Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Friends of 2008

For months now I've had a gratitude-style post rolling around in my head, waiting to be written. I can't think of a better time for it than the end of the year.

I've always been blessed by the company of nice people. I have no idea why people choose to let me hang around. I'm none of the things good company is supposed to be. In recent years, adding to my general blowhardness, lack of celebrity gossip, acute lack of awareness of how others around me are feeling and dearth of interesting stories, I can add creeping deafness to my list of reasons to not be my friend. Inexplicably, I nonetheless always seem to have interesting and kind people to talk to.

This year I have been blessed 100 times over the normal number. I want to acknowledge some of the new and/or rekindled relationships of 2008. Many of them came about through the internet, as you'll see, leading me to suspect that all the hype about the internet isolating us is a load of bullhockey. These are in absolutely no particular order.

Nancy is the parent of an Ultimate frisbee player on Annie's team. Nancy and I both went on a trip to Seattle (in the snow), and were the early rising parents, up and in the hotel breakfast room hours before anyone else. Because of this, I got to spend some quality time with this stranger, and enjoyed her company immensely. She cries even more easily and often than I do, and laughs at the same things. What fun to find someone like that by accident. She also turns out to be a whiz at finding an orthodontist who will handle emergencies. Nancy is hosting a teenage NYE party tonight, and I wish her all the best.

Laura is a Marathon Maniac (although she wasn't when I first met her). She is a fantastic running blogger based in New York...fantastic in that she's a fun writer to read, and fantastic in that she runs more than a little. The number of marathons she's put away this year amazes me. She's also been extremely kind (remember, she's a total stranger) in offering advice to Annie about Cornell University and to me about consulting as a career choice. Ya gots to love the internets.

David is probably the most unexpected find of the year. David was two years ahead of me in high school, and hung out with a few of the cool kids who later let me hang out with them. In other words, we barely passed in the halls. Somehow we ended up as friends on Facebook, and he now brightens my life almost daily. He is a great blogger, playwright, drama teacher, dad and husband to the exceedingly cool Erika. Over Christmas break, when he was offline, I have found myself frequently missing David's IM box on my screen.

Heather is in my program at Cal. She is considerably younger than me, currently planning her wedding (in Switzerland!) this coming summer, and hoping for children not long after. She's just the kind of person I knew I'd have nothing in common with at school. I was looking for some other "advanced" students, like myself. But Heather is my favorite other student to talk to. Just one example: when I told her about wanting a job with the GAO, she did not say the obvious, "What on earth does that have to do with epidemiology?!" She said, "COOOOOOOOL!"

Thomas is also a student in my cohort. I wrote about him a little earlier. He does not get my sense of humor. He is much, much smarter than me. He sees the world very differently than I do. But he seems to want to try to like me nonetheless, and I appreciate that enormously. I like him a lot, too.

Christy was my office mate for almost all of 2008. I got to attend her wedding, which was quite a thing. She's a lovely person, a great friend, a sympathetic ear, a huge supporter of those in need, and funny as heck. A good nurse, too. I moved offices in October, and miss her a lot. She also is my 100th friend on Facebook, which is huge. Huge.

Rickey Roy is a dog, and I've still never actually MET Rickey. But I have spent considerable time talking with him on Facebook. Rickey lives with one of my favorite people, Vickie, who is another Ultimate mom. Vickie doesn't count as a new in 2008 friend. But she did give me my new favorite pair of earrings, and lets us borrow her son regularly, and those are both new things.

Believe it or not, I had to work hard to get my list down to just these folks. 2008 was a rough year, for a lot of reasons. But looking back, I have to count it among the luckiest for me.

May 2009 bring all the joy your heart can hold.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Suzee Cooks: Vegetarian Baked Pasta

So I added a little to me over the last two months. Nothing horrifying, just a few pounds - enough to make the clothes not so flattering, however, and I have interviews approaching for internships. Plus I like it when there's less of me.

Step One of getting back to an October weight and fitness level is at least paying attention to what I'm eating, if not slowing the pace of my eating a bit. But it's wiiiiiiinter (she whines), and I want to eat stick-to-your-ribs food!

I wanted to make a veggie baked ziti thing, and thought without the meat it would be nice and low cal...of course, once I started adding up the calories, I realized I was completely wrong, so set about tweaking my mental recipe. Here it is. Serves 8 with filling portions, all the ingredients are from Trader Joe's

1 package (4) Tofurky Italian Sausage, sliced to about 1/8"

1/4 package shredded mozzarella (using low fat would help the cal content even more)

1 pound package TJ's Pennette

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 T olive oil

Cooke the pennette al dente. Meanwhile, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Toss in the faux sausage and brown a little, then add the drained diced tomatoes. Drain pasta and toss with tomato/onion/sausage mix in a bowl. Transfer to a "Pammed" large casserole dish, top with the cheese, and bake covered at 375 for 40 minutes, uncovering the last 10 to brown a little.

393 calories per serving, 10.5 grams fat, 26 (!) grams protein, 7 grams fiber (so, by my mental calculations, it's 7 WW points...although it could be 8, I don't have a calculator).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pollyanna Lives

I have been blue. Over the last few weeks I have become more and more stressed about the economy, and whether I'd have a job once I got out of school, and whether we could afford college for the kids and retirement and whether the state would go bankrupt and stop paying Rob. You pick, if it was a financial worry, it was rattling around my brain.

But this morning before work I had a beautiful and easy run, the longest one I've done in weeks, and that helped. And then I wrapped presents, and thought about the recipients while I wrapped. When the gifts were all under the tree, I stepped back, hands on hips, and let out a happy sigh.

There's not much there this year, we were frugal and smart, even with all the bargains available. No credit card bills for us in January. But it looks like people who love each other live at my house. There are presents wrapped with a variety of expertise, and a continuum of handwriting competencies (mine is in the middle, Rob has the penmanship in our house). There's at least one item under that tree, I happen to know, that will make the package opener squeal, laugh or smile with delight. We didn't spend much, but we thought carefully, and that counts.

So I'm not blue any more. I'm happy, and optimistic that the future will hold more of this warm feeling of making do with less. I hope we continue to have jobs, I hope everyone who has lost one finds one soon. But as my father put it a few weeks ago, "It's likely that, down the road, we'll all look back on these next couple of years with some fondness."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sly and Crafty

Oh, I've heard the rumors. I know what people are saying.

They're saying I've lost it. I'm too busy, too BUSY to get out my hot glue gun. No TIME, they say, to make anything hand made or even hand assembled for holiday gifts.

Yeah, these people? They talk about me like I'm dead.

I'll show 'em. I'll show 'em all.

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Zombie Christmas

Here are items 9 through 13 on my zombie-obsessed child's Christmas list:

9. Gas mask

10. The Zombie Survival Guide

11. A new journal (for recording zombie attacks)

12. A machete

13. Hubba Bubba squeeze pop (for eating during zombie attacks)

The first set of items were a little more pedestrian and practical. Because, you know? Zombies might NOT attack, and you can't really play with a machete.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stewart and Huckabee on Gay Marriage

It's hands-down the best discussion I've ever seen of the issue. Just a few minutes long, each side laying out what make sense to them. There are even a few laughs.

It's really simple. Really, really simple, when you think about it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Purest Pleasure

I'd forgotten the best thing about being a student.

The very best thing about being a student is when it stops. The only similar experience I know is carrying a 35 to 40 pound backpack up a mountain and then taking the backpack off. For about five minutes, you feel exactly what flying must feel like. As if your feet aren't touching the ground, as if you were made of helium.

That's what being done with biostatistics and epidemiology and foundations of public health and epi/bio seminar feels like. And although I could fly, all I want to do is sleep sleep sleep. And watch absolutely gut-punchingly bad TV. I watched one of the worst episodes ever made of Little House on the Prairie yesterday, and that's saying something. It was just wonderful. [Mr. Edwards' drinking habit rears its ugly head, but Laura brings him 'round with love and compassion.]

Today was a work day. Tonight continues the TV trash, and then tomorrow I try Christmas shopping again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How to Save a Bundle on Christmas This Year

In these tough times, it helps to have a strategy. Here's mine - feel free to pass it on!
  1. Wait until you only have a week and a half left. The stress helps a lot!
  2. Don't make a list or plan. That's silly. Just spend that time shopping, instead.
  3. Wake up super early, like 4:00am, the day you're going shopping, because you're really stressed about your biostatistics final.
  4. Don't forget to actually go TAKE the final! It's three hours long, and you wouldn't want to miss that. You'll be energized when you're done.
  5. Now comes the good part! Go SHOPPING! Drive a good long way to get to a store you think is promising.
  6. Wander around the store for an hour or so, picking up less-than-satisfying non-bargain gifts for people who don't really want anything, anyway. That's it, load your cart up really full!
  7. Stand in a long, long line at the register.
  8. Realize...(very slowly's true)...that you left your wallet in your other bag. At home!
  9. Apologize profusely to the register people! And the people behind you in line! All of them. Individually. It's a good idea to blush, too.
  10. Apologize so profusely, people begin to wonder if you're quite insane.
  11. Go home. Decide that was really enough for one day, take a bath with some expensive bath salts and have a nap.
  12. Decide maybe you really do need a plan and a list. And that maybe internet shopping really is all it's cracked up to be.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bring It, Santa

I have noted before that I have a thing for teenage boys. This weekend has been all about the teenage boys.

Yesterday I got two rounds of them. First was with my delightful godson and his brother while we went Christmas tree shopping. Their little sister is, really, The Cute One. But watching the big boys romp and play with each other and with my cusp-of-teenhood boy was a blast. Rob joined in on the giant hay fight, no doubt wanting to show off for me. It worked.

Then Joe and his friend Chuy had to work on a big science fair project, and they are just as amusing to watch as the first set of big boys. Chuy stayed afterward and accompanied Rob and me to see the next-t0-last performance of the play, which was lots of fun (we hadn't actually sat in the audience, yet).

This morning we had one of our favorite teen boys, Eric, over for breakfast. He's home from his first quarter at college, talks to grown-ups as if they were human, knows all the characters in the Addams family, and ate live ants while in Australia last year. What's not to like about waffles with a person such as this?

After he left, Rob and I put up the tree, cleaned house, and got things ready for decorating tonight, after the play's cast party. Huzzzzzzzah! The play will be DONE two hours from now, I am totally prepped for my last final tomorrow morning (not counting one last review tonight). Life can begin again.

And just like that, unexpectedly, I am awash in holiday spirit. There are lovely people, teenage and otherwise, in my life. I get to celebrate the holiday season with them. That's all I need.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Not Losing It Yet

My last few blog post have read like something written by a show-offy 9 year old. I've been living on brownies for dinner two nights of three. It's 8:05 pm and I'm too tired to take off my clothes and go to bed.

Never again will I schedule this much stuff in a two week period. Never. Ever.

But the first take home final is done. The first weekend of the play is over, and almost all of my volunteer obligations for that are met (and I actually had a great time in the process). My children (who are the stars of the photo collage, if not of the play itself - click on the collage for a blow up) did wonderfully. Both have a marvelous stage presence and are far more comfortable than I was on stage at their ages.

I did get in a couple of runs this week. I have clean laundry and a fully stocked fridge for the week. So things aren't all bad. Next weekend will be even crazier than this one (we add a Christmas tree-buying outing and cast party to the mix, plus studying for the in-class final), but then it'll be DONE.

[And I'll start writing like an angel again. Yep. I will.]

Friday, December 05, 2008

On Being Quiet

I've spent considerable time learning, re-learning, forgetting, re-re-learning and trying to hold on to this, the most valuable thing I know in terms of human relationships: "shut up."

Al-Anon suggests shutting up unless what you have to say is Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary and Kind (THINK - note the "and," not "or"). And by the time you finish deciding if what you have to say meets those criteria, the moment has usually passed.

The rule I used to have was "no unsolicited advice or opinions," but it turns out (who knew?) that people don't really appreciate solicited thoughts, either. No one, for instance, really wants an answer to a question that begins, "Does this make me look...?" The correct answer to any solicitation of one's thoughts about a personal matter is always something like, "cough cough cough cough - gasp - I think I've choked on a peanut!"

Everyone from Mark Twain to Abraham Lincoln to Marcel Marceau has had something to say about shutting up and how wonderful it is. And they're absolutely right.

But knowing this, believing it with all my heart, doesn't make it any easier to be silent when I see my children struggling. Even when I know they must get through the struggle themselves - they have to pass the swim test without Mom holding them up - I have to expend a lot of energy in not helping out.

As my very wise oldest once said to me, "Just let me fail on my OWN, Mom!" (She did not fail at that particular endeavor, and in fact had astonishing success, despite my dire predictions.)

I'm trying, hon. Really trying. How about this: If I promise to shut up, you promise to believe in yourself and pay attention to what YOU want, and stop doubting and worrying about what other people think and feel and want you to want. OK?

[Oh, geez. Whoops. Sorry...]

Sunday, November 30, 2008


"Hi, I'm Susan. I'm 47 years old, and I've never been to a high school or college reunion. I'd like to share my story. "

As I've posted in the past, I generally don't do parties, especially parties in which the sole purpose of the event is to look at each other to see whether one made sensible decisions about whether or not to date the other party goers, all those many years ago. I am, perhaps, a tad insecure.

Last night a kind and generous high school friend gathered up a group of high school drama geeks, spanning at least 10 years worth of graduating classes, and I insanely agreed to go. A major case of nerves had a while to build up (it was an hour drive, plus an hour of trying on all of my clothes before I left, trying to minimize thighs and cover up my ancient-looking chicken neck).

I stopped to fortify myself with Red Bull (yeah, I may need to enter a Red Bull 12 step program soon...but that's another post) at the Novato Safeway, surrounded by multi-million dollar homes, my Yaris parked among Lexii and BMWs. I was feeling a leetle out of place even before I walked in the door.

But I had a great time. Sometimes it's worth swallowing your anxiety and just walking in the room. Nobody snickered when I walked in, and in fact people who remembered me (many) were even genuinely happy that I was there. I got to hear what's been up the last 29 years for these folks, got to see relationships that we all knew were doomed still in flower so many years later, see children of people I knew as children.

It was kind of magical, to be suddenly in conversation again with some people whom I'd formed strong connections with years and years ago, and then missed for so long. I also got to watch a rough cut of a documentary about one of the guys I used to hang out with, look at a memoir by someone I hadn't known well but who had a great life story, and hear of adventures harrowing and wonderful, mourn losses, celebrate triumphs.

And nobody said a word about my neck OR thighs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Skewl Update

My school, not the kids' school. Let 'em get their own blogs.

2.5 weeks to go, and I will have lived through the first semester. Pwahhhhhhhh, will be the noise I make after I walk out of the last final. It has been quite a four months - some of the more stressful of my life, but certainly also among the most interesting and fulfilling. And MAN, does time fly when you're busy and happy. I'll be through this degree in no time.

I finished my last paper today, I have two take home finals and one in class final left to go. No one is to mention the word, "Christmas" until after that.

I've gotten interested enough in environmental health (that's your garden variety air pollution, lead toxicity, radon, and now new and improved with global warming for extra added value!) to squeeze every ounce of extra class time into my spring schedule, topping out at 14 units (at least two will be credit/no credit, so I don't die of acute academia). So, just in case you're keeping track, starting January 21 it'll be:

Statistical Analysis of Categorical Data (that's stuff that isn't measured by number, like gender)
SAS (that's the big statistical software package)
GIS (that's the big spatial data modeling program)
Global Environmental Change for Health Scientists (pretty self-explanatory)

Heavy on the geek stuff. I'm excited!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'd honestly got to the point where I felt that I would never be healthy and sane again, but I got there, as of this morning. Fingers crossed that it will last for at least another few hours, or maybe even days. But even if it doesn't, I'm grateful for this moment of being OK.

I'm closing in on being caught up with school work. The house is clean, laundry done. Internship application done except for a paper I need to pick up on Monday. My eyelid twitch is receding into memory. I even had a little run and a long bath earlier today. Things is pretty good.

Plus? California is totally whooping Stanford's wimpy red football butt. This has always made me happy, but actually being a student at the Cal makes it swEEt.

And "boom," goes the cannon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Growing Up, Revisited

The first day in Manhattan, I was carefully instructing Annie on how to "be" in New York. Yes, you really are expected to cross against the light. No, those aren't real Rolexes. Yes, New Yorkers do talk a lot, and they like it when you talk back. No, you can't stop suddenly on a busy street to snap photos.

Although she was having a great time, she looked a little like a deer in the headlights. The peak of her insecurity happened the second day in Manhattan, in the morning. After sitting through the information session at NYU, as we began the tour, she leaned over to me and said quietly, "Mom, I can't possibly get in here, why are we doing this?"

That was at about 11:30am.

By 5:00pm that night, she was volunteering to wait on line by herself at the TKTS booth while Julie and I shopped Times Square. She was telling me which way to turn to get to the theatre, and how much time we'd need to get back to Grand Central in time for the late train (and finding her way through the GC maze once we got there). She was walking in a perfect Manhattan walk, about a half block ahead of me at all times ("hurry UP, Mom"). She was gamely eating oysters, even the big ones that make me gaggy. And perhaps most telling, she was talking about *when* she lives in the City.

Even for Annie, this was quite a growth spurt. At least five years worth of maturity and self-confidence in just over 5 hours. But it was magical to watch, and very gratifying to see.

I can't wait to see the wonders she encounters on this journey.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Our Little Trip

It was a fabulous trip. I am a sucker for Manhattan, any kind of weather. I even loved it in the 1980's, and it just keeps getting safer, cleaner and more pleasant, every time I go. Annie seems to have inherited my fondness for it.

We both were suffering from a variety of ailments while in New York, but that didn't slow us down much. The photos here are just some highlights, and you'll notice there are none of colleges. We didn't want to look like idiots. :-)

We also, rudely, failed to take any interesting photos of our hosts, Julie and Jonathan. Yeah, that's pretty bad. They're both very photogenic, they just tended not to be there when we were snapping away.

But we're very appreciative for all they did, really!

So you'll see a lot of headstones...yes you will. We're not terribly morbid, it's just that cemeteries are free, historically and artistically very interesting places, and never ever crowded. (And although we didn't indulge on this trip, they also make great spots for picnics in the summer.)
Annie saw four, I was sick for Woodlawn (see Herman Melville, below) and stayed home. I did get to see Alexander Hamilton at Trinity Church, which was wildly cool. And the pet cemetery in Scarsdale, with tombstones dating back a hundred years, was awesome.

The nachos on the ferry to Ellis Island took the award for most disgusting food we've gone ahead and ingested in a good long while (we were starved, but MAN they were gross).

OK, and finally: Brooklyn Person who thought to hang up this home-made sign outside the subway entrance? You're a god. As you know, the official, city-made signs made absolutely no sense and had us wandering in circles. Once we saw this, we were home free.
It really was a great trip.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blast and Be Bothered

First the laptop (exactly 1 year and 1 month old, feh on Dell laptops) gave up the ghost on this trip, and then I caught a head cold on the last day. Still nothing to complain about over all (and in fact pretty typical travel crises, in my experience), but the lack of computer means I can't upload any of the fantastic photos we've taken over the past few days. And the head cold means I probably wouldn't if I could.

Saturday it rained heavily and the tiredness of three days of college viewing took over. We slept until very late in the morning (er, afternoon for the teen among us) and then ran a few errands and visited an enormous pet cemetery nearby. It was utterly charming, although it did make me wonder a bit about people's relationships with their pets.

Yesterday Julie was suffering from the same or a different cold, so Annie and I set out on our own for a day of high touristing, and had a great time in Manhattan, again. I refuse to talk about it until I can post the pictures, though.

This afternoon Annie is out viewing Woodlawn Cemetery with Julie and Jonathan while I try to get through a Linear Regression chapter in Biostats, and then we're off to the airport to fly home. As a public health person, I fervently believe that airlines ought to let you change your flight to avoid spreading germs all over the plane, but I don't think Jetblue will see it my way. And really, it will be nice to sleep in my own bed tonight.

Friday, November 14, 2008

NYC College Tour

No photos yet (I'm just too tired to upload), but this has been a very valuable process. Time well spent. Soon I hope to write a post about watching my daughter grow up over the course of three days, but I'm not in any shape to be eloquent tonight.

The short story is that I think it will take an act of God to keep her from going to school in Manhattan. She is one determined cookie. And whereas I thought small and cloistered would be the right fit for her (being a mom), I now see that small and cloistered would be a dreadful, dreadful mistake.

She is making NYU her number one choice, and I have every confidence that she will make it happen. She has a year to finalize her ducks row. I'm already bursting with pride over her and her choices and accomplishments.

In between walking walking walking through NYU, Barnard and Sarah Lawrence, we saw Phantom of the Opera, took in a wonderful exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology with Aunt Julie, (who also introduced Annie to oysters with great success), figured out the train system to Yonkers, tutored Annie extensively on how to cross the street in Manhattan (if you wait for the lights, you'll never get anywhere), and I bought shoes and an interview outfit for next week. So far we've eaten incredible food (no surprise) from Cuba, New Orleans and Grand Central Station. This weekend, with Julie and Jonathan, we will see the Brooklyn Bridge and South Street Seaport and Ellis Island, along with some local cemeteries ('cause that's what we do).

It's been fantastic.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


I'm going to try to move past my political obsessions, but I just wanted to note that I'm watching a talking heads show this morning and a Republican woman, one who has gone on every week about McCain, just told the story of crying tears of pride in her country on Tuesday. There *is* hope for us to unite and heal and move forward to bring this great country (and ultimately the world) back. I am so hopeful.

Joe had a series of orthodontic crises over the last week. Brackets falling off, wires slashing his lip, multiple visits, lots of pain and blood swallowed. Poor moppet, he didn't really want the braces, and we'd been jollying him along, telling him it would all be worth it. Week after next is oral surgery to deal with the tooth that is causing all these nightmares, which will not be much fun, either. Send him good thoughts.

He's also struggling with the extremely high expectations in one of his classes, but I'm really proud of the efforts he's making to improve his grade and get with this teacher's program. I think ultimately he will be grateful for this teacher, as many have before him. But for now, not so much.

Annie has done a great job organizing her college-viewing trip coming up Tuesday. She has a schedule, is thinking about what she wants to find out, and had to turn only one bit over to me when we ran into an insane admissions office employee who was basically refusing to let us see the school because Annie's a junior. We are being hosted by the very gracious and accommodating Julie and Jonathan, to whom we owe much.

Rob has been swimming hard upstream at work all year, after many years of just treading water. I can't put the details online, but the issues are too big for even his thick skin. He's interviewing for other jobs within his school district, and we have fingers tightly crossed. He's also talking for the first time about going outside the district, but it's a scary time to lose tenure.

I'm finishing the last of the killer midterms this weekend and then taking a week off from work and classes to go see the New York schools and play a little.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sorry, Canada...

...but I'll be staying put. I've cancelled my plans to move north. You're a fine country, wonderful people, beautiful scenery, great government. Even a wicked cool flag.

But I'm an American. A very proud American.

Monday, November 03, 2008


So, I was kind of thinking that all those employers lining up at the recruitment fairs were looking for us because we were competent enough to get in to Cal.

Oh, no. I had it wrong, I see that now. They are waiting to see if we are competent enough to get OUT of Cal.

There is a reason that they give us a month off in between semesters. It's to keep from killing us.

This is so different from any other school experience I've had. It's great, really great. I love learning so much so fast. But it is intense.

Yes, it is.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Rob and I stood in line for over an hour today at the Alameda County courthouse, in downtown Oakland. I had to talk him into early voting, so I felt a little guilty about the wait. But it turned out to be a truly moving experience for both of us, even as cynical as we are.

We saw and spoke with young, first time voters, older voters who were probably voting in their final presidential election (but who waited gamely in line using a walker for all that time). Nine months pregnant voters. Voters who had never voted before because it didn't matter how they voted. Voters who had never voted before because they weren't citizens but were now. Contradicting the theory that Hispanic voters vote more conservatively, we saw many Hispanic families (including extremely patient small children) with Obama and No on 8 t-shirts (8 is the California measure banning gay marriage). We saw African American McCain voters, and white, wealthy-looking Obama voters. And we heard not one, not ONE complaint about the line and the wait. That was amazing.

I cried a little, for real. It was great. Better than anything I've done with a Sunday afternoon in years.

Friday, October 31, 2008


I didn't get photos of the boys, they were out of costume by the time they got here for a Halloween sleepover. But here are four of the seven deadly sins (Annie: Wrath? SO perfect.) Also some of the 'kins.

Yes, that pumpkin is barfing.

Yes, that gun does say, "This is FAKE!" My children have weird and wonderful senses of humor.

The guys will be playing Rock Band 'til all hours, but everyone is home, safe and sound and happy, so it's a good year.

Ready, Set...

My wonderful children (they were off from school today) did the following without my bidding:

  • walked the dog
  • helped me rake the leaves and trim back the hedges for the trick or treaters
  • decorated the front yard
  • baked cookies
  • prepped for carving pumpkins as soon as Rob walks in the door (any second now)

Yes, they really are fabulous people.

The tall one is a new addition 'round here. We're not really allowed to talk about it. But you can see by the smile on his face why he hangs around.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Robo Momming

Look up "Robo Surgery" and you'll see a perfectly sensible idea that has some people worried. The thinking (it's been brought up in several lectures at school) is that if the surgeon isn't actually doing the cutting (he's using a joystick and watching a video monitor), why does he even need to be in the same room? Couldn't he be in India while the patient is in Belgium? And is that a problem?

This week I have been Robo Momming. Most of my work as a parent has been done over the phone or via email. I've dealt with an incredibly rude admissions office employee at a private New York school that shall remain nameless, some school-related problems, a significant orthodontic crisis, planning a fund-raising event. A lot of it I handled by asking Rob to drive/show up/pick up, so I'd make five phone calls and send six emails, call him at work, ask him to drop everything and pick someone or something up, and then we'd do it again the next day.

So why, I asked myself about 8:00pm on Wednesday night, on the BART train, coming home from an 11 hour day at campus, am I doing this work and degree thing again?

After a while, I remembered. I have a child on the cusp of adulthood, someone who has the drive and smarts and stamina and discipline to do something amazing with her life, and I know that watching me fight my small battles will make it easier for her to believe she can fight her battles, big and small. I have another child who no longer takes it for granted that I will be at every game, every recital, every performance, every social function. Instead he really appreciates it when I am there, and even thanks me. Both have learned over the past year and a half to solve most of their own problems, and come to me (and Rob) for help with the heavy lifting.

[I'm leaving out the part about my just wanting to do it, because, frankly, that doesn't hold water in this time and place. Once you have a child you're not supposed to want anything but what they want.]

I've been on both sides of the stay at home/work outside the home parenting fence, and what it's taught me is that it isn't really a fence. It's a continuum (measured, I'm compelled to say, by a continuous variable, not a dichotomous one!), and most of us find ourselves along various parts of it during our parenting lives. If we're sensible, we get to the "I'll always be available if you need me, otherwise let's have lunch" end of the continuum by the time they hit adulthood, and if our life circumstances allow it, we get to spend some serious time on the "there every minute" end while our children are younger.

The stuff in between is messy, and I don't know anyone who feels like they get it done perfectly every day. Helicopter parent or negligent mom? Lack of boundaries or lack of clues? It depends on who sees you doing what, I suppose. I recently got a ration from someone at work about how over-involved I must have been with my children to homeschool them - from a parent who controls her children's every move whether they're with her or not in a way I never could have imagined doing.

In the end, as in the beginning, we just have to keep looking at the kids themselves to tell us if we're getting it right. And it's looking pretty good, here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Me, Revisited

For some reason, maybe the crummy mindset having to do with the stomach bug, I was agonizing about career choices this week. The consulting company I am not excited about has asked me in for an in-person interview (actually, a lunch). This is very nice, as I just sort of punted on the phone interview last week...maybe polite indifference is the way to go in job hunting as in dating? But then I started stressing about what I really wanted to do.

I think what I really want to do is be queen of a small, well-run democratic monarchy. Everything else looks too complicated or doesn't pay well enough.

I also needed to make choices about what classes I'll be taking next semester (I register Tuesday), which was hard. This semester we were just told what to take. For next semester we have almost no guidance, which means we ought to have a clue about what it is we're trying to get out of the program, which means we ought to know what it is we're going to do when it's over, yes? Erm.

So I'm taking mostly techie classes, on the theory that the more skills I have, the more options I have, especially in what looks like it will be a tough market. Next semester is categorical stats, SAS (the statistical software most big companies use), geographical information systems (another software package that looks at data in relation to its's extremely cool, and I'm so glad it fits into my schedule) and then either a disaster epidemiology course or case studies in epi - both look interesting and fun (yeah, I *do* think disaster epi is fun...). It's either 14 or 15 units, which may be too much, we'll see.

Updates: The bug is gone, I ran (raced, even) today. I threw myself into cleaning both the stove hood and the bathroom cupboard in the kids' bathroom yesterday, which tells you I'm feeling better and avoiding studying. I start a new 18 week round of training tomorrow. The kids were both cast in A Christmas Carol (Annie is Scrooge's fiancee, Belle, and Joe is the rag seller and Peter Cratchit, and both are in the ensemble scenes), which will complicate our lives enormously through December 19, but which is huge fun for our Dickens-adoring family. The Dickens Faire will be extra fun this year, but everyone will be getting gift cards instead of homemade goodies in their stocking on Christmas morning.

Life, in short, is good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Various T'ings

When my children were little, we were sick a lot, all of us. And it didn't matter how sick I was, for a good long while I had to be Mom even if I couldn't be Mom.

But now the kids are big and functional on their own, and we don't get sick near as much, and I find that I am an intolerable sick person. I believe with all my heart that the way I feel in the sick moment is the way I will feel forever more, and I become depressed and cranky and hopeless. I don't bathe, either. It's not a pretty picture. Fortunately, I'm left alone for the most part.

I took today off to hunker down and let the fever and gastro distress move on, and I seriously was considering dropping out of school and staying in bed forever by about 2:00pm. But a shower at 6:30pm and some lovingly provided chicken soup, and I'm starting to feel like it might be worth giving life a go again. I'm even half-contemplating a short run in the morning, something that was crazy talk 12 hours ago.

So does anyone else feel like we're in a weird holding pattern in the US? Like the markets can't really crash or recover, we can't make any policies or move forward or make plans until the election? I remember feeling that way in 2000, while we waited for Florida count. People keep saying, about almost everything, "maybe this'll get fixed soon..." or "we'll just have to root for our guy in November!"

I'm not as optimistic as many that we will become a magical fairy kingdom by late January, 2009, even if Mr. O does win. But perhaps he can balance the Supreme Court and do something about health insurance. I'd be pleased as punch with just that.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On Cleaning Up

I honestly believed that once all of us were gone from the house all day 5 days a week, things would be different. My life on the home front would be a breeze. With no one home to make a mess, there would be no mess!

And, in a few small ways, that's true. There are no more homeschooling messes, projects that were started and abandoned but not quite. Papers and books and projects are pretty routinely collected and turned in and stored in binders or displayed at school, now. And we don't have toys, really, because the kiddies are bigger.

We also, I will say, have a lower heating bill, which is very nice. We keep the house at 55 during the week days, and that cuts a few hundred a year off the bill.

But everything else is at least as bad, or worse. The morning bathroom chaos has led to two disgusting bathrooms to be cleaned every Saturday, and the amount of laundry: O. M. G.

The worst, though, and most inexplicable, is the kitchen floor. Now, I'll admit here that I used to go more than a week between moppings. A few spots would show, sure, but nobody was coming over.

Now? It looks like a cadre of sugar spitting llamas hung out in the kitchen all day. It looks that way by Tuesday, even though I spent a half hour on the floor on Saturday. We recently had to throw out the relatively new kitchen rug because it was just too disgusting, despite weekly washing.

The only thing I can think is that now my children tend to get their own snacks (organic microwave popcorn - organic? really? - and Vitamin water), instead of me carefully buttering homemade wheat toast or slicing up organic soy cheese like I did when I was a good mom. Are they flinging popsicle drippings at each other in my absence? Sneezing on the floor? Drinking orange juice out of the carton by pouring it over their heads?

I'm stumped.

Friday, October 17, 2008

All Alone Again

It doesn't happen much, but I'm home alone for an hour or two this evening. So what am I doing with this "me" time? Er, reading all the Runner's Lounge Take it and Run Thursday posts. Postponing taking a shower after my after-work run. Postponing getting started on homework for the weekend.

In short, dillying, dallying and screwing around.

Hey, it was a good week on the long-term job front. I mentioned a few weeks back that I went to a recruiting fair for masters and PhD students. Kaiser was ready to hire me on the spot, which was a nice ego boost, except that I sorta want to get the degree first. I dropped my resume off at two small consulting firms, despite Laura's warnings. Both do very focused work and aren't known for the "consulting lifestyle". Both said they would consider me for a summer internship (we have to do a 12 week internship as part of the masters program, and about half of those internships turn into career positions for the interns, so we're all looking extremely carefully).

And both called this week! And I had to turn down interview times with both because of stuff at work, but they were fine rescheduling me. So I did my careful research on them, and found that one has taken on cases that would disturb me to have to work on, has been accused of faking results, and the CEO was a Bush appointee to a federal committee. Each one of those bits could be argued about as a deterrent to working there, but all together? Not a nice batch of stuff to read, and thank goodness for the internets. I will still interview just for the experience, but won't be working there.

The other company, though, I'm very excited about. They have done some really amazing projects, are expanding their epidemiology and clinical research work, appear to do a good deal of "good guy" work, hire very few business grads and almost exclusively science people, and make a big deal about not burning out their people (who are called "scientists" rather than "analysts" - subtle, but impressive). The bios on the people there average 7 to 9 years on staff, which is great. Plus, their offices are in Oakland at BART, which is incredibly wonderful, and they have offices in all my favorite US cities. Can't beat that. I'm very much hoping something will work out with them.

Both kids tried out for a local all-kids production of A Christmas Carol yesterday, and predictions are that Joe, at least, will get a part. Annie said he gave a phenomenal audition, which is amazing given that he had to be talked into trying out, and felt he needed advice on how to read a script, even. It's hard for me to imagine that she won't land a part, too, given her lovely stage presence. So I suspect that's how we'll be spending OUR late fall.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


This morning was a little magical at school. I had a very scary midterm in Biostatistics (the only closed book midterm or final I have this semester, and an unpredictable teacher without a clear focus in the class). It began at 8:00, which is a weird time for Berkeley. Classes start at 10 after the hour, and nothing happens anywhere before 8:10.

So I and my 199 Biostats classmates had the place to ourselves as we walked up the hill. Honestly, there was not a soul on the whole campus but us'n for the 10 minutes it took our cohort to get to class early. And on top of the eeriness on campus, the campanile was in full swing with something like a cross between Medieval fairy wind chimes and Disney Main Street music.

It was pretty cool.

Later in the day I realized that I no longer had to struggle to figure anything out daily. I know where every building that matters is, I know that I need to register for Spring next week and how, I know where the cheap salads are and where wifi works and where it doesn't. I know how to tell when the shuttle bus isn't coming, and where the ATMs are. I have the degree in getting a degree at Cal. Plus, I have friends, people whom I can ask for advice about spring schedule and people whom I can run into on campus and people who knew that the correct answer was "binomial" and not "discrete uniform".

And again, that's awfully nice.

[The midterm was fine, I got an A. It was nice to get the first midterm in 25 years out of the way.]

Friday, October 10, 2008

Is It Just Me?

Or is anybody else crossing the "panic" threshold?

Annie has two market college funds, one from my grandmother and one from my dad and stepmom. I called yesterday to cash out the one from my grandmomther to pay for Annie's SAT course and our college-hunting trip. It was worth $3,000 in early September. Yesterday morning it was worth $2,300. They said they would write the check at close of market price that day. The check was for just under $2,100. Ouch.

But I'm more worried about the bigger picture than about the markets, honestly. California is threatening to not pay its employees (Rob is one) on November 1. Our city just announced it is approximately 20% of its annual budget in the red for this year, and the state of California is already 1 billion in the hole since it passed its budget just a couple of weeks ago. Car dealerships are closing like crazy (cutting more revenue from our city and others around us), commercial construction sites are going dark. It's like a sci fi movie where you just watch everything freeze up.

Crazy times.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

And Then Suddenly...

For those who haven't known me through the whole thing, this was not an easy child. From her time in utero through about her thirteenth year, I pretty much had to give myself a good hard look in the mirror every morning, gird my loins, take a deep breath, and prepare for the coming day of mothering.

She's a spirited lass.

The last few years have been delightful, though, with just some few-month long difficult spots. But mostly watching her put the finishing touches on herself, rein in her anxieties, focus on her strengths and build up the weak spots.

And tonight I realized the wonderful and awful truth: stick a fork in her, she's done.

Tonight she stood up in front of crowds of parents of sixth graders, who only a few weeks before had been very nervous about sending their tiny tots on a teen-led three day camping trip. She got 40 wild children instantly quiet. With grace, humor and, yes, aplomb, she thanked all those parents, thanked the counselors she and her partner, Zane, had recruited, thanked the teachers who chaperoned, and then led the skits and songs.

She was a class act.

I once told her that once she could make popcorn and take a bus, she could go out and function in the real world. She can do those things. And with these new skills, she can conquer the real world.

The "awful" part of that truth, I realized as I watched tonight, is that soon, too soon, I'll lose not only her daily presence, but the regular presence of the many lovely children she has brought home through the years. And although, of course, I wouldn't have it any other way, I will miss them all terribly. That picture above of Simon (with the guitar) singing to teacher Carlton about his assigning too much homework? Yeah, I was crying.

It's going to be a long couple of years.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Old, Internet-less, and Outraged

I am feeling really old this week. I got my hair cut tonight, and somehow I was expecting to look 35 when it was done. I do not. I look like a 47 year old woman with shorter hair.

What's UP with that?

We've been without internet for three days, since some wind knocked it out, while our local cable company runs around in circles pointing fingers. I'm very cranky about this, and beginning to cop quite an attitude on the phone, which I know is not helpful. And yet...c'mon. FIX IT.

In the meantime, I'm stealing internet, with a booster. Yes, breaking some kind of law.

OK, I'm working myself into a fever here.

Today at work I read a memo from the NIH (that's your National Institutes of Health, formerly the most respected health research organization in the whole wide world) that so infuriated me, so represented our current administration, that like several other recipients I felt physically ill. I cannot go into it, it's not appropriate nor constructive, but we currently have an administration that is STILL denying death benefits to 9/11 firefighters who happened to be off-duty when they died saving lives. So you think they care about the health of people with sickle cell disease? Yeah, not so much. You think they would waste millions and millions of dollars of your money by pulling the plug on a huge, highly lauded by THEIR OWN EVALUATORS study when it's half way done? And do it for purely political reasons? Purely because they wanted to send money to some states and not others? Even though people with sickle live in the states they pulled the funding from?


Yes. Yes, they would. They would do that.

I am rooting very hard for Mr. Obama, but I honestly can't think that Mr. McCain could be as bad as the current fellow if he tried. This has been the most depressing eight years of my life, and I suspect most Americans'.

Yeah, I need a run. 5.5 miles tomorrow, and perhaps a better frame of mind.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Of Clean Bathrooms and Silly Teenage Boys

I love teenage boys.

OK, OK, that's enough, now. I have a *totally innocent place* in my heart for them, in the same way I have a place in my heart for puppies. In fact, teenage boys remind me a lot of puppies. They way they suddenly leap into full-on rough house play with each other, than drop just as suddenly into full-on naps (or, with the boys, TV viewing with snacks). The way their feet are always too big for their skinny legs.

This afternoon, three 6' tall puppies are tearing back and forth through my house playing hide and seek armed with Nerf guns. Annie is making cookies for them. It's like they all took a class in how to be stereotypes. Although I'm pretty sure something will get broken soon, it still makes me very, very happy.

Also, they say the people with the cleanest bathrooms are those who are on deadline. My bathrooms are spotless (although Rob did that), and I finally took the plunge and set up a separate running blog on Wordpress ('cause it really does look cooler there) so as to stop boring my non-running friends and family to tears. It gave me a break from the huge amount of reading and writing I was assigned this weekend.

I won't have a lot to SAY here to my non-running friends and family because I've become pretty one-dimensional, but still. I'll try. I'm seriously considering embroidering some tea towels as soon as midterms are over and maybe even picking up knitting needles in late December, and promise to try really hard to write more about my kids. Or, somebody's kids, at least.

Gazing Into My Crystal Ball...

...I see a nap in my future.

Today was my first ever 8 mile run, following on a 5 mile tempo in howling winds (well, strong breezes, anyway) yesterday. I picked a loop course today, cleverly assuring that when I hit the wall at 5 miles, I'd have to keep going. And keep going I did, although my pace was 11:30 by the last mile and I felt like I'd been hit by a train rather than running into a mere wall. Three waffles and a long lavender bath later, I'm at least upright and speaking in sentences.

Yesterday I was thinking to myself, "How hard, really, could a marathon BE? You just keep running." OK, Running Gods, I get it now.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Dog Tummies and Training

Cal is sick, and this took us all by surprise. Cal has never been sick, and we'd all come to take his doggie health for granted. When he suddenly became violently ill and ruined two carpets yesterday, I found myself in tears on the way to the vet for an emergency visit (and not just for the carpets). He's a great dog, and I knew that, I just never realized how much I liked having him around until I was faced with the thought that he might not come home from the vet's.

But he rallied, and they can't find anything wrong with him (although are treating him for bacterial gut infections), so he's home and sleeping lots and eating rice and broth. (Chicken soup for dogs!) Rob is taking some time off to stay home with him...which will be odd. Do you prop the dog up in Mom and Dad's bed and turn on Animal Planet for him?

Training for a 10K is harder than training for a 5K. Not sure why this would be a surprise, but my level of tiredness has been increasing at a steady pace for the past few weeks, and this morning I couldn't even fathom a tempo run at 5:00am. It was as if you'd asked me to fly to the moon. I started to feel badly about that, and then I remembered something: I'm doing this for *fun*. The very worst thing that'll happen if I slack is that I will run a 57:00 10K instead of a 55:00 10K. And life will go on.

So I snuggled up with the shivering dog and went back to sleep.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tiny Pleasures

Facebook lets you change your home language to Pirate. And it's endlessly clever when you do.

I just love stuff like that.

Also, although I have five whole articles and a Biostats chapter to read tomorrow and a long run to run, I have nothing else on the calendar (except dinner with Mom, which doesn't count as a Thing on the Calendar, because it's a nice thing). The house is clean, laundry done, groceries purchased.

And finally, I got to talk to my favorite sister for an hour on the phone today.

Life is good.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bits 'n Pieces

I adore school. Love it like candy. I went to a lecture Wednesday (and this was in my LEAST favorite class) by Malcolm Potts. It was easily worth the semester's tuition all by itself. Brilliant man with huge ideas and clever witticisms. I think I could actually feel my brain growing over the two hours.

So, yeah. It's great. No regrets. It's just that I have twice this week fallen asleep inappropriately in public. Once on my boss' office sofa while waiting for her. That sort of thing doesn't look good. Plus, I drool when I sleep. No, not good. I need to work on time management.

I *know* training has nothing to do with that little problem, so count this as a non sequitur: this was a tough running week (Week 4 of 8). Following the race I took one day off, then ran 4.5 miles, a 4.25 speed workout, then 4. Yesterday afternoon was tough, I felt like I'd been shaken very hard by a giant. With today off and 9 hours of zzzzz's last night, I am already feeling much better and pretty pleased with myself. Tomorrow is an hour of cross-training (biking is my current favorite) and then a 6 mile on Sunday, with another uppage in miles next week.

I can already see improvements as I hit the half way (4 week) mark this weekend. Even though I felt like I was running through pudding yesterday morning, I was right at my old "regular" run pace. And my HR stayed below 180 during my whole speed workout Wednesday, which was a first.

Yay, body. Way to go!

Tonight is the first Ultimate game for Annie. Photos likely to follow.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Addendum: Official Results

Official results are, for once, better than my unofficial! My chip time was 26:44 (15 seconds off my previous official PR), and I was 18th out of 87 in my AG. So no complaints at all.

Three cheers for iron supplements!

Komen 5K Race Report

I won!

Well, OK, no. Not really.

I did PR, but just by 4 seconds. Still. Better'n a poke in the eye. And, as with every race, I learned some new things about my body and what it can do.

The short story, for those who don't care about the rest: 26:52 (my last 5K, July 4, was 26:56), no injuries or nuttiness, well-organized for the most part, with tasty snacks at the end. BART turns out to be such a spiffy way to get to races that I'm thinking of running the 7K distance of the Bridge to Bridge run in two weeks as a non-race run.

The longer story is that I can run faster for longer than I thought. I ran a 7:48 pace half mile at the start to try to make up for the incredibly slow first quarter mile (seriously - people? There was an untimed race, too...why not run that if you're going to stroll?!!). And several long stretches between 8:00 and 8:20. In the end, though, my lack of long runs over the past several months was my downfall. The last mile was at just under 9:00, which was sad. I was hoping to never go slower than 8:40.

Other than not finishing in, oh, 20:18 or something like that, my major complaint was traffic control at the start and finish of the race. The crowds were stupid slow for the first quarter mile and also at the tiny turnaround (and yep, I *was* near the front). Then runners had to come to a dead stop, DEAD STOP, immediately after crossing the mat to have their chips removed.

As someone with a hair-trigger puke urge that flairs up when I sprint, I'm just sayin'. You really don't want to be removing my chip when my HR is 194, OK? It's dangerous. Give me 100 yards or so to bring it down. (This was my first chip-timed race. Next time I will probably just pocket the thing or pin it to my hat. Now I know.)

That's it. Off tomorrow, back on the training wagon Tuesday, with increased mileage. Goal race is the Livermore Grape Stomp 10K on 10/26.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tick Tock

Sixteen hours until start time.

Two weeks ago, I did not give a fig about this race. In fact, really, two days ago I didn't think much about it. It's a training race, I'm running it a week early, out of sequence (there weren't any do-able 5Ks next weekend), I'm coming off two plus months of non-training, I have no expectations. Heck, I thought, maybe I'll even just make it a fun run.

This thing happens to me before races, though. Butterflies and constant nutty calculations in my head (if I run at 8:32 vs. 8:30, what does that get me? What if I run the first mile all out at 8:10, then drop to a 9:00 pace, hm?) and vague and fleeting pain to make me think I have a new injury. It's crazy. It's not like I'm even fast or in a competitive range.

I just want to be faster than I *was*, damn it. Whatever I was last time, I need to beat it.

It's a sickness.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gratitude and Education, All Rolled Into One

The only small class I have is our Epidemiology/Biostat seminar. It's a mandatory class for everyone in our program, all 24 of us. The first couple of weeks it just annoyed me, to be honest.

For one, I have always loathed group work in the service of education. I know it's *good* for me, but I hate working with people who are sloppy, lazy, slower than me, faster than me, less (or more) creative than me. In short, I like to work with my best friend, me, and we're a tight couple. For another, there were no papers or tests (things at which I excel), but instead an ill-defined "project." Done, of course, with the aforementioned group.

We were, on the first day, divided into groups and then sub-groups. My sub-group is Thomas and me. Thomas is nothing like me. He is slightly more than half my age, extremely single and unencumbered, never forgets to bring things like the paperwork or the tape measure to the field assignment, and doesn't drive. Thomas, of course, annoyed me for the first couple of trips we had to make, and I know I annoyed him terribly. But I think we've grown on each other. We spent 2 hours together Thursday evening, and I honestly enjoyed myself, and learned a lot about him and his life. He found out some things about my life, and acted generally interested. He even helped me step up our pace so I could go pick Joe up from guitar, even though we both acknowledged that Joe could walk home (no, Thomas and Joe have never met).

What were we doing? Well, there's the truly amazing thing. We were working on the annoying project. Except that now, I adore this project.

We are working for the city of Berkeley's public health department (one of only two non-county level PH departments in the state) to help them figure out two things: one is the "walkability" of their neighborhoods relative to each other, and the other is augmenting their understanding of the disparity in low birth weight rates across neighborhoods. It's a huge disparity, one of the biggest in the nation, and to date it has not been explained despite numerous studies and interventions.

Today we looked at and photographed two middle class Berkeley neighborhoods. One on one end of the middle class spectrum, the other on the other. And we learned that these neighborhoods had more in common than they had differences. Both with mostly single family homes, some retail, a school. Both with a mix of niced-up houses and run down houses. Both with people out on the streets at dinner time. And yet in one I felt totally comfortable walking around even on very quiet streets, and in the other I had my guard up and a hand on my camera at all times. You may perhaps be able to guess which one has the high rate of low birth weight.

So I'm thinking a lot about what it's like to live someplace a little scary, and stress, and population density and its effect on people, and what it's like to hear gun fire at night up close, instead of in the distance. And I'm really grateful that I got the winning ticket in that lottery.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Ramblings of the In(s)ane

I try to keep my head in biostatistics, I really do. But then I go to a two hour epidemiology seminar like I did today and get all jazzed up about tracing salmonella epidemics, and my vow to follow the money and security with my job choices goes out the window.

You can read about what we spent the day going over in minute detail here. It was, as the teenage girls say, SO MUCH FUN. OMG.

But stats are fun, too. Really. They're just sort of the homely cousin, the one who grows up to be a lawyer.

I was delighted when I woke up early (4:45am) this morning because it meant I could just stay in bed for a while. Right? Snuggle under the covers. I did that for about five minutes, and then, slowly, a realization dawned.

It was a tempo run day.

The last one didn't go so well, and I've come to see that running in the dark means running slowly, if I'm to survive, so I'd already determined that speedwork and tempos would be gym workouts until spring.

So I needed to get up NOW, unfortunately, and get myself to the gym.

But I outdid my expectations again, twice in a row for speed days, which was really nice. My top tempo pace was 8:00, held for a half mile, with 8:22 half miles on either side of it, plus all the other dross at the beginning and end.

I run the Komen 5K on Sunday, with no expectations. I am faster than I should be only three weeks into training, but on the other hand I have no idea of my endurance level or anything relative to a real race. I'm guessing not a PW, but that's about all I can say.

Oh, and this week my topic cloud "Running" category passed my "Sewing" category. Both of which far outstrip the stuff I'm supposed to care about - the sentient creatures in my life. I was thinking of re-naming my blog something clever about running (I could take Julie's old Runs Like a Girl, but that would be cheating and also confusing for her fans), but maybe I'll just go with All About Me and the Wonderfulness of Me and What I Like to Do.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Some Good Stuff, Some Bad Stuff

I don't think I have it in me, given my current schedule, to train 6 days a week. I'm throwing in the towel. I was never successful my last round of training, either, and I wasn't getting up so early, then. Higdon even says some people need two days off, and I think he means old, over scheduled people. Me.

So I'm moving to Mondays and Fridays off, although I ran today (with leaden legs and a hurting knee) so will take tomorrow off.

I made a fool of myself in Biostats today. That pretty much sucked. I followed up on someone else's question with a question so dumb, that when I realized the idiocy of it about five minutes later, I wanted to hide from the other 200 people in the room. "Hey, check that out...must be early dementia." I am resolved to shut up in large lecture classes, now. Nothing like a life lesson.

Good things, a la Lori A.: Annie is making dinner right now; Joe got his homework done without being nagged; Rob walked the dog even though it's my night; I'm caught up, finally, on reading for the week. I have my health.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I do go on.

So this is the first week I feel a little, or maybe a lot, like I'm drowning. It may have quite a bit to do with the almost constant headache and general crummy feeling from this cold, it may have to do with the stress of shifting jobs at work, or it may have to do with the incredible amount of reading I'm trying to get through. Or the difference between permutations and combinations, which is Chapter 2 in Biostats, and which I will never ever ever understand.

One thing I know: it has nothing to do with training, OK? So don't go there.

One of the nice things about being a grown-up student is that I can be fine about drowning. I know a lot of things I didn't last time I was in school. I know that I will not die if I don't get an A in every class, and I know that showing up and doing the reading will guarantee me at least a passing grade. I know that the stress at work will lessen, and that the cold will go away.

But the best thing I know? I know that permutations and combinations don't matter. I'm almost done with the chapter, and no one will ever ask me about them after the next test. Ever again, not once, in my whole life (and no fair, those of you who may be at my deathbed, throwing it at me then). Nothing in any form of data analysis hinges on understanding the difference, it's just a trick thrown at us to see if we blink and run away.

Ha. I'm so smart.

So now I have to go cross-train for an hour (whilst listening to a podcasted lecture I missed - multi-tasking!) and then get back to treading scholastic water. Tomorrow is Long Run Sunday, the fog is in for perfect running weather, and now I know how to use the waffle maker. It'll be a great day.

Friday Nights

I remember when Friday night was THE night. All those urges pent up during the week - letting loose, staying up late, fill in the blanks here - Friday was the time to put caution aside and have some fun.

Now? The biggest urge I have all week is for more sleep, and Friday is the night to indulge. Last night I turned down a very nice offer of dinner and a movie with my Mom and Auntie, and instead read an epi textbook until 9, then fell asleep in my clothes. After jammying up, I slept until, get this, 8:00am. I can't remember the last time I went on a sleep bender like that.

The lack of sleep is due to my insistence on not running in the evenings more than anything else. I could. Lots of people do, I know I could. I just really hate exercising in the evenings. I'd rather focus on dinner, settling down, paperwork and reading. What we call "hunkering". The opposite of sweating through four miles.

Yesterday I had my first career counseling meeting (a mandatory part of the masters program), and it was very gratifying. The counselor steered me toward a particular set of upcoming career events and said she basically wasn't going to worry about me, despite my age (my worry). She felt my "skill set" and background, along with being one of the few in the program to focus on biostats rather than epidemiology, would guarantee me an array of jobs to pick from. Hope so.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feet First

I seem to be obsessed with running right now. Maybe I'll lose the 15 subscribers I have, but I can't help myself. When you're waking up between 4:45 and 5:15am to run in the dark, it really needs to be a big deal.

Fortunately, my body is rewarding me for all the hard work by getting faster and not hurting. Yay, body! Yesterday I went to the gym to run 8 400s at a 5K pace, as Mr. Higdon told me to do. But I was running late, so I thought I'd sub in 4 800s, although I knew it would be a push. My 5K pace is really 8:34, but I was going to try 8:22.

Check it out. I ran 4x800's at 8:00! With a 2:30 lap in between each one (OK, I walked a little between #3 and #4). I was so excited! My heart rate didn't even get high until #4, either, I probably could have gone one more notch up on speed.

And I'm only on my second of eight weeks of the training. This *is* exciting.

I also treated myself to the most absurdly expensive shoes imaginable. I didn't realize they cost $135 until I went to pay for them, but after trying on six other pairs, I fell madly in love with them. They have all kinds of neatness: memory foam at the top, stability where I need it, plus a heavy cool factor. I threw in a pair of running tights for the coming winter and a fleece jacket (that was on super discount) as birthday gifts from my parents (thanks for the checks, Mom and Dad!) and I look like a Real Runner.

Plus the nice sales lady is convinced my IT band problems are due to my wonky left leg, which she claims pronates, although my right does not. She said bumping up to "stability" shoes from "neutral" should do it. Whether by placebo effect or virtue, right on cue, my left leg feels perfect, and not even a tiny twinge of knee pain in either knee since switching shoes.

Now, on to other business. I have children - did you know? I seem to forget in all the excitement about myself.

So they started back to school (last week, ahem), and here is the best of the photos. My over-achieving firstborn junior is taking AP English, Honors Physics, TAing World History and is probably in Elementary Brain Surgery...I've lost track. She will have a GPA of 7.9 by graduation, I'm convinced. She has jumped into a leadership role within the Leadership class, and along with a friend, is planning a three day sleep-away field trip with the new sixth graders next month.

Joe has moved up to pre-Algebra, all the regular 7th grade stuff, plus Art and Martial Arts as electives. He has some tough teachers this year, it will be an adventure. But he is really enjoying being the not-youngest on campus, and we're all amazed at how small the incoming sixth graders look compared to the ginormous 7th graders.

And we're back in the tumult of the school year, just like that. Friends, frolic, tests, projects, great books, scientific calculators (2 this year!), picture day, trips, dances, another prom, another graduation. In the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Loping Along

A late summer cold has us all a little off this week. I believe, with all my heart, that viral illness is completely out of the question from May 15 through October 15, so these things always take me by surprise. Fighting it and a new IT band problem (this time on my left side, and, er...once again probably due to shoes gone bad) gave me reason to stay in bed this morning instead of run.

My regular run paces are making a slow but very steady decline - yesterday I looked back over the past few months, before the anemia set in, during, and now. I think the increased walking and biking as part of commuting are probably making something of a difference, but I'd bet it's mostly just better oxygen delivery. Very nice. We'll have to wait and see how this translates to actual race times, but I'm excited about the prospect.

In week #3 of school, I continue to be shiny happy every day. It's just geek heaven. I went to a party on Sunday filled with other socially inept but passably interesting people, and we had a lovely time dissing the other public health departments (airy fairy public freakin' policy, what's THAT about?) while eating waffles. And I love love love my homework. Hours of crude death rates vs. expected death rates, probability tables, indices of pedestrian features on Berkeley streets. Truly fun.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Happy, Happy Day

Tomorrow's planned long run is only four miles on my training plan. Given the absurdity of our local weather, this makes me extremely happy.

Many people whose running/biking/other forms of insanity I follow are racing tomorrow. I wish them all luck, and am SO glad I can send good thoughts while I stand in the shade. My turn comes in 2 weeks, when I run the Komen 5K for the Cure. Fingers crossed for saner temps.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Oh, Good God

It wasn't so much a tempo run as a parody of someone running past a series of angry beehives. Spurts of flailing speed punctuated by loud gasping swearing walking bits. All in the dark. With a headlamp.

I'd sort of forgotten that I hadn't done a speed workout of any type since late June. And I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, the hottest day of the year was not the day to kick back into high gear.

But at least I tried, I'll give myself that. And I must have run at least 100 yards or so at a 7:48 pace at one point, and had a mile in there at well under 9:00. There was just a lot of walking to go with it. And I still managed to stay under 10:00 per mile for the whole thing, so it wasn't a loss.

My lovely family purchased for me my heart's desire for my birthday: A DDR (Dance Dance Revolution, for those not similarly obsessed) kit for the Wii. This is for cross-training Saturdays. It is a blast. Videos soon.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cripes, It's Hot

97 today, predicted hotter tomorrow. We on The Northern Coast don't *do* air conditioning, so there's not really any getting out of the heat. Well, except for work. Work felt good today.

I overslept yesterday and so did not do the planned tempo, just zipped out three quick miles before school, instead. Today it was clear I needed to bump my rest day up one to deal with the intensified schedule combined with the heat. I was dragging just getting out of bed. Tomorrow I will probably run the tempo at the gym, with the fans on me...

I was snapped up by another department at work, which was nice, and will be working on some new projects starting October. The best was my chat with my new boss (who was also my new boss last time I was laid off, but then became my ex-boss when I was re-hired...sort of like Days of Our Lives meets The Apprentice). I told her I was hesitant about taking on something new because I might, maybe, possibly, be leaving in May for an internship (a 12 week internship is required as part of the master's). I was also thinking about just using my current job as the internship, which would be convenient and low-stress.

Her response was that if I came to work for her she would cut my funding off May 30, 2009 to assure that I *couldn't* keep working. She gave me a long speech about why I needed to go find a perfect internship and a better job, and all of her points made so much sense that I didn't even have to ponder it all. She's right, and I gave 8 months notice to her on the spot. Then I made an appointment with the internship counselor at school, and will take her advice closely to heart.

I need to post first day of school pix like a good mom...but I also need to make Caesar salad for 50 people for tomorrow's homemade school lunch.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tired of Being Fired

I need to get this degree done so I can get a decent job. I've been officially laid off once since the start of the year, threatened with it a second time, and again today. And the department in which I work is completely dysfunctional, so it's always a ridiculous charade - them trying to keep me as long as possible by throwing washcloths over the elephant in my office. Something has come through at the last minute each time, but it's extremely stressful.

The short story: Today I found out that the one project I have that wasn't going to be ending soon is now being pulled by the NIH. (I found out from the NIH, not from my bosses, who presumably have known for weeks.) By the end of the day, as with each one of these crises, I was lucky enough to find people and projects who are interested in hiring me away. So I can't complain, really...not at all. I would just like a little less work-related drama in my life. And I don't really want to change jobs in the middle of the semester, especially since I was hoping to leave next summer for an internship/long-term job.

But I need those bennies. I really need them. We've got braces and shots and school physicals and broken bones to pay for.

In running news, I've been running a little quicker each day for the past few weeks, just 'cause it feels good. This morning as I was one mile into a three miler, I realized I have to run my first tempo run of the training schedule tomorrow, and I hadn't really given myself a lot of room, pace-wise, to run a tempo. Hmmmm. I'll either be zooming tomorrow morning or I'll be logging something called a temp-faux.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hard Core

My sister suggested earlier this week that I was becoming a hard core runner. She had tongue in cheek (she runs 100 miles a week, I count a good week as 20), and I didn't feel very hard core based on her assessment.

But today? I hit a major milestone.

It's not that I ran 7 miles. I'd done that before.

Not that I did it happily, even looking forward to it the night before. That happens with most of my long runs.

Not that I did it on my birthday - if you'd told me a year ago I'd eagerly run 7 miles on my 47th birthday, I'd have laughed hard enough to make stuff come out my nose - I like long runs enough so that it was a treat.

Not even that I ran the first two miles through knee pain.

No, it was when I got home and realized I needed to go to the store to pick up eggs for breakfast for the sleepover boys we had last night. And, without any sense of irony, I asked Rob to smell me, to make sure I could go to the store.

It didn't even strike me until fifteen minutes later how odd that was. No, I don't remember ever asking my husband to smell me.

I think that qualifies as Hard Core.

Tomorrow starts Week 1 of training for a solid first 10K in October. Wish me luck!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Report

I lived through two days of classes plus one class on Thursday that I've decided to take next year instead of this year. Time for a race report. As I said a few posts back, it continues to be the little things that are hard, interesting, and/or amazing.

First, caloric output. My 8:00 class (which starts at 8:10) is at the farthest possible point on campus from the BART station. Straight uphill, probably about a mile. The BART train drops me off at 7:55. There is supposed to be a shuttle, but there hasn't been so far...I don't think they pay much attention to the schedule. So this morning I shot out of the BART car, bounded up the steps, and then strode up the hill at a madwoman's pace. I was only 3 minutes late, but that meant I had to sit at the top of the auditorium (after first walking in front of the teacher, always fun), which was another climb.

And it's like that all day (although the 8:00 is the worst). I honestly don't think I could do this if I hadn't lost weight and started running. The good news is that between the running, the biking to and from BART and the insane amount of walking with 20 pounds on my back, I get to eat a lot more.

Second, shoes. Footwear became an obsession this week. I stupidly wore flip flops on Wednesday, not realizing how much walking there would be, and my feet still hurt from that. I'm afraid I will be a little old lady in tennis shoes from now on.

Third, shoes. I am astonished at the shoes of the average female undergrad and some of the grad students. Two, three inch heels. Sandals that must cut into their feet like crazy. Espadrilles with a high wedge that must make their feet burn like the sun. To boot, it's about 145 degrees today, and 3/4 of the girls on campus had on painted-on blue jeans. Oy. I suspect I was just as vain when I was 18 or so, but it makes me want to smack them.

Fourth, I am old. It's getting better, but I spent the first couple of days amazed at how old I feel on campus and in classes. Somehow I was led to believe that there were lots of "re-entry" students. There are not. Education has quite a few, Public Health has 2 (including me) in my department, maybe 5 in the whole school. I don't see any in any other department buildings, at all. It's not a big deal, it's just a fish out of water thing.

Fifth, it's hot. UC Berkeley is a public university in a state that doesn't really "do" education. Air conditioning is not the top of the list of priorities. It's just hot. All. The. Time. Again, so glad I lost some weight before doing this.

Sixth, they're making me DO stuff. I'm already behind on homework, but mostly because I didn't buy books until today. I do have the better part of a day's worth of work for this weekend, though.

The good stuff? There's lots, but it's all just sort of good feeling stuff in my head. I love being challenged, love the stuff I'm being asked to do and discuss, love the ideas I'm already shifting about things, love the campus "buzz". Oh, and Yogurt Park, the froyo place. I love that, too.