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Greener pastures August 11, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in personal, photography, younger son.
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I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time figuring out how to celebrate birthdays.  Some years, you just go out to eat, or sit around the house, or hope someone makes your favorite meal.  This year has been rough because of everything I have on my plate right now.

Milestone birthdays are important in an odd sort of way, so I try to do something extra fun, and it’s important to take those opportunities when you have them.  On this occasion, I thought maybe riding a horse with my grandmother and the younger son would be a cool adventure.  I’d never been on a horse before.

horses

The ride was an hour-long, guided trail ride in Medora, ND.  You can see Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the background, so the scenery was fantastic.  I found out that horses scare me a bit, and that you shouldn’t pat them on the rear flank the way your dogs like their people to do.  (Apparently I almost sent my horse over one of the guides while she was trying to remove his halter.)  After the ride, I found out that my grandmother had used to love riding horses in her younger years, but hadn’t been on one since my mom was a little girl.

It was a great way to celebrate my grandmother’s 85th birthday.  I hope we can keep having wonderful adventures together for a long time.  I just hope she doesn’t want to go sky-diving any time soon…

The competitive spirit July 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, younger son.
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I have often joked to the older son that I learned, far too late, that I didn’t have to do everything perfectly: I just had to do it better than everyone else.

While that statement reeks of hubris, it comes with an extremely large side of truth.  More importantly, it was something that enabled me to get over my perfectionistic tendencies and just get things done…because I would never find out if I did it better if I never did it at all.

That never-doing-it-at-all thing is something that keeps showing up with both of the kids.  Both of them have this huge fear of not doing things perfectly, and it will keep them from even attempting.  I do realize that both of them grew up comparing themselves with the adults around them as reference points, and knowing they can’t do things as well as much older adults has had a pretty lousy impact on what they perceive as success.  That is, no effort will ever be good enough to compare to the adults, and they want to give up before starting.  (I have wondered if this would be different had they been closer in age, but that’s an experiment for an alternative universe.)

I discussed earlier how the older son is fighting with perfectionism in his classwork.  The younger one has had a related set of challenges.  His, however, center around sports.  He is in two somewhat related sports, the second one showing up as a desire to improve his skills in the first.  Earlier this year, he was told he could move up a level in the first sport.  He has repeatedly told me he doesn’t think he wants to because he wants to get the current level “perfect.”  Once I heard the word perfect, I decided it was time to move him up.  He has no idea that he’ll never really get it perfect, and that sometimes the practice to get better comes from starting to master more advanced skills.  Given he has complained about going over basic skills that he knows inside and out, it’s definitely time to move on.  I’m just waiting for the complaints, however, that the next class is too hard.  He often forgets that the hard things become easier with practice.

In the second sport, we started looking at another training facility, and someone asked about evaluation for the competitive team.  The younger son immediately said, “I’m not competitive.”

I’m going to be honest: I’m a pushy mom.  I’m not one of those moms that expects their kids to be perfect at everything.  I’m not one of those moms that signs her kids up for everything regardless of their actual interest. I am, however, one of those moms that wants her kids to push themselves.  This, to me, was bald-faced fear that was going to prevent younger son from even trying.  He was afraid he wasn’t going to measure up to the other kids, so he wasn’t even going to try.  In doing so, he’d never learn to push himself.

Unacceptable.

However, forcing him to go through the eval without any interest is not the solution, either.  He would intentionally flub it if he didn’t absolutely refuse to do anything at all.  (It doesn’t take much to figure out that would be the end of it.)

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to discuss this with him, and I finally settled on telling him a couple things that I wish I’d known when I was younger.  I suspect it would’ve completely changed my view on sports, as well as academics…and, well, on life.  (And it’s a much healthier viewpoint, IMO.)

First, I said that if the coaches think he’s good enough to be on the competitive team, he really ought to try and see how it goes.  If he has a talent that he’s interested in developing (and he has expressed the desire to learn to do this stuff really well), then he will move a lot farther along with some good coaching.  I also told him that the coaches are the best judge, and if they don’t feel he’s good enough for the team, that’s okay: he can still go to lessons and keep learning.  He just won’t get in as much time to develop this skill as if he were able to make the team.  If it’s still fun, he should keep doing it regardless of what the coaches think.

Second, and far more important, is that being on a competitive team does NOT mean that I expect him to go and win awards and beat people all the time.  Being on a competitive team means that I expect he will work hard to improve his skills.  The only person he’s really competing against is himself.  If he happens to win awards doing it, that’s great, but that’s not required.  He just has to want to work hard to improve himself and to keep improving.  It’s about learning how to work hard to become better at something.

I know that coaches are evaluated on how many of their protege do just that.  Unfortunately, that’s reality, and so I think coaches are smart enough to spend time on people who they know will be able to become really good.  Therefore, if they don’t see the talent, I doubt they’re going to want to spend much time on that particular student.

I also know that, in the back of my head, there are people who think competition is beating everyone else.  I’ve seen the uber-competitive parents at various sports throughout the years, and they bug the heck out of me.  The idea that it’s about winning is a thought that robs a lot of people of the joy of doing things and making them better people.  I did a triathlon a few years back that brought that front and center: if I had done it to compete, I would’ve never started training.  After I finished, dead last, no less, not only did I not care that I didn’t place, I didn’t care that I was last.  I accomplished my goals and did something that I’d never done before (and that many people thought was extremely crazy to attempt), and that was far better than winning an award.

There is an inherent satisfaction that comes with mastery of a particular skill that has absolutely nothing to do with what other people think or compare.  Pushing yourself within healthy limits and without regard to what the rest of the world thinks is very rewarding, and, to me, makes almost any endeavor worthwhile.

“I’m busy” is a euphemism July 22, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, grad school, personal, work.
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I’ve read a couple articles about how we all get caught up in being so busy.  A lot of them talk about how we need to escape the busyness spiral.  Xykademiqz expressed frustration with people who are always busy.

I guess I’m coming at it from a different angle.

I’ve come to realize that the phrase “I’m busy” is just a polite way of saying, “My priorities are different from yours.”  That is, the requested action is more important to the person asking than the person who is supposed to perform the action.  Particularly relevant to my personal situation, it’s also a way to avoid saying, “I need time to work on my thesis.”

Because I’m starting to find that pretty much nobody cares if you need time to work on that.

“Aren’t you done with that yet?”

“You sure have a lot of time off.”

“I’m sure you can do that some other time.”

“Can’t you put it off for just one day?”

Except I’ve been asked to put it off more days than I even have available to push it off from.  As much as I hate telling people I’m busy, I hate even more that people won’t respect my schedule.  Part of the issue is that I am technically only part time at my job.  If you’ve ever had to work part time at a job without a very explicit schedule, you can forget that.  People want things done on their schedule, and when you’re gone you’re taking “time off.”  Apparently raising two kids and a PhD is “time off.”  I’m jealous of those people who actually get to take vacations on their time off.

A lot of times the outright rejection of working on a dissertation isn’t verbalized.  Kids, in particular, really don’t get that you have other things to do besides take care of their needs night and day.  Not that I can blame them as I sure wouldn’t mind if my mom showed up to clean my house once in a while.  (I know, Mom…you’re busy, too.)

Admittedly, doing all of this is a choice.  It’s just unfortunate that a lot of people don’t respect that choice.  It’s particularly frustrating when people want you to do things that they’re capable of doing but are “too busy” to do themselves.  It seems that rather than get into a verbal sparring match with them about how they disagree with my priorities, it’s just easier to say, “I’m busy.”

Kohlrabi Catcher July 11, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking, pets.
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I got this very weird vegetable from our CSA:

20140711-074758.jpg

I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but it’s apparently kohlrabi. I’d heard of it but never eaten it. After asking on Facebook and searching the Internet, I now have a million ways to prepare it but opted for throwing it in some tikka masala sauce for a first go round.

20140711-075054.jpg

Whenever I cook, Teradog and Gigadog hang around the kitchen. Or maybe it’s more appropriate to say they consume the entirety of the kitchen floor space. They know the command “out,” something I came up with after many near-death kitchen catastrophes. However, I still like to provide them with samples of my cooking as much as possible because they’re a quite appreciative audience. Through their sampling, I discovered that Teradog likes pretty much all vegetables except romaine lettuce. Since I was dicing the kohlrabi, I decided to see if he’d like some, as well.  (Just so you know, throwing food and videotaping simultaneously isn’t all that easy.)

Gigadog also liked the kohlrabi, but if you try to play ‘catch’ with her, it bounces off her nose and she looks annoyed at having to wander over to its landing spot.  I guess some food isn’t worth it.

Real men… July 3, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, family.
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real_men

Mike spent all day at work waiting for some smart-alek comments to his shirt.  Nothing. Apparently we both thought the shirt was much funnier than everyone else.  Regardless, I’m still giggling.

Rhubarb, white, and blueberry muffins (gluten-free, dairy-free) July 2, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking, photography, younger son.
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No one in our house likes rhubarb. It’s one of those things that all the German grandmas would bring to church potlucks, and my parents would say, “Isn’t this great!” Meanwhile, my face is about to implode from puckering.

My worst experience was in high school. I had a crush on someone, and when I went to visit him, his mom made rhubarb bars. I had to impress this boy’s mother, so I didn’t say how much I hated it. No, I suffered through the whole bar, eating every last bite. Later, he decided he didn’t want to date me, and I realized that if he couldn’t appreciate how much I’d suffered, he obviously wasn’t the one for me. No man is worth eating rhubarb for.

I was glad, therefore, when I met Mike, and in one of those deep, get-to-know you conversations, I found out he disliked rhubarb as well. He comes by it genetically: his dad hated it so much he would change oil over the rhubarb plants in their yard.

Therefore, when I opened our CSA box last week and saw three pounds of the stuff, I thought, “Oh, crud.” Actually, I thought something else, but I’m too polite to say it in a blog post. I tried to pawn it off on my parents, but no luck.

Anyway, I spent some time pondering and decided to at least try it. I won’t eat tons of it, but I concocted a recipe that uses a tolerable portion. And the rest of the muffin is so good that I don’t mind eating around it. I also discovered that the smaller the pieces that you chop it into, the less intense the flavor. (Now, if you really like rhubarb, cut it into big pieces and substitute a half cup of rhubarb for the blueberries.) I figured it must be okay since the younger son, who is the food critic of the house, really enjoyed them.

And since the Fourth of July is coming up, it seemed appropriate to give it a patriotic theme.

Rhubarb, white, and blueberry muffins

Rhubarb, white, and blueberry muffin

Rhubarb, white, and blueberry muffin

Makes 12 muffins

Dry ingredients

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour (if you like to blend your own, I’d use 140 gms or 1 cup white rice flour, 46 gms or 1/3 cup potato starch and 26 gms or 1 tbsp + 2 tsp tapioca flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (leave out if using a flour mix that includes this)

Wet ingredients

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp butter (for dairy free, use coconut oil)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk (for dairy free, use 1 cup full-fat coconut milk from the can (I like Thai Kitchen brand) + 2 tbsp lime juice)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup diced rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup blueberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place muffin papers in muffin tray or grease and flour muffin tray.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine thoroughly all dry ingredients except sugar and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream butter (or coconut oil) and sugar together. (If using coconut oil and it’s liquidy, I suggest sticking it in the fridge to let it solidify. Cool coconut oil works much better for this. If you’re still not having much luck, go to the next step, using cold eggs, but mix for much longer and it will cream.)
  5. Add eggs and mix for another 20-30 seconds.
  6. Add buttermilk (or coconut milk and lime juice), vanilla, and dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined.
  7. Add rhubarb and blueberries and stir until evenly distributed. (Note: I prefer using fresh blueberries because frozen tend to ‘streak’ the muffins. If all you have is frozen, though, pull them out right before you’re going to add them and toss to coat them with some potato starch.)
  8. Distribute batter into muffin tray.
  9. Bake for approximately 28 minutes.
  10. Let cool in pan for about 10 minutes and then move to cooling tray.

 

I walk the line June 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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I’ve been watching the older son grappling with his courses for the past year.  He was taking courses through an independent study organization to finish up some credits he needs to enter college.  I didn’t feel comfortable with some of these (especially literature classes), so we decided to go this route.

In doing this, I’ve discovered that the older son has a deadly combination of issues: ADHD and perfectionism.  I didn’t quite understand how the two fed into each other, but I can definitely see it now.

The older son also had the disadvantage of not working in the classes with peers.  The first few he did were in print rather than online. He would struggle for days to complete a single assignment, and it didn’t make sense to me at first.

Another thing I found odd was how one of his teachers was initially very abrupt with him.  It didn’t take long before she had completely changed her tune and was being incredibly nice and encouraging, which I thought was odd.

The second set of classes have been online and part of the assignments involved discussing things in a forum, so the student could see what the other students had submitted.  This was an eye-opening experience for me.  It also helped me make sense of his teacher’s dramatic change in behavior.

After watching him and seeing what other students have submitted, I realized three things:

1 – He can easily and quickly finish things that are simple.

2 – When things appear to be more difficult and/or time-consuming, he has difficulty concentrating and finds himself unable to stay on task.

3 – Part of the reason things are difficult and/or time-consuming is because he has seriously high expectations for himself that are way beyond what is often required.

I’m not saying he doesn’t have ADHD, because he most certainly does.  We tried for years to forego medication.  One day, he came to me and said he couldn’t even concentrate on projects he wanted to do for fun, so we opted at that point to look at something to help.  (He does take meds, but it’s the lowest dose that’s effective.)

However, in homeschooling him, neither of us had a reference for what a ‘typical’ high schooler should be doing in his classes.  He would give me an assignment, and we would spend a lot of time revising it.  He worked very hard, but progress was slow.  In one or two cases, he would hand things in half done because of lack of time.

What surprised me is that even the items he handed in half done or that were rough drafts often came back with exceptional grades.  I remember one assignment full of rough drafts of short essays which he aced.  I couldn’t figure it out.

The problem is that both of us really expect a lot out of him, and I learned, after seeing work that other students were doing, that it was likely too much.  Far too much.  While he was going into a detailed analysis of similarities because characters from two different novels set in two completely different cultural and temporal reference frames, it appears his fellow students who likely are trying their hardest, are writing something much more simplistic.  They are being told to elaborate, and he’s being told to eschew obfuscation.

The thing that has me concerned is that college is around the corner, and I worry that he’s going to continue to hold himself to those standards, even when it is so obviously working against him.  He struggles with the idea that it’s better to just hand something in, even if incomplete (by his standards), than to turn it in late, though perfect.

A lot of perfectionists deal with this.  I have told him that it’s not a bad trait, but that he needs to save it for the things that are really important to him.  If he wants to write the Great American Novel that people will pore over and debate and analyze, that is the time to be a perfectionist.  If he’s handing in an assignment that fulfills the requirements laid out by the teacher, who likely will spend ten minutes skimming the entry, being a perfectionist is really not going to help.  He needs to learn to walk that line.  To some extent, we all do.

My dog blows (her coat) June 22, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in pets, photography.
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Newfoundland dogs have this funny habit of losing their undercoats a couple times a year, something people refer to as “blowing coat.”  I suspect this is because fur ends up everywhere: it’s not unlike blowing insulation into your attic.  Teradog doesn’t do it so much, but Gigadog definitely does.  She seems to do this twice a year: once in summer and once in winter.  (I don’t understand why she loses undercoat in January, but I suspect it’s because she’s inside an awful lot.)  Anyway, to get an idea of what this looks like, I’ve included a picture.  This is one of about a dozen groomings she’s had in the past 3-4 days.

brushed_062114

As you may be able to tell, she’s pretty relaxed.  She seems to enjoy being brushed (I think this losing of the undercoat makes her itch).  Teradog, on the other hand, hates being groomed.  I suspect it’s because he wasn’t groomed much before we got him.  He also has a much more cottony coat which is prone to clumping and tangling, and he’s had problems with skin infections in the past.  Because we simply can’t get him to cooperate with regular grooming, he gets a shave in the beginning of every summer.  I do keep trying to get him acclimatized to regular brushing, but we’ve not had much luck.  It’s too bad, though, because I really enjoy brushing the pups.  Either way, I think it looks funny because even though he’s about 40 pounds heavier than Gigadog, she looks bigger with a full coat.



puppy_nap

Travelin’ Whovian June 21, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, science fiction.
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The older son travels rather frequently to see family, but he’s had rather lousy luck with TSA.  Almost every time he’s gone through security, he’s had something happen.  When he was younger, it was often his own fault.  For instance, there was the time that he decided to bring some spending money…and had about three dollars in pennies in the bottom of a carry-on.  The folks manning the x-ray machine were not happy with him, and he had to fish all the coins out of an exceptionally full backpack.

As he’s gotten older, the incidents have been more innocuous.  There was one time where he had too large a container of toothpaste (they threw it away) and another time where he had a nail clipper.  (I think I wasn’t flying with him that time, but I had a gate pass as he was flying as an unaccompanied minor.  They gave it to the security guard who held it and gave it to me when I returned the gate pass.)

Today, he flew out again (from Fargo, which is a rather small airport) and had yet another fiasco with security.  Apparently TSA noticed something in his carry-on as it passed through x-ray.  I was actually waiting near the entrance to security (no gate pass this time) and he was about 100 ft. away.  I could see something had happened with his bag and there was TSA agent riffling through it…and older son didn’t look happy.  Finally, the agent reached in and pulled out…the older son’s sonic screwdriver.

From the look on the agent’s face, it was very apparent he had never seen an episode of Dr. Who in his life.  He was holding it in front of himself, quite gingerly.  I could easily see the furrowed brows and potential fear in this guy’s face, even 100 ft. away.  He was obviously thinking, “What this hell is this thing?!”  And I burst out laughing, definitely out loud.  I’m sure the security guard next to the exit gate, along with everyone else standing near me, must’ve thought I was disturbed.

Fortunately, however, the screwdriver was returned and the older son made his flight…just barely.  Maybe next time he’ll bring a banana instead.  They’re a good source of potassium, you know…and, well, TSA probably won’t freak out over that.

I still haven’t figured out why the older son had a sonic screwdriver in his carry-on to begin with.

Maybe divorce is the answer… June 10, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, feminism, research, science, societal commentary, work.
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I think I am going to change my name.  It’s very annoying.

My last name, anyway.

If I had it to do over again, the one thing I would’ve done when getting married is to keep my maiden name.  Hyphenation was not the best idea by a long shot.

This has been an issue (a lot) because I worked with my husband for so long.  I suspect it will die off as we are no longer coworkers.  However, one of the most bizarre things that has come up is that I recently received some reviews of a proposal that we wrote before he changed jobs.  One of the reviewers noted that as a co-PI, I had the same last name as the PI and so a conflict of interest was a possibility.

Huh?

My university has a clear and very detailed conflict of interest policy, and I’m not clear how this applies.  As far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with conflict of interest as these policies are almost exclusively focused on outside financial obligations.  I checked with the funding agency, and that was all they had listed for conflict of interest, as well.

If he were supervising me or vice-versa (that is, one of us was a subordinate), such a scenario would violate internal policies to the university.  However, even if he is PI and I’m a co-PI, we both reported to someone else.  Further, a PI isn’t necessarily a supervisory role.  Do faculty members who collaborate on research supervise each other or collaborate?  (My experience says there are very few faculty who view their role as co-PI is that of being supervised by the PI.)

In any case, it’s a completely ridiculous comment to make on a proposal review because we could have been two completely unrelated colleagues who happen to have the same last name.  I can think about some of the areas of research I do, and I know of several groups of researchers, particularly in Asia, where many members of the team do have the same last name.  I never once jumped to the conclusion that there was a problem with this.

Of course, it’s obviously my fault for the name, so I should probably fix it.  Do you suppose it’s cheaper to go through the legal name-change process or to just divorce and quickly get remarried?

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