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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Confess

December 29, 2011


I had an appalling realization last week.  Finding myself with a bit of extra time on my hands, I started some heavy-duty cleaning, including in one of my three attics (and don't you think owning three attics in the same house is a little outrageous? Perhaps even decadent?).  Anyway, one of the things I found was a rather large basket of rags and leftover clothes and sheets meant to be made into rags at some point.  That finding, in and of itself, is not worth confessing.  That I have a similarly large stash of rags in each of the other attics AND in the shed and some closets led me to a realization:


I am unable to throw away clothes.


Think about this.  I have bought or received clothes for a family of four for more than half my life.  I do give away some items.  I have donated wearable clothes to the Twin City Mission and to various garage sales for good causes.  I have passed along some things as hand me downs.  However, as I pondered it, I could not remember EVER throwing away clothes.  Somehow, the idea that Someone Somewhere cut and sewed the item, as opposed to something mass produced and spit out by a machine, gives me pause.  I can't seem to throw those things away, even when they are no longer fit for anyone to wear.  I just put used clothes, sheets, towels, socks, even underwear, in a box or basket "to make rags out of them." I have now reached the point that I have so many rags I could clean up all the sites on the Superfund list and still not deplete my stock.


I think I need a chiffonier!  Or in English, a rag picker.


Did you know that the average American throws away 67.9 pounds of clothing and rags each year? With some 20 million people in the state of Texas, that’s 1.4 billion pounds of clothing thrown away each year in Texas alone.


Surely, there must be a way to recycle and/or re-use the fabric, buttons, zippers.  Locals, do you know anyplace that recycles clothes and other fabric items?  I'm talking about items no longer wearable--stained, hopelessly out of fashion, torn, faded.


Barring that (and this is a serious request), would anyone be willing to teach me how to make rag rugs?  And if I learn, are any of you willing to receive a rag rug gift from me?


An addendum to this confession:


The day I discovered my rag problem, I was confessing it to my friends, Jim and Margie.  They have just bought a new place near Dripping Springs to replace their Bastrop home lost to the wildfires last fall.  When I bemoaned my overabundant bounty of rags, Margie pulled the most wistful look, and said, "Jim and I were just shopping for rags to use to rub oil into our butcher block island in our new kitchen.  They are really hard to find at the store, and of course, I don't have any now.  I don't really even have spare clothes to make into rags."


I never imagined giving a bag of hole-y socks, ripped knit shirts, too-old-to-wear-for-yard-work pants, and a bottom sheet with bad elastic as a Christmas gift.  And what's more, I never thought the receiver would be delighted.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Open Letter to a Grieving Friend

December 24, 2011

Erin's First Christmas Eve--14 Years Ago

I have a friend who has suffered some gut-wrenching losses.  She's pretty far from friends and family and pulling the oars towards finishing her dissertation.  There are so many people I know who can identify with her words to me:    "so, this death thing seems to get worse, or at least it has for me. I guess it was the whole shock thing that has made this last longer? or does it just get harder the longer they are gone? I'm finding it absolutely ridiculous . . ." and so on.  
Many of you know these words and all the verses that follow after.  Here's my current thinking on that topic and what I wrote her [with a couple of corrections and grammar fixes]:

"Dear Friend,

I'm pretty sure I'm not an expert here, but since you asked:


I think the whole living on after your Rock of Gibraltar dies is a pretty sketchy process, and I really think you need to find more ways to be gentle with yourself.  Consider how tough what you are experiencing really is:

You have lost part of your self, all the shared memories and specialness.  It is not particularly fulfilling to try to describe those things to others, because it makes what you are talking about feel so light weight and inconsequential.  Then it makes you mad or sad that that person can't really know what you are talking about, describing, trying to express.  They can't know the person.  There aren't any mores, just what you have stored in your memory and relics.

It is okay to feel empty.  It is okay to start crying at really weird and inconsequential (or heavy-weight) things.  Give yourself a chance to talk about it and talk about your dad.  If it helps, write me out long letters telling me about him.  Take little steps.  Nothing is the same as it was.  
The main thing is that you don't have to decide how you are supposed to feel about it, how you explain it to yourself emotionally or intellectually, how you frame your life going forward, and especially you don't have to stick with one answer.  My feelings, explanations, rationales, and so on about Erin change to match what I need.  I don't have to put it all in a box that I can store forever.

I'm sorry you are lonely and suffering.  Think of a small thing you can do to honor your feelings for your situations, and do it.  It's even better if you can do it with others.  Find a verb that works.

Vickie"

About the photo at the top:  I think we bought this Santa suit for our oldest niece Lauren.  I know her sister Shannon wore it, as well as Davis, and possibly Annabelle.  I don't really know where it is now, but I think I need to look for it in the attic next time I clean up there.  We still have the wagon (much worse for wear).  We hauled Erin around the lake in it when she was little and later at various times when her adventurous spirit outstripped her ability to navigate where she wanted to go.  The Elmo plane and train were just part of the always eclectic tastes Erin had in toys (and everything really).  The smile?  That's just the way she rolled.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Exercise

December 13, 2011


I'm a day ahead of my usual schedule.   Ordinarily, I turn my grades in on the Wednesday of finals week and G.T.H.O.O.D (Get The Hell Out Of Dodge) so that I don't become a wheedle magnet for students looking for a mullet who might change their grade for no other reason than they have  a sad story and a compelling look on their face.  I turned all my grades in this morning and can now avoid my office for a few weeks, as if stopping by would unleash a plague of locust.   Then I hit the gym.  


I have a new incentive program to make me more faithful about working out.  I love reading mysteries, but some authors like Laurie R. King I just gobble up.  Here's my latest: 




The key to this new approach to making sure I get to the gym is that I will only let myself read The God of the Hive if I am on an exercise bike at the Rec Center.  I have other things I can read at home, even other mysteries, but to make progress in this one, I have to be exercising.  I'm about 160 pages in now, and I can honestly say I'm studying my calendar and my to do list to see when the next time I can make it to work out.  I'm glad I have my semester out of the way. . . now what to do about that pesky approaching holiday that requires cleaning and cooking and other activities that might stand as a barrier to finishing the book and solving the mystery?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Narrate

December 5, 2011


Many weeks and months have passed since I gave a straight narrative of the Buenger activities (don't you feel boredom coming on, just anticipating a recital of "we went _______" then "we ate ______" and "saw ________").  Well, if your friends can't give you a little boredom and a chance to snooze at the screen this hectic, fast-paced, and stressful time of year, then what are friends for?


Do you believe in coincidences?  Me neither.  Except, here's what I read on my friend D'Anna's facebook page tonight:


Don't you just hate when you painstakingly prepare a beautiful quiche, put it in the oven, wait patiently for the timer to go off alerting you that your masterpiece is ready, and then discover that you forgot to turn the oven on? Yeah, me too.


The exact same thing happened to me last Tuesday.  I decided that I would whip up a quiche and use up the extra pie crust I made for Thanksgiving (and I want you to notice that I was using healthy ingredients, like broccoli instead of Karo syrup and sugar or chocolate and heavy cream).  I know I had the oven on at some point, because I baked the crust for about ten minuted before I filled it.  


Anyway, I checked it at the minimum bake time and thought the egg part still looked runny.  It also looked that way at the maximum bake time.  At some point around then I noticed the oven was off, but I thought I might have turned it off the first time I checked it.  I kept cooking it a little more and a little more.  Eventually, I doubled down on the bake time and pulled a decent well-cooked quiche out of the oven to serve to The Very Hungry Caterpillar Walter.


Given that very lame mistake, I was a bit leery when I was tapped as the voice of God for the liturgy on Sunday.  However, when I thought about it, I figured acting as God, even for just a few minutes at the beginning of a church service might be pretty handy for someone like me.  If I forgot to heat the quiche, I might just smite it down or materialize as a burning bush to finish it off.  Did I mention I was the voice of the Old Testament Hebrew God?  


The God-thing was fine for those few moments during the worship service, but no residual effect lingered that gave me the capacity to answer prayers or even comfort my people (which was the theme of the liturgy).  I haven't even been able to channel my inner God to connect with Elaine and Mark and catch up with their doings down under.  Every time I get on the computer, it seems like they have just moved on to something else.  Plus, my trusty little MacBook is about to go to MacBook heaven.  Even the Geek Squad only offered workarounds to make me more comfortable until the inevitable end comes.  Can I enroll in Mac Hospice?  


[Note Bene:  if you come across a word or letter that doesn't belong in a sentence, it is NOT MY FAULT.  Part of my Mac disease is cursor hopping.  I'll be typing along at the speed of molasses--looking at the keyboard so I don't make mistakes, of course--and when I look up at the screen, my little blinky friend has decided to pay a visit to the previous line or take a Ground Hog's Day trip back several words, returning repeatedly like some perverse arsonist admiring the burning building.  My touch pad is no better, picking up random parts of the screen and moving them by slight of hand.  I won't even mention the spinning beach ball of death that haunts any effort that requires more than a minimum of active memory.]

Having discovered that I neither had God-like powers to resurrect my Macbook from death or even the ability to properly time the baking of dinner, Walter left this morning--choosing to entertain himself in the archives in Austin for the week.  I think he also noticed the fit of organizing and furniture re-arranging that struck me when I finished class for the  semester last Thursday.  We now have a fresh look in the living room and all indications are that I plan to  steamroll my way through the house, until everything is flattened or at least de-cluttered and put away.


I don't know why I'm such an invalid when it comes to keeping up with household chores and normal, routine activities during the semester.   All I can say, that I don't have classes and my schedule still doesn't have much wiggle room.  But at least by tomorrow the laundry, including all the towels and 
sheets) will be washed and I will have a fresh haircut.


Wednesday, Erin's Dream Wands, which played a small role in the lighting of the Childhood Cancer Awareness Christmas Tree (Thanks to Ruth Hoffman and Amber Masso of the American Childhood Cancer Organization and the teens and teachers at Hammond-Oliver High School), will serve as the First Presbyterian Church, Bryan's Advent service project.  We will be making wands for the Cure Me, I'm  
Irish fund raising event in Boston in March, benefitting groundbreaking neuroblastoma research.




Then, the lanyards and other beaded delights are headed back to Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church for   the Women's Dinner and gift market on Thursday night.


No doubt Presbyterians all around will be saying God is among us this week.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thank

November 28, 2011

I know we have a boatload of things to be thankful for this year.  We are a lot closer to the top of the 99% than the bottom of the 99%.  We have had nothing but routine encounters with the American Healthcare System this year (although I did field a call late one evening from Davis asking how he might tell if his collarbone was broken. . . I described. . . he self-diagnosed that he was sore, but fine).  We have enough more than enough food, and three fine dogs. 

The true moment of realization didn't come on Tuesday when my sister arrived to help with Thanksgiving Day preparation (appreciated!) or on Wednesday when I filled the house with the spicy smell of pies and cookies or on Thursday when Davis arrived safely and we shared our meal with about forty folks.  Friday was good, too, but not the day that I realized how thankful I was. 

Thanks settled in around us on Saturday morning, and we received the gifts and blessings we needed.  First, we had a gentle, steady rain.  You can't understand what that means unless you have ever been 20 inches behind for the year, staring at a lake in your backyard that looks like the surface of the moon.  Then, each of had our own special thing.  Katherine got to sleep in, without guilt or interruption.  Walter got to putter around in his shed with no real deadline or urgent item in his inbox (he also got to make Davis's plane reservation for his trip home at Christmas!).  My mom settled in with her new beads (donated crystals and lampwork beads from a new friend near Franklin) to do what she does best:  create.  Davis and I fitted ourselves on to the living room sofa in between the dogs, tuned in the Manchester United/Newcastle match, and worked a jigsaw puzzle.

There were no chores hanging over anyone's heads.  No meetings, conference calls, or stacks of papers to grade.  We had leftovers if anyone was hungry.  We had each other.  That did it for me.  Complete. Total. Thankfulness.  Enough for me. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Return (of the Prince)

November 21, 2011

I am posting this cartoon from PhD Comics last week in honor of the Young Prince who will return to the castle on Thursday for a brief sojourn:

Notice the subtle eyebrow action that reveals the true underlying energy and emotion in each one?  I'm betting he is leaving at least one prof who looks like this behind in Columbus, when he boards the plane.

Walter and I have been galloping through the semester, with me trying to speed things up so that I can survive without drowning (kind of like those water striders that can somehow use microscopic hairs to



trap air and skate along the surface of ponds, even in stormy situations--did I just imply that I haven't shaved my legs in a very long time?) and Walter trying to slow each day down to prolong his faculty development leave and get more research and writing done before he returns to the classroom in January.  

Since I last posted I have finished the big pre-finals grading push, spent some time in Galveston, and helped create some progress on Project Collaborate (though I prefer the much more descriptive and appropriate moniker, Project Coolaborate).

I have avoided decorating for yet another holiday, but I will bake, starting tonight (anything to avoid house cleaning, right?).  We are ducking the big Thanksgiving hosting opportunity this year (always tough without Erin, but perhaps impossible without our beloved Tjoelkers. . . will you even celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia?).  The church is trying a new T-day option for A&M/UT students and church family as a pre-game option, so we will still get the extravagant holiday option, just not at my house.

I wanted to let you all know that I managed to finish A Tale of Two Cities amid all my November madness, and I will have you know that I eventually remembered at least some of the plot.  In fact on about page 364 (of 412 pages), I finally figured out what Sydney Carton was plotting (which made the last line of the book, which I memorized in 1976, make sense).  Unfortunately, I had no recollection of the events of the next-to-last chapter, even while I was reading it.

We are now planning our next M-D (mother/daughter) Reading Club selection.  I'm looking for something in non-Gabriel García Márquez in Latin American literature.  Any suggestions/ideas?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

(Can't) Wait

November 10, 2011

I have another 70 40 15 (but who's counting?) minutes of office hours and two more classes before I rocket out of the microplex on the way to Galveston, Moody Gardens, and the annual meeting of the Texas Art Education Association.


 



You are right, I am neither an artist nor an art educator, but Erin's Dream Lanyards was chosen as the TAEA's Art and Soul philanthropic project this year, and I am going to show our wares!  This is an enormous honor and adventure!  

To demonstrate how nice it will be to stay at Moody Gardens (even if it means driving through Houston during rush hours, even if it means doing booth set up after the exhibitors' reception tonight, even if it means popping up to man the booth by 7:30 tomorrow morning), click here to see my calendar this week and next week.  The blue shaded areas are only the times that I am actually scheduled and do not include task that must be done (such as meal preparation or grading) that I must fit in around the blocked out time.  November is a cruel, cruel month for academics.

For all my lanyard makers:  I know they will adore your creative efforts.  Thank you for helping me make this endeavor work! 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Listen and Trade

November 3, 2011

My first audio book experience came in the early-to-mid 90s in the form of John Erickson's Hank the Cowdog series.

Davis was mad about Hank!  We bought a bunch of books from Producers Co-op, but given Hank's jinky syntax and his insatiable need to conflate his intelligence by tossing around incredibly long, bastardized words, they were much beyond Davis's reading skills.  Then we discovered the library had them on cassettes, voiced by John Erickson himself.  Davis resurrected Rockin' Robot, his toddler toy:


And spent countless hours listening to, singing along with (notice the attached microphone which allowed him to belt out the songs Erickson composed and performed for the audio versions of his books), and laughing about Hank's adventures.  He drove his cousins into submission by following them around when they visited, making them listen to one of the many stories he had collected, including MORE THAN ONCE the tale of the Incredible Priceless Corn Cob.  In addition to the rich dialogue that occurred before, during, and after Hank traded his steak fat scraps for a corn cob to Pete the Barn Cat (including "ou unce!  I an't alk.  I ave a orn ob in y outh!" [translation:  "You dunce!  I have a corn cob in my mouth!"]) , Davis loved to croon "I'm Rich!" and "My Heart Goes Wild For You."

After Hank, Davis moved into Star Wars (first on cassette, later on CD) and the fan fiction that took the adventures of Luke, Princess Leia, and Hans Solo forward.  When he outgrew them, the Buengers shared a disinterest in audio books for a few years.  Jim Dale brought us back to the fold and we spent about seven years listening and re-listening to Harry Potter, with a few side tours down other children's and youth authors and their books. 

I never really considered listening to audio books on my own.  I love to read, and I'm pretty good at it.  But I also like to listen to a wide variety of music genres and to geeky, political news.  I have satellite radio in my car, so I'm never really bereft of options.

When I received the latest Patricia Cornwall audio book for my birthday, I couldn't reasonably figure out when I would ever have time to listen to eleven CDs of unabridged mystery and pathology, as experienced through the life (actually just a day or two) of Kay Scarpetta.  

Now I wonder why oil companies don't invest in or simply underwrite the entire audio book industry.  

Ever since I slipped the first CD into my car player, I have looked for reasons to drive somewhere.  Here comes a true confession:  I had gotten to the start of the tenth CD (and a very pivotal and exciting point in the story) as I arrived for work on Tuesday.  When I got a call during the day that something I had ordered was ready for pick up, I didn't pause a beat to consider that (1) the item was neither urgent or critical; (2) it was the end of the workday--5:15--and traffic would be heavy; or (3) the store was several miles in the exact opposite direction as my home.  Instead, I thought, "Oh good, maybe I'll be in the car long enough to help Kay resolve her mystery!"

I only have a few tracks left on the last CD.  I think I will finish on the drive home in a few minutes, especially if I go by the meat market on the way.  At that point, it will be available for you to borrow!  I'm not saying that Port Mortuary is the best, most compelling, tantalizing book I can name.  I know it probably isn't, BUT having a book read out loud to you while you drive around doing the mundane things in life is a luxury and a delight.  If you have discovered this for yourself, I'd love to trade books with you.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flap

October 28, 2011

I actually don't know a huge amount about chaos theory, and I don't spend too much of my time thinking about dynamism, randomness, or the importance of initial conditions.  If I did, I would drive myself crazy imagining what all that would mean for Erin and her cancer.  Instead, I want to talk about green shorts and the butterfly effect (from chaos theory--the illustrative example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before).

We lived in Nashville when Davis turned five.  We had tried a few, but not many, activities for him before then.  Gymboree was a failed experiment because he would lag behind his class as they moved from station to station, preferring to sort and organize the bean bags or balancing hoops and line up the other equipment, rather than moving on to the next activity.  Kindermusick didn't work that well for any of us because, though we love to sing, we are all tone deaf.  T-ball was a stretch that we weren't ready to try because of basic hand-to-eye coordination issues.  Davis could run really fast and really far, but even his daughter-of-a-track-coach mother knew that five was too early to start track training.

Soccer seemed like an okay choice.

It fit his running and endurance skill set, didn't require much extra equipment or early hour practices (like pee wee hockey would have), and neither Walter nor I knew much about it (thus, eliminating, we thought, the idea that we would become overinvolved or overbearing sports parents).  We signed Davis up, he played, and frankly none of us remember much at all about that first fall of soccer. 

We moved back to Bryan (for the last time) over Christmas, and within a few weeks Davis brought home a flyer from school announcing Bryan Soccer Club sign up.  We were fairly indifferent but thought it might be a good way to meet some new kids, so we found the checkbook (there's always a checkbook in youth sports) and a copy of his birth certificate and headed out to stand in various long lines at Sul Ross Elementary cafeteria.

We got to the last table, where you turn everything in, and the woman asked if we were requesting a particular coach and if not, we would be assigned to a team, mostly based on geography and where Davis attended school.  I didn't have a coach in mind.  In fact, I didn't have a clue about who was coaching and who it might be best to avoid or try to suck up to or anything that a "with it" parent would have figured out ahead of time.  I was about to shrug and take pot luck when Davis piped up from behind me:  "I want to play on the green team."  His team in Nashville had green jerseys and gold shorts, which fit nicely with the rest of his wardrobe that prominently featured the color green.  The woman wrote "green" across the top of his application just like I had observed her write the coach's name on other paperwork ahead of me ("Coach Green?" I thought fleetingly.).

It turned out there were no green jerseys that season in the Bryan Soccer Club.  The compromise was to assign Davis to the blue team, because they had green shorts (a last minute addition to a popular coach's roster) .  I don't remember much about that season or several of the seasons after that.  Davis didn't explode onto the soccer scene.  He didn't have a preternatural gift with the soccer ball.  We didn't collectively fall in love with the "beautiful game."  We occasionally wondered how we could have connected to a sport that required thin shorts and a t-shirt for games in January and February.  

What we do remember is the coach, Steve Braden, a local physician and father of four, who never yelled at any of the players, even when they were particularly goofy and/or obnoxious, even when they scored on the other team's goal. . . on purpose, even when they ran their mouths instead of their legs and couldn't remember the simplest lesson from the previous practice.

How could we know that Coach Steve of the green shorts team would be Davis's coach year after year, through high school?  That because Davis stuck with Coach Steve, he continued soccer long after he dropped other sports options.  That he would embrace soccer as part of his personal identity?  That, in turn, we would adopt his love of soccer and become coaches and players ourselves?  That Erin's first and only sports longing would be to follow him onto the pitch?  That I would continue to coach Erin's team long after there was no logical reason for me to continue?

The flap of that butterfly wing. . . "I want to play on a green team" led somehow to a twenty-three year old theoretical mathematics Ph.D. student who has played soccer in Hungary, vacationed at the World Cup, and is as excited calling me about his goals and assists as he is about chaos theory and other math concepts that he studies and adores as much or more.  The flap of that wing has given Davis a way to stay fit, to compete, and to grow and improve into a much sought after teammate.  And Walter, Erin, and I have followed in the wake of the disturbance primed by that wing, possibly making our own little flap for the people that we pass as we travel along. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

World Clock

October 21, 2011

 If you look on the left column of the page, you will see I have put the Australian clock back in place. 




I added the international clock to the blog the first time when Davis studied abroad in Budapest so I wouldn't accidentally call him in the middle of the night.  When the Tjoelkers spent a half year in Canberra, I felt an even stronger need to have an easy way to figure out their time zone, since it also involved a day change as well.


The Tjoelkers are leaving again next Wednesday.  As there is no planned return to US residency, I may have to make the Sydney clock a permanent blog feature.

How do I feel about my besties moving?  I told them last night, when we celebrated Adam's birthday at Atami, I'm down-hearted, but I don't need an intervention.

Check on me again next week after they have left and see if I was wrong about the intervention. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Travel

October 18, 2011

Sometimes things just break your way.  Last weekend was a case in point.  A number of months ago, Bridget Maloney the Children's Minister at Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church in Plano contacted me and invited me to do a lanyard workshop at her church.  How could I refuse when she told me she had read Erin's blog for years, and it would be just like having a rock star stop by the church (maybe I misheard and what she really said was that it would be just like a rotten stork stopping by the church)?  Anyway, she gave me a couple of dates that would work for her, and one of them was on my sister's birthday weekend.  

I chose that one, since I don't get to spend nearly enough time with my baby sister.

The highlight of my trip was not the journey there, that included an extremely slow motion tour of the central expressway.  I thought we had left Bryan early enough to make it through the heart of Dallas before rush hour traffic morphed from vicious to unbearable, which it turns out we did.  But, I didn't have the prescience of mind to realize that a fellow traveler was going to spontaneously combust on his way through town, close down two lanes, and back traffic up for miles.

Anyway, the weekend was great and Kat and Emma are really the hostesses with the mostesses!  Even the lanyard workshop for 22 first through fifth graders was amazing.  They listened and followed instructions so well.  They encouraged each (and made sure that everyone followed the three rules!).  This is my niece Emma showing off her progress:

  
Sunday was Children's Day at the church with Bridget giving the very moving  sermon and the children (including Emma, who totally grooved the anthem) singing and filling other liturgical roles.  I proudly displayed the work the children did in the atrium before and after church as a reminder to everyone that Children Can Make a Difference in the World and many people agreed (as demonstrated by their generosity).

This is the message I received from Bridget yesterday summing up the beauty of the experience:

I have been teaching a class on Sunday nights for 4th and 5th graders and last night I was bushed by 7:30 when we were ending (I'd been at the church since 6a.m.) When I said it was time to start cleaning up one of the girls said, "Wait! We have to tell them about Erin!" Some of the kiddos had not been there Friday night, and the ones who were there told them everything you had taught them. They remembered every detail. Thank you so much for sharing your delightful daughter!
And just to prove that I'm unable to focus on a single topic all the way through an entry (even a relatively short one), I have to include this image that I really appreciated:
 
 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Think

October 11, 2011

The post title today is more of a request than an admonition.  Have you ever thought about this?

 
Both Davis and Erin went through phases where I couldn't pry them from the bathtub.  The water would lose its heat and eventually become downright chilly, but they would just slosh around and delay getting out (too many cool bath toys, I think).  I always wondered why their hands and feet would look like this, but not the rest of their bodies.  I understand that this only happens to humans and macaques.  

I've read explanations of this shriveling:  the keratin on our skin wears off of our hands and feet so they absorb more water; it's a sign of dehydration; water is a hypotonic solution and is trying to enter our skins to reach equilibrium.

Here is a more satisfying solution that fits the theory I had.  Our wrinkled fingers and foot soles are creating treads to ensure greater traction in slippery situations, just like car tires

Here's a second thing to consider:

Do you use yelp.com?  I don't.  But maybe I should.  Most of you know that given the choice, I would pick a non-chain restaurant over a chain restaurant.  As a business school professor, I also understand that chain restaurants often have a boatload of competitive advantages over non-chains in terms of long-term survival.  Yelp.com can actually help level things out in some surprising ways.  Not only do good reviews help independent restaurants (call me Captain Obvious), but the effect is much greater for individual non-chain restaurants than an individual outlet of chain establishments.  In addition, the existence of yelp dilutes the market share of chain restaurants, because consumer reviews substitute for the reputation that chains. 

Finally, I have something for you that is not science, or even scholarship.  It's opinion.  It's opinion, I want you to think about.  I read this on a blog written by someone I don't know and have never met:

 "But the only thing that makes me more bearish is the way that America denigrates intelligence and studying.  It's taken for granted that in America, there is mutual exclusion between being well-liked growing up and having very academic hobbies.  The captain of the chess team is assumed to have trouble getting dates.  If you are in high school and win lots of math competitions, people assume you're below average in admiration by peers.

In China, getting good grades makes you MORE popular.  The valedictorian is usually very popular.  And respected.  It automatically gets you points.  In America, it automatically drags you down in the eyes of your peers.
I think this is the single biggest factor that could lead to America's decline.  Everyone wants to be loved and respected by their peers.  Making that at odds with pursuing intellectual activities is very damaging to maintaining the status as the land of innovation." 
 
These words made me pause and think.  I'm not sure I agree.  I didn't ever felt cast aside by my peers in school for taking academics seriously, and I'm pretty sure Erin and Davis didn't either.  
 
BUT, I do have a growing sense that my particular skills set that mainly involves using my brain, is less valued and less appreciated today than over the course of my whole life and that my particular profession has less credibility than it has my whole career. 
 
All I can say is: think for yourself.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Recall

October 4, 2011


Some things smack of unfairness and other things are just tough to explain.  Here's something that is both:



Really, Uma has been on the green bean diet for TEN AND A HALF MONTHS!  It started well over 300 cans ago.  I don't know why she still looks like a dually (is that what non-Texans also call those heavy duty trucks with four-wheels in the back?).  



 I don't understand it, and for a girl with such a beautiful face, it's really unfair to be so wide in the back end.  The before view here, shows that not much has changed since last Thanksgiving.


video




My mother and I are reading A Tale of Two Cities for the mother/daughter book club, which is to say that my mother finished it several weeks ago, and I have barely met Madame DeFarge.  That is not what is unfair and inexplicable.


What I can't figure out and what pains my heart is that I actually read this book cover to cover (without resorting to Cliff's notes and without skipping over the hard bits) when I was in high school.  It claimed the number two spot on my all-time favorite book list for decades.  I can quote both the opening paragraph and the closing lines even to this day.


I.CAN'T.REMEMBER.ANY.OF.IT.NOW.!!!


I read along in it every evening, sure that something will ring a bell.  I keep waiting.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zippo.  


How does this happen?


And this is not the only book that I can't recall.  Walter and I teach adult Sunday school.  We have read--and not only read, but studied and taught--books that made really big impressions on us when we studied them.  I can remember their titles now, and usually their authors.  BUT besides a vague and possibly inaccurate recollection of their main thesis, I couldn't tell you much about them.


If Cherokee People by Paul Revere and the Raiders, popular when I was a sixth grader in 1971, comes on the satellite radio, I sing along without stumbling over ANY of the lyrics EVEN IF I DON'T WANT TO SING ALONG AND EVEN IF I THOUGHT IT WAS A DUMB SONG AT THE TIME.  This happens, and I can't even remember the characters in my second favorite book of all time?


Can you tell me that's fair?
Can you explain it?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Smorgasbord of Advocacy

September 23, 2011


Earlier this summer, I told Walter I wanted to go to Washington DC this week for a buffet of childhood cancer awareness activities and I wanted him to go, too.  I can't say he jumped up and down with joy or rapture.  When he priced our hotel and discovered that it would cost us PLENTY [I'm not even going to write the amount or the range of the amount because I would be embarrassed to the point of mortification to share it] he became even less enthusiastic.   But I reminded him that it coincided with my birthday, so he made the reservations and booked our flight.  He is amazing and the love of my life.


We have done so many things in the short time we've been here it makes my head spin.  I walked up to Capital Hill as soon as we checked in to introduce myself to the new LA for health in Congressman McCaul's office.  His name is Andy Taylor, and he is not the sheriff of Mayberry.  Walter met me at the 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave at Union Station on Wednesday night, and met up with friends from all over the country.  






Thursday, my day started around 7:30 a.m. and went on and on until late evening.  The PAC2 workshop was well attended and generated several new project ideas.  






That event swung right into the Congressional childhood cancer caucus reception where we mixed it up with Members, staffers, and advocates.  This morning started with a press conference which led into the Caucus Summit, and ultimately to the introduction of the Creating Hope Act (with bipartisan support) on the floor of the House.  I even went to my Congressman's office to invite him on the bill.  I spent the afternoon working on a couple of initiatives for the local ACCO @ A&M group.


Given how little time we spent in our room at the Marriott Renaissance, it seemed such a shame to pay so much.  That's why I was so surprised and happy when I returned to the room and learned that our bill worked out after all.  We used Marriott points for two of the nights and somehow had a drastically reduced night for the third.  We also have an upgrade to 1st class on the flight home tomorrow.   


Sometimes better to be lucky than good!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alfalfa

An internet friend I made after Erin had died was talking about her (the friend's) Irish nature and how it sometimes just kicked in.  I was looking through photos to send her one of Erin to demonstrate that she didn't have to explain, that I understood how that fiery nature sometimes reveals itself.  When I opened the photo album, this was the first shot I saw!  Erin, re-creating Alfalfa.


Focus

September 15, 2011

I have wanted to post multiple times lately.  

At one point I had something interesting to say about the piece from The Economist that had this graphic:


I've forgotten what it was.

I was also quite pumped about this Seuss-like explanation of the connection between jobs and health care.



But I couldn't think of anything creative to add.

I have also wanted to commend this audio PSA that I was able to help with in a small way this summer.  It is voiced by Tony:
 


You could also visit the website Kidscancerfight.orgI am personally responsibly for many of the action verbs in the text on the website (those who have ever let me help you edit something know that I avoid the "to be" when I can, expecially in passive construction).

Mainly, I have had my nose to the grindstone, as illustrated by what happened yesterday.  CCASP (The Carter Creek After School Program) had Erin's Dream Lanyards as their activity yesterday.  I decided to transfer all the beads and supplies up to the church in the morning so I wouldn't be in a rush in the afternoon.  I straightened all sixteen boxes of beads, put the lanyard hooks on a couple of dozen wire starts, AND so I wouldn't have to unload all the soccer gear from the back of my car, talked Walter into letting me use the van for the delivery.  I then loaded all the boxes, trays, and whatnot into the van, hopped in my car, and drove to the church, parking carefully by the loading ramp so I could use a rolling cart and make fewer trips.

I went in to get the room ready, set up the extra tables, and find the cart.  When I returned to get the beads. . .

The van was still at home and my car, loaded with soccer gear, was waiting to be unloaded.

I believe things like this happen when you get so stuck in your usual routines and don't look up to see what's going on.  

To change things up a bit, Walter and I are celebrating my birthday in Washington DC next week.  Do you remember how I have been bugging people for a year and a half to get behind The Creating Hope ActCongressmen McCaul and Butterfield are introducing it on the floor of the House next Thursday.  Great birthday gift!  And maybe I'll be able to see something besides the grindstone at the end of my nose.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Intend

September 2, 2011

You probably expect something really witty or clever or at least profound today.  Why?  For one, I have gone way longer between posts than usual, and for the other, yesterday kicked off National Childhood Cancer Awareness month, which is obviously something worth writing about.  

I think you might just have to keep expecting because I'm not feeling it.


In fact, I have put off posting more than once in the last week because I didn't have a suitable re-entry post after taking a hiatus (word gift for Becky S.).  I finally decided to try the toe-in, foot-in, ankle-in approach, since I didn't have the inspiration for a plunge that would make a splash.  If I do it innocuously enough, maybe you will forget that I was a slacker for approaching 20 days.

Last week, Erin's peeps all started ninth grade.  It didn't really sink in until one day this week.  I was sitting at the traffic light at FM 2818 and Leonard Road waiting to turn left towards home.  It was about school dismissal time, and I was eying each car that past through the intersection, looking for familiar faces.  It surprised me that I didn't recognize anyone, even though most of the cars were clearly coming from Jane Long Middle School.  Then I had the V-8 moment, complete with forehead slap.  My friends (students and parents) were on a different route, coming home from the high school, not Jane Long.  It felt really weird to realize that most (but not all) of my connections to that school were gone, moved on.


I didn't have a huge amount of time to ponder the great river of life, other than to confirm that the flow keeps moving on.  The last two weeks I have done my absolute best to imitate a cricket herder.  Every day I stuffed my crickets into boxes, only to have them promptly jump out.  Eventually, I did get my courses in order so that I wasn't embarrassed on the first day of class.  I survived the hottest soccer tournament I have ever coached (even beat the Austin Labor Day Tournament of 1999).  And, on Tuesday, thanks to so many folks around the country, we launched our Kids Cancer Fight radio PSA campaign (click the link to listen) and the supporting website KidsCancerFight.org.  You can like us on Facebook, too.


This all started last March when an unprecedented number of childhood cancer organizations (national, regional, and local) responded to an invitation by People Against Childhood Cancer (PAC2) to meet and think of ways we could all work together.  This campaign was one way we all agreed to cooperate.  The PSA is running nationwide the whole month.  If you have a childhood cancer organization and would like to participate, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do.

In closing, I will share a little graphic that I found on the internet.  Apparently, if you are not thinking about lanyards, you are not maximizing your brain's potential (isolating your thinking to that small yellow part of your brain).



 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Read

August 16, 2011


I had to knock down the dust in Erin's room some yesterday.  I actually spend a lot of time in there and the major surfaces were okay, but some of the shelves don't get a lot of practical cleaning.


Okay, so beyond the I-don't-deep-clean-my-house-regularly confession, there is the other bereaved-parent confession coming.  Twenty-eight months later, and I haven't actually done much with Erin's stuff.  I did give her Keen's to Ian last Friday (for keeps) when he got his muddy mucking around with the geese, but mainly her room is morphing into something else (who knows what?) at a glacier's pace.


I finally got around to dusting the bottom shelf of her bedside table where she stacked the books she was reading.  There they sat, each with a thin skin of petrified dust on them, their places marked, mid-read.  Some had precious store-bought bookmarks holding the place, including a special one carried back from Egypt by a friend who knew Erin's love for books.  An Underarmour tag just as proudly marked her progress in another.  My favorite?  A much doodled upon notecard spelling out the first ten amendments to The Constitution and what they protect.




I dusted under, around, and in the books, then instead of re-shelving them, stacked them back up at the bottom of the bedside table:


Anne McCaffrey's The Harper Hall of Pern
Roald Dahl's Skin
Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief
Agatha Christie's The Secret of Chimneys
and on top
Erin Hunter's Warriors


This is just one more way that I take after Erin.  


I took a few books on vacation and finished three.  I started with Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke, which despite having won the National Book Award a few years ago AND despite having bee given a free hardback copy, I had avoided, mainly because I just have negative views of the Vietnam War and our involvement, not to mention the whole spy/covert operations/screwing natives and manipulating people theme.  I decided to suck it up and give it a try.  I can't say the book made me feel any better about Vietnam or spooks, but once I started, it compelled me to finish it.  It was much different than I expected with all the characters being broken and and interesting (and thus accessible).  Of course, there were difficult and brutal parts, but also passages that were so evocative that I had to keep picking the book back up, even when I knew I wouldn't like what I would have to read next.


I also finished a murder mystery called The Pawn by Steven James, which I had started as a take-to-the-gym, read-while-you-stationary-bike book.  Spoiler Alert! Since it turned out that the serial killer was actually two serial killers (who had known each other as teens), it turns out I couldn't follow the plot line unless I focused while I read, rather than multitasking.  Being vacation and all, I didn't feel too guilty about just sitting in a chair on the balcony with my feet up reading from time to time.  


Even though I had started a couple of other books before we left Texas and hauled them around with me,  I couldn't help looking for something else to read.  In Taos, I found a locally-owned book store called Moby Dickens and on the advice of the owner, bought three books by southwestern writers (other than Tony Hillerman, who I was caught up on).  I finished my vacation reading on the drive home with Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.  And while the bodies stacked up in this book just like in the other two, it was completely unlike them--much gentler and reflective, as coming of age stories can be.


After I made it home, I started and finished another of my Taos books:  J. Michael Orenduff's first pot thief book:  The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, whose gentle self-deprecating humor and practically bloodless mrders helped me transition back into the world where more was expected of me than to drink fine coffee in the morning, fine wine in the evening and while away the hours in between.


Now I'm back to the grind (almost. . . my semester starts two weeks from today).  I have my latest Mother-Daughter book club book at hand:  Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities, which I have always (at least since tenth grade) counted as one of my top five books of all time And which I didn't recognize a word of, beyond the opening paragraph (you know "It was the best or times.   It was the worst of times. . . ") when I started it the other day.   I am also coping with Scott Hendrix's (no relation to Jimi Hendrix) Recultivating the Vineyard, which Walter and I chose for our Sunday School class to use in our study of the Reformation this fall.  


Quick, you can tell that I am missing the third leg of my reading stool.  Give me a light and fun suggestion that can balance off the other two.  I'm considering this one by Will Lacey if it gets into print soon enough.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eat Your Greens (and Reds and Blues and Yellows)

August 10, 2011


I was going to write about the three books I read on vacation, but I will put that off a day or two.  This photo (with the explanation behind it) came across my news feed, and it was too cool not to share.  Once you look at the photo, click here and read about what you are seeing.  Isn't science/the natural world wonderful and endlessly fascinating?



Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stitch

August 6, 2011

Walter and I spent the week in Taos at an ecolodge called El Monte Sagrado, but instead of having body polishes, hot towel infusions, and seaweed wraps, we opted for thigh burner hikes.  We did the Devisadero Loop Trail which took us up to the peak of Devisadero and then along the ridgeline, which may be the only expert trail I have ever hiked.  We managed the six miles and 1100 foot climb in just under three hours--probably not evenly distributed going up and going down.  Here I am pretending to have planted the flag at the summit.



Amazingly, hikers had built a replica of Walter's green chair right by where I had just staked out ownership to the mountaintop, so we could catch our breath before we headed down:


Another of our hikes took us part way up Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico at 13,000+ feet.  We paused at 11,100 feet when we got to Williams Lake, and then skirted the lake and pushed a little further to see a charming waterfall (I took four shots trying to capture the wonder of the water crashing down, then bubbling over the rocks, and finally, slowing to form the source of the lake, but once again you have to trust me that my photographic skill set is a shallow pool that needs some heavy dredging).


Coming down from the waterfall, I decided to try the camera once again to capture the spreading vista in front of me.  I even clicked through the setting options and found one called panorama.  Never used it before.  I mean, it's not like I command sweeping visual fields back in Bryan, or really most places I go on a regular basis.  Looking through the last twenty-five years of photos I have taken, they are almost all birthday parties, Christmas Eve or morning, or Easter Sunday family groupings.  No real need for a wide angle lens on those occasions.


Anyway, I switched over to the panorama setting, was momentarily confused because I had to choose left-to-right or right-to-left, and I had no idea what the correct answer was.  Ultimately, with a little experimentation, I realized I was supposed to take a series of shots of the scene and then something magic would happen.


I did, and after each shot the camera asked me if I wanted to stitch.  After the third shot, I said "Yes" and this is what came out:



Hard to believe, but if you pay attention and are willing to experiment, you can learn new stuff.  Living Proof:  I learned to stitch with my camera.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wonder

July 31, 2011

If you wanted you could travel the world and inspect the Seven Wonders of the World (which you will realize, if you click the link, that there are actually 28, which would probably take a very long time to see.  I have viewed three in person in my first fifty years, which is a nice trifecta, but doesn't bode well for clearing the table.).

If instead, you work on the list of "Makes You Wonder(s) of the World" you don't have to travel so extensively.  Here are the three I saw this morning when I made the walking loop near our hotel:

Muffler Tree Art?



Balloons Waiting to Escape and Find a Party?


I didn't get a photo of the third Wonder.  I saw it approaching on the walking trail at a jog.  At first I couldn't tell what it was--something bundled up from head to toe in several layers of clothing, bulky, puffy, almost like the Michelin Man.  Head covered with both a knit cap and a hood.  It's cool here, but even I was wearing shorts.  As it passed, I decided the small, young man running by was not an old woman as I had thought, but was probably a slightly heavy jockey trying to make weigh in for this afternoon's races at 1:00.

All three of these sights made me wonder what Erin would have quipped if we had been walking along together.  In fact, if any of you ever wondered, there is absolutely no way to count how many different times or ways your mind touches on someone who is gone and won't be coming back.