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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Slowly Cracking The Code

I made this necklace several months ago.  The design was inspired by the large purple and orange oval-shaped bead.  The bead in question was included as a free gift with a set of beads I had ordered from Z-Beads, and, funnily enough, it found a happy home in a necklace before the beads I actually ordered did!

The construction of this necklace was fairly simple, just stringing with no seed bead weaving or wire work.  But it took me several tries to get it to look the way I wanted.  When I first gathered beads together for this project, I didn't have the round dark purple beads or the tiny silver beads (which you may or may not be able to see in the picture).  When I first strung the other beads together, I thought it looked okay, but I didn't feel like there was any place for the eye to rest.  I added the tiny silver beads at that point to break up the larger beads.  It was an improvement, but then I decided that I needed the dark purple beads to bring out the dark purple stripes in the large bead.

I've been making jewelry for many years at this point.  I remember when I was younger, I ended up with a lot more pieces that were just okay, but weren't exactly what I was envisioning.  Part of the problem in the earlier years was that I didn't always understand what was lacking in the pieces.  If all the beads looked great sitting together, why didn't they look so great when they were strung or woven together?  Even when I did understand what was wrong, I didn't always know how to fix it.  Or--and I know this will sound like a justification for both buying and hoarding beads--I didn't have the materials on hand to fix the problem and became frustrated.

I'm trying to keep this all in mind now as I try to figure out sewing.  I did some sewing as a teenager, and started dabbling in it again a few years ago.  Sewing has mostly been a series of lessons for me so far.  Some of the garments I've made have been pretty wonky looking (zipper insertion is often the culprit in these cases).  Others have looked fine on their own, but did not look particularly nice on me once I tried them on.  (Unlike store-bought clothing, of course, there is nowhere to return handmade clothing that doesn't work out.)  I took a step back recently, though, and made a very simple top with no zippers or buttons to cause problems, and while it is by no means perfect, I'm pleased with how it turned out.  In fact, I'm encouraged enough that I am currently working on a tunic based on the same pattern.

Ira Glass has a wonderful quote that I think applies to almost any creative endeavor.  I like to keep it in mind when something I'm working on isn't quite panning out:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

I take this to mean that after some more time of sewing project lessons (and maybe even a few things I can wear in public), I might develop some sort of intuition for successful sewing, just as I've developed more intuition for making jewelry over the years.  In any case, it's nice to be reassured that a trail of lackluster creations may lead somewhere good.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day, everyone!  For years, I've wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion (by adding an "e" and eating pie, not by doing math problems), but it sneaks up on me every year and I don't end up doing anything.  This year, however, Pi Day coincided with a SNOW day in my neck of the woods, so I had some spare time.  To celebrate, I made a funny looking free form tart.

I was happy to have an unexpected day off and an excuse to make a dessert.  I am pleased that the tart I made tasted better than it looks.  And, above all, I am grateful that I am not trying to make a living with a food blog.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My Dialect Is Deficient!

One of the classes I'm taking this semester is Phonetic Transcription.  I've had some questions about what exactly that means, so in a nutshell, this is a way to represent speech as people are actually pronouncing it.  Instead of using standard spelling, you use International Phonetic Alphabet symbols to represent individual sounds.  As you might imagine, this is a great way to uncover patterns of sounds people might be having trouble producing.

Anyway, we've been discussing vowel sounds in American English recently.  The official line is that dialectal variations are fine, and that no one dialect is superior to another.  (I can say from experience that many people's attitudes differ from this official line).  One feature of my own dialect that has re-entered my mental universe is that I generally do not distinguish between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/.  For people who do distinguish between these two sounds, think about the difference in the vowel sounds in cot and caught.  I've known for some time that I don't usually distinguish between the two sounds (I think ahh... vs. aww... might be the only time I distinguish between the two), but what I didn't realize until now is that I'm not consistently correct about where the /ɔ/ sound "should" be. I don't mind not distinguishing between the two sounds, but for some reason, I find not knowing where /ɔ/ might show up vaguely annoying.

Another thing I've noticed is that while I, like many other people, have tried to rid my speech of certain "non-prestigious" features (see my observation above regarding people's attitudes about different dialects), I have not been totally successful.  For me, the feature I've focused on is distinguishing between /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ before nasal consonants (pin vs. pen is a classic example of this).  I've gotten that particular pair of words down for the most part, but then in class, our instructor mentioned friend as an example of a word with the /ɛ/ vowel sound.  I pronounce it with /ɪ/.  Fortunately, of course, in this case, the difference in pronunciation does not change the meaning of the word.

I'll be interested as time goes on to learn more about which dialectal features are associated with which regions.  I was born and raised in North Carolina, and my parents are from Alaska and Michigan.  In addition to North Carolina, I have lived in Ohio, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Virginia.  And I've also had several stints living in other countries.  I'm curious if my speech fits into a certain regional profile fairly neatly, or if it's a hodgepodge of all the dialectal influences I've had.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Another Aspect Of Insurance To Consider

Recently, I wrote about my experience with health insurance and my concerns about how the laws in the US may change.  As I wrote previously, a lot can go wrong with getting and maintaining health insurance in the US.  My concerns mostly centered around coverage for pre-existing conditions and acquiring coverage that is not provided by an employer because those were the two issues I had thought about the most.  However, when I read this article today, I realized I had neglected to mention another very important issue:  Obamacare's ban on lifetime coverage limits.  The reason why I hadn't thought as much about this issue is simply that I have been very fortunate.  I have never been in danger of my health care expenses reaching some arbitrary limit.

Michelle, the mother interviewed in this article, is one of my colleagues.  I highly encourage everyone to read her family's story.  In a nutshell, her son, who has very complex medical challenges, was born right after the ban on lifetime health insurance coverage limits was enacted.  Had they been subjected to lifetime coverage limits, they would have faced ruinous medical expenses.  Now, of course, the future of all of Obamacare's provisions is very uncertain, including the ban on lifetime coverage limits.

This is an issue that could potentially affect us all.  Life is uncertain.  Just as the door is always open for wonderful things to happen for us, so too is the door open for the most difficult of challenges.  I think societies can be judged based on how they treat their most vulnerable members.  I hope going forward that we will continue to protect those people with complex and expensive medical needs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Life's Little Triumphs: An Idea From The Internet Worked Out

I experienced a perfect storm of first world annoyances recently:

1.  I really dislike packing my lunch, but I do so anyway for financial and health considerations.  Oh, and because the only place within walking distance of my office where I can buy lunch is a decidedly lackluster cafeteria.

2.  Since I am now taking classes two nights a week, I have less time and energy for pretty much everything.  Making lunch sounds appealing neither when I get home at night, nor the next morning when I wake up exhausted.

Something was going to have to give.  I eat a lot and become "hangry" pretty easily, so I need to pack something substantial.  Now more than ever, that substantial lunch also needed to be healthy; my metabolism is not what it used to be.  Oh, and I'm somewhat of a food snob and likely to dislike frozen meals that could be stockpiled in the office fridge.

Something made me think of those mason jar salads whose pictures seem to be all over the internet.  For anyone who hasn't seen these, the idea is, well, that you pack salads in mason jars that can be shaken out onto a plate when you're ready to eat them.  You take advantage of the vertical space in the jar to pack all of your salad ingredients in layers; dressing goes at the very bottom, and things that will become soggy and gross if left to sit in dressing for too long (like salad greens) go at the very top.  If you consider ingredient placement carefully, you can make several mason jar salads at once on Saturday or Sunday and then eat them throughout the week.

The idea seemed appealing in theory.  But then again, haven't we all seen those wonderful photo spreads of the messy disasters that result from people trying ideas from Pinterest?  I was skeptical.  But I had three nice large jars that previously held salsa, so I thought I didn't have much to lose by trying.  I made packed three salads in jars on a Sunday, and decided I would eat one on Monday, one on Wednesday, and one on Friday to see if they really did remain palatable throughout the week.

To my astonishment, all three salads that week tasted great. Also, the salads were very filling--I didn't have to pack lots of extra things to keep my hunger-related crankiness at bay.

I'm now on week four of eating three mason jar salads per week, which in my mind gives me enough experience to start giving out tips.  These are the conclusions I've reached so far:

1.  I won't lie:  It's a bit of a procedure to put these things together.  I think of it as taking an annoyance that is usually spread out over several evenings, and cramming it into a portion of a weekend day.  That being said, preparing three is barely any more trouble than preparing one.  I think this is the sort of lunch that you have to either prepare multiples of, or not at all.

2.  Unless you want a bland salad, be sure to use plenty of dressing and/or other ingredients that impart a lot of flavor (cheese, olives, etc.).

3.  I've tried both quinoa and brown rice for the grain layer in the salad.  Quinoa tastes better here.

4.  Adding some protein and fat will help you stay full for longer.  I've added avocado, canned tuna, olives, feta cheese, and pumpkin seeds in various combinations.

5.  Personally, I think some ingredients are best added the day you plan to eat the salad.  It's hard for me to imagine avocado improving after being cut up and sitting in a jar for several days, for instance.  Use your best judgement here.

6.  If you have somewhere at work where you can wash dishes, it's probably worth just keeping a plate in your office for salad-shaking purposes.

I doubt that the success of my mason jar salad experiment will set me on a slippery slope of trying Pinterest ideas, but who knows?  If our apartment ever becomes a sparkling clean haven of seasonally appropriate crafts, I'll know how it all started.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Darker Side Of Nature

"Eat or be eaten!"
As Scott and I were walking through a residential section of our town today, we spotted this beautiful hawk by a small playground.  We walked over for a closer look, trying to be quiet, and taking turns trying to get good pictures.  We were surprised at how close we were able to get, until we realized the hawk was standing guard over some hapless dead mammal (a squirrel, I think).  I imagine we had just missed a scene worthy of a nature program on TV.  I enjoyed getting such a good look at the hawk, but it was a reminder of how much of nature involves one critter eating another.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trump's Executive Order On Refugees

Anyone who knows me well and/or has been following my blog probably has an inkling about how upset I am about Trump's executive order banning the admission of all refugees to the US for 120 days and banning the entry of any citizen of Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, or Iran for 90 days.  This move is both discriminatory and downright mean-spirited.  Can you imagine having fled your homeland, having spent years in limbo, finally having the chance to settle somewhere, and then having that yanked away from you at the last minute?  Even the circumstances that are less extreme are painful to contemplate.  As an American who has both studied and worked abroad, I can only imagine how disruptive it would have been to my life if one of my host countries had suddenly decided not to let any more Americans in when I was on the cusp of moving there.

If we're serious as a nation about keeping people safe and saving lives, we have some pretty obvious places to start that don't involve discrimination based on national origin:  deaths from car accidents (more than 32,000 in 2013), firearm deaths (over 33,000 in 2014), and opioid overdoses (over 33,000 in 2015).

The idea of discriminating based on nationality is ridiculous to begin with.  People are people the world over.  I have traveled quite a bit and have met wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) people everywhere I have gone.  But I could say the same thing for people in the United States.  In fact, I distinctly remember some very notorious homegrown terrorists who were not Muslim:  the Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh, and Eric Rudolph all come to mind.  Can you imagine if American-born white men had come under additional scrutiny because all three of those domestic terrorists were all white men?  Or if we had just declared a moratorium on people having children since our society had raised all three of them?

To be clear, I am against having any sort of list that discriminates against certain nationalities.  But I could also poke plenty of holes in the list of seven countries that has been chosen.  If we are interested in looking at past terrorist performance on US soil by nationality, let's consider the 9/11 attacks.  Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.  Notice that Saudi Arabia is not on the list of seven countries.  Again, I don't want to discriminate against the Saudis, either, but I find this fact interesting.

Here's another interesting hole:  I think Americans are most worried about ISIS and al-Qaida when they worry about foreign terrorism.  Both of those terrorist groups are Sunni, while Iran, a member of the list of seven, is predominantly Shiite.  I would be interested to know why it made the list, aside from general feelings some people have that it is a "problem" nation.

Nicholas Kristof has wonderful column today in which he discusses previous instances of fear-mongering against different groups of people in the US and his father's experience coming to the US.  It is useful to remember that we are a nation of immigrants and that at some point in the past, someone took a chance and allowed our families in.