If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cat Fight

Sometime early this morning (around 0'dark thirty) b and I heard a cat fight going on outside of our house. Since TOC (a) lives most of her life outside and (b) is hated by every other living cat on the planet, it is not unusual to hear her screaming for her life when another cat invades our yard. As is the normal custom, b and Pupzilla got out of their respective beds and raced to the backdoor. Pupzilla loves a good cat fight and, although she normally doesn't notice TOC is alive, she is more than happy to rush out and defend her against the neighborhood toughs. However this morning the fight was (a) not in the backyard and (b) did not include TOC. b came back to bed and reported that the orange tabby (toughest of the neighborhood cats) and some unknown grey cat were in the feline version of the Mexican stand-off on the front lawn. Both he and Pupzilla proceeded to fall back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, lay awake in bed (normally it is b who can't return to sleep so this morning was unusual on many fronts). As I lay there, I started thinking about a problem I am having with a grant application. It is one of those good problems. I am currently writing a medium-sized NIH grant that is designed to solve a problem (Solution Grant). The solution to the problem is based on a theory that I have been slowly developing for the past few years. In addition to wanting to solve the problem I also want to understand the application of the theory to the problem, and I am particularly interested in how the theory works across time. To do this I would need to write (and eventually get) another grant (Theoretical Grant). Last month there was a call out for an internal award for faculty who want to write a grant application over the summer. It is not a lot of money but it certainly would be helpful to get summer pay to write this grant. So I submitted a very brief outline of my idea for Theoretical Grant. I honestly thought I didn't have a chance (they were only choosing 2 faculty members) but I figured it couldn't hurt to apply. Much to my surprise I got the award.

Now I have to respond on whether I will accept the funding and while that may seem like a n0-brainer, it comes with a few stipulations. The most troublesome stipulation is that I would need to submit Theoretical Grant by the end of the fall semester. I know how to do almost all aspects of the study in Solution Grant and for the parts I don't know how to do I have collaborators who have expertise in those areas. I also have a strong background in designing and implementing solutions but I am not as strong in studying change over time. The study design for Theoretical Grant would call for some very sophisticated statistical analyses and I don't have any collaborators who are experts in what I would need to answer my questions. So before I could even really get started I would need to identify and then assemble a new team. While this is quite doable it does take time and I still do have to get Solution Grant submitted. I am hesitant to commit to the stipulation since there is a good chance it could take me until the spring semester to get a competitive application together.

So as I was lying in the dark thinking about this dilemma, it occurred to me that I had left something out of my theoretical model. It was one of those flashes of insight that occur when you turn your attention slightly away from the problem-at-hand. You see I had just spent two days working on Solution Grant, where I describe intervening on three levels of a unit but my model only accounts for two levels. Once it clicked the discrepancy was completely obvious but neither myself nor my collaborators had caught it in the grant. By trying to think through what I would need for Theoretical Grant I stumbled upon an important problem in Solution Grant.

Eventually I got up and started working through the model and I am very happy with the progress I made and I am more excited about the direction of my research than ever before. I really want to tackle both issues: solution and change in the theory over time, as they do and should go hand-in-hand. I must admit Theoretical Grant is a little scary but there is no way around the doing of it. I just have to march straight through it. And I will have no better opportunity to devote time to it than the one being given to me this summer. I will do everything within my power to make the fall semester deadline but if it ends up being the spring semester than so be it. Ultimately I have to believe my university will understand it is more important to get it right than to get it in on time and I will have submitted Solution grant by then, so that should count for something.

The long and short of it is (a) I've decided to accept the funding and go full steam ahead with both applications and (b) I'm so excited by this model that I'm willing to put other projects that I have brewing in my research portfolio on hold in order to pursue it.

After working for several hours, it was time to for b and I to go to the store for dinner fixins'. As we walked outside of the house I saw what looked like a significant amount of grey fur in front of the steps. While I feel bad for the mysterious new kitty that succumbed to the wrath of the orange tabby, that cat fight did me a world of good.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

RBOC: 2nd Half of Spring Semester Edition

  • I think the 2nd half of spring semester (after Spring Break and before Summer Break) is my least favorite time in the academic calendar.
  • Everyone spends these weeks trying to cram in whatever they haven't accomplished all year.
  • Normally I'm looking forward to Graduation because I know that once its over there's nothing happening but my research all summer long. This year, however, I've committed to a two-week long assessment workshop. This will mean 10 full days in a room with a small number of faculty working on assessment and grading issues. Luckily I am being well paid for the task and one of my favorite colleagues will be right there beside me.
  • While there is always student drama going on, there seems to be an abundance in my department at the moment.
  • Last week a professor in another department suffered a fatal heart attack while having lunch with a colleague at an establishment on campus. I learned about this from a friend in that department while I was observing her class. As you can imagine she and her colleagues are extremely shaken by this event.
  • This is the time in the semester where there are a number of interesting invited speaker presentations and panels to attend. I sat through one this morning and will attend another on Thursday. I love academia for opportunities like this but hate that no matter when they come, they come at a bad time.
  • There is no good time in academia.
  • The students seem chipper these days. I attribute that to the spring weather.
  • There seems to be a campus-wide game being played that involves orange bandanas and large Nerf guns. I asked my students about it tonight and was told the orange-clad are Humans and the green-clad (I hadn't recognized them, but maybe I was attributing it to leftover St Paddy's Day) are Zombies. It seems the point of the game is to completely zombify the campus in a week.
  • The only class I'm teaching this semester is my favorite class to teach. It is a class where I cover a lot of really sensitive subjects and I work hard on developing trust and setting the right tone for discussions. Tonight's subject is one of the most polarizing topics in our country. I've taught this subject several times without a problem but tonight one of my students was visibly upset. I know it ended fine but this is going to bother me for a while.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Sunday In The Park With Pupzilla

b left this morning on a 4-day bike trip with some friends. I took advantage of his absence and did some more spring cleaning/house re-arranging. After all that work I decided to take Pupzilla for a walk in the park. Here it is in pictures:

On the way to the park we noticed this exquisite dragon.

Then we took a brief stop on a stone bridge over a creek.

Before we made it to the park, Pupzilla had to stop and take a refreshing break.

The park has really big wind chimes.

Pupzilla contemplated another creek but didn't go in.

We made time to notice the start of spring.

We took a different way home and saw this sculpture in someone's front yard.

We also saw a cat who wasn't happy to see us.

Back at home we appreciated the taste of spring on our own front lawn.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Empty Nest: A Look Back

Over the years I’ve found different ways to take stock of myself and my life. Recently I found an old excel spreadsheet (yeah I’m that much of a nerd that I do my soul-searching on spreadsheets) where I listed all of the roles I perform and than kept track of what I was doing in each role and how I felt about it. I kept this up from Oct 2006 (shortly after we moved to SouthLite) until May 2008. There are 7 entries total.

The roles I chose were: Physical Body, Mother, Wife, Researcher, Teacher, Mentor, Citizen at Work, Citizen of the World, Pet Owner, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Learner. Reading through the Mother Role entries made me realize just how long this empty nest process really has been.

October 2006
What I’m Doing
Nagging Angel about homework. Getting him up in the morning. Taking him on school tours. Trying to stay on top of applications. Trying to be there to talk to him about life, politics, relationships and school stress. Trying to enjoy him. Mostly trying to let him go.
How I’m Feeling
Conflicted. Proud of him, exasperated, exhausted with the process. I want him to go to college and I don’t want him to leave. But I also want a life that is free of daily childcare.

December 2006
What I’m Doing
Mostly focused on getting applications out. Talking to Angel about writing a lot, also about poetry, which is cool. Issues with his dad keep coming up and I try to let them happen when he wants them to but not to harp on them. Trying to reassure him that he’s worth us spending money on (i.e. his birthday).
How I’m Feeling
I am still looking forward to his leaving and dreading it. Some days I think it is never going to happen. Feel like I’m getting caught in the middle between him and b and don’t like it at all.

February 2007
What I’m Doing
Finished with applications for Angel, now I need to concentrate on financial aid. Talking and joking with him. Trying to let him know he’s ready to go.
How I’m Feeling
Good. Enjoying him. I’ve very relived that he’s been accepted to TeenyTinyExpensiveU. A little worried about his math grade but not overly. Worried about paying for college but I know I’ll figure it out.

March 2007
What I’m Doing
Trying to figure out how to pay for college and/or tell Angel that he can’t go to TeenyTinyExpensiveU. He’s off to Delaware and I’m glad he took that independent step. I nagged him to call his dad last week.
How I’m Feeling
Feel bad about forcing him to call his dad but also feel bad that he doesn’t. Feel horrible about not having the money for college and really horrible that his dad is being such a @%$. I hate to disappoint Angel and I know ultimately that he’ll be ok but I really want him to have this college experience and its not looking like I can do it for him. I feel like I’ve built up his dreams only to crush them.

August 2007
What I’m Doing
Helping Angel to get a job and prepare for independence; being supportive and available for discussions; nagging a bit; trying to get him out of the house and involved in activities and people.
How I’m Feeling
Feeling more positive. I think I’ve resolved a lot of the ambivalence around his deferment. Trying not to get exasperated with his manner of looking for work and his sleeping late. Trying to see all the positives he does and is. Striving for balance in terms of boundaries and roles.

November 2007
What I’m Doing
Mostly staying out of his way. Letting him set his work schedule, encouraging him to take on more responsibilities like his own banking. Not saying anything when he makes plans to go to HomeTown for his 18th birthday.
How I’m Feeling
Sad. Thinking a lot about motherhood because of project analysis. Anticipating how hard it will be when he goes to college next year. Missing little boy Angel. Fantasizing about being a grandmother one day. But also proud of him and enjoying him for the man he has become.

May 2008
What I’m Doing
Trying to plan a trip to Hometown with Angel and a trip to the beach. Talking with him and giving advice, when he wants it, on school and life. Trying to enjoy him but also be comfortable with him leaving. We go on walks together and hang out in the kitchen mostly. We go out to eat quite a bit too. I’ve allowed him to keep beer in the house and we’re trying to teach him how to drink responsibly.
How I’m Feeling
Very mixed. I’m proud of him for the hard work he’s doing and how well he does at work. I’m happy that he wants to go to college but I still worry that it will be hard for him and he’ll get discouraged. I got used to him being busy and unavailable all the time and now he wants to hang more. It seems like he’ll be around a lot this summer which I’ll enjoy but then it will make it harder to let him go. Overall I trust him and I know he’ll be fine but I also know when he comes back it won’t be the same.

I’m writing this from my bedroom, which is now the room that used to be his. Across the hall, our old bedroom has become my study. These 7 entries represent two full years of pre-empty nest emotion. I don’t need to read old posts to remember the extreme pain I went through when he finally did go away. It is only just now, two years into his college education, that I’m beginning to enjoy the child-free life I imagined back then.

The two years prior to him leaving and the two years since he’s been gone have been a nonstop balancing act. I have balanced my desire to hold on with his need to leave; I’ve balanced being there when he needs me with evaporating when he doesn’t; and I have balanced teaching and pushing him with letting him figure things out his own way and in his own time. It has not been easy. It has not been fun. And I know it is not yet over, but it is better.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Road Trip

b and I love a good road trip. I get the passenger seat and, now that we own a GPS, I don't even have the responsibility of navigating.
As long as it isn't too cold, I take my shoes off and get comfy.

I've been known to grade papers on a long drive and sometimes I'll crochet but mostly I let my mind wander.
The borders were all I accomplished on this trip.

Eventually they will be added to finish this blanket.*

This weekend we took a shortish road trip down to see Pumpkin in her new digs. This was b's first visit and Pumpkin was very excited. She told me she had a surprise for me that I would really really like. Lo and behold she was right.

My Favorite Tea-Recently Discontinued**

On the way back we stopped and bought a few bookshelves for the new office. b put them together once we got home.

The Brute approves.

*I started this blanket when Angel was in high school. It was supposed to go with him to college. Now I'm thinking it will be a graduation gift.

**Regular readers may remember that I was desperately looking for this tea, the only tea to truly make me happy, only to find it was discontinued. This may be the last box left in existence.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fine and Mellow

It is Day Four of my official spring break and the Unravelling course. Today I didn’t take any pictures. Instead I went to both a tai chi and a yoga class. In between I worked on my grant.

I learned something really cool in tai chi. It is a two-person exercise and I think I’ll need to teach it to b so I have someone to practice with.

Working on the grant actually felt good today. I’m resolved to going slow and letting it happen. I am really enjoying Scrivener. It may be the new software winner for me (although I’m writing this post on MacJournal hoping to realize its merits). Scrivener is very versatile. It has all of the regular features I use in a word processor plus some really cool organizational tricks. I particularly like how it can break up and regroup text so you can focus in on a section at a time. It also exports very nicely to other systems so you can share your work (something that is crucial in academia). I also appreciate the 30-day trial that only counts the days you actually use the software. I highly recommend giving it a spin, if you are a Mac user.

Yoga was a lot of fun. After the great tai chi class, I wasn’t feeling another class and since I was getting good work done on the grant I was very tempted to forgo it entirely. However it was my favorite teacher and I hate to miss her classes. I went and was not disappointed. We worked on a lot of chest-opening and deep breathing exercises and I even managed to do a 90 degree, pre-handstand with a partner (the handstand-ready postures freak me out a bit and I’m a very long way off from ever doing an actual handstand). By the time I picked b up from work I was in a very fine and mellow place.

The highlight of my day, however, was getting an off-the-cuff call from Angel. He is having a fabulous time in Florida on his spring break. He has managed to stay out of trouble, enjoy time with his friends, and stay (mostly) within budget. He sounded so happy and pleased with himself that it just made my day.

Tomorrow b and I are off to visit Pumpkin for the weekend. She is very excited that we are coming and we are thrilled to spend some time with her and BB (who is flying in from his own spring break). Maybe I’ll take some pictures.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


This little guy flew into the gear room this morning while I was making eggs. It took him a while to find his way out but after butting his head into the window repeatedly, he finally figured out he needed to turn around and head out from whence he came. Goes to show, sometimes the best thing to do is to retreat.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day Two

Phase I of RHP is complete. Our bedroom is now in Angel’s old room and our old bedroom has been transformed into a study. Phase II involves purchasing bookcases for the study so all of my books are currently in piles on the living room floor. I am looking forward to Phase III, where I get to rearrange all my books in said bookcases. The purchasing will occur on our drive home from visiting Pumpkin this weekend. The trip takes us right past a certain store.

Unfortunately the couch would not fit in the new study so Pupzilla will no longer be able to sleep by my side as I work. b says we can buy her a 2nd doggie bed, so she’ll have one in the bedroom and one in the study. Keeping the couch in the living room also means I don’t get my dream of transforming that room completely into a gym but sometimes a girl has to compromise.

Overall we have a lot more space although we still have objects without a home. I think the bookcases will help but there may be another piece of furniture that will need to be purchased. I just haven’t figured out exactly what it is. The laundry/storage room is now filled with stuff for Angel to take and I believe we’re going to have to rent him a van. Once that happens, b can transform that room into an indoor gear room/laundry room (he already has an outdoor gear room...he has a lot of gear). That will be the final phase, Phase V. Phase IV is the phase I’m really NOT looking forward to--the phase where I need to sort out all of the drawers and bins and going through papers and bills and old clothes. However I know I’ll feel good when it is all purged and organized.

On Day Two I also managed to take a few pictures for Unravelling. I’ve posted a few below. Once again, I DID NOT work on my grant (or do any other work-related work) but tomorrow I will be doing so in my new study.

My New Love on my Cleaned-Up Nightstand

Now I Can See the Backyard from My Bedroom

Cleaning Out My Closet I Remembered How Much I Love My Keens

Monday, March 8, 2010

Day One

Day One of Spring Break and the House Reorganization Project (RHP) was quite the success. It was a beautiful sunny day here in SouthLite; nice enough I could open the windows and drive The Brute a little crazy. I DID NOT work on my grant at all. This may seem like a bad thing (and in the long run may end up being a problem) but it felt very good. I DID get a lot of work done on the house and once b came home gobs more got accomplished. We should be able to finish the heavy lifting stuff before he heads back to work tomorrow afternoon. It seems b hates having projects drag on, so if I can get him started he’s pretty much a machine until its done.

Today was also Day One of Unravelling. It is turning out to be loads of fun but not at all productive. I could literally spend all day reading everyone’s blogs and keeping up-to-date on the discussions. The group is quite impressive. I’m seeing some really beautiful and creative spaces and I would be intimidated except everyone is so genuine and obviously excited to be taking the class. Since It was gorgeous out today I thought it would be smart to take my camera and Pupzilla for a nice long walk. Unfortunately the batteries in my camera were dead and Pupzilla could barely make it to the store and back. It seems the winter has been hard on our old pup and getting her back in shape may be another project.

I’ve also been playing with my new laptop all day. It is hard to keep my hands off of it, no matter how beautiful it is outside. Just having a screen that I can see and doesn’t flicker constantly is a gift. I’ve also been downloading and trying out some new software. I’m using MacJournal for this post and not sure yet how much I like it. Between work and blogging, I spend a lot of time writing on the computer. I’d like to have some tools that make it a little more comfortable. I’m just not sure which ones I like yet. I’m trying Scrivener (taking the advice of the lovely Susannah) and I’ve downloaded the trial version of Nisus. Scrivener seems interesting but Nisus seems less impressive. Ommwriter (another Susannah suggestion) is a lot of fun but a little limited. Anyone out there using something they absolutely love?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

RBOC: Spring Break Edition

  • b and I had a truly lovely time on our anniversary weekend. We ate great meals, saw a fun play (Around the World in 80 Days), and enjoyed each other's company. Perhaps there was a wee bit too much drinking and b was fighting a cold throughout the festivities, but it felt both relaxing and invigorating to indulge ourselves for a while.
  • I'm still working on that grant that I just can't get out the door. Grant revisions are a huge project for spring break.
  • Another project for spring break is the bedroom swap/new study-library with a little bit of spring cleaning thrown in. I am finally going to buy a new bookcase (or two) so my books can have a home.
  • Most exciting however, is that the Unravelling e-course that I signed up for (see nifty logo on the sidebar) officially starts tomorrow. Susannah Conway is the mastermind behind Unravelling and we are all excited to see exactly what she has in store for the course. Today everyone received access to the site and there has been a flurry of introductions and twitter followings. We are a large group (I'm not sure what our final numbers will be but as I type this 62 have already identified themselves on the site) and we span the globe. Welcome to all my fellow Unravellers. I'm looking forward to getting to know you all.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sitting Pretty

It is 3:45 pm and I'm sitting in SouthLite's swankiest hotel with a tequila by my side and my brand new MacBook Pro in my lap. Champagne is chilling. b and I have dinner reservations at one of the fanciest restaurants in town and will be meeting friends there for drinks before dinner. Tomorrow we have a matinee show followed by another fabulous dinner and night in the hotel (which is also one of the greenest hotels in the country). Anniversary weekend (and spring break) has officially begun and not a moment too soon as this morning was rather hellish at work.

I'll see you all on the other side.