, during the meeting, "Just keep your mouth shut. Nothing you try to contribute will help. Just observe, don't opine."

I did wind up opining, a little bit, because I can't help it. I made a suggestion. I thought it was a possible solution to the impasse we kept hitting. Several people disliked the suggestion very strongly and talked about why it won't work, and why what they originally planned to do has to be done exactly the way they want to do it.

I might have just as well not offered my suggestion.

So anyway. I'm still tired, still feeling - I don't know, a little shaky and fragile. Like I'd like to go home and heat up my buckwheat pillow in the microwave and crawl into bed curled up around it. (It's also been really cold here; unusually cold for this part of the world. And my building is an old leaky building with unpredictable heat so there are some days I just get cold at work and don't get warm again until I've been home for a good long while. And I do think being cold - being kind of consistently chilled - affects a person's well being).

And the diet-thing-that-I'm-not-calling-a-diet is starting to piss me off. Food showed up at the meeting but it was (a) richer food than I've been eating and (b) I had already eaten my plain yogurt* and rice cakes and oranges and tiny handful of mixed nuts for lunch.

So I had to be That Woman - the one I've complained about in the past - who demurred eating the Tasty Food the meeting-moderator had procured because "I already ate lunch" "But just eat a second lunch." "No, I can't. My metabolism is so slow as it is that I can barely eat one lunch." Yes, that was the actual exchange. And yeah, it was TMI on my part, I should have just said, "I'm not hungry," but I was kind of overwrought already thinking what the meeting was going to be about.

(*And plain yogurt? You are On Notice. What is up with that yellow whey crap you make? I drained you off first thing this morning and proceeded to dish up the solidified part of the yogurt into my sad little plastic tub for lunch. And by 11:30, you had separated into sort of dry-ish yogurt and more of the damned whey. I do not want the whey - it is disgusting. Please, in the future, avoid whey-making, especially when you are sitting in my lunch)

And I'm so Foo King sick of spinach salad. I've eaten enough salad these past few weeks that I can almost photosynthesize on my own.

And it has apparently been for naught - no clear loss, no looser fit to the clothes, no comments from anyone that I'm looking thinner. Yes, I know, it's been less than a month BUT it seems like on all the damn talk shows there's some fat person who comes on and Dr. Phil or whoever lays out all that they eat in a day on the table, and then tells them, "You could lose weight if you cut out one of these Big Macs and a couple cokes per day." And the person does that, and a couple months later they're back on the show, 50+ pounds lighter, through the power of Dr. Phil's shiny shiny forehead, and of cutting out one damn Big Mac a day.

And I've cut my diet to the stinking BONE, to the point where I'm barely even eating meat any more in favor of "lean sources of protein" (which, yeah, includes skinless boneless chicken breasts that have been either broiled or poached, but I don't really consider that a MEAT. It's not fun to eat like real meat - real steak or real ribs - is). And I see nothing.

And I've even substituted weak, sugarless black tea for dessert, for having an extra piece of bread when I'm still hungry, for some kind of solace when I come home tired and sad and just need SOMETHING.

So yeah. The emotional armor of a warm vest, she may help with me not wanting to run screaming out of a meeting where people are disagreeing with each other, but not so much when it comes to seeing everyone eating tasty food and me stuck with watery yogurt and listless broiled chicken and crap like that.

I'm almost ready to say "forget this mess" (except using less polite words) and just go back to eating what I damn well please, and just count on (with the annual poundage creep-up) being 300 pounds by the time I'm 70, if I make it that far.

Well, it made ME laugh...

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Except, for where I come from, the REAL redneck cat carrier would be a carton from PBR.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

video game proposal

Maybe this has already been done, I don't know. I haven't played many video games.

But it struck me this afternoon that there are games for people who want to be rockstars, who want to play Indiana Jones, who want to shoot Nazis, who want to blow up things in outer space.

But there needs to be a video game for the rest of us.

I'm not sure what best to call it. "Joe Doakes" was the first name that sprang to mind (an earlier version of "Joe Blow" or "John Q. Public"). But "WageSlave" might almost work as well.

It would be a maze type game. The goal would be to get in your house, with the door locked behind you (locking out the outside world) in the shortest amount of time with the fewest number of "energy draining" interactions possible.

You would be armed with the ability to detour (either in your car or on foot), an "ignore" button, and a "white lie" button (to be used only once per game, for situations such as telling someone "Sorry, I have an appointment..." when you actually don't).

You would start out at work, near the end of the workday. The obstacles you'd have to avoid at work: the gabby co-worker. The person making the rounds collecting money for someone's birthday, new baby, or retirement party. Your boss, wanting you to come in on Saturday. Another boss, who needs to have a meeting NOW but forgot about it until the end of the day. Your weaselly co-worker who is going to try to talk you into doing the work he didn't do. The guy/girl (the game would have to have options so you could set your gender, and presumably, your sexual orientation) who is trying to ask you out but is bordering on sexual harassment.

Then, once you're in the parking lot, you have to make sure you have enough gas in the car to get home.

On the way home, you have to avoid: the red-light runner. The person who is weaving all over the road talking on their cell phone. The school crossing with the crossing guard and a string of 100 children you will have to wait for. Maybe even baby ducks crossing the road (minus 50 points if you hit one).

Then, once home, you need to (a) successfully garage your car (or else the teenaged hooligans down the street will break its windows, slowing you down for the next game) (b) get the mail (c) avoid your neighbor who wants to complain to you about how your tree is dropping leaves all over her yard and what are you going to do about it (this is one of those situations where you have to keep repeatedly hitting the "ignore" button) and (d) avoid another neighbor's dog who thinks your leg is a tree.

I suppose there are other obstacles, but those are the ones I've thought of.

No, not all of those things have happened to me, and certainly not all today, but sometimes it feels like it. I'd probably be a whiz at the game.


I think everyone's heard about Heath Ledger's death.

Now they're backtracking a little from what was initially said - the news reports, early on (at least on FOX, which I was watching at the time) were "OMG he was surrounded by PILLS and butt naked face down on his bed!!!!111!!!!"

And so, of course, the brain goes to a particular place, hearing that.

Or maybe my brain does, having had a relative who committed suicide. (And yeah, I'm pretty much intellectually over it, but I won't get emotionally over it - at least not with OMG WTF HE KILLED HIMSELF news stories coming out from time to time)

And now, they're backpedaling. And you know what? I'm kind of angry. Why report all the lurid crap? Why give us the "surrounded by PILLS" as the last mental image of this guy. Even if it's not true, it's still hard to shake.

Why not just wait, dammit. Why not say, "We believe he's been found dead. Foul play is not suspected." and leave it at that until you know for freaking sure.

(because this morning, the suggesting is that it was either accidental, or he was already ill with pneumonia - and maybe had a fatal reaction to a dosage that wouldn't have affected a healthy person. Or, hell, maybe pills have nothing to do with it - pneumonia can and does kill even young and otherwise healthy people sometimes)

I think this is, for me, the ugliest side of the 24-hour news cycle - the need to whip things up to some crazy messy froth. Like overbeating egg whites. And then, it just collapses later, but there's still the big mess, the slop, the salmonella. (Yes, I am good at stretching a metaphor nearly to the breaking point).

It's the whole "it bleeds, it leads" phenomenon.

And I find myself wondering: what about his family? What about his 2 year old kid? Two years old is enough to wonder "where did Daddy go" but not old enough to understand ANYTHING about Daddy's death other than a sense of abandonment. What about his friends?

If I had a friend who died in a sudden and unpleasant way, it would be very painful to see it promoted over and over again on the news as some kind of fodder for the sensation-seekers.

And why is it this way with younger stars? Is there some kind of sick fascination with the death of the young and famous, whether it's through an unavoidable accident, or a serious illness, or drugs, or misfortune, or their own hands? Many of the older famous folks who pass on get a brief mention, a nod, and then they're down the memory hole of the news, and only people like the film-bloggers or the music-bloggers actually eulogize them.

this is why....

it was the three KINGS, not the three KITTEHS.

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Petty Pet Peeves

You've been warned.

Sometimes I think I should (at least temporarily) retitle the blog "People Irritate Me." (Or maybe start a whole additional blog for that). Because periodically, people do.

Here are a couple of today's winners:

1. The young lady sitting in her car, parked at the curb, kind of blocking where I was going to have to pull out, who was *talking on her cell phone with her boyfriend who was standing on the porch of the house she was parked in front of*.

Okay, absent some kind of weird contagious disease (They don't hang up Quarantine signs any more, I guess) or some kind of bizarre Romeo and Juliet situation, that is just wrong. Park your damn car in his damn drive and go talk to him face to face. No, I do not care if you are having an argument. No, I do not care if you are breaking up with him - in fact, if you are, it is far, far more honorable to do it to his face rather than to sit there in your car and tell him whatever gentle lie you are using to let him down.

But the worst part? Chickie, I was CAREFULLY backing out. I saw you. I was making an extra-special effort to avoid bumping your car even though you were in a singularly inconvenient spot for that particular area of angle parking. And I had the added complication of someone sitting "behind" where I was pulling out, wanting my space.

So you WERE NOT JUSTIFIED in honking your horn at me. I saw you; you were in the way. I'm sorry if it makes your life so terribly inconvenient that I want to go home at 4 pm and lead my life and do not prefer to wait for you to get done talking to your Romeo. But sheesh.

2. I have a student in one of my classes who apparently wears a Bluetooth piece 24/7. Now, I know I'm really being petty here, because he seems like a nice guy and a decent student, but the earpiece bugs the crap out of me. It makes me think of one of those Borg implants that people on Star Trek got when they'd been assimilated. And it also makes me wonder - does he always have that thing turned on? Is what's being said in class being broadcast somewhere? For someone's amusement, maybe?

I don't know. I know I'm a cranky old technophobe but I really don't like those Bluetooth earpieces. (I've also nearly gotten run over more than once in the Wal-mart by people sprinting through the store, talking to their Invisible Friend and totally oblivious to the Visible People they are nearly plowing into. And I am not a small woman! It's pretty hard to miss me.)

3. The whole campaign mess. I'm just tired of it. Tired of hearing all the damn minutia about what John McCain ate for breakfast or where Barack Obama went jogging. Tired of all the opining, all the projecting, all the body-English, all the punditry - all of it. Wake me up when we're down to two candidates. (But please, God - don't let one of those be Huckabee. Just, please. I know he considers himself one of Yours and all, but please...don't make me have to consider him as a choice. Especially don't let it be an Edwards v. Huckabee ticket. Because, despite what I threatened, I really DON'T want to have to write in "Wilma Flintstone" this year. Thanks much.)

What I'd really like? For the writers' strike to end and for us to get some good, entertaining, non-"reality"-based television to watch for a while. We need something to take our minds off of Bill Clinton's hissy-fit meltdowns while campaigning for his wife or Romney's big big hair. And some kind of crazy sitcom or good drama would do just that.

4. Several people I know who are permanently aggrieved about everything (as opposed to me, who is temporarily aggrieved about human nature right now). I mean, seriously: you could comment that it was a nice day out, and you'd hear either an argument as to why it actually WASN'T, or a long diatribe about how global climate change is responsible and we really shouldn't be happy about it. Or you show off, say, a new pair of shoes you bought and think are cool, and they begin asking you if they were made by fair-trade labor and how much of the earth's resources you think they used, etc., etc. It's like they can't be happy about anything and can't stand to see another person happy.

minor gripe

If you are a student, and you are going to answer fewer than half the questions on a homework assignment, JUST DON'T TURN THE DAMN THING IN! The amount of points you will get will NOT help.

And I feel compelled to write in the correct answers so you have something to study from. And this is taking really long. And it's not my job to do your assignments for you. (Yeah, I should just leave the questions blank.)

It is FAR too early in the semester for people to be giving up this way. (It wasn't even that hard of a homework - all the answers could be found, with a little effort, in the textbook.

for the fans of vodka and bacon...

I know a while back I posted that Lego Beer song (which STILL makes me laugh. I think it's a Weird Al song, even though no attribution is given on the YouTube page).

Well, here's one for those who like their liquor a little clearer and a little harder:

Make your own bacon vodka.

Now, I have to admit, that sounds a little horrifying to me - but I'm not a fan of vodka (once again: all alcoholic beverages give me migraines). And I only like bacon if it's cooked so crisp that it's just this side of burnt. But maybe some of you out there are looking for a little free-time project.

I will refrain from commenting on the geopolitical ramifications of mixing bacon (a known pork product) and vodka; I leave that to others.

I'm having to initiate a new label for this; "food" doesn't quite fit, so I'm going with "food?".

Monday, January 21, 2008

what a dog!

Got a spam message this morning with the subject title:

make your lassie moan with LUST and PASSION!

Oh dear. Oh dear dear dear dear.

I do hope that the message originated from Scotland, where "lassie" is more likely to be thought of as "girl" and less likely to be thought of as "collie."

Or maybe it's spam directed at male dogs. Then again, what I've observed of the ways of dogs, lust and passion don't really seem to factor in to the equation...

Not sure it's an improvement.

Apparently Las Vegas is changing its long-term "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" campaign.

I saw an ad this morning with the slogan, "Your Vegas is showing."

Um, yeah. I immediately think of the SpongeBob episode where Patrick actually suggests a useful idea, and SpongeBob responds, "Patrick! Your genius is showing!" and Patrick immediately does a "fig leaf" with his hands and worriedly exclaims, "Where?"

Then again, if they were going for borderline icky, they probably nailed it.

Advertising is strange.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


So I bought a copy of "The Daring Book for Girls." I kind of wanted to see what all the fuss was about - I remember when the boy-version (which is by different authors; this one is actually sort of an "inspired-by") came out, it was alternately praised and excoriated. And some people just kind of scratched their heads.

These are great big compendium books (in case you totally ignore the "children-and-teen" section of the bookstore or live under a rock). The Girl's book - the only one I've looked at - has a lot of rules-of-games (basketball, something called netball, softball, tetherball, even hopscotch. But not Badminton, which is one of my favorite easy-for-even-kind-of-lazy-people games of all times. You can even play Badminton in a dress - I have. I knew Indian ladies who played it in their saris - there was a large Indian community in the town where I used to live, and they used to get together a lot, and for some reason Badminton was a very popular game. But I digress)

It also tells you how to build a scooter, and how to change a car tire, and how to make ivy crowns. And how to whistle with two fingers in your mouth, which I really really want to learn to do (it would be extremely useful in the field, if I needed to call all my students together quickly) but have not yet managed, despite a number of trials.

It also has the typical you-go-girl stuff about women scientists and inventors and famous queens.

(Did you know Hedy Lamarr - yes, that Hedy Lamarr - helped invent some kind of code-breaking thing that was used against the Germans in World War II? I didn't.)

All proto-feminism aside, I like the book a lot. I look at it, and I go, "I wish this had been around 25 or 30 years ago, when I was a girl." It is exactly the kind of book I loved - packed with information, lots of odd little things, skills you can perfect, stuff to learn that's cool. And the you-go-girl stuff would have impressed me, too. I remember doing a lot of book reports on Famous Women (two memorable ones being Maria Mitchell - who, oddly, is not mentioned among the women scientists and inventors - and Annie Oakley.)

Actually, another digression: when I was a kid, a lot of times when we did "book reports" on biographies we read, or historical reports on a person, we were required to dress up as that person and present the life as if that person were speaking. I loved that. (My mom, who I would have to hit up at least once a year for "a floor-length dark skirt and dark shawl" (for Mitchell, who was a Quaker) or some kind of ethnic costume for some woman from Europe, probably didn't love it so much). I suppose schools still do this - I hope they do, because I loved doing it. It was a lot of fun. (And part of the fun was seeing the other students going through the day in their getups. I learned fairly early on to pick people like Mitchell who dressed plainly and comfortably enough).

Anyway. A few people commenting on the books noted they didn't like the title "Daring," that "why do Boys get to be Dangerous but Girls are only Daring?"

But you know? I personally like Daring better than Dangerous. For two reasons: first of all, Daring has the connotation of doing something good, something useful - for example, Josephine Baker working for the French Resistance during WWII. That's useful but it's also dangerous. And it takes considerable daring.

It seems to me that it's entirely possible to be Dangerous and also stupid, but it is far less likely to be Daring and stupid.

I also like Daring better than Dangerous because to me, it seems to have more elan - James Bond (at least the "classic," Moore or Connery Bonds) was Daring, but his enemies were merely Dangerous. Daring, to me, seems to have a sense of style to it - a little smirk in the face of real danger, the ability to do things smoothly and well to get out of it.

I would much rather be a Daring Girl (well, the ship probably sailed on "girl" 10 or more years ago, at least in the chronological sense) than a Dangerous Girl. Unfortunately, in this life, my lot seems to be less to be Daring than to be Responsible.

(If I were writing my own parody or "answer" to this series {and yes, there are parodies - there is now the Dangerous Book for Dogs}, I would probably title it

The Responsible Book for Adults.)

And I would talk about things like balancing checkbooks, and leaving notes on people's windshields if you ding their car door with theirs in a parking lot, and being on time to meetings, especially if you are the one who called the meeting. Of course the book wouldn't sell because that kind of stuff is boring and the people who would read it already live it, and probably most of the people who need to read it, wouldn't. But I have to admit a certain longing for a "Handbook for Adulthood" - I really and truly (when I was like 8 or so) believed that there was a handbook you were given, probably on your 18th birthday or so, that explained all the stuff adults were supposed to do and know. Of course no such handbook exists and we are all essentially making it up as we go along, but frankly, I WOULD like to have a handbook. Oh, I have Emily Post and some kind of book about Investing for the Fiscal Idiot and another one about not getting one's feelings hurt, but none of these books has quite the encyclopedic completeness, or the secret knowledge, that I assumed this mythical Handbook for Adulthood would hold.

But at any rate - while one's on the way - I suppose something like a Daring or a Dangerous book makes the journey more fun, and perhaps more remembered once one is an adult.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bad idea or not?

I half-heard on the news this morning (I put the local news on, even though it tends to be rather stupid - I think I commented that they have a "Let's Terrify the Mommies" segment about child development and risks a child could face, and "Relationships for Idiots" segment where they dish out advice that even someone as relationally-challenged as I am is aware of. And no, those aren't the real names of the segments, of course) that the Feds are talking giving everyone in the U.S. a check - $800 for singles, $1600 for couples, to "stimulate the economy."

dot-dash-dash, dash, dot-dot-dash-dot?

(hee. At least a few people will get that. And no, I don't KNOW it, I had to look it up.)

Please - someone with more economic smarts than I have, tell me why this is a good idea? (I mean, if it is). I tend to think it's rather extremely a bad idea. For one thing: where is the gummint going to get this money? We already have a sizable national debt. Money has to come FROM somewhere.

Second, I can't help thinking that giving American consumers money is kind of like giving an 18 year old a 12-pack of beer on a Friday night. But that may just be because I know a number of people - otherwise intelligent and reasonable people - who have shocking levels of credit card debt, multiple mortgages, etc. because they are into "keeping up with the Joneses."

I also don't like the implication - which may be purely my stupidhead local news writers being stupid again - that we're all expected to spend this money, that to do otherwise is somehow unpatriotic. Because if you give me $800? Unless I need something, like, say, a new refrigerator, I will not be able to spend it. I cannot go out and merrily blow $800 on things I do not need. ($200, mmmmmmaybe, but not $800). I spent too many years as an impoverished grad student for that. If this comes to pass, and I get that check, it's either going straight into my savings account, or I'm figuring out some way to invest it. (Well, investing stimulates the economy, no?)

I don't know. I guess I read too much WWII history of rationing and encouraging people to buy less and such to be able to be comfortable with the concept of spending like a drunken sailor being my patriotic duty. I realize the world is a very different place now. (But then again - if I spent my $800 on a bunch of Chinese-made crap, is that really going to help our economy in the long term? I mean, other than the store or catalog I buy said crap out of?)

It also bothers me, I think, because it's just another instance (or so it seems to me) of the government saying, "Come here. Come over here to Mommy Gummint and have a suckle of her sugary teat." And you know? I don't like being obligated. And I think this will lead to some kind of obligation down the line. (And I get kind of uncomfortable with too many government handouts - because like the old saying, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and I could see some day in the future where it's said, "Well, you know, we did all these things for you, the least you can do is...." where the "..." is something I will find distasteful.

So I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong to be irritated at the Feds for looking at the economy and going "mmmmm, something's not right, let's throw THIS into the mix and see if it works." Maybe I'm just analogizing too much from a person I know who when, say, his computer's not working right, he starts randomly pushing buttons and screws the thing up MORE, instead of standing back and going, "Let me give this a little while to see if it corrects itself."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Time to make the donuts"

That used to be the tagline of a series of Dunkin Donuts ads - "Time to make the donuts." In them, kind of a mopey-looking guy would get up, go to work, and, well, make the donuts.

I often say "time to make the donuts" to myself as I head off to class. I think I'm more cheerful than the Dunkin Donuts guy (okay, maybe he was smiling INSIDE, but he had kind of a hang-dog look).

I like my work. I like teaching. Even when I fret about not being "good enough" or when I gripe about how societal pressures drive students to do things that madden me, I still enjoy it. It's fun. On a good day you feel like you've maybe lit a little bit of a fire, that you've got someone thinking about something in a way they hadn't before.

One thing I do - when I run across good websites (and there are a lot of good ones out there, even though there are a lot of crappy ones) that have information relevant to the class, I post the address on the board and on the course's online site.

I don't know if any of my students actually go and read the essays I link to, or check out the "interactive tool" on some USGS site, or if they want to learn more about the El Nino effect, but I hope at least one per semester does.

But the real reason I do it, is that I'm just kind of a learning junkie. I enjoy learning stuff. When I read something that shows me a new way to link up two things I teach, I'm beside myself with happiness - both because *I* learned something new and also because I have a way to (hopefully) teach a little better.]

I really don't know (despite the evaluation comments which are short and tend to be kind of stilted) what my students think of me. Do they think I'm a big geek, too enthusiastic about stuff? If that's the case, fine. I think there's a big place in this world for caring about stuff other people might not necessarily care about. Do they think I like to hear myself talk? (Well, what professor doesn't? It's a malady of the profession, kind of like how hatters used to go mad from the mercury fumes.) If they do, I hope it's not in a bad way. I've had students who complain about the profs who come in with "old yellow pads that are all crumbly and that have notes they wrote 25 years ago and haven't changed since" or "they just photocopy the first chapter of the textbook they wrote." I try not to do that - oh, I recycle material, I think everyone does, because of the labor involved in preparing new stuff each year. But I've been forcing myself to change up some of the graphics and some of the title slides I use - looking and reviewing each chapter the day before and thinking about what needs to be changed.

Because I want the class to be interesting. I do care what my students think about the material. (I also care about what they think about ME, but I realize that should be secondary to the material). I want them to get interested - to want to go and read the additional stuff I put up online or link to. I want them to walk out of class on the last day going, "That was a lot of work [maybe] but wow I learned a lot."

Right now, I'm in the hope-filled stage. I get like this every semester. (I think sometimes it is the hope that keeps me going instead of trying to do day-trading or Invest In Real Estate And Get Rich like the crummy Sunday radio programs claim you can do). My hope is that this semester will be the Best! Semester! Evah! and that the students will all be funny and alert and will talk about stuff and will come to lab and will care.

Sometimes this hope fades, as tiredness (both mine and the students') sets in mid-semester. Sometimes it's dashed, as it was the semester I had the BMOC in my class who came to class (apparently) solely to have a place to sit and text-message and to chat up the girls next to him.

But I still keep that hope - maybe we'll weed out the self-absorbed ones who think they deserve an A just for darkening the classroom door.

And right now, I have it. So I grin to myself as I walk down the hall, thinking, "Time to make the donuts."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You can't learn from spam...

Got a spam message today with the subject line:

"the shortest way to woman's heart is through a big [pintle]."

Anatomically, that's quite a frightening thought. And psychologically, I have to say: No. Wrong. At least not this woman.

I hope no one refers to their junk-mail folder as a source of romantic advice.

Two things I love: better together?

"Dude, you got LOLcat in my Mythbusters!"

"No, you got Mythbusters in my LOLCat"

(tip of the hat to the old 1970s/80s Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ads)

They also have a pretty nice photo of Jamie posted under the cut, by way of explanation. (Adam may make me laugh, but Jamie is my real favorite.)

I like how the commenter who got "firsties" (which is apparently a big deal on some web-fora but never meant that much to me) used the "Well, THERE'S your problem" line.

(actually, a lot of the comments on that are great: "Am I missing a hand?" "I reject your felinity and replace it with my own..." Dang, I love LOLCats. The "comment community" that's built up even makes it better - sure, there are people who come in and muddy up the place sometimes, but most of the commentators seem to keep the spirit of good fun going.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Orange Blossom Special

Yesterday evening (after performing a Thankless Volunteer Task) I came home, flopped down, and switched on the tv.

PBS happened to be running a documentary on the song, "Orange Blossom Special." I didn't pay total attention - I had to cook dinner and do laundry so I kind of wandered in and out of the room, but it looked pretty interesting.

The man who wrote the song apparently suffered from some mental illness (a couple of the commentators said schizophrenia). As he got older, he coped (I suppose these were pre-good-medication times, or he didn't want to/couldn't afford taking medication) by moving deep into the Everglades and only hanging out with the "characters" there.

His life was pretty sad, I guess, in some ways.

One thing I always enjoy about programs like this are all the different VERSIONS you get to hear. (If I had a free-form radio program on, say, a jazz station? One of my regular features, I think, would be to pick one song, or one well-known songwriter's work, and just take a whole hour and do nothing but play all the different versions I could find, both the "straight" serious versions, and the more "novelty" versions, if they existed).

At the very end - over the closing credits - they had a Mariachi band playing the song. That kind of thing makes me laugh with delight because it's so unexpected and yet it works. (The main changes I heard were that the "train whistle" part was done by a short burst from the trumpeters, the violin sections was maybe a little less virtuoso than, say Vassar Smith's version, and they all thumped the heels of their boots in time to give it rhythm).

Another thing that struck me was one of the bluegrass fiddlers - it was, I think, Vassar Smith - making the comment that, "People see us playing this stuff and they think it's simple." Huh? I see them playing "this stuff" and I go "Man, that must take skill" because it looks hard to me. (I used to play the clarinet and the piano - was never very good at either - so maybe that's my reaction as someone with a tiny bit of musical training.) Well, it looks like it takes skill but it also looks fun - fun in the sense of being satisfying, because it's something challenging but like most things that are challenging, it's a joy to do well.

At any rate - it was interesting (what I got to see of it) and it made me pull out my copy of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (which turns out to be the only thing close to "true" bluegrass in my collection) and listen to it a little again.

Interesting stuff.

Friday, January 11, 2008

minor triumph...

Though nothing of my doing.

I kept calling the local DMV to find out if this "Real ID" B.S. has come on line, if I need to "prove" who I am with the multifarious pieces of information that the governmental websites discuss (and they are not at all clear, as you'll see in a moment).

Kept getting a recording saying "No one is here right now" and then it hung up on me. (Which ticks me could at least have a recording with the hours, if there are wonky hours to the place. Which I guess is the case because when I called back now I got a person.)

So I asked the lady: what do I need to bring in to renew my driver's license (bracing for a long list of things - the government website lists birth certificate, social security card, some proof of where you live like a paystub...several other things, and it makes it sound like you need ALL that stuff).

"Is it a digital license?" she asked.

Huh? It's a real laminated piece of plastic - it's not on a cd or anything.

"I'm sorry" I responded, "What exactly does that mean?"

"It has a barcode on the back."

I started fumbling in my purse and said, "What if it has no barcode? What do I need to do then?"

"Well, first," she said, "Don't let it expire, it's a lot harder if it expires. Then, bring the license in with your social security card and we can renew it and make it digital."

"Uhh...that's a problem" (I'm still fumbling in my purse) "I'm not exactly sure where that card is. Would a birth certificate work?"

"Oh, sure! That will be fine." (By then I had found the license and discovered that yes, in fact, it has the coveted barcode. I tell her this and she tells me all I need is me, the license, and the renewal fee to renew. I think I WILL take proof-of-address and my birth certificate though, just to be safe.)

(And now I think of it, I remember them scanning my fingerprint the last time I renewed. I guess that's part of this thing.)

Win. Or at least, Win, once I successfully renew.

And I will have to say, of the four states I've lived (and had a driver's license in), she was the most helpful DMV employee I've ever encountered.


It's almost here, yay!

And I have some plans.

I've started (in kind of a small way) a change to my eating plan. (I do not call it a diet. I will not call it a diet. Because "diet" is another word, in my mind, for "deprive yourself until you have no tolerance left and you run around snapping other people's heads off for fun." And yes, I used to "diet" and that was pretty much what happened around Day 10 or so).

This is, instead: eat more nutrients. And limit "fun foods" to an average of 200 calories per day. ("Fun foods" - sweets, cookies, Chee-toes, potato chips [which I am really not fond at all of so it's no sacrifice to give them up], pop [ditto what I said for the potato chips], etc.)

Simple plan. I don't have to count calories if it's regular "nutritious" food, because frankly, I do pretty darn well when it comes to regular "nutritious" food. It's the snacking, or the emotional eating, or the desserts that do me in.

(All bets are off however once Christmas 2008 rolls around; I don't want to be "that woman" who minces around and goes, "but I can't eeeeeeeeeaaaaaaat that." And all bets are off if there is a net poundage change of 0 or a positive number come my annual checkup in May.)

(And yeah, it might be tough at times to stick to it. Though I will say I already decided to avoid a grocery-store "King Cake" that someone brought in the other day: looked at it, thought, "Is this worth not eating a couple squares of dark chocolate after dinner tonight?" decided "No" and left it be. And if I hadn't left myself the option of "this or chocolate" - making the option "this or nothing but regret later" I might have been more tempted. I do better with concrete things and concrete choices.)

At any rate: another thing that used to frustrate me back in my "dieting" days was the glacial pace of the "reward" of being thinner, stronger, my clothes fitting better, random guys whistling at me on the street [not that that ever really happened much but I suspect that's partly because I lived in a northern city that prided itself on being "enlightened" in those days, and random wolf-whistles at women were seen as a form of harassment]. (And yeah, yeah - I exercise too. I'm just one of those unfortunates who has a body that really, really likes to hang on to the fat it has. So I'm doing everything "right" and dropping maybe 4 ounces a week, while someone else I know cuts out one of the several Cokes he drinks in a day and loses 6 pounds a month...part of what kills me on these plans is what I see as the fundamental unfairness of that.)

So I decided to help this thing along a bit, I'll set up a "carrot" for myself. (because "sticks" never work very well for me): if I can stick to my goals of eating at least five servings of fruits and/or vegetables each day, if I can get "enough" lean protein, and if I can keep the average "fun" calorie expenditure 200 or less per day, every 2 weeks I get a treat of some type.

(No, not a food treat, I hasten to add. I'm smart enough to know that).

It can be little - a paperback copy of a mystery I want to read - or big.

This week, I decided because of the way time falls (I'm less busy this week, next week I'm tied up with volunteer work Saturday, the weather's good right now and it might not be later on), even though this is just the end of the first week, I am getting a big treat.

There is a smallish city to the south of me that has fantastic shopping. A couple of quilt shops, many antique stores, some of those stores that sell "stuff you don't need" (but that is, for me at least, life-enriching). So I'm going to take tomorrow and go shopping and just walk around the stores and if I see something I can use or that I want, I'm going to buy it.

(This is also predicated on the fact that I received a nice-sized check - payment for something I did a long time ago but suspected I was never going to see the money for - so it's "found money" in my book. And though I usually put "found money" in my savings account, this once I'm just going to enjoy blowing it.)

There's also a nice restaurant there with good pie. And I'm going to get a slice of pie. (Another rule of the game: if I want something more than the "fun calories" for a given day, I can "bank" for it by reducing the "fun calories" on adjacent days. So I'm doing that.)

I'm so looking forward to going. I have some research work to do this afternoon but if I get that done, I won't even need to come in tomorrow - so I can spend the whole day on me.

Part of it is the pleasure of being away from my usual of the things about being "away" is that people can't call you up semi-last-minute and ask you to do something (I get that a lot. Don't know if I have needy friends or if I have an invisible "sucker" tattoo on my forehead, but I often get called in the evening to do something for the next day, something I don't particularly want to do).

Part of it is all the possibility - so many things to look at. I like antique shops particularly because of the chances of seeing something I've never seen before (I do not feel that way about the mall). All of the things I could consider buying and taking home with me.

Part of it is getting to spend a day with my own thoughts - not having to entertain anyone else, not having to be "on stage" with teaching or leading youth group or anything. My only responsibility (well, outside of the normal social niceties which I'd regard anyway) is to me, and my own contentment. Selfish? Maybe. But it's just one day now and then.

Part of it - especially in the quilt shops - is being around people who are enthusiastic about something I'm enthusiastic about. Who share my interest. Who can't wait to show me something they think I'd love, or that they love themselves.

At any rate: I promise not to become a tiresome diet-blogger. This may be the last time I mention this (unless it works great guns and I get to put up a very self-congratulatory post in a couple of months). But it seems to be something that will work for me, without feeling too much like I've locked myself in a cage with a chocolate cake sitting just out of my reach on a table, and I have to sit and see it and smell it every day while I gnaw on celery and Rye-Krisps. It's a lot easier to turn something down when I tell myself, "You could have this, or you could have a couple squares of Green and Black's Maya Gold after dinner" because it gives me the opportunity. (And it gives me something to look forward to; I very much need things to look forward to or I lose stamina fast.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

little stuff that makes me happy

....Les Miles letting out a whoop in the press conference (after his team won), and then grinning and saying, "I just had to do that."

Those little things make me smile. Little shows of enthusiasm or spontaneous joy. I'm not particularly a football fan (or an LSU fan), but I have to admit Miles' response to the win kind of made my day.

sign of the times...

...I guess.

In the building where I teach today, there are big wide hallways. These hallways have groups of chairs here and there, between the classrooms, so students between classes have a place to sit and study (or sleep, or chat, or read).

Well, today I noticed some new signs. Computer printed, 8 1/2 by 11 sheets, laminated and stuck to the wall about every 10 feet.

They said:


While I don't argue it's a useful admonition, it makes me kind of sad that it has to be there - I mean, the people sitting in the chairs KNOW they are no more than 10 feet from a classroom door - and our classrooms are not soundproofed, and I, for one, prefer to leave the door to the room open (in case anyone arrives late, or if someone has a coughing fit and has to go to the water fountain).

I mean - you'd think people would realize that talking loudly disrupts the classes in process. (I know I have had to talk to a few people over the years, mainly when I was proctoring exams and the people who finished early would go hang out in the hall - and sometimes even DISCUSS the exam they had just finished. Uh, guys? You do know there are people still TAKING the exam?)

Usually I'd just go to the door, glare out in the hall at the offenders, and loudly-but-not-slamming close the door.

But you know? I wonder if this isn't how life is getting to be, at least for a while: that everyone needs little etiquette reminders everywhere (like at the post office: "Don't talk on your cell phone while we are serving you." Or on the train: "Parents, please do not let your children run unattended up and down the aisles.")

I wonder if this is some kind of (il)logical extension of the "CYA advisements" (or "dummy-rules") that come on so many products these days - like the infamous cardboard sunshade that had three lines of directions on how to set it up and take it down, and a fourth line saying, "Caution: do not drive with sunshade in place." What I mean by this is, have we decayed to the point as a society that we're going to do something unless we're specifically told not to, either because we figure "if they don't tell us it's dangerous, it must be safe" or "I'm going to do what I want and if it disturbs other people, the Hell with them"?

I don't know. I will say in my class this morning there was a guy right on the front row with a Bluetooth piece wedged in his ear, which made me shudder inwardly a bit (He didn't use it while in class, at least)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

crediting spam

I received no fewer than 50 spam messages this afternoon with the same subject:

"Delete Bad Things on your Credit Cheap."

Somehow, I see the Bad Things as being kind of like monsters or dust bunnies, and being able to delete them is like zapping them with a ray gun. However, I don't want to use my credit to get rid of dust bunnies; a broom is much cheaper and easier.

Monsters, though: all bets are off if monsters show up.

I got a bunch more that said:

"Have-A Credit in a Month"

I don't know when Mario and Luigi got into the spam business, but it sounds like maybe times are getting tight at Nintendo? Perhaps they're being squeezed out in favor of the Miis on Wii?

another thought

...Perhaps because I'm so reticent to bring it up when someone says something that offends me or rubs me the wrong way (because I don't want to look like a whiner, or I believe that people really are entitled to their opinions even if I disagree), that's why I'm so irritated by someone lighting in to me for what I perceived as a fairly neutral, joking comment.

One thing I've learned:

No matter how lightly you try to tread, no matter how you try to couch things in good humor, no matter how neutral you try to be, there still WILL be people who get offended at you.

Short of having no opinions whatsoever on anything, or never speaking/writing anything, I don't know a way around this. I wish there were. Or I wish I were better at saying to myself, "I deserve to have an opinion on this matter and this person is just being too sensitive."


(And it often tends to be people who are, shall we say, less than perfectly-informed on a matter who seem to take the most umbrage)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Did he really say that?

The "People's Choice Awards" is on in the other room (I had been watching NCIS and got a phone call and didn't get back to switch the set off*)

Robin Williams (or so I'm guessing by the voice) was on.

Did he REALLY do the old "Rick 'em, rack 'em, ruck 'em, ruck 'em, take that ball and really ffffff...ight!" cheer? And get a big laugh for it?

My MOM used to tell that joke. This writer's strike is really screwing things up, I guess.

(Though seriously, my mom is pretty cool.)

(*I know a lot of people love awards shows, but I just cannot get into them. Part of it is I get disappointed at how inarticulate some of the entertainers I like really are, and part of it is I'm mildly disgusted by the concept of "swag bags" where people who are already making very large amounts of money are given a large amount of spendy stuff for free, just in the hopes that they might be photographed wearing the sunglasses they were given, or mention the free moisturizer in an interview. But mostly it's because awards shows just simply don't interest me)


Emily, you're right.

I do tend to discount comments that have "crap" or other coarse words in them. While there's a time and a place for those words, a class evaluation is not it. (I wonder how he would feel if I wrote him* a recommendation and used the word "crap" in it in some capacity.)

I once asked the secretary (who is charged with typing these up so we can't guess who wrote them from handwriting) if there was ever a comment she "censored" or chose not to type. She said there was one, it pertained to a person who taught some of the medically-related classes and who was very fit and toned - the comment had something to do with a student saying he'd like her (the teacher) to come to class naked some day, but it was even ickier than that, according to the secretary.

Seriously. I do think most people don't understand how to do critiques of things these days - it's all either fawning praise (I don't even bother to read the "reviews" of new quilting books in my quilting magazines because they're all just unqualified plugs) or it's tearing to shreds (but even worse than that: tearing to shreds with included ad hominem attacks). It's really not unlike the tone a lot of politics have taken on - you cannot disagree with someone's IDEAS, you have to tell the world how he is a crook or a liar or is in some other way an unsavory person. (And while I'd like to know if the person I might be electing is an unsavory person or not, still, it doesn't tell me much about a candidate if all he's doing is running down his opponent).

I also never wrote "mean" things on my evaluations - and I had some profs I really hated, including one who probably violated a university rule about nepotism (hiring a spouse to tutor in the class, and then seemingly intentionally making the exams very difficult) and another who was openly rude in class and to everyone who came to his office hours looking for help on a difficult topic. But I rarely wrote about those kind of things, unless it was to comment on something that I thought could be improved.

I actually wrote a lot of "nice" comments, now, I realize. And I realize that though they may not be "helpful" in the sense of being a tool for improvement, they do kind of help to let the prof know there's someone who appreciated the class.

(*Okay - and this may offend some of you - but I'm going back to the generic "he" and "him" when I don't know the gender of a person. It gets too cumbersome to say "he or she" and then continue on from there. In grade school I was taught that the male pronouns were the "generic" pronouns - in other words, when you didn't know, or there was a mixed-gender group, you used the male pronoun. I know some of the Romance languages still do that, despite attempts at PC-izing. [I'd love to see a PC gender-"equality" crusader who is all hepped up about "inclusive language" go head to head with some of the crustier members of the Academie Francaise on that topic. I know that French is (was? at least it was when I was learning French) one of the languages where you used the generic male pronoun.)

Monday, January 07, 2008


I dislike reading the student evaluations.

(Even this morning, getting up, realizing they'd be waiting for me when I came in, I felt kind of anxious and pukey).

I'm not sure why; they're never very BAD. Or at least, if there's a negative comment, there are positive comments to balance them out (but it's the negative ones I remember, that come and niggle at me when I lie in bed at night).

I do get a lot of complaints about "too much work" or "too much information," but you know? I sometimes tend to discount those. Especially when I have students who went on to grad school coming back and thanking me for all the detailed information. I don't know. For one of my classes (the one I get the most "too much work" complaints in), it's hard to cut down - it's an important "majors" class, really kind of a capstone for these folks, and I feel the need to be very detailed and to have a certain level of rigor.

And in my non-majors class, I got one comment asking for fewer assignments and another asking for more. Which I assume to cancel each other out, meaning I'm probably doing things the right way (or as close to the "right way" as you ever can. You're never going to please everyone).

I had a friend in grad school who said if she was getting equal amounts of complaints and praise from the students, she figured she was "shooting down the middle" just right: too much praise suggested to her she was "too easy" or trying to hard to be their friend; too many complaints meant she wasn't doing what she should as a teacher. (I wish I had that kind of self-confidence; the complaints to me are still like little needles).

I did get two comments in one class that were VERY positive, that said how much they learned and how well I paced the class. But then, I got another one that basically said, "I'm never going to use this crap. Why did I have to learn it? This class was too hard."

Could you please rephrase that first sentence in the form of a constructive criticism? I mean, how does it help me to learn that you believe you're never going to use the "crap" I taught? (and never say "never," my friend.)

I think that's one of my biggest issues with student evaluations: people do not know how to constructively criticize. There is useful criticism: for example; "I had a really hard time reading what was written on the chalkboard. In the future using overhead projector might work better." or "There was not enough time given to complete the assignments; they need to be made earlier." Something I can DO something about. (And what's even better? If someone has a problem if they come to me or email me DURING the semester so I can actually correct the problem then and there. I mean, I ask if everything's going well during class, but I know some people are too shy to speak up).

But someone telling me, "I'm never going to use the crap I learned in this class" - well, that frankly tells me more about the person writing the statement than it does about my teaching style. (And if the class really IS useless to a majority of the people who are required to take it, that is not my call; that has to be something discussed with the department chair and the department as a whole).

But that's so often what you see in the negative comments - not specific things that can help us improve (I also had a student in my non-majors class say, "I don't like science, I'll never like science, so I can't think of anything to suggest for this class"), but either lashing out or complaints.

And, by the same token: praise is nice. It makes me feel good that people learned a lot in my class, or that they thought I was a kind person, but it doesn't really help me to improve (other than, maybe, to let me know that I'm doing okay). One student did say that he or she liked how I would regularly explain how the current material related to what they had previously learned, which is helpful, because it tells me that that's something I should continue to do and maybe enhance in the future.

But I find it hard to know what to do with the evaluation comments. Part of me wants to totally discount them, say "a lot of these people are people who slacked off in class, who expected to be allowed to hand in assignments late, who plagiarized" and therefore probably don't make a fair assessment. And part of me wants to go very John Houseman in The Paper Chase and remind the students that it's a tough world out there, jobs in the sciences are few, and you're a lot more likely to get the career you want if you work hard and take all the opportunities you can get to learn and gain experience and knowledge.

But then again, part of me wants to sort of curl up and die and go "but they HATE me!!!!" I admit it, I have delusions of being the professor on campus that everyone loves, that everyone wants to take the classes of - all of that damn Mr. Chips stuff.

So it's hard to have those two competing philosophies - especially in a world where, by and large, hard work isn't particularly valued (if you question that, look at the lives of the celebutantes, look at the popularity of playing the lotto for "big winnings"). It's a tough sell to tell people on the first day of class, "You will be reading hard books. You will be expected to go to the primary literature. You will be expected to do research on your own."

And the fact is? I'm just not charismatic enough as a person to make people work hard (if they're not already into that) and love it. I'm not a Jaime Escalante or any of those other "hero teachers" that they make movies about. And I don't know how to BECOME that kind of charismatic person who can push people until they're at absolutely their outer limits of ability and comfort and still make them love it. The fact of the matter is, if someone isn't already internally motivated by the time they get to my class, I'm not going to instill that in them.

I wish that I could. If there were one thing I could change about myself, it would be that - to somehow understand better how to relate to people, to light that fire in them. But just as I fail to get that people are joking sometimes when they are - and respond in earnest, which is either awkward or embarrassing - I kind of think I also lack the charisma gene.

So I don't know. It's hard to give up the childish delusions-of-grandeur and accept that I'm good but not great (and will never be great) and that no matter what I try to do to improve, there are still going to be people who sit there like lumps and who complain that they'll "never use the crap they learned" in my class. (And yeah, I know, I'm personalizing it, and I should accept that it's them, not me - but I still deep down have this Save The World mentality where I think that if I were just a bit better, or a bit more exciting, or a bit more SOMETHING, people would have these epiphanies where they'd never again believe that anything they were learning was useless "crap.")

Saturday, January 05, 2008


I want this to be a good year.

I want to be able to do good things - both "good things" in the sense of things that are beneficial to my career, and "good" in the sense of a wider good, of improving the world a little tiny bit.

I want good things to happen in this year - things that surprise me but make me happy, things that make me happy that aren't of my instigation.

I want to spend less time worrying about stuff that either may never come to pass, or stuff that I don't personally have control over.

I want to be better at "filtering" - that is, when someone criticizes me or something I've done, to be able to look at the criticism and not immediately, reflexively, respond "well, that means I suck, then, and I shouldn't even try" but to look at it and think, "are they really criticizing me because they think I need to improve? Or are they upset about something and lashing out? Or are they doing it because they think I'll respond, and they get some kind of sick pleasure from making a person feel bad?"

I want to be better at saying "no" and setting boundaries when boundaries need to be set. I need to remind myself that it's rare that I'm the "only" person who can do something, and I want to remind myself that I deserve to have some free time as well.

I want to spend more time thinking. One thing I miss when I am very busy is having time to contemplate, to think, to try to fit the things I read together into some kind of a framework.

I want to read more in the coming year.

I want to go somewhere I've not been before - just get in the car and drive there - to challenge myself. I'm (you might not believe this) actually kind of shy and it's sometimes hard for me to go new places because I get myself into a funk of thinking I'll not be welcomed, or I'll get lost, or I'll not know what to say or do when I'm there.

I want to avoid political fights, arguments over religion - just generally things that sap my energy and don't get anyone anywhere. I don't mind DISCUSSING things but it seems too often in our culture discussion and disagreement fast become argument. And I said a long time ago that I don't argue anything that I see someone as believing for primarily emotional reasons. And it seems a lot of political views - at least those I see at the university - are held for mainly emotional reasons.

I want not to get caught up in stupid stuff - especially stuff that doesn't impact me directly and over which I have no control. So Britney's screwing up her life yet again? Well, I have my life that I can watch over and not screw up, but I can't do anything to help her, and her screwing up doesn't affect me. So although I'd hope she gets it together before she heads down the tragic path others have plowed, I'm not going to devote much of my psychic energy to dealing with the news of her life.

I want to not feel guilty for things I enjoy. Like reading mystery novels. I shouldn't say to myself, "You know, you really should be reading "Anna Karenina" instead" or something like that. And likewise, I will not feel guilty for buying dvds of movies or television shows I enjoy and watching them more than once. If an episode of "House" is good the first time, it will still be good the third or fourth time.

I don't really do New Year's Resolutions because so many of them seem like a reflexive response - sort of a punishment for what you did and enjoyed over the holidays. Yes, I gained a pound or two over Christmas. But you know what? I enjoyed the food that caused me to gain those couple of pounds. They came from dinners around a table with my family, or from Christmas cookies, or from going out for bubble teas with my mom. I'm not going to immediately snap back and go "that was BAD and that was WRONG and I now must eliminate all sugar from my diet in penance for that" because to me, that seems to be denying the good feelings that circulated around the times of eating. (That does not mean I am not going back on the healthier eating regimen I usually follow; it actually will kind of be a welcome change to go back to less-rich food. And I will probably drop that pound or two of Christmas weight in a month or less.)

But I do like to look out over January and hope...maybe we should do New Year's Wishes instead of New Year's sounds more fun, and more hopeful. (You can still "wish" to get in shape or lose weight or quite smoking or whatever...but it seems more hopeful somehow, more positive. More like calling on a fairy godmother instead of an inner drill sergeant).