Sunday, December 21, 2008

light

One of my favorite things about this time of year is celebrating Advent. In the four weeks (or six, depending on which church calendar one is using) leading up to Christmas, I think it's great to take a little time to light a candle, meditate on the weekly themes of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace (or whichever colors the particular tradition uses).

It's especially nice because this time of year can be really busy. I know it's been true for me this year!!

I learned something new about Advent this year: traditionally, it is a period of fasting and penitence while waiting for the 'coming' (which is what 'advent' means). I feel like the way my world's spinning around so fast, fasting and penitence are the last things I have time for! So I've been grateful for the moments I've taken on the weekends to light the candles one by one and pause for a bit.

The Advent candle lights are just one of the lights I love about Christmas. I enjoy lights on trees, candles in windows, the welcoming glow of a home filled with friends hosting a Christmas party. And a cozy fire.Warmth, cheer, and security are held in light, especially on fReEzInG cold days like today here in central Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

yes, please!

Drool.

Yarn. Sheep. Needles.

I love knitting!

Actually, considering how much I claim to love knitting, I don't really do much of it. Perhaps what is more accurate, then, is that I love READING about knitting and examining patterns of knitted objects and thinking about what would be fun to knit.

On the cold, snowy night that was Monday I busted out the sweater I affectionately call my Barney sweater. It is the first sweater that I made, and it's VERY amusing. I began knitting because I get sick of having to buy menswear in order to have the sleeves come to the proper place on my arm. Case in point -- the following picture is of me wearing an elbow-length shirt.I didn't know much at all about sweater construction or how to translate a pattern from a bunch of instructions on a piece of paper to the concept of a finished garment. And I guess that is why I decided to add a couple inches to the sleeve pattern's instructions. I don't precisely know why I thought I needed to excitedly begin my first sweater following the largest size on the pattern, but I am guessing it had something to do with the combination of not understanding the concept of ease, not knowing my body measurements, and not shopping for clothes much and thus not knowing my size.

These two decisions proved to be mistakes.

The result was a very large, very acrylic, very purple sweater that has very long sleeves.I'm not able to capture a picture of myself showing just how huge this sweater is, but I'll tell you this: if I roll the sleeves up 3 inches, the sleeves still come down to the knuckle on my thumb. This is in large part because the sleeves are joined to the body of the sweater a good 5 to 6 inches away from my flesh. I suppose that if I were going for oversized, this would be a PERFECT sweater. However, that was NOT what I was going for.

Despite my rather disastrous first sweater experience, I have gone on to make several more, and all fit me quite wonderfully, thanks. Good lesson the first time!

While sitting in Big Barney on Monday, I pulled out an Interweave Knits issue and read an article about Kate Gilbert. Let me put in that what I was supposed to be doing was working on the black socks I'm hoping to have done by mid-December (neither have made it past the heel yet...ergh!). If I would actually take up my knitting even half of the time I spend reading, dreaming, and plotting about knitting, I would have SO much knitwear...! Despite the small number in the Projects-Finished column of my mental spreadsheet-o-progress, I was surprised to find how many of her designs I have in fact knitted. I was also amazed at how many are on my list of things I want to knit. I then decided that I really like Kate Gilbert. Or at least her designs. I'm sure she's awesome, too, but I haven't really ever met her.

A bit more time-wasting led me to the new webzine she and friends have recently begun over at Twist Collective. Yeah. I am eating it up. I like so much about this project. I like most of the projects and love about 75% of them (this is a very large number for me...I am often convinced to buy a magazine if I can find 2 projects I would consider making). I love the graphics - the styling in the photos, the illustrations, the fact that there are multiple angles of garments so we can really see what they look like. I love the articles. I love the fact that it's paperless. And I love the advertisements for Good Things like yarn CSAs and giving small-business loans to women in Honduras. The 'zine isn't perfect, but it has a lot, lot, lot for me to love!

And with that...I think I'll go figure out what yarn I would like to use to make A Cardigan for Arwen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

finally...some (mostly) fo's!

Nothing inspires me to knit more than the following combination: cold weather, Christmas being on its way, and Harry Potter.

After a long hiatus from productive knitting, I seem to be back in the swing of things. It's chilly here - below-freezing weather 24 hours a day. I finally decided that it was cold enough to turn on the heater. Prior, I had been keeping warm with lots of layers and blankets and slippers and heated beverages. AND this:I'd like to say "AND these," being that typically items that go on one's hands are made in pairs. But I have only made one. And I haven't even really finished it - the pattern calls for some crochet edging...plus I didn't even take the time to weave in the yarn ends. BUT...it's not on needles anymore, and it's wearable. And it's REALLY WARM.

This is actually the left-hand mitt (...yes, I'm wearing it on my right hand...) from the Buffalo Girl pattern in the Interweave Knits Summer 2005 issue. Yeah, I've had that sitting around for a while... This is the mitt that I started four times because I would continually mess up the lace pattern. There's one part of the pattern (the thumb gusset) that I either don't understand or is written incorrectly and had to make up some instructions to get through. All's well that ends well: there is room enough for a thumb, and the thing isn't falling apart. The published instructions should be fine for the right-hand mitt, so I've really done all of the dirty work. ...I just need to start mitt two. This guy is ultra soft and warm thanks to its construction in Frog Tree alpaca. I didn't use nearly as much of the yarn as I thought I would, so I may even have enough to make the companion cowl neck-warmer. Suppose I'll leave that until after the second mitt, though.

So - one item done. What else...

Well, I zoned out of the Harry Potter world for a while and missed a bunch of the news. For one, I missed the fact that there is Harry Potter-inspired sock yarn to be had! I stumbled upon some while browsing a yarn store on my birthday. I actually thought that it must have been for sale for a long time because the choices that were left seemed kind of weird to me, but it seems that Tonks, Dumbledore, Hedwig, Lupin, Harry and Ron (together and separate), and Draco are indeed the choices. I was hoping to find a Hermione...and I felt kind of bad that my favorite colorway was indeed Draco. Anyhow, I also missed the fact that the next movie's release date was significantly changed and is not going to be out anytime very soon. I had told myself I would knit up a Hufflepuff scarf for the movie's release using some black and yellow yarn I've had sitting around for a long time. Then I found out the movie would be coming out in the summer and I decided that I should just knit the scarf anyhow. It's not done yet (and has actually been tossed aside...), but it's coming along. I'm using Alison's "HiP" pattern.
Simple and small seems to have been working, so I also cranked out a little sweater.I need to sew it together, but it's mostly ready to be gifted to someone to use as a Christmas ornament. If I can get my act together (a.k.a. organize my time in such a way that I can get a lot of knitting time in between now and December 25), I intend to have a sweater for several friends using this pattern based off of one from Joelle Hoverson's Last Minute Knitted Gifts.

And in the meantime...some socks!What I end up doing with these will depend a lot on how quickly I can finish them and at what point I run out of yarn. I really like these socks - I'm using some Cherry Tree Hill superwash merino that I got from Ruth's sale and following a slightly-modified version of a toe-up pattern from Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks. One sock is being made with yarn coming from the outside of the ball of yarn, the other with yarn from the inside. Most of the sock yarn I have worked with has been self-patterning, and I can't do the inside/outside thing to have two socks going at once that end up matching...but it's kind of nice to do with these particular guys. And I LOVE KNITTING SOCKS!!!! They make a great companion while standing in line for 90 minutes at the polling place on Election Day.

So, that's what I've been doing. Among other things. Like visiting Niagara Falls with Not Joe and another pal (not pictured).

Monday, October 20, 2008

a very great birthday

Not long ago Not Joe asked me what my best birthday was. I thought hard and realized that my favorite one was nothing flashy or full of "partying." It was my 21st birthday - and no, not because I got trashed at a bar. Some of my dearest friends gave me thoughtful gifts, and then my dad came and picked me up from college when my classes were over and we went to my first Detroit Red Wings game where I got to watch Dominik Hasek play goalie. He drove me back home, I went to bed, and the next day it was Saturday. I'm not sure if in that question Not Joe was trying to get some ideas for something nice to do for me, but if he was I think he probably didn't get much. ...Sorry!

My birthday is October 12, and this year it was on a Sunday. I think that it ranks up there in the top Best Birthdays I've had. I spent the weekend in Pittsburgh because Relient K was playing a concert there on my birthday -- PERFECT! As if that weren't enough, I felt like I was blessed the whole weekend long: Saturday I drove from State College to Pittsburgh through 2.5 hours of gorgeous tree-lined roads, all ablaze in their best fall colors; I spent the day with my dearest friend Michelle and then dined with old pals from the 'Burgh; Sunday I got to go to my old church and hear a sermon that calmed my fears about the crazy stock market; something I had been waiting for for a long time finally occurred; I was served brilliant Indian cuisine by my friend Poonam and received reassurance about some struggles at work while I was at her place; and Relient K played some of my all-time greatest songs AND finished their performance with a encore of "Deathbed," which, since my first hearing of it, I have thought would be amazing to see live (I was right). The drive back to State College took until about 2a.m., but that was okay.

Monday I was gifted with a joint-birthday dinner hosted by a good friend for myself and 2 other pals with birthdays within a week of each other. It was splendid to be served a lovingly prepared meal and play fun games with good folks.

My busy weekend schedule (and the fact that other things were going on Thursday and Friday before my birthday) caused Not Joe to do "his birthday thing" with me the Wednesday before. This entailed getting all dressed up and going to a very lovely Italian place. It was great. He asked me if I felt old now. I realized that I'm 28 and that does seem rather old in some ways. While "being old" at the age of 28 may be arguable, I have to say that I didn't exactly feel young when I got to the Relient K concert; the median age was approximately 14. I often ask myself, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" but perhaps I need to face the facts and conclude that...I am grown up.

:-)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

fun with my shoulder

I began visiting a chiropractor about a year and a half ago. It has been a very delightful experience. The original issue that led me to the chiropractor has been solved through lots of very wonderful and skillful manipulation on the part of "Dr. Josh," but since then other issues have developed. The biggest and most persistent one is with my right shoulder.

I believe that the shoulder issue is mostly due to doing a lot of work on the computer and not doing so in a very ergonomic way. After making a few adjustments to my workstation (which, in many cases, was simply my LAP...certainly not a good way to be doing work for hours on end) during the writing of my dissertation, my problems subsided. However, then I moved away from Pittsburgh and adopted some new bad habits with the computer and also started talking for long periods of time on the phone and endured a lot of stress. The combination of these and probably other factors led me to a morning when I awoke and sat down on the couch and could not bear to put enough pressure on my upper back to get myself off of the couch - my shoulder and neck were in a HUGE amount of pain.

Thus, I found a new chiropractor. She's not the same as Dr. Josh, but she's okay. The shoulder certainly feels a lot better after I visit her. I ought to do some more exercises and stretches to make it so I don't HAVE to go see her to feel all right, but I am admittedly lazy and have not been very diligent in this matter.

Last week I had to cancel my Friday appointment with her, which meant that I went more than 7 days without an adjustment. By Sunday I was in pretty dire straights, so when I went over to Not Joe's to bum around and watch football at the bachelor pad he shares with 3 other guys, the pain had crept further down my spine so my lower back was also hurting. This all made me realize that I should absolutely not sink down into the couch cushions. Instead, I decided to be a good patient and lay on the floor with my legs bent and elevated. It was kind of weird, but it made me feel much better.

Eventually I was feeling okay enough to sit upright, so I carefully settled on the couch. My shoulder still wasn't quite right, but I set to work with some gentle knitting (yes! amazing! i'm knitting something!). I could tell something was just not in the right spot with my shoulder joint. After a few rounds on my circular knitting piece, I slowly lifted up my arm, and there came a huge "POP."

The guys looked over at me warily, and I smiled and said, "Wow, my shoulder feels a LOT better." It did. It felt perfect, in fact.

Not Joe's jaw dropped. "That was your shoulder?!"

It's nice to know that I can amaze guys with my fun joint noises.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

knitting nowhere

Ergh!

It seems that the knitting muse has left me. I am having approximately zero luck with getting anything done. Well, that's probably because I am having approximately zero TIME to work on anything. It's interesting to me how my time is spent very differently with another person being important in my life - namely Not Joe. ...Perhaps I need to start toting my works-in-progress over to his place whenever I go hang out. We do a lot of sitting around talking, anyhow; I might as well knit while doing so.

Regardless of the time issue, there's also the previously mentioned (yes, from way back in July *whimper*) fact that nearly everything I was working on seems to be at a stage where the best option for it is to pull it all apart and begin again. I thought that I could use a quick project to motivate me back into knitting. I chose to make some hand warmers (a.k.a. fingerless gloves) out of alpaca. I adore alpaca, and I knew that fall and winter were on their ways and wouldn't it be lovely to have something soft and warm on the hands when the air became crisp? It's crispy now, but I have no hand warmers. I have started them four times, and then I mess up the simple lace pattern so terribly that the best option is to start all over. Not so cool. To steal a line from Relient K, "They say I've lost my Midas touch, what once turned to gold now turns to rust."

I am thinking I need a Knitting Weekend. Stop doing all the other things I am doing - work, road trips, cleaning my apartment, attacking Joelle's hair, sewing (more on that on another day), more work - and tell myself I have nothing I need to do except knit. ...But it sure is hard to convince me that it's okay to not do all of those other things and be allowed to do something...enjoyable. Wow, what a concept!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

reality

I'm reading a novel. This does not seem to happen very often anymore. The last novel I read was the final Harry Potter book about a year ago. Actually, that may well be the last book I read, period! I pick up books here and there, but very infrequently do I actually get through more than about half of the book before I get distracted or lose interest. Talk about ADD!

Nevertheless, here I am reading a novel. (Although, to be honest, I'm thinking about tossing it aside and not reading any more of it, but that's mostly because the book is bothering me because it's kind of R-rated.) The thing about reading is that it can create a sort of alternative reality. A reader can get so engrossed in what is happening within the pages of the fictitious story that the story seems to be truly unfolding. When the reader is reading, she's entirely into what is happening to the characters. When the reader is not reading, she's thinking about the characters just like she would her friends or family - wondering what they're going to do next, trying to figure out why they acted a certain way... I suppose that's what makes good writing. But it's kind of scary.

While reading my current book, I've been engrossed in the main character's changing relationships with various other characters. I noticed today that I am giving perhaps more of my "reality attention" to the characters' interpersonal relations than my own! Not Joe is in China right now for work and has been gone for the past two weeks. Despite his frequent emails and online chats and calls, it's very different having him not here. In fact, when I strolled in the lab this morning and glanced at the picture of him and me that is on my desk, I felt astounded and bewildered: I'm dating this guy? ...What did I ever do to be so lucky?! I'm dating this guy? Since when do I date people? I only ever have had one boyfriend in my life (yes...I am 27...), and that was eight years ago and really kind of weird and only for three months. I'm dating this guy? He's pretty great. :-)

And...he feels very unreal right now, like just words in an email or on G-chat, like simply a voice on a less-than-perfect phone connection from the other side of the world, like a face in a photograph, like a fictitious someone out of a novel. The unrealness of it brought me the shock: I'm really dating this guy? Truly. Woah. Pinch me. Some part of me is afraid to say it or write it down, because maybe by declaring that I'm dating Not Joe will somehow nullify it, curse it, end it.

The reality of it all is that he is real and we are really dating and he is coming back soon. His flight leaves Beijing in 12 or so hours. He's (presumably/hopefully) sleeping now, and then he'll wake up and get on a plane, and then I'll be picking him up at the airport in State College tomorrow night, God willing. I have been waiting for tomorrow night for the past two weeks. There are many eager questions. What will he say? Will he be dog-tired from the 24+ hours of travel? Will the flights be delayed and I'll end up grumpily waiting in the airport? What will it be like to see him again? What will it be like for him to be tangibly REAL again? Reality is, without a doubt, better than fiction.

Just like in a novel, all I can do is keep trucking along, getting through one "page" after another, letting the story unfold at its own pace. So...I will wait and see what is on the upcoming pages!

So...you want to see? Hee hee. I apologize for my giddiness. I bet it's pretty cute, though.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

defining

This is a little randomocity (that's not really a word), but here goes.

I love words. And over the past week I've been struck with multiple moments of love towards them. Today when it occurred it was enough to send me over here to blog about it.

Every day I receive in my emailbox a note from Anu Garg who publishes A Word A Day. He includes a word, its definition and etymology, and a few examples of its use. Today's word is one I've not heard of before but am entirely grateful that it exists. It's a word that describes something that I find very difficult to put into words: a feeling of resentment and hostility accompanied by the lack of means to express or act upon it. The word is "ressentiment," pronounced Frenchly ruh-san-tee-MAH with the final syllable being nasal. How many times have I felt this way and wanted to say that's how I feel but have been entirely unable to say so?! Wooh! I love words that can succinctly and accurately describe things!

Anu also includes a quote, which has nothing to do with the word. Today's quote addresses a question I've been pondering recently: What is love? (Yes, every time I ask this question the song come into my head... It's a bit distracting.) Here's what essayist Michel de Montaigne has to say about it: "If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I." Ah. So sweet. So accurate. Love is not reasonable and is not able to be reasoned, so it certainly cannot have a definition that really is definitive.

My final thought for the day is that there are words that don't exist but we think they do. Just yesterday I was going to write the word "strategery" - you know, cunning, tactical skill, the quality you must employ in order to successfully carry out a good strategy. But...it turns out that it's not a word. So why in the world do I think it is?! Do you know who made this word that is not a word? A fake George W. Bush. James Downey, writer for Saturday Night Live, created it for a skit poking fun at Bush's invention of and misuse of words. Sad thing is, the fake word has actually now been adopted by the White House. Yow. And all of this tricks me into thinking it's actually a word. No fair!

...Can someone explainify that to me!?!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

alterations and another mystery

For Labor Day weekend I set out to finish revisions for a paper I submitted months ago, cut Joelle's hair all off, do all of the dishes, and unpack boxes that have been sitting in my bedroom since I got here in April. I also intended to get a fairly good chunk of work done in the lab.

At the end of the weekend, what I had in fact done was...play the Sims 2 for a good 12 hours, chill with friends on Saturday and Sunday nights and all afternoon Monday, have ice cream and coffee with coworkers, wash half of the dishes, cut about a quarter of Joelle's hair so that she looks rather insane, write about one sentence for the paper and take out about ten sentences, and rearrange all of the furniture in my apartment.

Hm.

The good news is that somewhere in the midst of the half-hearted haircut and the major change in layout, Joelle seems to be making it into her litter box much better. It is also possible that my presence in the apartment (as opposed to the lab) for much of the weekend contributed to her success. I have also been slipping in some raisins and outstanding grapes when she gets treats for good behavior. In any case, something seems to be working.

Back at work, another mystery exists. In the history of my lab's working with my bacterium, there has only been one or two instances where there has been successful growing of the bacteria on what we call agar plates. They're sort of like Jell-o in a Petri dish. My bacteria only grow when there is no oxygen, and they like very specific growth conditions (a.k.a. what's in the Jell-o). Apparently I am not providing them with what they want, because they are not growing. And that is not good.

The question is WHY. There are several possibilities. One is that there is oxygen in the place where I'm trying to grow the bacteria, and that would make the bacteria die. Another is that the agar plates have not been prepared correctly, which could mean that the ingredients are slightly wrong, they got burned in the process of being made, THEY have oxygen in them, or something else. And it is also possible that there is both a problem with oxygen in the growth chamber and issues with the agar plates.

Slowly but surely clues are coming in. First, the chamber that I thought had no oxygen in it seems to in fact have oxygen. It depends on whether I look at the electronic oxygen sensor (which says there isn't any) or at the low-tech oxygen sensing paper strip (which says there IS). I tend to believe the paper strip since when I put excess non-oxygen gas into the growth chamber and overpressure it so that the rubber gloves that are part of the contraption blow up like balloons and stick out, the gloves deflate back to normal pressure within a few hours. This indicates a leak. Not Joe, being a mechanical engineer and rather handy, stopped by the lab and helped me in this investigation and agrees with me that there's a leak. He's funny: he wanted to figure out in which part of the multi-part chamber the leak existed, and he asked if I had a stethoscope so he could listen for leaks. Why in the world would I just randomly have a stethoscope!? Apparently a screwdriver works just as well, because he used that instead and achieved his diagnosis.

Another clue is that agar plates stored in a separate non-oxygen chamber have a high pH. This is bad since the bacteria don't like high pH and will die if exposed to it. What is kind of annoying is that the chamber in which the pH is wrong actually has no oxygen, which is what I want. But since it has nitrogen gas and not the carbon dioxide that would make the agar plates be at a normal pH, it's useless.

I also realized that the previous work done with the bacteria in our lab was performed in a chamber that detected oxygen using the same oxygen detector that seems to be giving erroneous readings in the leaky chamber. That old chamber also had some odd glove pressurization issues, so it's quite possible that it, too, was leaking and had oxygen inside and was killing the bacteria.

So, at least things are starting to make some sense. The long and short of it all is that there are probably multiple issues going on. Now all I need is one simple way to fix all of those issues. ...Getting that simple way is probably not going to be very easy, though!

Thank goodness I took a class in forensic science in college, eh? I'll get to the bottom of this, and hopefully within a couple weeks I'll have bacteria growing AND all of Joelle's bathroom habits contained in one location. Hopefully I will not need to rearrange all of the furniture in the lab in order to do so...!

Friday, August 29, 2008

behavior problems

My poor Joelle... I think that something is wrong with her, but since she is a rabbit she cannot tell me what the issue is. Thus I must conduct some detective work and attempt to interpret her clues.
me? have behavior problems?
Her behavior has changed since we moved to State College, and that is what has me concerned. The major concern is her use (or lack thereof) of the litter box. In my place in Pittsburgh Joelle had a box in her "house" and another one in the bathroom. She preferred the one in the bathroom, and often when I would come home and let her out of the house she would dash straight away into the bathroom. When I moved to State College I set up a box in the bathroom and showed it to her and even laid out carpet leading up to the box so she would not have to put her furry paws on the slippery tile. However, she has yet to use that box. In addition, not too long after I moved (within a month) she started using other parts of her house instead of her box as the place to pee. This is the most troubling part - and the most annoying. After a couple incidents that first month she's been pretty good, but in the past month she's been pretty consistently leaving spots in the corners that are not where her litter box is. I don't quite know what to do. One day this week I got exasperated and shoved the bathroom box into the house, also...leaving pretty much no room to do much of anything except sit in a litter box. That stopped the peeing-not-in-the-box thing. For about two days. Now it's back and apparently is spreading to any corner she wants.

The peeing is concerning enough, but also in the past week I have caught her chewing up the fabric on my footstool (Curses!!! That's a discontinued slipcover color, naughty rabbit!!) and digging at the carpet near the glass slider (trying to get outside???). She's just been acting WEIRD!

Several possibilities come to my mind:
  • The apartment is smaller than the one in Pittsburgh, so maybe she feels cramped
  • I am not home as much as I was in Pittsburgh, so maybe she is lonely and bored
  • Her hair is a big huge matted mess, so maybe she is feeling miserable about being unkempt
  • Moving probably stressed her out a lot, and maybe that and all the other things have just put her over the edge
Now...what do to about any of those things?
  • I could add on to her house and/or rearrange the furniture to make it seem more roomy (or move to a bigger place...haha, not really)
  • I could get another rabbit, although that would make it even MORE cramped!
  • I could terrorize her by cutting off all of her hair so she's clean again, or I could even pay a lot to have the vet do it while Jo is sedated (this seems like a very tempting option...although the since rabbits are tricky the anesthesia scares me and I feel kind of like it's a cop-out and that I'm a bad mom who can't brush her own kid's hair and that it costs a lot)
  • I could do yoga with her...? Or see if there's bunny Prozac. Or maybe at least do some cuddle sessions, although she doesn't really like cuddling
I suppose I'll try the easier ones first and see what happens. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

on campus

Not only are students prevalent these days on the Penn State campus, the regulars are here, too. All summer long I've been greeted day in and day out by rabbits and squirrels bustling about in the grass and underbrush. These things are the tamest wild animals you can imagine. They can be pretty funny, too: one day Not Joe and I were walking down a path when all of a sudden a trash can started making noise - and out popped a squirrel!

One of the other graduate students in the lab told me that there's a "legend" about the squirrels and rabbits. They are reportedly reincarnations of devoted alumni who now get to live out their days on the university campus they hold most dear. I like this tale simply because it gives an explanation for the 5-toed paw print that is one of the emblems representing the Penn State Nittany lion. I had been befuddled by this print for some time because felines do not have 5-toed prints. In fact, when I looked into it, only small mammals such as minks, otters, and RABBITS and SQUIRRELS have 5 toes showing up in their tracks. So, there you have it - the 5-toed print is actually that of the Penn State alumni-turned-lawn-crawler!

I was astounded the other day on my walk back from Afternoon Coffee to see another wild animal casually hanging out on campus, fittingly seated on a branch in a tree in the Peace Garden.Way cool! I love my neighbors here on campus!

Monday, August 25, 2008

school's on

Woah.

I moved here to Penn State at the end of April, which happens to be the end of the school year. I watched undergraduates dragging their feet and begrudgingly going to final exams. And then they were gone - SUMMER!

But now... Now, my friends, they are back. And with a vengeance!

Suddenly the population of the town of State College roughly doubled. What was once a sleepy town is now bustling. Traffic has picked up in all senses of the word: there are more cars, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians. Part of me thinks I ought to start getting up earlier and reaching campus before it becomes too crazy in the mornings (another part of me really likes to sleep).

It will take some adjusting, to be sure. Also what is sure that, despite the fact that busy-ness around me can be a bit stressful and annoying, I am glad that the "kids" are back in Happy Valley. It just seems right.

Friday, August 08, 2008

not joe

Well.

Back in January I received some flowers from Trader Joe's when I shopped there for the first time. So thoughtful and lovely. They brought a wonderful touch to my apartment.

But now Joe is gone...no Trader Joe's in State College. No real hope of getting any more flora from him.

However, here in State College there is someone even better. Much better than the individual to whom I wrote an unsent letter to last week... And from this Not Joe, I received these yesterday...I agree with Herman: "Something tells me I'm into something good."

Just had to share. :-D

Thursday, July 31, 2008

knit love

Despite what it may have sounded like from my most recent post, life is good. Real good. Really, really good, in fact. There are some bumpy spots, but all in all life's a great thing.

Today I got a message on Facebook (yes...I have become One of Those...) telling me that someone was giving away ice cream bars as part of a promo for a bioreagent supply demonstration. Since I wasn't doing anything at all except sipping coffee, I went over and checked it out. As I meandered across the courtyard to the appropriate location, I thought, "Now...this is IT. Simple pleasures. The fact that I can get all excited about the prospect of free ice cream...that's great!" It is. Got to take the blessings and gifts that are given and receive them with thanks.

Another simple pleasure that has been sorely lacking in my life over the past several months is knitting. There has been a little bit here and there, but nothing major. It's sometimes very humiliating for me to read others' knitting blogs and see them whip out socks and sweaters and baby hats and all sorts of stuff. They get more finished objects in one week than I do in a year. I've pondered why exactly I am not knitting as much now. Was I just a fad knitter? I've heard that yarn stores are closing their doors by the hundreds because the interest is just not there anymore.

I think I'm not a fad knitter. I think there are several things that are keeping me from my wool. The first is that I wrote a dissertation, moved, started a new job, and went on a 2-week international journey in the matter of a month and a half to start out the summer. The second is that there are a lot of new demands on my time. The third is that I have only a 5 minute bus ride to work instead of the previous 30 minute one. The fourth is that I am not terribly intrigued by any of the items I currently have on the needles.

What are those items, pray tell, since I never write about them anymore? Well, there's a vest/tank thing made in brioche stitch. I don't actually know where this is located in my apartment at the moment, so it would be kind of hard to do any work on it. There's a pair of socks, but after forgetting to bring the directions for the heel (and it was a new type of heel for me) when I went on a road trip and subsequently knitting a much longer heel flap than anyone would ever need, I have concluded that I am going to rip the whole thing because I was not really liking it that well to begin with and if I'm makings socks for myself I might as well like them. I had pretty much finished a hat (about seven months ago...or more...) but now would rather use the yarn for something else, so that's probably going to get ripped, too. And I had started a sweater with some sweet yarn, but now I have no idea why I ever liked the pattern and think I will rip that out, too. That leaves me with a cabled raglan, which I like quite well actually. I have finished the chest/shoulder part, so now most of it is just stockinette in the round and that goes quite quickly. But then I found out that I had messed up some of the cables very minorly...and I'm not entirely satisfied with the way the increases turned out along the shoulders... Maybe I'll rip that, too, because I don't entirely love the neckline either and believe I could improve it, and I think there's some inter-dye-lot funkiness going on that I did not anticipate. That stinks, because I spent a lot of time on it.

In any relationship there's that "hey, this is cool and new and great!" time...and then that wears off. I think that's where I've gotten with the knitting. Our relationship is not over, it's just lost some of that novelty. ...We are finished with the honeymoon...

I think I need a shot in the arm! Something that's quick and useful and fun to make. ...But what?? I guess that if worse comes to worse, I could try my hand at this. Quick. Fun. ...Useful? Hee hee.

...But I'm open to other suggestions.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

choice

Attitude, as I've written before, is a choice. And today I know that I have a choice to be happy or sad or angry...and I am choosing to be angry.

I have admired the work of Alanis Morissette for a while - particularly Jagged Little Pill and Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. One of the songs that has stuck with me for many, many years is "Unsent." It seems like many a blogger has blogged an unsent letter, and here is mine for today...written to the long-lost D in case you wonder... Got some news yesterday that has been confirmed, and it turns out that...well, some of Alanis's lyrics are perfect:

Dear You,
There seems to be a pattern in my life, and I don't think it's entirely my fault. We are all attracted to weird things. "I used to be attracted to boys who would lie to me and think solely about themselves." You happen to fit this definition precisely. I realize that I am to blame for being attracted to that, but you are to blame for lying. That is really, really mean, and it is very, very hurtful. I wish that you would realize that, and I wish that you felt bad about it. But I cannot make either of those things happen. I can, however, make some choices. I choose to forgive myself for being attracted to such weirdness. I choose to forgive you for being so mean, even though you may never be sorry. I hope you have a lovely life with your soon-to-be-wife whom you were seeing while you were flirting with me and making me confused. Wait, that wasn't very sincere. ...I choose to really mean that, now: I do hope that your life is blessed with wonderful things and that you change the world with your intelligence and passions. You're a pretty good person, all in all.
That is it. Signed,
Me

Friday, July 18, 2008

silver and gold

I have been extraordinarily blessed in my move to State College to have met some really great people and to have quickly become good friends with a couple of them. I spend time with one friend or another pretty much every day. Nevertheless, some days are really hard and seem almost lonely, despite my being with other people. The reason is that, even though these folks are "friends," I have only known them for about two months, and that is a far, far cry from the friends in Pittsburgh whom I have known for 6 years. I know that friendships take a long time to develop and mature, but living in the microwave-age, I really dislike that and wish that I could somehow zap deep friendships into being and make six-years-worth of friendship be squooshed into two months and give quick results!

That is why I have to remember my "gold friends" - the ones who have been around for three, six, fourteen years! They know my personality, likes and dislikes, modus operandi, and history. I don't have to give them the back story just to get them to understand the situation at hand. They bring normalcy and familiarity and acceptance, and that means comfort.

At the same time, I'm realizing that gold friends don't become gold friends until they've already been "silver friends." Silver friends have a shininess because they are new! That's exciting! But they need to be polished quite a bit. Polishing is all a part of the process, unfortunately. It's hard, but it's good in the end.

Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
And the other's gold

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

dinner parties

The term "dinner party" seems so grown-up and stuffy to me. But man, oh man - do I enjoy them, as I have recently discovered.

In my move to State College I realized that it was high time I make it a point to build relationships with people. To be fair, I guess I have been doing this for a long time, but now it was time to step it up a level: be hospitable. I've been getting really good at meeting people for coffee...but certainly never in my home. Part of the reason for this is that I am a chronically messy person and my home is rarely in a presentable state. But...with a new place to live and a large bedroom in which to throw all of the clutter when people are going to come over, it is now more possible. ...And maybe, just maybe, I'm learning (through exciting experiences like The Fire...) that cleanliness and organization are important things and worth the effort.

About 10 months ago I drove with a friend to a place in West Virginia, and during our travels I complained about how there was no time for other people even though I wanted to be with them and build friendships. She pointed out that everyone needs to eat and suggested that eating with someone else would be a practical way to spend time with others but not terribly cramp my schedule. ...Very wise. Now, finally, almost a year later, I'm taking her advice!

I still haven't perfected this, because even though it seems easy enough to just eat and split, it seems like eating with another person or two automatically means that the meal will last at least twice as long as normal. I haven't done exact calculations, but the length of the meal-time seems to be directly mathematically correlated to the number of people in the dining party. My best guess is that one additional person makes the meal 2-times as long, and for each additional person I can plan to tack on about 15 minutes. ...So, for a party of 8, a meal that would normally take 45 minutes suddenly becomes a 3 hour ordeal. Fortunately, I only own 6 chairs, so the maximum time for a meal in my apartment will only be 2.5 hours, and that's not nearly so bad...although it still certainly wouldn't work if the goal was to still have a night left afterwards for being productive.

Another part of dinner parties that I have yet to perfect is the fine art of making everything be warm when it gets to the table. What I've read suggests that with a bit of planning one can time the cooking of all dishes in the meal to be done at about the same time and thus all be warm. I like this idea because I love planning and find it an exciting and fun challenge to figure out how I can coordinate all of the cooking steps to beautifully work together. I run into a few problems because my lack of cooking experience means that I often grossly under- or over-estimate how long it will actually take to prepare certain dishes, but I'm getting better as I cook more often. There are a few other tricks I've picked up along the way, including selecting dishes that are fine to sit in a warm oven without shriveling up or that retain their heat nicely. But one thing that foils my plans is the people. As usual, the one aspect I cannot control is the people... Will they arrive on time? Will they dawdle when I call them to the table? Will they "thoughtfully" bring something else to add to the menu that I then need to do final preparations for? Never know.

The funny thing with all of this eating-together that I've done here in State College is that...even though I wanted to have an activity that didn't at all mess up my schedule and dining together takes so much more time than dining solo, I find that I actually still have all the time I need to accomplish everything that is important. And slowly but surely I am able to value the time with the people much, much more than my own agenda.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

mean girls

This past weekend I finally got around to watching the movie Mean Girls. I thought I would like it because Tina Fey wrote the screenplay and I like high school social antics. I enjoyed it. It was a good reminder that there's something in us females that makes us more than just a little bit bonkers sometimes, particularly when it comes to dealing with other people...especially other females.

It all reminded me of a story...

Once upon a time I liked a guy, and the guy liked me. I soon found out, however, that the last girl the guy had dated was now really serious with another guy...and the guy I liked was rather upset by the whole thing. I then found out that the guy I liked was largely upset because the girl had been mean and hurtful and kind of crazy. At least that is what he said. Well, he didn't say she was kind of crazy...I got that on my own based on her reported behavior and words. A mean girl towards guys. And she probably didn't intend it, but it happened. And I understand how a girl can really hurt a guy and yet not really know it, because...girls do that. It's unfair that mean girls can go from hurting one guy to being serious with another one while the victim gets left alone. And that injustice is indeed how the guy I liked felt.

I hadn't ever met this girl. I realized she wasn't an altogether evil troll, but there was a distinct gruffness towards her because of how affected the guy I liked was in the aftermath of her mean-girlness. And then I saw a picture of her. Out of some very ungood part of me came the following thoughts: "Ew. She's not even that pretty. The guy I like would be getting a WAY better deal by being with ME compared with if he got stuck with HER. I hope she sees us some day - I bet she'd feel really stupid that a hot girl like me ended up with the guy she was so trashy to. And I hope all of her friends who she told that the guy I like was so bad will see us too and realize that he can't possibly be so bad if he's got a great girl on his arm. Justice shall be served!!!"

Yes, yes, there's quite a bit of vanity in those thoughts as well as some level of twisted jealousy and judgment and pride. But the point isn't to tell me how yucky I am in my thoughts - I already know that. The point is that I, too, have some mean girl in my heart. And don't we all.

And I also like to believe that I'm not the only one woman who has some inexplicable sliver of desire to be something of a "trophy wife," for better or for worse. Be honest. It is weird, I know, but it is true...

The more ironic part of it all was that after I thought all of those things, I realized that the girl would NOT in fact feel at all embarrassed or guilty for hurting the guy I liked just on account of my pretty face next to his. What she actually would think is, "Wow, what a trashy ho! Flashing her beautiful self all over and seducing that poor, stupid guy. I knew he was a shallow loser."

So...we can't win. When we try to be mean to another girl, the girl is just mean back to us and we're no better off than we were to start with - perhaps, even, we're worse because now we feel even worse.

The trouble is comparison. We girls always want to be better, prettier, smarter, thinner, kinder, cleaner, whatever than the other girl. Why do we DO this? Is it simply insecurity? Does a girl not realize that no matter what she does someone will always be something-er than she is and that somebody else will always be wishing to be something-else-er so to be more like her?

It is a problem, and I haven't figured out any way to fix it other than ignoring all other messages other than what Jesus tells me: He loves me more than anyone ever, ever, ever will and thinks I'm awesome the way I am!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

ugly baby

I am grateful for the internet and the tools it provides to keep in contact with people who are far away. All of these "social utilities" and "networking" websites can get a little crazy, but really...they do have some use and have been especially helpful for me as I move to a new place and as other friends have moved to other places. It's good to keep in contact with people. But the other beauty of the internet is that one is able to keep ENOUGH distance from the semi-uncomfortable situations of friends.

For example...

Lots of people are having babies! An old pal of mine recently had her first child. A bouncing baby girl. Old Pal is obviously very exciting, and since it is the First Child, Old Pal's social-networking-website is suddenly flooded with pictures of the baby. And people post their comments. All of the typical things, "So cute" ... "Beautiful" ... "Looking good."

But, folks, let me just tell you...this baby is NOT cute. Okay, okay, so maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I have no doubt that Old Pal a.k.a. The Mom thinks her newborn is the most precious thing ever. But...no. Call me critical and insensitive, but there is no part of me that thinks First Child is cute, sweet, adorable, anything like that. Just...weird-looking.

This is where being in contact only via internet comes in handy, because...I am not obligated to add my comment to the photo gallery. If I were by Old Pal's side and visiting First Child in their home, I would be forced to think of something savvy to speak. "What a unique baby you have!" "She's so special." "I've never seen anyone like her!" Can't lie, you know. And face-to-face it's just not right to say nothing. New moms, I think, feel quite offended when their galfriends don't say anything praiseworthy of their new bundle of joy. But...since all I am doing is viewing photos online in the comfort of my own living room...I don't need to say anything at all.

Whew.

I do hope that the poor First Child grows out of this weird-looking-baby stage (and soon). Then I supposed I could say, "Wow, she looks even cuter now!"

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

tall

I cannot remember ever being short. I have always been tall. I've stopped growing, and for the past 10+ years I've been 6'0". As I was growing up, I jokingly but semi-seriously said that it was "my goal in life" to be 6-foot. I made it! Unfortunately, what seemed like such a cool thing at one time turned out to be not quite so great once I got there. For example, it's kind of hard to find jeans or other pants that are long enough. And it's not just my legs that are long - so is my torso and my arms, so it's also hard to find shirts that cover my tummy and sleeves that reach down to my wrists. In a lot of ways, I grew up wearing what's in fashion now: cropped pants, 3/4-length sleeves, and midriffs. But...they weren't in fashion then, so it was not really very enjoyable.

Recently, various circumstances have made me feel really uncomfortable about being tall. Being tall sometimes makes me feel like there's something wrong with me...and that I make others feel strange when they're around me and that other people wish I weren't towering over them. I read an article by Zoe Williams in the Guardian, and she described some of that weirdness as "feelings of unfeminine giantitude." Here, here.

This afternoon I left work quite early because I've been feeling dead tired and I needed to just get away and rest. Not sure that I really accomplished that goal, but somewhere along the line as I lay on the couch I realized that sometimes I wish I were not so tall. And that struck me, because it's not so good to not like the way I am, particularly if it's not something I can do anything about.

And so I thought...maybe a big part of my uncomfortableness is simply due to the fact that I am not okay with me being ME, which includes being 6'0". I think there are a lot of times that I try to seem not so tall - a strange, almost unconscious apology for the way I am. I tend to slouch. I lean against things when I am standing up and talking to short people. If there's nothing to lean on, I sit down or step back so as to decrease the angle at which heads need to be bent to make adequate eye contact. These tendencies are especially true when I am around men. I also don't wear heels, but...I don't think they're very good for one's posture, so I'm not sure that this choice really has much to do with my height.

But you know what? Never has anyone ever complained about my being too tall to talk with or play games with or eat with or even dance with. Nobody has ever said, "Hey, could you please sit down, it's scaring me that you're a foot taller than me!" And I would never think to suggest to a short person, "Why don't you stand on this box while we converse, because I can barely see you down there" -- that is just RUDE and also demeans they way that they naturally and uncontrollably ARE.

So...why am I so hard on myself?

I think it's high time I live comfortably in my entire 6 feet. No apologies. I think that just as some women feel ashamed about their natural beauty and thus hide it, I feel ashamed to show my height...which is actually something a lot of women really admire and/or desire. I'm taking little steps to come to grips with my height: a couple weeks ago I even went so far as to actually purchase some cropped pants (as opposed to the full-length pants that only come up to my shins, which is what ended up happening when I was a kid...).

Being comfortable with one's self is often easier if one knows she's in the company of others. So...who else out there is six feet? Well, here's a list of some folks you may know. For better or for worse, they're my height...
  • Lots of actors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, James Van Der Beek, Val Kilmer, Luke Wilson, Shane West, Christan Bale, David Duchovny, Denzel Washington, Jimmy Fallon, Steve Martin, Hank Azaria, Matt Dillon (too bad it's not Matt Damon; he's only 5'10"), Jason Bateman, Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Tom Hanks, Laurence Fishburne, Rowan Atkinson, Bruce Willis, John Stamos, Matthew Perry, and even both Mark Paul Gosselaar AND Dustin Diamond.
  • Superman on t.v.: both Dean Cain and the original - George Reeves!
  • A wide variety of musicians: Josh Groban, Vanilla Ice, Elvis Presley, Boy George, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Neil Young, Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees, Barry Manilow, Frank Zappa, Tim McGraw
  • Presidents (and an interesting combination, at that): John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon
  • Another politician: Tony Blair
  • People you may find humorous: Dave Chappelle, Jeff Foxworthy
  • Movie directors: Oliver Stone and Michael Moore
  • Some of my favorite people ever: Wayne Gretzky and Charles Schultz
And some neat-o women, too!
  • Miss America 1945 Bess Myerson
  • Actresses Allison Janney, Kristen Johnston, Terry Ferrell (Dax on Deep Space 9), Geena Davis, and Brooke Shields.
  • Models like Elle Macpherson (with whom I also happen to share 2 of 3 curve measurements...we'd be identical except that I have a big, huge butt)
  • Cool people like Maya Angelou
  • even Mary Queen of Scots!
Not too bad. I like of like the kindred spirits of the 6-foot persuasion...

I guess it's not so bad, after all!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

how knitting helped me get through grad school

I am always amazed how little things that I don't even think of come into my life and end up making a very positive difference in unexpected ways.

As I was standing in the lobby at work the other day waiting for the elevator, I browsed the job postings stuck on the bulletin board. One advertised a laboratory position with a group I know back in Pittsburgh. The qualifications included general biology competence, but also something that caught me off guard: manual dexterity.

I don't exactly know what "manual dexterity" means in that particular lab group, but it made me think of the work I performed in my doctoral studies. A large part of what I did involved holding delicate tissues with forceps (a.k.a. tweezers) and using teeny tiny scissors to cut out circles of tissue parts that were about 5 millimeters in diameter. I suppose that involved some degree of manual dexterity.

In general, I don't consider myself to be extraordinarily coordinated. I cannot dance to save my life, I drop things rather often, and I typically have at least two cuts or bumps on my body at any one time. But, I CAN knit. And when I knit, I use both of my hands and pretty much all of my fingers, and they all need to work together. I also like to knit socks, and that involves handling very fine yarn and very thin knitting needles. FIVE very thin knitting needles, to be precise.

I sense that my knitting helped to build my "manual dexterity" and improved my ability to cut out minuscule tissue parts. And besides all of that, knitting proved to be great stress relief and a refreshing mental challenge all at the same time. A great recipe for an enjoyable and productive graduate career! Thus, the moral of the story is that every graduate student...ought to knit.

:-)

Monday, June 16, 2008

something about honduras

I really, really, really must write something about Honduras. I have been procrastinating in a lot of areas, such as making corrections to a journal article, stopping to take time for myself, and getting sleep...and writing about Honduras. May as well at least do one of those finally!

One of the many lessons I learned while in Honduras was about poverty. One of the many lessons I learned when I returned back from Honduras is how people think they understand poverty. I don't think anyone truly understands it. If they did, I don't think it would exist because people would work hard to prevent it, stop it, and reverse it. Here's my experience with it:

My team and I traveled to La Acequia, Honduras, which is about an hour and a half bus ride from San Pedro Sula. It is in the middle of a flat, dry valley of fields and is surrounded by some of the most gorgeous mountains I have ever seen - very lush and perhaps even more beautiful than those in Whistler or Banff or even Austria. La Acequia itself is pretty flat and dry, too. As we drove from San Pedro out to La Acequia, I saw loads of homes shoved into any available space by the road. Homes, I should mention, consisted usually of about a 10 or 12 foot square edifice, usually with a little bit of a covered porch area, all roofed with tin. Some of the homes had poured concrete walls. Many had walls made of additional pieces of tin tied together, or whatever other materials had been fortunately gathered. Most homes had a curtain for a door. A few homes had a window or maybe two.

La Acequia itself is filled with these homes, probably about 300 of them. Within this community there is a range of wealth, which is an incredibly strange thing. It is strange because even the "rich" people...are not at all rich. Even the rich families pretty much have just enough to get by when they're lucky. The longer I stayed there, the easier it was for me to adapt to this jaded view of wealth. It seemed like there were some pretty well-to-do families there. They could usually buy bottled water, they had food, they had few leaks in their roofs, their clothes had few holes or stains. And somehow this became the picture of "wealth." ...What then, of people who could afford to ride on airplanes and had clean clothing every day and brought along digital cameras and had air conditioning and wore shoes? Extravagance.

Two interesting things happened one day that snapped me back to the reality of the situation. I had spent the week in La Acequia and had not experienced any other areas of Honduras. On Saturday we took a day trip to San Pedro Sula to buy some additional supplies and check email. On the bus ride back (P.S. the "bus ride" means sitting and/or standing on an old school bus that drives along unpaved roads) we rode through Naco. La Acequia is kind of a suburb of Naco, Naco being probably about five times its size. Naco had many markets and other symbols of slightly more wealth. However, as I gazed out the window, I realized that people here still wore entirely donated clothing. You can tell because there are all sorts t-shirts that say something about so-and-so's high school spring dance or the 8th annual Bingo tournament...all in English and with American cities. Even with this "wealth"...the people could not afford their own clothing. The second interesting thing that really stabbed me in the heart was that as we paused in Naco to pick up some more passengers, Phil Collins' voice came out of the speakers of the radio, "Oh, think twice. It's just another day for you and me in paradise."

I just about bawled.

I realized that the poverty I saw was not just in La Acequia. It wasn't that we had stumbled upon a tiny, secluded, poor rural village. We were in the middle of an ENTIRE COUNTRY that was poor. It was kind of strange to think that I could travel for days and not get to ANYWHERE that was even near rich.

It's a bleak picture, poverty. And yet there is a lot of good, even in desperate situations. People enjoy their families. People enjoy each other. People laugh. Children play. There are celebrations. Life is more basic, which in my opinion can be good - although quite admittedly a lot more work. For example, every day our hosts would bake tortillas. First they needed to find firewood and then build up the fire. Then make the tortilla dough, and finally form the tortillas and bake each one on the stovetop. And every day they made probably 100 tortillas for the household to eat. I learned how to make them, and I made about 5. One I dropped in the dirt when I tried to form it. In all, making 5 took me about 15 minutes. I was told that one tortilla could be sold for 1 lempira, and 19 lempira are one US dollar. I would not be making very good money if I were selling tortillas in Honduras... The point, however, is that there is a lot of work needed to meet the basic needs of everyday life. It's a lot more eco-friendly that way, as far as energy use goes.

What has bothered me the most now that I am back in the States is what I hear so many people saying when I tell them about the poverty. Time after time after time I hear them say - no, rather ASK, as if they're seeking a confirmation from me, seeking someone to reassure them in their apathy - "They're poor, but they are still happy even though they don't have much, right?" I think what they mean is that the poor people are not entirely hopeless, that people still tell jokes and have fun. Well, sure. And in a lot of way I think they are more content than all of us complainy rich people who always need more more more, newer newer newer, faster faster faster. These US folks nod in a satisfied manner when I admit it, and then they go on their merry lives feeling good about themselves and not having to worry about the poor people because poor people still can be happy. So the US folks will just continue being content sending a few dollars here and there to poor people (and at the same time donating thousands to research aimed at stopping diseases that kill only a small fraction of the people who are dying in the world...) and thinking they're really doing their part by providing so much.

But that's not really what makes someone...filled. Smiling now and then, having money...neither of these can make anyone joyful. That's exactly what the US folks are pointing out with their rude question: even though the poor folks don't have money, they're still finding some happiness. But what they fail to also recognize is that, just like money, felicity does not complete a person. A person can laugh and joke and party as much as they'd like, but that is not what fulfills them.

One lesson I learned about the complex problem of poverty while I was in Honduras is that true poverty is when people have no purpose or ability. The friends I made in La Acequia...they have dreams. They want to do something. They are intelligent, they desire to learn, they want to fix some of the problems with the natural resources in their town, they want to impact their community and maybe even world. But the tragedy is that they CAN NOT. The resources are not there, the ability to carry out their purpose is not available. This is a separate tragedy than a similar phenomenon observed in wealthy nations -- where people who can do whatever they want to simply DO NOT. This is, in my opinion, self-inflicted poverty. There's not a whole lot I can do to help that. But there is a LOT I can do to help people who have the desire but not the resources. In that way, I - and everyone - can make a difference in the problem of poverty. It won't solve the problem, but it will make a difference.

Monday, June 09, 2008

hot...but not stupid!

It's REALLY hot.

It's 7:50p.m., and it's 86 degrees F outside. The high today was 90.

Technically, this is cooler than it was in Honduras. However, it certainly feels hotter. Partly because of the humidity - Honduras was much more dry heat and sometimes reminded me of a sauna; here it feels like any moment it could downpour, and I really wish it would. I think it also feels hotter than Honduras because this is PENNSYLVANIA and not Honduras and what is the weather doing being so incredibly hot in Pennsylvania?

The shops downtown (downtown being the two streets directly across from the University) are having lots of fun sales. The optical store is having two sales: the "It's so freaking HOT" sunglasses sale and "I'm squinting at the optical store sign" sunglasses sale. I don't quite get it either, that's just what the signs said. I also walked by the Corner Room restaurant which had a large sign telling passers-by that it's too hot to cook at home, come in and eat in their air conditioning.

And speaking of air conditioning...

That is what is lacking in my apartment at the moment. I'm thinking that it hasn't worked at all since I moved in, but I tend to not run the A/C unless I have to, so I hadn't really used it until it got unbearable with the 90+ days this past weekend. The beauty of living in an apartment is that when something doesn't work, you just call and tell someone and they fix it. So I called about the A/C problem today.

In the lab where I did my graduate work, there was a saying amongst my coworkers that once one gets his or her PhD, he or she tends to lose all common sense and can't think intelligently like most people. I promised them that I would try my darndest to not do that. I don't claim to always know everything, but I try to at least not disregard lab safety, University rules, and federal laws as some people I know seem to think they can do just because they have a PhD. I think that my coworkers' insights are an exception to the more commonly held view that PhD's are exceptionally bright. I'm not saying that either of those opinions are entirely accurate. However, sometimes I wonder if the random people who communicate with me would treat me differently if they knew I had a PhD. They might think that I know kind of what I'm talking about, give me a little credit. Maybe they wouldn't tell me ridiculous things like the person who came to check on my air conditioner today.

I got home from work after my stroll through HOT downtown and HOT residential neighborhood and HOT shopping area and was happy to find that there was a note under my door indicating that someone had indeed responded to my service request. That was quick! Good! The poor Angora rabbit with way more hair than any innocent animal should be expected to have when it's 90 degrees outside (Joelle) really deserves the decency of a semi-controlled climate even if her owner can get by in the heat by just closing the shades and taking off her clothes. But as I read through the note on the service report, I realized that it was going to be yet another long, sweltering night for both of us.
poor, hot jo


"I checked AC. It was off at the thermostat. I turned it on and AC was working OK. I left it set to 75 degrees."

Said individual was even so kind as to write on my wall above the thermostat in red pencil where the different settings for my heating and cooling controls are. In case you need more than a PhD to figure that out.
There was, indeed, a fan thing making noise throughout my apartment, which might in fact indicate that the central air was working.

However, if you look at the picture above, you will notice that it was STILL 80 DEGREES. After the thermostat had been set to 75. And the "air conditioning" had been running all afternoon.

Maybe I am at fault for not going into detail with my complaint to the apartment folks. I had just told them that the AC wasn't working. I didn't tell them that what wasn't working was that it wouldn't go below 80, and that this indicated to me that the cooling part of the AC coolant system was not working although the fan obviously was. I also did not explain that the fan mysteriously turns on every now and then even when the AC is set to off. I also did not say that since it was probably just running up my electric bill to keep the fan part running and wasn't even doing anything useful, I had turned the thermostat to OFF and realized that this would certainly mean that no cold air would come out of the vents. I guess I had figured that someone who knows about fixing air conditioners would be as capable as I, who knows next to nothing about air conditioners, to notice that when the AC was on and the fans were going, the air that was coming out of the vents wasn't cold.

But apparently the obvious problem was that the resident was far too much of a nincompoop to realize that the air conditioning in fact needed to be turned on.

Blah!

I don't know; it's probably just me, but if I were the one checking into the complaint, I would assume that they person had already tried to turn the thermostat to COOL. Since it had been a bazillion thousand degrees all weekend. And that's how you get the air conditioner to work. It would seem like most people would know that the air conditioning does not magically turn on all by itself and that you need to actually turn it on.

I assume too much, I guess.

So...we'll see what happens tomorrow. I left a message in the office again - they are of course closed by the time I return home from work - with a bit more detail about what is going on. I really, really, really, really hope that 80 degrees is not the absolute limit of the central air conditioning system.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

real friends

The funny thing about going on a trip and then coming back is that one has to get back to normal life, and normal life has a way of overtaking things and making what happened on the trip and what was learned on the trip get shoved to the back of one's mind as new challenges arise. After returning from Honduras a week ago (Thursday night) and jumping right back into work Friday morning and social life Friday night, I am more convinced than ever that when I go on a vacation or trip, I need an additional two or so days just to process everything before proceeding with normal life. Unfortunately, I realized this TODAY, not last Thursday. Retrospect is 20/20.

What I'm trying to say is, "Sorry I am super-duper procrastinating on this writing about Honduras thing. I have sooooo much to say, but I want to share it all to the best of my ability, and that will require putting in a bunch of time and thought, and I don't seem to have either of those to spare at the moment. And since life continues to go on and I have other stuff to write about, here's the other stuff. Honduras will have to wait, even though I wish it didn't have to."

Thus, here is other stuff:

One of the things I find most most intriguing about life is that you really never know what will happen. I like to live a relatively controlled life. I like to have a schedule, I like to know where people are going to be and what I will be doing and what time everything starts. It takes me a lot of effort to deal well with people who do a lot of random stuff or invite me to come over in two hours (...I'd prefer a two day notice). I like to think that I'm slowly but surely learning how to be more flexible. In that sense I really don't like the fact that what will happen in life is totally unknown. But at the same time, I DO like that anything can happen! There is a world of opportunity for good news or good events or good people to cross my path at any moment. I never know when something crazy like giving a talk will lead to being asked out on a date or when unwillingly and hopelessly checking a website will show me a job opening that I get hired for pretty much on the spot or when a someone I knew vaguely a long time back will re-enter my life and we'll become good friends (all of which may or may not have ever actually occurred in my life...hee hee.)

Still, there's always the danger that life will throw a curve that is not nice. I realize that if I'm going to welcome the good randomness I can't abhor the bad randomness; I can't be choosy about randomness!! And when bad randomness brings about sad news or confusing things to think about or validation of answers I had hoped would not be true...that is when I realize who I really value as my real friends. Who do I immediately think about to call when ungood things arrive?

I was somewhat surprised by my answer to this question today when something unanticipated happened. I've been building friendships intentionally with a couple people here in State College, and I've felt pretty close to some of them. At the same time, I've felt a bit distant from many friends who don't live near me - time and distance can really do a number on relationships and openness and understanding. So, I'm kind of stuck in a bad spot here with only heart-close friends who live far away and distance-close friends who don't have that special connection yet. Which to choose?

It wasn't really a choice...the heart won out after only about 2.5 milliseconds of hemming and hawing. I find it interesting that even though it's faster to get support from people who live nearby -- immediate gratification/comfort -- I feel more comforted just knowing that someone who truly cares about me knows that I'm facing something difficult and feels for me even if he/she can't rush to my side and give me a hug to make it feel better.

Monday, June 02, 2008

ugh...work

Blah.

Now that I am (in theory) fully rested (or at least cannot use "I got back from Honduras on Friday so I'm tired" as an excuse because there's been sufficient time since Friday for me to catch up on sleep), I am back in the swing of things at work. Which is kind of going pukey-ly today. I had made a nice plan last Friday to start off my return to work with a bang and start some bacteria growing over the weekend so that today I could try out some new stuff. However, after making the plan I learned that we were missing a key component of what I wanted to do and nobody knew why we hadn't received it since it had been ordered at the beginning of May. So there went that idea. Back to getting NOTHING done.

When I get nothing done, I feel very inept. What I really need to do is to sit myself in the library for a couple days and immerse myself in a bath of literature about iron reduction and soil bacteria and chemical engineering and gene expression microarrays and the TCA cycle and anaerobic growth techniques. In a few days I'd feel not so inept. But I feel like I'm not getting anything done when I'm just reading. So I feel highly unmotivated to proceed as such.

And then I go try to be proactive and meet with one of our collaborators to talk about their part of the project, and the little sophomore undergrad turns out to be way smarter than me and asks all these detailed questions about my PhD thesis project. For a moment he even got me to thinking that he knew all about vaccine development and I really felt inept. But then he gave himself away with a comment about adenovirus and rhinovirus vectors, so I felt a little better. Nevertheless, he's a major smartie. Bugger.

Work is called work for a reason, I know. But there are plenty of times that I wish all I had to do in life was serve people like I did in Honduras, teach knitting, and spend time with people.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

returning "home"

I'm back in the U.S. after about two weeks in Honduras. Much, much more to come about all of that, including some about a much ignored topic on this blog of late: knitting! The strangest thing about returning to my "home" was that it did not at all feel like home. Having only lived in State College for less than a month before departing for Honduras, it was really strange riding in the car from the airport to the only semi-familiar hills of Happy Valley. I got back to my apartment and was surprised to find that I had left it fairly clean and that I really liked the way I had set up the furniture. It didn't feel like my home at all!

I got back to the apartment about 3:00a.m. on Friday morning, then went to sleep for a few hours before heading in to work. When my alarm went off, I found myself incredibly confused about where I was. The bed was comfortable, and it was warm. Was I in La Acequia? Was I in Roatan, an island I had visited off of the east coast of Honduras? Was I in the airport? No, I was in my bed at the place that is now my home. After some work, where my boss told me I should go home and get some sleep (it's never good when you LOOK like you need sleep...), I took a nap on the couch and then was even more confused. It's definitely going to take some adjustment to get into the swing of things back here in my place.

In a lot of senses, "home" seems to me to be more about people than about places. IN that vein, the following might be a good representation of home for me.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"vacation"

Many people take a break after they finish their PhD. They travel the world, relax on a sunny beach, or hunker down in their favorite local coffee shop. I, on the other hand, went to work. Apparently that is my favorite thing to do.

However, now that I've been at my new job for three weeks, I'm headed off for as close to a vacation as I get: a mission trip to Honduras for 10 days. It occurs to me that I think I haven't written about this much/at all on the blog, but I've been planning it since last September. A group of 10 of us are headed down to a rural village where we'll be doing a lot of stuff like getting kids excited about learning, helping the community get a vision for the development of their area, sharing the love of Jesus with the community when possible, and encouraging the churches in the town. I will also be doing two things I absolutely love: checking out the situation of the water and teaching women (or men, I guess...whoever shows up) to knit and/or crochet. I have one suitcase that is half-filled with YARN and NEEDLES and HOOKS. I am so excited about this part. We will also have a day or two of "fun" in Roatan, which I'm told has lovely beaches and snorkeling. My suitcase is too full of knitting stuff to fit my snorkel gear. Ah well. I'll support the local economy with my payment for rental gear.

So...I'll be gone. We return to the US on May 29. Don't count on me until after then.

Monday, May 12, 2008

being social makes me sick

As alluded to in my previous post, everyone I've met here in State College seems to know at least one other person I have already met. It's sort of getting old. At first it was really funny, now it's just annoying. People tell me, "Oh, you should meet So-and-so, you'd really like him/her." And all I can say is, "I already have..." No fun.

I can't really complain, though, because what with all the Knowing People, I've been a regular social butterfly. This has been greatly helped by two particular people, E who is a gal I met through church and who knows my old roommate/dearest friend, and Dr (NOT Doctor, NOT D, I'm abbreviating him Dr) who is a guy I actually knew back in Pittsburgh but haven't talked to in years and randomly ran into at a different church. (Yes, and of course E and Dr know each other, too. When I asked Dr if I could invite E to a party he was having, he told me she was already coming. ...Also no fun!) Together, E and Dr have led to my Being With People 5 of the 7 most recent days, and that is a lot for me, who really enjoys quiet evenings at home (and also really needs to be at home unpacking...). I really, really appreciate the welcome I've received and have very much enjoyed getting to know both of them and all the other folks to whom they've introduced me.

However, I think that has all backfired on me, because all of a sudden, I have gotten a cold. It's better than the flu, but it's struck full-force with achy muscles, sore throat, runny eyes, pounding headache, croaky voice, and it left me wading through the rainy Monday at still-quite-new work feeling like I could fall asleep at any given moment. The network guy who grinds the coffee...he wasn't in today. :-( No help there. But I made it somehow.

Now, what is the lesson to be learned from this experience? Ought I stop spending time with people?? Maybe I need to set up a curfew for myself? Wow, I never knew that being friendly could be so complicated!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

back on the wall

Three years ago now, I took a rock climbing class and had a blast. I'm not sure that I was ever very good at it, but I enjoyed rock climbing because it's an activity that is both physically and mentally demanding and has a set endpoint. You're not trying to beat another person or team, you're not trying to be the fastest or most graceful - you're just trying to get to the top of a wall any way you possibly can.

But after the class, I climbed once more (on an actual rock outdoors - very sweet!) and then didn't any more. I don't know why. I guess it was mostly because I didn't have anyone to go with me to belay (a.k.a. hold the rope at the ground so I don't die if I fall), and I while bouldering (basically climbing horizontally across a wall instead of vertically up it) is fun...it's not the same. And I think I was also discouraged to continue climbing because it cost money (although it was at the gym at the University, it was not included in regular gym privileges) and because getting to the wall required first climbing a very large Pittsburgh hill.
i've posted this before, but since it's such a glamourous picture of me climbing, i'll show it again. look - it's me climbing a real, live rock!
And now I'm in State College. Strangely enough, Penn State does not have a rock wall. I heard that there was a push to get one within the past few years, but apparently nothing has come to fruition. Nevertheless, my interest in rock climbing somehow got retriggered in the process of me moving here (the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour helped a bit), and I actually utilized Facebook to locate someone in State College who listed rock climbing as an interest...and then it turned out that the guy works in one of the labs I'm doing my project in. However, he was not in fact the person who finally got me back onto a wall.

I have been meeting a lot of new people over the past two weeks living here, and it's amazing to me how every one of them strangely fits into some other aspect of my life. Many of the new folks know the few people I already knew here. One of the people I work with knows all the natural food store secrets of the area. The network administrator I met to get access to the chemical engineering computer system loves to grind his own coffee and has a pot available for anyone who would like it any time of the day (yes, please). And a gal I met at a Bible study on Tuesday (who, also strangely enough, hails from Pittsburgh) loves rock climbing and goes to the one and only wall anyone seems to know of in State College, which is at the YMCA...which just happens to be about a quarter mile away from my apartment! Sick.

And that is how I ended up on a wall this evening. (...And if you'd like to know the whole story, is how I met another researcher at Penn State who has ties with my current boss...and an undergrad who is working in a lab I've been really interested in and gave me the scoop on the funding and job-opening situation... I'm getting used to the fact that everyone pretty much just knows everyone here...) Back on the wall. I was astounded by how...awful I was. I know I haven't been working out in a loooong time, but I didn't realize just how incredibly negatively that has affected my upper body strength. I also have forgotten a lot of the basic technique tips that I learned in my climbing class and which are really quite useful. I wasn't entirely bad - I did get up the wall several times and bouldered a bit. But I wasn't going up the wall on any marked routes (i.e. I was doing it the easy way and not the challenging way), and I wasn't nearly as "good" as I was three years ago.

Boo. I was expecting that a three year lapse would have not affected my performance capacity in the least. Hee.

I'm looking forward to going back again soon, hopefully next week. Although the gal who originally invited me along will be gone for the summer, some of her pals will be around and can go with. Plus there are lots of instructors there whose job it is to belay - woo hoo! No need to worry about that!

Hooray! A resurrected hobby. Very nice.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

that's why they call it a stash

One thing I've discovered in the process of moving from Pittsburgh to State College is that I have entirely too much "stuff." Some of it I wouldn't part with, like my quadrillion books, many of which I have not and probably will never read...but they sure make it look like I'm intelligent all sitting there pretty on the bookshelves. I have a living room full of chairs, which is sort of silly because generally it's me, myself, and I in the apartment along with Joelle, but she's not allowed on the furniture. A butt can only be in one seat at a time...so unless I become more hospitable (which I ought to do) it seems rather ridiculous to have so many places to select from to sit down (...or throw extra junk, as the case may be). Nevertheless, the books and the furniture and all the other things I have way too much of (...including cleaning supplies...) have lots of potential for use without too much of a time or effort investment.

However. There is one Thing that I'm not going to run out of anytime soon - partly because it will take time and effort. But mostly because there's so much of it: YARN.

I got a little embarrassed as some folks were helping me move in when I said out loud, "Wow, I have a lot of boxes labeled 'yarn,'" and one of them replied, "Yeah - I see lots of yarn, but not many things made out of yarn." In my defense, I have indeed made a lot of things out of yarn, many of which were packed in the boxes labeled "clothes" and many of which have been given away to various people. But it's true...there is a lot of yarn that isn't used.

I remember realizing this the last time I moved, in June/July of 2006. Back then I had a Big Trunk, a Little Red Trunk, a few bags, and a couple boxes of yarn or projects on needles. ...Now I fear...I have more!

Some people have a yarn closet. Due to the fact that I don't have an entire closet to spare for yarn, I have to "hide" it in multiple places. And thus far in my unpacking, that has included the following locations...
on the shelves of the coffee table
in one corner of the bedroom closet
in the other corner of the bedroom closetsmushed into the big, black trunk
in this little cabinet
in the bottom of this shelf...and just in case i run out, there's the drop spindle and pencil roving so i can make more yarn...
It kind of reminds me of what my Mom always told me when I went on a long trip: put a little money in a number of different places (purse, backpack, suitcase, pants, etc.) so if one of those gets ripped off, at least you'll still have some. ...Right, like someone's going to bust into my apartment and steal the coffee table so they can get that pretty German sock wool, eh?

I feel like trying to find places to enclose the yarn is sort of like trying to hide an addiction. And I think that's how a "yarn collection" turns into a "stash."

So, I guess the question now is...what to do about it? Do I just try to do more knitting? Do I sell it? Do I bring it with me on my mission trip to Honduras in a couple weeks where we're helping ladies start a knitting business? I don't know. All I DO know is that I ought not to buy any more yarn!!!!

And I've also concluded that, despite my yearning to learn how to quilt and the fact that there's a quilting shop a couple miles from my apartment, I really ought not to do that either. There are so many pretty, pretty fabrics that it would be lovely to quilt with...and you know those will just end up thrown in a drawer or cubby somewhere, too!!

Yuck - I feel disgusted with my more-more-more attitude!! Perhaps it's time to down-size. Or at least stabilize!! Or even better: utilize.