Halfway There

It’s a little hard for me to believe that I’m already halfway through my graduate school program. When classes began a year ago, graduation seemed very far away, although that could have been in part a level of nervousness. After all, it had been 18 years since I completed my undergraduate degree. And while I design online courses for a living, the idea of shifting to a fully online format for school was also a bit daunting. So, with that in mind… what have I learned so far?

Graduate school was a good idea. Of the six classes I’ve taken, I’d say that four of them were well-worth the money. I’ve learned a lot about cataloging and researching, adding to the skill sets that I already possessed. I also increased my knowledge of Access databases and SQL queries immensely, neither of which I knew very much about. Strictly from a “gaining knowledge” standpoint, those four classes have been automatic successes. As for the two other classes… well, honestly, if I was someone fresh out of my undergraduate degree and without any real-world/job-market experience, these would have probably been a lot more beneficial. So there’s certainly no anger or disappointment when it comes to those two remaining courses; they just weren’t helpful to me because they covered ground that I had already tackled or experienced on my own.

Something’s got to give. I knew, going into this, that I’d lose some free time. But somehow, it was still a bit of a surprise on just how much free time I ended up giving up. Usually at least one day on the weekend is devoured by schoolwork, for example. I’ve been reading a lot less, unfortunately, as well as finding it much more difficult to keep up with the few television shows I watch. I also had to scratch my plans to run the Nations Triathlon in DC next month; I have not made it to the pool at all this year to swim laps. (A full marathon is, needless to say, right out.) With less gym time, there’s also been a slight weight gain, too. Ugh.

Organization is key. I know, this is a library and information science degree, I should already know that. But in this case, I mean more along the lines of tracking my assignments. I create a master calendar with all of my assignments for the semester in the first week, highlight graded assignments in red so I don’t miss them, and then delete items as they’re finished. Additionally, I put the current week’s assignments in an app on my phone that I check off as they’re finished. It might sound like overkill (since I do have a syllabus for each class) but it makes a big difference in getting everything done.

schedule

I really do work harder now that I’m older. I will be the first to admit that I did not focus as much as I should have in my first two years of my undergraduate degree. (Spring 1991 and Fall 1992 in particular.) I buckled down after that and improved my grades a great deal, putting a lot more work into my classes. Well, that was apparently child’s play compared to the amount of effort I put into classes now. Sure, it’s graduate school so it should require more effort, but being in my 40s I find myself caring that much more about my assignments and getting them not just completed, but excellent. And honestly, at times I’m a little perplexed that not all of my fellow students are in the same boat. (Then I remember being in my 20s and I’m not that surprised. And there are some people who are almost 20 years younger than me who are even more driven and determined than I am, for that matter.)

Vacation is the best thing ever. I hadn’t realized just how important the three week break in December was, until I didn’t have any sort of break between my spring and summer classes. (Or as WSU refers to them, my Winter and my Spring/Summer classes.) There was definitely a little bit of burnout as a result; having a lot of the month of August off has helped a great deal in that regard now, but it was certainly a difficult May and June thanks to not having any real break.

And so, with all that in mind, classes officially kick off today. Six down, six to go. To use a running metaphor, this is the point in the marathon where you can start counting down the miles, because it’s no longer terrifying to do so. I can’t see the finish line yet, and won’t for a while, but at least I know it’s out there.

67 and Fitter Than Me

Dan Kois’s article “Tour de Gramps” — in which the author tries to keep up with his 67-year old father on a bike trip up a mountain in France — has in many ways every element I ask for in order to grab my attention. So if you need a bit of a lure to read this article (you should, you should), a quick rundown.

Kois doesn’t present himself as a hero who can just blast through this experience. Exercise when you push yourself is a struggle; if it’s easy, you’re not giving it that extra oomph. His descriptions of inwardly dying as he goes up Mont Ventoux are funny, but they’re also remarkably accurate. The deal-making, the game-playing, the obsessive counting of the distance to get to a pre-determined break.

He eats a lot of pain au chocolat while biking up this mountain. Honestly, this really just made me hungry more than anything else because breakfast has worn off and it’s too early for lunch. But mmmmm, chocolate bread.

He gets Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville album stuck in his head as a distraction. I feel like anyone who’s done an endurance sport understands this phenomenon all too well. (“Oh no, you’re not going to believe what’s stuck in my head now,” is a familiar chorus with my running buddies.) But it’s not just any music, it’s Liz Phair’s first (and unfortunately, best) album. It doesn’t matter that it’s now in my head too, I cheered.

Then and NowBest of all, though? It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to start exercising, never too late to make a big change. I was 27 when I gave distance running a whirl, and I remember even then a lot of people (including a certain family member) telling me that I shouldn’t even try it. I was fat, and I hadn’t done any sort of real exercise in years. 14 years later, I’m still going. Kois’s father was 50 (and also out of shape/overweight) when he took up cycling. At the age of 67, he’s powering up a mountain on his bike and in great shape. That’s a role model to look up to.

Anyway, it’s a fun article, and something that deserves more than a one-sentence “check it out” on Facebook. So. Check it out.

(Also, I need some inspiration to get back into the pool. I’ve added the cycling back into the schedule but it’s always squeezing in the third part of a triathlon that becomes a struggle. Sometimes it’s cycling, sometimes it’s swimming. Get it moving, Greg.)

Podcasts I Like: Radiolab

Radiolab logoOne of the podcasts I listen to and love is Radiolab, a public radio show produced by WNYC. It was pitched to me as, “If This American Life was primarily interested on science, but without losing the accessibility to a wide audience.” (The official description on the website is, “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”) At any rate, I’ve listened to it for a few years now, and I love how the podcast has both full hour-long episodes as well as Radiolab Shorts, which run usually in the 15-to-30-minute range.

One of my all-time favorite episodes from back in 2009 was about parasites, and for the longest time I would pitch it to people as, “Disturbing but immensely fascinating.” (The connection between the hookworm parasite and people’s allergies still makes my head explode every time I think about it.) And you can find that episode here, if you’re interested. But while catching up on episodes, I just listened to one from a month or so ago and it stuck with me. Here’s the official tag:

What’s Left When You’re Right?
More often than not, a fight is just a fight… Someone wins, someone loses. But this hour, we have a series of face-offs that shine a light on the human condition, the benefit of coming at something from a different side, and the price of being right.

It’s a fun episode, with three different stories that each approach confrontation in a different way. I liked them all, but I think my favorite was about two people (Lulu and Soo) who were on a cross-country bike trip and had two confrontations with people (a businessman and then a potentially mentally ill person) that reminded me a lot of the different ways that I and other people each approach a confrontation, and what the “right” way is. It closes with the following:

So the story leaves you with some questions, like if you agree that people are messed up… like, of course they are, we all are… then what’s the best way to heal people? I mean, do you decide as Lulu does, or did, that you should approach the world with kindness and happiness no matter how the world greets you? Or, is that kind of giving up? Like a happy hopelessness? So then, do you put your foot down as Soo did? And say, “No, you are messed up, don’t be messed up?” Is that hope? Or just being mean?

Maybe you need to hear the full story to appreciate it. Or maybe you need to have had the discussions I’ve had with others about how to deal with confrontation. But to me, it clicked, in a way that made me stop and think without ever saying, “This is the right answer.”

Anyway, I love Radiolab. You should too. Give it a whirl.

Sword of Damocles

You know that feeling when there’s something hovering over your head ready to drop, something really bad? And you don’t want it to actually drop and hit you—you keep hoping that somehow things will get fixed and it will no longer be a worry—but at the same time, waiting for it to drop feels almost as bad as the actual impact?

It’s like that.

(I’m hoping history doesn’t repeat itself. I fear it’s about to.)

Movies and Books: 2013

Another year of keeping track of films and books read… I suspect that I missed a few graphic novels when you count the collected editions (since I read a lot of them for review purposes in serialized formats), ah well. Definitely a big uptick on movies for 2013.

Movies:

  1. Django Unchained
  2. Zero Dark Thirty
  3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  4. The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Live Action
  5. The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Animated
  6. Silver Linings Playbook
  7. Amour
  8. Side Effects
  9. Party Girl
  10. The Company You Keep
  11. The Great Gatsby
  12. In the House (Dans la Maison)
  13. Stories We Tell
  14. Star Trek Into Darkness
  15. Iron Man 3
  16. Mud
  17. Frances Ha
  18. Behind the Candelabra
  19. The Painting (Le Tableau)
  20. Rent a Family Inc.
  21. AFI Docs Shorts Program Two: Life and Death
  22. Approved for Adoption (Couleur de Peau: Miel)
  23. The Bling Ring
  24. Much Ado About Nothing
  25. The Way, Way Back
  26. The Heat
  27. I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros)
  28. Blue Jasmine
  29. The Wolverine
  30. The Spectacular Now
  31. Word Wars
  32. Gravity
  33. 12 Years a Slave
  34. The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
  35. Frozen
  36. The Deflowering of Eva Van End (De Ontmaagding van Eva van End)
  37. Our Heroes Died Tonight (Nos héros sont morts ce soir)
  38. Tiny Furniture
  39. Dallas Buyers Club
  40. American Hustle
  41. Her

Books:

  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  3. Blue Heaven by Joe Keenan
  4. Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts
  5. Among Others by Jo Walton
  6. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky
  7. The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
  8. The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
  9. The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski
  10. Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship by Amanda Hesser
  11. Redshirts by John Scalzi
  12. Fair Play by Tove Jansson
  13. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  14. The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin
  15. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  16. The Virtual Reference Handbook: Interview and Information Delivery Techniques for the Chat and E-mail Environments by Diane K. Kovacs
  17. Men and Cartoons: Stories by Jonathan Lethem
  18. Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
  19. The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt
  20. The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts edited by Ken Haycock and Brooke E. Sheldon
  21. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction by Richard E. Bopp and Linda C. Smith
  22. Doctor Who: A Big Hand For The Doctor by Eoin Colfer
  23. Doctor Who: The Nameless City by Michael Scott
  24. Doctor Who: The Spear of Destiny by Marcus Sedgwick
  25. Doctor Who: The Roots of Evil by Philip Reeve
  26. Doctor Who: Tip of the Tongue by Patrick Ness
  27. Doctor Who: Something Borrowed by Richelle Mead
  28. Doctor Who: The Ripple Effect by Malorie Blackman
  29. Doctor Who: Spore by Alex Scarrow
  30. Doctor Who: The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson
  31. Doctor Who: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage by Derek Landy
  32. Doctor Who: Nothing O’Clock by Neil Gaiman

Fiction Magazines, Chapbooks, and Zines:

  1. Lightspeed Magazine March 2012
  2. Granta 114: Aliens
  3. Lightspeed Magazine April 2012
  4. Lightspeed Magazine May 2012
  5. Lightspeed Magazine June 2012
  6. Kinfolk Vol. 3
  7. Lightspeed Magazine July 2012
  8. Lucky Peach Vol. 7
  9. Lucky Peach Vol. 8
  10. Kinfolk Vol. 9

Continue reading Movies and Books: 2013

Generic All-Purpose DC Snow Post

Well, snow has come to the Washington DC region again, and of course . Not that you should be too surprised. The chill in the air , and it's always a great excuse for .

Hand-Cut Paper Snowflakes

Right now the snow , and I couldn't be more . Who doesn't snow? If all goes well and maybe . They're predicting , after all.

In the meantime I'm just . If you don't like snow, . Oh, and now I'm wishing I'd bought some . Oops. Oh well.

When Sick Days Were Fun

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I loved being home from school because I was sick. I didn’t get sick that often, but when I was… well, jackpot. Sure, I felt like crud, but there was something comforting about hanging out in my pajamas, watching television, and eating lunch on the couch. A great little break from the normal routine.

Bad HousesNow that I’m an adult, sick days are not nearly so entertaining. In the back of my head I always think, “Well, I hate being sick, but at least I get to be at home all day. That’s not so bad.” But of course, it’s never a good time. If I’ve given up and stayed home, chances are I’m lying down for half of the time feeling miserable, or at the very least moving at one-quarter impulse power. Usually the most “fun” I have involves watching an episode of something or another on the DVR, but half the time I don’t even make it to the end because the mental effort is too much and I just go take a nap instead.

(The one notable exception: when I had my gallbladder out at the end of 2008. Don’t get me wrong, I was really sore and spent a day or two doped up on pain pills. But by day 4 or so of a one-week “you must stay at home” the pain had shifted to a dull ache, and I spent the rest of the week playing Animal Crossing: City Folk on the Wii. That was remarkably fun for those last few days.)

But anyway, I do try to make sick days as “enjoyable” as one can under the circumstances. Since I’m at home today with some sort of chest crud, I tried to rally a bit. Made my favorite kale-apple-miso salad for lunch, dug out and brewed some fancy loose leaf tea that Karon gave me as a gift, read the first 50 pages of Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil’s Bad Houses. It’s not high living, but it makes the overall sick experience less… well… sickly.

Really, all I was missing from my old “being sick” ritual was a big bowl of Chicken & Stars soup, which for far too long was a comfort food for when I was under the weather. (I’ve since burnt out on it.) So all in all, certainly could be worse. Anyone else have a particular sicktime ritual or comfort?

If at First You Don’t Succeed, You’re Drinking Coffee

I’ve never been a coffee person. It probably helped that growing up only one person in my family (my father) drank it, and I’ve never been a big drinker of caffeine to begin with, but coffee has always been some strange unexplored continent.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes I think coffee smells great. And so every now and then I’ll try it. And with one notable exception, the end result is a resounding, “Ugh.” But that one exception—at the wedding of my friends Rachel and Jeff—was such a pleasant experience that I have held out hope that the problem was finding the right kind of coffee. After all, I went from only drinking herbal teas, to green teas, to Chinese teas, and finally to black teas. I had to work my way up. So maybe I could do the same thing with coffee?

You might be asking yourself, “Why would you even care?” But there are a lot of times when coffee is the only caffeinated beverage available, and I do inevitably need that pick-me-up. And like I said, I do enjoy the smell of coffee. So I keep telling myself that out there, somewhere, is a coffee experience that would turn me around. Recently at work a discussion of different types of coffees came up, and in the process several co-workers were talking about the milder taste of Ethiopian coffees. I made a comment that this sounded interesting, and the next day Laura kindly gave me a sample to take home and try.

CoffeeWhile waiting for Charlie to come back from the gym this morning, I decided that now was as good a time as any to give it a whirl. I dug out the french press (which is normally used for loose-leaf teas, or the occasional visitor who does drink coffee), heated up the water, and consulted the Internet on how much coffee I needed to put into the device. I pulled out some soy milk and also a cube of panela from my Colombia trip, but held them in reserve. And then… the first taste.

It was definitely a lot less bitter than the coffees I’d had before, so that was a relief. None the less, even milder coffee was not something I was ready to drink black. So I added in some soy milk and the sugar, stirred it around… and I will give it credit, it wasn’t bad. At the same time, though, I found myself wondering how much was really me just drinking the milk and sugar, versus the coffee. One of the nice things about drinking tea is that, of course, if you don’t add anything to it the calorie count is a whopping zero. Switching over to coffee where you need the milk and sugar to make it good seems less appealing. I tried a second cup (I’d made far too much) with just the soy milk, and that was all right, too. So clearly, some coffee is not out of reach.

In the end, it’s nice to know that with the right coffee, it’s at least an option. But I think for now I’ll stick to tea. I know that coffee drinkers are thinking, “Greg! You just need to drink 48 more cups of coffee and your taste buds will be beaten into submission! One of us! One of us!” And I’m sure I could eventually create that taste scar tissue given enough time. For now, though, I’ll just stick with this as an emergency option. Getting to, “It’s not revolting” feels like enough of a victory that I don’t feel the need to jump immediately back into that breach.

Saturday in Takoma

While most of today has been allocated to school projects (having finished off a research paper’s first draft, next up are three chapters in the oh-so-riveting Reference and Information Services: An Introduction textbook), I decided I needed a quick break for an hour. It’s a beautiful day outside, and while I’d opened up all of the windows and turned off the air-conditioner, that simply wasn’t going to suffice.

So, I took a quick spin around my immediate neighborhood. Strolled down to the library and picked up my reserved copy of Canal House Cooks Every Day. I had a recent encounter with one of the Canal House Cooking books and while that’s a (hopefully) forthcoming post in its own right, it made me curious to see what their big cookbook was like. From there I headed the opposite direction down the street to Trohv, which is always worth a browse but in this case I was visiting specifically to buy the new issue of Kinfolk magazine. It’s always a pleasure to read, and knowing that this issue is all about weekends makes it even better. As I entered, I stopped and snapped a quick picture of the new construction at Takoma Central to send to Charlie. Not that I know much about building projects, but it certainly feels like it’s coming along nicely and should hopefully open on schedule next spring.

On the way home, I stopped in at La Mano Coffee Bar, which opened earlier this month. Ended up leaving with a mint rooibos tea, and two hand pies; one with peach and raspberry, the other with a spiced ground beef. Ran into one of my neighbors right as I was leaving, who was walking with her adorable daughter (who was on a sassy purple scooter).

Saturday Haul

And once I got home, I put everything down and thought to myself how much I love my neighborhood on days like this. Everyone’s out walking, there are adorable shops and businesses to visit, and there was a general air of friendliness. A couple that I saw leaving Trohv as I entered was buying a snack at La Mano, and as I walked from the library to Trohv I saw two other neighbors across the street run into one another and start chatting.

Sure, it’s not the “everything is happening all the time” nature of being right in the heart of downtown, and there’s a lot to be said for living there. But there are definitely charms that exist here, too, if you take the time to look. And now, having eaten my pies (the crust was buttery and flaky and delicious, and the insides were great too), I’m going to sit out on the balcony with my textbook and my iced tea and enjoy the great weather.