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Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Case Of The Missing Mouse

Our resident mouse lover
I've written before about common ground between humans and cats, but I've discovered another similarity!  Much like human children, cats become very attached to certain toys.  And, when said toys go missing, the entire household looks for them.

Before we brought Laila home, I purchased a variety of cat toys including a pair of catnip mice.  These mice were identical, aside from one being beige and the other being gray.  Laila took a liking to these mice, but always seemed to like the gray one better.  (Why?  I thought cats didn't see colors very well).  Her preference for the gray one seemed to grow over time.  The gray one was the one she would pick up in her mouth and meow around when she wanted attention.  It was also the one we would find outside our bedroom door some mornings, when she evidently thought we had slept in too late, and came to meow at us through the door.

When last seen, the gray mouse's feather ears had long been chewed off.  Its fur had developed a coarse texture from repeatedly being held in a cat's mouth and chewed on.  The beige mouse looks quite pristine, by comparison.

However, yesterday afternoon, I realized I hadn't seen the gray mouse in a while.  Laila considers the couch her home, and usually, the gray mouse is right there with her, except when she's playing with it.  I noticed Laila walking around, looking up on the couch, and meowing, so I think she was looking for it.  I figured it had just gotten stuck in the couch cushions, but I've looked pretty carefully and haven't found it.  We've been trying to think of more places to look, but it's hard to imagine where it could have gone.  And we're in an apartment, so there's a limited area to search.  I feel pretty bad about it, considering that it's a well-loved gross cat toy we're talking about.

I'm kind of assuming at this point that it will turn up somewhere, but I'm curious where that will be.  I'm also curious how Laila will react to it.  Will it be a joyous reunion, or will she have moved on to one of the other of her many toy mice in the meantime?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I Didn't Have Enough Bad Odors In My Life...

So I visited a corpse flower in bloom!  Corpse flowers are native to Sumatra, but we didn't have to travel that far since the United States Botanic Garden has three of them!  They don't bloom frequently, and it always makes the news here when they do.  I had been regretting the fact that while I've been to the US Botanic Garden several times, I had never been while the corpse flowers were blooming.  This time around, I decided to seize the opportunity.  They didn't all bloom at once, but you can see one in bloom (with the other two waiting to bloom) here.


The experience was somewhat different than I had expected.  With a name like "corpse flower," I expected the smell to be much more dramatic, the sort that hits you like a ton of bricks as soon as you walk in the door.  It turned out that the rotting meat smell was both faint and intermittent.  One of the employees explained that it is energy intensive for the plant to produce this stench, so it doesn't produce it constantly.  She also helpfully pointed out to everyone when it was emitting the stench, and where we could get a good whiff since--let's face it--people come to exhibits like this in part to be a little grossed out.  But, they are attractive plants, even if a little smelly.

Speaking of things that are at once gross and beautiful, we saw this tree on a walk we took later.


I love how the leaves look like lace or filigree.  However, I'm pretty sure they got that way by being chewed up by bugs, which kind of creeps me out.

On a different note, we saw the Hive exhibit at the National Building Museum on Sunday.  Very impressive structures, especially considering they were made with paper tubes!




Thursday, August 24, 2017

Remote Work Mysteries

I've recently started a part-time job, working remotely for an employer in another state.  Most of the other employees work onsite.  I'd never really thought about this, but when you work in the same space as other people, you share a lot of experiences with them, good and bad.  You see colleagues and bosses come and go, you partake in office parties, you complain together about the flickering light in the conference room.  Sometimes, you even get a group layoff experience!  When you work remotely, you don't have these same points of reference.  Messages were circulating recently about a goodbye party for departing colleagues; I never met any of them in person, and I didn't get to eat any of the food.

But the weirdest thing is that in the few weeks I've been doing this job, there have already been two(!) emails about the restrooms.  I don't recall receiving any emails about the restrooms at my previous job, which I held for over a year before being laid off, so two messages in a just a few weeks seems noteworthy somehow.

The first message was to advise us that only employees and authorized visitors were allowed to use the restrooms.  Evidently, random people from the parking lot had been trying to come inside the building to use the restrooms.  (Why?  Are the restrooms in this building really nice, or are they just the only restrooms around for miles?  I need details!).  All of us employees were supposed to somehow fend these people off, and if they persisted, we were supposed to notify the sender of this email so he could deal with them.  (How?  I'm picturing parking lot fist fights that I'll never actually get to see.)

The second message mentioned that the restrooms had been left in "disarray," and that if we needed further clarification on what that meant, we should stop by the sender's office to ask.  I'm so curious about this email, but yet, so glad I don't know what the sender was talking about.  The "disarray" must have been pretty bad to warrant any sort of mention, and the fact that the sender would only elaborate on it in person makes me think it was fairly lurid.

But, since I can neither visit these restrooms nor stop by anyone's office for clarification, the exact nature of the "disarray" will forever remain a mystery to me.

A blurry photo of my distinguished office mate, Laila.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse-Watching With No Photographic Evidence!


I'm sure few people are unaware at this point of the solar eclipse that could be seen today in North America.  I'm no astronomy buff, and it was impractical for a number of reasons for me to travel anywhere in the "path of totality," but I started to have serious fear of missing out as the eclipse drew closer, so decided to take the afternoon off to see what I could see in my area.

I ended up heading to the roof of my building around the time the eclipse started to be visible here, special eclipse-viewing glasses in hand.  A small group of people were assembled up there, also watching the eclipse.  During part of the time I was on the roof, cloud cover prevented me from seeing anything, so I alternated between reading my book and putting on the special glasses to check out the eclipse's progress.  It was a surreal experience.  Since the eclipse-viewing glasses block out all light except sunlight, it felt like I was seeing the moon against a dark sky while I was wearing them.  Yet, it was the middle of the day.  Attempting to photograph the eclipse was a similarly odd experience.  I would locate the sun in the sky while wearing my special glasses, hold the camera in front of my eyes (thereby blocking my view of everything), take the picture, and hope for the best.  I'm pleased to report that the pictures I took do indeed contain the sun.  However, they all look suspiciously like they were taken on a normal day.

Today was fun, but maybe I'll try to be a little more ambitious the next time a solar eclipse can be viewed in North America.  It would be fun to have an excuse to travel somewhere new (assuming I won't be living in the "path of totality").  I'm sure thousands (at least!) of other people are taking care of photographs, but it would also be fun to take a few good pictures of my own.  It looks like I'll have several years to prepare!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Layoff Lessons

I was laid off in late June, along with a large number of colleagues.  It came as a complete surprise to me, and, I believe, everyone else at my place of work.  I would give serious props to the powers that be for carrying off such a surprise, except that I think planned surprises should always be pleasant.  If you're going to ruin someone's day (and possibly the weeks to come), it's just good manners to throw a few clues their way beforehand.

I didn't feel like writing about this until now, which was a struggle, since it was really the major event of my summer.  But I have a part-time job now, and circumstances seem a little brighter, so I thought I'd share my layoff lessons.  This was my first layoff, and I keep thinking it will officially grant me adult status or something.


  • The first couple of weeks will be taken up writing awkward emails.  I have been truly touched by the number of people who have helped me during this time.  Every single person I've told about my layoff has been sympathetic.  Many friends and colleagues have investigated leads and put in good words for me, and I have been very grateful.  One way in which people have helped has been to give me people to contact about various leads.  So, for the first couple of weeks, I wrote a lot of very awkward emails that I feared came off something like this:  "Hi, You barely know me (or don't know me at all), but how would you like to review my resume/keep me in mind if a job opens up/hire me for a consultancy down the line?"  But, having written a good number of these emails, I believe it is absolutely worth doing.  Everyone I have contacted has been very kind.  One of these emails even led to my current part-time job!
  • Annoyances at home will become more annoying.  Unless you are financially secure enough to take a vacation with no income, you will suddenly be spending a lot of time at home.  Irritations that were once the domain of evenings and weekends will become the bane of your existence all day every day.  Our broken toilet reached nearly apocalyptic proportions in my mind by the time it was fixed.  Even more disturbingly, it was starting to seem like a metaphor for my life.
  • You can never completely prepare yourself for how you'll feel.  Even though the timing of my layoff was surprising, my job never seemed super stable.  At some point, I decided that I was going to stay there as long as I could anyway, and that if I lost my job, I would deal with it then.  But giving myself that pep talk ahead of time didn't spare me from feeling sad and disoriented in the aftermath.
  • Always have a plan for the next thing.  My job had some built-in instability that not every job has.  But I'm not sure how many truly stable jobs there are anymore.  I had decided while I was still working to explore some new career options, and I've written some about the evening classes I've been taking.  I am so glad now that I started taking those classes because in the short term, they've given me something concrete to focus on, and in the long term, they're part of a plan to hopefully have more professional stability.  But it was key that I started those classes while I was still working because I think it would have been much harder to switch focus and come up with a plan right after being laid off.
  • People can help you, but nobody can make it "all better" for you.  My first instinct, upon opening my layoff letter, was to start crying on the nearest person's shoulder.  I think this would have seriously unnerved the person who was sitting closest to me at the time, so it's a good thing I didn't.  But I realized later that what I really wanted was for someone to make everything better for me, but that nobody could.  It's great to reach out to people for help (and to help your fellow laid off colleagues if you can), but in the end you have to make sure you keep moving forward and don't get too caught up in shock or sadness.

Wishing everyone stability in jobs they like!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Read This! The Home That Was Our Country, By Alia Malek

I've never written a real book review before, and I see no reason to start now, but I do want to pass on a wonderful book recommendation for anyone looking for something to read:  The Home That Was Our Country, by Alia Malek.

Alia Malek is the daughter of Syrian immigrants to the US.  In 2011, as the Arab Spring began, she moved to Damascus to reclaim and restore her beloved grandmother's apartment.  Her book combines her own personal experiences and family history with considerable historical and political background on Syria.  This made it an easy, enjoyable read.  I don't want to criticize books on history or politics that lack personal stories, exactly, but those sometimes require concentration that I just don't have with everything else going on in my life.  I was able to mostly read this book on buses and trains, and it made my time in transit seem to go much faster!

Of course, one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that I spent a year in Syria.  I loved reading about some of the places I'd been and the cultural practices that I'd observed.  But I think anyone who has been following the current situation in Syria would find this book valuable.  It demonstrates very charming aspects of Syria, without glossing over the terrible things that have happened there (Alia Malek even provides details about how her own extended family was affected by the human rights abuses there long before 2011).  She also provides a insights about both contributing factors to the current situation and trajectories the country may be on.  Best of all, Malek tells stories of Syrians who have tried, often at great risk to themselves, to improve the situation in their country.  For a variety of reasons, such stories are not often covered in the mainstream news, but I think it's very important that people know about them.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ai Weiwei Exhibit In DC

For anyone planning to be in the Washington, DC area before January 1, there is a great Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Hirschhorn that I highly recommend.  Ai Weiwei created portraits of political activists and prisoners of conscience out of Legos!  Scott and I went to see it a couple weeks ago.  The level of detail was incredible.

As we entered the exhibit, there was a disclaimer sign explaining that the choice of portrait subjects was Ai Weiwei's and to please not be offended with the Smithsonian if you disagreed with any of his choices.  I'm ashamed to admit that I did not recognize the vast majority of the names.  Probably the one that would have been most controversial among Americans was Edward Snowden.  I would not have chosen to include him myself, but I'll have to agree to disagree with Ai Weiwei on that point, just as I've had to agree to disagree with a number of Americans.

Aung San Suu Kyi, possibly one of the most famous subjects of Ai Weiwei's Lego portraits.
One useful feature of the exhibit was a touch screen in each room where visitors could look up information about the people featured in the portraits.  If it weren't for pesky social niceties like needing to share with others, I probably could have spent a lot of time looking people up because I was so curious.  One thing I noticed was that Ai Weiwei included a number of Uyghur activists in his portraits.  Just one more thing for the Chinese government to dislike him for, I guess.  Here are a few more photos of some of the portraits:

Roza Tuletaeva is a Kazakhstani labor activist.  Interestingly, we never heard about her while we were living in Kazakhstan...
Liu Xiabo was China's Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died recently.
Ahmed Douma is an Egyptian activist and blogger who has been imprisoned by three consecutive governments.

The week we saw this exhibit later brought problems with taxes, air conditioning, plumbing, and internet connectivity.  One of the hidden benefits of seeing an exhibit like this is that it reminds me that even a bad week for me is still a cake walk compared to what some people are dealing with.