25 April 2006

I is for Inspiration

So this one will be a little light on pictures, but I hope that will be okay. *smile*

I is for Inspiration and for me when I think back over my adult life, there is one person who stands out as repeated and continual inspiration, even though our friendship at times goes through (longer than it should) periods where we drop out of communication. This woman has inspired me to do and be more than any other single person I can identify.

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This is Kim. ("Hi, Kim!") I met Kim in college and while I don't think either of us really knew it at first, the seeds of a long and strong and lasting friendship were planted and have continued to grow over the last mumbletysomething years.

For most of you, it would be enough for me to tell you that this wonderous being was the first person to put "string and a couple sticks" (to steal the phrase *smile*) into my hands and teach me to knit (while sitting outside on the ground in a grey early morning while waiting in line for the REI garage sale, at least if memory serves). Thus began my fiber addiction (though it was slow to start and took a few years to really take hold).

But wait! There's more!

Kim also inspired me to advocacy. She set an example and brought to what is sometimes a scary proposition a humanity that I can't do justice do with mere words. She made it okay for me to *try* and equally okay for me to fall apart in a puddle of uncertainty and frustration and taught me that strong advocates are all, at the end of the day (and in the middle of it, too), people. She gave me confidence that I could step outside my comfort zone and reach out to help make the world better, safer, less abrasive than it sometimes is.

She taught me that respect for people means more than just politely nodding and smiling and changing the subject. She taught me that it was okay not to know and to ask questions, even around uncomfortable topics, and that by learning and really listening, the uncomfortableness diminished. She taught me to see beyond the incident through to the person in the middle. She taught me about empowerment, real, honest, true empowerment that is ongoing and every day and doesn't stop at the end of a rally or a meeting.

She's also a poet, and that, too, is inspiring. It made it okay when sometimes the only way the words would come were in cryptic phrases and half-verse (language warning on this link). It helped me discover who I am and who I wanted to be.

Most of all, though, Kim is unabashedly real and she's taught me that it's the only way to really live your life. She's taught me that we're all sometimes unsure or afraid or furious or self-righteous or blissfully happy and that all of it is okay. Better than okay, all of it is what it really means to *live*.

24 April 2006

Highs and lows..

Today has been alternately wonderful and frustrating.

Our NCA accreditation team is visiting this week, so campus is all abuzz and there are lots of extra meetings and people wandering about and last minute requests. This, however, is really neither here nor there as it was more or less expected and most of the meetings and requests don't really involve me. However, it did give me the final push I needed to get the ABC prints Jack got me for the holidays hung in my office. They're hung on the wall to my right, just by the door, so I can see them out of the corner of my eye all the time when I'm working at my desk and they make me smile. I like the color they add to the wall and the fun the bring to the office.

Today is also the due date for the US News surveys. These are easier this year than they were last year because I knew they were coming and what to expect and had the foresight to complete the Common Data Set in October. Unfortunately, there are *always* things on the US News survey that aren't in the CDS that require additional running around and tracking down and updating. Which wouldn't be so bad if people would actually, oh, I don't know, respond to data requests anywhere near on time.

(It seems that if I'm a couple days late on getting a request completed it's okay for them to badger me endlessly, but if I'm asking them for data, a simple reminder a week after I asked for the data (which itself was at least 10-14 days after they got the initial request) is completely unreasonable and can't I just go sit in a corner until they feel like getting back to me on their own? And I won't even get started on the rant about "Oh, so and so sent you that already." when I haven't received anything and then a grump about how inconvenient it is for them to have to track down the "copy" they kept - which is really the original form, complete with my original signature, that they just bothered to go find and complete this afternoon. After my second reminder that I still hadn't received their data.)

So here it is, 4:15 on the day the survey is due and I'm still waiting for people to get me the information I need to complete it. Yup. Information that I know each factors at least 5% in our ranking. And then they'll wonder when our ranking comes out wonky. *sigh*

But, on the up side, I've been selected as an AIR Summer Data Policy Institute Fellow for this summer, which is kind of neat.

Then again, there's a town-&-gown discussion tonight that I need to be at that doesn't start until 6:30, so I'm sort of stuck here until then (with a 30-minute commute, going home before something like that is a bit ridiculous).

22 April 2006


Hrm.. might regret that in the morning..

We moved gardens today. (And just what were you thinking..?) Or rather, we .. hauled a whole hell of a lot of rock. And some very large and surprisingly heavy plants.

There might be a quick version of this.. this might be it, actually.. we'll see how prolific I get as I go.

We slept sort of in this morning - meaning Jack's alarm went off at 6:15 and mine went off at 7:15, both tuned to NPR, and we managed to alternately sleep through and snooze one alarm at a time through until about quarter of nine. Which made for some interesting recollections for both of us from listening half-conscious to Zorba Paster (doesn't he look *exactly* like you pictured?).. Jack remembers something about lobsters having to pull their exoskeleton off as they grow, which is only particularly hideous when he elaborates that part of their stomach is *attached* to the exoskelton...

Anyway, we got up, showered, made a butterbraid and coffee and called Judy (Jack's mom) and Adam & Bec to let them know that even though we got rain last night, the day was s'posed to be mostly cloudy with no rain, so we were still planning to do the garden overhaul.

Shortly thereafter, I wandered out to start hacking down the raspberry canes from last year. Before today, this was one of few things I felt competent enough to do in my own gardens. I can't kill the damn things if I try, so I clearly can't do much harm just cutting away the dead bits, right? So I'm stooping and bending and setting the old canes in nice neat little piles so we can bundle them later to take to the local green dump and Jack is out and about with our new edge trimmer (did I mention that we got a Home Depot credit card..? Yeah.. my dad has his own card for our account. He doesn't get it until he retires though..) and the sun is coming and going and it's generally a rather pleasant morning.

And I hear the back gate open and Jali grumph a couple times and assume it's just Jack. And after a few minutes of Jali continuing to grumph, I turn around to tell him to stop teasing the dog and realize that the Mayor is not my husband. I promptly introduce myself and he (the Mayor, that is) does himself and we chat about yards (his is to *die for*.. it's amazing and beautiful and did I mention the stream and the pond and the waterfall?) and about his little boy "stealing" raspberries off our plants that grew through the fence last year.

(The Mayor lives behind us. We've known this for some time, but never met him. Today we did. I rather like him. And it has nothing at all to do with covetting his garden. Nothing. Even though his garden is, did I mention this, *to die for*.) He was out cutting sod to make the pond bigger and noticed we were working in the yard, so came over to introduce himself. Oh, and he's getting some of the raspberries for his very own, but I told him if his little boy (who's almost two and very cute and very blonde) ever wanted to come get some more from our bushes, they were welcome anytime.

Um.. right.. so yeah, I finish with the raspberries and head in to refill my coffee and spend a few relaxing moments soaking up some mid-morning sun on the back patio before Judy arrives. Which is, as always, a bit of a flurry. I love my mother-in-law, truly. She's a bit scattered and a bit flakey at times, but I do have to admit I genuinely enjoy her company.. at least when I know to expect it. (There are times when I'm stressed (like when we moved into the house a year ago) when I don't deal well with unexpected "hostess" requirements and I'm still a new enough newlywed to feel a compulsion to "host" my in-laws. I'm getting over that. Days like today help.) (And yes, I do realize how fortunate we both are that we each do actually like the other's parents.)

In relatively short order, we have toured the yard and laid out the (rather ambitious) plans for the day. To my surprise, Jack states that he's going to clear all the rock out of the garden beds. (Really, this was a surprise. Jack was forced to tend the lawn and garden as a child as punishment and really doesn't enjoy spending time outside puttering. So his offerinsistence that he would clear the rock from the three rather large garden beds was a bit of a surprise. A welcome one, but a surprise nonetheless.

A bit of lay-of-the-land is necessary here. We bought a house with well established gardens.

  • There is a side garden along the south side of the house that blooms constantly throughout the summer (we closed on our house a year ago April 28). It runs pr'bly forty feet and contains, among other things, hostas, bleeding hearts, tulips, several varieties of lilies, coneflowers of a sort, phlox and a handful of other bits and pieces. The hostas and bleeding hearts are *very* overgrown for the space, so one of the goals for the day was to break them up and make room for other things (like, oh, I don't know, annuals or something).

  • There are established rose bushes at the front corner, along the side fence, and along an entire wall of the garage. Most of these are "old fashioned" roses that are unavailable for sale today, though the plants at the front of the house are newer hybrids. Intertwined with the roses along the garage are at least a couple varieties of hollyhock (and at least one black walnut tree that we're trying to kill, along with another in the midst of the largest rosebush in along the side fence). One of the minor goals of the day was to relocate the roses - though I knew this likely wouldn't be able to be accomplished.

  • There is also a "small" garden on the north side of the house (outside the fence - did I mention said fence is about 7 feet tall? - and along the property line) that we *never* see. It runs maybe twenty feet and contains some red plants I can never remember the name of, hostas, and rhubarb and at least a couple other things I can't remember at the moment. One of the major goals of the day was to relocate this garden bed to somewhere we actually can see.

  • There is a third established garden bed inside the fence in the backyard, but it's never actually had plants in it other than weeds as long as we've lived here.

  • The aforementioned raspberry patch is toward the back of the yard, behind the garage. Said raspberry patch also hashad assorted other things (mint, phlox, violets, one or another variety of lily) growing amongst the raspberry plants. It iswas so overgrown, though, that we didn't really know what was in it.

So, Jack started cleaning the rock out from the garden bed on the south side of the house while Judy and I went to explore what, exactly, was in the garden bed on the south side. I knew that anything salvagable from this bed needed a new home by the end of the day. Period. So after a quick survey, we decided that most of the plants would fit in the interior - and currently unplanted - garden space inside the fence, but that we'd need to clear the rock out before we could start digging anything up. We removed the brick "retaining wall" bits that had been placed to establish the edge of the bed out of the way to the grass on the narrow strip of side lawn on the north side of the house.

This brought us back to the south garden bed (by far in the best shape of the three), where Jack was clearing rock. We helped clear some rock, broke up the hostas in the corner, dug out a bleeding heart and a rosebush that threatens the life of our mailperson from time to time, and pulled out all the black plastic underneath the rock to discover a rather nice garden bed - if a bit heavy on clay (we live near the Mississippi River after all) - once the weeds were dug out. We left a small stretch of rock in the tail end of the bed as we were impatient to move on to the north bed.

The rock on the north side was more troublesome. Not only was the black plastic underlying the bed more deterioriated (making it harder to gather up large swaths of rock and dump them in the wheelbarrow), but it was harder to discern what might actually be salvagable plant from weed as this bed gets considerable shade and therefore was a bit slower to pop up than the bed on the south side. Several wheelbarrow-loads of rock (which were brought to the side of the garage where we usually park one of the cars) later, we started digging up plants to prepare for transplant. We dug up a *huge* rhubarb - *huge*! - and moved several clumps of the red plant to the interior garden bed. We left the hostas sit until we had a place to put them.

And then we had lunch. Hamburgers on the grill. Mmm...

And then we sidetracked to the raspberry bed where we cleaned out a rather large and nasty infestation of nettles. (And discovered that my body is, yet again, bizarre - as an adult, I've noticed that I don't appear to react to mosquito bites - they itch for about twenty seconds when first bit and then never again - and this appears to carry over to other traditional skin irritants. While I haven't tried it with something so noxious as poison ivy (which I admit to never having, though I'm sure I've walked through it before) or poison oak, nettles appear to bite a bit when I first come into contact with them, welt up about twenty minutes later, and then completely disappear within an hour never to bother me again. *shrug* I'm not complaining, mind you, but it does tend to be a bit odd.) We then cleared out several plants from a central aisle in what we hope will become a way for us to actually *reach* the berries in the middle of the patch this year. We also removed three patches of one of the mints (two of which went to fill holes from the aforementioned hosta that was removed from the south garden bed) and a couple patches of phlox, and Judy strategically relocated some violets throughout the process.

Adam and Bec arrived as we were finishing the raspberry patch and we proceeded to clearing the rock from the interior bed. This was a little easier, even though there was more rock, because we didn't have to work around any established plants that we didn't want to damage beyond repair. Once we got half the bed cleared, Bec, Judy and I started replanting things from the north garden. We went to dig out the hostas (huge, mind you) and broke each into four clumps to be replanted (I told you they were huge). The red plants line the fence, with a row of hostas in front of them and the rhubarb at the east end (where it'll get the most light).

(The rest of the plants (several hostas, a bleeding heart or two, one rosebush that we expect to live and one that we don't, some mint, some phlox, some rhubarb, did I mention several hostas?) either went home with Bec and Judy or will be taken to Deb's farm tomorrow to be distributed to the women in the Korean drum ensemble.)

The rest was mostly tidying up while Jack grilled up some Italian sausage and cheddar brats for dinner - I threw some poppy seeds in a bare patch of the south bed, put some extra dirt around the mint that got transplanted, cleared the rest of the rock (and most of an infestation of sweet potato vine) from the south bed, and bundled and tied the old raspberry canes for delivery to the green dump.

In the end, I'm pleased that we made as much progress as we did - especially as moving the rock proved to be the most onerous and time-consuming chore of the day. We still need to reseed what was the north bed with grass, and we never did get around to most of the roses, but the bulk of the major moving of plants I wanted to accomplish for the day is complete. I have room in the interior bed to put in some tomatoes and cucumbers (though I might put the tomatoes where the sweet potato vines were as I think they'll get more light) and all the plants of any viewing-value have been moved to places where we can actually enjoy them.

We still have a lot of work to do on the yard to get it where we want it - we have several manyyearsold arborvitae that need to be cut down and removed and the fence and rosebushes need to be dealt with - but we've made noticeable progress. I have no doubt that I'll be wincing with some stiffness as I load the car to head out to the farm tomorrow and pr'bly stifle a yawn or two while attending the NCA reception tomorrow evening, but I can't help but admit that there's something satisfying about having dirt under your nails and the slightest hint of sunburn on your shoulders to mark a productive April weekend.

18 April 2006

H is for Hawks and Herons

My daily commute includes a three to six mile stretch of wetlands in the Root, Black and Mississippi River flood plains. Year round, this makes for a rather relaxing and life-affirming start and end to the business day, but especially this time of year.

I don't have any pictures of my own to share depicting the hawks gliding on the thermals above the highway or the blue or white heron wading in the tall grasses or stretching their long necks out to take off, and I was disappointed to learn that the Fish and Wildlife Fact Sheet series didn't include either species, and while the USGS says they have some interesting fact sheets, the links to get to the ones I was interested in were broken. I had some renewed hope on finding the Fish and Wildlife Information Exchange Master Species File, but they don't appear to cover this area.

Fortunately, before becoming completely discouraged, I stumbled across the National Wildlife Foundation website which has field guides for the Great Blue Heron, the Little Blue Heron, the Red-tailed Hawk, and the Bald Eagle, all of which I've seen in the last couple weeks.


13 April 2006


Thank you to everyone who's commented helping me figure out what's growing in my garden!

El confirmed my suspicion on the hosta.. I have lots of them. LOTS of them. Most of them are *just* coming up (though some are throwing up blooms already), but I talked to my mother-in-law last night and she's going to come out next weekend and help me dig up the hostas and the bleeding hearts and break them up and replant the ones I want to keep (in places less detrimental to the foundation of the house). I need to put out a call to local folks to let them know if they want any hostas or bleeding hearts to stop by next Saturday afternoon. Also on the agenda for that day is to move the rhubarb from the side of the house we never see to a garden spot in the main yard. Oh, and start tomatoes, but I might do that sooner.

We have differing reports on the about to bloom bit - either an iris or daffodils. I'm still holding out for tulips, personally. We've been getting night-time rain here the last couple of days, so hopefully the blooms will appear shortly and settle the question once and for all. In any case, though, it's one of the ones that's going to have to move.. it's going to get overrun soon by the tall stalky yellow flower things.

Spaaz commented in response to a comment I left in her blog about swimming and training and such. I thought I'd need to hit a stroke clinic, too, but since going to the chiropractor and paying more conscious attention to body rotation during my stroke, I'm finding that my stroke is a lot more even and powerful without tiring me out as much. (Don't get me wrong, I still only made if 5 laps yesterday, but I wasn't bone-crushingly exhausted the rest of the day and I didn't feel like I was dragging my legs behind me as dead weight the whole time, so this is a definite improvement.) My goal is to complete the swim for the sprint tri I'm doing as part of a team in early June in freestyle - last year, which I did on about two weeks notice - one of which found me in San Diego for the AIR Forum - after not swimming for more than a year and never having done an open water competitive swim, I ended up doing the whole thing in breaststroke out of a combination of self-defense and nerves about getting off course. I'm getting more of a head start this year, so here's hoping I can even out and strengthen my freestyle stroke and get my lung capacity up enough to allow alternate side (instead of needing every right side stroke) breaths so sighting will be easier.

But the really exciting bit is that I found what I thought was the Galway method, but turns out to be the Galloway method after being inspired by Spaaz's mention that she sometimes walks when she competes in running events. Knowing that this is "acceptable" behavior gives me some confidence that I maybe *could* complete a sprint-tri on my own this summer. For me, the hardest part is the run - I really am not a runner, though I've swam and biked off and on for years. The run in a tri is also the last leg - on the idea that you're less likely to kill yourself if you get too tired to continue running, but falling off a bike or drowning would be Bad(tm) - so it's the part I like the least and would have to do when I'm the most tired.

*BUT*, if I can set up a training regimen that includes a constant run/walk cycle (which according to the little rules of thumb on the Galloway website, would be about 2 minutes run/1 minute walk for me), and then stick to that in a tri setting, I *should* be able to do it.

So the plan for the next month is to focus on swimming primarily during the week and add in cycling on the weekend - I need to rebuild some muscle generally before attempting to add running in again or I'll get discouraged too quickly. After the team-tri in early June, I'll switch to working on all three activities each week - likely by figuring out a three day on/one day off pattern with the day before the day off including a brick (which is where you do two consecutive workouts in two different activities, e.g., a quarter mile swim followed by a 15 mile bike ride). I'll have to find a sprint tri late enough in the season to shoot for, but I think last year there was at least one in early September that is hopefully an annual event.

10 April 2006

G is for Green (and Garden.. and Glow.. and Gloves..)

We had our first spate of warm-enough-to-be-outside-without-a-jacket weather this weekend. Sadly we weren't home to enjoy it, but luckily it lasted over through to today. Jack came home after his classes and raked the lawn to get the last vestiges of autumn cleaned away and it inspired me to finally tend to the side garden. As luck would have it, it was getting on toward dusk by the time I got outside, so my first "g" is for the glow of an early spring dusk:

But it was still light enough to pull the deadbits out and let the garden greenery poke through. I'm a rank novice when it comes to gardening, so I'm still trying to figure out what all is out there. Below are pictures of what's coming up now, and where I can, I've put in what I think it is. If anyone here is more knowledgeable about any of these plants than I am (which wouldn't take much!), please feel free to chime in and correct me.

Pretty sure this is one of the hostas. I have *lots* of hostas. And they're big. Too big, in fact, and in need of being broken apart into smaller plants. I have some friends who've drooled over the thought of hostas, so I have a feeling some of mine will be finding new homes soon.

I also have lots (and lots) of bleeding heart and they're also all way too big and in need of breaking apart. I *think* this is the big one on the corner of the porch.

I have no clue on this one, but it's my first bloom of the season, so it needed to be highlighted! I think the other plants in there will eventually become the tall daisy-like flowers, but I'm not sure.

Again.. no clue.. Iris? Tulip, maybe? Something that's about to bloom in any case, so I'll know more in about a week or so if nothing else!

I'm trying to remember what was growing in this spot last year, and the only thing coming to mind are the ones that my mom wanted that I can't remember the name of.. They weren't clumped like this, though.. so this might be something else

These little guys could very well be something I don't want. There's lots of them and that makes me wonder if they're not weeds that should be gotten rid of.. I think there was some kind of viney thing back in this spot last year - wild grape, maybe? - but I think we pulled all that out in the fall.

By the time I was done cleaning out the debris and raking up the bits, the moon was out and it was getting to be full on dark.

Moving on to other greens, here's a shot of two of my current knitting projects:

The bottom one is Rogue in Wool of the Andes Evergreen. I thought I was almost done with the front, but realized this evening that I misread the directions and need to rip back the left front and re-do it. Even though tonight is Rogue Monday, the garden was calling, so I didn't get any additional progress made.

The top project is the Candle Flame Shawl from KnitPicks. At the time the picture was taken it wasn't very exciting. I'm almost through with a full repeat now and will post additional pictures once I finish the first repeat.

I also finished the elbow length gloves I was working on:

They don't stay up as well as I'd like, but they keep my arms and hands warm and they match very well with my Birch, so the two of them with a t-shirt and jeans is quite the funky little outfit.

And here's a gratuitous shot of most of my handknit (by me) socks; I'm missing one of the cotton pairs in this shot, but if you count, you can see I can wear handknit socks for a whole week and not wear the same pair twice! Left to right: lacy socks from a pattern in a recent Interweave Knits from the lovely purple/grey wool I got from mamacate last summer; the blue Sinfonia pair; a pair from one of the KnitPicks socks yarns; a pair from the CashSoft that I got from Kim; the other pair from the other wool from mamacate - these got washed and dried once on accident so they're not quite as stretchy as they were and are a little more felted than the purple/grey pair; the green Sinfonia pair.

I figured out recently why I don't seem to like the self-striping sock yarns.. all the socks made from it look the same. I know that's usually a plus, but I have gotten rather fond of my socks from hand-dyed wool and variegated yarns that result in unique socks that are still identifiably a pair.

One last "g", but this one without a picture. It's for getting off my butt and getting back in the pool. I agreed to do the swim portion of a sprint tri again this year (with a little more warning this time!), and I have about two months to get into decent enough shape to make a respectable showing. I swam today for the first time in about 10 months - only 5 laps, but it was enough to tire me out and remind my muscles how this works. I focused a lot more on my hip/body rotation since that gave me trouble last year, so we'll see how that goes.

02 April 2006

So far..

.. the conference has been.. interesting. Worth it, too.

As we were all sitting down with our cocktails and beer to hear the introductions and keynote this evening, we were told that the city was under a tornado watch and that if the hotel staff came in and said so, we would all have to file out of the room we were in into the hallway to the right. Sure enough about three minutes later, we were all shuffled into the hallway (and the adjoining inner conference room that another group had apparently left a little bit earlier.. where we stole their left over cheese and crackers and melon and munched and mingled until they called us all back into our room).

This is a small conference - only about 200 total heads and most of them are DBAs or otherwise tech folks. But mingling tonight, I found kindred IR folks - though admittedly much more techy-IR than me. These are folks who are responsible for developing/implementing/maintaining their IR offices' data warehouses. It was reassuring and enlightening and encouraging to talk to them. We're not as bass-ackward as I fear sometimes and we have a lot more support than many others - namely, I have faculty support from two academic departments, which appeared cause at least one of my counterparts from Maryland to nearly drool in his drink.

All in all, this bodes well.