Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Soooo What Have You Got In Your Pocketsessss..??!!

(My Very Own Parking Space)

Gollum...kinda gotta love a creature that comes up with a word like "pocketses." Don't ya?

It's my birthday and my Dad got me a new backpack thus renewing an old tradition we had when I was in school (the first time) in which he would get me a new pack periodically. I took a blissful hour yesterday to explore all the pockets (pocketses!!!) and give deep thought to how to organize my things. After all, I do have to find that stuff later. I darned near froze my rear off in the parking lot and missed a class wallowing in all the zipper pouches, pockets, sections, cord loops, strap loops, handles, pass-throughs (for my headphones!), and as if that wasn't enough the darn thing zips in half to make my laptop scan-able through a mesh layer if I take the pack to the airport.*

The other part of the gift was a collapsible hand truck. Because every girl NEEDS one of THOSE. THAT thing is amazing. Handles 150 lbs and has solid rubber no-flat wheels. It's not very big once collapsed and with the suitable application of a short bungee cord (you should always have bungee cords) the backpack can be lashed easily onto the truck and towed about if you are lazy and/or towing books all over creation twelve hours a day. I must admit to being very curious about this 150 lb thing, though, so I figure I'll have to test the hand truck...all my books plus the boys? That would make for an interesting picture!

School is moving right along. The god of the university parking lot is still the truck. If you don't have one you are condemned to circle like a vulture. I now have my own personal parking space. There is a pack of full-time students with sport utility type vehicles that parks in the median area of the outer-most lot. It's still not as far out as some park, but you would be surprised at how many people with trucks or Jeeps just don't park there. Oddly enough, there's some sort of respect for parking order on the median (don't panic, it's not a REAL median, that's just what they call it). Most of the folks who park there are young men with testosterone-injected vehicles and I'm pretty sure they thought I was possessed when I came up over the curb in Whitey (my white Mountaineer with two car seats and a ton of well-packed "crap" in the back in old Pampers boxes) and jumped out of the front seat. A random Buzz Lightyear jumped out with me--you know how those Space Rangers are--and I had to chuck him back in. Someone actually shouted "To infinity and beyond!" and smiled at me and I thought, "I've found my little spot, here!" Here, among the ragamuffins of the median.

I've been studying anatomy and physiology with a fellow student. Turns out, her father is the physical therapist who REALLY put me back together after three pretty awful knee surgeries back in 1993 (OMG...was that 17 years ago?). I was so excited to hear from him! He was awesome and encouraging and exceptionally good at his job. His wife had heart troubles at the time and it was good to hear that she had miraculously gotten a heart replacement! Wow...truly amazing who you run into sometimes and gravitate towards.

Classes are good and I'm learning a lot. I'll admit, though, to worrying a bit after hearing one of my "non-chemistry" instructors try to explain the orbital structure of atoms as it relates to chemical bonding. No wonder that's the weed-out chapter...I admit to taking copious amounts of notes due to the fact that I need to know what the instructor's answers would be. I shudder to think of how I would be determining the number of shells, distribution of electrons, bonding capability had I not had chemistry. There are several in this course who have had no chemistry save what they may or may not have had in high school. Come to think of it, how are they going to understand any of the physiology at all? Geez...buffer systems, Calcium channels, hemoglobin structure/function, genetics...to name a few. I would be well and truly terrified and confused were I many of these students.

Last but not least, the grateful county in which I live has seen fit to bestow upon me the honor of Jury Duty. They managed to do this the same day as two tests and a quiz. Both professors are adamant that I must get out of Jury Duty...they will not offer to leave the tests in the testing center for makeup. The quiz giver is equally unbending. Not to mention the lab and assignments...all of which will be due ahead of time. Yes, I AM going to turn in the lab ahead of time. It will be like magic.

As for the inflexibility of professors versus Jury summons...please do not get me started because I DO view it as a civic duty and I DO NOT see any reason to get out of it. The only time I asked to be let out was when I had a child in the hospital...called the judge and had no problem. I've even sat on the petit jury for a trial in which a man allegedly shot a dog in the toe with a BB gun (that's REALLY why they don't tell you the facts of the case ahead of time). Missed three days of teaching for THAT. That was a fiasco and a waste of the court's time, but well within everyone's rights I guess.

Usually, though, having been a research biochemist (DNA fingerprinting, sequencing, and all that jazz) eliminates you from really ugly cases in which criminal evidence is presented. Having opinions about gun rights also will get you eliminated (or included, it just depends). And there are other aspects of my past lives (ha!) that make me a person of interest or a person that gets immediately excused by the judge.

Ya know, it's been a weird life thus far.
Bramble Scat

*FOOTNOTE: wheeeeeeen will I get to go through another airport again??!?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

No Fruit, No Nuts, Just Networks

I must say from the start that this entire weekend has been a total marvel in technological failure and planning run amok. "Amok, amok, amok!" (Does anyone remember Hocus Pocus with Bette Midler? OK, so it's just me...love that).

The office at Green Acres that supports our family's seismic oil and gas prospecting business was, well, having "technical difficulties" all week. No, I do not (TECHNICALLY!) work there anymore. However, no one left there can really do what I did, so the "deal" is that the phone is going to occasionally ring. It rang Wednesday while I was here at the Bunker (Attrition's house). That took about two hours and I thought it was a tough fix, but a solid one. Problem is, it wasn't really my fix to make and therein lies the REAL problem.

Green Acres is in the boonies. The thing with the boonies is that only just this month have we had more than one option for an Internet service provider. We've been a captive of the phone company (who I'd love to name, but won't) for years now and typically pay about $185/mo (or higher when we need other services) for a variable IP DSL service that's slow as Christmas. On top of that, no one at their Internet help desk really knows how to configure the service properly. In fact, they don't even attempt to keep access to their network configuration utilities secure...which is...well, stupid. I don't even think they know how to view your configuration w/o you knowing--they have you bring it up at home and read what's in the blanks to them. That's just bizarre!

So, the "fix" always starts with a phone call. During which I play very, very stupid. And I make sure their adminstrative login and password are the same and that the IP address is the same and I pay attention to anything else that they may have changed or seems to look different and try to ask well-directed, but stupid-sounding questions.

For some reason, no one at this particular telephone company ISP seems to understand that if my "Internet" is "down" but I can still navigate to THEIR server (which I am ONLY connected to via the Internet) to access the configuration applications using MY modem, then, in fact, it is a configuration problem and my modem is not broken. However, they conclude each five minute phone call with "Well, it sounds like your modem is broken. We'll send a new one out with a service person on Monday."


After the call, I'm on my own. More often than not, the problem is caused by an actual outage after which they bring service back online, but do so incorrectly, so the error could be anywhere and like any sort of scientifically methodical effort you can only alter one thing at a time if you are to solve the problem in any sort of sane manner.

So, in lieu of going to the plant sale on Saturday (Yes! I missed it!!!!), I dinked with someone else's network (just my little part in it). And eventually gave up. I have never given up before. Ever...

Attrition tried. He gave up. He never gives up. Ever...

We watched war movies, went to bed, couldn't fall asleep, both met on the porch, listened to weird noises and almost re-educated the idiot neighbor who decided to cross our land with a (very bouncy) flashlight at midnight (yes, he shined it in the living room), got up early, went to church, hauled tree parts to the fire, passed a very happy and ash-covered Squib to his grandparents for shuttling to his dad and finally dragged our aching bodies back into the office.

I said something colorful and plugged everything back in. We tried again. Someone at my favorite telephone company had reset SOMETHING again because one of the logical fixes that I tried yesterday actually worked today. Go figure. It's not my win, though, 'cause Attrition was actually the one at the keyboard. THAT is how it always works out...he is SO...something...

Wow, what a rant...


Friday, January 22, 2010

We Lost a BIG Tree!!!!

Lest you think we sit around twiddling our thumbs with no entertainment around here, I thought I'd show you our latest bit of excitement. "The tree" has occupied all our free time (as though we have copious amounts of it) for the last week. It came down last weekend with a terrifying CA-WHUMPH! The house, she DID tremble and shake.

After measuring the footprint of the disaster and determining the fact that it would have demolished a good portion of our roof and who knows what else--well I know what else...my kids are in that corner of the house--we're very happy that it landed in the empty spot next to the house that used to be a pond (a whole other story).

For perspective, that's my dad standing next to the trunk of the tree. Not a shabby little pine tree. He's 5'11". We had some local guys saw it up into pieces for us and dad has been using chains and his little pick-up to drag the pieces of the trunk up to his "new" fire ring. OK, so there are several fire rings. We, uh, like fire around here...
Here's the stump...we've been talking about dendrochronology...that's dead-ro-nology for those of you who are trying to figure out what my youngest is talking about. Yes, he has speech issues, but no, it doesn't slow him down. That's my Bic pen...we were using it to mark the rings.
Surveying "the damage." That's what Squib actually calls it now. He even says it with a little growl...the damaaaaggggeeee!!!!!! This is outdoor heaven.

A sawdust, bark, and mud war ensues and we are all forced to strip before we can enter the house. Sorry, no pictures of THAT!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Campus Bookstore Has Lollipops!!!

I think I have virtually guaranteed that Squib will go to college some day. I took him with me to the bookstore today...an out-of-the-way textbook vendor in town that I know of and go to even when I'm NOT in school. WELL...they've been holding out on me. Come to find out if you're four years old and cute as a button you get a free lollipop!

Squib said, "Mommy can we go back to the bookstore tomorrow?" He's very direct and makes plans well in advance.

He's not suffering for suckers, though. He brings out the lollipop in people. He gets one at the bank. He gets one at the pharmacy. He gets one at the pediatrician (of all people). Ugh. As much as I hate stickers, I wish people would pass THOSE out MORE. And I really hate stickers.

He asks me every day how I like "high school." I've stopped correcting him. Besides, who told him about high school???!!!!

I miss him so much during the day and the thought of him going to school in the fall is about to crush me like a grape for more reasons than one. I've been very fortunate to have him freely running about my office for the last two years trying my patience, coloring on my maps, poking my keyboards randomly, finding hot keys I never knew existed, making me pray feverishly for nap time, causing all sorts of ridiculous working hours, but no matter what...always there where I could see him every time he woke up....and creep by him when he was asleep.

Ugh. They grow up.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One Too Many Trips to Tokyo...

The required texts for my courses this Spring fill a cardboard box about 16"x 28" chock full. No, I can't lift it, which means it weighs in excess of about eighty pounds. I only know I can lift that much because the kids weigh a little more than that much put together. Sooo...unless I intend to graduate as a cripple I figured I had better use one of those rolling contraptions for all my junk while on campus.

So, out from the closet comes the briefcase. If this briefcase could talk, it would beg you to leave it alone to die. It's traveled with me and my dad all over the United States and parts of Asia and India often enough to know how to make the trip by itself. It never crossed my mind (because this is one of those lifetime warrantied contraptions) that it might actually crap out mid-trip.

Day one of school was awesome! Between campus WiFi and third party sites associated with texts and instructors I was amazed at all the tools available to students these days!!! I feel like I went to college in the dark ages the first time around!! Holy cow! eTexts, study guides, practice tests, online lab practicals, outlines, instructor's notes, additional microscope slide views, virtual cadaver labs, flashcards, and more....it's ridiculous, really.

And somewhere in the middle of all this biological reverie, the briefcase crapped out. The handle split in half, to be exact. It has substantial weight of it's own...and I haven't been weight training so much lately. Grr.... Then the grips on the carrying handles, well, the rubber started to break down. It got sticky black gunk all over my hands and everything I touched.

Crap like this ALWAYS happens to me at school. Ever since preschool. And, YES, I can remember that far back.

The alternate title to this post was not as presentable as the current title, but here I am back at the college and all I have to say is "DARNIT they lock the doors around here like they're squirreling away nuts!" This would be all fine and good if they would put electrical outlets on the OUTSIDE of the lecture halls. That way those of us stranded here for a couple hours between classes wouldn't have to pummel each other to death for the three outlets they hide in the library. And, YES, I actually checked the bathroom. There are people draped all over the place and even the snazziest little computer dies if you've been here for nine hours like I have so far (today is a twelve hour class day with a big two hour break during which it is quite silly to go anywhere except to re-park my car). I guess I will actually break down and spend the dough for an extra battery which I have been meaning to do anyway, but haven't because, well, you really don't need to do that anymore "these days."

Back to parking...NO, they haven't fixed THAT since I went to school last. It was a very good thing I was driving a truck--more parking spots magically appear :)

My next class is going to last three hours. The very sad thing about it is that I sort of have a degree in the entire class subject. The course is Nutrition. I have a degree in biochemistry and biophysics and a minor in Chemistry. I have chosen my battles with the UC staff over which of my courses to accept, etc. and no, I haven't taken a course actually titled "Nutrition." Carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, genes, biochemistry, biophysics, and metabolism, etc. YES I have taken those classes, but apparently they have nothing to do with nutrition. So...here I am. Now I am getting snarky, yes.

I never doubt my ability to learn something new and reinforce at least a million of the things lying dormant from my previous education so I really should NOT whine. But I seriously doubt my ability to stay awake after such a long day. I'm hoping for an inspiring prof. with lots of interesting asides...but not exactly holding my breath.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Color Me Happy, There's a Fruit and Nut Sale on Saturday!

There's just something funny sounding about a "Fruit and Nut" tree sale. We have enough fruits and nuts in our family--who needs a tree? However, fellow blogger--I should say uber-blogger compared with the likes of me--Merriwether put me onto the Montgomery County Master Gardeners' fruit and nut plant sale this coming Saturday. Suddenly my enlarged garden has sprung into an orchard as well (in my mind...and in the long run). I was particularly interested in the blueberry varieties and ANY sort of protein I could introduce. I shared the list of things for sale with my father (co-garden conspirator and cheif hole-digger and tiller extraordinaire) and he's interested in peaches and citrus fruits.

If you have grandiose visions of pecan orchards and sustaining yourself on your own home-grown foods, here's a good place to start:

If you can't make it this Saturday (the 23rd), don't worry it'll happen again a couple times a year.

In other news, SCHOOL STARTS TOMORROW!!!! I'll be quite honest, it's been an undisclosed number of years since I was in college. Going back seems ridiculously daunting. I have a faint memory of my college classes and the "older" students (like I am now) were always really on top of things. I admit to clinging to this stereotype just a little bit. I'm just having one little problem.

I am interested in EVERYTHING. Yes, everything. Especially if it's in a book. This bodes well for all the info contained in my textbooks, but there's a pile I refer to as the mountain that consists of OTHER books that are equally interesting. Therein lies the problem. Herbal medicine, the production and use of essential oils, World War II, Preparedness (for lack of a better word...no I'm not a survival nut per se), Francis Schaeffer books (he's a Christian writer on various topics), fiction, nonfiction, you name it. I even admit to reading shampoo bottles (hair gel, hair spray, and anything with contents) in the shower or anywhere else. I do that mostly to remind myself of chemical nomenclature, but nevertheless it's more info. I also keep up with several blogs...etc. etc.

And then there are the kids, my "job," my physical goals, and all those things that seem like plates spinning precariously in the air.

Don't get me wrong. The garden and school have really served to rejuvenate my other responsibilities...I'm just sort of worried about my old brain and whether I have that ability to cram all that info into it and recall it when someone else wants me to instead of when I want me to. We'll see after tomorrow. Tuesdays will be marathon days and the true test of whether or not I can fall back into the routine as a college student!

Wish me luck!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bugger All This Talk of Cancer...Let's Get Our Garden Going!

It is time to do something living. Something that affirms life.

Last week, we found out that Clanpaw's chemo was doing nothing. He opted to stop it. His prerogative. As a result, Baba decided to stop her treatment, too, even though she (odds are) will have many more years cancer free if she takes a hormonal treatment in combination with three rounds of chemo. Her cancer is very different and ultimately treatable, but again her choice is to let it run its course. The kids and grandkids could just throttle her, but here again, it is her prerogative.

As a result, life around Green Acres screeched to a halt. Nobody worked, we slept a lot, ate like zombies, and in general forgot that Clanpaw and Baba are still alive and kicking and in good health if you discount the cancer. They are encountering no symptoms, no pain, and have no reason to stop doing what they have been doing for at least the last five or so years. However, they are not leaving the house to go to the places they normally go, they are not doing tasks they usually found pleasure in, and it seems to me that they are merely sitting there in their recliners waiting for death.

My father and I had assumed their household and neighborhood duties when they were actively going through treatment. Doing the wash, the cooking, the shopping, trips to the post office and the dump (no, my grandfather will NOT let anyone pick up his trash at the curb). And now that they aren't going through surgeries or chemo, they are still talking only of their deaths and not assuming their regular activities. They've also refused visits from their friends to the extent that no one even asks anymore if they could come over to say "hi" and catch up with them. In my book, this attitude or, rather, resignation toward dying only accelerates the timeline.

So, I announced today that we were going to go on with life. If it kills me (which it won't). And the first step of the moving on with life plan is to get off our butts and plant our garden before it's too late to do everything we usually do. AND it's gonna be bigger. I showed my plans to Buddy Scat and he's going to mark it all off with extra timbers we have laying around and till it for me next week while I'm at school. It'll probably be just him and me taking care of it, but there's something about watching things grow that's soothing and healing. I'm adding a lot of herbs/spices this year, more corn, and a couple of other surprises that I've found in the woods behind the house. Let's hope my thumb stays green.

Speaking of school...there was noise that I should cancel it since things were "going so badly." BAH! I'm going. Heck, I could get into an accident in my car and die tomorrow and the grands would outlive me by months. I've known them and lived with them for years--prior to the big "C" they always continued with necessary plans even in the face of great trials. So I am choosing to honor their memories before they even pass. That constitutes the second step of the moving on with life plan.

The third step of moving on with life is not quite so easy. It is to talk openly with love and consideration about what is happening with my grandparents to those who love them. I have their permission, of course, because I don't necessarily agree with their self-imposed silence. Left alone, they'd just go into hospice and die without anyone knowing anything about it (once again it's THEIR prerogative). I have two boys, though, who have had the privilege of knowing their great-grandparents. The boys need to know about dying and death. They also need to know about death and dying in the context of the belief structure our family has. I DON'T mean that we need to talk about it all day every day, just that they need to be aware of what's happening and why (as much as any human can know why). I also want them to know what my family believes happens after you die. I never force my Christianity down their throats. They are free to take it or leave it (of course I'd rather they take it) because that is how God offers it to us. Free will.

Step Four is a typical step that many families take in situations like these and you should always take it sooner rather than later. We are trying as much as possible to see our extended family members and maintain regular contact whether it be by phone, email, or Skype. We have more guests coming to the house in the next six months that in the last ten years combined. Probably than in more than ten. Who cares how it happens, it should happen.

And Step Five is already handled and has been discussed. Making a plan to deal with death is not something most people do. In fact, most are caught by surprise even if the person who died is elderly and death is inevitably close. I have a group of friends. We're very tight. Just three of us. Each of us holds in our possession letters about each other's children and what our wishes are if we (since we have no spouses) are killed or rendered unable to care for our kids. We update the letters often and have a swap. Written wills such as these do stand up in court in Texas as legal contracts and are defensible. Many people write wills, but wills done through a lawyer are rarely as personal as the ones I write for my boys. I do include account info, etc. because they will need that, but I also include things that are going on in my son's life and what he's interested in and experiences I would like him to have, I also include letters to some key people---my heart is in those letters. Put your heart in your will--especially if it involves children. The woman that holds the letters for my sons is not rich by any means monetarily, but she is rich in love and care. She is intelligent. She's homeschooling two brilliant boys and makes choices for them like I would myself.

I digress...the point to being prepared by writing a will in any form is that it allows those you love most to be taken care of as best you can after you are gone. Additionally, it allows you to relax during the process of dying and to enjoy (yes, I said enjoy) those last moments with your family.

Life! Seize it!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The American Revolution

I am on the second night of a who-knows-how-long (and who cares) miniseries on the days of the American Revolution which follows, in particular John and Abigail Adams through the days of the foundling congress and onward. It is an HBO production and I am rather impressed with it. For those of you who are already interested, it is simply named "John Adams." Paul Giamatti is a very capable and articulate Adams and Laura Linney is his equally articulate and wife and counterpart, Abigail. Well worth a watch--especially if you would like to see the beginnings of the Revolution through those who lived through it.

I am personally recommending this--especially to those who home school their children--and even if you don't. Remember where you came from. You are here and free because of the good thought and yes, even prayers, of men such of these. It wasn't easy. There was debate. There was argument. There were misgivings and humility. Fears... It was war on all levels from politics to muskets.

And by no simple accomplishment, no simple task, a people at a disadvantage WON!

And we are left to preserve what they have won for us, and so many after us have preserved for us, at so great a price.

Be Grateful!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

OMG, how I DOOOO love books!!!

I finally finished the last of my textbook shopping today for this upcoming semester and I must admit to that rushed, excited feeling I've always gotten when I've opened a new textbook or started a new semester. Of course, now they have all these online apps and ebook copies of the text to aid you in your studies, but there's something about the smell and the weight of the printed page that I love.

Highlighting important things.
Writing questions in the margins.

Creating notebooks full of my notes and research.

And I loved to keep them all.

Of course, storage became a major problem and I had to part with many of my handbooks and staple texts over the past few years. Now, though, books are wandering back through my door and this makes me ecstatic!