Monday, November 02, 2009

some random weirdness

November is NaBloPoMo, which translates into National Blog Posting Month. Someone has decided to form a national movement to encourage daily blog posting for one month a year. Why? No idea. I'm certain there is some advertising revenue in there somewhere for somebody.
In any case, while I don't get particularly excited about made-up movements like this, I suppose it's a good excuse to try to post more often.

So here are some random observations to make up my post for today:

There is a woman at the supermarket who is a perfect likeness of Sarah Palin, but with blond hair. When she spoke to me, it cemented the deal. She's way over-the-top perky, with perfectly applied make-up and has a loud, direct and um... down-home way of speaking. I admit my first reaction at being cheerfully greeted by her left me with my mouth hanging open in disbelief. It was almost as disturbing to me as the thought of Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars. However, after she asked me if I wanted paper or plastic in her perky, smiley way, I decided that she is actually a likable enough person. I look for her at the register now, and purposefully get in line to chat with her. She's fun in short doses - about the amount of time it takes to pay for my groceries. I imagine she's putting on somewhat of a front for her job, and is probably much more sedate in everyday life. It cheers me to no end when I see her at the grocery store now. I always feel like I'm caught in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit.

I was getting my hair restored to its natural color on Friday, and was chatting with my new hair stylist, who is very very young - probably about 20 or 21. We got to talking about flu shots, and she told me about seeing something on youtube about how a healthy woman (who was training to be a Redskins cheerleader) got a flu shot and now she can't talk and can only walk backwards or run. My thought was oh great - every time I get my hair done, I'm going to be bombarded with urban legends. I didn't roll my eyes at her, in my defense. I smiled and said "Huh." in an appropriately bored manner in an attempt to change the subject. Because I am a well-educated and mature adult. Well, recently, I was bored and surfing the net and thought I'd look up that hoax. Color me completely shocked. I think it's a real story. I officially apologize to my new hair stylist. Sometimes life really is crazy...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

in which she pops her head up to say hello...

November. WTF?

At the beginning of every autumn, I tell myself that this is the year I am going to go slow and revel in the change of seasons and enjoy every second of the cooling temps, the fires in the fireplace, the start of a new school year. I'm going to go slow enough to track the incremental changes in leaf color on the trees in my years and I'm going to feel the aura of autumn in every cell of my body. And about this time every autumn, I realize that I've been enjoying it so much that it has flown by unnoticed. I guess that's the point, ultimately, isn't it?

Soccer and baseball for the kids are over now, so my "free time" allotment has just exploded for the next couple of months (until it all starts up again). But really - I complain in jest. I never did sports as a kid and I do wish I'd had the opportunity. The opportunities were simply not THERE for a little girl back in the 70s. I love that E has no idea that there could possibly be any limits there for her because of her gender. It simply doesn't factor into her thought process. She plays soccer for the enjoyment and for the social benefit (very honestly, she has no real love of the game and has inherited my limited athletic prowess, but she embraces her "right" to play simply because she has fun). I LOVE that Q has found a sport that marries athletic ability and intellect. He is a perfect candidate for baseball. I love watching him play and love having him analyze the game for us afterwards.

So what I have had time to focus upon this fall from a personal perspective is food. FOOD!!!!! Food fascinates me. I love simple, plain food - the smell of earth, the warmth, the freshness that I smell on new greens, on onions, on potatoes. I stuck my head down into my CSA basket the other day to just breathe. In retrospect, I'm fairly lucky no one walked in on me. My counter is covered with butternut squash, garlic, honeycrisp apples, and something like 30 sweet potatoes. While I turn into psycho-yelling mom when my counter collects papers and junk mail, seeing all the food spilling over onto every quarter of the counter makes me happy. I'm sure my family will learn these fine distinctions in no time.

I've become quite the convert into eating locally and seasonally and organically, and so far, my family hasn't complained too awfully much. In fact, being the evil mom that I am, I forced my kids to sit through a showing of "Food, Inc." Despite the eye rolls and whining, E has since become a vegetarian, and has stuck to that quite strictly for about a month now. The rest of us have no problem eating meat as long as it's from an animal that resembled what it is naturally supposed to resemble while alive. It's been some work to find sources of healthy foods for the various aspects of our lives (school lunches, quick snacks, etc) but we're making excellent progress. I have a new 9 cubic foot freezer chugging away in the garage filled with fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce, and fruits, and waiting for our first delivery of meat from PolyFace Farm tomorrow. I have a lot of thoughts on my transition into crazy granola mom and why it's really not very crazy or granola. It's actually quite spiritual to me. My spiritual focus is on the way the universe fits together so beautifully, and the transition of solar energy into food into us is ultimately something important. I think the US has been brain-washed by the media into ignoring that natural cycle, or at least brain-washed into believing that the industrial version of that cycle (which is pretty whacked out) is the natural one. Craziness.

In the meantime, it's time to revel in November. October may have slipped through my fingers, but so far November is actually looking more like fall and I'm happy with that.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

blog action day

Today is "Blog Action Day", and the topic is Climate Change, so my good friend Holly has encouraged me to use this as an excuse to start posting on my blog again.

Most of you reading already know I'm an atmospheric scientist, so this topic is near and dear to my heart.

I spend a lot of time hanging out at blogs of so-called "global warming deniers" or "skeptics" to try to understand where they are coming from. It's never accurate to generalize, so it's wrong to lump everyone that is skeptical of human-caused global warming into one pot. It is legitimate to question. I would, in fact, be concerned if people believed anything without questioning and doing their own thinking. However, some of the arguments out there are simply ludicrous (e.g., CO2 is not a greenhouse gas, or human activity is not increasing CO2 in the atmosphere). In fact, these two things are solidly established. CO2 occurs naturally in our atmosphere and absorbs infrared radiation, re-emitting it in all directions (rather than allow infrared heat to escape directly into space), and this ultimately keeps the surface of our planet at the comfortable temperature it is. The average temperature of the earth would be about 60 degrees Fahrenheit cooler without CO2, water vapor, and the other greenhouse gases. It's also easily and well-established that our burning of fossil fuels has significantly increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. We know this from simply looking at the sources and sinks of CO2, including the increase in human sources during the industrial age. We can also can use isotopic analysis to convince us that human activities are responsible for the increase of CO2 from 280 ppm (parts per million) 150 years ago to about 380 ppm (and rising) today. (See, for example, this post from climate scientists at their "Real Climate" website)

Given these two simple facts, the impetus in fact becomes "show me how humans can't be impacting the climate."

Of course it's infinitely more complicated than that. There are climatic feedbacks. We don't fully understand the role of aerosols and clouds. Climate scientists are making much progress at understanding the climate through use of models (only one tool to try to better understand the processes impacted by increased CO2). There is also work afoot to drastically improve the observations that we need to better understand how and why the climate is changing. There are a multitude of signals that we're monitoring to follow the impact of climate change: e.g, surface temperature (from surface stations), near-surface temperature (from satellites), polar ice melt during the spring and summer, glacial melting, average sea level, ocean temperatures, changes in permafrost, migratory behavior of species...

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activities are impacting the climate. The areas of active research - the areas where there is not consensus - are focused on the expected magnitude of the changes, and how increased CO2 and the accompanying average warming might impact things like agriculture, species migration, and regional climate.

I thought I'd also point out that the idea of global warming is not as recent as you might think. Here's a brief history of some of the early key players.

John Tyndall was a British physicist, born in 1820, who loved mountaineering. He adored nature, and in particular loved geology.He was fascinated by the idea that geologic evidence showed that northern Europe was once covered with ice. He was amazed and puzzled that the earth's climate could change so significantly. This curiosity led him to examine the ideas put forth about 30 years earlier that some of the gases in the atmosphere might in fact, be capable of absorbing and reemitting heat energy (infrared radiation).

So in 1859, John Tyndall published results from laboratory studies that in fact did show that several gases that were commonly present in the atmosphere were absorbers of heat. (Check out that link - it's a copy of his 1859 paper.) Water vapor and carbon dioxide were two of the most important gases with this property.

Here's his lab set-up. (Much of this information was obtained here). On the far left is a bunsen burner (sitting atop the desk). It is heating a Leslie's cube which is filled with water, and there is a thermometer sticking out of the top to measure the heat of the water. It's hard to make out, but there's another Leslie's cube being heated by a bunsen burner at the far right side of the long horizontal tube. The long tube is filled with the gas of interest. Tyndall ran experiments on several different gases. The funny looking thing with two cones on it (sitting on the desk between the long tube and the first Leslie's cube) is a thermopile. This instrument generates electricity when there is a heat differential – that is, when one side is warmer than the other. It's connected to a galvanometer to measure the electric current that is generated. As the infrared energy from the 2nd Leslie's cube passes through the gas in the long tube, if the gas is an absorber of the infrared radiation, the temperature at the end of the tube will increase, resulting in a temperature differential that can be measured by the generated electric current. What John Tyndall discovered was that water vapor (aqueous vapour), carbon dioxide (carbonic acid) and ozone were particularly strong absorbers of infrared radiation while being transparent to visible light. Here's some of what he wrote:

"But this aqueous vapour, which exercises such a destructive action on the obscure rays, is comparatively transparent to the rays of light. Hence the differential action, as regards the heat coming from the sun to the earth and that radiated from the earth into space, is vastly augmented by the aqueous vapour of the atmosphere."
"...Now if, as the above experiments indicate, the chief influence be exercised by the aqueous vapour, every variation of this constituent must produce a change of climate. Similar remarks would apply to the carbonic acid diffused through the air, while an almost inappreciable admixture of any of the hydrocarbon vapours would produce great effects on the terrestrial rays and produce corresponding changes of climate."
"...Such changes in face may have produced all the mutations of climate which the researches of geologists reveal."

About 30 years earlier, Joseph Fourier, who was a French mathematician and physicist (and yes, this is the same Fourier of the mathematical Fourier Series), had published work where he noted that the temperature at the surface of the earth was much warmer than you would expect from doing a simple energy balance of the planet.
"The decrease of heat in the higher regions of the air does not cease, and the temperature can be augmented by the interposition of the atmosphere, because heat in the state of light finds less resistance in penetrating the air, then in repassing into the air when converted into non-luminous heat."

His theory was that the atmosphere must allow visible light through easily, but infrared heat energy must be absorbed by the atmosphere. (He also had some idea that the earth received heat from "the universe at large" but that's since been disproven, heh.)

Building on these studies, in 1896 a Swedist chemist names Svante Arrhenius refined the idea of the greenhouse gases. He suggested that halving the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere could decrease the global temperature enough to explain previous ice ages. He also worked with a colleague Arvid Hogbom and showed that the amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels was roughly equivalent to natural processes. He postulated that given enough years, the amount of CO2 might build up enough to begin to impact the climate. This was in 1896. Arrhenius and Hogbom figured it would take about 3000 years to build up enough CO2 to see an impact on temperature, given the emission rates of 1896. We started burning fossil fuels considerably faster than the rate of 1896. Don't you wonder what these scientists would think of how things have played out today?

Monday, September 07, 2009


Well I certainly took a hiatus. It was unplanned, actually. I apologize to all two of my dedicated followers. :-)

Since July 17, the date of my last post, we've gone on vacation to Colorado. We went white-water rafting and hiking and soaked in the hot tub under the Rocky Mountain stars. What I remember most though, is that my daughter got sick with what I assumed was a stomach bug - she was complaining of stomach pain and throwing up, with a fever. After a day of letting her sleep at the rental cabin, I went to check on her and "something" suddenly kicked in. My mom-instincts flashed on and I told my husband I really needed to take her to the ER. Turns out that mom-instincts are pretty awesome. She had appendicitis and was in surgery 4 hours after we arrived at the ER. I've tried to figure out exactly what it was that triggered my instincts. Logically, it was a combination of things - she was complaining about stomach pain more than usual, she had mentioned to me that she was peeing every time she threw up (which was multiple times that night), she groaned when she sat up...but still, the right side of her abdomen wasn't where her pain was centered, and everything else just screamed "normal stomach bug". It was partially the few unusual things, but also - I think that I could just tell something was different in a very hand-wavy sort of way. I can't articulate it. Perhaps if I was better at diagnosing my feelings or fears, or if I was better at remembering minute details I could tell you. But ultimately, something deep inside went from "off" to "on" and I KNEW, I absolutely KNEW within an instant that this was not a stomach bug.

Thank goodness, too, because her surgeon told us her appendix was particularly nasty and he could see an abrasion along it where it looked like it was close to rupturing. Oh, and her surgeon told us her appendix happened to be located in the center of her abdomen.


We came home and finished up the summer. My kids mostly played video games and watched TV and ate microwaved hot pockets. This is not what I'd wished for them, but it's what they did. I would have enjoyed if they had taken up knitting or art while I was at work, and if they'd eaten cucumbers and green beans and peaches from our CSA. But you know, they enjoyed their little bit of independence and they DID do the chores I left outlined for them in the dreaded "summer notebooks" each day. They called me multiple times each day while I was at work, so I pretty much knew what they were doing each minute. They begin their new school years tomorrow. All supplies have been bought and are either already at school or are in their backpacks. They have new lunchboxes, and have enough new clothes (or uniforms in the case of my son) to get them through at least a week. They both went to bed on time tonight, after showers, and set their alarms. We're good to go.

In the meantime, I'm still reeling from the insanity in the US. Don't get me STARTED on the shrill nonsense the ultra-right is spewing over President Obama's planned speech to school children tomorrow. We've had our own minor uproar here locally when a parent used our PTA volunteer email list to send political propaganda against the speech. Me, being the DOOFUS that I am, noticed that he planned to pull his child out of school tomorrow because he was so against him hearing the speech. While I fail to understand how anything ANYTHING the president plans to say tomorrow justifies such action, I did take note that my information (which happened to have come directly from the superintendent of our school district) indicated that our school planned to tape the speech and air it Wednesday. Part of me giggled at the idea of him keeping his son home Tuesday only to discover after the fact that he would have been exposed to the dreaded "socialist propaganda" which encouraged children to work hard and stay in school when his son returned on Wednesday. But then my f*cking moral, earnest part kicked in and I thought the man deserved to at least know the facts. So I sent him an email telling him that while I didn't agree with him politically, I thought we should all have access to the facts.

Well. Stoopid me. Several emails later, I realized that he was not going to quit arguing with me over the appropriate use of our PTA email list, or demanding to know why my information on when the speech would be shown didn't mesh with the media's, so I told him to take it up with our president and that I wished to have no further correspondence with him. As a past president, I did feel a little guilty about this, especially since I'm good friends with the current president. But there you are. He'll figure it all out when the principal sends home a note tomorrow explaining exactly what will be happening on Wednesday and what he needs to do to protect his child from the Nazi-socialist-propaganda.

For the love of GOD!!!!!

I thought political games were nasty months ago. I had no idea how stupid they were yet to become.

And yet, life goes on. I had a lovely LOVELY conversation today with my beautiful friend Jamie, reminding me that friends are what it's all about. I will consider not picking up and moving to New England just so I can stay near her and many of my other friends here who make it easy(er) to live down here amidst so many many MANY people with political and cultural opinions that are lifetimes away from my own. It's all OK. I only need a little connection to make it OK.

(But Jen K, keep an eye out for good home opportunities up there just in case).

Friday, July 17, 2009

morning haiku

pre-ground hazelnut
bitter and mellow and smooth
the hot bites my tongue

muted morning sun
air so still it suffocates
thunderstorm looming

Jillian Michaels
waits in the dvd; come
I sigh, I obey

Sunday, July 12, 2009

swimming against the current

If you read the news, you've probably heard of the incident of the private swim club in Pennsylvania that told a mostly-minority daycamp that they were no longer going to be allowed to bring their kids there to swim this summer. One of the families that attends the daycamp just filed a lawsuit against the swim club for racial discrimination.
[Funny aside. I read about the suit earlier and didn't remember where I'd seen it. I wanted to link to it, so I did a quick google search to find the article. You need more than "swim" and "suit" to narrow this one down. Gads I can be such a dork sometimes.]
Racial discrimination?

First, and most importantly, this particular daycamp wasn't the only one affected; the swim club had changed its mind about letting several daycamps utilize their private facilities this summer. The other daycamps affected aren't predominately minority. How then can racisim be claimed as a motivating factor?

I can so easily envision a possible (likely?) scenario:

Many public pools in Philadelphia have closed because of the horrid economy. Mr. Private Swim Club director sees an opportunity to make some extra cash by opening his pool up to nearby summer child cares and camps. He probably means well but didn't spend enough time thinking through the consequences of this decision. Hoards of children descend upon the pool, surprising and angering dues-paying members who expected their investment to yield a quiet, controlled pool environment. [The daycamp in question brought 65 children to the pool. SIXTY FIVE children in a pool is a LOT.] Paying members complain to Swim Club director, who realizes he'd not thought this through very well, so he returns the money for all of the local day cares and camps who had decided to participate and informs them it's not going to work after all. Only one of those facilities is predominately minority, and it decides to throw the word "racism" into the scenario. At that point, all hell breaks loose.

One of the daycamp children claims to have heard a club member ask why so many "black kids" were at the pool that day. That is probably true. Private club member mom probably said something stupid. But to extrapolate that to racism on the part of the swim club is an awfully quick and sloppy determination. Another daycamper reported that they heard an adult member worry that her child was going to be "hurt" by the kids. (You can interpret this to mean she was worried that black children would hurt her child, or you can interpret this to mean she was worried that her child would be hurt in an overcrowded pool. Your choice.) Further, in response to the incident, the director replied "There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion...and the atmosphere of the club". That statement has been held up as proof of his racist attitude. His use of the word "complexion" is, apparently, the ringer. Complexion can mean "the hue and appearance of the skin" but can also mean "overall aspect or character." Taken in context, it seems obvious to me that he was using the word with the latter definition. Too many children made the pool uncomfortable and unsafe. Do people really think that by "complexion" he meant color? Really? Or are they jumping all over that to continue to fuel their rage? Honestly, when I read his statement, it never occured to me that his use of the word mean skin color. Good grief.

I know I know I know I KNOW that racism is a real problem in the U.S. I know real cases of it exist and they make my stomach turn and should never be ignored. But this kind of reaction - this immediate bandwagon response of calling out RACISM only exaserbates our problems. The most common response I hear when people read about this incident is surprise. Opinion writers opine their "SURPRISE" that such blatent racism still exists today. If that is true - if these reporters and opinion writers are so surprised that this kind of racism would happen - then why does the default assumption immediately fall on the side of racism?

I think this is ridiculous. In addition to the lawsuit, Arlen Spector has weighed in and requested an investigation by the Federal Department of Justice. The state Human Relations Commission is investigating at the request of the NAACP. What a waste of resources.

The director of the daycamp, Alethea Wright, has been quite vocal about the incident. She has stated that she is looking for a psychologist to talk to the children about the incident. Perhaps she means well. Perhaps she really feels like there is racism at play. I think her reaction to this incident has done more harm to the kids in her care than anything else. She is teaching them to live life as victims and teaching them that discrimination is to be expected. She is teaching them that the "others" in the US are not to be trusted and to suspect the motives behind every action. She is teaching them that they are different.

And with that, I guess my liberal-lefty membership card will soon be revoked.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

another birthday

Today is my birthday, and look at what gift I received from Mother Nature.
As of 2:45 this afternoon:

Light Rain
Feels Like
Updated Jul 5 02:45 p.m. ET

I've got the air conditioning off and the windows open so I can hear the rain and feel the cool wind. Mmmm. I'm watching it come down, and the smell of wet earth is heavy in the house now. I'm still full from a lovely birthday brunch from a dear friend this morning (grits casserole, sausage, bacon, blueberry pound cake, baked french toast from homemade sourdough bread, fresh fruit, orange juice, coffee, etc), and am now happy with a beer and cheez-its. I've got all the senses happily covered. Daughter E is busy baking me a cake and our plans are to go out to dinner tonight. I'm thinking perhaps lobster or crab legs? Woo.

Speaking of senses, I feel more than a little overwhelmed with love today. I'm getting lovely and thoughtful gifts and lots of hugs and kisses and phone calls. If I can get over my guilt about being the recipient of such a wealth of love, it'll be an absolutely perfect birthday.

I'm mostly feeling ambivalence over turning 45. Actually, I've been mistakenly thinking I was already 45 for the last several months, so the real birthday lost any punch in that respect long ago. One year ago on my birthday, I was on a bus riding toward Cold Lake in Alberta, Canada for our field campaign. I stared out as the Texas-like landscape rolled by and tried to think deeply about what I wanted as I entered the mid-40s. Today, I've been trying to remember what it was that I wanted for this past year. I wanted to lose weight (well I have, though I've promptly put it back on again), I wanted to have a better organized house (parts of it are better and parts of it are worse), I wanted to be more patient with my kids (I am sometimes, and am sometimes not). In other words, all these abstract, hand-wavy things that I wanted to improve in my life this last year are about the same as they were then.

What I really accomplished without any prior planning, is living another year, and thoroughly enjoying it.

Our dear assistant principal at the kids' elementary school is retiring this year. I adore this man. I've heard him quote something from his uncle many times. "Whatever it is that life puts in your way, it's up to you to enjoy the ride." His uncle was killed in the 9/11 attacks, which makes his words resonate all the more.

This last year has been a pretty easy one for me, personally. It's not hard to enjoy life when things are going mostly as you have planned. I'm certainly not looking for a tough year, though I know there are inevitably some out there in my future. In the meantime, the best I can do is practice enjoying the ride, with all the unplanned little curves and jogs that take me by surprise. And that's what I hope my 45th year will be filled with. Open eyes, ears that truly hear, slow meals where I truly savor the taste, deep breaths and long pauses.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

food food beautiful food

Farm share pick-up day:

One of the original reasons we wanted to join a CSA this year was to support small local farms. Today, we received a dozen peaches from South Carolina. While this particular CSA does support several farms here in town, we've discovered she occasionally brings in peaches from South Carolina and apples from Pennsylvania. One look at the peaches and I was smitten. Local schmocal, I say. The eastern seaboard is definitely local enough for this family, especially when it comes to fruit. I (heart) peaches.

We received a big head of cabbage (Mm. Got to think about what to do with that one), red potatoes, beans, green pepper, cucumbers and lots of squash and zucchini. She also threw in a big bunch of beets as I was leaving. I've never prepared fresh beets before. Any expert advice is welcomed!

Last week the bounty included a quart of strawberries, melon, beans, squash, spring onions, tomato, cucumbers, corn and lettuce. I'm estimating that the cost-savings for buying a full share might not be all that spectacular in the end, but the variety she's packing up for us each week is certainly nice. Plus, I like carting around the bushel basket. It makes me feel all farmer-like.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I've been dreaming again, finally. It's been a while. Suddenly, I've had very vivid dreams for the last few nights. Last night's was just silly, but dear neighbor M helped me figure it out.

I was at a scientific conference and many of us were meeting at someone's house for dinner. All throughout the dinner, I kept spilling my drinks and knocking over my chairs. (feeling a little inadequate, ya think???)

I had just been diagnosed with a disease by my doctor that required multiple medicines, one of which was glue. I needed to take 1 teaspoon twice a day. At the dinner, I was worried about what people would think, so kept squeezing glue onto my finger and eating it.

In the meantime, I had to relay the message to everyone that my friend P had been diagnosed with a horrid outcome. We'd found out that one of her doctors when she was young had translated two numbers and that the result was that she was several (about 5?) years older than she thought she was.

Mary let me know I am in anxiety over getting older. (duh). I'm eating glue like a child and am self-conscious so am knocking over my drinks and chairs. My friend P is a cancer survivor and my take on it is that she is "older" than she thought she was.

This getting-older thing was so abstract when I was in HS. I never thought it would actually happen. I went on a hike with the Girl Scouts tonight in our local state park and after the very mild and easy hike, I hobbled into my house on painful knees. I'm beyond youth now. My body is breaking down. I have been at my workplace for 20 years (although they have YET to acknowledge that with my 20 year pin. Should I ask someone about it? WTF would I do with a 20 year pin anyway?)

I'm not a work in progress anymore. I'm there. I'm who I am. I am closer to retirement than I am to starting work. I'm not a "bud waiting to bloom" anymore. I'm more like a fully bloomed rose with petals that are dropping off.

Eating glue. What a weird way for my aging anxiety to manifest itself. Anyone who wants neighbor M's services should send a bribe directly to me.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Lucy! I'm Home!

We have a new family member now. Lucy is an 8 week old diluted calico that we adopted from our local animal shelter. E (my 10 year old) has been orchestrating this move for months now. She is in little girl heaven. Her tiny kitten slept on the pillow beside her last night and woke her up by gently batting her cheek with her paw. She's been prancing around the house tonight, attacking unsuspecting toes and making Roxy (the dog) hyperventilate. She is a trip.

As for the rest of my life, I feel like I am slowly winding up the process of wrapping up an enormous package. One by one, bits and pieces are being wound up and bound off. Piano recital and lessons (with the accompanying planning and transportation), check and check. Girl scouts - check (after Wednesday). Band practices and concerts, check. Career day presentation and PTA yearbook sales, check check, check. Baseball merits no check yet, but possibly will after another couple of weeks. I am not sure where this enormous package will be sent at the end of spring. I'm glad to see it wrapped up but not glad to see it sent away. Know what I mean?

I am not sure that I will remember how to exist on the absence of adrenaline. As much as I enjoy complaining about my (oh so typical) busy mom-of-teens-and-preteens schedule, it is, like it or not, my way of life. I have never been fond of change so the abrupt end to the chaos this summer may not be the reprieve I've been hoping for. In fact, I find myself projecting the summer's loss of activity onto my empty nest years. These are not exactly looming, but they are close enough.

I asked DH what in the hell we did before kids and what we would do after they are gone. He responded by cooking me a dinner that was fabulously full of spices and onions, which is something we've had to forgo when the kids eat dinner with us. It was delicious.

We are such a funny species, we humans. And in particular, we parent humans.
You’re an interesting species, an interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.
(from the movie Contact. I find myself repeating this line to myself very often)

Life has been fabulously fun and good this spring. I am short on time and long on things to do. The house is not very clean and certainly not organized, but my kids are smart and healthy and INCREDIBLY thoughtful. No complaints here. It's all spicy food and kittens.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I was surprised when I looked at the date of my last post. Apparently, I'm still losing days. So on that topic (my last post) here are my latest adventures in the story of my mind's demise:

At the orthodontist yesterday (for Q) I was trying to make an appointment for E to be evaluated. They were getting some background information.
"Who's her dentist?"
All I could think of was "Dr. Payne." We've never had a dentist called Dr. Payne, but my friend and I were discussing unfortunate names one day long long ago and he told me HE used to have a dentist called Dr. Payne. Why that was the only name that came to me I don't know. (As an aside, my contribution to that conversation was the vet who put down my first dog Callias. His name was Dr. Stiff. Seriously).

Anyway. I hit my head with my palm and mumbled something about losing my mind. "He's in Hampton" I offered.
"Hampton?" the assistant asked as she flipped through a list of names. "Not Newport News?"
"Um, it's Newport News" I said.
In my defense, I usually call the whole peninsula down there Hampton because it's simpler to say. They finally found the name of E's dentist.

Then there was the lovingly made peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was intended to give my dear son sustenance during his 5:30-7:30 baseball practice (before dinner). I left it neatly wrapped sitting on our counter until I found it at about 10 pm last night. So there's not much progress on the losing my mind front.

I'll keep you posted, if I can remember.

Friday, May 15, 2009

oy vay

I fear I'm losing brain function. Really. Should you worry about me? Yes. I think maybe you should.

First order, it seems I am able to complete much less in a much longer amount of time than ever before. Functionality is trending toward negative infinity. Today, for instance, was my day off. I had no requirements. This was my day to catch up. I had vague notions of a sparkling house and concrete vacation plans made and clothes sorted and packed away for the Salvation Army. After that, the plan was to have lunch and proceed to the afternoon.

Instead, I wandered. All day.
(It wasn't actually all *that* bad. I had a long phone conversation with my BIL and worked on some PTA stuff. But the house is not sparkling and no vacation plans have been confirmed, and I haven't started to even think about sorting clothes).

The kicker was this evening. My children came home from school, and I, fresh from feeling guilty over yelling at them this morning over what children they were, decided we needed to order out Chinese food and get movies to watch. Family night!!!!
And all would be good. Rah rah rah.

First order of business was to pick up a Bar Mitzvah card for our friend who is Bar Mitzvah-ing tomorrow. Simple, eh? A-HAHAHA! I had just about convinced myself that I was going to have to buy a "first communion" card from Target, and delicately scratch out the words and the cross on the front when I *finally* found a card that said the words "Bar Mitzvah". (not so diverse here, I guess??) There were exactly two cards left in the pile. I'm wondering how many of the exact same card this poor boy will receive tomorrow. I'm kind of thinking I *should* have gone with the first communion card and some white-out for the simple sake of uniqueness. Actually, the really funny thing was that Q found a belated birthday card that he thought would be funny and nice. The birthday card was, in fact, quite funny and made a big deal out of the giver's forgetfulness, culminating in a "Merry Christmas!!!" greeting. I didn't know whether I should explain to Q why it was so totally and completely inappropriate or absolutely totally perfect. (He needed a small nudge and simple reminder about what occasion we were buying for before he thought it was hysterical). Oy vay, right?

So anyway, the next stop is where my problems began. We stopped by Blockbuster movie rental to pick up some movies. Simple enough. I argued us down from about 15 selections to four and went up to the counter to pay for the remaining DVDs. I even had my internet, mail-delivered Blockbuster DVD all packaged up to trade in for one of the store DVDs at no cost, so I was feeling quite virtuous. Well. *Apparently*, Blockbuster has changed their rental policies and had the nerve not to ask *ME* about it beforehand. Used to, they had no late charges, really. As long as you got your movies back in before they decomposed, you were golden. Well, not so much anymore. When the nice young lad asked me if I wanted the 1-night or the 5-night rental, first, my head exploded, and then I focused my laser glare of death upon him. I shrieked in my best banshee impersonation, peppered with the appropriate number of "But I know it's not your fault" comments as my son tried his best to disappear into the racks of DVDs. After announcing to the unsuspecting patrons in the store that NETFLIX does exist and is a very viable alternative to Blockbuster, I stalked out of the store while my poor son slunk into the shadows trying to pretend that he had no idea who I was. My daughter, she didn't care so much. She was just ready to go watch "Bride Wars."

So I figured Chinese food would be simple after that. As I am the one who is always prepared and in control, I had brought along not one, but two Chinese food restaurant menus with us in the van. My anal type-A plan was to call the order in directly after renting the movies (never suspecting that Blockbuster had colluded against me, rendering me irate), giving just enough time to arrive at the restaurant on the way home that our dinner would be perfectly ready for pickup. I had forced my young ones to peruse the menu on the way into town earlier, and they had written down their orders. After the Blockbuster confusion, my brain was showing distinct signs of implosion, so I sat there staring at the menu in total confusion for an inordinate amount of time before deciding to roll the dice and simply call in our orders and wing my own. Eggplant? OK.

All was good until I found myself driving down Rt. 60 wondering aloud where the restaurant was. My sweet son picked up the menu, looked briefly at it, and then looked at me. "Mom, this place is by Farm Fresh." (which was about 10 miles away, quite close to our house in fact and not at all close to where I was driving.)
Oh ho - little one. You don't know what it is that you are talking about (but of course, he did). Feeling quite small by this point, I did a U-turn and found the correct restaurant. And they did not have my order ready because *my* selection for dinner was not available. But of course! I managed not to cry, but the poor guy running the register was obviously worried I was about to. He asked me what I would prefer instead, and I was completely unable to answer. I simply could not make a decision. Seriously. I looked at the young guy helplessly and tried not to fall down and start crying. "I don't know what I should get!!???" He gently led me through the thought process of whether I wanted chicken or beef or veggies or did I want spicy or mild? I listlessly nodded yes to his recommendation and told him I needed to go buy a bottle of wine so would be back in 5 minutes to pick up my (his) order. And I was.

Dinner was fine and the movies were fine (E and I watched Bride Wars and the boys are finishing up James Bond. I will watch Slumdog Millionaire tomorrow.)

But really, I am concerned at my lack of ability to make decisions. You know, as we were embarking on this whole experience, I did have a warning signal. I was reciting to my kids what was going to happen tomorrow during the Bar Mitzvah and what they needed to be prepared for (I told E to have books with her for the morning service which should be about 3 hours long). She piped up with "Is the library open today?" because she thought she should check out some new books. As this was not in my original plan for my evening, I nearly drove off the road in confusion. "NO! NO! NO!!!!!" I shrieked. "I can't do that!!! No library!!! Use the books you have!!!"

Oy vay indeed.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

slip sliding away

I lost April. I usually like April too, so it's sad that I lost it. At work today, a friend and I both tried to remember what had happened during April. It truly slipped by, unnoticed. And this got me thinking. We all remember how time was so much slower when we were kids. I would sob after Christmas was over because the wait for the next one seemed interminable. Forever. And in my defense, it really was a very very long time. When you are 8 years old, one year is equal to 1/8 of your entire lifetime. Or, if we make the assumption that the age of memory begins around age 5, one year chronological time to an 8 year old is approximately 1/(8-4) or 1/4 of her remembered life. That's a very long time. That's like someone telling me I had to wait for more than 10 years for something to happen.

And this got me to thinking about how time is really not an absolute measure. Time is relative, and our point of reference for time is the span of our remembered life, which constantly changes as we age. The one year wait period for the 8 year old me (1/4 of my life at that time) is only 1/39 of my remembered lifespan now. (I'm not lying about my age - I am retaining the assumption about 5 years being the age where memory begins).

So I wondered if I were to define a "relative age" as a measure of how absolute time changes as we age, how much of this relative time do I have left in my life? The years are spinning by faster and faster as we age - what percentage of my relative life have I lived?

So I came up with this:

Years as we normally define them are on the x-axis. (I did this on an extremely outdated version of excel and I couldn't figure out how to change the axis labels to show even decades.) Anyway, I assumed that memory begins at 5. Thus, 1 year for a 5 year old is equal to 1/(5-4)=1. One year for a 6 year old is 1/(6-4)=1/2, and for a 7 year old is 1/3, etc. I can then sum the relative terms to represent various lifespans, from 45 through 100 on this graph. The graph shows the percentage of your relative memory that you have lived as a function of chronological year.

The thick line is at chronological age 45, which I will turn in a few months. Even if I live to be 100, I have lived more than 80% of my relative age already.

It's interesting to think about childhood. We've lived about 50% of our relative memories by the time we're between 8-11. Childhood looms very large in our relative lives. Differences of a few years in children are enormously significant, while by the time you reach my age, the percentage lines really start to flatten out as the years whiz by.

This sucks.

I showed it to Gao just before I left work and his response was "Well shit, Jennifer." He thought for a while and then said "Since we're almost done, we should just do what we want. Go home and drink lots of wine."

I'm not drinking wine tonight, since I'm trying to restrict my alcohol intake to weekends. But it certainly makes you think. I started to realize life was not infinite somewhere around my early 30s, which coincidentally is when the slope of the lines starts to change more dramatically with chronological time.

I think I need to rethink how I spend my days. And maybe I need a vacation. A long one, both chronologically and relatively speaking.


I was tagged by wakeupandsmellthecoffee. Thank you, Wakeup, for thinking of me. ;-)

1. What are your current obsessions?
Facebook. American Idol.

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
Flannel pajamas. I find I am putting them on earlier and earlier every day. At least I haven't started to wear them to work. Yet.

3. Last dream you had?
The last one I remember is that my friends Jamie and Jamie had returned from Austria. Jamie B had curly hair (which was quite a new thing). I tried to kiss their daughter's head but she was too tall. (She is E's age). They were having a huge party to celebrate their return to the states. Nothing overly weird. I am just obviously beside myself anticipating them finally coming home. They've been gone a year and that's quite enough.

4. Last thing you bought?
Ingredients to make a Mississippi Mud cake for the teachers at school. Oh, unless you count the veggie sub I bought for lunch.

5. What are you listening to?
The sound of the TV in the other room that Q has on as he does his homework.
(I KNOW I KNOW....) bad habits. But the kid is pulling all A's in advanced classes. He knows what he needs.

6. If you were a god/goddess who would you be?
Good heavens. I have no idea. I don't know many gods or goddesses. I would be the saint of mothers and would go around blessing them all day long.

7. Favourite holiday spots?
(Wakeup lives in England, if you can't tell by the spelling. hee)
Coast of Maine. Mountains

8. Reading right now?
Easy Silence by Angela Huth. Black comedy. It's ok but it had better start moving along more quickly.

9. Four words to describe yourself.
Introspective, impatient, logical, realistic

10. Guilty pleasure?
Red wine. Cheez-its.

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
My daughter. She is a riot. Lately our thing is to hiss at people that irritate us.

12. Favourite spring thing to do?
Sit outside to watch the stars

13. Planning to travel to next?
Not sure. We're talking about Hawaii possibly.

14. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
I only got bits and pieces of the Mississippi Mud cake I made but those bits
and pieces were good. Butter, sugar, eggs, nuts....
Before that, I had Pad Thai with 5 star spiciness for a business lunch on Tuesday. It was excellent.

15. When did you last get tipsy?
Probably Saturday night after we had dinner with our friends

16. Favourite ever film?
Contact. (Jodie Foster, book by Carl Sagan)

17. Care to share some wisdom?
That presumes that I have some to share...
Things are rarely as bad as they seem at first.

18. Song you can't get out of your head?
Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi (blasted Rock Band. I can play drums on expert on that song, so I play it over and over)

19. Thing you are looking forward to?
Not sure. Nothing major is on the horizon. I'd like a week at home with nothing to do.

20 If money were no object, where would you choose to live?
Boston. DH would be happy and I'd be close to Maine.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Someone got let loose with colored sidewalk chalk on the NASA site Monday night. So I came into work Tuesday passing graffiti such as "SMILE!!" and "DANCE ACROSS THE ROAD!!" and "YUM YUM FOOD" (in front of the cafeteria) and "I LOVE NASA" in front of the mail box, all in pastels. As I walked up to my building, I passed up "SMILE, YOU'RE SAVING THE EARTH!!!" and "SCIENCE ROCKS!!"

Very odd. Puzzling. Seriously. Is this a new way of inspiring the work force? I did get a laugh out of it, so I suppose it probably accomplished what it was supposed to.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

a saturday morning... which yours truly decides to finally create another blog post because there is an enormous mound (10 yards) of hardwood mulch sitting in the middle of her driveway. This is actually a very poor plan because the temperature is supposed to reach into the 90s later today so the more I put it off, the worse it's going to end up. And yet, here I sit composing.

It's spring, and as much as I love winter, I guess I can say I'm ready for spring. I stepped outside last night at 2 am to look up at the stars and it was slightly warm. It felt lovely. I spent the day yesterday removing leaves from the culvert and mowing and weeding beds (in anticipation of today's mulch) and I actually enjoyed it.

So in honor of spring, here are some spring photos for your enjoyment:

The end of a pretty successful season for Q's school baseball team means that the coach was finally letting some of the 7th graders play for a little bit. Here's Q making an awesome outfield catch yesterday. Just after I snapped this, his hat blew off. His teammates told him he was "doing a Manny." He also had a successful at-bat with a rocket line drive to left field. Sniff. Nothing like a child to turn you into an avid baseball fan. Oh, he's been dubbed Cotton-Schawb by his teammates. This is a combination of cotton swab (from Q-tip) and "stump the schawb" from ESPN. LOL!

Tell me if you recognize this plant. It's so nice, and we have no idea what it is. Here's a closeup of the flowers:

And this one has not much to do with spring (other than it was taken during spring break) but I think it's funny. Genetics, anyone?

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Most of my readers are family members or close friends that I also know in real life, so I don't feel quite as selfishly indulgent when I share children stories as I might if I merited a more diverse readership. (not that my friends and family aren't diverse. You are! You're diverse and wonderful!!!!) You are just unified in your acceptance of my selfish indulgences. And I love you for it!

All this is a lead-up to...... (guess. go ahead and guess.) a post about funny/cute/fantastic things my children do.

We were in Georgia the last several days for a visit to DH's parents. We got a few trips to the Master's golf tourney out of it, some good southern cooking, poker, etc. It was mostly a very good trip, sans the tornadoes that were barrelling down upon me and my family who were trapped in a mobile home that one night. I believe I offended my FIL when he tried to convince me that we would be safe if we got UNDERNEATH the mobile home. I didn't buy it. Not even almost. Sorry. I believe you are unsafe if you are anywhere withing a few MILES of a mobile home during a tornado. I survived by drinking wine and pretending it wasn't happening. Denial Rules at times.

Anyway. Then Q got sick last night. He started throwing up around 9 pm and kept it up hourly for the entire night. At one point (I forget which hour it was), I was blearily leaning against the bathroom door as I checked in on him for the umpteenth time. I got less sleep than he did because I needed to get the obligatory worrying out of the way between the vomiting episodes, you know. He was just pathetic. He was on the floor hugging the toilet, pale little face with dark circles under his eyes looking up at me. He asked in a weak voice "Mommy, is this a virus?"
I assumed this question was along the lines of "is this a virus, or do I have a horrible disease that will render me dead by sunrise?" Or "Is there an alien in my body that is fighting to emerge?"

I wet a washcloth with cool water and swabbed off his neck. "Yes, honey, it's just a virus." I was the June Cleaver of the night. I was sanity and calm and motherly protection.
"OK." he said in all sincerity. "Because that means I will most likely be immune for another year. Of course, it depends on if it's an RNA or a DNA virus. Because, see, smallpox is a DNA virus which is why there are immunizations for it, but the flu is an RNA virus which is why there is a new variant of vaccination every year. See it....." (at which point he launched into a diatribe about virus structures and immunity which I don't dare attempt to replicate because, um, I can't. OMG. Damned gifted students these days. I am out of my league.) I carefully put away the cool washcloth and kissed the top of his head. "You're going to be fine, sweetie."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

a new journey

Today was the birth day of my eldest...who is now a teenager.

Teenagers love chocolate. They also love to be goofy.

See? Goofy.

Yep. Like I said. (Trying to get to his new ipod).

Another couple of Wii remotes so we can all play at the same time
(his idea, actually, isn't that sweet?!)

Razors. I am finally admitting that it is not dirt that resides above his lip.

A big hit of a present from mom&dad #2 (Brad and Kathy).
A Barack Obama magnetic doll with various changes of clothing.

"A change of clothing we can believe in."

And thus begins the first steps of my experience as a mom of a teen. I'm buckled in and ready to go.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wrong target

This is exactly what I was concerned about in my last blog post about the AIG bonuses and why I thought our collective rage was not going to suit us well. In our haste to punish somebody for the inequities we all despise (including myself), we are not thinking and as a result are punishing the wrong people. The link is to a letter from an AIG exec to Liddy, and it is his resignation (it was published on the NY Times Op Ed page Tuesday). You really should read it. Seriously. Here it is again.
Here are a couple of quotes:
"I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage."

"As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house."

And from the WSJ opinion journal:

"There is not a shred of justice in the hysteria that followed. As AIG chief Ed Liddy explained on the Hill last week, the people receiving retention bonuses were not the same people who launched AIG's unhedged housing bets that brought the company down. Those people were gone. Their pay is already being clawed back.

Those who remained had been asked a year ago to stay and work themselves out of a job. In accepting the terms offered to them, they committed no offense (say, failing to pay taxes). Their only crime was possessing marketable knowledge -- all the more marketable because of the opportunity for hedge funds and other counterparties to profit from AIG's distress. Had the company submitted to Chapter 11 rather than a government takeover, a bankruptcy judge might well have authorized identical incentives to minimize losses and maximize recovery for legitimate stakeholders."

The people we are are trying to punish are not the people who caused the mess. The people whose children are being threatened, who are being urged to commit suicide, who are being stalked by an entire country? Oops - wrong guys, folks. We are behaving irrationally. And no, I don't really feel sorry for this guy - his salary is likely more than I make over several years. However, so are the salaries of most professional athletes. Inequities are everywhere. Picking one example of an inequity to crush into oblivion does absolutely nothing to fix the problem and is simply unjustifiable. Having the employees who have been working to get us OUT of the AIG mess leave the company ultimately does nothing but hurt AIG AND the U.S.

That deep breath and a step back are still in order. Lynchmob mentality is a scary thing.

Friday, March 20, 2009


This current blowup over AIG - I'm having a hard time getting het up about it. Seems as if I'm one of the few that aren't jumping on the popular righteous anger bandwagon.

First off.
The amount of these bonuses relative to the bailout money received by AIG is ($165,000,000/$180,000,000,000) = .0009166. Speaking in percentage terms, this is .09166%, less than 1/10 of 1 percent. Let's round up to one tenth of a percent. Say you make $50,000 per year salary. One tenth of 1% of this amount is fifty bucks. If you make on the order of $100,000 per year, we're talking one-hundred bucks. No, you don't seek out to toss $50 or $100 out the window. You *might* haggle over it during a car buy, but speaking for myself, I'd be willing to let if go if I was tired and wouldn't lose a wink of sleep over that decision. Let's talk kids. Say we give them $20.00 for their birthday money. Say they lose 2 cents of it. I wouldn't hang mine by their toenails, refuse to ever give them money EVER AGAIN and ground them for life because of the poor choices that caused them to lose 2 cents.

Perspective, people. Bad choices? Yes. A tragedy of epic proportions? I don't see that.

Retention bonuses are a commonly used practice by companies to keep important employees during times of crisis. I'd say AIG fits the bill for being in current crisis. People - like it or not, the US taxpayers now own 80% of this company. We do not want it to fail at this point. Really. There's something to be said for keeping employees there who know enough about the business to unravel the mess that AIG and the US public is entangled in. Tell me what talented financier on earth would go to work for AIG now? I imagine the resumes aren't exactly pouring in. You don't want to lose any quality employees at this point. We WANT AIG to pull itself out of this mess. This will take people who know what they are doing. They need a reason to continue to work for AIG.
Connie Reeve in an article from CBC News, Canada:
"As you can imagine, in businesses where the intellectual capital is the essence of the business, losing your best and brightest because people fear what is going to happen in the future is a bad thing," she said. "Retention bonuses have a place because they serve a legitimate corporate purpose."

(click to see the full article).
The use of retention bonuses is not exactly an unusual move.
Distasteful? Perhaps. Well, a hearty YES.

Worthy of gnashing of teeth and threats? Mmmmmm, no.

These bonuses frustrate me. They do not, however, signal the end of civilization as we wished it were, however. I don't know it all, but I am willing to open myself up enough to acknowledge that there may be legitimate reasons for paying out bonuses. I think we are at a place in history right now where more than ever, intellect needs to trump emotional knee-jerk reactions. Before threatening to massacre those receiving bonuses with piano string, before we allow Congress to hastily pass an excessive and ill-thought-out tax on a small group of individuals, we need to take a collective deep breath, regain perspective and attempt to make judgments and decisions based on facts and not emotions. Hold on - slow down and think this out.

A bit of frustration is fine, and I join with you all in that. This collective outpouring of abject hatred is pretty frightening to me, on the other hand.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Yesterday was a lovely day. We've had a week of cold rain, and yesterday was bright and sunny and in the 70s. Yesterday, I took the day off from work to get my hair colored and cut, and to finally get to the doctor for my annual physical. It was a slow day, and spring was in the air.

Yesterday was a lovely day. Yesterday, my colleague and friend took the day off from work to kill herself.

She was almost exactly my age, and was born in Japan. I've worked with her for nearly a decade. She was one of the most private people I've ever met. That doesn't mean she wasn't friendly - she was warm and interested in everyone she met. She just didn't share anything about her personal life. She was exceedingly athletic and worked hard to stay in shape. She routinely crushed my office mate in badminton. In fact, she would travel up and down the east coast playing in badminton tournaments, and would win. Her research was highly respected. She was beginning to make a splash. She modeled impacts of aerosols on the atmosphere, which is a crucial part of climate change. She was working with satellite groups and global modeling groups to study this, and everyone enjoyed working with her. She got her green card just last week, and colleagues gathered in her office for cake to celebrate. She'd been trying to get her green card for about 8 years. Seems like things were falling into place for her.

We locals always thought of her and were concerned to make sure she wasn't lonely. She lived alone and was in infrequent contact with her parents in Japan. She was always invited to holidays with someone from work. She occasionally came to my house for Thanksgiving, and would bring sushi. She would always bring presents for my children - often with a Japanese twist, and they loved her. She would sit and talk with them and would LISTEN to what they told her. She was very cared about. I have been at home receiving emails and making phone calls all evening. "Shocked" is an understatement.

Being at work today was surreal. I work with a bunch of scientists. Pocket protectors and glasses held together with tape are realities. Most of us wear jeans and t-shirts to work, and there is a passionate love for science - for discovering the truth. As such, no one has much time for frivolity. As you might expect, people are very logical. Today, however, our clumsy and soft innards were exposed. Managers were wandering the halls, trying to make sure "everyone was ok" in an obvious attempt to find a way to stay busy. We ended up going out to lunch together. It took no less than one hour for us to organize ourselves and decide where to go. None of us were capable of making a decision. After spending the morning in stupors, all we wanted was community. We needed to talk about her and talk about our children and reconfirm our connections. I made phone calls tonight that were hard to make. I've seen very strong friends dissolve into tears. Phone calls and emails have come in all day today from colleagues across the country as the word spread. Ours is a smallish, tight-knit community.

As I learn more, circumstances surrounding her suicide are complicated and painful. There is the stuff for soap operas here. There are some people at work that I am very worried about; some highly respected and competent scientists. Life for some people has been shifted to an entirely new phase. Things will never be the same. Most of us have been at work for 15-20 years. I think back to decade(s) ago and the innocence of what is to come for we new green wannabies makes me weep. If I could hit rewind and if we could redo, could anything really be different? Is there anything we could have done to stop it? One very intuitive colleague tried. She contacted as many professionals as she could think of and willingly let herself be seen as the hysterical worry-wart. It didn't help. My friend is still gone.

I have so many thoughts about today, but for now grief is all I can see. I don't know why this happened. The caring was there, the compassion was there. We were not blind. We were not stupid. There are times, I believe, where all the human intelligence and compassion and intuition is not enough. And that sucks.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


What do the following have in common?

Edamame (both fresh and frozen)
Fresh blackberries
Goat's milk
Fontina cheese
Tuscan bread
Apricot preserves

These are all impulse buys that I found in my shopping cart when I stopped by Trader Joe's today to buy veggies and something for dinner (TJs cheese enchiladas). I swear, my eyes popped out of my head as I unloaded the shopping bags.

Oh, and fresh cut flowers.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

not my finest moment

Wow. I am such bitch. Seriously. And I am so glad I didn't have me for a mother.

Q was asked to be in both the 7th grade and the 8th grade bands this year. He's a good little clarinet player; he's 1st chair in the 7th grade band and plays 1st part in the 8th grade one. The 8th graders had a competition today (identical to the UIL competitions I went to in Texas). They prepared 3 pieces for their concert performance and then had a sight-reading portion right afterward. Q has been so excited about being in the 8th grade band. He came home this fall and found a recording of one of their songs on the internet so I could hear it. He hums their songs all the time. And *I* have been so excited about going to this. It takes one second of being in the hallway outside a school auditorium, sounds of bands coming from all around, seeing band directors racing through the halls and parents filing in and out of the auditorium to bring back a flood of memories. The palpable tension in the warm-up room with the band director trying to hide his own nervousness while calming the rest of the group down...the SMELL of the building...the quiet click click click of shoes tiptoeing up and down the hallway and the hushed whispers, trying not to disturb the judging...

So anyway this morning, Q had an early baseball practice for 2 hours, then had an hour to come home and shower and get back up to the band hall to catch the band bus. He had a good practice at BB but somewhere within the hour at home, he started to feel sick. I persisted in getting him out of the house and into the van and drove him to the school. By that point, he was miserable, so I went to tell the band director that he was feeling ill and that I would drive him down to the contest so he wouldn't have to ride in a school bus.

I stopped at a pharmacy on the way and pumped him full of Tylenol cold medicine and bought him a sprite. We drove 45 minutes down to the site of the contest. Q slept most of the way. When we got there, he started complaining to me that he couldn't do it - he just couldn't go through with it. Being the loving mother that I am, I told him I wanted him to please give it a try and that if he didn't think he could participate, he would need to tell his band director himself. I'm pretty sure I didn't think he was faking it - Q doesn't do faking well, and plus, his sister has spent the last 24 hours throwing up. So it was no real surprise that he would have been getting sick.

The rest of the band arrived and Q and I found Mr. Hodges.
"Hey buddy, you gonna make it?" Mr. Hodges asked. Q shook his head and started mumbling "I can't do it, I can't do it." I looked up at Mr. Hodges in a panic, wanting him to plead with Q to please try. I'm the boy's mother, so I'm supposed to be the empathic one, right? It was Mr. Hodge's job to be the one pushing him. Mr. H was clearly not thrilled at losing one of his players 1 hour before competition, but he told Quinton to go home. "Thanks for trying buddy - just go home and get better."

I walked Q back to the van and drove straight home without saying a word to him. Q apologized several times, but I did not want to say the wrong thing, so I remained silent. Quite honestly, I was *upset* with the boy. Some things are bigger than we are. Some things are worth giving more of yourself to than you dreamed was possible. A sign of true character would be pushing through the pain - putting the group ahead of yourself - pushing yourself beyond limits that you thought were there. He should have gone with the band and played through the competition. Then I could have bragged to everyone about how selfless he is and how dedicated and determined. You are not supposed to only excel, but you are to excel well beyond expectations. Right?

Good god, I suck.

In my defense, I KNEW that if I were to start talking to him, I would be unable to NOT vocalize disappointment in him, and despite my being smack in the middle of a massively heartless Mommy Dearest moment, I DID realize deep down somewhere just how awful I was being. I tried to protect him the only way possible at the time. Of course my silence did come across to him as disappointment, but I figured it was the lesser of two evils. Of COURSE I know I should have been comforting him and rubbing his shoulders and simply being a mother to him. That's what normal mothers would have done.

We got home and Q immediately fell into his bed and fell asleep. I did remove his shoes for him and straightened his covers. I also leaned over and whispered to him that I was never upset with him - that I was disappointed in the situation and sad for him that he had to miss the contest but I was not upset with him. He kind of grunted so I think he heard me.

How my children will survive me, I do not know.

Friday, March 06, 2009

more sundry yet again

Here are some random thoughts/things I've had or heard over the last few weeks that have either tickled me or touched me, or both.

My son Q made the baseball team at his middle school. Despite the HEAVY load for practices (every single school day until 6 pm and also on Saturdays for the love of Pete), I am simply ecstatic for him. He is ultra shy and reserved - and more than a bit of a geek. I thought that making the team would be a much needed boost for his confidence, especially since he's only a 7th grader. There are only about five 7th graders that were selected. Plus, I figure the label of "jock" can't hurt in the geek label department. Not that there's anything wrong with being a geek (spoken from vast experience). But still. The additional label of "athlete", as long as we're labeling, is a good thing, IMO. He is, in fact, very happy and has been doing well. But, back to the geek department, he is addicted to wearing this blue fleece jacket...which he buttons ALL THE WAY up. It drives me absolutely crazy. It's slightly too small for him so it barely hits his hips and stretches up to his nose, thanks to the excessive buttoning. Here's his chance to move into the "cool guy" department and he's walking around with no neck. On the way home one day, I asked him "Q - why on earth do you wear your jacket buttoned up like that?" He rolled his eyes and told me that it was a "reflection of his personality"... that he's a closed and private person and his jacket tells the world that about him. OK then. Can't argue with that.

My house is apparently smack in the middle of a major migration route for noisy black birds. It warmed up enough today that I turned off the heat, opened the windows in the sunroom and laid back on my comfy couch with my favorite soap opera on the TV. Unfortunately, I couldn't HEAR it because of the extremely loud birds. It was like I was in the middle of the Amazon. I am not exaggerating, I swear. I looked out into the woods behind our house and could see literally thousands of birds, all perched in the trees directly surrounding my house. They were being extraordinarily loud, too. I've no idea what it was they were so worked up about but they were certainly busy telling each other about it. I knocked on the window, opened and shut the door, let Roxy bark, and yelled loudly at them. Other than flicking the proverbial bird at me, I was totally ignored. I had to satisfy myself with calling my neighbor Mary and cursing them out to her. At least she understood.

WRT the cafeteria at work - it has gotten to the point where the cafeteria workers no longer even want to joke with me about how much of a rut I am in. I get the same sandwich every day (veggie sub on wheat, no mayo, extra hot peppers) and a diet Dr. Pepper. Used to be that the ladies making the subs and the ladies working the registers would smile at me and say things like "Hmmm, so what might YOU be getting today? Ha haha ha ha ha." Lately, they just make my sub and ring me up and send me on my way. I'm in so much of a rut within my rut that it's not even fodder for jokes anymore. In fact, I'm afraid to get anything different now. The spotlight on me would be too much to take. (Refer to my first story of my introverted son Q. NO IDEA where he gets it. No idea.)

I've been spending way too much time looking through blogs of global warming deniers lately. I've been doing a lot of thinking and psychoanalysis about why these people are so angry and so hateful, and so loathe to listen to "expert" opinion. I have several theories, all of which are kind of depressing. Global warming/climate change is a really big weight on my heart. It sure would be a lot more simple if I didn't love my children so much, you know?

For those interested in my daily activities: daughter E has been unable to eat anything solid for about 24 hours now. High fever, vomiting and other assorted illness symptoms abound. It is just so sad to look at her pale, pathetic face. I certainly hope this bug moves on quickly so I can get my sassy daughter back. My sweet puppy is also under the weather with an ear infection. Medicine bottles and measuring spoons and thermometers decorate my kitchen cabinets. Q goes to district band contest tomorrow. Sniff. You'd better believe I'll be there with my ear pressed to the door during sight-reading. I sure miss those days.

By the way. Q got his Toano Baseball sweatshirt today. I think it may have replaced the hated fleece jacket. I was thrilled. Until he pulled the hood up. "NO!!!!" I cried. "No, Q! You don't actually wear the hood over your head!!!!"
He looked at me calmly and said "I do if I'm cold...."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

this is why this man is my hero

">edited: Anyone know who said these quotes? They're all from the same person...

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep seated need to believe

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.

The well-meaning contention that all ideas have equal merit seems to me little different from the disastrous contention that no ideas have any merit.

I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that happened in politics or religion.

Friday, February 13, 2009

facebook stole my brain

My mom asked me why I don't write in my blog anymore. I can only blame it on facebook, which allows me to think and communicate in one-sentence snippets rather than spending the time and thought required to construct meaningful and informative (or at least entertaining) essays.

I've had plenty of ideas for blog posts. For example, the public distrust of science and scientists continues to astound me - as evidenced by things like recent polls showing the very low percentage of Americans that "believe" in evolution, or the continued "debate" in the media over the vaccine/autism connection or global warming. (Note the word "debate" is in quotes because I hate to characterize the shrills of a minority versus the near-consensus majority of scientific opinion as anything close to a real debate).

Anyway. Rather than research and write and edit on these topics, it is so much easier for me to opine "Jen likes the ravioli she just ate for lunch" or "Jen wishes it would snow" and be done with it. It's easier but increasingly unsatisfying. Facebook seems a lot like the Jerry Springer of the internet. My brain is feeling a bit over-sugared with trivial pursuits. I think it's time to switch modes before it's too late to go back.

But it may already be too late. Yesterday, as an exercise to get back into thoughtful writing, I submitted two long comments to two of my favorite blogs, neither of which has shown up on the blogs yet. One I know for sure was never received, and I'm suspecting the second may have reached the same fate, since I can't imagine my comment was too controversial to have been posted. I suspect FB is involved somehow, in a clandestine attempt to maintain control of my brain.

In the meantime, Jen is trying.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

breaking away

By the time we've reached middle age, we usually have a pretty good idea of who it is that we "ARE." I don't mean to imply that I think we should have ourselves completely figured out. Half the fun in life, after all, is constantly discovering new things about ourselves. But we should certainly have a good idea of what our "core definition" is (I just made that term up).

For instance, in my case, I know that I'm defined by being a "good girl." I always have been. I'm not totally happy about that, by the way. I imagine that if I were not such a good girl, I would have had a lot more fun. The number of times I have acted outside of the box can be counted on one hand and I wouldn't even use all my fingers. I did skinny-dip once, but it was with my best friend, with no members of the opposite sex nearby, and under cover of darkness. I believe we also had our swimsuits firmly in hand underwater, ready to quickly slip them back on if we heard voices. Back home in Texas, I was too scared to go into the Meacham Ranch house that was purportedly haunted, despite the rest of my friends having a grand old time exploring it and the ghosts that they met there. The one time the police tried to pick me and my band-geek cohorts up (for toilet-papering a house), we convinced them to let us go because our parents knew where we were anyway. I did get drunk enough in grad school once to end up at the house of a guy friend. When he started to get a little affectionate (which would have been a huge mistake since we were slated to become housemates in a few weeks), I threw up on him. So even in a drunken stupor, I am somehow able to keep my actions in line with expected behavior.

Once middle aged, I think the wise thing to do is to simply accept our core-definition. While it might be momentarily exciting to try to crack out of that mold, to do so holds the potential to release a torrential outcome that we're really not prepared to accept.

(By the way - this post is completely opposite of what I normally believe. By next week, I will think these pompous pronouncements are complete crap and will once again ADAMANTLY disagree with the premise that who we "are" is set in stone by middle-age. I have no doubt I will be back to urging us all to throw caution to the wind and be unfettered by anything in, of, or slightly resembling the past. But for the purposes of this little story, bear with me.)

When Mare was visiting me last week, we drove out to Tuckahoe Plantation, on the west side of Richmond. This old house is where Thomas Jefferson spent most of his young childhood. It is also the plantation that was the site for a TV series (Legacy) that Mare was a big fan of years ago.

It was a very cold day, and when we arrived, the place was deserted. Mare had tried to arrange a tour, but was told that there were no guides available that day. We were told to feel free to wander the gardens and grounds, however.

I love old houses. I also love Thomas Jefferson. I was excited to be there, and Mare was over the top. The only negative was that we were disappointed we couldn't see inside of the house. I wandered around the windows and tried to peek in. I turned every doorknob to see if perhaps one had been inadvertently left unlocked. Around back, we found an entrance where the wooden interior door was open, but a thin glass storm door was locked. We could peer inside, and doing so we saw beautiful wood floors, a carved wood staircase, a gorgeous grandfather clock, and other antique furnishings.

Here is a picture of me at that door.

Mare wandered off to see more of the gardens. I pulled gently at the storm door. It was quite flimsy. Seriously flimsy. I could tell that with one sharp pull, I could have it open. I looked around at the empty gardens and empty parking lot. I jiggled the door again. I stood there in a deep quandary and let the argument inside me play out. I have always been a good girl. I've never really ever been "brave" enough to jump across that line. I tried hard to convince myself to do it.
"I am nearly 45. Just when am I going to let loose and be free? When am I going to live life? Seize the moment? Experience the thrill? Why do I continue to let myself be constrained by the edicts of society? Just what is it that is telling me not to break into this house? My own morals, or those of a society that I have forced myself to conform to?"
The other voice said things like,
"Oh for god's sake woman. You have children! What? Do you want tomorrow's headlines to read "NASA scientist and mother arrested for trespassing on federal property?"
I pulled the door a little harder.
"If not now then when? You are free. You are an independent spirit!"
"It's against the rules."
I couldn't do it.

I walked away, pissed at and disappointed in myself, and mentally berated myself for ultimately being a coward.

At that VERY instant, someone walked up to me. She was a tour guide for the house, and had a meeting set up with a couple she was looking for. As I chatted with her, she waved at a young man who walked out of the house. Turns out he was the son of the couple that owned the house and who lived there.
"People live here?" I questioned the guide. She nodded, as a young woman came out of the house. "Oh yes, and they have both of their children visiting this weekend. It's a full house!"
Huh. In the meantime, my inner critic had slunk off, no longer berating me for being such a rule-following coward. Can you imagine if I'd walked in on this family? It'd be hard to convince them I hadn't broken in, what with the storm door lock being freshly broken and all. At that moment, I was quite happy with my core-definition. Good girls rule. In fact, the tour guide was as nice as she could be and ended up giving Mare and me a personal tour of the inside of the house as soon as her meeting was over. She discounted the price for us because she thought we were so nice.

I am still on the lookout for a moment to break away from my good girl persona. I think I trust myself a little bit more now, though. If it happens, I will know the time and the place. More importantly, if it happens, it will be because the good girl is willing to go along with it. Because as much as I sometimes want to move away from her, she's kind of nice to have around.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

crowded streets

You may recall that in my last post, I wrote that I am, at the core, a solitary person and I enjoy quiet and being alone. So you can maybe imagine my discomfort on Monday given the following:

There were more people there than I have ever been around in my life. At one point, we couldn't move very well for about 30 minutes, as we were in the middle of a large sardine crush. I was wondering how soon I would know if I were, in fact, being crushed to death. Would it happen quickly, or would I be aware during the whole thing?

Quite honestly, it was the perfect setup for a dangerous situation. There were too many people in the city relative to the preparations. There were not enough police, and not enough information dissemination. So many people, frustrated and crushed together, is a toxic combination.

But I was quite amazed and heartened by the fact that it never even almost went the bad direction. People were smiling and laughing at the situation (though obviously pissed off at what was happening in general). There was no taking out frustrations on each other. Rather, there was a feeling of being in a rotten situation together and what more could you do than share in it? We shared horror stories with other folks all day. We helped elderly ladies who were lost as we were strolling down the interstate, and laughed with people as they struggled to crawl over the medians.

I was there in DC to celebrate the end of a presidency that I abhored, the beginning of a presidency that I have much hope for, and the historic moment that it was wrt the inauguration of a black president. I did all of those things and enjoy the fact that I can say I was there. But the most striking thing for me that day was the realization that humans, en masse, might not be as bad as I have always assumed. There was mob patience shown that day, mob kindness, and a general wish to just share the moment with each other. It was a nice thing to learn.