Wednesday, December 19, 2007

a recipe

It's potluck time for my Bible study group tonight at our annual Christmas party/white elephant gift exchange. Last year the highlights were an amazing pomegranate guacamole and a mannequin leg. We shall see what this year brings. The maker of the guac and the giver of the leg will not be there this year, so perhaps there will not be such exciting stories to tell.

I was inspired to make some gnocchi to bring to the potluck tonight. So yesterday (at 9:30p.m. for some odd reason) I tried my hand. Gnocchi is a delightful potato-based pasta which I had not eaten or even heard of until just a few years ago, but it is one of my favorites. I believe it's also a suitable "buy local-and-in-season" option for this time of year -- the ingredients are potatoes (which should be abundant in much of the US now), flour (assuming you've done your threshing and grinding already, that should be somewhere in your kitchen), and eggs (hens function throughout the year). If I can make it, you definitely can make it!! Just follow these easy steps...

1. Fill a large saucepan or pot with water, put on the cover, and heat it to boiling.

2. While waiting for the pot to boil, peel potatoes. You can use regular potatoes or sweet potatoes/yams. I used fingerling potatoes. You'll want to use enough to end up with 1 cup mashed. I used about 6 fingerlings. Cut the potatoes up into chunks to help them cook in the next step, if you'd like.

3. Boil the potatoes. Some people say this takes 15 minutes. I don't know because I didn't cook mine long enough. They should be done (fully smushable) but not dry.

4. While boiling the potatoes, measure out 2 cups of flour and set aside. Also get out one egg. Think about if you'd like some flavoring. Basil? Salt? Butter? If you're working with sweet potatoes, maybe some nutmeg and cinnamon? Olive oil? Pepper? Garlic? If you want flavor, get that out, too. Suggested amounts for butter and olive oil: 2T butter, 1T oil.

5. When potatoes are done, scoop out from pot and remove pot from heat. Keep the water, because you'll use it later and it's such a waste to dump it. An authentic Italian just told me that you should let the potatoes cool completely to ensure success. Mash the potatoes really, really, really well in a big bowl. Use a ricer, use a hand mixer to whip them, whatever it takes to get them good and smushy.

6. Add egg and mix. At this point I started using my hands to mix, because I figured it would help mush the potatoes even more.

7. Stir in any flavoring you desire at this point.

8. Gradually add flour to the potato-egg mixture, kneading it in with your hands. You might not need all 2 cups of flour or you might need a bit more depending on the potato-egg consistency. Continue adding flour and kneading until you get a dough that sticks more to itself than to your hands. It shouldn't be too dry, but it certainly should hold its own and not get gook on you when you touch it.

9. Once the dough is formed, turn on the heat to heat the water to a boil again.

10. Make a little rope of dough (about 1/2 inch in diameter) either by rubbing between your hands or rolling on a floured or plastic surface.

11. If you are using a plastic surface (like a cutting board, which I recommend) on which to form your ropes, ensure that it is far enough from the heating element so as not to melt. Otherwise, the following may occur...If you smell something that is sort of yucky and reminds you of wax candles burning, that is bad.Oops.

12. Cut the ropes into about 1-1/2 inch pieces, and roll them in half. I guess the traditional thing is to have the impression of fork tines on the dough, so use a fork if you want to. Or a spoon. I used my fingers.

13. Put the rolled up gnocchi pieces into the boiling water. They'll sink to the bottom. Put the cover back on the pot and boil for about 3 to 5 minutes.14. If you haven't roped and rolled all of the dough, continue doing this while the gnocchi cook.

15. When the gnocchi are done cooking...they will float to the top!That means they're done, and you can drain them and eat them alone or with butter or with tomato sauce or anything else you want! Yum!

Friday, December 14, 2007

for health, for the earth...or for the steelers?

A short skit recounting an actual conversation:

(A green compact car pulls into the parking lot of a grocery store in a semi-shady part of town. The driver, a single young woman, has been duped in this area before by a pan-handler...and she has grown to dislike the lewd comments thrown at her by many a straggler on the street. Thus, as she parks the car and exits she is cautious as a man smoking a cigarette approaches.)

Man: Are you going to The Store?

Woman, continuing to walk to the entrance to the store: Yes, I am going to The Store.

Man: Do you work there?

Woman, wondering what makes this man think that he should be allowed to pry into a vulnerable young woman's personal business, especially in this neighborhood: No.

Man: Are you going shopping there?

Woman, becoming more wary of the guy as he is obviously not going to leave her alone and thinking caustically, "No, I'm just going to take a tour of the meat counter and then flirt with the cute baggers. Why else would I be going into The Store?!": Yes.

Man: Okay, I'm just checking because we're ticketing and towing today.

Woman whirls around and looks at the sign above the parking spot where her car is located. It clearly reads "For customers of The Store only while shopping." And that is what she is doing. She says: What, can't I park here for The Store today?

Man: I just wondered why you parked so far away.

(Truth be told, the woman had parked approximately fifty paces away from the entrance to the store. Not "far away" by a terribly large portion of the population, but obviously the man had a different frame of reference.)

Woman, with more than a little irritation in her voice: Well, I use less gas, create fewer emissions, and get some exercise if I park there.

(This is 100% true. It was actually what the woman had been thinking as she entered the parking lot and selected her parking space.)

Man: Okay! There's a Steelers game today, and we don't want anyone trying to use our parking lot while they go to the game.

(Well, that explains it - I guess. The store is within walking distance to the stadium where the Steelers play football. Not that the woman really appears to be going to a Steelers game...she is dressed in her Sunday best, having just left from church a few minutes before, and that is not typically the attire individuals wear to football games, particularly ones that are occurring on drizzly days. The woman walks away, enters the store, is disappointed to find that the store does not carry any organic yogurt - the single item on her list, which she was hoping to find at this store since it was on her way and would therefore be a more environmentally-friendly choice for shopping than driving to another store on the other side of town where she knows they sell yogurt that has been produced using sustainable practices. Feeling afraid that the man in the parking lot is going to see her return to her car empty-handed and assume she was lying all along about not trying to stealthily usurp the parking space for her own ulterior football-viewing purposes, the woman grudgingly grabs a package of (non-organic) cookies off of the shelf, buys them, and returns to the car to proceed home where she can allow the comfort of buttery shortbread to console her in her misunderstood state. Bleh!)

END SCENE

Thursday, December 06, 2007

the sounds of the holidays

Last week I completed the last "experiment" I need to do for my dissertation (unless some thesis committee members unexpectedly bust out some new demands, but I'm going to assume the chances of that are slim). I need to do some data analysis and potentially run a few more samples if I can possibly get that particular assay to start working again in our lab...but other than that life needs to stop being about doing experiments and start being about writing a dissertation and finding a new job. Just simple tasks, really...

Anyhow, that is why I have been absent for a while. Since I last posted, Thanksgiving has come and gone. For Thanksgiving I went to a cabin in Lake Hope State Park in Ohio, where my mom, dad, and brother gathered for a lovely time of turkey and all the fixings (and 4 pies). I try very hard to not "start" Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but let me tell you...as soon as I was "out of the woods" on my drive back to Pittsburgh on Black Friday...I opened up the newly released Relient K Christmas album and put it into the CD player!

If you like Christmas; if you hate Christmas and feel especially lonely and sad during this time; if you get sick of the snowy, cold weather of winter; if you have ever wondered what a partridge is and what it's doing in a pear tree...then you should run - not walk, run! - to the store (or website) and buy Let It Snow Baby...Let It Reindeer. This newest release from my favorite rockin' guys has several songs that were on their previous Christmas album (which...I do not have), one from an older release, and a few new ones - both originals and traditional Christmas songs. I'm rather sorry that I never picked up the old Christmas album, because it (and the new one) contains what is my current favorite song: "I Celebrate the Day". And...I hate to admit it, but my second favorite is the kind of farcical rendition of a traditional carol that is the "hidden track."

That's what I've been listening to as I've been driving to and fro in the snow and sitting for long, long hours in the lab! If I could just figure out what I did with my camera, I'll share some sights of the holidays in the next couple of days...

Have a cuppa cheer!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

not quite there yet

I'm trying to be more "environmentally friendly," which really means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I won't go into what it means to me at the moment, except to say that I want to try to be more responsible with my purchases of food. That brought me to Pittsburgh's East End Food Co-Op a couple weeks ago. I have shopped there on and off over the past year, but I had never gone on a Sunday. It seems that everyone and their mother shops there on Sundays, because I had never seen so many people.

I also guess that Sundays bring out the die-hards, because as I strolled around the store picking up my granola from the bulk food section and the organic greens for Joelle and selecting a locally grown eggplant (they are sooooooo good! I can't believe I have lived for so long without appreciating the wonder that is eggplant...!) I found myself feeling quite inept, and in fact not at all environmentally friendly.

Not that people are judging, but if they were, it would have been obvious that I wasn't a real tree-hugger, because real tree-huggers brought their own glass jars, prelabeled with the jar's empty weight, in which to put their bulk food items. None of those yucky plastic bags like I picked up. And real tree-huggers wouldn't look at the organic ice cream and say, "Oh, that's all the selection there is? And only in pints? And no store-brand? Nevermind." Real tree-huggers would embrace the fact that there are no less than five different brands of organic ice cream, in a variety of flavors, not to mention the soy-based ice creamy stuff; they would support the companies who are producing sustainably-grown products when the store brands are just going for cheapness -- and they would be happy that portion-control was built in to the size, because who in the world needs to eat a half-gallon of ice cream by herself anyhow? Real tree-huggers wouldn't groan internally and say, "Man, I can buy this same cereal at Target for about half the price...!" instead of choosing to support a locally owned and operated business. They would proudly flash their Co-Op membership cards...and they'd probably then hop on their bicycles and ride home, unlike me who mumbles, "No, I'm not a member..." and gets into the car and drives the three-ish miles back home.

But hey - at least my gets 40 miles per gallon and is certified to be an ultra-low emissions vehicle!!

I guess there are levels of environmentally-friendliness, and there is probably always more any given person can do to stop depleting the earth's resources (...to be quite technical, I guess the best a person could do is DIE, because not only is the person no longer using the bounty of nature, he's now giving back to the earth as his body decomposes...but I'm not suggesting that's what we do to save the earth!). And I guess that my small steps are better than no steps at all.

Monday, November 19, 2007

hodgepodge

Last Thursday Relient K made their closest stop to Pittsburgh on their Appetite for Construction tour with Switchfoot and an opening band ironically called ruth (I assure you - it's not me, and you don't want me to be on a stage singing...not pretty). Unfortunately, the venue was still 2.5 hours away; fortunately, it was in one of my most favorite towns and I know a few people there. Unfortunately, the weather was sort of ucky - rain and a little hail/sleet/iceball stuff - on the drive there; fortunately, there was little traffic congestion, even on the roads that are often jammed (that's what happens when one leaves much earlier than rush hour!). Unfortunately, the lack of traffic meant I arrived a lot earlier than I needed to (not actually a bad thing...); fortunately, someone in town called me and invited me over for a wonderful home-cooked dinner in the meantime, and there was still ample time to arrive at the concert and meet up with the group I was sitting with. Unfortunately, the lead singer of Relient K was not feeling well and sounded a little pained to be singing; fortunately, despite his illness, they did not cancel the show as they had been contemplating. I would have been really, really, REALLY bummed if they had canceled. I have been waiting for this concert for months.

Despite the not-feeling-well-ness, the performance was very enjoyable, and I was just happy to see the band in real life. They played some of my favorite songs and one off of their new Christmas album, which I just purchased and can't wait to start playing once Thanksgiving is over. I just think it's appropriate to wait until one major holiday has concluded before really ramping up for another one. Although I did put up my Christmas tree, lights, and nativity scene yesterday...but that was more of a logistical decision, because I won't have time for that again for another two weeks, and then it's too close to Christmas!

Friday and Saturday I attended a branch meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (I know, aren't I the most way-cool clubs???), which was at a small college on the other side of Pittsburgh. It was informative and interesting, and I enjoyed talking with many of the other attendees. However, for some reason it's left me in a work-related-emotional slump. I guess I had sort of been hoping to make some good connections for post-doctoral positions at the meeting, but that didn't happen the way I had envisioned. It wasn't all bad, and I did glean some information about a couple places I have been thinking about applying, but it wasn't what I had hoped for. It brings into question whether it's just utterly ridiculous to ever want something, because it seems that it's entirely too heartbreaking to deal with when what we want does not come to fruition. But maybe that's just real, true humanity -- wanting something, even though we know that it may never come into being, seems to be at the core of being a genuine human being. I guess that in many ways I would prefer to be disappointed than to become so callously apathetic that I don't care whether anything at all ever occurs. Doesn't make it any easier, though.

Monday, November 12, 2007

i can write

The day has finally arrived...!

Last week Thursday I had my sixth thesis committee meeting. These meetings occur approximately every six months and involve me meeting with the five professors who oversee my research, telling them about what I've been doing, and hearing what they think I ought to do next. For this meeting I pulled together all the data I've accrued from the past five years, sorted through it to put it in the most honest and yet favorable light, and presented my case. And lo and behold, the response I've been longing for arrived:

Stop doing more lab work and write that thesis.

Woo hoo! Know what that means? I get to graduate!! (Soon. Well, in a relative sense. Probably March-ish of next year, which is only a few months away.)

Thus, as I embark on the fun last stage of this journey with the companionship of my trusty computer, I think I'm going to need one major item that I currently lack: a workstation that does not contribute to the massive pain in my shoulders that I am currently feeling. If anyone has some thoughts, please do let me know.

Yay, thesis! ...Oh yeah - this also means I'm supposed to find a new job...! Starbucks a few miles from my apartment is hiring.... ;-)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

the little things and the big things

For some reason my thoughts of late have led me to appreciate "things" more than normal. But the "things" aren't always all that related to one another.

The novel Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank has been on my mental reading list since 1994. I'm finally reading it. Oops. The book is set back in the 1950s and revolves around the reality of nuclear war in the United States. It's made me think a lot about not so much what I'd do if my country were to be obliterated by a nuclear weapon but what I'd do if I were forced to "regress" in technology - if, for example, electricity no longer existed. What if transportation was not as simple as turning the starter of an engine and I couldn't just run to the grocery store when I got a craving for ice cream, and water was something I prized as a necessary drink and not as a means of washing, a medium for recreational swimming, or the makings of a relaxing, artistic fountain? And all of this reading and pondering has led me to appreciate two things more than I ever have.

First is the passengers who were aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. I think of how confused and troubled the country was when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were devastated that day, and I can only shudder at the thought of what else would have occurred had Flight 93 reached its destination, presumably the Capitol or the White House. It makes me wonder to myself...if I had the opportunity to stop the destruction of the building and/or persons that represent my country, would I do it? I believe it's a worthy cause. But would I really be brave enough to do something if it were really, truly my life that was going to be what made the difference? In light of Alas, Babylon, I have a deeper appreciation for what "symbols" of a country are worth, and I entirely have a new perspective of and respect for the passengers aboard Flight 93 who did not just accept the inevitable. That's a big thing.

The second is really not worth mentioning in light of the deep, serious paragraph just typed, but it points out that even though "big things" count, so do little things. Like coffee. On the morning of my ponderings about Flight 93, I had made myself a particularly good, smooth mug of coffee. It was a big deal by any stretch of the imagination, but...man, oh man, was it enjoyable! As I go through my mundane, normal life, as I dream about the "big things" that might be done someday, am I taking the time to appreciate all of the little, amazing things that are gracing my life every day? Or am I too focused on waiting for a big thing to happen? I think that if I keep my sights fixed on the big things, I will be altogether insensitive to the little things, and that would be an extreme misfortune.

Speaking of coffee...in some senses, this guy does not even deserve my recognition, but in case you haven't heard yet about DaVido, he's a New York nightclub singer whose self-proclaimed goal in life ("big thing") is to have an album of his sold at Starbucks. He wrote a song called "The Java Jitter," inspired by a trip to Sbux and a conversation with a hot barista, and tried to solicit it to Starbucks but they rejected it. I suppose we all must have dreams, but this guy cannot take "no" for an answer, so instead he is attempting to win his way in by busting into Starbucks stores, attempting to shoot a video, and sequentially getting tossed out because it's against Starbucks policy to allow recording within its stores. He has now posted a 7-minute "music video" of this experience Perhaps I'm slightly biased because I find DaVido's song and dancers quite distasteful, but I find his methods to be entirely disrespectful, which certainly is not the way to sell one's self to a corporation. If he can't adhere to Starbucks' rules, why in the world would they want to give him a chance to represent them? Call me a Starbucks softie, but I think they're entirely in the right. Establishments are still entitled to the right to ensure a reasonable atmosphere! And recording labels are still entitled to the right to select the music they wish to market! And besides that, I think people should be nice to each other.

So love your country and enjoy your coffee, but don't get disillusioned by either.

Monday, October 29, 2007

outside

It's unfortunate to be cooped up inside doing work in a lab or at a computer when it's the most beautiful season of the year out of doors! The lab where I do most of my lab work has no windows, and the window in the room I do my computer work gives me a great view of a brick wall and more windows. And I suppose that is why when I have "free time" (or...when loyal friends forcibly drag me away from work) I go outside.

The latest adventure came a week ago when I and a couple friends and a bunch of friends-of-friends drove down to West Virginia to stay in a cozy modern cabin and experience Bridge Day 2007. This event allows BASE jumpers (BASE = Building, Antenna, Span, Earth -- i.e. things that are tall) to jump from an 876 foot bridge and (assuming all goes as planned) free fall for several seconds before parachuting down to the bottom of the New River Gorge. It was exciting to watch these men and women jump, flip, and otherwise fall and then pull their chutes and end up safely on land (or...sometimes in the river).

The best part, however, was the trees. It's the middle of autumn, and that means the West Virginia trees are gold, orange, red, and green. I appreciate the green that remains, mostly contributed by conifers. The tree-covered hills turn out looking like an incredibly comfortable quilt to me.It was very refreshing to get out and roam the West Virginia "country roads," although it wasn't quite the same without some John Denver coming out of the speakers.We took the roads to get to a hiking area, where we ended at a beautiful overlook with a view of the bridge the day after Bridge Day.We also took the roads to get to the site where we went rappelling down a 100 foot cliff, that was around the mountain from these cliffs:(Sorry, I was incapable of taking a picture of myself rappelling, and I haven't gotten the pics from my fellow rappellers.)

And then...back inside to work...

Friday, October 12, 2007

it's my...

Not to toot my own horn, but it's my birthday!

And it's also Columbus Day.

For all who are burning to know, I am planning to celebrate by...
  • Accomplishing some immunology and microbiology work at the lab
  • Attending a conference about science down the street
  • Visiting the chiropractor
  • Attempting to go home and sleep as soon as possible
The past several weeks have left me exhausted (and with big back, shoulder, and leg pains...), thanks to massive amounts of lab work, and even though I have a yummy supply of coffee to hold me over, I'm really quite tired. It's gotten to the point where I am really quite incapable of even writing an email that makes any sense. So, all I want for my birthday is...my bed.

This also means that if you happen to call me to wish me happy birthday, please don't do so too late. :-) I will certainly be turning off my phone's ringer as soon as I'm ready to hit the sack.

The large amount of work-related tasks I've been up to explains (or rather...is my excuse for...) the lack of writing I've done here. Sorry about that. Here's the summary of the last month: work...sleep...work...visit to my favorite city ever...work...sleep...work...decide to go on a trip in May...work...sleep...work...convinced myself that all of my hard work had earned me a Starbucks pumpkin latte, but it was the grossest thing I've ever had...work...sleep...work...car got hit by a golf ball as I was sitting in it at a parking lot...work...sleep...work...haven't gotten time to swing by the body shop to get an estimate for the car...work...sleep...work...work...no sleep...work...meetings with fun and interesting engineers...work...sleep...work...

You're all caught up.

Seriously, it hasn't been that awful - I've also had some really good times with various friends, and I accomplished a bit more of a sock. Woo hoo.

There is a bit more news to share, but I'm too tired to write about it in an engaging manner today. So...I'm going to go finish my coffee and head over to the conference where they will be serving me MORE coffee...hooray!!

Monday, September 17, 2007

sweater weather

Labor Day came and went. I spent it, as I mentioned earlier, camping......and hiking.That was the first indication that fall was on its way. It was also, I think, the first time in many, many months that I pulled on a sweatshirt at night. Mostly because I was outside, but still.

The next indication came when the temperatures started to drop. Yesterday boasted a brilliantly blue sky, sun sparkling down on the still-green leaves...and a high of 62 in Pittsburgh. Now that is what I like to hear. Because it can only mean one thing...The Starry Night sweater has made an appearance! It is almost autumn!! The autumnal equinox is Sunday...are you ready? It's...sweater weather!

To celebrate (? er...actually, just because I am), I've begun work on two sweaters. In a sudden convergence of yarn and magazine, I picked out two sweaters from the Spring 2007 Interweave Knits. For some reason, they are both raglans. The first is the Green Tea Raglan, which I'm making with Frog Tree Merino.The snake-like thing is the "belt" that goes around the waist. Technically, I made this in Frog Tree Alpaca, because it just so happened that I had half a ball of some of exactly the same color of that, and it managed to get thrown in with the merino, and I realized it but decided I might as well use it up to make the belt. I also decided to call this the Coral Tea Sweater since mine's not green.

The other sweater is the Cable Down Raglan, which I am making in Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool. Ages ago I began making an Aran sweater in this. That went through various iterations of disaster (gauge change...messed up parts...) until I finally decided that even if I ever did manage to make the crazy cabled thing, I'd never want to wear it because I don't like the way it is made to fit (and I have no inclination to alter it to fit the way I want). So now the wool is becoming a different cabled beast. I am sort of thinking this yarn is cursed in my hands, because no sooner had I gotten through the first repeat of the cable pattern, complete with very lovely shaping, when...I realized that there was an error in the pattern (because the next instructions made NO SENSE at all). Okay, so not a big deal, I just had to set down this until I had time to find the correction online (because of course Interweave decided in that issue that they'd no longer print the corrections in the magazines - and I do have the issue that said there needed to be a change in the pattern - and they are only available online). I set it aside and went to work on some socks I'm making with yarn I got in Vienna last year.I used the Round Toe from Charlene Schurch's More Sensational Knitted Socks and am doing a ribbing-ish pattern I made up.

I'm also making progress (slowly) on the Brioche Bodice from another Interweave. I have about 5ish more rows of unshaped knitting to do before I can start tackling double decreases, but at least it's brioche stitch and not ultra-boring stockinette. Although...brioche isn't that much more exciting.And finally I found the corrections for the Cable sweater. And that was when I really decided that there's something up with me+this-yarn. Not only were the original instructions for the next step I need to take with the thing incorrect...but so were the instructions for all I'd done up to this point. ! Gasp! Sigh! Grrrr...! It's a minor change, but I know it will make the garment look much better. ...But it also means I have to rip it all out and start over. Bleh...

I guess I won't be wearing that one anytime soon. Thankfully I have many other sweaters in stock in preparation for sweater weather!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

musings on age

Labor Day weekend had me thinking about "me" as a 26-year old. I spent the majority of the weekend tent camping with some other women around my age who are residents at a hospital. In many senses, we are so young! It's sort of amazing for me to think that they're doctors, I almost have my doctorate, and we're not 30 yet! We (assuming we survive) have a long, long life ahead of us! Wow! We've come so far in such a short amount of time. A camping neighbor visited us and exclaimed about how neat it is to see young people like us spending time in the great outdoors.

After the camping trip, I spent a little over 24 hours in a nearby college town. As I meandered around the campus, I was struck by how young everyone seemed. And when I thought about it, the freshmen starting their university studies really are likely 7 to 9 years younger than I, and that's a significant age difference. No wonder they looked young!

I volunteer as a librarian at my church on Sundays, and it turns out that I'm in the children's library. The most profound thing that I have learned in that position is that while children are children, they are still people. Sometimes I (and others I have observed) tend to treat children like pets. As if they can't understand language or facial expressions (which, incidentally, I believe pets actually do have some capacity for). As if they can't comprehend complex emotions and ideas -- and as if they don't have their own complex emotions and ideas. Working with the kids in the library has taught me that this is entirely untrue, and that really...children are just small adults. The major difference between most children and most adults appears to be that children don't know better than to suppress their inner selves; adults have learned that to be "polite" or "socially acceptable" they must act according to specific rules, even if that is not how they really are inside. Not that this is totally a bad thing, but the point is that children are much more genuine than adults.

Seeing children as people instead of children (or pets...) reminds me that the college freshmen I saw this weekend are also people and not college freshmen. And that the teenagers at the next-door campsite who found it desirable to eat dinner away from their parents by sitting in the middle of the paved street are also people and not teenagers. Plunking these individuals into categories diminishes who they really are and limits who and what others will allow them to be. There is value and worth in the thoughts and feelings that all of these people have, even if they're not as "advanced" as matured adult-thoughts and adult-feelings.

And...to come full circle and apply this to myself... During my visit to the college town, I attended a conference centered around bioenergy (yes, like my beloved microbial fuel cell). In a conversation with two professors I met, I expressed the framework of my increasingly-more-lucid future dreams (which, yes, you may have noticed have not actually been spelled out on this blog; it's sort of like "if I write it...it won't come true"...). The two professors, who have many years of experience and expertise in the fields of which I spoke, both met me with "uh...do you have any idea what you're talking about?" looks. At least that's how I felt. I am increasingly aware that I try very hard to say the things that make people happy with me, but sometimes the ways they respond that make me think I have not impressed them do not in fact necessarily mean I have failed at presenting myself to them in a favorable light; I still feel that way, but I don't think it's always how they feel about me. Not that it should matter so much what others think of me.

Anyway - I felt like my thoughts and feelings were obviously not very "mature adult-thoughts and adult-feelings." Immediately the scale that weights the "goodness" or "badness" of a day began tipping far towards the BAD side. Then another professor, the one in charge of a program I'm interested in (and thus the one I'm most interested in impressing...), spoke with me and further discouraged my idea and encouraged me to try a different approach. To be fair, the approach this professor suggested is the more traditional one and in some senses would be easier. But just because it's easier and is the way everyone else does it doesn't mean it's better. Right? But then you throw into the mix-of-thoughts the fact that this professor and the other two have all been working successfully in their respective fields for a long time and know what they're talking about...and maybe I should listen to them. How do I know if my way won't work, though? But if it doesn't, all those folks who gave me the "you're crazy" looks will just shake their heads and say "I told you so" and remind me of my silliness to even try.

...Once my brain hits this point, the scale tips to the COMPLETELY AWFUL, WASTE OF TIME DAY mark, and I'm sorry I ever came to this conference and want to just move to Switzerland and pursue research on something totally unrelated so I can get away from all possible thoughts and associations with these people who must think I'm a complete idiot for even envisioning the future that I spoke of...

It reminds me of when I wanted to be the place kicker on the high school football team but after practicing and training through the summer, right before the season started the football coach basically told me I couldn't. But that's another story.

So, I suppose what I should learn and do from all of this is take these peoples' suggestions for what they're worth, give myself some credit (after all, I'm 26 and nearly have my PhD in microbiology and molecular virology - I must have some idea of what is going on, right!), and remember that I'm a person, too, regardless of my age and experience, and my thoughts and feelings do have value. I am a person and not a 26-year-old microbiologist. That is far, far too limiting of a definition.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

what i want

I kind of think I should not write this here; it's more like a journal entry. But what the heck...maybe it will be of assistance to someone else.

I haven't reached any final conclusions yet, but many things are ordering themselves neatly in My Crazy Brain regarding where I'm headed in "the future." Specifically this means "my career." Over the past several weeks I've been getting (I hope!) a much better vision of (again, career-wise) what I enjoy, what I'm good at, what that means, and what I should do about it. If I had to give a word to the result of all this thinking, it is CLARITY. Not utter and complete clarity, but clarity nonetheless.

But something else has happened as I've been attempting to muddle through myself and all that is me. Not only can I now look through job ads and say, "Nope...nope...not quite...hey that one's good...nope...no" (instead of my previous method: "Hm...well...I could do that...but I'm not sure if I'd really like it...but it's a job...and it's at a pretty good institution...and maybe if I work on that virus for a while I'll learn to like it...") but I also feel a bit more capable of viewing people this way. I can't believe I just wrote that - it sounds excruciatingly cruel, judgmental, and mean. But I don't quite mean, "Hey, let me go down a line of people and give them a plus or a minus and decide whether I will give them the time of day or not." I'm still all about being kind and respectful and friendly to all people. However, I think I can also tell with more clarity who is a good "mesh" for me and who isn't. (Please, if you do insist on thinking I'm being cruel, judgmental, and mean, please please please tell me -- I'm still open to being wrong, even in my own self-evaluation!!!)

The concepts of "compatibility" and "chemistry" in the study of social interactions have long been rather repulsive to me simply because they seem to be so...categorical. "Ruth, you'd do well with someone who is intelligent, conservative, driven, and family-oriented." What, so I need to just reject all people who are not highly-educated, liberal, working hard at a dead-end job, and prefer dogs and cats to children and babies? Of course, that's not precisely what it means, but you get the picture. Where's the "give people a chance" and "sometimes people change" in all of that? And isn't that saying, "I'm too good to associate with that sort of person"?

But as I understand more about who I am and what I am all about...it makes me realize that those categories, however limited, do indeed mean something. If I can say "I like this, I don't like that, I'm good at this, I'm bad at that" about myself...why in the world can I not say, "I like this type of person, I don't like that type of person, I'm good at relating with this type of person, I'm bad at properly dealing with that type of person"? I sort of think that I can...and should! It seems rather foolish to get into a relationship - friends, dating, anything - saying, "Well, no matter how utterly difficult it is to get along with this person and no matter what we do to hurt each other, I am determined to make this thing work!" That's called Control Freak and oversimplifies things.

I am believing more and more that sometimes...some people are not good for each other. May be because of one person, may be because of both people. But sometimes, there are, in fact, irreconcilable differences. ...Much better to recognize this before getting emotionally attached or - worse - making a lifelong commitment to the person, right?

Friday, August 17, 2007

politics and economics

There are many things I know something about, but two that I am quite incompetent about are politics and economics. To my credit, I have in fact taken a university course in economics, and I did in fact get a good grade in it. I have never studied anything at all about politics.

However, despite this lack of understanding of these two subjects, I still feel like I have something worthwhile to say about a plan one of the Republican presidential candidates for 2008. I heard Mike Huckabee on NPR this morning, and he discussed an interesting concept: get rid of income tax. Again, I'm not economist, but I have this very huge gut feeling that making income tax a thing of the past is not going to do all that Huckabee says, and the immediate repercussions of doing so seem to be quite drastic and not at all helpful. I'm happy to hear others' comments - again, I really have no idea about economics, and this is all based on my perhaps naive common sense and the very small amount of microeconomics I remember, most of which is focused around tacos and burritos (for some reason those were the commodities my econ professor ALWAYS used for examples and exam questions...):
  • Huckabee boldly and rather giddily presents his listeners with the notion that when income tax is over, the IRS will be no more. As if the IRS is some Evil Monster That Sucks The Life Out of All Living Organisms. As if our main enemy is the IRS. As if the IRS is what everyone gets mad about when they have to pay taxes. Personally, I don't blame the IRS for the taxes I have to pay; obviously they are not making the laws about taxes...it's people like senators and congressional members and presidents who are creating and approving the tax laws. But that's not my point. The point is that if the IRS goes away...that means over 100,000 people suddenly don't have a job. Great start - a 1% increase in unemployment, if I am calculating unemployment rates properly. From what I can gather, Huckabee doesn't have new jobs for these IRS workers in his plan.
  • Too bad for the IRS, but that's not all who will be out of work. Ever needed a CPA? Won't need one anymore! Not for personal income tax returns, and also not for corporate taxes. Which means the people at your company who do all the tax stuff...yeah, they won't have a job either. And probably a few of the people who do payroll will be out of luck, also, because without payroll tax, there will be less work for payrollers to do, so some of them will get the boot.
  • Let's pretend that all the people who lose their jobs at the IRS and accounting firms and company payroll offices are all able to find nice jobs at McDonald's. (I'd love to go on a tangent here, because Huckabee - and I admit I admire this about him - is big on encouraging health to prevent the need for treatment later on. The tangent would go something like this: nice job at McDonald's = eat lots of BigMacs = get more health problems = need to participate in those weight-loss programs Huckabee wants to make low/no cost = more money needs to be spent by the government on the weight-loss programs, but that's a problem, because there's no income tax and all the people who are eating all the Big Macs are at poverty level and so, due to Huckabee's plan, they're not really contributing any money to the funding of the government spending budget because all the tax they "spend" gets refunded back to them.) Let's pretend all those people find jobs, even if they're not at McDonald's (hm, maybe it's the new Wal-Mart that gets put in down the road... Those Wal-Mart people are so good at creating new jobs in places that need jobs! And they also seem to be pretty good at causing landslides). But I think it's fairly safe to say that the people are probably going to be making a bit less than what they used to. That means they're going to have less money to spend. And that means either they will use credit more or that less of their money will be spent on items that would put consumption tax money into the "government money pool." Credit isn't so cool, but that's another whole Hairy Beast. The larger issue is the fact that these (and, of course, all other) non-wealthy people will effectively not be paying any taxes. And the people who didn't work for the IRS, accounting firms, etc. -- who have high-paying jobs and are "wealthy" -- WILL. Does this seem any different from the way it is now?
  • No corporate taxes. Let's get back to that issue. If you're a company and there's now tax on U.S. goods, why in the world would you want to buy U.S. goods? You're a big company with huge buying power and a big bottom line that reads MONEY. You simply buy more stuff from other countries who don't have all that tax on them. That, by the way, also means fewer U.S. jobs. This is because A)if corporations are buying less from the U.S., the U.S. has smaller need to employ people to make stuff for corporations to buy and B) smaller corporations or businesses won't be able to compete with the big corporations who can buy the cheaper non-U.S. goods...so the smaller guys will get shut down (okay, so maybe that one is a little anti-Wal-Mart biased...but still!).
Ugh, I'm getting tired of this!! My weariness definitely proves that I am not politically-minded... I acknowledge that there are some good points in Huckabee's plan and argument for his FairTax plan. That's great except that they're interspersed with such diabolically ungood points. I think I can muster a bit more strength to comment on a few other statements on Huckabee's website page about this issue. If nothing else, I at least want whoever reads this to be encouraged to not, not, NOT be swayed by the lovely, persuasive words Huckabee or others use to try to sway you emotionally into buying into a particular view. For example: Huckabee says that when his plan is implemented, "it will be like waving a magic wand releasing us from pain and unfairness." Um. Excuse me? ...I don't know about you, but I sort of feel uneasy about trusting someone who is going to just wave a magic wand and solve all the problems of the country. Which, truly, if you read it, is what he's saying! Yow! Perhaps if you were really desperate and were looking for someone to save you from your miserable existence this would be a welcome invitation. But I'd say that for the majority of Americans (in particular, the majority of those who would be reading Huckabee's website), they don't want magic. (Can you imagine... President Huckabee signs the FairTax bill into law...and POOF!!!! The Dow Jones Industrial Average soars to 20,000...everyone who's been laid off gets a call to come back to work IMMEDIATELY!...backruptcy is reversed...the people who foreclosed the houses and farms track down the displaced and bring them back home...the lame walk, the blind see, all pain is erased, there is racial and religious and ethnic and gender fairness as far as the eye can see...!)

One final rant - I've gotta go catch the last bus to my house!! - on this paragraph: "I believe that globalization, done right, done fairly, can be a blessing for our society. As the Industrial Revolution raised living standards by allowing ordinary people to buy mass-produced goods that previously only the rich could afford, so globalization gives all of us the equivalent of a big pay raise by letting us buy all kinds of things from clothing to computers to TVs much more inexpensively." Whom, precisely, do you mean by "us," Mr. Huckabee? I realize that you are interested in not just free trade, but also fair trade, but I think you forget that when goods are mass-produced...from the very beginning of its inception, somebody, somewhere is certainly not enjoying the "blessing" on society. I'm no history expert, but I do recall things like child-labor and deterioration of family life being quite rapid results of the Industrial Revolution. It sounds like Huckabee is convinced that the primary way to be happy is to have luxury items easily at one's disposal. Ugh...I could go on, but...I'll stop.

Tell me, what do you think of no IRS?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

socks galore!

FINALLY...socks are done.

Not just my sockapalooza socks, but also the Retro Rib Socks I've been working on for over a year... Ugh. That is not cool. AND I even got my own pair of sockapalooza socks in the mail yesterday. Woo hoo! If I could, I would take a picture to indicate that I have socks coming out of my ears!

Here are some photos and the tales to go along with them:
  • Sockapalooza Socks knit for my pal Anne.
These are made with "Peach Sherbert" Flock Sock yarn from Van Calcar Farm. It is wonderful yarn...I love it. I went with the Shimmer pattern from MagKnits. I loved that the yarn did not pool and that the colors all blend and stand out individually at the same time. I just hope they fit...! I had stupidly not started these socks until the beginning of July, knowing full well that the deadline was the start of August (and based on my skill with the Retro Ribs...yeah...knitting socks in a month...?!?!) - but I figured that with some weekly goals, I'd be good to go. That as true until the last week, when a) I had to start working ALL THE FREAKING TIME and b) I ran into some dropped stitch issues which had to be fixed...then a realization that I had messed up the pattern (probably because I was knitting after working for so long...)...then the whole binding off issue. I don't know what my problem was, but I could not for the life of me get the top cuff bound off loosely enough for someone to actually stick her foot through the hole and get the sock on. I had to redo it three times. I really hate undoing bind-offs...but at least now I'm pretty good at it!
  • Retro Rib Socks for me.
I love this pattern. I think I could even use a crazy-colored yarn and it would be very lovely; generally I wouldn't be a fan of texture with multi-colored yarn. But, like most everything else, I had a few issues with these socks, too. The largest of which you probably have already noticed: I have two dye lots of yarn. If you look at the sock on the left, you'll notice that just past the gusset (that's the part that connects the heel to the foot) the color changes. Yuck. I kind of coulda gone back and made this color change a bit less visible, but...I didn't want to. Recall...I have been working on these FOR A YEAR. No way was I going to undo any of my knitting just to fix a part of a sock that usually will be covered with shoes anyhow. So...if you see me wearing these socks, please don't say anything about the two-tone... I also could have made them a bit less long in the foot. But not a big deal. The worst thing I did with these socks was put them on the day after I finished them and then did a bunch of cooking. Somehow I managed to effectively "clean" the floor with the socks...the poor wool is now a filthy mess. Bleh. Gotta bust out out the hand-wash-wool soap... I also learned with these socks that I quite dislike having to recalculate everything when I choose a yarn for a project that has a different gauge than the yarn specified in the pattern. Not only did I have to do that for these socks, but I had to do it twice because in between sock 1 and sock 2 I lost the copy of the pattern on which I had written all my calculations. Grrrrrr....
  • Socks Made For Me! by my sockpal, Cathy.
When I took out these socks, the very first thing I said was, "These are WONDERFUL!" It's always amazing to me how people who don't even know me can pick out yarn and a pattern and make socks for me that I absolutely adore. The color: perfect. (I actually think I have a shirt my sister gave me that matches it precisely!) The pattern: awesome. I'm rather tempted to make some myself with this Uptown Boot Sock pattern from Favorite Socks - enough of a texture (and knitting challenge!) without being crazy and making my head hurt. I put on my new socks right away, but immediately put on slippers (you can see one in the picture) lest I decided to go venture into the kitchen to do some more "cleaning"...

And that is the story of the socks. The sockapalooza socks are getting into the mail today (okay...so I'm a bit late for the August 2-7 deadline...well...oops...life took a few unexpected turns, we'll leave it at that), and that means all of my knitting-for-others is done! Woo! Perhaps that means I can make something for myself (that won't be socks that take a year...).

Or...perhaps not, because my friend Jen had her baby on Thursday...and perhaps he needs a cute little crocheted bunny...and a sweater...and some booties...?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

i'm okay

Er, well, at least I am alive. Perhaps "okay" is not how many would describe me.

In brief, here is what I have been doing:
  • Camping with Mom and Dad
  • Attempting to get my Sockapalooza socks finished by the Absolute Final Deadline, which was today, and which was not accomplished because I am apparently incapable of binding off in a manner that allows one's foot to still fit through the top of a sock
  • Trying to finish a piece of writing for work that I wanted to finish about 6 months ago
  • Preparing for doing a ton-load of work in the lab
  • Plotting my future
  • Doing the ton-load of work in the lab
This last is where I'm at right now. It's been something to the tune of 15-plus hour days for 8 days straight, and it will be this way with perhaps 5 days off between now and August 22. So if I don't appear to be in existence based on my writing on this blog, that is why.

By the way, do you realize how much time is left over for sleep when someone works 15 hours daily? Particularly when it takes between 15 and 30 minutes to get to or from work (depending on which road is closed at the specific hour on the specific day of the commute) and that it's utterly impossible to just roll out of bed and leave for work -- give at least 30 minutes for feeding a rabbit, showering if at all possible, locating clothing and food...and (most importantly) brewing some good, strong coffee.

Friday, July 20, 2007

the deathly hallows

Today is the official release of the final book in the Harry Potter series, in case for some reason you don't know. (It is interesting that the release of a "children's book" is national news, but...hey, so was the trampling of people at Wal-Mart when they started selling the Xbox 360. News, I tell you...)

For those curious, no I did not preorder the book, no I do not intend to rush out and attempt to buy it, and yes I am going to try very, very, very, very hard to not find out what happens until I find the time (and a copy of the book) to read.

I am, however, wearing my Harry and the Potters t-shirt today. It is a reminder to all that no matter what happens in the last book...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

i should have been an engineer

Gracious!

Not that I'm getting worried or anything, but as I embark on this "what am I going to do once I graduate?" quest and start looking into jobs and fellowships and all that jazz, I am discovering that engineering seems like a very lovely place to be. I pulled up a listing of jobs openings being advertised through the University's career services website, and no less than HALF of the jobs were for engineers! And they weren't in boring things like "do research for the rest of your life" or "let's run the same computer simulation every day Monday through Friday for 80 years" or any other rat-race things that seem unappealing to me. They were in practical application settings (like...manage water treatment) and useful, cutting-edge disciplines (like...the U.S. patent office).

I'm sure these jobs aren't nearly as splendiferous as I envision them to be, but the fact remains that a) any one of these jobs would NOT require a PhD and b) any one of these jobs would pay at least twice as much as any job I'll be getting in the next five years even WITH my PhD in biomedical science (unless I go into biotech or pharmaceuticals, which I don't want to do). I think people assume that because a person has lots of letters after his or her name, that person must be earning a whole lot of money. That is not true.

Not that money is everything. But still - I sometimes regret that I did not really comprehend what engineering was until about 3/4 of the way through my last year of undergrad. ...Actually, I didn't really get it until about 6 months ago. I believe I would have really enjoyed engineering, at least certain types of it. Now I feel like it's too late to learn it and/or too expensive to go back to school to study it.

Pity, too, because although there's that geeky, nerdy image always given to engineers, my experience has been that there are actually two categories of engineers. One is that classic kind: Dilbert-esque, with horn-rimmed glasses taped together with white tape, always way more organized than ever necessary, in their own world using language nobody but engineers understand, and entirely socially inept. The other is a completely different breed: they are hot (as in good-looking), fit, suave, charismatic, and could be Abercrombie & Fitch models. I kid you not. I have known many such people! Combine that all with the extraordinary intelligence and drive one must have to be an engineer, and you have pretty much the perfect individual. ...And to think I could have gone into engineering and met a perfect man while sitting in thermodynamics class and fallen in love (since the male:female ratio in engineering is such that any woman has a pretty good chance of finding an available man) and lived happily ever after with lots of money... Sigh. What was I thinking??! But I suppose I would have been just as likely to have gotten stuck with Dilbert.

Anyways, that's not a good reason to embark on any particular career. Beyond the excitement, money and amazing-men draws of engineering, we get back to the whole microbial fuel cell thing. My heart is not set on these or any other sorts of biofuel technologies, but every so often I wish that I held the knowledge that would enable me to hop right into that field instead of needing to work with all my might to open the door to get myself in. It's useful. It's interesting. And it's something I just wish I could understand more. But I don't recall how to do calculus and I can't keep electrochemistry terms straight and I never totally understood quantum mechanics (I know - it was just me who didn't get that concept, right?). It feels like when I look at the fuel cell world...it's in this glass building that I can peer into, but which I need a special key to gain access, and I don't HAVE that special key, so I can never get in. I can't get to that thing that go grabs at my heart, that sparks such an interest in me. ...Probably the fact that I "can't" have it is part of what makes me want it so much...

But what am I talking about? I don't want to have a career in biofuel cell research and development! I want to teach! What am I fretting about?

...But it would be cool if I could teach engineering...

:-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

movies

Yay! It's Harry Potter movie day!

Before you do anything else, you must go and watch this video about the Dark Lord Waldemart courtesy of the Harry Potter Alliance. Hee hee.

In my infinite lack of foresight, I completely forgot that today was the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but had intended to write about movies as referenced in yesterday's post. So, there you go. And thus I begin my post about movies.

I have seen a TON of movies in the past several days. Well, a ton for me, at least. I don't watch much media at all. I have no idea which television shows are good, bad, or even being broadcast (except that NPR made this big deal about The Sopranos ending, so I know that's over). I don't really remember the last time I went to a movie theater before Tuesday night (it was, I'm sure, sometime in the past year, but a year turns out to be too long for me to remember very well). I do remember that I saw Pirates of the Carribbean 2 at the drive-in, but I usually don't count that as a real theater. I've been so conditioned to resist movies that when a certain person whose name begins with D asked me several months ago if I wanted to go to a movie with him, I very promptly said, "No!" with a very big exclamation point. What I meant was I did not want to go to a movie - not that I didn't want to do something with him. I also very promptly explained why I had so emphatically said no. But still...me and my big, uncontrollable, tactless mouth... ...And I wonder why he doesn't talk to me anymore... :-)

Anyhow, the movies I have seen this week:

Sunday I went to Cinema in the Park, which is something run by the Pittsburgh Citiparks where they hoist up this huge screen and show movies. For several years the running joke was that I was never going to be able to actually view one of these, because every time I made plans to go, it rained, and that meant it was canceled for the night. Fortunately, last summer the trend changed, and I have now been able to attend a couple times. This weekend's movie was the Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves (not my favorite choices, but what does that matter?). Not too bad. Required enough thinking and trying to keep track of dates and times and such, and so it kept me on my toes. Not full of sex, violence, drugs, or other offensive sorts of things.

Monday night I pulled out the sock and sat myself down with some popcorn to rewatch the first Harry Potter movie. It is a little pathetic, but I only own 6 DVDs. I own more videos, but I have nothing with which to watch them. That's okay. The DVDs in my collection are as follows: the first 4 Harry Potter movies...an independent film someone I know made...and Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet. I guess that means I like Harry Potter. I didn't quite make it through the whole movie Monday night and had to go to bed just as the kids started playing a huge game of chess.

Yesterday I actually went to a movie theater, which turns out to be a really great choice in the middle of July because there is air conditioning. Incidentally, when I got home yesterday after work, the A/C in my apartment was on, which meant that it's been fixed! Hooray! It's been out for about 2 weeks, although gratefully the unit has seemed to keep itself fairly constantly at about 75 degrees even without the artificial cooling. Still, it was nice for things to be in working order again. The movie I watched was Ratatouille, and I rather liked it. I also rather liked the theater my friend and I attended to watch it - it's WAAAAAAAAY smaller than anything I've ever been to (for quite a long time, Grand Rapids was the worldwide leader in movie screens per capita, and they are still home to 20-theater Studio 28, which was the largest theater complex in the US for some time and (I think) is still the largest in the state of Michigan) but was lovely in its quaintness and reminded me that city-stuff can be nice even if one prefers big, huge suburban-stuff. (I will note, however, that the movies cost the same amount at this little theater as they do at the big theaters at the big shopping centers farther from the hustle and bustle of the city.) ...Ah yes, the movie. It was funny. I found myself laughing out loud a lot. Again it was good, clean humor - appreciated. There's also a short shown at the beginning of the movie, which seems to be the going rate with Pixar films these days - it was quite good, also.

With all that, I'm movied out, so I think I'll wait a bit to see HP5.

After the movie last night the friend I went with and I were talking about films, and the topic of chick-flicks came up. I commented that I don't prefer watching them because I think they tend to breed a lot of discontent and disillusionment. You know - "Oh, even though this relationship I'm in is totally cruddy, in the end a magical man will swoop in and save the day and we'll live happily ever after" or "That couple is so happy...I wish I had a Romeo who suddenly falls in love with me when he looks at me through an aquarium and then I'll lie to my parents and the next day we'll get married even though I don't even know anything about him - like his drug problem and that he was lovesick over some other girl just this past afternoon and his incapacity to control his anger and other emotions and how he and his friends all like to randomly shoot things on the beach..."

My friend agreed and added that in these movies it's the same thing every time: there's an emotional affair. It's like humans can't possibly be entertained by watching a couple remain singly interested in JUST one another - there always has to be at least one competing interest that is preventing either the man's or the woman's life. And thus is it any wonder that this is what happens in real life, too? The concept of having two men to pick between - keeping both of them "around" just in case the other doesn't pan out - seems to have invaded the thinking of the American culture. How sad. This comment caught my attention, and I've been mulling over it ever since. I won't go so far as to say "love," but emotions are a powerful force. I do hope I do not fall victim to their overwhelming tendency to grip and control my thinking, particularly in the matter of relationships!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

in which i actually knit something

Look! Yes, it's true, I have been knitting. I promised! I wasn't lying! Here's what I've been making:

First is a "nursing tank-top" for my friend who is expecting her first baby, a little boy, in August. I thought: cloth-diaper-supporter...appreciates knitting because she can make scarves...having a baby in the hottest month of the year...this lady would certainly appreciate a nursing tank! I don't have a very good picture of the finished (meaning all sewn together) product, but here's something, at least.This was actually pretty fun to knit. The bottom was way boring - just round and round and round stockinette, although the periodic increases did keep me on my toes (and the fear that the whole thing was going to be way too short because it just rolls up and there's no ribbing at the bottom also helped keep me alert). The top part, though, was really neat! It's made in double-end knitting (which means knit one stitch with one ball of yarn, knit the next one with a second ball, continue - it makes a more "durable" (and less see-through) fabric but rather requires using two hands at once) and has many short-rows, and there was one point in the pattern when I stopped and just had to stare at the instructions for about 15 minutes until it all made sense. They're very well-written directions (I did find one "mistake" I suppose you'd call it), and it all worked out in the end. And making the inside triangles was also pretty fun. Then I got to bust out my sewing machine and sew this, that, and the other thing together. What fun! It did get a little stressful when the baby shower kept getting closer and closer and I still had much knitting to do. Fortunately work slowed down enough for me to spend some long evenings finishing up.

The other item I'm working on is another deadline knitting project. I really have to stop doing this "make it by X date so you can give it" although I must admit that everything I've set out to make for someone else has been completed pretty quickly, but the top and socks I started for myself A YEAR AGO are still not done... That's sad. At any rate, the current challenge is sockapalooza socks.

I was sure I had a pattern picked out, but at the last minute I changed my mind. I am making very fast (for me) progress on the Shimmer socks from MagKnits. I started on July 1, and look!Sock one is sorta-kinda-almost done! (It's past the heel, at least, and for me that means pretty much done. Heck, if worse came to worse, I could bind off right now and the sock would be done. Short, but done.)

Part of the inspiration for my very rapid progress on this one is that I have to get it done by August 2 (or 7...the deadline sort of got extended...but I will be way too busy with work at that time, so it doesn't really matter). I realized, "OH NO! I have to magically knit two socks in a MONTH!? Yow..." That has resulted in me knitting pretty much whenever I can. Waiting for the bus...riding the bus...watching movies (see tomorrow's post for insight into this rather rare event)... I was kind of angry at myself for not taking the yarn and sticks with me to the 4th of July picnic I attended...and then couldn't get away from and thus was forced to also not have my knitting as I lamely sat around waiting for the fireworks to start. That was an utter waste of something like 4 hours of knitting time! Gasp. I suppose the talking to other people thing I did instead was of some use, though.

I want to take a moment to rave about this yarn, too. It's Peach Sherbet from VanCalar Acres, a family-run sheep farm in New York. The lady who spins and dyes just happens to be from Lansing, Michigan, near where I went to undergrad. Yay! That means she sells a very lovely green and white sock yarn that I will definitely be getting for myself and perhaps some other people...! The yarn is very lovely to work with, and the colors are awesome. I really like it. Yay!

So, there you have it. I actually do knit. Though obviously not for myself...

Monday, July 09, 2007

dove

The Golden Girls always had cheesecake in the refrigerator. At my old house with the 3 other women we always had Breyer's ice cream in the freezer. My new kick is to always have dark chocolate Dove Promises in the cupboard (or laying on the table, depending on how lazy I'm feeling). These little morsels of comfort and joy are great not just because of their flavanoids and chocolately goodness, but also because of the "promises" printed on the inside of the foil wrappers. These messages are various and sundry, and sometimes seem incredibly appropriate for my personal situations. Let me share a few of them with you:
  • Dare to love completely. That's kind of hard sometimes. This is on the dashboard of my car. Whatever that means.
  • Learn something from everyone you meet. That is wise. It must, of course, be tempered with "don't USE people to just learn something from them!"
  • Don't think about it so much. Never says what "it" is, but trust me, I know! I stuck this message by my bathroom sink, which I guess is where I tend to think about whatever it is I'm not supposed to think about so much, probably because I think a lot right before bed (when I'm brushing my teeth, etc.) and right when I wake up (when I'm washing my face, etc.).
  • Find your passion. Yes. I know. That is what I am attempting to do, particularly since I am supposed to be thinking about a new job...! Whenever this one comes up, I automatically entitle myself to one more piece of chocolate.
  • When two hearts race, both win. Awwww... Isn't that sweet...
  • Test your own limits and keep going. This one is now on my desk. I first read it when I was in the midst of multiple consecutive 20-hour work days (which, incidentally, make me feel really bad for doctors because they probably have 30+ work days, and that really, really is not cool!), and all I wanted to do was crash in my bed for a few days straight, but I had to KEEP GOING! It worked. Probably a combination of the inspiration and the caffeine in the chocolate (and in my Starbucks lattes), if the truth must be told.
  • You're allowed to do nothing. This needs to be blown up and made into wallpaper and plastered all around my living and working spaces. It's really okay if I do nothing? That sure doesn't FEEL true...! It is, however, a lesson I've been learning, and I suppose it's appropriate that it wasn't until last Friday that I found this message for the first time (it's amazing - I eat so many of these, I keep thinking I've read all of the possible messages! Those Dove people must keep coming up with new ones...); it was on Thursday night that the concept of me not DOING being all right really began to sink into my thick skull.
Hm...I'm getting HUNGRY!

Friday, July 06, 2007

dreams and legacies: the irony

In light of the Independence Day celebration on July 4, I will take this opportunity to ramble about the American Dream and the concept of leaving a legacy.

Most people I've informally polled and most articles I've read indicate a very negative view of the "American Dream." According to Wikipedia (the absolute authority on such things, you know), the American Dream is "the idea held by many in the United States that through hard work, courage and determination one could achieve prosperity." I can't say that's exactly what I would define it as, myself, but yes - something along the lines of "do work, achieve comfort." I've also been taught through the culture in which I grew up that the American Dream is "bad." It's selfish, it's driven by money, power, fame, greed, and other things evil, it's all about ME.

Fair enough. I'd say that many people who are well known for having achieved the American Dream did have lots of money, held power (due to the money), obviously were famous since we know about them. Greed...I can't judge on that one.

However, I believe that there are millions of people who have also achieved the American Dream about whom we never EVER hear and about whom nobody would ever say was greedy, money-, power-, or fame-seeking. I think of a young man from the youth group I used to work with whose single-parent home was run by a cocaine addict. When he was a young teenager he left his own lifestyle of addiction and worked his way into circles of people who would give him the care and help he needed. He graduated from high school and jumped at the chance to join the military to defend those whom he had grown to love when nobody at home loved him. Is that so bad? Have you heard of him? Did he get any more money joining the Army then he would have selling cocaine in one of the richest neighborhoods in the city (the answer to that, if you wondered, is a very adamant NO!!)? Is he HAPPY? ...Yes. There are countless examples of average people like this who have pursued the "Amerian Dream" of ending up somewhere "good," which often takes a lot of work and sacrifice.

...And so why is the American Dream looked upon as this evil thing? In my opinion, at its core the pursuit of a stable lifestyle is not really that bad. No evil motivations need exist to want stability. (Right?) And although the Christian culture I know generally seems to say the American Dream is selfish and terrible and bad, I don't feel this really lines up with what the Bible says. I'm not a Bible scholar, so I'm not going to attempt to justify myself with Scripture; I'll leave that up to the reader to pursue if they feel so moved. I'll just say that one example that has made me think critically about the American Dream. The story of Jacob in Genesis chapters 29-31 tells of how Jacob went from being a bit of an outcast, running from his past, to a new place where he fell in love (or lust?) and then worked for 14 years to get the girl he wanted. In the meantime, his work as a shepherd (earning him only the "spotted and speckled" members of the flock) flourished until he was "exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys." Heck, in the U.S. you don't need to have maidservants and manservants to be considered fulfilling the American Dream and obviously being a tad too elaborate with your lifestyle! Is the family in the suburbs that has three kids, two cars, a dog, and a mortgage considered exceedingly prosperous?

Anyhow, that's my thought on the American Dream. And I'm going to now compare it with a concept that I hear LAUDED in the "conservative Christian" culture I know. That is the concept of leaving a legacy.

Legacies are perhaps easier to define than the American Dream. A legacy is "how people will remember me." Instead of doing stuff to make life here-and-now better (which is the American Dream), legacy-makers do stuff to make life after they're dead better, be it for needy people they don't know, for their city or region or country, or for their own kin.

I have a problem with this. To me, focusing on leaving a legacy and being remembered is much more self-centered than focusing on working hard to overcome obstacles and exist in a semi-reasonable state. Instead of working towards a dream to sustain one's name (and life) for a few score years, a legacy-maker works to ensure a name FOR EVER. A legacy is ALL about "ME"...which is ironically what I've been fed the American Dream is all about. How in the world does a legacy - which inherently is "Joe Smith did this, that, and the other thing!" or "Jane Doe left us X amount of money!" or "Tom Shmo wrote this awesome song that we'll always remember!" - not give praise, laud, and glory to the person? Isn't it supposed to be about GOD?

And besides that, any of these memories of the person aren't accurate - nobody 100 years from now will be able to accurately recall the person, his or her personality, his or her favorite foods -- the stuff that really IS that person. Nope, 100 years from the time of legacy-leaving, all that's left of the person is a dim reflection (or even a jaded misrepresentation) of who the person really was. Abraham Lincoln's 56ish years of life are boiled down to "president, Civil War, emancipation, beard." I truly think that his friends would say he was much more than that!

What's the reality, per the Bible? Here's one brief section from Ecclesiastes 9:4-10.
Anyone who is among the living has hope--even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun. Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun--all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes really puts this all into perspective for me: all this human world -- it's all meaningless. What has meaning? Ecclesiastes 3:14 says "I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him."

Hm.

So, those are my patriotic thoughts for the week, I guess. In summary, I conclude that any "way of life" can be bad, it's all about the motives. I lean more towards the "American Dream" than the "legacy" and feel angry when I'm told that one way or the other is absolute evil.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

point of view

I have a very odd problem. It's not too often that my brain gets "stuck" and is incapable of thinking in a particular way. I enjoy word and number and logic puzzles, and I like to think that doing these helps keep my neurons flexible so they can get me through whatever problems happen to come up in life. (I think that this concept originated from my days in college, when I would convince myself that playing Minesweeper counted for a little bit of "study" time because it was such great mental exercise...)

But my brain is now officially stuck.

The conundrum: I cannot figure out how to write in a combination of first and third person.

This might require a bit of explaining, because how can anyone write from two different perspectives simultaneously? That is illogical! (And is probably why my brain is giving out on me). But here's what I want to do, and this takes me back to my age-old aspiration of being a novelist - write a story that has parts told by a woman in first person ("I went to the store, I bought groceries...") but also seamlessly shifts to third person where the original story-teller is STILL telling the story, but it's not longer her story ("At the store I saw my friends Bill and Craig. They went home and played video games. While they were playing they had an interesting conversation and it went like this...").

I have been pondering a) how to do this and b) why this seems to complicated, and I realized that part of the reason it's so tough for me to conceptualize is that I have been writing nearly exclusively in first person for the past five or more years. Most of the writing I do for school and work is, essentially, in first person ("We proposed to do this..." "I conducted the following experiment..."). Even the stuff I write that's not so technical is in first person - my journal is all "Today I did this; I feel like this; I wonder about this." I very rarely write anything from any other perspective! Perhaps I should practice!!

Well, anyhow, my lovely readers, have you any advice? Do you know any good books that are written in the style I'm striving for? I specifically need to figure out how I can switch from first- to third-person without having a segue in between (not like the example above; e.g. I need to say "I went to the store. The end. Next chapter: Bill and Craig were sitting playing Grand Theft Auto when all of a sudden..." without it sounding all weird).

Ah...this is what I love about writing...it's not all that simple!

By the way...is it possible to write in second person?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

confirmation that i am in fact a woman

...Hm, on second thought, perhaps that isn't the best of titles for a blog post. But I'm keeping it.

Hello, everyone! Yes, I exist still. It's amazing - I thought for sure that when I went to sleep at 6a.m. on Saturday morning after being in and out of the lab since 8a.m. on Friday that I would never wake up. But I did, in fact, wake up...at 2:30p.m. It was quite a surprise to look at the clock and see that the day was mostly over. I had just enough time to cram in a "breakfast" of coffee and a banana and "lunch" of chocolate chip cookie dough before it was time to meet a friend for dinner at 5! The moral of the story is that I have been crazy busy with work.

It's good - I have proven to myself that I can in fact singlehandedly take care of an experiment that normally I would be required to employ the assistance of at least 3 other people. This is very difficult to schedule, in case you couldn't figure that out for yourself. It is much easier to schedule an experiment into my life when it is just ME who needs to be involved with it. And truthfully it doesn't take that much longer to do with just me than it does with everyone else, although I have to sacrifice a couple replicates of tissue samples, which means less statistical power. But oh well. It's much less of a headache.

Now, that has nothing to do with my post's title! Let me get to the point here...

I got my hair trimmed last Saturday, and the stylist thought it would be great to straighten it. She tried to convince me that despite what everyone seems to think, it doesn't really take that much time to style one's own hair from naturally curly to unnaturally straight using a brush and a hair dryer. She did it in about 12 minutes. And, as she said, everyone should have 12 minutes to give up in a day - it would be rather a bad thing if one didn't. What she doesn't realize, though, is that even if I had all the time in the world to straighten my hair, I do not a) want to and b) own a hair dryer. At any rate, here is a picture of me with the straight and trimmed hair.Ah - and speaking of haircuts, someone else recently got one because she looked a bit crazified herself.It was indeed driving her to eat phone books, it appears. However, cutting Joelle's hair isn't a one-time event. It's a multi-day process because she dislikes it so distinctly and because there is so much hair. So I thought I might terrorize her by making a sort of mohawk and taking pictures to then display on the world wide web.Finally we got it all off. Isn't she a looooong bunny??I love it when she lays all stretched out like that.

Okay, so I got my hair cut. And then I threw on jeans and a fleece and old tennis shoes and ran some errands and went to an intense counseling session and then went to the vicinity of my church. I wanted to attend the Saturday night service because I was slated to meet a friend on Sunday and wanted to keep that open in case I had to hit the road before church time to reach the 3-hour-away destination. I didn't realize that there are extra funky people hanging around the church area on Saturday evenings.

I should note that my church is located in what many would call a "bad" part of town. It's really not, but it is on the cusp and is often populated with people who would most likely fall into the poverty category. Not that this really bothers me, but I am aware that there are certainly some shady dealings going on at some times, and it's good to keep aware of one's surroundings.

I had reached the church area early and decided to walk a block to the gas station to get some food since I was absolutely starving. As I walked along this fine gentleman (I say sarcastically) called out, "Where you going with that fine self?" (And, I should note - this was the best - this other dude leaning against the wall of the building I was passing muttered, "None of your business!" Thanks, man!) I totally ignored him and kept walking. But then I thought...wait a second...I'm wearing JEANS a FLEECE and GRUBBY TENNIS SHOES. Hello??! I do NOT look fine! But, apparently I did, because when I (regrettably) walked back the same way, he reminded me several more times that I looked good. Maybe it was the haircut?

Okay, so that was last week. And it didn't irk me too much other than the fact that even if I try really hard to be modest and don't try at all to even look nice, men can still take a totally innocent woman and situation and make it be inappropriate. (I should note that women can also do this; the point isn't that men are evil, because they're not. They're just men.)

This week walking to church, however, was when I really realized that I'm a woman.

I like to think that I don't come off as being very vulnerable. I'm tall and I usually try to walk like I know where I'm going. And I am pretty sure it looks like I could run really fast if I had to (and I am pretty sure I actually could, too). I try to convince myself that I am, in fact, quite confident and capable and safe and able to defend myself or deal with bad people that might happen upon my path. And then something like today happens.

I'm on my way to church, going across the street, and this guy is jaywalking across the other street perpendicular to me. Our paths intersect and he says something semi-normal-to-this-area like, "Hi, Miss Lady," which usually means absolutely nothing. I replied with a friendly and courteous, "Hi!" To which he then went on, reaching into his pocket, "I've got something I know you'll love."

Er. I doubted that. I don't know what that something was, but I said, "I'm fine, I don't need anything, thanks," and kept walking.

Right, so that wasn't so bad. But...

But why in the world did I suddenly feel like I wanted to go hide somewhere and cry? Why did I feel so flustered? This person did not attack me or in any way threaten to injure me. We were in broad daylight and there's always about 5 cops doing traffic and stuff around the church, which was about 100 yards away. Why did I feel so...scared?

I'm a woman. Underneath this whole, "I've got it all together, don't mess with me, I can take care of myself, I'm very brave" facade, I know I'm this close to getting plucked from the sidewalk by some strong male and assaulted. I know I'm the target for lewd and inappropriate comments and there's nothing I can do to stop it. I know that I want someone to protect me and I hate having to walk through dark or scary places by myself.

So, in a sense, it's good for things like this to happen to me. They remind me of how I really feel deep down, how I try to cover it up and pretend I'm someone I'm not. It's unfortunate that this pretending is what is both celebrated and accepted in the world today. It's unfortunate that there is such a women-centered battle going on without very many people being acutely aware of it. And it's unfortunate that more men don't realize that women (at least this one!) want to be fought for, defended, and in the end treated with the utter dignity and sheer love for which they were created.