Friday, August 21, 2015

Lists

You know, I'm the kind of person who doesn't normally need to write out lists. They just stay in my head, and I can access them that way. It often drives Rob to distraction, since he needs to write things down, but, for instance, when we travel I don't need a list of things to bring --I just think through it, and all the right items come up for me. I can't think of a trip where I've forgotten an item I needed to pack.

On the other hand, there are things that can easily overwhelm me and then I begin to feel like I'm drowning. This past week has felt a lot like that. 

Emma started high school Wednesday. On Monday she completely lost it, and was semi-hysterical about the prospect for most of the day. Much soothing-calming-mom-talk was necessary. On Tuesday she recovered her equilibrium and faced Wednesday morning in a fine mood. I, however, was on edge, and couldn't settle to anything that day. I went in to my office to work, and spent a scattered few hours getting a tiny bit done. 

Wednesday after school Emma was happy and pleased with her teachers. She scattered a bunch of forms that needed parental signatures on the kitchen table and happily trotted off to her bedroom to complete some homework for her AP History class.

Yesterday, (Thursday), she was sore and worn out by the time I picked her up. She has PE for her last hour, and they'd done some sort of high-step marching to warm up and she pulled a muscle in her thigh. Of course, it would never occur to her to say something about this to the teacher, so she just kept on, in pain. (And, weirdly and unfortunately, she has a sub for PE, since the school took quite a hit: one PE teacher left just before classes began for another job, and the football coach has been indicted on charges of possession of hydrocodone.) On top of that, she had a lot of homework to do. Biology, math, history, and her lit class. 

Hysterics came back --so much to do, and she was way over-tired. It's hard to switch back to an early-to-sleep, early-waking schedule. She retreated to her room and completed her biology and math homework. By the time I went upstairs for bed at 9:30, she was working on annotating a text for her lit class. Around 11 pm she woke me up, in semi-hysterics, to ask if I'd get her up early because she'd need to do the history homework in the morning.

By this morning, although she wasn't happy, she was at least functioning normally. After her shower, we worked together on annotating the history text because she needed more guidance on what it actually means to annotate a text. 
  --
 (Pet peeve/side note here: it was a rather dense article, copied out of a book with two book pages on each page, stapled together so you had to flip and turn and perform mental gymnastics to figure out which page came next, AND some of the text was cut off at the bottom of the page. Maybe it's just me, but I think that kind of reading experience makes it even harder to follow the argument. In this day and age, is it so hard to competently copy a text for students? I would sooner retype an article than give something like that to my students.)

After we finished that I dropped her off at school, which is luckily only a 5 minute drive. I say luckily because when I got home again, longing for my first cup of coffee, I noticed she'd left her lunch on the counter. 

Now normally, I'd just have her make do --she usually has a couple of bucks and could get something from a vending machine. However, she doesn't have lunch until 6th hour --yes, you read that right: 6th hour!! The penultimate hour of her school day is lunch. Then PE, then home. Also, she's never been good at eating in the mornings because she often feels nauseous. While we'd worked on her history homework, I hadn't even thought of suggesting she eat anything, so she had just headed into a long day without breakfast or lunch. 

So of course I headed back out and connected her with her lunch. 

To cope with my own feelings of being overwhelmed, I spent the day taking care of business. To be supportive of her being overwhelmed, I changed her sheets, made her bed, and did two loads of her laundry, including folding it and putting it away for her. I cleaned the kitchen, went grocery shopping and completed two more loads of laundry. Somehow getting the household in order makes me feel more like I'm on top of things. 

School went better for her today, and I plan to have a conversation over the weekend about helpful routines and habits, and being intentional about how she approaches each day. I know I need to do this for myself as I transition from summer into the semester, so I'm hoping she might find it helpful as well.

I'm sure many of you have been through versions of this week, and hey! you all survived, right? :-) Here's to hoping that next week is much, much, better!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New Jewelry

Months ago, I purchased two beautifully detailed polymer clay pendants. I finally finished one of the planned necklaces --this one is for my mom.

I have some "thank-you"s due to some people I met in the UK. One young woman likes bats :-)
 

The earrings were made with two kinds of lampwork beads, both made by Susan of Sue Beads.

That's the extent of my jewelry work this summer --not much to show for a whole summer!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Edinburgh Royal Botantic Gardens

This post doesn't require much text. I took so many photos, and Rob took hundreds more than I did :-) (Maybe after he retires he can make a book.) So I thought I'd just share my favorites. These first four were taken as we walked through the gardens along one of the main paths, aiming for the Rock Garden.




The Rock Garden was beautifully landscaped, and interesting because it was dryer than normal Edinburgh gardens. Emma is in the center of the photo just below, dressed all in black, so hard to see.

Aren't these the most amazing blue? A poppy of some kind, it looks like?


Just wandering through the main part of the garden to the Rock Garden, and then spending time photographing there, took about two hours. From there we headed to the Glass Houses. The two photos below are the main, and older, structure.

Beyond this glass house are many linked greenhouses, with two levels. Each one had a basic theme. The first one was fairly tropical.


I don't like this flower, but it seemed worth a photo, it's so weird.
The next greenhouse was my favorite, with this pond:
I was just so amazed at the size of those lily pads! Emma took this second photo, with it's more artsy composition. 

The next greenhouse was a fern forest, with species that would have coexisted with dinosaurs. 

 
After another hour of wandering the Glass Houses, my feet gave up. Emma and Rob ventured a bit farther, and then we all headed out, encountering this hedge on the way out. The UK is famous for its hedgerows, so it seemed very appropriate.


We managed to get back to the main buildings, up the stairs to the restaurant, and then enjoyed lunch looking out over the gardens. It would be amazing to have a place like this in town, to go wander whenever you had some free time. It's so big, there were lots of gardens we didn't see, so reason to return next time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Summer Living

We're back to cooking the Blue Apron meals now that we're home again.

Yesterday we had a soba noodle salad, which was awesome.
 
Photo from Blue Apron

I did make one substitution, based on comments made by others (Blue Apron has a great comment section on each recipe, and it's so helpful to read what worked or didn't for others before you cook the meal). The spice mix that came with this recipe included a ground szechuan pepper. In reading the comments under the recipe, I found out that this pepper is called "numbing pepper" in China because it makes your mouth tingly and numb. That didn't really appeal to us, so we substituted some sesame oil and sesame seeds in the miso/vinegar/soy-glaze dressing. With fresh corn, lightly sauteed with minced ginger, it was just fabulous. This was another one we shared with Emma, so we split it three ways instead of two. We all liked it so much I'm probably going to buy the ingredients and make it again.

Today I'll be making Fontina and basil grilled cheese sandwiches with an endive salad. And the last two weeks have included blue potatoes, which impressed Emma quite a bit (they are hard to find in grocery stores here).

There has been only one failure so far, a barley risotto. I thought this recipe contradicted itself --you were supposed to cook the barley until it was al dente, but risotta is supposed to be creamy and soft. Plus, who likes barley al dente? I love barley in soup, so I overcooked this and tried to eat it. It also had Romano beans in it, which are really big.
The size of the beans wasn't the problem; I cut them into bite-size pieces to add them to the risotto. However, some of them turned out to be woody, which I didn't realize until I was eating them. That turned me off to the meal, but it was also really flavorless. So after eating a bit of it, the rest was thrown out. It's the only meal that hasn't turned out well.


Summer has also included lots of pool time for me. When the water is really cold, I walk in the pool. Now that its warming up a bit I've been able to swim. I love this time of year, when I can be in the yard (in the pool) and hear the cicadas. There is something about their sound that tells my psyche it's high summer.

I've been the only person really using our pool, because Emma has been doing other things that usually involve her boyfriend. One of the things she's been working on is painting the bottom of a longboard as a birthday present for Drew. In addition to enjoying longboarding, she and Drew share a love of certain bands, one of which is Pink Floyd. Drew's favorite album is The Division Bell.


So Emma decided to buy him a plain wooden longboard and paint this cover on it. This involved sizing the image to fit, and then lots of careful taping and painting. But it turned out great, and by tomorrow they should be able to get the wheels and "trucks" (whatever they are) on it.
I was really impressed with her persistence on this project --it was not an easy thing to plan out or complete, but she figured it out and worked carefully.

I have also found time to make some jewelry, and listen to the newest Jason Isbel album. Ah, summer :-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Engineering Magic

I have to drive along a rural highway to get to the college (and it used to be the route to Emma's school). Its northern end (near our small town) is four-lane, and it's southern end (at Rockford) is four-lane, but the 8 miles in between were two-lane. The road was in bad shape and the traffic was frustrating, especially if you hit peak times (which, thankfully, was rare for me.) There was always some extremely slow driver you couldn't pass, just when you were feeling pinched for time. There were two busy cross streets without traffic lights with frequent accidents. And with only a tiny shoulder, and the wind galloping across the flat farm fields on the west side, there are often constant snow drifts across the lanes during the winter, no matter how often the plow went through.

A couple of years ago, the county found money to continue the four-lane highway from the southern end for about 4 miles. They actually made the four-lane highway alongside, and left the old road as an access road for the people who'd been struggling to turn out of their driveway on the too-busy two-lane version. I have some friends that are much more strident environmentalists than I am, and they were distressed that many trees were cut down to make way for the new road. After seeing an accident where a woman wrapped her car around a utility pole and it took an hour to extract her, I was fine with sacrificing trees to make that road safer. (Plus, the county promised to plant about 800 trees after everything was done, and they did, and spread wildflower seeds along the verges, and it's really beautiful in the summer.)

But I also found myself fascinated with the construction process. It must have been hell for some of the people living along the now-access-road, because of the noise and dirt, but for someone driving by each day, it offered such an education. I just had NO idea how much engineering must go into a project like this.

The machines that have been developed to grab a tree around its middle and then have two blades move toward each other to cut through it's trunk! The machines that then pick those trees up and line them up in piles like matchsticks. The enormous piles of mulch that were created, and the dirt that was transported from one place to another multiple times! Then came the machines whose sole purpose was to drive over that dirt, rough it up with a front-end attachment, and then roll it smooth and tamp it down with a back-end attachment. Imagine if your job involved just driving back and forth over the same four miles many times a day?

They had to fill up a small pond, and confine the creek next to it, then build a bridge over the creek. The main path where the two divided parts of the new highway would go became visible, as the lighter ag-lime was added, and more heavy trucks rolled over it to make sure it was well-compacted. Eventually they began to put down layers of asphalt, and create wide shoulders. 

Below is a Google Earth image of the area with the creek. This was near the end of construction, when one half was being used for the new traffic pattern, and they were finishing up the second half.

 Try as I might, though, I could not figure out how they were going to attach the new divided highway to the old part of the original road to the north. It just seemed that no matter what I could think of, it always required cars crossing over each others lanes, which was obviously not going to happen. Then they laid down various asphalt pieces and it was even more confusing. I'm not sure why they only did part of the road --money, or future planning, but here is a photo of where they finally tacked it back on to the old two-lane road. Look at that craziness! But it does work.
So now they are starting at the northern end, and making another section of the road into four-lanes. Here's what it started off as:
The trees on the right side of the road in the bottom half of this photo are now gone, and they seem to be working the earth on that side --it's almost like they have to knead it, to get it ready. I don't know how far south they're going --this short piece is up a fairly steep hill and obviously needs lots of prep work. A bit farther south and it's all farm fields, which is likely easier to massage into shape. 

There is a part of me that thinks I should be appalled --more trees gone! More asphalt! But honestly, it's like a guilty pleasure. I love to watch how they work their engineering magic to transform areas into something completely different. The stage is set for my commute when school starts up again in late August.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

It's Floral

I've been really enjoying my garden, now that I'm back. It didn't take too much to get it back under control, and because there was so much rain while we were gone, things have grown nicely.

We did recently have a rain that brought my cilantro down. I knew it would grow past harvest stage while we were gone, so my plan is to let it self-seed. But for that to happen, the flowers actually need to go to seed while over the bed, not lying on the mulch next to the bed. I've staked it back up, but in just a day of lying down, the flowers had all turned toward the Sun, and it looked like a waterfall of tiny white flowers.
The garden that I get to look out at when I'm at the kitchen sink has several different flowers I'm enjoying right now. Two are this combination of purple alium and a blue spiderwort. 
Next to this is the raised bed with strawberries around the edges, and this pink cleome that I planted from seed this spring. There are several more getting ready to bloom --hopefully they will also self-seed.
I have only one oriental lily left (I need new bulbs), with its heavenly scent. I was going to leave it in the garden, but then I noticed it on its side yesterday morning. I don't know if it had help (rabid rabbits, for instance), but it was snapped off low on the stem. So I was forced to bring it in. I hope the two remaining flowers will still open.


This afternoon Rob and I went back to the Nygren Wetlands, down the road from us, because it was his week to check the bluebird boxes along the trail. And it was gorgeous there too with lots of wild flowers in bloom, so I had to take some more flower photos.

The photos below are Wild Bergamot. The flower is very similar to Bee Balm (Monarda).
The Prairie Cinquefoil has such a buttery-yellow color.
This next one has a funny name, but it's a beautiful purple. It's called Hoary Vervain.
There was also plenty of yellow, one of which was Black Eyed Susan.
And then I caught a picture of Rob, standing in some of the flowers. He had to keep wandering off the mowed path to check the bluebird boxes, so he was often waist-deep in flowers, not a bad way to spend a warm July afternoon.
Ahhh . . . it's nice to be home :-)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Thoughts on Never Flying Again

Okay, maybe never is a bit of an exaggeration. But I certainly can't see flying anywhere that I can drive or take a train. (UK trains were great, it's a pity that in the US, cross-country trains are so exorbitantly expensive.)

Flying was the absolute worst part of the trip. I realize they were long flights (~8 hrs each), and that flying for a shorter period would be less difficult, but I still can't see myself doing it hardly ever. 

I flew frequently when I was in grad school, since I attended at least one professional conference a year, and they were mostly held in San Francisco or Texas (and I was in school in Michigan). I never minded it, I was often able to get a window seat, and the seats were relatively comfortable. Even in 1998, when Rob and I flew to Edinburgh, the plane ride was not uncomfortable. (There was the issue of changing planes in Laguardia, with two hours sitting on the tarmac. This was why we sprung for non-stop flights this time.) 

This experience was different. And I'm not talking about the increased security since 9/11. At O'Hare, the TSA agents were polite and efficient. Yes, we had to take off our shoes, but it really wasn't much of a disruption --certainly much less hassle than we were expecting. The same was true at Heathrow. The airports are big, and you have to do a lot of walking, or catching trams, but in general it wasn't at all difficult to figure out the signs and find your way. Whenever I was unsure, I looked around and was able to find some employee I could ask, and they were always helpful.

No, the difference in our experience really comes down to the fact that we were crammed like sardines into the plane. We are not a small family, obviously --I'm 5'10", Rob is 6'2", and Emma is 5'8". Rob has broad shoulders, and I have a middle-aged spread. So, flying might be easier if you're petite and thin. For us, however, there was no way to sit in our seats without being in constant physical contact (thankfully we know each other well), and my knees (I have the longest legs in the family) were in pain, smashed as they were against the seat in front of me. (And then the young woman in front of me leaned her seat all the way back. I know she's allowed, but I just couldn't do that to the person in back of me.) I felt more than slightly claustrophobic. 

So it will be a long time before I agree to fly again. Perhaps in 10 or 15 years, when Rob and I decide to rent a flat in Edinburgh for a month, sans a grown child, and just explore. And maybe we'll spring for first class seats :-)