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Archive for the ‘odd moments’ Category

As if 2016 hadn’t already been a monumentally awful year, it managed to go out in a particularly hellacious fashion in our family, when E’s mom came down with a life-threatening c. difficile infection in December. Public service announcement: if your elderly relative takes antibiotics (as treatment for a bad laceration received in a fall), and shortly thereafter has several days of increasingly severe diarrhea, do not assume it’s food poisoning from her eating lunch at a restaurant. Not even if it’s a restaurant that has given your wife food poisoning in the past. Not even if your elderly relative thinks it’s getting better because on day 4 she manages to eat a little solid food before getting sick again. Instead, just take your elderly relative to the local emergency room, and get her checked for c. diff., before your elderly relative becomes so dehydrated that kidney function (and everything else) is in peril.

Let’s gloss over how difficult hospital stays can be for a frail elder. Let’s just say that E spent enough time at the hospital that the person who runs the coffee kiosk eventually would just ask her if she wanted the usual.

Fortunately, E’s mom is doing OK now, after 2 separate stays in the hospital, and was back home in time for Christmas. We did a lot of cleaning at her home to avoid the risk of reinfection, which included some serious refrigerator purging for open packages of food, which also happened to turn up 16 outdated eggs meant for holiday baking she never had a chance to do.

All of which helps explain why we officially said goodbye to 2016 today through the highly therapeutic method of going to some deserted woods and whipping 16 eggs at trees.

“This one’s for Carrie Fisher.” SPLAT!

“This one’s for everybody who died.” SPLAT!

“Trump.” SPLAT!

“The electoral college.” SPLAT!

SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT!

It didn’t matter that my aim is so bad I sometimes missed the trees, and once didn’t even hit underbrush, and got to throw the same egg twice. It just added to the comedy of it all. E, as a former softball player, got in enough good hits for us both.

SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT!

Good-bye, 2016!

SPLAT!

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A play in one act.

Setting: an open-plan office space in eastern Massachusetts.

Cast of Characters:

— BG (British Guy) – a middle-aged upper-level manager visiting from the company’s site in England
— AG1 (American Guy #1) – a middle-aged scientist with a PhD
— AG2 (American Guy #2) – a slightly younger and somewhat more junior scientist

——————————-

BG: So I understand you have your Thanksgiving holiday next week? What exactly is that? Is it something to do with your independence?

AG1: Yeah, next week. It has to do with the Pilgrims. It was the first year they came here, and they were really grateful. For their religious freedom. I think it was their first year. Oh shoot, I should really know this.

BG: And I hear you eat turkey?

AG1: Yes. Only the Pilgrims didn’t. They had more regular stuff. But now mostly it’s turkey.

BG: So is Thanksgiving always on a Thursday or Friday?

AG1: It’s always the 4th Thursday in November.

AG2: Yeah, and so the traffic always used to be really bad on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, with everyone traveling, and one year I got stuck on the Mass Pike for hours, but now the traffic is spread out more into Monday and Tuesday, and so now maybe Tuesday is the worst day.

AG1: There’s a lot of people now who take the whole week off, or at least a couple extra days.

AG2: When I lived in the Midwest, there was never any traffic out there, but here it’s really terrible. And then everyone comes back on Sunday, and the traffic is terrible then too. I got stuck on the Mass Pike for hours all the way from 84 one year.

BG: So does everyone have the Friday off?

AG1: Pretty much. Except for stores. They’re all open and it’s Black Friday.

AG2: Some are even open on Thanksgiving for the Black Friday sales.

BG (looking too confused to dare ask what “Black Friday” means, or why its sales would fall on a Thursday holiday): And then you do all the traveling all over again a month later for Christmas?

AG1: Well, a lot of people celebrate Thanksgiving with one side of the family, and Christmas with the other.

BG (looking relieved at something that finally makes sense, and deciding to end this conversation on a positive note): I can see how that would work out well.

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But it is beyond wonderful and amazing to see so many of our legislators occupying Congress, expressing how unacceptable the current level of gun violence in our country is,  and the desperate need for more gun control. Maybe, just maybe, something good and something productive can finally come out of Congress, for the first time in years. 

And seeing them start to hold up papers with names of victims was especially poignant. Because there were plenty of papers to pass around, and every single paper had a different name…

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Office decor 

A dead potted plant is pretty pathetic. 

A foam rhinoceros-shaped stress toy is also not terribly appealing. 

But when you combine them, suddenly you get a desert-oasis-under-the-palm-trees scene that is actually rather entertaining. 

   

Or maybe someone just wanted to condense random stuff on an unassigned desk.  But I like to think there was an artistic impulse behind it – perhaps inspired by diorama assignments in elementary school. 

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Act 1

E called her mom to find out how a medical appointment went. The cat started yowling, so I decided to take him outside and give E some peace and quiet for her discussion. I called the cat over to the back door and opened it. Three things happened simultaneously:

1) I realized that a garter snake had gotten under the storm door and was curled up in between the storm door and back door.

2) The snake realized it now had an opportunity to slither into the house.

3) The cat realized he now had an opportunity to catch a snake without even going outside.

Fortunately, my reflexes were the fastest of the three of us, and I got the back door closed again with the snake still outside and the cat still inside. Unfortunately for E’s phone call, there was some screaming involved at this point.

Act 2

I wanted to make sure the snake was not still waiting to slither inside, so the cat and I headed out the front door, and I hurried around to the back. I confirmed that the snake was gone from the doorway, then backtracked to the side yard just as the cat caught a shrew. The cat was quite proud of this feat, as usually it takes a lot of patient waiting to catch a rodent, and he nabbed this one in under 2 minutes. Unfortunately, “quite proud” also meant that he wanted to bring it inside the house, and when I refused that option, he wanted to trot around the yard with it for a while before crouching down to eat it. I finally had to resort to picking the cat up by his back haunches, letting him hang head-down, then jiggling him up and down gently until he dropped the rodent.

Act 3

I turned the cat upright and carried him up to the house. Just as I shoved him in the back door, I saw a tick crawling on his chest. That’s got to be a record: two minutes outside to get both a shrew and a tick. So I grabbed a paper towel and then the cat and I darted back outside. I scooped up the rodent, flung it in the woods, dropped the towel in the compost bin, then tried to catch the cat. At this point, he didn’t know why I wanted to catch him. He just knew I was a killjoy who’d deprived him of both a snake and a shrew. So I had to chase him around the rose garden for a while (his go-to spot to elude me, since he’s  willing to step on flowers but I’m not), before I could nab him and pluck off the tick. 

At that point, we could finally get on with my original plan, which involved him quietly sitting outside and staring at a rustling bush, while I sat on the back stoop watching him and reading my book. 

Phew!

The End

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While M has enjoyed many social and extracurricular aspects of his first year of college, he has been disappointed in regards to the department he’s majoring in, both the classes he’s taken and related opportunities available.

He muttered briefly about wanting to transfer when he was home at Thanksgiving. We couldn’t tell if it was general freshman transitional angst or not. He muttered again briefly at Christmas. Again, hard to tell how serious he was. And then, in late February, a week before most transfer applications were due, he decided to go for it. 

Let me inject some parental irony here. When he applied to colleges as a high school senior, he had copious amounts of help to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible. E and I drove him to countless tours and info sessions and several interviews. We kept a spreadsheet on the fridge to make sure everything got done in a timely fashion. A family friend worked with him to hone his long essay. His guidance counselor made sure transcript and recommendations all went through electronically. And ultimately he got into 3 good colleges, but not either of the Ivies he’d really been hoping for.

This time around, the entire process was on him, and was a lot more complex and problematic. One college misplaced his mailed transcript; another misplaced his mailed midterm report. One professor forgot to write a recommendation for a month. He drove himself to tour and interview at one school.

And the end result? M was accepted at 4 colleges, including 2 of the Ivies he applied to. Wow! That extra year of maturity, and actual college experience, clearly made him much better able to articulate who he is, and what he aspires to, and why a top-tier college should want to help him get there.  

And ultimately it came down to a choice between Columbia and Brown.

We took a whirlwind day trip to NYC since he’d never visited Columbia before, and they had a special visit day for accepted transfer students. He traveled to Brown by himself for a revisit, since he hadn’t seen that campus in almost 3 years. 

And after much thought, he finally made what is probably the toughest choice he’s ever had to make. 

Columbia, here he comes!

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My work, in plain English

One of the funniest internet sites I’ve seen in a long time is http://lolmythesis.com/ It’s a place where people rephrase their thesis titles in plain English, with the simplified explanation generally showing how ridiculously useless and/or frustrating a lot of research actually is.

For example:

Behavioral Analysis of D. melanogaster larva: Determining if TRPA1 is Necessary and Sufficient for an Avoidance Response from ITC

turned into:

To nobody’s surprise – Fly Larva do not appreciate nor enjoy being tossed face first into a dish of the stuff that makes Wasabi so damn hot

And:

Investigating Populations of Pseudoroegneria spicata in Eastern Washington using a Stochastic Integral Projection Model

turned into:

I was paid to sit on a hillside and count grass and then my research site burned down, so here’s a mathematical model I don’t understand

Although my current work is not (thank goodness) anything I actually need to produce a thesis about, I am in the midst of putting together an abstract for a conference. The title in layman’s terms would have to be:

I can measure tiny amounts of two really small molecules, but the biologists don’t agree on which cells I should be looking in

Another project I’ve spent a lot of time on this week is:

When you put stuff in hot acid, it falls apart

And then there’s a weekly analysis that I run, whose results periodically show:

If you’re trying to kill cells with chemicals made 20 years ago, your data is probably going to be garbage, because most of your chemicals went bad

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