Monday, December 26, 2005

Holiday Adventures

The Christmas haul was pretty good this year; Santa must have thought that I was a very good girl!

Jeff and I fill stockings for each other at Christmas. Last year, we were so excited that we opened them on Christmas Eve. This year, we made it past midnight and technically speaking, opened them on Christmas.

In addition to the gratuitous candy canes and chocolate, I also got an Elvis t-shirt, an Elvis watch, two sweaters, a sunflower-shaped baking pan, and a luxurious shower head. The shower head is actually a double shower head: it attaches up at the place where the pipe comes out of the wall, and there's a shower head right there, but also there's another hand-held shower head that is on a hose, and a valve that changes the flow of the water from one to the other. I'm pretty excited about all the gifts, but especially the shower head. It was one of those gifts that I wanted but hadn't thought of asking for.

I gave Jeff a similarly good gift. He had wanted a "Darth Tater" (Mr. Potato Head with Darth Vader costume parts) but it had not occurred to him to ask for it. But the look on his face was priceless when he saw it. He also got some of those M&M guys dressed up as Star Wars characters, some DVDs, and a book about Elvis. (Do you think we like Elvis in this household?)

Yesterday we had a big turkey dinner. In addition to the turkey, we had small red potatoes with rosemary, homemade rolls, cranberry/apricot sauce, and carrots. For dessert I made this delicious lemon pound cake in my new sunflower-shaped baking pan. I would just like to say that it was the best cake ever. I wish I knew what made it so good so that I could make another sometime. And while I was on this baking frenzy I also made a loaf of banana-chocolate chip bread. Now we have this enormous container full of baked goods: most of the pound cake, an entire loaf of bread, and a few slices of cranberry bread left over from when I made it for the office holiday party. I think we will probably take it with us to Kentucky when we leave on Wednesday.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Elbow Grease

On Tuesday, I went to the orthopedist for my follow-up appointment. As I had anticipated, the nerve conduction study indicated no damage whatsoever to my ulnar nerve. But, he was still willing to move my nerve, because once it does get damaged, it can't recover. We were talking about that when I mentioned to him that what really hurt was holding my arm in the violin-playing position. For those of you playing along at home, this involves bending your elbow about 120 degrees, tucking it in near your ribcage, and twisting your wrist until the blade of your hand is facing towards your face. I demonstrated it for him and he happened to touch my elbow in a certain place and the jolt of it made me jump. "Oh," he said, after poking around and making me squirm some more. "In addition to cubital tunnel, you also have (insert medical term here)." It basically amounted to an inflamed elbow joint. He told me there was a surgery for that too, but that it was largely unsuccessful. Instead, he would give me a shot in the bone there. He told me to hold on and he'd be right back with the shot.

First he poked at my elbow to figure out where it hurt the most. Then he sprayed it down with some sort of spray anesthetic. Then he took a great big needle and jabbed down into my bone in various places to disperse the medicine (steroid? cortisone? I couldn't tell you.). That hurt like the dickens and it was all I could do to keep myself from withdrawing my arm and pummeling the man. But after it was over, I felt like I had a new elbow! He was really excited about that, although he did warn me that by the evening, I would be hating him with a special kind of hate, because the anesthesia would have worn off. And sure enough, I did hate him with a new type of hate that evening. But, he told me that it would get better over the course of the next week. And it has.

In the meantime, I am not to do anything that will flare it up. I did try some writing with my left hand, and it still gets to hurting, but now I can write maybe half a page instead of the equivalent of a check. He told me absolutely no violin playing for the next couple of weeks, so grandma's going to have to forgo that pleasure when I visit next week. I also have to use a wrist brace and one of those braces for your elbow that are just a band that you put just below the elbow (often seen on basketball players) when I'm active with my left hand. I still need to buy one of those elbow braces.

He told me to come back if the ulnar nerve thing flared up again, and he would move my nerve. I may go back for that, because now that this other thing feels better, the tingling in the pinky and ring finger is more noticeable. But overall, I do feel a lot better.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Best Cranberry Bread Ever

I make The Best Cranberry Bread Ever. That is an indesputable fact. For years, I have guarded my secret, because this cranberry bread makes a really good gift. But, I have decided that you are all worth exposing my secret recipe to, so I will now grant you the knowledge of my secret recipe. All I ask is that if you try this recipe, leave me a comment so that I know!

It was inspired by the recipe on page 43 of Betty Crocker's New Cookbook (1996), but I have made some improvements to it. In particular, I have made adaptions so that it's nearly fat free and a lot better for you. So, without further ado, I present to you

Becca's Nearly Fat-Free Cranberry Bread

1 package fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar*
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup skim milk
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp grated lemon peel
2 large eggs**
3 cups flour ***
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

1. Move oven rack to the lowest position so that the tops of your loaf pans will be at the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease bottoms only of two loaf pans, with shortening. Rinse cranberries and pick through them, removing any spoiled ones. Chop the cranberries up a little bit, but not too much.

2. Mix cranberries, sugar, applesauce, skim milk, vanilla, lemon peel, and eggs in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into pans.

3. Bake the loaves 55-65 minutes. The actual amount of time depends, naturally, on your oven. Basically you need to make sure that it's done, make sure that a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

4. Remove from the oven and cool in pans for ten minutes. Loosen the sides of the loaves and remove them from the pans and place the bread on a rack to cool. Let them cool completely before slicing. Assuming that there's any bread left over, you can wrap it tightly and store it at room temperature for a couple of days, or in the fridge for a little longer.

* You could theoretically reduce the calorie content even further by using Splenda for some or all of the sugar. I have not tried this.

** You could use egg substitute instead of the eggs. That would make this truly fat-free instead of just kinda sorta low fat. The original recipe calls for four eggs, and two seems to work, but I wouldn't go any lower than that.

*** Use some combination of white and whole wheat flour. I have used as much as 2 cups of whole wheat, and it tastes just fine. It's a good way to get in some fiber without hardly noticing.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Dr. Clean

My dear husband was gone from Wednesday to Sunday this past week. He was in Louisville with his parents, because his dad was undergoing some cardiac procedure of some sort. Not open heart surgery, or anything particularly drastic, but it was enough that it warranted a trip Up North.

Home alone, I was pretty bored. After dinner on Friday night, I realized that I had better load that stack of dishes into the dishwasher before it took on a life of its own. So I did, and ran the dishwasher too, for good measure. Then I thought, well, there's this dish that we'd baked a ham in, and I should probably wash that. So I soaked it a little, and then scrubbed it clean. It didn't take long at all. Then I saw some other pots and pans that I could wash, so I washed them too. And I saw that there were some dirty baking stones that were just sitting there on the counter top, taking up space, so I washed those too.

The next thing I knew, all the dishes were clean. I was proud of my accomplishments, and I went to bed. The next morning, I emptied the dishwasher and the dish rack, putting everything I had washed away. And that was when I noticed that the stovetop and the counters were pretty filthy. So I scrubbed the countertops and the stove and the next thing I knew, they were looking pretty clean.

I went downstairs to do laundry (one of the perils of having a new size is that I have very few clothes that fit me) and noticed all the dirt and dust on the floor, so after starting the laundry, I searched for the broom and swept the downstairs. I swept all the dirt into piles and then sucked it up with the dust buster. (We don't have a vacuum cleaner because in our previous house my dad had installed a central vacuum, and we plan on talking him into installing one in this house too.) I continued my sweeping rampage by sweeping all the bathrooms, our bedroom, the hallway, the kitchen, and the dining room. And I took the dust buster to the carpeted stairs, one by one. I am a crazy so-and-so.

Since I was on such a cleaning rampage, I decided to keep up the good work by cleaning the shower in our bathroom, and mopping the floors of our bathroom and the kitchen. Then I decided to assemble my new sewing cart and spent the rest of the evening doing that.

The next morning, I decided to clean all the toilets and all the sinks. I found some toilet bowl cleaner, but we have only one bowl brush, so I had to take it around to each bathroom in turn. First I went to each bathroom and squeezed some cleaner into the toilet bowls, then I went and scrubbed the toilets in the same order. And I rotated through them one more time as I cleaned the sinks, ending my sink-cleaning rampage with none other than the kitchen sink.

Next I tackled a lot of clutter, putting old envelopes and junk mail into the recycling, and placing all the bills that are due in the right piles. By that time, Jeff arrived home, and I think he was surprised to find the house in better condition than he had left it.

It's not that I'm a slob (although, I definitely am) so much as the fact that I hate to clean. I don't know what got into me, and whatever it was, it will probably never get back in. But in any case, the house is pretty sparkly at the moment.

I'd like to take this time for a shout-out to my good buddy Mr. Clean, who makes some products that I like because they work without too much elbow grease, and because I can grip them. He makes a pretty good mop, although I wish the handle of it were just a little bit longer. Maybe I'm taller than his target clientele. But the best thing he makes are the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, which you can use to clean just about anything. I used them on my sinks and they really worked wonders.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Who's In Charge?

I'm not feeling so hot today.

Without going into detail, let's just say that my gastrointestinal system is having a disagreement with me, for the second time in less than a week. It's kind of strange, because normally I have a digestive system of stainless steel. Unless I eat onions, of course. The first one I attributed to too much commercial food containing onions. But this one, well I've been good since then, dammit! So I don't know what it is. I'm thinking I must have a virus or something.

When I was 25, I went through a phase when I had gastrointestinal problems very frequently, for no apparent reason. I used to carry Immodium with me at all times. Then I just stopped having that problem, and the Immodium that I still have in my backpack has expired.

This is not an uplifting blog topic, however, so I will leave you with the following joke (which is ringing true for me at the moment):

All the organs of the body were having a meeting, trying to decide who was in charge.
"I should be in charge," said the brain, "because I run all the body's systems, so without me nothing would happen."

"I should be in charge," said the blood, "because I circulate oxygen all over, so without me you'd all waste away."

"I should be in charge," said the stomach, "because I process food and give all of you energy."

"I should be in charge," said the rectum, "because I'm responsible for waste removal."

All the other body parts laughed at the rectum and insulted him, so in a huff, he shut down tight. Within a few days, the brain had a terrible headache, the stomach was bloated, and the blood was toxic.

Eventually the other organs gave in. They all agreed that the rectum should be the boss.

The moral of the story? The asshole is always in charge.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More Adventures in Applied Physics

* A couple of weeks ago, I got an electric toothbrush. My dentist had recommended getting one, and I had thought that it might help my arm if I didn’t use it in that back-and-forth capacity several times a day. (I tried brushing with my right hand, but it just doesn’t work as well.) So eventually I was able to put two things together simultaneously: my memory of wanting to get one, and my presence at the store! I can’t actually claim full credit for that one, either, because it was my better half who reminded me while we were at the store.

Anyhow, it’s pretty cool! I think it cleans my teeth better than I was able to clean them myself. The only problem is that it vibrates (duh) and is kind of noisy when it’s inside your mouth. Also, the vibrations make your whole head shake, and one time when I was really tired and using the toothbrush it made me a little nauseated. But it’s something I can do with my right hand so that outweighs any disadvantages.

* I can tell it’s winter because my hands are scaly. I’m disappointed that despite the (relatively) warmer climate, my hands are as dry as ever. My fingers are like fine-grained sandpaper. You know it’s bad when the dry skin cells on your fingers get hooked on your socks in the morning. If I were putting on panty hose, my fingerprints would cause a run.

Lotion doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. I do apply it most mornings, right when I get out of the shower. But my hands are still scaly, scaly, scaly!

* And speaking of other signs of winter, the static electricity has been interesting. Ever since I lost all that weight I can’t seem to get warm in chilly weather. So at work I wear this “warm fuzzy,” a fleece cardigan, basically. Fleece is of course very static-prone. So I have shocking experiences a lot, but the most interesting ones occur when I’m sitting at my desk and hooked up to my iPod. If I move and it causes sparks of static electricity, this causes interference in my earphones.

* The other day I got this new alarm clock. I don’t like to know what time it is at night, because being able to see the time means that this numbers fiend will look at the clock ALL THE TIME instead of sleeping. So in an effort to reduce the interruptions in my sleep cycle, I generally use a travel alarm clock. I used to have a small purple one, but then I stepped on it. It was an awesome clock, but I decided to go up in the world and get one that synchs with the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. This feature cost two dollars more than replacing my clock with the same model, but I decided it was worth it.

Since I am a numbers nutjob, I am really excited about the fact that this clock reads the exact time, to within something like 0.2 seconds. I find myself wanting to take this clock everywhere I go and compare the time on it to the time on other devices. I could do that if I wanted, because it IS a travel clock. But I guess that would be a little bit weird and obsessive. Not that being weird has stopped me from doing things, but obsessive, that crosses the line.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Adventures in Applied Physics

(which is actually Applied Math, but I digress...)

* This morning I had my Nerve Conduction Test. It consisted of them putting electrodes on my hand and then shocking the crap out of me. Hahaha it wasn't actually that bad! It felt kind of like touching an electric fence. The biggest shocks made me twitch involuntarily. It was pretty cool to watch. I asked him about the waves on the computer screen, and he explained it to me a little.

As it turns out, I passed. My ulnar nerve is working just fine. I'm glad that it is, but at the same time, I suspect that the next time I go to the orthopedist he'll just tell me that there's nothing that they can do to ease my pain.

* Gundar is now a Tennessee car. His Illinois plates expired at the end of November, so we went to the County Clerk's office on the second to last day of November. (Hey, why rush it?) But Gundar was so proud of his Illinois heritage that he had a hard time giving up his old plates. So for a couple of days, while we were waiting for the WD-40 to work, we had Illinois plates in the standard locations, with a Tennessee plate taped in the back window. Judging from some other cars we saw, that was probably an acceptable solution for Tennessee, but due to our high standards, we went ahead and removed the Illinois plates and replaced the back one with the new Tennessee plate.

In Illinois cars have a front and a back plate, but in Tennessee you only have a back license plate. So Gundar looks a little bare in the front. My better half wants to get a KISS license plate for the front. I think we should get a University of Kentucky plate, but he doesn't want to get beat up.

I'm not afraid of getting beat up for being a UK fan. After all, the sports in which Wildcat and Volunteer fans take pride are orthogonal, so there is very little rivalry there. It's a given that they'll kick our butts in football, and a given that we'll kick theirs in men's basketball. Everyone is resigned to this.

* My favorite part of physics is kinematics. I am therefore extremely thrilled to be living in a place where there are HILLS and other variations in the terrain. It makes for a more interesting driving experience.

I drive about twenty miles round trip every weekday. It takes about twenty minutes to get to work, and another twenty-five minutes to get home. In the morning it's about ten minutes to the gate, and then another ten minutes to the lab from there. In the evening it's ten minutes to the gate, and then fifteen minutes to home from there.

The distance between the lab and the gate is more than five miles, and for a large portion of that distance you can go 55 mph. When you're approaching the gate on your way out, there's a point at which the speed limit decreases to 45 mph, and then just before the gate the speed limit becomes 25 mph. You have to stay at 25 mph until you leave the lab's reservation.

As a former physicist and a professional cheapskate, I am all about using the laws of kinematics to minimize the amount of braking and acceleration that I have to do. So for the past month I've been trying to figure out where I should be when I let off the accelerator so that I don't have to brake or accelerate while still managing to obey these speed limits.

The result of my experiments is that I have found the exact place where I need to take my foot off the accelerator. And I think they must have placed the speed limit signs with Gundar in mind, because the distance between the two speed limit signs is just the distance that I need to decelerate from 45 to 25 mph! I just take my foot off the accelerator at this particular landmark, and then I don't have to brake at all and I don't have to put my foot on the accelerator until I am just about parallel with the gates.

I say that they must have had Gundar in mind, because when I've driven other cars (when Gundar was in the shop and we had a rental car), I didn't get the same results. I guess he has just the right combination of friction and momentum.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I submitted a paper to a journal in August. I got back notification today that the paper had been rejected.

At first, it sounded kind of harsh. The e-mail said simply:

Dear Dr. [me],

Thank you very much for submitting your paper [title] to [journal].

Unfortunately your paper cannot be accepted for publication.

With best regards,

But the editor sent me another message about 45 minutes later with a paragraph that had somehow been left out of the letter, containing an explanation as to why. But by that time I had figured out why, because I did have the two referees' comments.

The first referee was pretty harsh. The second one was less harsh, and more constructive, although definitely rejecting my paper in its present form.

Basically I think I was trying to accomplish too much in too little space. I really need to pare it down and then fill in more of the blanks. Both of the referees said that with a substantial rewrite and possibly some additional results, the paper could become suitable for publication. So not all is lost.

I forwarded the reviews to my former advisor, asking for his opinion, and he said that upon first inspection, "the criticisms, though numerous, are not fatal, and addressing them could result in a nice, publishable paper." He said he'd take a second look at the comments and give me a second opinion when he was done. I think I'll ask my mentor here to take a look too.

I was disappointed this morning, but I don't think it's an insurmountable setback. I will rewrite the paper, taking their advice, and resubmit it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Adventures in Feminism

I am a research scientist, and my husband stays home. We defy the stereotypes. We are a feminist’s dream!

I work hard all day, and when I get home, I’m mentally exhausted. I feel physically exhausted too. I sit down to a delicious dinner cooked by my better half. Sometimes, he hasn’t finished cooking it yet, so I sit down and watch him cook. And then I feel vaguely guilty and I ask if there’s something I can do to help.

I was raised in a family environment that was decidedly traditional. My mother gave up her career to raise us. We had cooked breakfasts every morning, and nutritious homemade dinners in the evening. Everything made from scratch by my mother. Sometimes Dad made breakfast on Saturday mornings, but otherwise he never graced the kitchen with his presence while food was being prepared. He did always do the dishes after dinner, though. But basically the domestic realm was left to my mother.

I think my mom felt used and unappreciated by this setup. Dad’s never been exactly prolific with his expression of feelings, although I know he appreciated her efforts a lot more than she thought he did. Once again this underscores the flaw that was the downfall of their marriage: their inability to communicate with each other.

I grew up feeling generally panicked at all times concerning the state of the world. A lot of what I absorbed was very apocalyptic in tone, including a certain amount of despair concerning the fact that not everyone in the world was as liberal as we were, surely resulting in the destruction of the world. I absorbed a lot of supposedly feminist ideas growing up, and looking back at them, I am horrified with their rigidity and judgmental tone.

Reading Linda Hirshman’s article from the American Prospect, I was nodding with familiarity at her assertions. From my reading of the article (do read it yourself; don’t take my word for it!), she’s angry about women with elite educations giving up the Feminist Cause and becoming stay-at-home moms. She seems to think that they give up their fulfilling careers to stay at home and wipe noses and do other unfulfilling drudgery, and by sacrificing their own dreams of a career, they are making it harder for the next generation of women to rise to prestigious careers.

I was somewhat horrified to see that I had inadvertently followed Hirshman’s advice for women who wanted to keep their careers: I married a liberal man of a lower socioeconomic status who therefore had less bargaining power in the relationship. It was important to me to marry someone who would be supportive of my career. But I didn’t exactly set out to do it in such crass terms.

Something I’ve learned in these past few post-judgmental years is that one size does not fit all. Women don’t have to keep working after their children are born any more than they have to stay home after their children are born. Maybe I would have been a happier and more fulfilled child if my mother had felt happier and more fulfilled. And if taking care of kids is not her thing, that doesn’t make her a bad person. It just makes her a person who would rather do other things.

Hirshman’s feminist utopia seems to be a place where women are full members of the “old boys club” – essentially, men-with-boobs. I don’t really like her idea, because I don’t want to be a member of the “old boys club.” I feel more camaraderie with the women who are suing Wal-Mart for gender discrimination than I feel with white men of privilege.

I think she’s wrong to believe in the “trickle down” theory of equality. It’s almost never the elites leading the fight for equality, it seems to me. It’s the people who have a self-interest in equality who tend to be the ones fighting for it. I think that women are not going to be treated fairly at the highest level until they are treated fairly at the lowest level.

And Hirshman is dangerously snotty towards women in lines of work that are not prestigious. While she’s advocating for these well-educated women to have a career, she doesn’t seem to think about the folks who are left caring for these women’s children. Never does she suggest that maybe the man could take time out of his career; instead she seems to advocate using a lower-class worker (who, statistically, will probably be female) to do the drudgery of childcare. In other words, these elite women should take advantage of less elite women, by paying them a pittance to do their dirty work.

I am of the opinion that my success should not be realized by stepping on others. This is a very difficult ideal to achieve, of course, because simply by being American I am part of a veritable third-world-abusing machine. But nonetheless, when I can see it, I try not to do it. This is one of many reasons I would be reluctant to leave my child in the hands of a stranger.

And my definition of success is different than Hirshman’s. I define success not as my ability to fit into the rigid, patriarchal structure as a man-with-boobs, but as my ability to fit into the human patchwork as a fellow human being. I don’t like the idea of having to “act like a man” in order to be successful. I would like to be treated with respect for the person I am, everywhere I go. If I happen to be the type of person who is a man-with-boobs, then so be it. But I would like to be respected as a kind, gentle, nurturing person if that is the personality that I have.

My idea of the feminist utopia is a place where people, men and women alike, can decide to do what they want to do with their lives, and be rewarded both emotionally and financially. For example, my husband is much better with kids than I am. If we had kids, he would want to be a stay-at-home dad. I would like to see a world where people would applaud his decision: a world where I didn’t get funny looks when I told people that my husband stays home while I go to work.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Better than Before

Thanks, everybody, for your support. I've had a tough week, but I think I'm over the worst of it. I'm almost cheerful today! How good it feels to feel good again!

I went to the orthopedist yesterday, and he basically said, "oh shit, your arm isn't any better," to which I replied, "no duh." So I'm scheduled for a "nerve conduction test" next Friday, which will determine the fate of my arm. If I fail (or pass, depending on how you think about it), then we'll consider surgery to relocate the ulnar nerve from my elbow to behind some protective muscle. This is probably where the nerve should be in the first place, if you really think about it. It's stupid to have this exposed nerve hanging out there, just waiting to be injured.

I was thinking about it last night, and I'm going to have to ask my former karate teacher, but I bet that if I get my nerve relocated, I might no longer be susceptible to certain attacks, at least not with that arm. The thought of being immune to certain attacks has an appeal to it...

In the movie Serenity, the bad guy's signature attack didn't work on Captain Malcolm Reynolds, because the nerve that the bad guy used to make people crumple had been injured and possibly relocated. So if it works in the movies, it must be true! (Ha ha ha ha just kidding!)