Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour, tonight Saturday March 29

The second annual observance of Earth Hour, is scheduled world wide for 8 to 9 PM tonight (local time, not simultaneously), Saturday March 29. Cities, communities, corporations, and individuals around to globe are being asked to voluntarily turn off all the lights, TV, stereos, computers, microwaves, and other electricity consuming accouterments of modern life for one hour.

The idea is for each city/community to cut the power at their own time zone's 8:00 PM, so that there is an effect of rolling darkness following the setting sun.

The first Earth Hour in 2007 was a project of the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald. More information is available at the Earth Hour - North America web page and The Daily Kos (where there are some nice comments about thing people might do instead). .

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

distorted personal images

Much has been written about how women in the last several decades have developed highly distorted self-images, images that lead them to engage in destructive behaviors like anorexia and bulemia. But some men suffer from the same types of body image distortions.

My husband, who was overweight for the first ten years of our marriage, became a vegetarian for personal, ethical and religious reasons rather than health reasons about four years ago, and began to slowly lose weight. Then in the last couple of years to return to the activities of his adolescence and youth -- especially distance running. The pounds just slid off of him. He is now quite fit and slim, but continues to have this self image as a "fat tub of goo."

skinny johnHere's a picture taken today, with him wearing a t-shirt about three sizes too big, and warm-up pants at least one size too big because I can't get him to buy new clothes that fit. Surely any reasonable person would agree that this is a person who is fit not fat!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

life changes

My mother called this morning to say that she had finally made the big decision; the one that has been hanging over her for about a year now. It is time for she and my father to move into some type of assisted living/nursing home situation. My mother will be 85 this coming Thursday, my dad turned 96 in December.

this photo is at least three years old

It is good that she has made this decision on her own, out of her own realization that managing my father and the household is too much for her. I feel a mixture of guilt and sadness that I cannot do much to help her (and my brother) to deal with finding the right place to move to or to help with selling or disposing of all the household contents. I know she wishes that I would take some of their things, but the combination of distance (2500 miles), cost, and the fact that our home is already overflowing with too much stuff that we don't really need, makes that infeasible.

All I can do is listen to her when she needs to talk; thank goodness for inexpensive long distance telephone service.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

down the rabbit hole

There's this thing that I do -- that I'm sure many other people do -- that I call "falling down the rabbit hole." It's where I get on-line with the express purpose of working (doing something with my on-line classes), but I decide to check on one blog before I get to work. That one blog has an interesting post that begs to be commented upon, so I comment. And I read all the other comments; some of which are fascinating and insightful. Which requires that I follow the links to that person's blog and check out their postings, and often make comments on those. Every time I do this I discover new and wonderful blogs, learn really interesting facts (especially about climate change), get to read great poetry, see beautiful photographs, listen to wonderful songs.

Next thing I know it's six hours later, I haven't done any work, I haven't gone to the grocery store, and it's pouring rain outside. I feel like Alice, emerging from some alternative universe.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"...dances with the daffodils"

Green Winds of March

Damp, rough winds
force bare limbed trees to dance,
and daffodils in sweeping bows;
yellow forsythia fingers spell greetings,
while green winds scour winter cobwebs
from my soul.

It is that moment in spring, the moment when the only thing that is blooming is the daffodils, bright yellow and cheerful. It is the moment when the trees are all still bare, and the grass has not yet fully greened.

While there are some wild narcissus found in various parts of the world. Most of the daffodils we see are cultivars, domesticated plants. Which makes their presence in so many odd corners of the spring such an interesting delight and mystery. Who planted those little clumps of hillside deliciousness that punctuate my mountain journeys? They hide on banks, amidst the dead grasses, beneath the trees, beside driveways. Tiny pockets of yellow splendor.

Daffodils or narcissus (the formal name of the species) are a very old garden plant, immortalized in Greek mythology. The Cream Narcissus (Narcissus tazetta) is considered the oldest cultivated narcissus, going back to ancient Egypt and Greece. [photo of the Cream Narcissus is from

I don't remember seeing daffodils while I was growing up in California. If I did they did not make much of an impression on me. My first memory of daffodils is quite intense and comes from freshman year at Oberlin College, in northern Ohio. It was the first time I ever truly experienced winter. Until one has experienced a genuine winter, spring simply does not have the same meaning, the same intensity. When roses grow over your doorway year round, passage of the seasons has little impact. So I view spring 1970 as my "first" spring; and I noticed everything! The daffodils, the forsythia, even the yellow dandelions, made indelible impressions. The local grocery store in Oberlin, contracted with local farmers who planted daffodils between their cornfields, and offered fistfuls of daffodils for 50 cents a bunch. After the dreariness of winter, I filled my dormitory room with fragrant yellow clouds. This became a tradition for me each spring I was in college.

When I went to graduate school in Lexington (University of Kentucky) there were no ready sources of daffodils to purchase in spring. So I entered into a period of time when I became a daffodil thief. At UK, daffodil blooming generally coincided with spring break. All the fraternity houses that lined the block near graduate housing had huge beds of daffodils. The students would all leave during spring break (probably heading towards Florida beaches), and after night fall I would sneak around the fraternities with a sharp knife and a plastic bag and gather a couple of dozen yellow blooms to decorate my apartment

One of the things that I liked the best about my first full-time teaching job at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown was that daffodils had been planted throughout the campus. This is one of my favorite photos. I painted a mural on a wall in the office complex I shared with several other faculty based on this photo. It hurt to leave it behind when I failed to get tenure.

persistence of vision 2

The problem with being able to see better is that sometimes you see things you wish you hadn't.

Today I had to drive 30 miles to my college's main campus in Harlan County. As i started to come down from the crest of Pine Mountain and looked off into the distance my improved vision allowed me to see the several mile long gouge being taken out of the mountains for one enormous strip mine.

I've been aware that the mine was there for the last couple of years, but I could never really see clearly the devastation that it was producing. Now I can see it, and it's heartbreaking.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

the persistence of vision

When I was a child I had poor distance vision, that probably accounted for some of the problems I had in school for some time before my parents realized I had a problem. One day when I was ten, we were on a hike, and my father pointed out a old dilapidated barn in the distance across the fields. Except, my response was "what barn?" I literally could not see it at all on the horizon. The first pair of glasses was miraculous -- I had no idea that one was suppose to be able to see individual leaves on the trees. The world was suddenly so sharp and clear. While I never forgot how it felt to suddenly see the world with clarity, I had never had the same feeling again -- until now.

Once you know what the world is suppose to look like the shift between no glasses and glasses becomes part of the "taken-for-granted" and can not surprise you, in the way I was surprised as a child. But once again I have experienced the miracle. While I knew I had cataracts, and was aware that they were affecting specific tasks -- like not being able to read road signs, and having trouble with working at the computer -- I had forgotten what the world as a whole was suppose to look like.

the artificial lens implanted during cataract surgery to my right eye has given me 20/20 distance vision in that eye. I had no idea that one was suppose to be able to see the individual branches on trees on the hillsides or the details of rock outcroppings on the mountain tops. Each morning that I drive to work is like a fresh miracle -- the world has so much detail that I forgotten!

Even the frustrations I've been having with near vision (reading computer screens, papers and books) as I wait between surgeries are a form of blessing. It's helped me walk a while in the shoes of some of my students. I now know what it is like to have someone thrust a paper in front of you that you simply cannot read. I appreciate their plight even more, as I recognize that their frustrations are permanent while mine are temporary. Once my left eye is operated on, inexpensive reading glasses will solve most of my problems.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Thanks to Chris (Panhandle Poet) I found this great site where you can test your typing.
73 words


Miss Dobby (typing freshman year San Mateo High School) would be very proud -- I couldn't come close to this back then, but then we were using manual typewriters!

on being home alone

Remember the iconic film of 1990 "Home Alone"? References to that film were so ubiquitous in the early 90's that I would have sworn that I had actually seen the movie. Turns out I had not. Being home alone (as long as you don't count 10 cats and one large and attention hogging dog) yesterday afternoon and last night I was looking for something to watch and ended up seeing "Home Alone" from beginning to end.

Until a few years ago, I often spent days, nights, even weeks alone while my husband took care of his parents, and especially his mom after his dad died. I had lived alone for most of my adult life (we didn't marry until I was 43), so spending time alone after I was married was no hard ship, and often desirable. One year (one actual 12 month period) my husband went back to graduate school in Knoxville (which was near his mom)and came home perhaps three weeks in that whole time. That was not fun, and it severely stress our marriage, but we recovered.

Then four years ago his mom, who was very ill the last few years of her life, died. Suddenly he was home all the time, for the first time in our marriage. That took some adjustment, but it was a good adjustment. For the past four years, I've gotten used to him always being here. I'd go away for a few nights on work related travel, but John would always be here.

However, this morning John had a 5 K race at 8 am in Greeneville, TN (his home town) a two and a half hour drive, and a snow storm was called for in the early morning hours. Se we packed him off yesterday, so he could get a good nights sleep and avoid dangerous travel. It paid off -- he came in first in his age group (40-45), his first "first" since he started running seriously again last year (check out his blog).

It was odd being home alone again. I must say that I reverted to some bad behaviors. Even with piles of work to get accomplished before Spring break ends tomorrow, I curled up and watched TV (and ate ice cream) for most of the afternoon and evening. All I managed to accomplish was getting some recycling out to the curb and washing a few loads of clothes. Thinking about it, I think I've always been more productive (work-wise) when John is with me than he is not, and more productive since our marriage than before it. Being home alone is okay on occasion, but not as a regular diet.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


"slightly more efficient than I previously was..." (from Dunkin Donuts coffee ad)

So I sit here drinking my Dunkin Donuts decaf -- good stuff! I don't drink coffee often these days, and when I do it's mostly a cup that's half low fat milk with decaf. I love the smell and taste of coffee, but had to give up the caffeine years ago for several health reasons. The more humorous of which was that I couldn't drive the full 13 miles to work without stopping to pee after my typical 20 oz mug of coffee -- talk about an overactive bladder! More serious were issues of blood pressure, migraines and heart arrhythmia.

Until I was 24 I didn't drink coffee. Got through all four years of college without even a sip. Every time someone offered me a cup, I turned them down saying "no, I hate coffee." It never occurred to me during those years, that it was rather odd to "hate" something one could never remember drinking.

Since I hung out in college with a whole bunch of tea drinkers (Anglophiles and Asian heritage folks) I did not stick out. The breakfast ritual among my friends at the Asia House dining room was reading the sayings from our Salada tea bag tags -- sort of like Chinese fortune cookies.

After six months in graduate school surrounded by coffee drinkers, I decided that I needed to learn to drink coffee for social purposes. The moment of decision came in a Lexington bar at midnight, when the bartender (a friend and fellow grad student) informed me that if I wanted caffeine instead of liquor my only choice was coffee. So I bit the bullet and ordered coffee (with lots of cream and sugar). At the very first sip a long buried memory emerged (rather like Proust)-- and the answer to the puzzle of why I "hated" coffee.

When I was four years old, on a very chilly family camping trip through Oregon and Washington, my parents ran out of hot cocoa. They then made a strategic error. Rather than tell me that there was no more cocoa, and ask if I'd like to try some coffee, they put lots of milk and sugar in the coffee and pretended it was cocoa. So I gulped it down, gagged mightily, threw up, and only then did they tell me it was coffee. Immediate reflexive hatred of coffee.

Once the memory became conscious rather than buried, my hatred of coffee vanished, and I joined the vast ranks of coffee drinkers.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

cat matress

Watching the news with four cats (james, oscar, tigger and pepper) in my lap and one on top my head (nino).

A really good way to get warmed up. I complain all winter long about how the cats sit on the vents and soak up all my expensive heat. On a really cold day, one can walk around the center of the house and all the vents (six of them) will have one or two cats sitting squarely on top. But then when evening comes, they pile on and give it all back.

spring break

To some people spring break means road trips to beaches or other exotic climes. Spring break means about the same thing to me as a professor as it did when I was a student -- time to get caught up on long term projects that get lost in the welter of week to week responsibilities. It has never really meant "vacation" to me, just a time to breathe a little more freely and get caught up.

However, I promised myself that I would at least spend some of the week outdoors. Yesterday was perfect. It was in the sixties by ten AM (got into the low seventies by late afternoon). So Rosie dog and I spent most of the morning in the yard. I did the heavy lifting and she did the supervision. [She had to make sure that I wasn't eaten by the rake which she is convinced has evil designs on us.]

A while back my husband used his GPS device to map out a quarter mile course through our neighborhood, about a third of which runs around our own yard. He uses it both for running and for vigorous dog walking. With warmer temperatures and rain, parts of the track have gotten very muddy. This does not seem to bother either John or Rosie, but I'm not fond of the mud they track into the house.

My task yesterday was to haul bags of sand and gravel to some of the worst sections of the trail and lay down a 18" pathway. It was the most physical activity I've had in a long time -- I have both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis on top of asthma that is aggravated by cold weather -- and it really felt good to use all my major muscles and work up a sweat. I didn't cover a lot of ground, but I did get some of the very worst areas of the trail, and there was a lot less mud at the end of the day.

Afterwards Rosie and I sprawled for a while in the sun on the back patio and enjoyed the sensation of being almost too warm. There was lots of interesting bird activity to hear. One large black bird staked a claim at the top of the neighbors giant tulip poplar and announced himself to the world. Unfortunately the lovely bird sounds did have to compete with the sounds of the drag line and other heavy equipment on the strip mine on the other side of our hill.

Today it's raining (but still nice and warm), so I'm back at the computer. But at least I'm writing for myself instead of grading papers -- for the moment! Also I can enjoy the view from my home office window, which includes some hints of yellow forsythia just beginning to bloom on the opposite hillside.