Monday, November 18, 2013

Suddenly an Autumn Age

After some wind and rain across our region yesterday, I opened the door this morning to our gorgeous  Japanese maple, glowing in flaming red. Everything glistened and glowed in the early morning light, still damp from the rains. It had somehow turned a brilliant red over night. Suddenly, hadn't it? Because how could I have missed it otherwise?

How did I not notice until now?

A few days ago, I noticed for the first time a new wrinkle cutting across my upper cheek. It follows a completely new and original path across earlier smile wrinkles, not part of my rays of crowsfeet, but a graceful curve flaunting its independent creasing. It's another smile wrinkle, but... how did it get there and where is it going?  It seemed to have appeared overnight. And suddenly it's middle age.

How did I not notice until now?

I've been "enjoying" such signs for some time now: the slanting light, the colorful trees, and the creaky pops of my knees and neck. It's not too bitter or frosty yet, so an extra layer or stretch keeps things running smoothly, so no worries. It's not that I have not seen the signs, but these new signs? Ah, so the portents are true. It really is the Autumn Age.

Maybe it's just that noticing this one new thing (or maybe it's an old thing that presented itself, waving it's hands for attention) highlights the state of being. Ah, so this is where I am now. Cool. Amazing, weird, a little scary, but cool. Brilliant, in fact. Beautiful, even. But really new. Cheerfully blazing new-trail new.

The tree and me, waving our hands at our present state. Hey! It's present me!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

While I've Been Gone: Late Autumn Cool Things

Hi! *waves*
I supposed you've all been wondering where I've been. The answer: head first in my graduate program. Wow, does that ever take up huge chunks of time and mental space. So writing and photography (and reading for pleasure) have fallen to the wayside somewhat.

A few cool things I have been enjoying between projects:

Reading for classes. Yes, there is a lot of interesting material I'm required to read. It's just that there is so much of it! Some of the most interesting books have been Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by cognitive neuroscientist and childhood development expert Maryanne Wolf, also The Devil's Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea, a beautifully and poetically told tale of a harrowing subject, and more mundanely, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms by Will Richardson. I'll spare you the more technical texts. Like Best Practices in Early Elementary Literacy - whoo!

My iPad. For a Powertools for Educators class, I was required to acquire a personal mobile device. After some muttering, I chose an iPad. I  was not entirely happy about having to take on an additional digital device at the time, but now I love it! It's like a reader and app device all in one. It's so easy to check weather or look up something quickly. There's imperceptible bootup time. It has loads of fun and interesting apps. I will not lie - I have at least a few different Angry B!rds apps. Also a ton of educational apps, language learning apps, and my fav calorie/exercise tracker ever: MyFitnessPal. Also things like Crunchy Roll, an outlet for all episodes anime, including...

Polar Bear Cafe! This animated series uses some anime conventions such as emotive markers in the visuals and audio, but is more laid back and less weird than some anime I've seen. It's not for kids, really, but the characters and situations are sometimes so funny and ridiculous that I keep coming back for more episodes. It features a wise but pun-enamored polar bear who runs the cafe, a lazy panda enamored with all things panda, and a blunt and feisty penguin (except when he's smitten with a lady penguin who works in a bakery), along with myriad other human and animal characters. I'm especially fond of the grizzly who runs a biker bar and gets into arguments with penguin. Actually, I think I love penguin best of all.

Running. I've been attempting to run again. Well, I can't say that is something I actually enjoy.  I don't run for pleasure, and I certainly don't run for bragging rights. I'm pitiful as a runner, yet my need to actually use my expensive running shoes keeps me going back out, and the shoes seem to keep me well-aligned so that I don't have many pains to complain about (other than the exertion itself). I'm all about the intervals, alternating running and walking up and down my neighbor hills. And I come home looking like a tomato. But I enjoy having run, and thus keeping my fitness levels up. And then I can put into the MyFitnessPal app for additional reinforcement.

I can call MyFitnessPal as its own category. Rather than attempting to track intake and outgo on paper or spreadsheet, this cool app allows you to see what your daily and weekly budget looks like in progress. I like the weekly and daily views and the graphics. I like that you can find and enter half a sn1ckers candy bar if you have to, or enter a recipe of my own choosing. Positive reinforcement for the win!

Autumn light. A half moon with a visible face. Willow oak leaves spiraling through the afternoon sunlight. Holding onto my kitty cat for another day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

ten good things: might be Spring edition

1. The garden scene that greets me when I go our my front door every morning. Irises, especially! Smells like grape juice! the little girl says.

2. Working hard on the things I am not so good at, and getting better, slowly.

3. New seasonal clothes sorted and organized, old seasonal clothes packed away, ready for donation.

4. One last shot of cool-weather Spring. Yes, we turned the heat back on.

5. The little girl telling me she's going to take a walk (around the house) before coming in. Last minute walk about. Don't get lost, talk to strangers, or step on any poison ivy, thanks. 

6. Beautiful found scarves and accessories. Vera scarf FTW! That's Vera Neumann. Look her up!

7. A red-shouldered hawk hovering high up then suddenly diving for a fish. Sploosh!

8. My current students and their individual quirks, interests, and learning patterns.

9. The ability to turn off the news and go about my day.

10. Silly songs from the little girl. And new variations thereof. 

Bonus: Itty bitty shark teeth... with teeth. 


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bye, Bye, Baby (Clothes)

Spring haz sprung,
Da kid is riz
I wunder where
dat little girl iz.
Dat little girl is all armz and legz
And her clothes?
Dey are last year's dregs.
After having several days with high temperatures in the mid-80s (that's hot in Fahrenheit for those of you used to Celsius), I can confirm it's officially Spring. At first we went out bundled in our usual layers and found ourselves needing to shed. We had to suddenly scrounge for short-sleeved shirts and retire the thermal underwear. We can get away with bare legs and little skirts, even. The heavier fleece pullovers are gone gone gone for the season.

Well, that was sudden. We had sleet a week before that. I don't think cold weather is coming back. Sorry, South Dakota (ye who are suffering an April snow storm).

I had been thinking that the days of certain clothing was numbered, what with the little girl's expanding arms and legs, and the certainty that she will not fit into certain items by next year. Now it's official. It's goodbye, cute sweet shirts.  Good bye cute little wool socks. Good bye red moose shirt, which is already a little small. *sniff sniff*

Her pink fleece jacket started out large on her last Fall, and is now well-outgrown. I supposed it's good that Spring finally arrived so we wouldn't have to keep futilely trying to yank the sleeves down over her wrists.

I'm now in the process of washing all the winter clothing for storage or passing on. Yes, the warm weather came on so suddenly, we still have some dirty wool socks and fleece hidden in the laundry baskets. While finishing up one one load, I came across the long sleeved shirt the little girl has managed to wear for her last two birthdays. We call it "the hot chocolate" shirt because it has what appears to be a mug of cocoa on the front. It's all very pink and grey-stripy, very cute.  It's too warm to wear it, now. I doubt the little girl will every wear it again. The same with several other long-sleeved favorites.

I've been unearthing several boxes of Summer-wear I had stashed away for right about now. In one short-sleeved shirt, the little girl's arms suddenly looked extra long. Where has she been hiding those arms all Winter? She's worked up only a quarter inch in the last couple months, but those arms, and legs... whoo! Watch out!

I'm resigning myself to passing on those favorite clothes. The fab hot pink flowery thermals that she has been steadily outgrowing since February are destined for the consignment sale. Some other little girl's parent will be delighted to find thermals for under $15-25 per piece. I'm thinking I'll let them go for $4 each, maybe $3 since they look a little scruffy. There is lots of life left in them, but not for this little girl! Next year, she'll be growing into her big green stripy thermals, the ones that have been a little big on her all Winter. In fact, she'll probably be outgrowing them this time next year.

Bye, bye, little girl clothes! Go forth and make some other little girl warm and happy!

Hello, new big girl clothes! Hello, new Big Girl!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This is My Brain on Sugar Withdrawal

My brain keeps talking to me like my toddler, or maybe like a canny 4th grader.
How about some ice cream? 
Oh, that would be lovely, but you know what? No can do.  
Oh, look! There's some mint candy. You know how you enjoy that.  
Yeah, but, no.   
Want another piece of chocolate? 
I just had one, thanks.  
Oo, let's stop for a frozen palleta! We haven't had one in a while.  
Yup, we haven't. We're not eating that.  
What about that ice cream over there?  

It's surprising the things your brain will say to you when one is attempting behavior modification.

My brain is bargaining, wheedling, coaxing, distracting, seeking food for soothing, food for distraction, food for the excuse to avoid or start a task, food for avoidance.  Wow, that is a lot of energy going into obtaining snacks, and sugary food in particular. This is what I've discovered since I decided to attempt a little sugar abstinence: my brain talks a lot.

By the time I hit on this idea, it was already well into Lent, and anyhoo, I'm not following that calendar, and besides, there was too much Easter candy coming my way, plus my sister's birthday is coming up where there would be cake and ice cream, most definitely.

I could do it in reverse! I could eat all the sweets I wanted before Easter, and then cut back on sugar after Easter! For several weeks, say, til my next hair appointment. Reverse Lent! Yes! That gave me a few weeks to get used to the idea.

Sugar in candy, ice cream, and cake, nope. Sugar in my tea, well, just a little, but about a third as much as usual. Orange juice, okay in small servings. Honey, ehhh, I'm not really a fan. Chocolate, yes but only dark and in moderation. I don't know if one should live without chocolate.

I'm not a purist, you might have noticed. I have no intention of giving up sugar for good. Nope, no food dogma for me. My dietary changes are modest. I just need to knock down my habitual sugar cravings a little.

But my brain, my brain! My toddler could take nagging lessons from my brain.
How about some toffee? 
Just a little bite?  
No, sorry.  
You don't have to shout. We're not eating that, and you don't even like that variety.
Oo, ice cream! I would loooove some ice cream.  
Sorry, hon. How about some peanut-butter celery instead?  
But, the ice cream!  
Don't look; have some celery instead.  
Yummm. Celery. I loooove celery with peanut butter.  
Well, there you go.  
Too bad we don't have some ice cream for later.  
I know. 

The funny thing is, when I was indulging in candy before Easter, I started to feel a little sick of it. I sampled a couple of the jelly beans that I'd set aside for the little girl, and almost immediately felt the sugar rush. A rush? More like a sugar shock! Yuck. So I portioned out a few of everything for her basket, and threw the rest away. Weird, right? My body just does not like having that intense sugar shock. Now to let my brain catch up with my body.
Ice creeeeaaaaam! 
Now, hush. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

We have mice. We had mice. Have. Maybe both.

We've never had mice in this house before. Chipmunks in the basement, yes. Raccoons in the attic, yes. Ants, moths, roaches, yes, alas, but at least they take turns. We call the big one Earl. Anyway, my husband spotted our one cat playing gleefully withe one of the toy mice a few weeks ago. Turns out, it wasn't a fake mouse at all, but a real one! That trumps any amount of catnip. Dead, thank goodness.  Go, Mister Cold Nose!  Uh, we have mice?

It's a surprise, really, that we've not had mice before this. Our house is old and ridiculously porous, efficiency retrofit non-withstanding. Anything that finds its way into the basement can scootch under the basement door into the house proper. But we hadn't seen any actual mice, other than the one now mercifully dead. Heard them scuffling in the attic, yes, possibly, which makes our electrician shudder.

We thought, "If there's one mice, there are probably more," but we didn't think any more of it until the following week when I was prepping my caller bag for my next gig, taking everything out and assembling all necessary gear. Lip balm, pens, cough drops, kick-butt throat spray, large paper clips, mini toiletries bag with toothbrush, markers, sparkly name buttons, DARK CHOCOLATE.

I'd already stashed a big bar of dark chocolate in there for my upcoming gig within the last week and told my husband that I'd put one bar in the cabinet and one bar in my bag, but DON"T EAT IT. He smirked at me, and said, "Oh, good. now I know where to find it."

So I reached into my bag and felt a huge hunk of the chocolate just gone. I swore. "Bloody hell, he didn't!" You see, despite DH's teasing, if we run out of the main stash, my caller chocolate remains off-limits, at least in theory. "Oh, he sure did." I pulled out the bar and got a good look at it. Whoever who had gnawed the chocolate had gone straight through the packaging. "Oh... he didn't." But a mouse did! Damn mouse. More swearing ensued when I inspected the bar and determined that I'd be better off throwing out the entire bar. *sniff!* So sad.  I took everything out of the bag, and wiped everything down with bleach.

By the time my husband came home from work, I had encapsulated all chocolate and sweet foods such as raisins or sweet crackers into tins, and was busily throwing out any old candy lurking in the kitchen. Out went old candy canes and peeps and Halloween candy. I tinned up the marshmallows while I was at it. I tinned up the new Easter candy I was still hiding. I took every last bit of raisins and candy out of my briefcase so the mice wouldn't be tempted to chew through, which is what you are supposed to do at night when backpacking. I took my cough drops out of my purse.

My hubs came home and looked at the pile of Christmas-themed tins littering the kitchen. "What are you doing?" I just thrust the gnawed bar at him and said, "Goddamn mice ate my chocolate!" "Ohhh!"

We both have memories of the backpacking trip in the Smokey Mountains where we were dogged by mice. Here we were worried about bears eating our food, and the damn mice ran up the ropes and chewed through nearly everything that smelled promising. They even sampled the toothpaste. Ewww.  At some campsites, their little eyes could be seen shining in the light of our flashlights. They were everywhere. They really liked our power bars. They must had thought that through-hikers were the best source of food ever. On top of the indignity of them ruining our food supplies, we had to pack out all the soup mix and pricy power bars they had ruined.

So... anyway. Mice.  "Good thing you have all those Christmas tins."

The next day, I heard scuffling over on the counter. Yes, they had found my forgotten stash of S'more supplies. Bits of chocolate and marshmallow everywhere. Ugh, ugh, UGH! Throw that stuff out and break out the bleach!

They weren't interested in our cereal and other things they could have gnawed their way into, no. These mice had a serious sweet tooth.

First I tried a pre-baited trap and stuck on an additional marshmallow for good measure, too much of one. The mice ate half of it one day, sprung the trap the next day without getting caught, and ate the rest in two days. It was quiet after that. I guess they had gorged themselves.

For Easter, I put the little girl's chocolate bunny in a Ball jar, her other candy in small containers, and left a note on the table telling her she had too many mice to leave out the candy. I am happy to report that only the intended recipient got to nibble on that candy.

Then my husband was getting ready to make his weekly batch of bread. After the rising and shaping, we got ready to preheat the oven. A horrible stench started arising from the oven. Was it gas? Was our oven about to finally kick the bucket? Was something about to catch on fire? I had visions of mice behind the oven. We didn't want to ditch our batch of bread sitting there in the pans, but I finally made him turn off the oven, and we opened all the windows to air it out. My husband was opening various doors trying to see if anything was stuck in the stove.... and found an enormous pile of fluffy fiber in the broiler! Some of it was still glowing. Thank goodness it wasn't cotton, or it would have ignited instead of smoldered.

My husband demanded latex gloves and got to work cleaning out the pile and trying to shield our daughter at the same time just in case there was a body in there, but thankfully no. Somehow the mice had ferried a ton of fiber from somewhere or other within the previous three days (we bake every 4-5 days). On top of the yuckiness factor of having mice attempting to nest in our broiler, I was also a little concerned about where the fiber had come from. It didn't appear to be insulation, at least. I think it came from some old fuzzy fake fur I once used in a Halloween costume.

A day later, my hubs came in the front door, and caught sight of a mouse running straight down the main hall way! In broad day light! The cats didn't even notice. That creeped out the hubs so much, he went online and found some super duper electronic mouse traps, and had two shipped overnight. Humane traps, forget it. Stuart Little, they were not. He was going to nail those suckers.

The little black boxes arrived. My husband showed me the apparatus. "The mouse goes in, it gets a little charge that kills it, the little green light goes on, and they you just open the lid and dump into the trash. Simple! You don't even have to touch it."

He had baited it with chocolate, he said.

"What?! Noooo! We're not using more of our good chocolate! And don't you dare use the good white chocolate I stock pile for Christmas baking. That stuff is pricy. Next time use that peanut butter the little girl doesn't like."

But no, he did use the awesome white chocolate. Sigh. But we caught mice two nights in a row.

This morning he told me sadly: We didn't catch any mice last night.

But that's good, right? No more mice?

We are still going to leave the mousetraps up, but no more good chocolate will be sacrificed, I swear.

Monday, May 21, 2012

ten good things - almost Summer edition

1. An up-close view of a cardinal sitting on her nest.  Just over our heads. We could see her red  beak sticking out one side, and her reddish tail stick out the other. 

2. Coffee houses where one can buy a single drink, and study and concentrate for hours at a time.  I had less than 8 weeks to prepare for the GRE, so we shall see how I do.  But the study spaces are so niiiice.

3. Cute bunny rabbits, even though they eat my greens and dig holes in my yard, dammit. So THAT's who's living in the backyard condos.

4. The little girl running mellpell across the backyard. This must be what expanses of lawn were meant for.

5. The little girl cutting and pressing play dough shapes completely independently.  Today, she was cutting skinny triangles out of orange to make... carrots!

6. Cute thank you cards from my Sunday School kids at the end of the school year.

7. Organic whole wheat bread, freshly baked at home several times a week. It's fresh, it's tasty, and it saves us money. My husband The Daddy rocks, yes. 

8. A long-lost professor coming through to provide a recommendation by deadline - woo! I have a chance of getting into my program of choice for this Fall after all!

9. Fresh strawberries, fresh blueberries, fresh melon, with mint from the garden.  With a sprinkle of sugar, or a squirt of whipped cream, or over sweet biscuit, or just plain naked.

10. The sound of wind through the trees on a sunny morning. Peace and harmony.