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Monday, December 30, 2019

NC Coast Pictures

Ugh, I think this has been my longest stint of not blogging yet.  Something about end-of-semester drama and a respiratory illness that has been hanging on for weeks made me feel less than inspired to write.  But I think that some pictures from my after Christmas trip to the NC coast with my family is a good way to ease back in.

I should say first that I find seagulls very entertaining, and love to take pictures of them.  So when my dad decided to pack up an uneaten biscuit from breakfast to feed them, I was very excited.  (On a side note, the restaurant where we ate is excellent except for the biscuits.  But you know how some restaurants have this sort of bread-y item that looks like a biscuit, but the texture is all wrong?  That was what we wanted to feed to the seagulls!).  I couldn't see what was was going on in the viewfinder very well because of the glare from the sun, so I had to point, click, and hope for the best.  These are my favorites from the seagull shots.  The last one was taken around the time I thought I'd better run for cover.

Also, a few other shots:

Clouds over the water

A night heron!  Due to their tendency to appear at night, this is the best picture I've ever gotten of one.

I saw a few washed up jellyfish this year.  It seems to vary a lot.

Impressive barnacles on driftwood.

Driftwood festooned with shells.

I think this was supposed to be a heart in my latte foam, but the overall effect seems quite different...

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Life's Little Triumphs: I Found A Decaf Cold Brew!

Hmmm...I could also say that one of life's little triumphs is that I'm carving out some time to blog.  But that's another story for another day.  Moving on to the decaf story...

My desire to drink decaf came as an unwelcome surprise a number of years ago when I had multiple terrifying episodes of fast heart rate out of nowhere.  I never actually thought these episodes were caused by caffeine--after all, I had been drinking caffeine for years with no problem--but it did seem wise to get rid of any substances that might in any way contribute to the problem.  I gave up caffeine (including decaf coffee, which of course is not totally free of caffeine) cold turkey at that time.

I forget how long that lasted, but I do remember what led me to start drinking small amounts of caffeine again.  Having exhausted my sick leave (and some of my annual leave) trying to figure out what was causing the heart issue (inconclusive in the end, but likely related to my thyroid), I caught two colds back to back.  To the utter annoyance of my colleagues, I decided to work through these colds since I had no sick leave to speak of and desperately wanted to have enough leave to take a vacation at some point.  But working while sick is exhausting and something had to give.  I started drinking caffeinated tea and decaf coffee at that point.  This has mostly stuck through the years.  I've had fully caffeinated coffee a few times since then, but I actually like taking in a lower amount of caffeine.  I find that my energy levels are more even throughout the day, and I spend less time desperate to find a bathroom.

So this is all fine and good, but when you go out for coffee, the decaf situation is pretty disappointing for the most part.  There is usually only one variety available, and sometimes you're stuck paying for a specialty drink because they're out of brewed decaf.  And nobody every seemed to be able to offer iced decaf.  You could get an iced decaf latte or other specialty drink, but you had to pay more for it.  And wait for them to make it.  I was never sure which part bothered me more.

But!  A new coffee shop moved into a recently constructed apartment building near me.  And it has the holy grail of decaf cold brew!  I could hardly believe my eyes when I first saw it on the menu.  It's become my go-to order (although as it gets colder outside, that might change for a few months). And the coffee shop in question has become my go-to coffee shop because it offers something that the other coffee shops near me don't.  If anyone else has been looking for decaf cold brew, the coffee shop is PJ's.  Looking at their website, it looks like most of their locations are in Louisiana and Mississippi, but it also looks like they're working to expand to other parts of the country (like where I live, for example).  They also have good brownies, so if you do happen upon one of their locations, be sure to stop in for your cold brew and chocolate fix!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

2019 Balcony Garden

Summer is technically over--though it doesn't always feel like it--and I haven't written yet about this year's balcony garden!  If this year had a theme, I would say it's the triumph of insects in finding what they need.

This year, I started out with mint (which came back again), basil, cherry tomatoes, larger tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini.  The ever-hardy mint, basil, and cherry tomatoes did great.  I thought the cucumbers were going to do well--the plant grew quickly, and I had a bumper crop of them a couple years ago--but aphids quickly killed the plant.  I'm not sure how aphids found a cucumber plant on a random balcony, but they did.

The zucchinis were a disappointment, too.  I didn't get a single zucchini out of the plant this summer!  I think part of the problem was that the male and female blossoms on the plant seemed out of sync, reducing the chance that the female blossoms would be pollinated.  Maybe if you want zucchinis you just need to have more than one plant?

I bought the larger tomato plant (I no longer remember the name of the variety) because it was described as being "prolific."  The plant itself has looked healthy this entire time, but I got a grand total of one tomato from it.  Oh, and there's a green tomato on the plant now, which may or may not be edible before the first frost.

But more about the insects' triumph.  My cherry tomato plant is actually still producing on a very small scale, but most of the tomatoes came in July.  A few weeks ago, I found a scary-looking caterpillar on the cherry tomato plant.  I looked this up (I think my Google search was "fat green caterpillar on tomato plant") and learned it was a tomato hornworm.  The article I read said that in spite of its alarming experience, it didn't bite or sting, so you could just remove it from your plants.  I decided I didn't feel like dealing with it, and the plant was on the way out anyway, so I decided to cede the plant to the caterpillar.

Another thing the article mentioned was that wasps sometimes laid their eggs on tomato hornworms.  So I wasn't too surprised when a few days later, I found this:

I actually feel sort of sorry for the caterpillar (what a way to go!) but I'm amazed at the variety of insects that have managed to find my balcony garden and get what they need from it.  I do hope that once the wasps hatch that they find what they need somewhere else, however.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

End Of A Commuting Era

As a longtime mass transit commuter, I am very sorry to report that Thursday was the last day for the Washington Post's free paper, Express.

For those who do not live in this area, Express was a paper that was distributed on weekdays at Metro stations and some other locations in the DC area.  It was a mix of news stories reported in Washington Post and entertainment news of different sorts (wacky stories that you might have missed, celebrities, local personalities).  At the Metro stations, you could usually find people handing out the Express papers during the morning rush hour.  We all know that the morning commute to work is not always a lot of fun, but the Express paper was something I could look forward to.

Its demise was very sudden.  I believe employees (both writers and hawkers) were told on Tuesday; I learned from another news source on Wednesday that Thursday would be its last day.  I've read that the hawkers were given no severance (I believe they were contracted through another company).  I'm not sure about the details with the writers, but I've read that they were not under the union agreement that regular Washington Post writers had. I've also read at least a couple of stories about writers who moved to the area recently specifically for that job, who are suddenly scrambling in an expensive area to find something else.  (Not to employers:  If you're wondering whether sudden layoffs are a kind, compassionate way to terminate employees, they're not).

Anyway, I feel very sorry for the people whose jobs ended this way.  And I feel sad that all of us DC-area commuters are missing out on a very nice free paper.  One of my many worries these days is that there are too many competing narratives on major news stories, and that these competing narratives are deepening divisions in our society.  I'm fully aware of the problems of going too far in the other direction, of course (state-run media in totalitarian states, anyone?), but I was always grateful for a source of news that anyone could access, even without a TV, computer, or phone.  We can use all the common ground we can get these days.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Grad School As A "Nontraditional" Student: Third Semester Review

I'm happy to report that my third semester of grad school is finished!  That makes me 60% of the way done!  Yay!  I'm a lot less excited to report that my fourth semester starts today (with an evening class...grrr), but on the other hand, I have to start it in order to finish it.

Unlike first and second semesters, third semester was relatively chill.  This is largely because it was broken into blocks, with two blocks of classes and one block of internship.  This meant that I wasn't having to juggle classes with clinic responsibilities.  Also, to be completely honest, my internship supervisor was way more pleasant and reasonable than some of the clinical supervisors I had during my first two semesters.  That probably doesn't seem like a nice thing to say, but it's true, and it had a huge impact on my experience.

The one complaint I have about third semester is that I got a B- in a class and will have to retake it this fall (on top of my other classes and my fall internship).  More on that in a moment, but this allows me to segue into the main point of what I want to write about today, which is how I chose my graduate program, and how I would view the process differently if I were to do it over again.  I also want to note here that "if I were to do it over again" is strictly hypothetical.  I am completely fed up with school, and if my current endeavor fails (either in terms of getting a degree or launching a new career), my next plan resembles the one in the Portlandia skit She's Making Jewelry Now.

I'm going to be deliberately vague about some details here, but when I applied to graduate programs, I applied to three, which I will refer to as University A, University B, and University C.  I told myself when I applied that I would let cost be the deciding factor if I received more than one acceptance.  In the end, University A accepted me without any funding, but with the idea that departmental funding might open up or that I could look for my own source of funding within the university.  University B accepted me and verbally offered me a funding package, but with no written documentation before I needed to make a decision.  University C waitlisted me.  University C has significantly higher tuition than either University A or University B anyway, so I ruled it out.

On paper, I was a much better fit for University A than University B, and truthfully, I had always envisioned going to University A.  The interesting thing about University B was that it has an "extra" component to its program that would enable me to learn a skill I had thought would be interesting to learn, but that is a "nice to know" rather than a "need to know" in our field.  I was somewhat concerned that University B didn't give me written documentation of my funding package before the deadline to make a decision, but also reasoned that University A hadn't offered me anything.  Plus, my contact from University B was telling me that my funding package would pay the majority of my tuition throughout my program and I wouldn't have to apply for funding every semester.  Despite my reservations, I reminded myself that cost was going to be my deciding factor and chose to go to University B.

Well.  Obviously, I can't speak for what my experience might have been at University A, but I can say that attending University B has been a lesson in things going wrong.  The grant that was supposed to fund me throughout my program had to be returned to its sponsor due to university drama that I won't get into here.  And that "extra" component that I had actually viewed as a selling point for the program?  It's been nothing but a source of stress and struggle.  It was in that class that I received a B- over the summer, giving me an extra burden this fall.  All for something I don't need to know and am unlikely to use professionally.  All of this leads me to how I would think about grad programs if I were to do this again:

1.  Consider funding, but think of it in a more nuanced way.  There is a wonderful expression in Arabic that translates to "He married the monkey for its money.  The money went and the monkey remained a monkey."  I thought about this expression a lot in the months after the grant that was supposed to fund me was returned.  In the end, one thing I'm grateful for is that the university decided to provide a substantial portion of what I was initially offered under the grant.  However, it took many months for this to come fruition, giving me a lot of time to feel upset and worried about how much tuition money I might be on the hook for.  Since bad things sometimes happen with grants, if I were to do it over, I would consider how I would feel about the university if the grant fell through.  Would I still feel okay about my choice of the university, or would I feel like I should have gone elsewhere?  Also, I would consider secondary funding options.  University B is small and fairly under-resourced, and there were few additional options for funding.  University A is much larger and would have had more opportunities.

2.  Think carefully about anything "extra," even if it seems interesting.  Even if the "extra" component of my program came more easily to me, it's still another demand on my time.  My advice to anyone at this point is that if you have anything in your grad program beyond classes (clinical components, teaching, research responsibilities, etc.), you have no time for anything "extra" and "extra" things you have to do will just make you unhappy.  Stick with the basics of what you need to do and worry about learning extra skills later.

3.  Never trust anyone else to think realistically.  I had wondered what it would be like to take regular academic classes, the "extra" classes in my program, and have clinic responsibilities.  But I decided that it must be possible to get all this stuff done because surely there was some adult in charge thinking realistically, right?  Nope.  If your program responsibilities sound like too much, they probably are, and the "adult" in charge probably thinks you're going to give up eating or sleeping to get stuff done.  In my case, I've had to cut corners, mostly meaning that I do very little of the assigned reading for any class.  Obviously, this is far from ideal from a learning perspective.

In the end, I'm hoping that once I graduate, all of this stuff will be water under the bridge.  But it is painful to think that decisions I made in selecting a program may have made the journey more difficult.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Killing Mice, In A Manner Of Speaking

See this furry gray miscreant who's avoiding looking directly at the camera?  She's decided she likes to walk across and sit on laptop keyboards.  I wonder if it's a texture thing, sort of like how most people like to feel soft beach sand on their feet.

Yesterday, I was trying to use my computer to listen to a podcast while I worked on something else.  Stella walked across my keyboard several times, and after I shooed her away, the cursor had frozen.  I tried restarting, which is my standard trick for anything that goes wrong with my computer.  No dice. 

Using my phone, I looked for solutions to the problem (aside from restarting, which is evidently everyone's standard trick for anything that goes wrong with computers).  I stumbled upon an article that suggested that my mouse might have become disabled.  This article specifically implicated cats walking across the keyboard--apparently, they have a talent for stepping on the right combination of keys to cause problems.  So I tried going into the mouse settings (all of this had to be done without use of the mouse, mind you--hurray for mouseless navigation!) and sure enough, my mouse had become disabled.

Good thing I learned how to fix it because about twenty minutes later, Stella walked across my keyboard again and the cursor froze again.  Sigh.  I just hope she shows the same enthusiasm for killing rodent mice if they show up in our apartment again.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Stella Shares My Hobbies!

See this picture?  This is a picture of a cat taking a well-deserved rest after defeating a large piece of paper.  This is also a cat who puts a decidedly feline spin on human hobbies.

I've talked some on this blog about sewing.  I'm still sewing when I have time and am becoming increasingly happy with the results.  Not only am I ending up with more items that I'm willing to wear in public, I'm actually ending up with favorite items that I wear whenever they're clean.  I'm also learning ways to streamline my sewing process so I can spend less time prepping projects and more time actually sewing.  One of these ways is to pay to have PDF sewing patterns printed out on large sheets of paper so I'm not stuck taping small sheets of paper together.

For the uninitiated, there are two ways to buy sewing patterns.  There the ones that come printed on thin tissue paper, and there are PDF patterns you can download and print out at home.  I like the patterns that come already printed, and often buy those.  But some independent pattern companies sell only the PDF variety.  Also, sometimes the PDF patterns come with more sizes or other extra features.  So there are times when it makes sense to buy the PDF patterns.  But I always hated printing them out at home--there were so many sheets of paper to tape together.  And no matter how careful I was, something was always slightly "off" in the end.  Some people take the PDF files to copy shops to have them printed on large sheets of paper, but I was always hesitant to do this because I was afraid it would be prohibitively expensive.  But through someone's sewing blog, I found a company on the internet that will print the patterns on large sheets of paper for a very nominal fee and ship them.  Problem solved!

What I didn't know was that Stella would find her own way to participate in my sewing.  I learned the other night when I was tracing a pattern from one of these large sheets of paper.  The paper was dangling over the edge of the table I was working from.  All of a sudden, I heard a series of popping-like noises from under the table.  I looked, and there was Stella treating the paper that was dangling down like a punching bag.  Pretty amazing for a cat who startled at any and every noise when she first arrived here.

Usually, I put these large sheets of paper away for future use, but I sometimes keep them out when I'm still working on sewing something, in case I forgot to mark anything from the original pattern.  So, I caught Stella boxing with this pattern again last night.  Then, exhausted by her victory, she curled up on it and took a rest.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Meet Stella!

Scott and I had such a great time being owned by Laila the cat that we decided to venture into cat ownership again!  Meet Stella, aka the Russian Blue Menace!

We adopted her from the animal shelter a couple weeks ago.  Just like when we adopted Laila, the selection process was pretty overwhelming.  Stella was found as a stray, but I think she was probably someone's pet at some point, judging by her insistence upon sleeping on the bed with us at night.  The shelter staff think she is about 7 years old.

This kitty has clearly had some trauma in her life.  The shelter staff--who move animals around all the time--had quite a time getting her into her carrier so we could take her home.  She then proceeded to throw her weight around, yowl, and pant the entire ride home.  I had never actually seen a cat pant before. 

Fortunately, she calmed down once we let her out of the carrier. is generally agreed upon that pets should occasionally leave their homes for veterinary care.  At a bare minimum, our county (and I imagine, most counties) want proof of an annual rabies vaccination.  The shelter itself wanted us to get Stella a vet appointment within 7 days.  We decided to give her two weeks to settle in before attempting to take her anywhere.

The day of the first vet appointment came today, and of course, we had to try to get her in the cat carrier.  "Try" is the operative word here.  We failed after many attempts, and I had to call the vet's office in defeat.  I have a couple of souvenir scratches on my arm (she didn't swipe at me; I got them from her hind foot while she was trying to spread herself out so as not to fit into her cat carrier).  I just dropped a bunch of cash on Amazon ordering a larger pet carrier and some pheremone spray that is supposed to make the cat carrier seem more calming.

Wish us luck.  We rescheduled for next Friday morning.

Friday, June 21, 2019

A Seagull Vignette

We went wading in beautiful Lake Champlain.

A seagull decided to investigate our shoes, which we left on the beach.

Still there.  I didn't think our shoes smelled great, but do they really smell bad enough that the seagull views them as a potential food source?

And he finally walks away, greatly disappointed.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Life's Little Triumphs: Finding Lost Earrings!

I actually experienced this fun triumph a couple of times in the past several weeks.  The first time was when I found a pair of earrings I'd been looking for since shortly after we moved back to the US from Kazakhstan.  I had pretty much concluded that I must have somehow left them over there, since that was the last time I had worn them.  It wasn't a huge deal--these were earrings I had made, and I could have made another pair, but I just didn't feel like it.  And I kept thinking that maybe they would show up.  Anyway, after all this time, I found them mixed up in some bracelets!  (Yes, it's entirely possible that I have more jewelry than any reasonable person needs). 

My second recent experience with finding lost earrings is more interesting.  I signed up to participate in an study on campus involving an EEG to help advance the cause of science to get paid $40.  I lost and found an earring while in the process of washing my hair in the sink afterwards.

Let me back up a bit.  I participated in another EEG study a couple years ago also to advance the cause of science to get extra credit in a class I was taking at the time.  From that experience, I knew I would end up with gel in my hair.  But I remember it not being all that much gel.  I seem to recall the researcher giving me a couple alcohol wipes to get the gel out of my hair afterwards.  I remember that these wipes didn't remove all the gel, but they removed enough that I didn't feel too self-conscious when I went to class afterwards.  So when the researcher I worked with last week showed me that they had shampoo, conditioner, a comb, towels, and a hairdryer to deal with my hair after the EEG, I just assumed that everyone else who had participated was exceptionally fussy about their hair.

I was wrong.

After the researcher removed the cap with all the electrodes, I discovered that my hair from about my forehead to the top of my ears was saturated with gel.  And I had six hours of class to attend before I could go home and take a shower.  I don't feel the need to look nice for my classmates, but I have some sort of standards for appearing in public.  So I found myself bent over the sink, working hard to rid my hair of the excess gel.  The gel didn't come out with just I had to use shampoo.  Then I had to use the conditioner so my hair didn't get horribly tangled.  In the process of all of this, I heard what sounded like a small metallic object fall.  I checked for all the jewelry I had worn in.  Everything was there except for half of one earring--the backing was still somehow adhering to the back of my ear lobe, but the earring itself was missing.  These weren't expensive earrings, but they were earrings I liked--small silver earrings shaped like fish bones.  I was proud of the fact that I had had them since high school and still sometimes wore them. 

I started looking around the area frantically.  I tried to peer down the drain, fearing that was probably where it landed.  I spent several minutes doing this, and almost gave up, thinking I could ask the researcher to let me know if she found an earring.  But then, just as I was giving up, I saw something small and shiny next to the baseboard.  To my relief, it was my earring.

I feel like there should be some lessons for me to share about this experience, so I'll give it a try:

  1. Don't have an EEG right before a first date, job interview, or wedding.
  2. Don't spend time or money fixing your hair before an EEG.  And if you have long hair, you'll want to just put it in a ponytail for the rest of the day.
  3. Washing hair--especially long hair--in the sink is never going to be a quick and easy process.
  4. If you're going to wash your hair in the sink, take off all your jewelry first and put it in a safe place, far away from the sink.  This way, you only have to deal with the aggravation of the hair-washing itself, not the aggravation of looking for lost items.
  5. Maybe a better triumph than finding lost earrings is to not lose them to begin with.  

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Person First, Spouse/Parent Second

We have a new-to-us professor for one of our summer classes.  He wanted to learn more about us, so on the first day of class, he had each of us stand up in front of the classroom and answer questions from our classmates for 60 seconds.  I wondered what questions I'd be subjected to, and hoped none of them would be too awful.  The first question I was asked wasn't awful, exactly, but it was interesting:  "What was your maiden name?"

My classmate looked startled when I told her I'd kept my name when I got married.  Then the next couple questions I got (from another classmate) were about Scott.

I'm not expecting my classmates or anyone else to show interest in any specific areas of my life.  But since I personally believe there is much more to my life than my marriage, I found it telling that that was the area at least two people found the most interesting.

This incident made me think back on a t-shirt I saw in the window of a bridal shop some time ago.  The slogan on the t-shirt was "Pour me some bubbly, I'm getting a hubby."  That slogan made me cringe at the time for reasons I couldn't fully articulate at the time.  But I realize now that what I find so distasteful about it is that it's treating marriage like an achievement.  To be clear, I think that happy marriages are a wonderful thing and that weddings can be celebrated as a joyous occasion.  But treating them like an achievement brings to mind images of people training for some sort endurance event and carrying spears to hunt a spouse and bring him/her home as a trophy.  I also feel that the "marriage as an achievement" burden falls particularly heavily on women--no matter what else you do with your life, nothing quite lives up to getting your M.R.S.

Parenthood is similarly treated as an achievement.  Just like with marriage, I feel that this burden falls particularly heavily on women.  Also, like with marriage, I believe that becoming a parent is an occasion to be celebrated, but I really can't view conceiving a child as an achievement.  Being a good parent is an achievement, but that is a process rather than a single event (and unfortunately, much rarer than conceiving a child).

With both marriage and parenthood, there is a lot of luck and timing involved.  Luck and timing are just that--luck and timing.  They may be joyous occasions, but they are not achievements.  Treating them as such implies that people who don't get married or don't have children are lacking in ambition or talent.

I've come up with some t-shirt slogans of my own to replace that cringe-worthy "Pour me some bubbly, I'm getting a hubby."  I think they may be particularly useful for women, whose true achievements that they have worked for often fly under the radar.  But men may feel more pressure by these cultural ideas than I realize, so I've created ones that should work for everyone:

Start a commotion, I got a promotion.
More champagne for me, I got my degree.
Bask in my glory, I published a story.

Scott came up with an additional one:
It's no longer a prob, cuz I got a job.

The more milestones to celebrate, the merrier.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Life's Little Triumphs: Scavenging Season Is Upon Us!

There is definitely a money-spending side of me, but there is also the side of me that loves getting something for free.  And in the summer, that free something could be berries!

Earlier this week, I was taking a walk with Scott when I noticed ripe berries on some mulberry trees.  Very fortunately, I had a plastic bag with me so I wasn't confined to just gobbling up what I could on the spot.  Mulberries can be tricky to pick since they're on trees and there are a lot of high branches, but I'm tall enough to be able to get some of them.  I went picking again today, and got a pretty decent haul.

I have special affection for mulberries because even though I'd probably seen them plenty of times in the US without realizing it, I first became aware of their potential as a food the first time I visited Syria in 2001.  I bought some juice from a street vendor that I thought (from looking at the source fruit) was blackberry juice.  It was delicious, and much sweeter than I expected it to be.  Someone told me later that it was probably made of mulberries.  I also saw some big, beautiful mulberry trees in Uzbekistan.

Later this summer, I'm also hoping to score some free wineberries and blackberries (hence the need to carry plastic bags with me).  Summer has its limitations, what with the humidity and the mosquitoes, but berry-scavenging is something I can get behind wholeheartedly.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Grad School As A "Nontraditional" Student: Second Semester Review

Cherry blossoms that I enjoyed seeing, but did not blog about!
Hmm.  So I guess saying "I never meant to neglect my poor little blog for so long" is a pretty common lament.  And my reasons are pretty much what they usually are:  I got very busy.  My busyness really came in a couple of stages this semester.  In the first stage, I had some time for going out and doing things on the weekend, but not really time to blog about any of the stuff I did.  In the second stage, I had time for neither doing things nor blogging.  And I really had very little to blog about, aside from whining about being so busy all the time.

I recently finished my second semester of my graduate program (my review of my first semester is here).  I won't lie.  It was a pretty bad semester.  In a nutshell, what I can say for it is that it's over with, and that I'm now 40% of the way done with my program (which sounds a lot better than being 20% of the way done a the end of first semester).  But I wanted to do a quick review anyway, both for myself for later on, and for anyone else who might be making a career change or considering one.  With a rapidly changing economy, I suspect that career changes may become more common, and I think it's helpful for us all to share our triumphs and struggles.

What was better this semester:  At least for about the first half of the semester, I managed to carve out a little more free time.  I think this was due to a few factors.  One is that I didn't get sick (I had a horrible monster cold that lasted several weeks in the fall).  Also, while my classes this semester were challenging, I didn't have any that I really struggled to understand, whereas one of my fall classes was very conceptually difficult (and consequently, took up an exorbitant amount of time).  Finally, I decided to take one of my classes early in the morning, which freed up more time in the afternoons (when I tend to be more productive) to work.  I still felt extremely busy, but free time is a huge morale booster for me, so even small pockets of it made this semester more bearable.

What was worse this semester:  I was so miserable at the end of first semester that I was seriously considering dropping out.  As a result, it was hard to start second semester with any sense of optimism at all.  And my pessimism was not unfounded.  Second semester was in large part characterized by having to fight with various people who control my academic/clinical fate in one way or another.  (I would say one benefit of going back to school when you're older is being more willing and able to advocate for yourself, rather than just being steamrolled).  The semester ended with me challenging a final course grade for the first time ever (but on the bright side, the matter was resolved quickly and in my favor).

What gives me hope for the final three semesters:  Several things, really.  (1)  I'm 40% of the way done.  At this point, I think the easiest way out is through.  (2)  I'm going to start spending a lot of time off campus in internships.  Even though these internships are unpaid, I think it'll feel a lot more like working again (which, ultimately, is my goal in all of this).  (3) So far, I've enjoyed the clinical aspect of my program, and I'm going to start spending much more time on that.

Is it all worth it?  Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing until I finish and start applying for jobs.  I will say that between taking my prerequisites for free and getting partial funding for my current program that I'm getting off pretty easy in terms of financial commitment.  I would advise anyone considering going back to school to think about the financial aspect of doing so.  There are never any guarantees of jobs on the other side, and the last thing anyone wants is a heavy student loan burden with no income to pay it back.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Life's Little Triumphs: I Caught A Mouse!

I complained recently about the smart mice in my apartment.  I kept the trap out, but had pretty much despaired of ever catching anything. 

But yesterday morning, when I walked by the trap, I saw a blob that looked significantly larger than the peanut butter bait.  I took a closer look and and saw a gray mouse! 

Hoping to avoid questions from other people on the elevator, I put the trap in a bag and carried it outside.  When I set it down and lifted the door, the mouse made a run for it (in the opposite direction of my building, I'm happy to report).  I don't know what fate awaits the little guy, but I noticed that it had eaten the entire blob of peanut butter, so I can at least say I sent it off with a good meal.

So, don't lose hope, fellow mouse-sufferers.  No matter how well your mice seem to avoid your traps, they only need to slip up once.  In my fairly limited experience, humane traps are neither as efficient nor as enjoyable as having a cat, but for now, they'll have to do.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

That Feeling Of Instant Deflation

I went to my local Safeway today to pick up a few things.  Apparently, they have some sort of Monopoly sweepstakes going on now because the cashier gave me a handful of game pieces after I paid.  They were of the variety where you tear the paper at the perforated edges and then open up the pieces.  I did this when I got home because who can resist the idea of becoming the next supermarket sweepstakes gazillionaire?


Oh.  Of my choice of Formula 409, Pine Sol, Tilex, or Liquid Plumr. 

Well, my bathroom sink frequently backs up, so I guess by winning Liquid Plumr, I may have won the equivalent of four or five bucks.  You just have to look for that silver lining sometimes.

Monday, March 18, 2019

How Did I Get Stuck With All The Smart Mice?

I'm pretty sure that everyone who met our cat Laila liked her.  After all, she was friendly and entertaining.  The only living creatures that are celebrating her demise are the mice that live in our building.

We currently have at least two mice spending time in our apartment:  one that runs like it's drunk, and one that runs normally.  I occasionally see them scuttling between the coat closet and the kitchen, usually making a beeline to go under the oven.  (I guess the silver lining here is that I haven't found them elsewhere in the apartment?).  I'm sure they would have already met a brutal end if Laila were still with us, but in the absence of an accomplished hunter, I had to take steps on my own.  I ordered a couple of those humane traps from Amazon--the kind where you put in some food for bait, they run in, and a door closes behind them.  Then, I guess the idea is that you can take them outside, where they can freeze to death, be run over by a car, or get eaten by a wild animal instead of someone's indoor pet.

Except that in this case, they're not taking the bait.  Per the instructions on the trap box, I put in a blob of perfectly good peanut butter (which may or may not be rancid after having spent several weeks in the trap), but they are not even remotely interested.  I've tried to angle the trap to match their trajectory between the coat closet and the oven, but at least three times now, I've seen them actually run around the trap to avoid it.  Are these battle-scarred mice who were previously humanely trapped, taken outside, and made their way back into the building?  Or mice with genius-level IQ?  We'll never know...

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Sunday, February 24, 2019

They Take Me Back, Alright

Like many people, I consider music to be an important part of my life.  I listen to music to celebrate good times, relieve stress, and process my emotions.  As a result, I associate certain songs with certain times in my life.  This is all well and good when the associations are positive (or at least neutral), but what about the times when songs take us back to things we'd rather leave in the past?

Hold Your Head Up by Argent:  I discovered this song on YouTube after being laid off in the summer of 2017.  And really, what better song to find during a time of discouragement and uncertainty?  I listened to it at least daily for a while to encourage myself to stay hopeful.  The problem was that in effect, this song became my layoff song.  It was months after I started working again before I could listen to it again.  And even now, while I enjoy the song again, it still takes me back to the emotional roller coaster that was that time in my life.

Last Christmas by Wham:  Fortunately, I never liked this song anyway.  It's always been one of those aggravating features of the holiday season.  However, around Christmas time in 2011, I was spending a lot of time in doctor appointments, having spent the previous several months with strange and unsettling symptoms that were growing worse.  My physician at the time was really wonderful in many regards--she never rushed anyone through their appointments and was very thorough.  But this meant that if you were seeing her towards the end of the day, she was likely to be very behind in her schedule, and you were going to spend a lot of the time in the waiting room.  This song was played very frequently in her waiting room during that time, and as a result, this song is not only annoying, it also reminds me of being sick.

Take It To The Limit by the Eagles:  This association isn't as bad as the previous two.  I took AP calculus as a senior in high school, and it was a struggle the entire year.  I eventually decided I needed an official song to pump myself up for the AP calculus exam and decided that since this song
had the word "limit" in the title, it was a natural fit (and if you don't believe me, try to come up with a song with the word "derivative" in the title).  Everything turned out well in the end--I somehow passed the exam and didn't have to take calculus in college.  So while this isn't an unpleasant memory per se, I still think of this song as the calculus song. 

Wishing everybody happy times to celebrate with good songs!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Mice Will Play

I wrote here last month about caring for Laila as her kidney disease progressed.  At first, I hoped--perhaps unrealistically--that I might nurse her back to health during my winter break and that she might be with us for longer.  Then, as time went on, I hoped that I might just be able to buy her a few more weeks or months with a reasonable quality of life.  Sadly, that did not happen, either.  We had Laila put to sleep toward the end of January.  For anyone who hasn't made that sort of decision for a beloved pet, I can say that it's possible to simultaneously feel very confident that you made the right decision and feel terrible about it.

I have not yet adjusted to her being gone.  I still find myself expecting a little cat to greet me when I come home, meow loudly while I try to sleep in on the weekends, and jump up on the table to steal my food and water.  I keep thinking I need to feed her or scoop the cat litter. 

Occasionally, though, her absence feels very clear in my mind.  Yesterday, when I saw a mouse scuttle across my kitchen, it occurred to me that there would be no prolonged hunt to witness and no dead mouse body to find on the floor later.  On top of all the ways in which I feel sad, I'm also concerned that an onslaught of mice in my apartment is imminent.  You know, when the cat's away....

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Caring For A Sick Cat

I'm so sad to say that our talkative, affectionate, mouse-slaying cat Laila may be approaching the end of her life.  We adopted her as an older kitty a couple years ago; the animal shelter estimated her age to be 10 years, which would make her 12 now.  Some time ago, our vet told us he thought she was a couple years older, judging by the evidence of kidney disease in her blood work.  He warned us that she would eventually get to the point of being very lethargic, and that we would have to give her subcutaneous fluids.  This time has come.

It seemed to come on suddenly.  When we left to spend Christmas with my family in NC, she seemed to be fine, although in retrospect, I think I can see the lethargy was starting to set in.  The biggest clue we got that something might be wrong was that our pet sitter mentioned that Laila was leaving a lot of food in her bowl.  I assumed she was just out of sorts because we were away.  But when we came back, she still ate very little.

We already had a vet appointment scheduled for her annual rabies vaccine, which our vet urged us to hold off on.  The news from that appointment was that she had lost a lot of weight, and that she would potentially benefit from receiving regular doses of subcutaneous fluids. 

Giving subcutaneous fluids is supposed to be a relatively simple task--simple enough that vets trust pet owners to be at least somewhat successful when given instruction.  And it seemed simple enough in the vet's office.  The first time we tried at home was a comedy of errors, though.  Laila tensed her muscles (as I supposed anyone would when being approached by a needle wielded by someone who doesn't know what she's doing), making it difficult to grab a pouch of loose skin.  Then the needle kept not being in all the way, causing the fluids to leak all over her fur.  At one point, she got away entirely, and fluid shot through the needle into the air.  The process has improved somewhat since then, although we're definitely on the clock with it.  The needle itself doesn't seem to bother Laila much, but the feeling of fluid going in under her skin must be pretty strange, and she always reaches a point when she just tries to walk away.

Then there has been the issue of trying to get her to eat.  I've tried all kinds of things--cheap cat food, expensive cat food, tinned fish, boiled chicken livers.  From day to day, there is no telling what she'll want to eat. 

There has also been the issue of her wobbliness and clumsiness.  She's always been a bit wobbly, but she has become noticeably more so lately.  She also alarms us by tumbling to the floor when trying to jump on things.

I've had a long winter break, so I've gotten to spend a lot of time with Laila, following her around to make sure she doesn't hurt herself and making her several meals per day to try to cajole her to eat.  I don't know what will happen when my semester starts and I become insanely busy again.  I also don't know what her latest round of blood work from yesterday's vet appointment will tell us.  I'm glad I've had this time with her.  She's been a wonderful companion, and I want her to feel like she's had a friend as the end of her life approaches.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Grad School As A "Nontraditional" Student: First Semester Review

I've written here before about my educational (mis)adventures.  To recap, I started taking evening and online classes when I was working for an employer that provided tuition remission.  In August, I left that job and started a full-time graduate program in speech-language pathology.  I successfully completed my first of five semesters in December, and I'll go back for my second semester next week.  Before doing that, I thought it would be interesting (and potentially useful to other people who are considering going back to school) to write about some of my impressions.

Favorite part:  My program, like many, starts students in clinic first semester.  My weekly clients were hands down the best part of the program.  I looked forward to seeing them and was thrilled when I saw their progress.  I also felt like I learned a lot in this process--when you see the same clients every week, you have a chance to reflect on what went well in a session and what needs improvement.  Then you can adjust accordingly.  In spite of the various ways I'm unhappy with the grad school experience, the fact that I enjoyed my clients so much makes me cautiously optimistic that I'm making a good career change for me.

Least favorite part:  Barely having a spare moment to myself all semester.  I spent two years taking classes on top of working a full-time job.  It never occurred to me that I would be busier as "just" a student, but I was, by quite a lot.  Getting to spend time with friends took great feats of planning.  Hobbies were put on hold, as I worked through most evenings and weekends.  The worst part was mid-semester when I caught a monster cold that hung on for weeks.  I started to feel very nostalgic for sick leave at that point.  I only took one full day off from school during that time, and I spent nearly the whole day working from home when what I really needed was sleep.  Was all this work necessary or helpful to the learning experience?  Absolutely not.  Unfortunately, some of the architects of this program seem to believe that misery in grad school is a rite of passage we all have to go through.

Best thing about being a nontraditional student:  Years of "adulting" have given me very good time management skills.  Unlike many of my younger classmates, I pulled zero all-nighters all semester (and I don't intend to pull any in subsequent semesters). 

Worst thing about being a nontraditional student:  I miss income.  I miss free time after coming home from work.  I miss being around people closer to my own age.  I miss feeling competent in a career, instead of feeling like I'm starting out at the bottom again.  All of these adjustments have been harder than I anticipated.

Advice to other nontraditional students:  I chose my program because they offered me funding.  This might still prove to be the correct decision--after all, who wants to pay more in tuition than they have to?  And in the end, it's always easier to see the problems where you are than the problems you would have faced somewhere else.

However, for people who find themselves deciding between two or more funding packages (or people comparing two or more programs with roughly equivalent tuition), here are some things to consider:  Which program typically has more nontraditional students?  You might have an easier time making friends with fellow students whose lives are more like yours.  Also, programs with more nontraditional students may do a better job scheduling classes to be convenient for people who aren't 22 and living on campus (I'm thinking grumpily about the number of evening classes I'll have next semester, in addition to two Saturday all-day sessions.  Grrr.).  Also, this may sound obvious, but think about what the program specializes in.  I'm going to be deliberately vague here, but my program has a specialty that I certainly don't object to, but that I'm also not planning to incorporate heavily into my future career.  I figured I could put up with it for the sake of receiving funding.  And again, that may prove to be the best decision in the end...but at the moment, I feel like something I'll probably never use again is taking up an awful lot of my time. 

One semester down, four to go! 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Shutdown

When Scott and I took a walk on the National Mall yesterday, I noticed something interesting:  numerous kites stuck in trees. 

Maybe they've always been there.  Maybe the bare trees of winter showcase kites to their best advantage.  But the first thought that occurred to me was that maybe the person or people who ordinarily remove kites from trees are not currently working due to the government shutdown.

In an area where I'm spoiled for choices in activities, quite a few options are closed right now, namely the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo.  At this point, even the public restrooms on the National Mall are closed.

I feel terrible for the people who are either having to hold out waiting for back pay or who likely will never get paid at all for the duration of this shutdown.  As someone who has worked both for the federal government and for a center that relied heavily on government contracts, I feel I can imagine the worries some people have right now.  It's not easy to have your livelihood in the hands of people who don't care and are happy to make you a pawn in their power struggles.  I'm sure for anyone who knows me, it will come as no surprise that I'm against the border wall, and have been since the first time I heard the idea.  Giving financial insecurity to countless federal employees and contractors is not making me warm up to it.

At this point, it's hard to see when or how this shutdown will end.  I hope it will be before this already bad situation becomes financially ruinous for too many people.

Friday, January 4, 2019

North Carolina Beach Pictures, December 2019

We went to North Carolina for Christmas, and made our usual trek to the North Carolina coast.  It really is the perfect time of year to visit the beach--no crowds and no sunburns!  Here are a few pictures from the trip.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

12 Days Of Cheese

Out of all of the holiday sales and specials that we have to choose from, the one I'm most excited about these days is the 12 Days of Cheese at Whole Foods.  I'm not sure when they started it, but I became aware of it a couple years ago, and I've eagerly anticipated it each December since then.

For the uninitiated, the 12 Days of Cheese is when Whole Foods marks a different cheese 50% off for twelve days.  They distribute a cheese schedule ahead of time, so you know what you'll find each day.  Like all sales, I'm sure the intent is just to get people in the store with the hopes that they will buy more than just the cheese...but you get to decide that!

In years past, at least in the Whole Foods near me, you had to search for the half price cheese.  This year, they displaced the half price cheeses prominently.  The good part of this was that I spent less time looking for them; the bad part was that a couple days when I went to Whole Foods, they had sold out of the half price cheese.  I decided that on days when I was really interested in the half price cheese, I needed to go there early to make sure I could get it.  Fortunately for me, by the time the 12 Days of Cheese rolled around this year, my semester was winding down, so I had more free time to go on cheese runs.

This year, I managed to buy cheese on 6 of the 12 days.  This might seem like an excessive amount of cheese for two people, but (a) you can buy small amounts of some of the cheeses, (b) most cheese lasts a while in the fridge, and (c) for me, there is no such thing as an excessive amount of cheese.  Every year for New Year's Eve, I make an appetizer dinner, and I was very happy to have pre-bought all the cheese I wanted for it.  "Fancy" cheese is one of my vices at the moment, and I'm happy to be able to combine it with my love of bargains.