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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Pandemic Daze: What To Spend Money On When You're Not Traveling

 Like many people who are fortunate enough to still have discretionary income, our spending habits have changed during the pandemic.  We've been sticking close to home since March (with the biggest adventure being moving to our new home in August), so travel spending in particular has decreased sharply.

In our pre-pandemic days, we went to New York City pretty frequently, at least once a year.  Every time we went, we discussed the idea of getting a cronut at the Dominique Ansel Bakery.  For the uninitiated, a cronut is a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, which debuted in NYC to great acclaim in 2013.  By "great acclaim," I mean long lines to get one.  While I imagine the line situation must have eventually subsided, we always concluded that we were too tired and stressed out to make a special trip out of our way (and probably stand in some sort of a line) to try a pastry.

I'm not sure at this point when we'll next travel to NYC (or anywhere else, for that matter).  But a few weeks ago, when I was perusing the food section of the NY Times, I noticed a story about how the Dominique Ansel Bakery was going to start shipping cronuts, at least for a limited time.  Scott and I decided this was our chance to try them.  I signed up for emails to alert me when they were ready to start taking online orders.

I saw the first alert email about 20 minutes after it landed in my inbox; I clicked on the link and found the cronuts had already sold out!  About two weeks later, I got a second alert.  I was faster that time, and managed to land a box of four cronuts.  I got a bit of sticker shock when it came to shipping, however.  Overnight shipment for the cronuts ended up costing nearly as much as the cronuts themselves!  I considered dropping the whole idea at that point, but felt like we were already too intrigued by the idea of ordering cronuts.  Plus, we hadn't been spending money on travel.

The second surprise was that even after ordering, we had about a two week wait to receive them.  They finally arrived late yesterday afternoon.  Here's what we got:

According to the literature they sent with the cronuts, flavors change every month, and are never repeated.  Our particular cronuts are filled with chestnut ganache.  And they are delicious!  But, I probably won't order them again.  There's the expense factor, of course.  Also, as delicious as they are, they are almost certainly better fresh from the bakery, as all fried foods tend to be.  It also turns out that four cronuts is a lot for two people--they aren't huge, but they pack a powerful punch and sit like lead weights in the stomach.  Of course, one day when we aren't social distancing, it may be easier to go in on a box with two other people, thereby limiting both the expense and the calories.  But I think in the future, I might be more receptive to visiting the bakery in NYC, whenever I may go again.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Cliche Of The Lost Sock

 So many jokes have been made about missing socks, especially the notoriously hungry dryers that eat them.  However, the lost sock joke is on us right now.

Hardly a week goes by in our new place without Scott or I having to search for a lost sock.  Sometimes the missing sock is found clinging to other clothing, which, or course, could happen anywhere.  But part of the problem has to do with our current laundry configuration.  

We have a small stackable washer and dryer that sits in a small space sandwiched between the wall of a closet and our hot water heater.  The small size means that we do smaller and more frequent loads of laundry, which means that sometimes we'll find the "missing" sock in our next load.  Socks also sometimes fall by the side of the washer/dryer unit.  It's hard to see when this happens, and retrieving these lost socks involves the use of a flashlight and one of those grabber tools (which, tellingly enough, the previous owners were kind enough to leave for us!).  

I lost a sock yesterday.  Unfortunately, it's a sock I like.  In recent years, I've upgraded my socks, and no longer buy the sorts of multipacks that you can find at places like Target and Walmart.  My feet are more comfortable with the nicer socks, but naturally, losing a more expensive sock seems like a bigger problem than losing a cheap sock which probably didn't have long for the world anyway. I looked through my hamper and carefully checked all the clothing that went into the dryer with it.  Nothing.  I looked along the sides of the washer/dryer with a flashlight and still didn't see anything.

In desperation, I started running the grabber tool along the sides of the washer/dryer to see if I felt anything soft.  I did!  I grabbed it and pulled it up...only to find that it was a sock that didn't belong to either me or Scott!  It was a colorful sock with owls printed on it, the sort I would remember if either of us had a pair.

I'm hoping my sock will turn up soon, so that I can use it, but I'm cheered to think that it's probably not lost forever, at least.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Getting Rid Of The Boxes

 Finally buying a home after years of renting has felt very liberating.  We've had so many addresses over the years, some of which we stayed in for a long time, and some of which we stayed in for just a few weeks.  The common denominator was always that I knew we would be moving on.  I know there are people who rent for their entire lives for a variety of reasons, but I always knew that we were ultimately looking to buy someplace, once we knew where we were going to be for the long run.

"Moving on" is of course a euphemism for sorting all of your worldly possessions, filling trash bags, making multiple runs to donation centers, and, of course, packing boxes.  In my experience, way more boxes are needed than you think, and if you have to buy them, they can be expensive.  When we moved in to our last place, we kept some of the moving boxes that didn't get too beaten up.  We flattened them and hid them in closets and under the bed.  We did this primarily because we didn't know how long we would be staying there, but in the end, we stayed for four and a half years.

There are also the boxes that come with large pieces of styrofoam that are perfectly contoured to cushion whatever item was stored in it.  We kept quite a few of those, too.  After all, we wanted to protect our sewing machine and food processor in transit, didn't we?  Naturally, these boxes take up much more space than regular moving boxes, since the styrofoam can't be flattened.

Then there are the reusable sorts of boxes--the plastic storage boxes and the suitcases.  We had quite a collection of the latter, owing to our time working in Kazakhstan.  

Anyway, one liberating aspect of putting down roots is that we got rid of nearly all the boxes we had been holding onto!  The moving boxes were the first to go, and we got rid of them as we unpacked them.  Then we got rid of the boxes with styrofoam.  I felt almost arrogant throwing them out--how did I expect to pack these items for the next move?  But there may or may not be a next move; what we have very definitely right now is limited closet space.  The last ones to go were the plastic storage boxes and the suitcases.  We did a purge of possessions so that we would need fewer plastic storage boxes.  As for the suitcases. we almost always do carry-on when we travel.  We kept our carry-on suitcases, one large suitcase to share as needed, and a duffle bag that folded up into the suitcase.  All told, it's probably still more suitcases than we truly need (especially at the moment, when we're barely going anywhere at all!).

I must be in for the long haul with this home.  At this point, I couldn't pack up even if I wanted to.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Breathing A Sigh Of Relief

As is the case for many others, the lead-up to this election took a toll on me.  I voted very early, and then tried to limit my consumption of coverage.  On Tuesday night, I drank some chamomile tea and went to bed early (where I proceeded to toss and turn for much of the night).  And then the next morning, we still didn't have any answers.

All of which leads me to say that I am breathing an enormous sigh of relief right now.  Not just because I'm a Democrat and someone from my party won, but because I think Trump has been so completely destructive and divisive.  I shuddered to think what another four year term could bring.

Four years doesn't sound like a long time, but a lot can happen.  Looking back on my own life, since the 2016 election, I have had three jobs, attended four universities, earned one graduate degree, mourned the loss of one beloved pet, adopted another beloved pet, and bought a home.

A lot can happen to a nation in four years, also. I think it suffices to say that within less than one year, 237,000 Americans have died from COVID.  That is a staggering number, and likely would have seemed staggering even if it had been spread out over four years.

I don't know what a Biden presidency will bring, but I think it's fair to predict far less drama, far fewer tweets, and a move to bring people together rather than sow discord.  At this point, that is enough to give me hope.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Getting Back On Mass Transit

 I may have mentioned this on the blog before, but if not, I'm an adult who doesn't drive.  I got my license when I was 16, and I know the basic motions of driving, but in terms of driving safely on a highway, or even crowded surface streets, I'm not sure I'm the best person for the task.  I've had brief periods of picking it up again, but the skill has never really stuck.  I typically use a lot of mass transit, and then use Uber for times when mass transit is too inconvenient or if I get into some sort of a jam.

As a result, it has felt very strange to have not taken any mass transit since mid-March, on the last day I went to my internship during my last semester of grad school.  We lived near a Metro station at our old place, and we are even closer to one now.  But I haven't been going to all that many places since the pandemic started.  Also, at least initially, Metro was practically begging people to stay home and not take their trains or buses unless it was absolutely necessary.  I knew I would be back one day, though.  I'm definitely not one of those people who is glibly predicting the demise of mass transit; after all, before the pandemic consumed all of our attention, we were discussing the disastrous impact of climate change.

Today turned out to be my day.  I took a basic life support class this morning.  Scott drove me to my class, and I thought I would take an Uber back home.  But then I saw how walkable the area was between the building where my class was being held and the nearest Metro station, and decided to go for it.

I ended up getting somewhat of a Metro double whammy.  When I arrived at the station, I discovered that it was closed, but that they were offering free shuttle bus service to the next station.  So I got to rejoin the world of mass transit by taking both a bus and a train.  It felt strange because in the pre-pandemic days, I would have been on top of things like weekend station closures.  When you take Metro all the time, you usually see signs telling you about upcoming station closures or delays.  But not having ridden Metro since March, I was thoroughly out of the loop.  I had plenty of money on my SmarTrip card because I had lots of places to go in early March, before life shut down on us so suddenly.

The train itself was fine.  At least late morning on a Sunday, there were few enough passengers that it was very easy to socially distance.  Everyone I saw was wearing a mask.  I don't know how many opportunities I'll have in the near future to take Metro again, just because I don't have that many places to go right now.  But it was nice to experience a tiny piece of my pre-pandemic life again.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

A Gift Finally Enjoyed

 Over 40 years ago, on the day I was born, one of my aunts and her then-husband bought me a bottle of wine.  They used the label on the bottle as a sort of gift tag, so it was easy to distinguish from any other bottles of wine my parents may have had around.  I think this is a clever gift for a baby, provided the parents have space to store it.  It spent decades tucked away in my parents' linen closet.

The one funny thing that nobody could have predicted is that I'm not much of a drinker.  I'm not a complete teetotaler, since I will drink, but I have a hard limit of one drink per occasion.  Often, on occasions when I drink, I'll do something like have half a beer and let Scott have the other half.  I like the taste of some alcoholic drinks, but they're not as much of a treat for me as some other things (like chocolate!).  I also don't seem to get the buzz that most people get from drinking.  And, even at my advanced age, I've never truly been drunk.  My recollection is that nobody remembered the bottle of wine by the time I turned 21 (which happened when I was studying in Mexico anyway), and even if anyone had, I wouldn't have necessarily made a beeline for it because being able to drink legally just wasn't that big of a deal for me.

It did resurface at some point, though, and my parents brought it up a couple of times when I visited.  Finally, maybe a year or two ago, they asked me to take it with me when I left.  I took it, and it sat on my kitchen counter.

Then we decided to move.  There is nothing quite like moving to make me thin out my belongings, and I decided that this bottle of wine shouldn't move with us.  So, I decided to give it a try...and it tasted really good!  I was surprised by how good it tasted to me, since as I said, alcohol is typically not a big treat for me.

We've been drinking small amounts of it with the chocolate we eat for dessert most nights.  The flavors go well together, and it's fun to think of people picking out a bottle of wine for a new baby.  I'm glad I'm getting to enjoy this gift at long last, after all these decades.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Pandemic Daze: The Triumphant Arrival Of The Chinese Toilet Paper!

Remember the early days of the pandemic, when a few people were hoarding massive quantities of toilet paper for the sheer joy of ensuring that nobody else had any?  As I wrote at the time, I wasn't initially concerned because timing had worked out so that I had just purchased a 24 roll pack of TP right before people started panic buying.  But as time went on, and we didn't see any appear on store shelves, we became more concerned.  At that point in time, we started looking online more regularly.  Scott lucked into buying some TP made by American brands and shipped from somewhere in the US that arrived reasonably quickly.  But before that happened, I ordered an unfamiliar brand of TP from China.

This TP was slated to arrive anywhere from April 24 to May 15.  That window passed.  Several weeks thereafter, I contacted the seller, asking for my money back.  The seller got back to me, and essentially pleaded for me to not demand a refund, saying that they had given my package to the international courier a long time ago, and citing imminent financial ruin if they had to refund my money.  They promised to send me a second package of TP in return.  I grudgingly agreed.  I didn't know if their tale of financial woes was legitimate or not, but given the state of things, it seemed plausible.

Many more weeks passed, but this long-awaited TP finally arrived on Monday!  I was surprised when I saw the package.  Given that it came from China, I couldn't think what else it could be, but it seemed awfully small for 24 rolls of TP.  Then I opened it, and found 24 weird, adorably tiny rolls.

Here is a picture of one of the rolls next to one of our regular rolls for scale:

And check out how large its cardboard tube is:

If nothing else, this Chinese toilet paper is providing me with good entertainment, and I think the individually wrapped rolls will make halfway decent packing material for our probable impending move.  After that, I suppose we could try using it for its intended purpose, or maybe distribute the rolls as pandemic gag gifts.  Either way, I got a kick out of receiving a package I had long ago given up on.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Things We Keep

In preparation for a probable impending move, I've been going through my stuff.  I ordinarily lean more in the pack rat direction, but there is something about having to pack stuff into boxes and move it that inspires me to do a major sweep and get rid of things I normally wouldn't think of parting with.  I like to think of this as one of the few benefits of moving.

Anyway, I came across something I had forgotten about, although it had been with me for some time:  a half-finished knitting project.  During grad school 1.0 (as in the degree I completed when I was in my twenties), I decided to learn how to knit.  With my mom's direction and help, I knit a scarf for Scott, whom I was dating at the time.  After finishing his scarf, I decided to make one myself.  I was living in Columbus, OH at the time, and I remember taking a bus out to a strip mall that had a Penzeys, an Indian restaurant, and a yarn store.  I stocked up on spices, had a delicious lunch, and selected some blue and purple yarn to make a scarf.  And then at some point, I stopped.  I'm thinking it was probably because I was going to Syria for a year, and didn't feel like taking a knitting project with me.

Anyway, this half-finished knitting project has been living inside a Gap bag since then.  It has either accompanied me or been relegated to storage for numerous moves.  And yet, in all this time, I've neither finished it nor committed to throwing it out.

At this point, if I wanted to finish it, I would need to relearn how to knit because it's been so long.  And truthfully, I don't know if or when that would happen.  I've spent years dreaming of all the things I would do if I ever had the time.  But this summer, I've actually had quite a lot of free time, courtesy of both a pandemic and a long, frustrating job search.  And I've come to the frightening realization that if I didn't need to work for the sake of having money, I could keep myself busy for the rest of my life with all the various projects I have in my mind.  I'm not sure at this point where in the queue relearning how to knit and finishing a scarf I started in my twenties falls.

I'm sure there are some lessons here for me, including the dangers of both unfinished projects and being too ambitious in my purchasing of craft materials.  But right now, I'm just trying to decide if a half-finished project makes the cut to move with me once again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

How To Be A Kind Employer

After having graduated with my MS in speech-language pathology in May, I'm still looking for work, and it's making me grumpy.  For the uninitiated, the way it works in this field is that new graduates have to do a clinical fellowship year (often abbreviated as CFY or just CF) in order to get their certificate of clinical competence (CCC).  The CCC is what makes you fully licensed.  The clinical fellowship year is essentially a year (well, a minimum of 36 weeks and I think 1260 hours) of supervised practice.  You get paid for this, although the pay is often substantially less than what fully licensed speech-language pathologists receive.

The need to do a clinical fellowship year seems to create a bottleneck, at least in some parts of the country.  The impressions I've gotten from this job search are that (a) some employers will not consider you at all without your CCC, and (b) the ones who will may be in parts of the country where the shortage of speech-language pathologists is more acute (which may or may not be the areas of the country where you want to live).

I tend to forget between job searches how aggravating the process can be and how obnoxious some employers can be.  So, for employers who want to be kind to job-seekers, I've compiled the following tips:

1.  If you interview an applicant and decide not to hire them, you should reject them in a timely fashion.  (Looking at you, skilled nursing facility that interviewed me in late May, and you, school district that interviewed me in early July).  This really should be a matter of common courtesy.  Sometimes people really get their hopes up for jobs they interviewed for, and if they get that far in the process, they deserve an answer one way or another.

Bonus points for kindness if you can also officially reject the applicants who don't make it to the interview process.  This doesn't have to be a personalized rejection letter; even a form letter to let people know they are not under consideration suffices here.  I recently applied for a long-shot dream job, and they rejected me within days.  Sure, it's a bummer to receive a rejection letter, but it's better than going for weeks feeling like you have a chance if you don't.  Honestly, I don't know if this is the effect this particular employer was going for, but the fact that they bothered to let me know they weren't interested makes me hope even more that I might get to work for them someday in the future.

2.  If the applicant's resume makes it clear that they are lacking something you require, don't waste their time by interviewing them.  (Looking at you again, school district that interviewed me in early July).  A recruiting company arranged this interview with a school district for me; had I been hired, I would have worked as a contractor for the district.  I wasn't upset that the school district didn't give me an immediate answer because my interviewer told me it might take 1-2 weeks, and I wanted to investigate other opportunities anyway.  Well, more than 3 weeks passed and I received an offer (which I'll get to shortly) from someone else, so I wanted to see if this school district had made a decision one way or another.  I got in touch with my recruiter.  He hadn't gotten an actual yes or no, so he did some digging for me.  It turned out the district was making offers to some applicants, but they were all people who already had their CCC.  It was obvious from my resume that I'm a new grad looking for a clinical fellowship position.  Frankly, the hour I spent interviewing with this district is an hour I wish I could get back.

3.  If you are interested in hiring someone, don't lowball them.  (Looking at you, private practice that made me a really crummy offer after two rounds of interviews!).  I get it--not everyone is going to get the salary of a professional athlete.  However, it's not that difficult in this day and age to do some research and get an idea of what is standard in your industry.  There are certain circumstances that might make someone accept a lower salary, like if the employer has a lot of cache, or if it is located in an area with a low cost of living.  However...

If it is a salaried position, there should be a compelling reason for it being substantially lower than industry standards.

If it is an hourly position, but the number of hours per week are not guaranteed, the hourly wage should be higher to account for that.

If the position requires travel and the company is not paying travel expenses, the hourly wage should be higher to account for that.

If the position is in an area with a high cost of living, the hourly wage should be higher to account for it.

If the benefits are terrible, then--you guessed it--the hourly wage should be higher to make up for that.

AND...if an applicant does accept your lowball offer out of desperation, don't be surprised or offended when they move on.    Know how you like having a roof over your head and food on the table?  Yeah.  That's what we all want.  A possible red flag for this happened during my first round of interviews with this company when one of the interviewers asked me if I planned to stay in the area for the long term or if I was just looking for a stepping stone.  At the time, I took it to mean that some new grads left after a year because they wanted to live somewhere else, but now I think the lousy compensation is really what drove their decisions to move on.

I'll cap my rant at this for now.  And if anyone wants to hire a middle aged grumpy clinical fellow, you know where to find me.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Making Decisions

An interesting feature of life in general is that we often have to make decisions--sometimes life-altering ones--without anywhere near enough information.  Unsurprisingly, this has also been true during the pandemic.

The US has been a real patchwork of regulations since the pandemic started, but depending on where you lived, many decisions were made simple in the beginning.  When non-essential stores, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, museums, and hair salons are closed, the decision is made for you because you can't actually go to any of them.  For a while, we really went very few places.  We had a weekly grocery store trip and an almost daily outdoor walk.  We ordered food a couple times a week to break up the monotony.  As time went on, and public health experts became less concerned about outdoor transmission, encountering other people on our walks made us less nervous.  We started making occasional trips to restaurants to get take-out instead of ordering in (both because food delivery has been a very imperfect process and so that our money would go to the restaurants themselves instead of the delivery services).  But that was pretty much it for our venturing out.

Now, more options are available in our area.  Restaurants, salons, gyms, and non-essential stores are allowed to reopen under certain conditions (greatly reduced capacity, mask-wearing, etc.).  And so in a sense, some decisions are still easy.  We don't have to decide whether to risk eating in a crowded indoor restaurant, for example, because indoor seating capacity has been capped at 50% for the time being.  But we do have to decide whether we want to risk going to that restaurant (or gym, store, salon, etc.) in the first place.  

This weekend, we decided to make a couple of these decisions.  First, we went to our local farmers market.  This had stayed open with modifications throughout the pandemic, but we hadn't been since before the pandemic started because we had been trying to minimize non-essential outings.  We decided this was probably a safe outing to make since it's outdoors, and besides, I wanted some plants for the balcony.  We could see decisions being made at the farmers market itself.  Some vendors had elaborate systems for socially-distanced lines and the employees handling your produce.  Others were more relaxed and let you wander around and pick your own stuff.  On the whole, I found the farmers market much more enjoyable in the pre-pandemic days, but that's probably not much of a surprise.

We also decided to go to a restaurant and (gasp!) actually eat there.  Our 14th anniversary was on Thursday, and we were talking about how to celebrate it.  Since the pandemic started, we celebrated both Scott's birthday and my graduation at home.  And now we actually had the option to go out.  Ordinarily, we would have gone somewhere in DC (I keep a mental list of restaurants I want to try there), but we decided to choose someplace within walking distance this time in order to skip taking Metro to get there.  And while the whole experience felt very different from pre-pandemic times, it was still pretty great!  Time will tell whether this was a wise decision, but I'm hoping that some of the regulations in place will help us all to get a little taste of our previous life without putting undue risk on anyone.

More decisions are coming.  My gym is reopening in early July (with only two people allowed to work out at a time).  I also haven't had a haircut since February, and am sorely tempted to get one now.  I'm thinking I might spread these "pandemic firsts" out a bit to see how my area's reopening goes and to not force myself into too many decisions at once.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Some New Jewelry!

Finally, a post that has nothing to do with the pandemic!  Well, except for the fact that all this time at home is giving me plenty of time to think of hobbies, of course.  I was working on photographing some jewelry for a side hustle I'm working on, and thought I'd take a few pictures of some recent makes just for fun.

I was inspired to make this first piece by a pictures I saw online of vintage silver earrings.  The earrings looked like grape leaves with clusters of silver grapes dangling freely.  (Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the exact image to share).  I realized that remaking those earrings would be pretty challenging with the materials and equipment I had on hand, but I thought I could at least take the leaf and cluster idea and translate them to something else.

While I was mulling this over, I realized that a few years ago, I bought several toggle clasps that look like leaves. 

Open toggle clasp...

And closed toggle clasp
Unfortunately, as cool as these look, they worked terribly as actual toggle clasps.  I tried making two different designs with them, and they kept coming open while I was wearing the necklaces.  NOT a good thing, unless you enjoy losing your jewelry.  One of the companies I buy supplies from has a precious metal scrap recycling program, and I thought these clasps were destined for that.

But then it occurred to me that they did look like leaves, and I was thinking of making silver leave earrings.  I connected the two parts of the toggle clasp with a short length of chain, added some stone beads to create a cluster of something (grapes?  berries), and added earring wires.  Voila!

Surprisingly lightweight and comfy
Continuing the plant theme, I've had a silver flower pin in my stash for several years.  I bought it at a thrift shop with the idea of turning it into a pendant, and I finally did!

This last piece incorporates an interesting shell fragment I picked up on the beach in North Carolina.  I often find thick shell fragments with multiple holes there, and I had been thinking it would be interesting to try to incorporate them in jewelry.  I picked up one with some purple on it.  But then after I brought it home, it sat around for a while because I wasn't convinced I could make a necklace I liked out of it.  Once I finally did, though, I was pretty pleased.

I think the polished fluorite beads and silver help to elevate the somewhat rough looking shell.  I don't know how durable this shell pendant will turn out to be--it's possible that the beading wire I strung  it on will wear away at it over time--but there is no way to know without trying, and I'll enjoy this necklace for as long as it lasts.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Taking Standardized Tests From Home

So, to get the good news out of the way, I graduated with an MS in speech-language pathology!  I thought about writing a post about graduation during the pandemic, but decided there wasn't all that much to say about it.  My institution canceled the actual graduation ceremony this year, but (a) I think nearly every institution did the same thing, and (b) I wasn't actually planning to attend graduation anyway.  I do feel sorry for people who were looking forward to it, of course, but I don't feel a personal sense of loss for not having it.

Anyway, aside from finding a clinical fellowship, another task awaited me:  the speech-language pathology Praxis exam.  For those who may not know, that's one of the expensive standardized tests that is normally taken at a testing center.  Many of my classmates took it during winter break, to take advantage of time off and having recently prepared for oral comps.  I decided that I would benefit from exposure to the material in my final semester classes, so decided to wait.  At that time, my spring semester internship was scheduled to run through April 15; I planned to take the Praxis after I was done with that.  I'm sure everyone can see where this is going.  My internship ended several weeks early due to the pandemic and testing centers mostly closed.  I started halfheartedly reviewing for the Praxis, but honestly, it was hard to feel motivated when I had no idea when I might be able to take it.

Well, earlier this month, ETS decided to allow people to take many Praxises (Praxi?) at home.  I decided to sign up since I wanted to get it done and had no idea when I might be able to access a testing center.  I took it today, and felt like it actually went pretty smoothly!  There were various security procedures, such as showing my ID and allowing the proctor to take control of my computer to make sure all programs were closed.  I also had to use my webcam to pan around the room and show the proctor the room around me and the (cleared) table I had my computer on.  We also couldn't talk or have anyone enter the room while we were testing.  Scott had to run a rare outside errand this morning, and we agreed that I'd text him when I was done.  I was concerned about Stella waking up from her nap and coming into the room and meowing loudly (or worse--jumping on the table and trying to walk across my keyboard), but fortunately that didn't happen.  It occurred to me as I was working on the test that I probably should have just blocked off a section of the apartment to keep her from interfering, so I'll just leave that as a tip for other pet owners who may need to take a Praxis from home.

The only thing I didn't like is that I didn't really know what to expect on testing day.  So, for anyone else who might need to do this, it's pretty easy.  You have to sign in to the Proctor-U account that you created when you scheduled your test.  There will be a countdown showing how much time you have before the test is scheduled to begin.  Then you be allowed to start.  You'll be connected to a proctor who will walk you through everything you need to do.  The proctor will then log on to the ETS browser you had to download to take the test and let you get started.  It was pretty seamless after that.  I know a proctor was watching me virtually from afar, but since I never saw them, it wasn't a distraction.

I won't feel officially out of the woods until I get my official score report, but the score I was given at the end appears to be a comfortably passing one, and if there were any problems, I wasn't aware of them.  I don't know how long people will be allowed to take standardized tests at home; maybe if it works well enough it will continue, but this also might become an experience emblematic of these unusual times.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Exercise

One interesting aspect of staying at home and having non-essential businesses closed is how it changes your exercise patterns.  Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, I get a fair amount of walking each day to and from mass transit.  Now, I'm hardly going anywhere at all (and I'm heeding Metro's pleas to not ride unless absolutely necessary), so that's gone.  I also typically did more formal workouts a few times a week.  Up until winter break, I was using my apartment complex's fitness center.  Then, after deciding that I needed to up my fitness game a bit, I joined a kickboxing gym.  As the public perception of the pandemic began to change, my apartment complex closed our fitness center.  The gym I joined voluntarily closed hours before our governor ordered all gyms to close.

One of the first things Scott and I did when it started to look like we'd be hunkering down for a while was to order some hand weights and a kettle bell.  It took a while for them to come in and Scott mentioned that he thought the hand weights would normally have been less expensive, so I suspect others had the same idea.  On my last "normal" day (i.e., the last day I ventured more than a couple miles from my apartment), I saw a Peloton bike (of the ad fame) being delivered in a ritzy neighborhood, so maybe there was a run on higher-end fitness equipment, too.

My gym has been creating daily workout videos for people to do at home.  None of them require equipment, although you can sometimes incorporate things like hand weights if you have them.  We've been trying to do three of those workouts per week, and while it's not exactly like going to the gym, they're pretty good.  I do miss the uncluttered padded floors of the gym, though--no furniture to rearrange there, and no rough carpeting for floor exercises!  Also, at home, we sometimes get a feline interloper who wants to know what all the commotion is about.

We're taking long walks most days, too.  We usually walk through a nearby residential neighborhood to a trail and then walk on the trail.  The problem is that the trail is sometimes pretty crowded and there's not a lot of room to avoid other people, but we do our best.

Playgrounds here have been closed; the ones near us are surrounded in that orange flexible fencing.  This doesn't directly impact us, but I do feel sorry for the kids, especially ones who don't have yards to play in.  I'm starting to see more kids on the trail we walk on, possibly because it's one of the few places left where they can let off some steam.

I'm glad that the existing restrictions have still allowed for people to get exercise outdoors.  It'll be interesting to see what happens as restrictions ease up--I kind of doubt gyms or team sports will be among the first restrictions to be lifted, and I think most people are fearful enough that there won't be too many volunteers to be first to go into a non-essential crowded situation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Face Masks

Anybody else suffering from mental whiplash from all the contradictory advice we're getting in the time of covid-19?  Like how wearing face masks was utterly pointless and possibly socially irresponsible until it wasn't?

I am definitely NOT providing any medical advice in this post.  I also don't want to upset anyone at such a sensitive time.  But I will say that I am unconvinced by the utility of most people wearing face masks, especially of the DIY variety.  I'm willing to be persuaded to think otherwise, if anyone has evidence they'd like to share.  But the usual explanation I hear is that various Asian countries where face mask-wearing is widespread have had lower infection rates than the US.  I would argue that that evidence shows correlation, not causation, and that the countries in question also did other things differently.

Also, I worry about some of the wider implications of encouraging everyone to wear face masks.  Sure, they tell us to make our own and leave the "real" face masks for medical personnel.  But is it really that much of a leap in logic to think that if people are being told to wear face masks that they might try to get ahold of good ones to wear rather than, say, cut up a t-shirt for a no-sew DIY mask?  I also worry that people might put too much faith in the efficacy of face masks and become more lax about measures like physical distancing.

Also, to be honest, I'm just very upset at how this whole crisis has been managed.  With two months of warning time, I suspect lots of medical-grade face masks could have been manufactured, possibly enough for (gasp!) our medical personnel to have all the masks they need.  Maybe even enough for the rest of us to use them!

All of that being said, my county has started requiring people to wear a face mask in supermarkets, pharmacies, and various other establishments.  I'm not getting out all that much these days, but I'm still making weekly supermarket trips, so I finally broke down and sewed a few masks over the weekend.  We wore them to the supermarket for the first time today, and I thought they were fairly tolerable.  We could breathe through the fabric and they didn't slip much.  When we were standing in line to get in to the supermarket, the guy behind us complimented our masks very enthusiastically; he liked the fact that they wrapped around our faces to our ears.  Upon learning that I had made them, he told me I was the MVP. 

I wonder how it will feel, at some distant point in the future, when wearing a face mask in public becomes an anomaly again.  I remember when I left a job where it was absolutely essential to have my employee badge every day.  For months after I left, I kept having these brief spells of panic looking for it in my purse, only to remember that I didn't need it anymore and had turned it in on my last day.  I wonder if similar mask panic is in my future, and if so, when.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Toilet Paper!

I've written here before about grocery shopping during the pandemic.  Aside from one grocery trip we made just as things were starting to close down in the US, our supermarket has been pretty well stocked.  Aside from a few key items, that is, including the all-important toilet paper.

We were lucky as far as these things go.  I normally order our TP in bulk online.  I had just placed an order before people started panicking.  I felt fortunate that the timing had worked out so well in our favor, that we just happened to be running low on our previous package of TP.  I also felt lucky that I was in the habit of buying it in bulk.  As I told someone at the time as we discussed the situation, if there was a problem that required more than 24 rolls of TP in the immediate future, I didn't want to know about it.

Well.  When I made that comment, I had a sort of loose schedule of toilet paper usage in my mind, one that was based on not being home all day every day.  To be a tad indelicate, under ordinary circumstances, we use the bathroom at work, school, restaurants, other people's houses...all the while, not dipping into our own stock of TP.  When we stay home all day, we necessarily only use our own bathroom and our own TP.  A different TP usage schedule applies.

While I don't think (and fervently hope) we're not in imminent danger of running out of TP, the fact that it still has not reappeared on store shelves or in any meaningful quantity online concerns me.  It concerned me to the point that I thought I should maybe start sourcing our next batch.  This is not an easy task to square with official orders to stay home--checking out multiple stores in person didn't seem like the best idea.  We looked at our supermarket when we were there buying groceries anyway, and we checked the 7-11 on our block, and none was to be found.  I checked my usual sources online.  There were a few false hopes there, where I tried to add TP that was allegedly in stock into my shopping cart, only to be told that they had just run out. 

I was finally able to order some weird looking off-brand TP from Amazon.  Even that sort of TP appears to be in short supply, and we can expect to receive ours anytime between April 24 and May 15.  I'm kind of hoping that my giving in to buy it will be the signal to the universe that it's time for regular TP to become available again in the sort of abundance we're accustomed to.  Until then, wishing everyone plentiful (or at least adequate) supplies of paper products of all kinds!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Grocery Shopping Continues To Evolve

Even before our governor issued a stay-at-home order, we hadn't been leaving our home for every much, but weekly grocery shopping is still an outing.  We may get to a point where we decide that it's best to order groceries, but for now, we like going to the supermarket so that if one key ingredient we want is out of stock, we can regroup on the spot and choose something else.

That being said, there have been some changes at our supermarket in the past couple of weeks.  One change is that they limit how many people can be in the store at once.  This week, we were able to go right in, but when we left, we saw a line of people waiting to get in.

Other changes are at the checkout line.  There are lines on the floor now to show people where they should wait in order to maintain social distancing.  There is also a plexiglass barrier between the cashier and the customers.  And this week, our cashier told us they couldn't handle reusable bags that customers brought in; basically, if you brought your own bags, you did your own bagging.  This is fine--I certainly understand how stores would develop such policies under the circumstances. 

More people were wearing face masks (mostly fabric ones, not the disposable kind that nobody has been able to get for weeks).  I have mixed feelings about the DIY face masks, and I'm on the fence about whether I want to make them for us or wear them.  Maybe that should be another blog post at another time...

Our store was pretty well stocked, but there are still shortages of some items.  Unsweetened almond milk, for instance, is something that inexplicably seems to sell out.  And the places on the shelves where toilet paper and disinfecting wipes are usually found are completely bare.  The ongoing toilet paper shortage is somewhat of a mystery to me; after all, we're dealing with a respiratory illness, not rampant diarrhea.  Nonetheless, it does seem to be a real situation, one that might also warrant a separate blog post at some point.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Cat Ownership During Quasi-Isolation

One feature of our current quasi-isolated state is that we're getting lots of time with our cat, Stella!  I think she was excited to have us home for the first couple of days.  Now...not so much.  I think she'd gotten used to a routine in which we were gone for large swaths of the day and she had some cat alone time to do whatever it is that cats do when humans are not rudely interrupting.  Don't get me wrong, she still seeks us out sometimes, but we've noticed that she's spent more time hiding, and we've tried to give her some space.

One thing that I've noticed but can't explain is that she's more vocal and demanding at night.  She's always gotten up on the bed to wake us up, but I feel like the nighttime interruptions have become more frequent.  Also, last night, she decided to pounce on my legs with her claws fully extended...

We got an email from our veterinary clinic the other day.  They're staying open as an essential business, albeit with reduced hours and different procedures.  Until further notice, when we bring an animal in, we're supposed to sit in the car and call them.  Then, a vet tech will come out to retrieve the animal.  At the end of the appointment, the vet will come out with the animal and discuss/answer questions.  We're also supposed to pay over the phone via credit card. 

Stella seems pretty healthy, so we're optimistic that we'll be able to avoid vet appointments in the near future (although I think her annual rabies vaccine may be due in May).  But having had relatively recent experience with a sick cat, I know that sometimes vet appointments can become very frequent very quickly.  I'm glad our clinic had thought creatively about ow to stay open while minimizing everyone's exposure to the corona virus.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Grocery Shopping

We went to the supermarket today for the first time since Saturday.  This is also the most contact we've had with other people in several days, which is sad considering we can't even get together with friends right now.  But I digress. 

The supermarket wasn't terrible today.  I wasn't as crowded as it sometimes gets during even normal times, which I attribute to some people ordering groceries rather than going into the store.  It was also much better stocked today than it was on Saturday, which I attribute to the store setting limits on the number of certain high-demand items that people could buy.  Many of these items made sense; one of these items was packaged salad greens, however, which makes me think that people who don't make salads regularly don't understand what short shelf life those have.

In spite of the limits on items, some things were in short supply or nowhere to be found.  I did not see a single roll of TP or a single container of disinfecting wipes.  We bought one of the last two boxes of Kleenex on the shelves.  The store was down to its last few jars of peanut butter.

In other cases, the thing that was missing was the less expensive option.  The bulk bins with the ladles are closed due to sanitation concerns, so you couldn't get the bulk nutritional yeast (which we love to put on roasted veggies).  However, you could buy a prepackaged canister of the stuff at a considerable markup.  The least expensive olive oil was long gone; however, there were many "fancier" options still available.  There was no store brand butter on the shelves, but there was still a good supply of the imported European butter.

Ordinarily, I'm not very germophobic, but that has changed due to current circumstances.  When we got home, I disinfected our phones, the pen I was using to cross things off my list, and my house key.  I also threw both of our jackets and all of our reusable bags in the laundry.

We're lucky in a lot of ways.  We're not rich by any means, but if the less expensive item is missing from the supermarket, we can sometimes buy the more expensive option if we need it.  Similarly, we have enough money to be able to buy extra of things we think will be essential to our well being if we get to the point that we can't leave our apartment.  Also, we have a washer and dryer in our apartment, which means we can do laundry whenever we want.  What worries me is some people have very little margin for dealing with even ordinary inconveniences, and something like this pandemic may prove ruinous to them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Pandemic Daze: The Long Wait Begins

Plenty has changed since I last blogged about the covid-19 pandemic.  My gym made the decision to close early on Monday; later in the day, our governor ordered all gyms, movie theaters, bars, and restaurants (except for drive-through, carry-out, and delivery functions) to close.  I'm also staying home from my hospital internship for at least the next couple of weeks.  I'm sad about that, but it was the right decision for everyone involved, and I actually feel less stressed out now that the decision has been made.

So now there will be a lot of time at home.  I have work to do, which I ignored today in favor of cutting out fabric for my next sewing project.  I have plenty of fabric to sew, beads to turn into jewelry, and books to read, so if I can stay healthy, I have a chance of staying reasonably content.

Scott and I are still taking long walks outside; we feel that there isn't too much risk in that since we're not getting very close to other people.  Plus, it's important to try to maintain our  baseline level of health.  My gym has promised to post workouts we can do at home, and I'll plan to do some of those exercises, too.

Wishing everyone good health and at least a tolerable stay at home!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Pandemic Daze: Wading Into Uncharted Waters

I'll admit I've been feeling a little uninspired to blog lately.  I just feel like there hasn't been much material because life has mostly been a cycle of classes, internship, household chores, and angst about looking for work.  If there is anything the covid-19 outbreak has brought us, however, it's a departure from the routine.  I've decided to write about pandemic life, not because I expect our situation to be particularly special or unique, but because this chaotic and uncertain situation is much different from other chaotic and uncertain situations I've experience previously, and I'd like to document at least some of it.

I feel like last week was when everything started to change for us.  Last weekend when we went grocery shopping, I wasn't particularly concerned, and didn't buy more than I normally would.  Then my university announced that classes would move to online after our spring break.  That's when I started to think that life really would be different for a while.  I made two (very uncharacteristic) mid-week grocery store runs and went again yesterday.  Some items had already been picked clean from the shelves.  I'm grateful for the amount of food, cleaning supplies, etc. that I normally keep around, and I'm glad I made two mid-week grocery runs when there was still more selection.

One thing that's been in the news recently is the toilet paper shortage.  I was lucky on that account, as well.  I normally order 24-roll packs from Target, and had already ordered one just in the natural course of things.  By the time I learned that there was a run on toilet paper, I had a large package of it en route to me.

As of now, the school where Scott teaches is closed to both teachers and students for two weeks.  It will be closed for students for two additional weeks after that, during which time I suspect they'll have online classes, although that hasn't been made clear.  One feature of having had only one snow day this year is that there is more flexibility for the schools to just give everyone some time off.

My university has decided that classes will be online through early May.  I have an internship (at a hospital!) for the clinical part of my requirements.  As of now, I'll still be going there, but I have a feeling that will probably change.  It'll be disappointing if I have to end the internship early, but I realize the pandemic has brought all sorts of disappointments, on top of the tragedy of so many people dying.

We've been trying to live a fairly normal life until we can't.  We took a long walk this afternoon.  The gym I joined this winter is still open (albeit with some additional precautions).  Assuming it's still open tomorrow, I'm planning to go get a workout.  I have a feeling we might all be spending a lot of time at home in the near future, but I haven't wanted to settle into that prematurely.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Do This, Don't Do That, Can't You Read The Sign?

Our apartment complex has an online forum where people can communicate with all the residents.  Usually people use this forum to try to sell things before moving out, but sometimes people use the forum to complain.  Over the past several months, there have been a number of complaints about people smoking marijuana, ranging from people being upset about the stench to actual respiratory problems that are exacerbated by smoke of any kind.  We've been fortunate that none of our immediate neighbors seem to be marijuana smokers, but I do believe this is a problem since I've smelled marijuana in the courtyard.

Anyway, our complex's management--ever cognizant of their role in making the community a pleasant place to live--took immediate action!  Clearly, this sign was what the U.S. war on drugs has been missing all these decades:

Honestly, this sign made me laugh when I first saw it.  Throughout all the years--and all the permutations of marijuana laws in different locations--I have never actually seen a marijuana leaf crossed out on a sign.  Also, I would have thought that the "no smoking" and the crossed out cigarette would by default imply that one is also not allowed to smoke joints.  Or are they also trying to prevent people from eating marijuana brownies in the stairwell for fear of the crumbs fueling an army of well-fed, high mice?

It occurred to me that I don't envy the leasing agents who are taking people on tours of this building while these signs are decorating every door to the stairs.  I'm not sure I would have rushed to sign a lease if these signs had been up when I toured here four years ago.  At least in theory, though, I suppose that fewer no tenants might mean fewer pot smokers to pursue, and maybe that's the extent of their strategy. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Georgetown Glow

I'm several weeks delayed in actually posting these, but here are my pictures from Georgetown Glow!  Georgetown Glow is a free outdoor light art exhibit in Georgetown, and this year was its sixth year (and our second year going to see it).  It's a great excuse to take a walk outside and see something fun, and since it takes place around winter break, it's a good opportunity to enjoy Georgetown when it's not super crowded.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Different Kind Of Sewing Project

Wallaby joey pouches

For years, I've thought that out of the slew of issues I care about, climate change was at the top of my list.  However, like so many other people, I also hoped we had more time before we would start seeing the impact.  But the increase in severe weather-related events all over the world combined with a torrent of discouraging news from climate scientists have made me feel very pessimistic.  In recent horrible events, it appears that climate change has at the least contributed to the severity of Australia's bush fires with high temperatures and prolonged droughts.

There has been a good deal of media coverage of the suffering caused by these fires, including the toll on Australia's wild animals.  So when I received an email from Mood Fabrics describing a project to make pouches for rescued kangaroo and wallaby joeys, I decided to contribute.  You can read about it here; I decided to use Piccolo Studio's free tutorial and downloadable pattern.  As anyone who sews can attest, it is not uncommon to have a healthy stash of perfectly nice fabric that is languishing for any number of reasons, often because the pieces are too small to make a garment out of but too large to throw away.  In the spirit of sustainability (and decluttering my home) I used some of these fabrics, and feel that they were put to very good use.

To keep things relatively simple and to squeeze out more pouches from my selection of fabrics, I opted to make the smaller wallaby joey pouches instead of the kangaroo ones.  All five pouches I made are lined in flannel.  The blue one in the picture that doesn't have a scooped front is intended to be a night pouch that will be harder for the joey to peek out of while he/she is sleeping.

I'll send these off today to the person who is collecting them to send to Australia.  I hope they'll be useful.  And I fervently hope that we can all collectively take action to rein in these changes in our climate that are contributing to so much misery.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

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

My fourth semester of Grad School 2.0 is finished!  This makes me 80% of the way done, which truly feels exhilarating, especially when I remember how demoralized I felt after fall semester last year, which was possibly the busiest time of my adult life.

This semester has its share of ups and downs.  Academically, things were easier this semester than fall or spring semester of last year.  I think that's mostly because I had fewer total classes.  Internship was a mixed bag.  I was at two sites that were a very long commute from home.  One site had a population I was more interested in, but a weird, passive aggressive supervisor.  The other one had a great supervisor but a population I knew wouldn't be my first choice to work with professionally.  But, it's done, and I have an internship I'm very excited about for next semester (adult outpatient). 

Oh, and that class I had to retake from last semester?  I got an A this semester!  I requested permission to take it at another institution.  This turned out to be a very good move. Not only did I get a better grade, but I learned more and had a more pleasant experience than I had had in any of these subject's classes at my home institution.  The only downside was having to pay tuition to an additional university, but at this point, I feel it was money very well spent.

I don't have too many lessons to share from this semester, but here's what I can think of:
1.  Don't be afraid to advocate to do something unusual.  I'm thinking specifically of requesting to take a class at another university here.  Sometimes you have to use your hard-earned life experience and realize when something just isn't working out.  The worst that can happen is that someone can say no, but even then, making a request sometimes alerts someone to a problem.
2.  Even if you're an independent adult, you may need someone's help to clear an obstacle.  This lesson is a tough one for me, largely because I think it's risky to rely on other people to help you.  But grad school is full of trying (and sometimes unfair) experiences just like anything else.  And personally, I feel like I have had way fewer cards to play as a student than I have at most jobs.  This semester, I had two notable instances of receiving help to clear obstacles.  One came from a professor helping advance my case to take a course at another university after I initially encountered resistance.  Another came from another person helping to make sure that my less-than-stellar internship supervisor from this semester didn't completely gum up the works for me (there is way more to that story than I want to rehash here).  I think all the usual common sense applies here about choosing your battles and not creating needless drama with people.  But I also think that most programs want people to graduate in a timely fashion, so if you look like you're on a good trajectory to do that, people will often help pave the way for you.
3.  Academic programs are (generally) finite.  I say "generally" because some doctoral programs seem to magically expand every time a student appears to approach the end.  But most other degree and certificate programs are intended to be for a fixed period of time.  And time always passes, so if you can just keep yourself going, you'll get there.  Generally speaking, partially completed degrees or certificates won't do much for you professionally, so I think it's usually worth trying to finish unless you've had a complete change of heart about what you want to do, the amount of money you'll spend trying to finish isn't worth the eventual reward, or you have extenuating life circumstances that make it impossible to finish.

Wish me luck!  If all goes well, I'll be writing my last ever of this series of posts in May.