Sunday, June 25, 2006

auf wiedersehen

We're off for places afar tomorrow afternoon. I won't be back at my blog until sometime after we get back (July 11).

(comment moderation is still turned on, so if you post anything, it won't show up until I get back. Don't take it personally!!!!)

Until we meet again...

Friday, June 23, 2006

i can feel the temperature risin'

Question: What happens next when:

1) you are in the process of wiping out your "emergency money" due to a extravagant European vacation

2) you are just days from leaving the country for several weeks

3) it is hot outside. very very hot

4) to clarify #2, or to look at it in another way, you still have several days to be at home before leaving

Answer: your air conditioner breaks.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

where is the love?

Today's thought: It's good to be a cat.

I've been staring at the computer screen for a good 30 minutes and have yet to come up with any coherent, meaningful post. Which, I may add, is highly frustrating to me because this is the perfect night for me to add to my blog. DH is off at class, the kids are quiet and watching some documentary on TV (I have the documentary king and queen in my family), I'm halfway finished with my beer so I'm feeling mellow, and tonight begins my THREE WEEK vacation from work. And yet my mind remains a vast wasteland of mostly useless thoughts. Sigh.

Here's what I've also been staring at:

The woods in back of our house are most definitely moving closer every year. They're nice and lush and green and gorgeous, but the fact that we are slowly being enclosed could creep me out if I thought about it too much.

I've also spent most of the day today irritated with our current administration. (now there's a suprise...not.)

My coworker (WONDERBOY) and I have been spent the last several weeks digging through data from the last flight campaign and have been running and rerunning our model trying to make sense of things, but have mostly ended up with our heads in our hands while we stare forlornly across the office trying to come up with that epiphany that will suddenly change the world. Damned data. Just when you think you have a handle on how things work, we have to go and have some reality injected into the mix, which invariably complicates things.

WONDERBOY is awesome - he's is one of those excellent scientists with a penchant for finding the truth. He's incredibly curious about how things really work, as am I. We spend our days scrabbling for understanding. We are frustrated and exhilarated and adore our work and, always at the core, is honesty. I have the best job in the world.

But none of that matters so much when you've got an administration that has decided that it is perfectly acceptable to toss away science if it doesn't fit in with your political goals. The number of ways that the government is abusing and twisting and disregarding science is frightening. I don't understand why they are able to get away with it. Does the public not realize what is going on? The Union of Concerned Scientists has pages of examples of this misuse, and it just breaks my heart. Yes, I take this personally. I know WONDERBOY and I are not unusual or unique. Scientists, as a whole, are totally geeky and weird, but for the most part, they are honestly curious, and have dedicated their careers to understanding the facts. Why? Does it even make any difference now?

The Union of Concerned Scientists is running a scientific integrity editorial cartoon contest.
If I was at all artistically talented, I'd be tempted to enter. If you have any ideas, or enter yourself, let me know.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

turning bad into worse

So around here in the news lately, is an awful story. A 14 year old kid and his 12 year old friend were temporarily left in a Jeep with the keys in the ingnition and the motor running at a convenience store, at which point they took the car for an impromptu joyride that resulted in a horrific accident whereby they lost control and ran the Jeep into the wall of a home, striking and killing a young woman (a wife, a mother) who was sitting and watching T.V.

A true nightmare, in every sense of the word. This woman's children were upstairs playing at the time that their mom was killed out of the the sacred space of comfort that they called "home."

I didn't think the story could get worse. Until I heard that prosecuters have charged the 14 year old as an adult, and if convicted, he would end up with something like 40 years in prison.

And then the whole thing became worse yet, as I read local letters to the editor. (I know, I know - I shouldn't read such things, but I like to. It's a way of keeping my finger on the pulse of the society I live in...even when that pulse makes me pull away in horror). The vitriol that spewed forth in these letters was horrifying. I haven't counted, but it seems like the vast (VAST, in capital letters) majority of those who are the sort to feel compelled to write a letter to the editor are ready to hang this child, to tar and feather him, to strip him of any semblance of humanity, and to throw him out into the wasteland of irretrievable souls.

This is a frickin' CHILD!!!!!!!!!

Yah, he may be stupid, he may be thoughtless and careless and worse, he may be irresponsible and in need of help, he may be a "bad kid", but he is a fourteen year old child. He had a moment of stupid behavior...I can relate to that. I wonder how many of us, if faced with circumstances that we couldn't fully comprehend as a child, would react as a child, or would exhibit more adult-like restraint? How many of us, but for the luck of the draw, could be finding ourselves on the brink of a lifetime of incarceration with a world of criminals when we are not even cresting the brink of adulthood? See the thing is - he really was just being stupid. He didn't set out to harm anyone. The end result was beyond horrific, but it wasn't his intent.

I understand the anger here. The anger is on behalf of these young girls who have suddenly found themselves without a mother - how can we even comprehend the devastation of those lives? But to turn that anger onto another child? I just can't do that. Isn't the definition of humanity the ability to overcome gut emotions and react in a way that is...humane? Caring? Beneficial to society? I don't know? What IS the definition of humanity? How many of us have really moved beyond the ability to follow that knee-jerk reaction? Are we really so collectively immature as that?

Gah. Heavy stuff. I just keep thinking about this stupid 14 year old and I want to first knock him over the head and make him see what he has done, and then I want to hold him and protect him from the angry vultures that want to peck his eyes out to make themselves feel better. It's a difficult world sometimes, it is.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

roses are just as nice today

It's been more than a week since my last update, which I just know threw all both of you my faithful readers into a tailspin. My apologies. Actually, the passage of time washed under me mostly unnoticed during the great END OF SCHOOL YEAR AND BASEBALL SEASON week, while I was up to my eyebrows making party cookies and buying gifts and attending ceremonies. On the last day of school, I picked my two kids up after tearfully clinging to their teachers and begging them to move up a grade next year (quit laughing, sister and mom teachers), then walked them out to the van admist lines of teachers and staff blowing bubbles and party horns. LOL. I love this school. We then had our own personal celebration with K and her two kids at Ben and Jerry's ice cream. It was raining, so Q finished up his milk shake then spent 30 minutes dancing with his umbrella on the sidewalk in the rain. I was waiting for the musical to kick in, but it didn't. It's too bad life really isn't a musical. Some moments are just made for that.

Our summer break activities thus far include sleeping in until after 9:30 (gasp - even ME!), and having late breakfasts of chocolate chip waffles (Four for Q, three for E, and, with great restraint, zero for myself, while I try to figure out how it is possible for me to be gaining weight while eating next to nothing...well, not counting movie popcorn or pizza). We've been mountain biking in the state park, which, in hindsight, wasn't quite the best age-appropriate activity for E, and had water play at a friend's house, which included a gy-normous water slide that a friend bought for anyone's use throughout the summer - how cool will that be??? I love the slower moving days of summer.

Last night I took the kids to see the movie Cars. It was cute, though not "Nemo on the race-track," like I've read in some reviews. There just aren't many Nemo or Shreks that come along. Anyway, one of the underlying themes of the movie was the loss of small towns with the development of the big bad Interstates, and how we have changed from friendly, helping your neighbor, stop-and-smell-the-roses types to fast-lane movers with the single-minded focus of getting to our destination, thus losing a big part of our "humanity" in the modern world.

This kind of stuff does not sit so well with me. I have never really bought into grousing for the "good old days." You cannot convince me that people of the past were better off or friendlier or had better morals than we do today. There are certainly components of past eras that we can look back on and see that were nice, but it's not fair or accurate to take those components in isolation. Small-town America wouldn't seem so nice if you were magically plunked there by a time machine as a woman who was limited to being a homemaker (which isn't a bad thing to be except that you had NO CHOICE) with an abusive husband who spent all day desperately trying to juggle keeping a home clean and raise a bunch of kids without modern day appliances, maybe with a baby on a hip, and no way to make things right. You may or may not have even had the right to VOTE (it hasn't even been 100 years since we've had that, you know). How about being a man with a large family struggling to feed your children? The things I worry about now are whether I'm enrolling my kids in too many after-school classes, not whether I will be able to find another potato for the table. You know, things like rape, child abuse and spousal abuse existed back then, as they do now. It's just that back then, you'd not talk about it. I wonder how many rape victims were able to be helped afterward by counseling? If we go back too far, then we've gotten ourselves into a world of bitter discrimination against those folks unfortunate enough to have been born with dark skin. I wouldn't want to live in the "good old days" as a black man.

Here's an article I found that addresses those who think "yesteryear" is the place to be.

I don't think people are essentially different in a moral sense today than from any time in the past. I think we have more opportunities to be better educated, and more opportunities for travel, and more opportunities to help not only our neighbors, but also our global neighbors. I find the friendliness of "small-town America" in my neighborhood, and at my kids' school. When one of my friends got diagnosed with breast cancer and is undergoing treatment (a treatment which, btw, would not have existed in small-town America of the past), the way her circle of friends has banded together to provide support, both organizational and emotional, is no less heart-warming than those types of circles of yesteryear.

One good thing that can come from remembering the past is the opportunity to learn from it. I have no problem with finding components of the past that worked and finding ways to make them work in the present. Actually, that's kind of what Cars did. In the end, the small town was reinvigorated and they all lived happily ever after even with SUVs and today's media madness (oops - hope I didn't ruin the plot for anyone).

So there you are. In the meantime, I'm happy to be living in the era that I am, despite worries like global warming and climate change and AIDS and terrorism. It's never going to be a ideal world. There are always challenges and sadness, and evil. It's part of the whole picture of life. But you know what? It's the only world we have, and this is the time we're in. There's nothing to stop us from smelling the roses that have grown during this present year. I think they probably smell just as wonderful as the ones did from the past.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

boring (for others) trip stuff

I am so excited!!
We'll start out and end up in Eisenstadt, Austria.

Then this is one of the places we'll be in Germany (alas, only for one day). The views are making me hyperventilate (check out their home page). We'll be there for a visit to Ludwig's castles ... or castle - don't know how much time it'll take to get to them (it).

And while in Munich, we'll be a minute or two walk from the Glockenspiel.

I'm afraid this trip is going release my wanderlust like mad. I've been having traveling dreams again. I want to stick to the real thing, though. This time, we went to Mexico to see a NASCAR-like race. ??? No one in my immediate family is a fan. In fact, DH would rather stick toothpicks under his fingernails. But nonetheless, there it is, now joining my travel dreams to the African coast, Australia, India, Scotland (I've actually been there in real life too), and Ireland.

Monday, June 05, 2006

nice. not.

I am just not a very nice person. I'm really not. It totally sucks because I'd like to be nice, but it's just not there for me. I got in a minor debate/argument with my kids' principal at the PTA meeting tonight over funding for the chess club. (There's your fodder for dweeb of the year award - and I just handed it to you). But see, she was WRONG (clearly). Seriously - she really was wrong. She was stating her philosphy about funding select groups of students, and I had several clear examples of where that philosophy was violated. I guess it wasn't really so much that I debated her, but I guess I kind of ... interrupted her. But it was the TIME!! We were running late, and she was clearly wrong. I was only trying to speed up the debate process.


Told ya. Not a nice person.

I told DH that when our kids end up with horrible teachers for the first time next year, I'll know why. Dammit. Four years of PTA board work down the drain for the stinkin' chess club.

The chess club...which reminds me. I've sent this photo to some of you already, but this is what I found in the local paper the other day. It clearly explains just why my darling daughter is such a devoted member of the chess club.

She is in her own personal heaven there.

Friday, June 02, 2006

the kink in the journey

A very effective way for me to work off stress is to walk. For years and years, I have gone on long walks and used the time to let my brain decompress. When I first started working, I was living alone with my first baby Callias, my australian shepherd. I would take her with me and we would wander together for literally hours through the woods and trails in the enormous city park I lived near. I'd wonder what kind of life I was starting to build - whether I'd made the right call with my career in atmospheric science, and I'd wonder (despair) if I'd EVER find the right person to marry. When I was working on my PhD, I'd walk and walk and wonder if I would EVER finish the blasted thesis and if it would be anywhere close to good enough. I'd wonder why I was putting myself throught this turmoil. I'd equate my academic journey with my walks and strive to convince myself that I really was making progress and going somewhere. I remember in particular my walks during the fall through the gorgeous autumn colors, and the air with just a hint of chill in it. I'd have such a pleasant mix of anxiety and anticipation in my heart. I could feel that my life was unrolling in front of me, and there was much excitement there.

I walked and walked in the months before my wedding, making plans in my head and wondering what lay ahead for me. Were we doing the right thing? Really? How could I possibly know if this person was going to be "the one" for the rest of my life? Was it all just one big guess? A foolish leap? When I moved away from the city park, I simply changed to taking walks during the day at work. We're blessed with plenty of trees around the center, some of which are amazingly old and huge, so it was a fine substitute for the park.

(Here's one of the awesome old trees that was totally devastated by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.)

I remember walking in frustration when DH and I were trying to buy our house and were hitting the all-to-be-expected home-buying obstacles. I would walk during these times and smell the sweet air and feel the sun and tell myself that everything really would keep moving along, and that before I knew it, I'd be done with my current challenge. I walked and walked when I was suffering from health anxiety and felt for certain I was afflicted with chronic disease (an all-too-real illness in and of itself, I finally learned). I walked when I was pregnant and was exploding with anticipation and anxiety over bringing an entire new HUMAN into the world. I walk, I walk.

So today after lunch, I headed out for a walk along my normal route as I've done tens or hundreds of times before - across the street, down and around the sidewalk and behind the warehouse where my division was forced to live for a year during renovations. I walked, and realized something was missing. Because recently, my walks have been entirely peaceful. I smell the sweet air and feel the sun on my skin, and just bask in the fact that...I am. Well gee. Things are good and right and I am ... happy. And I don't know what to do with that.

It feels odd.

This is what I spent time thinking about on my walk today after I realized I was at peace. We are programmed to think that life is all about overcoming obstacles, that it is the process of getting somewhere that should be our goal, that when we feel are there and there and we are at peace, we are not sure, then, how exactly to live. How do all the fairy tales END after all? "And they lived happily ever after." Once you are happy, you are done, apparently. This is the basis of so many religions, too. We are "stuck" here in this supposedly sinful, awful world and the goal is ultimately only reached at the end of the journey, when we die and move on to another place. How much must we miss, by focusing on the idea that we must be on a journey to chase that elusive happiness?
How much are we missing by focusing on the wrong thing?

I don't think that things need to be perfect in order to be happy. There are plenty of changes I would love to make in my life after all - the current administration being a big one, of course. I could do with fewer problems that my loved ones are having, and it'd be great to have children that don't explode into tears when their sibling breathes the wrong way. I think peace is less about having what you desire and more about desiring what you have. Or at least accepting it. Desire is probably the wrong word. Maybe I should say "happiness is about having what you have."

I had my job performance review last week. It was all good. I had a very good paper published last month, and thanks to my awesome team leader who brings in funding for the three of us and keeps us excited and interested in our work, we have been productive. Dave (my boss) gave me all the obligatory kudos and then asked me, "Is there anything that is bothering you? Anything we can make better for you?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "Nothing - things are good."

He persisted, "Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? What training can we offer you? What kind of career path plans do you want to make? Where do you want to be?"

I shrugged again. "Um. Dave, I am there. I am already doing exactly what I want to do. I'm happier at work than I've ever been before."

He nodded and my performance review was over. But you know what? I felt uncomfortable. What kind of loser has no ambition, no plans? Does feeling content equate with apathy? With stagnation?

How is it that we humans set out on a journey to find happiness and peace, but have no understanding at all of what to do if we find it? Are we focused on the wrong thing? Do we suffer forever from the "grass is greener somewhere over yonder" syndrome? How is it that I should feel wrong for wanting to stay where I am?

I'm feeling very Buddhist today. It's not the journey. It's really not. It's that we are.