Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008

What a year it's been!

On a national level this has been a very mixed twelve months with many ups and downs. For the first time in a long time, I feel like there might be hope for us as a country. Our economy is in tatters, but at least 50% of the country cared enough to vote for something different. I sincerely hope we're not too late.

Professionally, well, one just keeps on keeping on (if you know what I mean). It's hard to think in calendar years when you're on an academic schedule, but I realized that the whole bad business of the last school year really only happened in spring of 2008. I'm happy to say that things have largely died down. This is partly because feelings have actually cooled, and partly because I avoid putting myself in certain situations and interacting with certain people. Three things I am learning to keep: a low profile, my door closed, and my mouth shut. Work life may not always be this way, and for now at least I have achieved a tenuous peace.

Luckily, at the same time that work has been less than fun, I've had many events at home to be thrilled about. On a personal level it's simply been a wonderful year. Planning our wedding was fantastic, frustrating, exhilarating, and exhausting. Actually having the wedding was pure happiness. Married life has been a very enjoyable experience (oh Costa Rica!), and I'm really looking forward to many more years. One more heartfelt thanks to all our family and friends who've helped us out in so many different ways.

And so goodbye to 2008! I hope your year was at least good and possibly even great. I hope that next year treats you at least as well and possibly even better. New Year’s resolutions to follow in the new year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008

Merry Christmas to all our friends and family near and far. I hope this is a warm and happy day for you, and that you enjoy all sorts of relaxation and fun. We are very much enjoying only the second white Christmas I can remember. The snow is falling heavily again, and I cannot think of a lovelier backdrop for a holiday celebration. Last night, after we ate Christmas Eve dinner, we went saucering in a little basin near our house. Could there be a better way to spend vacation time? I absolutely cannot believe that this is western Washington with all this snow around! Once again, merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seattle in only 8.5 Hours

'Tis the season to visit out-of-town relatives, so, with my heart in my mouth, we set out on Friday to drive to Oregon. Actually, M did most of the driving, and we were pleasantly surprised to find most of the major roads were not too bad in spite of the snowfall that has blanketed the Seattle area. I think we made the trip in about five hours which is only half an hour longer than normal. We visited family and friends for three days and generally tried not to think too hard about what might be happening at home and in between. Then, yesterday, it was time to return to Seattle.

We set out from Corvallis just before 10am. For the first 30 or 40 miles, things were pretty good. Some light snow was falling, but the road was clear most of the time. Then we came to Salem, and the snowing started in earnest. By the time we came to Portland, you could not see any black on the road, and the traffic was moving at 0-10 miles per hour. Luckily, M really is a good driver (and we were lucky) because we really didn't have any terrifying moments. We saw many terrifying moments happening around us though.

People were slipping all over the place, and we witnessed more than one accident as it happened. We saw a large American car in the ditch with lights on, people sitting inside, and windshield wipers waving. We saw a Jeep that had skidded into a concrete divider, done at least a 180, and ended up facing the wrong way in the "fast" lane. Come to think of it, the worst (in terms of bone-headedness) drivers were all in Jeeps and red Jeeps especially.

One red jeep decided that he didn't want to crawl along in traffic, so he drove between two columns of cars with barely any clearance on either side. He kept having force his way into the row of cars when the gap narrowed, and this caused everyone around him to slam on brakes to avoid him. He ended up driving on the shoulder as well. Another red Jeep decided to bunny hop the traffic until he nearly got creamed by a semi that couldn't stop.

Snow seems to bring out the best and the worst in the average driver. Subaru drivers tend to be more sensible (I know I'm biased) even though they have better traction than most. The key to driving in this kind of weather seems to be remembering that ice is ice no matter what kind of car you're driving. A really thick, slippery patch of ice will cause ANY car, with ANY tires to slip. Besides, even if you are the world's best driver in the world's best car, you cannot control the people around you. Therefore, you still have drive with caution and not behave like a stupid wally (as M would say).

Anyway, we made it home safe, and the only bit of road that was too much for the Subaru was our own driveway. She got stuck half way up in the deep snow. Luckily, my experience with owning a silly, rear-wheel drive car stood me in good stead because I remembered how you can create traction by raking the snow into roughness. Sure enough, the car went up just fine after that. Only 8.5 hours to get home, and we are very glad to be here safe and sound.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wal-Mart Sucks Again

I have never been a fan of Wal-Mart. In fact, I've refused to shop there for many years based on their terrible record on labor policies, censorship, and attempted refusal to sell birth control products. Now, it seems, there is another reason to hate them, and it's nothing you could possibly have imagined.

It seems that a lovely couple from New Jersey decided (a few years ago) to name their child Adolph Hitler (plus a last name). The father is a fan of Nazism and thinks the SS were a bunch of pretty cool guys. This poor child even has a sister named Jocelyn Aryan Nation. Now this part is not news. Whack jobs inflict horrible things on their children all the time, and I can only hope that poor little Adolph and Jocelyn grow up to think differently than their parents.

The story here is about little Adolph's birthday cake. The whack job went to several cake shops trying to get somebody to write "Happy Birthday Adolph Hitler" on a birthday cake. I'm glad to say that he was refused more than once, and has complained mightily about the "discrimination" against his son. Again, there's nothing much you can do to combat this kind of whack job (freedom of speech and all) except to socially isolate them for their unacceptable beliefs.

However, even social isolation eventually fell apart when Mr. Whack found a bakery to make his chosen cake. What bakery would agree to write that on a cake? You guessed it: the accommodating bakery was found in a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart. Thank you, Wal-Mart, for once again confirming my belief that you suck.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oh Happy, Snowy Day!

11pm (last night) --- there was no snow on the ground, and no news of any school delays. It seemed that the weather people were in need of firing as their "100% chance of snow" turned out to be nothing at all.

5am (this morning) --- I happened to wake up (you never sleep soundly on a potential snow day) and look out the window. Only a tiny dusting of snow. I also looked at the district website, and found no news of delays.

5:30am --- The call from the phone tree assured me that we would, in fact, have a two-hour delay. Looking out the window there was a little more snow, but nothing that would make much of an impact.

6:20am --- Another call from the phone tree, and we were cancelled for the day. Looking out the window this time, and it was easy to see why they made the call.

10:21am --- I'm still in my jammies, and a beautiful winter scene is playing out outside the window. The snow is probably up to about 2 or 3 inches, and it is still falling thick and fast. The tiny, grainy flakes we had earlier have given way to fatter, fluffier ones, and my desire for real winter weather is slaked at last. After finishing my leisurely tea and blogging session, I think I will put on my marshmallow coat, and go for a walk to enjoy the scenery. All those prayers to the gods of winter must not have gone unheard after all.

Monday, December 15, 2008


For those few readers not currently experiencing the deep freeze, the Pacific NW is having a little bit of a cold spell right now. Low temperatures in our greater Seattle area were in the low teens last night, and it is not expected to get much above 25 (or so) today. There is a dusting of snow on the ground in many areas, and it has taken on that glittery quality that only comes from frost after snow. The snow and ice hit is a very strange pattern, so we, up on our hill, have less snow and ice than some lower-lying places. While many of the roads are bare and dry, some are slick with compacted snow and ice. Parking lots, tiny side roads, and driveways are often the worst part of a given trip.

A two-hour delay from school was most welcome this morning since it allowed the sun to rise and shed some light on the patches of ice. At least it is very clear and sunny, so the picture outside the window is absolutely beautiful. However, I'm not sure how many people will actually be going out to enjoy the sun given the extremely low temperatures. The children are strangely calm as they wait to hear what will come out of the sky next. Some weather reports are saying there won't be a day above freezing for the next two weeks. Other reports suggest two days of snow later this week. One thing is certain, it will not be business as usual for the last week of school in 2008.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Twilight Movie Review

I've been so remiss! It's been weeks and I've forgotten to actually do this review. Since so many people have reviewed it already, it seems kind of pointless to go into details. Suffice it to say, I liked the movie version quite a lot, but still not as much as I loved the book. I AM one of those fans (hopefully a not-too-crazy one) who actually enjoyed the thing. I've had a great time watching my non-believer friends and family fall under the Cullen/Swan spell. Even some people who were DETERMINED not to like the story.

Things I did not enjoy were the soundtrack (in my head this is mostly a quiet story), the casting of Charlie (waaay too young) the casting of Rosalie (waaay to old) and the hair and makeup done on Carlisle (waaay too laughable). Nevertheless, the faithfulness to the original story impressed me, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the next movie come out in a couple of years.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Like Tofurky

I actually do. I have no idea if it resembles turkey or not, and I really do not care in the slightest either way. I enjoy Tofurkey because it is warm and fragrant and it tastes nice on my tongue. My consumption of Tofurkey is is no way meant to:

-make a political, religious, or environmental statement

-make a judgement about what you are eating

-create a talking point about why I'm a vegetarian

-cause you to change the way you eat

-attack the meaning or historical significance of the day

In short, it's just shouldn't be that big a deal. Think of it as me choosing the peas instead of the green beans or the apple pie instead of the pumpkin. Or better yet, just don't think about it at all. It really isn't any of your business anyway. If you would like to ask a few polite questions, that's fine. However, don't view that as an opportunity to then explain "your side" about how awful, disgusting, or unnatural you think it is. You wouldn't come to my house and tell me I had terrible taste in furniture/pets/dishes/fashion/cars/husbands, so why would you think it was okay to malign my choice of food? Do us all a favor this holiday season and SAVE IT. Thank You.


The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vegetarians (SPCV)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Why Obama Makes Some Women Lactate

How often do I start a post by saying "Slate has this fascinating article..."? Well, there's no change in the routine today. Be warned, this time I'm taking on complicated (but really interesting) science content. It may not seem like hard science at first, but I promise you that it is. Science people, please do feel free correct anything you see amiss.

Slate does indeed have a great article about the famous Obama charm. Much has been made of the immense power he has over all types of people, and he's been called a thesaurus-full of words describing charisma. In this article Emily Yoffe explores the idea that Obama taps into a previously unrealized emotion called elevation. This emotion, to paraphrase deeply, causes people to feel uplifted, hopeful, and elated. It makes people feel connected to the object of their "elevation" and many people even feel "spreading warmth" their chests. In other words, you just can't seem to get enough of this person.

Doesn't this all sound kind of familiar? Wasn't there already an emotion like this? Wait, wait, it will come to me! Oh yes, I think that hopeful, elated, oooey gooey warm, connected feeling used to be called love! Yes love. Does this mean that people are in love with Obama? Millions of heterosexual male Obama fans might not like that idea very much. Perhaps it is too simplistic to say that people are in love with him. After all, there are many different kinds of love.

One of the studies mentioned in the article consisted of taking a large group of women with babies, and showing them a video. Half the women got to watch Obama, while the other half watched something else. Of those who watched Obama, a large portion suddenly felt the urge to nurse their babies. Why? The study's authors believe it's because the women experienced an increase in their oxytocin levels when they watched Obama speak.

Oxytocin is, of course, that chemical our brain produces when it want us to feel connected to someone be it a new baby, a new boyfriend, or even a president-elect. Perhaps it's not just that we love Obama, but that we have NEW love for him. You know this feeling. When our unconscious brain feels a need for a strong connection with another person, it feeds us large quantities of oxytocin (potent happy drugs) to make us seek out and maintain that relationship. Viola! Warm fuzzies whenever we see the object of our affection.

This all raises so many questions. The first has to be: why Obama? What is it about him that causes us to feel such "elevation" for him? Do our unconscious brains know something that we don't? Is he somehow gaming our natural systems to make us feel that he is deserving of an oxytocin benefit? Then there's the somewhat scary reality. Most of what I've read about the natural high of new love says that most humans have a "four year itch" where the happy drugs usually peter out.

If this is all true, what does this mean for Obama's chances for re-election in 2012? Perhaps, by that time, we will have learned to love him for himself alone. To ensure a successful re-election bid, maybe he should institute a policy of throwing his socks in the hamper, putting down the toilet seat, and being nice to our mothers.

Back to Normal Chaos

Okay, grades are posted, and all the aftermath has more or less settled. We also have most things about the new tri., such as seating charts, schedules, and expectations, worked out as well. Therefore, I'm starting to feel a little more normal. Of course it is the holiday season is also upon us, but that is mostly just fun. Now I intend to get back on the blogging bandwagon.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Digital Dog

I found this great quote online today:

from Quotes of the Day
"Home computers are being called upon to perform many new functions, including the consumption of homework formerly eaten by the dog." (Doug Larson)

It made me think of this excuse note that I received from a parent explaining why the kid could not turn in her homework:

Dear Mrs. Nitwit (not my real name ;)

Prudence (not her real name) will not be able to turn in her essay today because she was unable to print. It seems that my husband had a problem yesterday, and he couldn't get it up again until this morning.

Sincerely, Mrs. Patience

I showed this note all around school and found it to be an excellent judge of personality type. Some crack up with instantly while others simply stand there waiting for the punch line. One person went so far as to say "you actually find this amusing?" Needless to say, this guy could have opened soda bottles with his bottom.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my mom's 55th birthday. It is such a nice thing to have a mom; not everyone does, and I know I'm very lucky. It's an even better thing to have a wonderful, caring, kind mom. It's the absolute best to have a wonderful, caring, kind mom who is also young and fit and active. Given all this, my brothers and I are fortunate indeed. Happy birthday Mom!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

End of Tri Madness

There are a few times of the school year when we all go crazy. The kids tend to lose their minds when we are just about to go on vacation, when we are having a social, or when one of our sports teams has a big game. Teachers, on the other hand, tend to go crazy just before grades are due. Yesterday was the last day of the trimester, and all through the school the teachers are glued to their desks and computers. Depending on when you cut off work (refuse to take any more assignments) you may be more or less pressed right at this moment. One way or another, all teachers must finish their grades within one week. Every spare moment goes to grading the last papers, entering comment codes, and negotiating the intricacies of posting grades in our fun, fun online system. Wish me luck.