Friday, December 31, 2010

Springtime in San Diego

It's the last day of the year and I just took a walk wearing short sleeves. I haven't lived in Utah for a while, and we've spent a few Christmas/New Year's holidays in Birmingham with Derrick's family, but that doesn't change the fact that for me this weather just screams spring, rather than being a harbinger for the coming of a new year.

I don't often do this--mostly my goal setting is vague and goal achieving even vaguer--but there are a few things I want to accomplish in the coming year. First, I want to write my dissertation. Then, I want to defend it and, assuming that goes well, graduate. I think that's doable. I need to finish two to three papers to do it, but I have the data and I've pretty much though out what I'm going to say. Now it's a matter of pulling it together. I want to have figures for the papers finished by the end of January (very reasonable) along with an outline I can hand to my committee to see if they think the product is sufficient, or if there's something else they'd like to see me do.

For a long time I've had a desire to write a novel. This year I want to actually do it. I'm sure it'll be bad, so I'll probably start with a story that's been kicking around in my head since, oh, high school. High fantasy (kind of) but not so epic. In pursuit of that goal, I'm going to keep listening to Writing excuses and writing at least a few hours each week.

There, now I've written down my goals.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Post Mistborn hangover

If you couldn't tell from the obscene number of gifts surrounding our tree in the previous post, Santa (or rather, Derrick's parents) were good to us this year. Among the many gifts, they gave me the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. I managed to not start reading until Sunday, but pretty much the moment I cracked the cover, it was all over. I plunked myself down on the couch, waving and muttering goodbye as my in-laws left (okay, not quite--I did fix breakfast and then I carried Sylvia out to watch them drive away, but my nose was stuck in the first book pretty much all morning) and then read as often as I could for the next four days. Sylvia started pulling the books away when she wanted my attention. Derrick threatened to hide them from me. I finally took pity on him and spent three hours with him before the twitchiness was too much and I had to get back to reading.

Wow, those are good books.

On the minus side, I was so engrossed with them yesterday I skipped lunch and have had a headache ever since I finished reading. It's been a while since I last immersed myself so fully in reading anything, and it's actually kind of tiring to read that much.

But oh, I loved those stories. I loved the characters, the world, the plot twists and turns, and that ending was one of the most fitting, satisfying endings I've read in a long time. I'm a bit of a romantic, so I want things to come out right in the end. I want the good guys to succeed and live and I want the bad guys to be frustrated and die. Sanderson doesn't disappoint. Though he does kill off a lot of good people, their sacrifices aren't wasted. The characters change and grow, leaving behind their less admirable traits as they face their adversaries. Even the bad guys (most of them, anyway) come out looking complex, even good. It's obvious by the end of the third book that the big bad from the first book did his best, but in the end was deceived by the real big bad. It's possible to respect him for some of what he did, and see the tragedy in the tyrant he became.

It's an amazingly good, complex, full body of work. If you like fantasy, I highly recommend it. Just don't ask to borrow my copy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ah, holidays

I have my house back.

Don't get me wrong--I love having visitors, but there is something wonderful about the day or two after guests leave, after everything is put back in its place, after you reclaim your bed and the kitchen and your schedule, when life slows back down to its normal place and you remember the deliciousness of monotony and boredom.

Christmas was a little hectic this year. First off, we didn't have many decorations and, 'cause that's what Derrick and I are like, we decided to make some. The tree turned out a little sparse, and perhaps I should have chosen a smaller tree (though I object to trees that are only a few inches taller than me), but I like it. I thought it was a good start, especially for a couple of people who aren't so into the holidays anyway. Here are some pictures of the tree.

Neither of us had to do any last-minute Christmas shopping this year, though we did have to buy all the food for Christmas dinner. Again, 'cause Derrick and I are ambitious, we decided on a dinner of stuffed pork loin with pear salad, three-cheese risotto, stuffing, zucchini with wild rice, and roasted smashed potatoes for dinner, and a mixed-berry pie and a pecan-caramel tart for dessert. Basically all of which we made Christmas day. Derrick's Mom was quite happy to keep Sylvia occupied and out of the kitchen, leaving the rest of us to get the food made.

Sadly, cooking was apparently a dangerous undertaking for me Christmas day. I skinned my thumb grating apples for apple latkes (which we had with the caramel-apple reduction and Derrick described as apple pie without the crust) and then, while pulling the roasted potatoes out of the 500 degree oven for smashing, I stuck the other thumb down on the pan. I spent the next couple of hours cradling my injured hand, resting my burned thumb on an ice cube. Still, it's healed pretty well--I finally took some Tylenol for the pain and, even the next day, it didn't feel too bad.

Dinner was excellent, if you can't tell.

I realize this is out of chronological order, but we spent Christmas eve at the San Diego zoo. I'm going to include some of the pictures from our trip (mostly taken by Derrick) to finish off the post.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Too wet to go out, too cold to play ball

I thought we moved to San Diego. Apparently, we're really living in Seattle. At least, from the amount of rain that's fallen and the swamp growing in the front yard. There's a river running through the alley behind us, and a waterfall trickling down next to the stairs. Doors won't shut properly and all the windows in the house are thick with moisture. If this doesn't stop soon, I think we'll be swimming by Christmas!

This is perfect weather for hot chocolate and soup, and curling up with a good book, but with four adults and a kid in a cramped house, I think we're going to have to get a little more creative in our activities. In spite of the title of the post, I've got plenty to do while we're stuck inside--I'm making a tree skirt and a table runner and a bunch of bird-shaped ornaments for the tree this year. Oh, and I discovered the sing-off, which is such great music. Makes me wish I was still singing in an acapella group.

Friday, December 17, 2010

When flying isn't faster

So. Things have been a little quiet around here between prepping for the big conference and then being at the big conference. It's been fun.

Getting home is turning into quite the adventure, though. We got to the airport about 6 pm. Our flight hasn't been canceled yet, but at the moment it's scheduled to leave here at 3:20 am.

It would have been faster to drive.

A lot of airports are apparently moving to designs with a bunch of small, isolated terminals. Normally that doesn't make much of a difference--once you get through security, typically you don't spend much time waiting for a flight. On days like this, though, that particular layout is irritating. There's one small bookstore, one coffee place, and about three restaurants to choose from, none of which sound good. At least when terminals have a few more gates (and the associated restaurants and stores) you can waste 10 minutes or so examining the creatively stacked, similar or identical items before getting bored. Right now, 10 minutes is a significant chunk of time!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sotto Voce

Sotto Voce, a singing quartet that includes my Mom, is giving the following performances in the coming weeks:

Friday, December 10th, 7:00pm
Sacred Light of Christ Church
823 South 600 East
Salt Lake City
Donations will be collected for Homeless Youth Programs in the Salt Lake Valley

Saturday, December 11th, 7:00pm
Holy Family Catholic Church
1100 East 5550 South
Ogden, UT

Friday, December 17th, 7:00pm
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
410 East Hillcrest
Donations will be collected for Cubby’s Cause for Paws, which provides pet food for the Utah AIDS Foundation Food Bank

KSL Radio 102.7 FM~1160AM
Thursday, December 24th, 11:00am
Annual speak with Santa on the Doug Wright Show

Worship Services
December 24th, 7:00pm
Christmas Eve Service at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
410 East Hillcrest

So, if you're in Utah, or going to be in the general Salt Lake/Ogden/Copperton area, you should go listen to them sing, and share a little with the worthy causes they're supporting.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Certain threats just don't work with my child. For instance, today the nursery workers discovered the ineffectiveness of telling Sylvia not to hit other kids or they'd take her to me. That promise wasn't even completely vocalized before it was put it to the test.

She definitely understands cause-and-effect.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Arsenic-based life

Earlier this week a friend of mine posted on facebook about an exciting astrobiology-related announcement NASA was about to make once the embargo was lifted. He was very excited about it, but also very, "I can neither confirm nor deny." Not that his refusal to hint anything deterred any of us from posting wild speculation, from creating new life (d-aminos and l-sugars?) to new models that predict the energetics of life on Titan.

Yesterday, it was announced bacteria capable of using arsenic in place of phosphorus was discovered in Mono lake. Mono lake (which is extremely basic) hosts a number of bacteria capable of living off weird elements (tungsten, and now apparently arsenic) because it has such weird chemistry. Apparently, some people were disappointed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dives & Lazarus

There is some music I simply love. These variations on Dives and Lazarus, for instance, by Ralph Vaughan Williams:

Or Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia:

Or Samuel Barber's Adagio (which I totally want played at my funeral):

and has moments in it that make me hold my breath.

There is some music in this world that is so stirring, so powerfully emotive, that I have to listen. While these two pieces aren't Christmas pieces, many of them are, and I am grateful we're finally in the season when they return, like long-missed family and force me to think and feel beyond my everyday experience.