Sunday, May 31, 2015

Study Reading Strategies

Oh geez--it's nearly June. Time to consider my summer study reading. 

My usual process- I grab likely titles from the books I've purchased but haven't read, and a book or two that I need to reread.

A stack of aspirations is one thing. Actually reading the books is quite another.

So, strategies--

Narrow down that pile. Thirty-seven books WILL NOT be read, and that's just a lot of hauling and getting daunted. Start with ten or less. A dozen if you absolutely cannot help yourself.

One book at a time. I'm easily distracted and often read several books in the same stretch of time. My brain doesn't appreciate this when it comes to professional reading.

Notes of some sort. If it's on my Kindle, I highlight and export the notes later. On paper, I have a notebook for my reading, with a page for each book-- I jot down a quick insight and the page number so I can come back to it as needed.

Small chunks. Most often I set a 10% goal. If it's a 300 page book, that's 30 pages until I take a break. (This is even easier when technology puts the percentage read right there on the screen.)

Rewards. Not just a burgeoning Goodreads number. Getting to read fiction, hang out in a hammock, find a frosty beverage, go for a swim.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

This is the song that never ends...

It's raining again. We'll probably get another two to three inches tonight, putting us around a foot for the week*. The backyard is a lake, but not currently threatening to annex the living room. Our street is not flooded, and we're hoping it stays that way.

Perhaps I can see it as a bonus that we're getting a test of our new windows even before hurricane season. Looks like the installers will need to come back soon to fix this one, and hopefully it doesn't short out the contacts for the alarm system.

Grand scheme of things, in a week where at least two dozen Texans have died in the floods and thousands have lost cars or houses, this a tiny issue.

*Average annual rainfall for Houston is just under 50 inches. We've gotten about half that since March 1. And hypothetically June is our wettest month...

Friday, May 29, 2015


Once in a while I have thoughts for a blog post and I start writing, only to realize that it is not ready. Perhaps it's an idea I'm still processing, intellectually or emotionally. Sometimes the post is bigger than I can tackle in the time (or laptop charge) I have available that day.

So I click the Save button and start something new, figuring that I will get back to the draft sooner or later. Or not, if the topic proves ephemeral. The good news is, draft blog entries, even if they accumulate, are tiny digital files--they take up very little space. 

As opposed to the piles of various projects partitioned out on my dining room table, forcing me to review papers on the floor when I run out of space up top. The work of possibility is rarely tidy.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


In trying weeks a bit of distraction can be a blessing. This week it's Call the Midwife. Thank goodness for Netflix.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Last Place You Look

That time when an important binder goes missing only to show up in a box of craft supplies... including the stash of empty tequila bottles for bath salts.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Dry(ish) Night

The floodwaters at my house receded by morning. Parts of metro Houston are still underwater, and a number of people died in the storms. So it's very much on my mind again tonight.

They say that 162 BILLION GALLONS of rain fell on my county last night.
That's over a trillion pounds of water.

Tonight, if we have any rain, it will be a quick sprinkle.
At least, that's what we're hoping.

Rain, rain, go away.
Go to Cali-for-nye-ay.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Heads Above Water...

Rain coming down from the overhang
Here in Texas we've had rather a lot of rain this month.

And now we've had six inches this evening, with plenty of thunder and lightning and a few hailstorms to keep things interesting.
Water gushing over the
side of the gutter

Houston is a series of swamps, affectionately named bayous. They drain the city as they can.

Right now my street is its own bayou. The water is only halfway up my driveway and there's not much of a current, but there is still more than you would expect on a street.

A camera in the dark- it's a mystery
where it will focus.
Power's been out since the storms started, so I am writing on my phone. Picture captions and proper formatting will wait.

Power lost just as I scooped ice cream.
Alas, a candlelit treat

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Less Successful Deadline Excuses

  1. Golden Girls was on, and I hadn't hear that Sicily story before. 
  2. I wasn't feeling it.
  3. The colored pencils needed sorting.
  4. Chocolate chip pancakes do not make themselves.* 
  5. My kids were using my computer.
  6. I lost one of my idea socks.
  7. Mercury is in retrograde.
  8. It's not ready--I haven't thought of ten excuses yet.
*This one might work if there were leftover pancakes to offer as appeasement.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hidden Talents

My sons often play video games while talking to friends online. They have headsets so we do not have to hear the whole gaggle and the game.  

But this also means that to get their attention we have to raise our voices.
Or toss a beanie baby (or small throw pillow or sock) in their general direction.

It turns out that I have pretty good aim from the loft upstairs.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Not Necessarily Progress

Diva, it appears, has become a gender neutral term.

From a word-geek standpoint, this is sort of fascinating. Rather than coming up with a truly neutral term (moving from steward/stewardess to flight attendant) or settling for the masculine term as the default (actor), diva is the feminine form. Divo, I'm told, is rarely used outside of Italy.

From a gender studies angle, it's more frustrating. Diva is most often used in a derogatory way. Does the feminine form add a little emasculating spice? Are there examples of positive terms where we use the feminine form for all genders?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Learning By Play

(Everyone is OK. Just follow-up testing.)

Getting an MRI can be scary for anyone.

If you're lucky enough to get to do it at Texas Children's Hospital, though, you can figure it all out at this play station first. Give an MRI to a chicken, elephant, or robot (the gator was on vacation.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Marking Milestones

My spouse is in the next room, watching the final episode of Letterman.
It's likely the first episode he's watched in five years.

And yet. We feel compelled. To witness, and to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We know it will be a cultural touchstone, at least for the lunch hour tomorrow, or at a weekend picnic.

I'd be in there as well, but I'm still fighting this bug. 
Perhaps I'll watch the recording tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Accountability Measures

Today was deadline day at work. Newsletter and e-blast and reports. I struggled to get it all done, but I managed. 

And now I am home and there's a blog entry to put up? Honestly, I would rather find a movie to watch. 

I am going to be responsible and get the blog done and put myself to bed at a sensible time. More work to be done in the morning...

So a quart of ice cream is sitting out on the counter. I get a scoop of it as soon as I click publish.

Apologies for a short post, but I wouldn't want the ice cream to get too melty.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Couch Scenes

You might be a religious professional's child if you flip through religious magazines and read aloud the interesting tidbits.

It could be a time management strategy for me, no?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Unlikely Tools of Ministry

Confiscated water balloon, 9:50 AM
The preschool lesson involved balloons today, so one of my sons inflated a dozen for that classroom.

Balloons are among the most attractive of my ministry tools. They can be bounced up and around. The ends fit on our fingertips. An untied balloon can be released to fly off crazily, or stretched to make all sorts of ridiculous noises. We use them for cooperation and bonding, for science and music and energy breaks.

The minute one class has balloons, ALL the classes want balloons. And they want to take them throughout the church. We work hard on appropriate behavior, but manners just can't compare with the joy of playing with a balloon. 

And if someone finds a water source, suddenly there's a water balloon. And then everyone needs their own--water balloons are more popular than two-bite brownies.

We needn't outlaw joy. Sometimes, though, we need a few boundaries to make sure we don't trip or soak bystanders.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Returns on Investments

If I buy groceries and provide a recipe, the teens can make dinner. In this case, the mushroom bisque from Cook's Illustrated, and roasted parsnips, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. (The beige thing next to the soup is store-bought garlic bread. It was, by far, the least delicious thing on the plate.)

Granted, by the time I was their age, I could (and did) make meals for the family.

But now there is Google. The boys can research recipes and come up with their own ideas. And they also have a grocery store within a mile--many more possibilities than back in my day.

They still have lots of questions and need a certain amount of guidance. And granted, the texture of the bisque wasn't QUITE as smooth as I'd make it, and the Brussels got a bit crispier than I'd like.  And yet, I didn't have to do any of it.

Not even dishes.

And later, one of them brought me a dish of ice cream.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Matter of Taste

I'm on day four of antibiotics (strep throat) and everything tastes yuck. Metallic and bitter and chemical-ish. Sour Patch Kids help some.

Four days down, six to go. I can handle this, though I have been whining.

But what about someone on chemotherapy, taste affected for months and months? 

Apparently miracle fruit may help, according to a small study and some testimonials and marketing on behalf of the fruit farmers. I've known a number of people who swore by pickles. The internet is full of tricks, few of which end up on the dieticians' lists of healthy choices. But considering the risks of cancer and chemo, pickles (or Bailey's Irish cream, or Sour Patch Kids) seem fairly sensible.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


It was two months ago that my son had his medical emergency. Life, in many ways, is back to normal-- school and work routines and all that. Our familial sense of humor is a bit darker, perhaps, and sometimes we worry about things we wouldn't have earlier.

Today, looking over the agenda for a conference call, I saw my name listed as a member of a task force. I emailed a colleague on the task force, sheepishly asking what that task force might be?

You see, I have a hard time recalling things that happened shortly before the crisis days. Even when I read over notes I took in meetings I attended, I cannot form a real picture. I'm told this is not uncommon--my brain got full of other things.

It just makes catching up interesting. Thankfully, I have understanding colleagues.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Radioactive Gifts

"The bright pieces have a half life of 12.38 years." 

So said my son as he handed me this necklace.

His gift to me was quite a production--the final piece just came today. He designed the heart and had it made on a 3-D printer. The diagonal lines contain bright yellow vials of tritium.

I'll wear it proudly, as soon as the vinegar scent of superglue wears off.

In the meantime, it's quite easy to find in the dark.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Don't ALWAYS Hate Everyone...

This week I have been horrendously impatient. A hater of humanity and grumpy with the universe in general. All I wanted to do was tune out everyone and everything, binge watch Netflix, and stay in my bedroom for forever.

Then I realized that my throat was really hurting and the Spicy Soup Protocol wasn't helping anymore.

Apparently, in my case, misanthropy is a symptom of strep throat. 

Antibiotics, yogurt parfaits, plenty of rest, and ice cream should help me regain my hope and humor in a few days.

Rapid strep tests, for all that the sample collection is gag-inducing and the little bottles remind me of checking pool chemical levels, are pretty awesome. 

Monday, May 11, 2015


People hate it when squirrels get into their birdfeeders. 

They buy specialized feeders and baffles and any number of devices to keep the squirrels out. Squirrels are determined when food is involved, so solutions don't last very long.

My spouse, though, finds squirrels more entertaining than birds. So we bought a squirrel feeder. Far less varieties of those on the market.  It's up on the patio wall, full of big corn kernels, seeds, and peanuts in the shell. Squirrels can eat food from the tray, or lift open the roof to reach inside.

And occasionally a bird flutters in to eat the seeds that hit the ground.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Cake on the outside, free-flowing rich chocolate inside... it seems magical, but really it's just a matter of timing and temperature.

My son made these today and they were amazing. It's a good trick to have in your pocket, I told him, something both delicious and a little mysterious.

We all have our little tricks. Ways to impress someone, or to make a rough day a little easier, or a Plan C (X?) in case of a flop. These days, I'm told, they're called life hacks.

Whatever, they're delicious.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Obligatory Mother's Day Post

How many gigabytes have gone to blogs and articles on Mother's Day this week? 

So much emotion and memory tied up in mother, the ones who gave birth to us and those who nurtured us, and then the full array of pregnancy-or-not/parenting-or-not experience of every woman... if you believe there's a Mommy War, well, Mother's Day is an annual battle. Brunch optional.

Ostensibly, every single one of these things should come up for Father's Day. For every mommy issue, there's a daddy issue. And the issues do come up, but with nowhere near the same volume. 

The biological (and social and economic) opportunity costs are more visceral and obvious for women. And somehow motherhood is expected to be a primary identity, while fatherhood is somewhere on a list. 

Or maybe the guys just don't feel the need to write about it as much. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Memory and Song

Music, they say, sticks in memory exceptionally well. Especially when we associate it with a milestone or something especially positive or negative. Language and rhythm and melody and emotion? So many brain spaces to tie into.

Some songs, however cheesy, will always be dear to me. Lovefool by The Cardigans played twenty times the weekend I moved into this house. The Doors songs my spouse crooned to our children when they refused to sleep. 

And then there are the songs I would love to never hear again. The lousy songs that are musically miserable but still get stuck in my head. And then there's Extreme's More Than Words, used by a pushy teen boyfriend... well, I'm not going to list all the oof songs.

Movies and books and yes, songs, express a longing to hold on to certain memories or to be done with others forever. Alas, the actual wiring of our brains is complicated, and stimulus comes whether we want it or not.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Most Calming Show Ever

My sons love to watch How It's Made. Each episode shows the steps (be they handwork or robotic assembly lines) to make three different products.

It's a fascinating show.

And it's also one of the most relaxing things on TV. Happy background music, the soothing voice of the narrator, and lots of swirling moving parts.

I'm more than happy to doze off while the guys watch an episode or four. Everybody wins.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A New Hope (or perhaps just a different angle)

My computer battery is complaining, so just the briefest of updates tonight-

Our mourning doves surprised us today--just when we'd decided the baby birds were gone--a fledgling appeared!

Truthfully, he is too big now to fit in that nest with mama, but neither of them seems to be complaining.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Just weeks ago a mourning dove made a nest in this spindly tree. 
We tsked at that birdbrain, choosing such a precarious place.

But we stopped throughout the day to look at the nest.
And then the eggs.
And then glimpses of wee baby birds under that dove. 

Once or twice we spotted the chicks, mama gone on a short trip.

Between Sunday and this morning, though, the nest was emptied.
This morning, when there were only a pair of adult doves in the tree.
They seemed to be searching, hopping from branch to branch.
Wondering where those fuzzy chicks might have gone.

I wondered and searched with them--not even a speck of fluff on the ground.

These things happen.
Branches can be spindly.
Sometimes the wind can really blow.

And we are left mourning.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Summer Reading?

I spent much of today reading. Fiction, even! A lovely way to spend a quiet day off.

And it reminded me--soon enough summer comes and vacation. A couple of weeks to read whatever the heck I want.

Sure, I have shelves of unread books, but what should I be adding to my fun reading list?

(Really. FUN reading. Not the three hundred books I should read for work. I'll get to those as sanity allows.)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Out Of The Hermitage

The whole tonsils/ear/throat thing means that I hadn't really left the house for a few days. 

I dragged myself to work today, ears not so achy, but voice at about quarter strength.

The morning went well enough (mostly due to sweet volunteers) that I had a bit of leftover energy to notice flowers and even a butterfly as I headed back to my car.

(And yes, there was more spicy soup, then a mighty nap.)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Variations On A Theme

Yes, we all have a tendency to say the same thing over and over again.

But I just drafted a full blog entry, then realized that I already posted the message a couple of months ago.

It was nothing especially prophetic, so no need to go over the same ground again.

Meanwhile, I've got three draft posts moldering in a purgatory of edits.

Eh, it's time for brownie in a mug.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Glimpse Behind the Scenes

The whole "Cool Christian" vibe is new to me.

I grew up Catholic (and at one point could tell you the names of ALL the priestly garments) and now I'm Unitarian Universalist, at a church where the ministers dress business-style.

This week I watched The Orange Conference online. Or rather, I saw a few of the large group sessions, and a bunch of 'behind the scenes' interviews that were mostly commercials for new books, initiatives, and curricula.

The Orange culture is all about children and family ministry, and there is some good stuff in there even for this heathen. 

Among the learnings, I also saw a completely different dress code.
SO MANY plaid shirts. Or t-shirts with the ministry/product logo, bright and shiny. Lots of jeans. Even those wearing jackets mostly wore them with collarless shirts and no ties. 

Women seemed to be dressed up a little more, but in a hip and coordinated way. Many chunky necklaces.

And every single one of them seemed to be on Twitter and Instagram. I can definitely see the point in that.

But remaking the Rick Springfield classing "Jesse's Girl" into something about working with high school? That was painful.