Thursday, April 24, 2014

Giving the cat a name

This is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies. As someone who has children who are nearly grown, but still hasn't settled down, I understand Ms. Golightly sentiment. Unfortunately, life doesn't wait until we find a real-life place that makes us feel like Tiffany's. So, sometimes we have to buy furniture and give the cat a name even if we aren't feeling it. I am at that point now. I know my lodgings are temporary, maybe 2 1/2 more years, maybe longer. It is a rental, so no matter what, we will move from here. What's more, the reality of academia is that people move. But we need a place that is comfortable for all of us now. I want a house that is tidy and fits my style. So right now, I am on a quest to settle in.

You know how some people show up at a new house and instantly turn it into a home? Not us. Some believe that there are gifts that come from frequent moving: a streamlined stock and a penchant for knowing what goes where. Well, the Dude and I have lived in 15 places in our 22 years together, so that hypothesis breaks down with our moving boxes. We move into a place, stress out, figure out where everything goes, then start hating it. Move things around, discard some stuff, buy some new stuff, like it for a month, then start hating it again. It often takes us a few years to really get it figured out. Unfortunately, the longest we have lived in a place is a few years.

Since we moved into our new place, we have been very busy, and kind of broke. It took the Dude a while to snag good employment. Now he has a decent job, and my life is slowing down a bit. And so now, it is time to try to settle in to our house and make it a home.

Over the past month, we have (finally!) unpacked and organized the garage and the shed. Now we are turning our attention indoors. The biggest piece for me is turning our living room into something comfortable. We have a sofa, four desks, many book shelves, a coffee table, and a rack for printers and scanners. In this room, we compute, read, watch movies, study, and play games. The room is also the entry to the home, and there is no closet. Luckily the entry area is slightly off to the side of the room, so there is distance. But still, this room is a disaster!!
Here are some photos. The boys' desk areas:

The entry way:

The hall:

More desk areas:

The room also houses the couch and my desk area. These are the before pictures. Stay tuned for the after pictures in the coming weeks! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Anti-science or anti-corporation??

Vaccination compliance has been in the news recently. According to journalists, whooping cough is showing up in places, kids are getting measles, stuff we thought were ancient illnesses and popping up again. Now there is concern about super-illnesses.

Vaccination discussions are an uncomfortable place for me. My facebook wall has been lit up on both sides of the aisle. I have been a natural living, homeschooling parent in the past, and thus have generated many friends who are uncomfortable with vaccines. I also have a lot of highly educated friends who are not yet parents (and some who are parents) and are appalled at the idea of not vaccinating. Branching out further, I see the debate raging in the comments sections of popular news sites.

I am not jumping into the debate (I will say that my kids are vaccinated, although they are a little behind schedule-they are also super healthy, as in rarely anything worse than a common cold). Instead, I would like to delve into the sociological perspective of non-vaxxers. I keep reading that these parents are ignorant, anti-science, and "lunatics." Many of my anti-vaxxing friends really embrace science.

It is easy to vilify people when they are an abstraction. But many of these anti-vaxxers or selective vaxxers or delayed vaxxers are my friends. I have had thoughtful and rational discussions with them. I may not agree with all of their choices, but they are loving parents who did research before making this decision. Many are well-educated. So, why might they question vaccines?

Most of the people I know who don't vaccinate their kids are gen Xers. Those who aren't are people right on the cusp, either young Boomers or old Millenials. I am not saying that all of the anti-vaxxers, or even the majority of them, are Xers. Nor am I saying that the majority (or anywhere near the majority) of Xers don't vaccinate their kids. I was simply noticing that most people I personally know who choose this path are in this age bracket. And it made me ponder if there are cultural forces that might be at work.

Gen X is my generation, so I can speak to where the skepticism comes from. I am not speak for Millenials who choose this path, and what I am saying will not ring true for every Xer that has wrestled with this decision. I just want to illuminate the reader on what the Gen X childhood was like, to shed some light on possible reasons for skepticism. Every generation has events that shape them. I want to write about some of ours.

Gen Xers are people born between the early 1960s and the early (very early) 1980s (some say it is the late 1970s). Our childhoods were shaped by Watergate, the Manson Family, John Wayne Gacy, the Cold War, and polyester.

When I was at the cusp of my childhood, the Halloween/poison apple and Tylenol poisoning scares were in the news. Everyone had to get their Halloween candy X-rayed, and drug store medicine had the potential to kill you. Many kids had divorced parents, and the kids were taking care of themselves after school.

So, let's analyze these facts. Before we were old enough to even understand it, we learned that our government could lie to us in a big way, and we couldn't trust them. The next guy in line just pardoned them and went on with his day. Not nearly the satisfying recourse one might want. The Manson Family wasn't anything we necessarily understood, but we knew that it was something scary and awful. Students who were protesting the war were gunned down by the National Guard.

Tack the Jonestown Massacre onto the end of the decade, and you see that we were coming of age in a time when it became apparent that trusting leaders can be very very scary. John Wayne Gacy taught us that our suspicions were correct, clowns ARE scary.

I think The Cold War is important in this discussion. It loomed with this-"We are all going to die soon, and no one will do anything about it (except Dr. Seuss). And, oh by the way, science can be used for death and destruction and isn't always a positive." And this feeling was coupled with the knowledge that our leaders could betray us.

Well, we might as well shed our bad fashions and go blow off steam by trick-or-treating, right? NO!! Sorry kids, you know that nice old lady who lives down the street? Well, on Halloween night, she turns into a murderous villain who only wants to kill children, and never even needs to see the spoils of her crime.

The institution of marriage went through a lot of changes in our childhood, with divorce becoming acceptable, and many middle class kids falling into a new single-mother-headed family, which often went hand-in-hand with economic instability.

It is in this stew of uncertainty, change, and skepticism that we were raised. The kids before us had grown ups taking care of things (and yet a small but vocal portion of that population still found their way to rebellion, skepticism, and suspicion of science). The kids after us had parents to insulate the fears and they grew up in a much more positive framework, with more respect for authority than the previous two generations. I think we lived in this sliver of uncertainty and unclear boundaries. 

Many were left with the feeling that questioning these things all fall into the same realm: antibiotic use,  fertilizers and pesticides, chemicals in household products, too much sun, flame retardant pajamas, CFCs, circumcision, governments, lobbyists, corporate CEOs, Pintos, medicated childbirth, disposable diapers, debt, commuting, EMFs, lead paint, handsome strangers, unsafe sex, asbestos, radon, tap water, nuclear waste, industrial wastehomemade drugs, lawn darts, and all manner of toys. None of these concerns are unique to Gen X, but they were the hallmarks of our childhoods, young adulthoods, and transition to parenting for many of us. Many of these examples were policies that received a stamp of approval by the government and scientists. Many of these policies also had strong corporate interests and profits tied to them.

To recap:  I am not siding with those who choose not to vaccinate, nor am I advocating one side of the debate or the other. I am simply trying to shed light on what factors combined to create a generation will to question. I believe it is more about questioning corporations than science, and it comes from a childhood filled with questioning, rebelling against authority and the status quo, and disappointment in leadership. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014


The Dude has been mentioning my lack of awareness to visual details. For instance, there is a new house in the neighborhood, and I said, "Huh, that house looks new." He was flabbergasted, because they had been building it and working on it since we moved in, and I didn't notice. I have been thinking about why this happens to me. One part is definitely having other things on my mind. We moved in and I took exams that week, then had to unpack, plan a new class, teach the class, write my dissertation proposal, take a class, and set the boys up to homeschool.

However, I think there is something else, and that is what I want to talk about today.

Change. We moved to a new place, and now I have to learn new things. As a graduate student, I am constantly learning new things anyway. Now I am done with my courses, but I am learning how to teach. How to organize a classroom. I had to create a rubric mid semester, because I realized that it is the best way for me to grade subjectively. But learning to use a rubric and set up grades on a rubric has been a bit of an exercise in frustration.

I am living in a new town. I now have to create new driving patterns, learn new grocery store layouts, learn to talk to different people about different things. There are new schools to navigate, doctors to meet, and hair dressers to find. The house itself is different. The walk from the bedroom to the kitchen is new, light switches are at different places, sun comes in at different angles. The wall color is different, having a fireplace is new, and I have new places to put my clothes (my very own walk in closet with shelves and a separate shared closet with a hanging bar. :) ).

I have moved often, so I know the drill. We lived in our last place (in a new town) for 3 years. Before that, we were in one area (more or less) for 7 years, but during that time we lived in 4 houses in and 3 towns! But adding graduate school work onto kid schedules and new navigations has been a bit much, I guess. So now I only register what is needed, and the other stuff is sitting and waiting to be discovered when I open my eyes to it. This includes houses, trees, stores, anything but what is absolutely necessary.

My larger point is this: humans as a species deal with more change than, I would argue, ever before in history. Before the Industrial Revolution, for the most part, a person could anticipate a steady life. They would live in a small radius, marry from families they knew, know their job options, keep the same job, have the same friends, travel almost nowhere, and use the same equipment their entire lives. Nomadic tribes obviously traveled, but roles and jobs were still durable, and the types of housing set ups stayed the same.

Compare that to now. Suburban homes that were built in the 1950s have been torn down to allow new development.

Entire new subdivisions and even towns can pop up like nothing. Don't like your shopping choices? Wait a couple of years, and there will be some new options to choose from.

Let's go inside the home. Look around your kitchen. How many appliances did not exist 50 years ago? 20? You got your Foreman grill, your juicer, your VitaMix and your Magic Bullet. Television has morphed from one large box that sits in the front room hosting 3 channels to something watched on demand through a telephone. Not only that, we can now make our own content and send it around the world instantly.

This type of presentation alone was unthinkable 50 years ago, never mind the product he is shilling!

The way we interact, the types and quantity of entertainment, and the information available to us today is unbelievable. We now have to remember to look at several different sites to get out news, and we have to know password upon password-Don't use the same one! Change them often!

We now do not have longterm certainty about where we will live, what job we will do, who will we marry, what types of things we will buy or where we will shop for them. 

So, what I am wondering is how much of the problems we see in our society: depression, anxiety, loneliness, Alzheimer's, substance abuse-how many of these problems are brought not by the current state of our world, but by the rate of change humans must endure?