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...]