Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas shopping with Olivia

Today I took Olivia Christmas shopping, just the two of us. We did the same last year, and it occurred to me that it would be a good tradition. I asked her if she wanted to get Mrs. D. something for Christmas. She said yes. I asked her what she wanted to get. She said that she wanted to get a bracelet and a necklace. This was all I needed to hear, so we soon left to go shopping. Darcy also needed me out of the house for a few hours, since apparently she preparing something for me for Christmas that takes some time and assembly. So, Olivia and I left, and just like this occasion in the previous year Darcy tried to recreate the picture of Olivia and I standing by the blue car. It also came out at some point that she was in the mood for ice cream, so we made Brahms our first stop. It was definitely warm enough for eating ice cream today. Olivia knew she wanted strawberry ice cream, but I still had to hold her up in order to she what was behind the counter. We eventually make it to Chico's, which is a place that Darcy suggested Olivia would have good luck picking something out. On the way there Olivia found an etch-a-sketch and started focusing on that. What follows is a digression: Neil is two and three-fourths right now. He loves to learn about shapes. He loves to look at shapes. I like to draw two- and three-dimensional shapes for Neil. He loves demonstrate what he knows when I ask him, "Is there a triangle in the room?" "Is there a sphere in the room?" I just assumed that Olivia wasn't interested in this, so I didn't bother with it. I had no reason for that; I just had a stereotype. Olivia is artistic, creative and emotional, so I believed. But she has edged in on Neil's and my shape games, and has picked up on it as well as Neil has. Okay, digression over. While in the car, Olivia drew a cylinder on the etch-a-sketch, and I was very impressed with it. When we arrived at the University Mall, Olivia wouldn't leave the etch-a-sketch in the car. I thought this could be a problem, but what could I do? I was right. We got to Chico's and Olivia wasn't interested in picking something out for Darcy. Vanity and pride had struck me earlier. I thought about how good I would look to bystanders in the store: "What a great father and cute little girl picking something out for mom." Everyone else there would be doing run-of-the-mill Christmas shopping, and we were really going to standing out and lead people to give pause. But Olivia was not interested in playing along with that. I tried to force it, and took her over to a jewelry table. "Don't you want to pick out something for Mrs. D.?" She just grabbed the nearest object, the low hanging fruit. "Come on!" I thought to myself. So I took here to the next table to she if she would act any different. She looked away from the etch-a-sketch to do more of the same. So I picked something. We walked to the check-out. I thought she might want to hold what we picked out. We had earlier gone to QT for a drink for me and gummy bears for her. She was enthusiastic to hold the gummy bears and credit card then, but not anymore. Still though, while in like she was happy to tell the attendant how she was buying this for mommy, and that I was daddy, and I play monster and dinosaur, and about our dogs. Another lady behind us was charmed by her, but I think she may have regretted it. It was funny how much Olivia had to say to her, some of it quite random. We actually had been to University Mall the day before, as a family. For some of the time, I had to watch Neil and Olivia. It was I warm day, and we waited in the courtyard. Both of the were obsessed with all of the acorns. They wanted nothing else but to pick up acorns and put them in my pocket. My pockets were getting full and I realized this was not sustainable. So I would secretly toss some in the air, and I gave the suggestion that they fell from the trees. This way, my pockets did not fill up. Olivia and I continued this game when just two two of us came back. The whole day was a good experience, and I think I'll be nostalgic of it. Now, on to another topic. I am nostalgic of so much in the past. Not all of it good. Some of it very ordinary. Some of it very exciting. I like to revisit old places. I have wondered why I am so nostalgic, and why the recollection of an experience is vastly better than the original experience itself. I began to think that the experience of being nostalgic is like that of dreaming. Many of my dreams are very ordinary, but much more pleasant than the experience would be in waking life. I think the secret may be the great amount of tension I am perpetually feeling. Tension about the world, injustices everywhere, lousy people everywhere. Tension about not accomplishing enough, about learning enough, knowing enough, doing enough. Existential worries. It's constant. But it's absent in dreams. For some reason it's absent in nostalgic recollection. Maybe because recollection is not reality. In any case, it's then I get to experience something from the past without all the tension and worry, and it's much better than it was the first time around.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I have a patch of weeds growing in my yard. Actually, there are weeds all over my yard, since I don't see a problem with them. They look fine when mowed, and the lawn is mostly made of a uniform looking grass anyway. My point is there is a section of the yard full of weeds that I haven't mowed in several months. The reason? Ladybugs love this particular weed that grows there. It's a spiny, sticky weed with aphids on it. Maybe the Ladybugs go where the aphids are? Anyway, Neil loves to look for Ladybugs, and we can always find them on the weeds in this un-mowed part of the yard. We have a good time looking for and catching Ladybugs. I have met people panic at the first sign of a weed, or take measures to keep weeds away. To me, that's silly.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Garden

I'm glad to say that I have a garden. Now that's its built, I wouldn't change anything about its construction or location. It is a great undertaking of manual labor, money, time, and planning to do this, and so I am happy it got done so soon. (We have only lived here since July.) So far, I have 8 tomatoes, 1 eggplant, and a few summer squash seeds planted.

The mental work of decided how and where to build a garden from scratch is very difficult and stressful for me (And this is before the manual labor even begins.) Originally, I was going to have the vegetable garden in the flowerbed on the south side of the house. I made that decision from caving to laziness. The beds already there, even if it's not perfect. It'll work, I thought. But I decided against that once I found that the foundation had been treated for termites a few years ago. So, I decided to use the yard on the south side of the house. Raised beds seemed like the only way to go. The next issue was to decide on wood, masonry, or what else?

I decided to build a wood-frame raised bed, initially out of cedar. I even went to Home Depot expecting to buy cedar. The reason for the cedar was because I wanted to build a more sturdy version of one of the cheaper kits I saw online. (Cedar kits are ubiquitous in garden magazines and catalogs. I almost bought two cedar kits for $80 each for this project. That kit was the cheapest I could find, and I eventually decided it was too cheap and I lost confidence in it.) At Home Depot, an employee in the lumber department suggested that cedar isn't automatically a good wood for the project. The hardiness of the wood depends on from what part of the tree it is cut, and he had no idea about the cedar that happened to be in the store. It's no surprise that everything labeled "cedar" is not the same. The use of cedar for raised beds was a fad, he suggested. My father was there and he found this easy to agree with. Additionally, cedar lumber is very expensive, but untreated pine is not.

It worked out that I can build 4 feet by 8 feet (8 inch tall) bed from yellow pine boards that are nominally 2 inches thick for $25 - $30. From talking to employee at Home Depot, and from reading on the Internet, I expect to get 3 to 5 years out of such a bed. After all, the only function of the frame is to hold the soil in place. The wood will gradually rot and be incorporated into the soil. Then, I'll rebuild it again, perhaps the same way all over again. So I bought enough southern yellow pine for two 4 feet by 8 feet beds with a frame that is about 8 inches tall. The wood was untreated, just cut from the tree and dried. I bought untreated wood, even though the pressure treated wood is officially allowed for food gardens (many gardeners don't trust this, however). The older type of pressure treated wood contained arsenic, and was used for many years before being recently banned. I certainly don't know what's safe, so I err on the side of caution.

The assembly of the bed was simple, and it looks square, level and even. I was very careful measuring and cutting, and I took my time. I was worried it wouldn't look good in the yard, but it looks fine. The hard part was removing the Bermuda grass and weeds, which I did with a pickaxe. It was also very hard to haul the 21 cubic feet of compost and amendments to fill the bed. I bought about $90 of that sort of stuff from Archie's. I bought an assortment of cotton burr compost, cow manure compost, greensand and "landscaper mix" which I think I was misinformed about (it seems like a fancy mulch, not a soil amendment). I have never gone to these lengths before. I had another garden at our old house, but I filled it with homemade compost, most of which was not totally finished composting. The new bed is filled to the top. It was hard work. I plan to repeat this procedure in a week or so for the second bed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Delusions of Grandeur

Tomorrow is the first day of a new semester. Earlier I was imagining myself conducting my class with dignity, significance, and respect, which is probably making it all out to be much more important than it is. This easily led me into a daydream of a man confined to a mental hospital having delusions that he is a king or a knight. The truth is, in some ways, I wouldn't mind being that man.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


A few years ago I came across another teacher at the college I teach at who claimed to know something about numerology. He was in his mid eighties and had been studying it for 30 or 40 years. I have always had a broad interest in all things natural and supernatural, and I knew that numerology (whatever it was) fit into one category or the other. So, instead of just explaining it to me, he just gave me a reading. I don't remember all of the information he gathered from me, but my birth date was one item on the list. (I still have the paper he wrote for me somewhere.) It did not take him long and I was caught off guard by how much he knew about me as a result of the reading (I suppose). Right away he told me that I love to learn, that I'm a lifelong student, that I'm not happy unless I'm learning, and that this is a burden on me. This is all true, and he seemed to know about my personal struggle of always needing to learn, and constantly seeking (but rarely finding) fulfillment through learning. In my experience, this is not a common struggle. Even among my colleagues (at a college), there are none I know of who seem to have broad academic interests. Even if I am typical, and he made a good guess, it was even more surprising that he knew that it was a source of psychological pain for me.

In any case, he knew me as well as I knew myself, and seemed to be able to do it with numerology alone. But he made one more prediction: he said that in my late thirties (roughly, I can't remember) that the burden and psychological pain that my desire to learn causes me will abate. Time will tell.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tennis Elbow

I guess it was about 3 years ago that my tennis elbow became too painful and uncomfortable to ignore. Many years before that, I had just begun to irritate the tendon by fidgeting while reading, thinking and studying. Then it was the enormously strenuous and time consuming task of pruning our Lady Banks roses that took me to the stage of the injury that warranted a trip to the doctor. The original prescription of rest and ice made it moderately better, but did not cure it. Furthermore, re-injury was very easy. About one year after the first appointment with the doctor, I started physical therapy. The short story on that is the pain is gone, and my comfort level is quite good. The problem is that re-injury seems to still be too likely, since 4 months after finishing physical therapy the pain and discomfort is back, for no good reason. Once again, I am very certain it was thinking, reading, and fidgeting that did it. Originally, when the pain was back, I tried to do the same physical therapy exercises that helped me last summer. But it seemed that they only made it worse. Should I have gone trough a period of rest first? I remember that while attending the therapy sessions last summer, I was advised would work through some of the mild pain. I guess I done know at what point to start the exercises. In any case, I have done mostly rest for a week or so. And today I decided to try some of the exercises. Before I started, there was some pain, but it was mostly discomfort, "tightness" and weakness in the tendon. As I did the exercises, I had the idea that they have to be done "just right." For example, jerky movements are no good. When I was doing eccentric loading with the dumbbell, I would use two hands, and very gradually release the weight with my right hand as I made the eccentric motion very slowly with the weight in my left hand. The bottom line is that it felt very good, and had continued to feel good for the rest of the day. I guess it's only beneficial to definitely use the tendon, but without causing any pain or discomfort; there's a balance between the two to work for. I'm excited about this since, as far as I understand, tendons do not tend to heel properly once injured. They are slow to heal, and heal with some sort of weaker tissue that is vulnerable to re-injury. Apparently, eccentric loading does cause a more proper and resilient healing of the tendon. So, this time around I will practice my physical therapy, but keep doing so well past the point of relief in hoping to restore the tendon as much as possible.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


This is the newest addition to our collection of houseplants. I've come to have increasing confidence recently about my skill at keeping houseplants alive and healthy. Plus, it was on sale for only $2.44. Originally, before I had a yard of my own, my interest in and attraction to plants was solely directed at houseplants. It's not the way I wanted it to work out, but I killed so many plants during that period. A big turning point for me was that I read Howard Garrett's Organic Manual at about the same time I got a yard of my own. Those events together activated my instincts about what plants need in a way that neither could have done on their own, and I started to have success with outdoor plants. In any case, I found later that the same skill I developed worked with houseplants too, although I still see them as a greater challenge.