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So last weekend, scrottie and I took the train up to Seattle. Our visit had two three main goals ("fear, surprise, and a ruthless efficiency!...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope!"):

-Go skiing
-Visit annikusrex and enjoy some primo baby-viewing
-Haul the rest of my belongings and a couple of sytharin's things back to California

Oh, also visiting my parents. I keep getting confused about the proper terminology for this, but during our visit my dad was at the low point following his second 5-FU infusion during this set of chemotherapy treatments for his now-chronic liver cancer. Even though he was tired, he managed to share a story with us about a childhood experience with the Madison River ice gorge, and even managed to finish his Saturday chore routine (albeit on Sunday). A short but sweet chance to check in with him and my mom.

Anyway, skiing was successful, to judge by S's grin here:
The look of a happy skier

And also I did not die and I might even consider going downhill skiing again sometime in the future.

Baby-viewing was also successful, and especially satisfying given that F just now fits into the chicken hat that had arrived when I visited last October, 2 days before he got ejected from the womb.
The chicken hat now fits
(of course, my smart-o-phone photography still leaves much to be desired. sigh)

Stuff-hauling was mostly* successful. I only had around 6-7 boxes of things left at my parents' house, which isn't a huge amount, and yet on our last visit it was clear that my parents would appreciate the extra free space and peace of mind. My mom has been one of the ringleaders for clearing out stuff from both my great-grandma's house and my grandpa's house and barn, so she's no stranger to dealing with other people's stuff. But to me that also suggests that she's extra appreciative when other people take the initiative to tackle stuff management.

Some items went straight to the Goodwill pile, after a brief farewell:
Childhood relics
I don't know if anyone really wants ratty old stuffed animals or the velvety shawl, but at least Goodwill knows what to do with them?

Including three t-shirts kept for purely sentimental reasons:
Original rowing kit
Size XXL from my Freshman year of high school, yeesh

Oscar Romero t-shirt from El Salvador, 1994
A favorite shirt from my trip to El Salvador in high school

FMLN t-shirt from El Salvador, 1994
Shirt for the main political party leading the resistance to the Salvadoran government during the Salvadoran Civil War - Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front

I dispatched some old, bad art from college as well. This painting was the least-worst item:
College painting class

...And then we loaded the rest into the back of a rental car and drove it back to California.

So, now what? I think that, for the next phase of things, Project-Land will have two fronts. One front will involve continuing to go through those six or so boxes and deciding what to keep and what to move along. I suspect that, for instance, I will get rid of the Girl Scout manuals, because I didn't quite like Girl Scouts anyway and mostly kept the manuals as evidence for why. I also discovered that the worst object out of the lot, a neon light shaped like an abstract rowing shell, has burned out, and so now I'm free to dispose of it according to local disposal guidelines. Hallelujah and whew. I am still scratching my head over what I will do with the fine china from my grandma that was rarely/never used. We will potentially take it out for an Extreme Picnic.

The second front for Project-Land is the acquisition and creation of new objects. At the moment, I have slightly too many ideas and ambitions, but really that's my default mode. I need to read and learn more about quilting options other than hand-quilting. I'm also getting ready to start knitting something again (a hat, specifically). And there are a half-dozen things I want to make/sew. It has been helpful to look back on all of the older objects, while thinking about future ones, for the sake of deciding to put time and care into planning for the future items.


*Unsuccessful part: sytharin had asked us to bring down two of her sculptures, plus her scythe. I remembered the scythe, but didn't remember the sculptures until we had already driven all the way to Portland. Sigh.

Thought-jams

Do you ever have that feeling of, "Get a grip, self!!"

Yeah.

Today is the second day of enzyme assays. Last Wednesday was the previous one. In theory, it would be nice to get other work done while B does the actual assays, but I'm terrible at working on tasks that require concentration when I'm at risk of interruptions every 20-30 minutes.

A writing retreat would be nice.
I need to read through the ingredients list when I have more time. This uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for sun protection, which probably also explains why it felt pretty thick going on.

Instead of bike commuting, I drove the rental car to San Francisco to drop it off, spending 1.5 hours wondering why there aren't better alternatives to driving over the Bay Bridge, and why so many people compulsively lane-change left and right. Also wondering how much air pollution is generated and fuel is wasted by this traffic congestion nightmare. The toll should be bumped up to $20 per vehicle.

So far, I'm experiencing less of the burning feeling that returned after the aloe seemed to wear off yesterday. I guess I'm kind of trying to walk a tightrope here, between soothing irritated skin and winding up with a greasy face. I generally don't know whether I've avoided the grease until later in the afternoon.

Skin Test 1: 99% aloe vera gel

It's going to be interesting to pay closer attention to how my skin feels as I go through this process.

Casting about on the internet last week, I pulled up aloe vera as one possible thing to try. A message board commenter noted that aloe vera direct from the plant seemed to help, and that the 99% gel wasn't the same. But I use 99% aloe vera gel anyway when I make my own lotion, so it was an easy thing to test.

The aloe vera gel felt really, really good going on. That good feeling lasted up until the end of my bike ride to campus, and now my face feels dry and a little bit burny again. I had some feeling of protection while I was riding, up until the very end of the ride, so things seemed somewhat promising and perhaps deserving of some sort of repeat-application test.

I'm wondering what endogenous factors contribute to the unhappy skin. All of the stuff I've read so far suggests that people don't really have a good working hypothesis or hypotheses, so there could be immune or cardiovascular factors involved ("triggers"), or it could have something to do with membrane composition, or something of the sort. Interesting things to investigate further.

Sometime very soon I'll get a couple of aloe plants, too.

Doing All the Things [enzyme assays]

You can probably ascertain, by relative quiet, that I've been busy.

I've been working on some enzyme assays with our Chinese Visiting Scholar, B. Mostly, he's the one who's working on the assay logistics, while I'm the one who knows where the equipment and samples are, and how to work the equipment. This leads to a lot of back-and-forth and a bit of babysitting on my part, but it is important work.

Wednesday morning, he ran some preliminary experiments. At around 3 pm, we needed to make a decision: forge ahead with the actual assay, or wait? For forty logistical reasons, we decided to forge ahead. It took me around an hour to dissect out and prep the tissue samples. Due to some miscommunication, I then wound up having to wait for a very long time before I could set up protein assays, which have to be completed on the same samples as the enzyme assays. If I'd known in advance, I would have brought in dinner. Unfortunately, I get really grumpy when I miss dinner. But it was satisfying to get that batch of work out of the way, and we should be able to make good progress next week.

Meanwhile, I'm working with three different undergrads these days. One is learning the ropes for analyzing cricket activity across the day and night, and on Thursday we finally hit the stage where he commented that things finally feel like real science. Working out that pipeline became something of an ordeal because the open-source software we're using isn't being maintained anymore, so we had to figure out a machine where we could install Ubuntu 12.04. By itself, that wouldn't be a big deal, but there's something weird about the Dell we were trying to work with, where we couldn't simply boot Ubuntu from a flash drive or DVD. Finally, we installed Ubuntu on a separate hard drive and stuck it in the Dell, and it works. So C got to do his first test-tracking on Thursday, which worked well, all things considered.

The second undergrad is new to the lab, but not new to research. I'm teaching her how to do various basic biochemical assays, so we can assay the composition of cricket hemolymph in the California species we work with. The early stages of mentoring a new student take the most time and effort, but she's a quick study, so that's good.

The third undergrad is cooking along on her honors thesis project, which involves feeding different diets to crickets and then tethering them and flying them in front of a fan. One day, she had a conflict and wasn't able to fly her cricket, so I got to do it instead:

Tethered cricket flying

I'm generally excited about her project, which could turn into a nice publication.

But I'm feeling antsy about making progress on academic writing, because working with a lot of people sucks up a lot of time and mental energy. Time to get more strategic about scheduling.

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The skin we're in

The last time I visited with my parents, my mom commented that I looked constantly ruddy-cheeked, and hypothesized that I might be suffering from the same sorts of allergies she has experienced. A brief personal observation period and consult with the internet suggested to me that it would be useful to have a more formal diagnosis from a medical doctor, so I hied off to the doc's office on Monday. He took one look at me and said, "acne rosacea."

My skin has plagued me since adolescence. I wasn't any good at sticking with a tetracycline regimen, so I just washed my face and moisturized up until sometime around age 20. At that point, I wound up with a doctor who was a skincare specialist, who put me on benzaclin (benzoyl peroxide plus the antibiotic clindamycin). She also instructed me to wash my face once a day with a glycerin-based soap and to avoid using or putting other things on my skin. That regimen worked well, but once again I wasn't inclined to stick with it, especially because benzoyl peroxide starts to bleach shirt collars, towels, and pillowcases after a while.

Rosacea looks like it's going to complicate matters. I see that potential triggers include exercise, sun exposure, stress, temperature extremes, allergies, and a tendency to blush easily. Also, a lot of skincare products can worsen rosacea, including cortisone.

I think my first course of action will be trying a gentle moisturizer, probably one with a light sunscreen. To that end - any suggestions?

Silver Kaschper again

I time-trialed the silver Kaschper this morning. Three 1k pieces. They were all at least 5 seconds faster than the pieces I did in the Hudson a couple of weeks ago, and I could feel that I could get even more speed out of things with some additional work.

That wasn't the outcome I'd hoped for, but then again, that's why I went to the trouble of collecting the data.

The water was flat and beautiful. The National Weather Service expects the next storm system to show up Wednesday night.

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I had enough presence of mind yesterday to remember that today was likely to be a crunch-time day. I really didn't feel like trying to scramble and work ahead yesterday, so I instead decided to just see how things would go and make battlefield triage decisions as needed. In the name of work-life balance, ahem.

And it's looking like things will turn out okay, as it turns out. There are certain circumstances where it's useful to budget less time for tasks because then they don't expand to fill all of the time available.

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Instead of trying to work ahead, I spent a bit of time sitting on the back patio, working on the cat bed test-quilt - the one where I've been quilting ants onto the surface. Yesterday's ant was number 10, and there are another 10 ants to go before the test quilt is finished. I'm glad I decided to do a test quilt first because I'm finding that hand-quilting is moving too slowly, so now I want to rethink my plans for the actual quilt. I have too many other sewing projects in the queue these days.

As a first step, I learned about and ordered a walking foot for my sewing machine. Walking feet are cool - they have an extra set of mechanical feed dogs on the top surface of the fabric to help move thick fabric through the sewing machine without bunching or puckering. I don't think I'll wind up trying to quilt the whole twin-size quilt on my sewing machine because that's a lot of fabric to move around. We shall see.

I feel like "Feed Dogs" would be a cool band name.

Crazylegs insomnia

Sometimes the inability to sleep becomes laughably terrible.

I think I've inherited some form of my father's nocturnal myoclonus, which is similar to restless leg syndrome, where a person has leg twitches at night but without the urge to move the legs. In my case, that urge to move the legs is highly present, and certain postures bring on that urge even during the daytime. It feels like an internal itching sensation. This has been going on for long enough that I call the feeling "crazylegs." I'm pretty sure it has something to do with how my nerve fibers are situated within the lower back and pelvis, and what the surrounding muscles are up to.

In this specific case: yesterday morning, I got in one rowing lap on the water and then decided rowing wasn't a productive use of my time because of how rough and windy things were, so instead I jumped on the erg and did two VO2max-type pieces: 1k hard, then 2k at my marathon pace. I stretched afterwords, but to some extent I think this workout shocked my muscles, and I didn't do any pigeon pose, which has been a tremendously useful deep hip/glut stretch. So then I think my muscles spent the rest of the day and evening in a weird state, which translated into crazylegs when I tried to sleep.

And that's just factor 1. I got up at about 11:45 pm and did some pigeon pose, then lay on the couch for a while, drowsing in and out of consciousness.

Lately, Emma has been taking to crying kind of randomly in the middle of the night. Usually she can be convinced to stop via application of a squirt gun or squirt bottle, but at the moment we're only midway through the process of re-persuading her.

I also suspect that the start of the spring bloom is triggering allergy-related insomnia. And life stressors don't help ("What am I doing with my life?!").

Oh well.

Baskets and biscuits

This evening, I felt so lucky to get to ride home and not get rained on. It has been an interesting winter for California in that department.

When I arrived home, I discovered that the next incarnation of the Jolly Roger basket has arrived.

Basket 3.0

It will be good to be picnic-ready again. The basket-maker added a couple of custom touches for me this time - the hinges are on the front, and the buckle to open and close the basket is on the left side near the handlebars. So now I can open the basket while I'm riding, and if I forget to latch it closed, the hood won't blow open. In addition to making myself some rain gaiters, I think I'm going to make a basket cover to help prolong the life of Basket 3.0. The Texas sun and rain aged Basket 2.0 quickly.

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Regarding biscuits - at some point while living in Texas, I got interested in digestive biscuits, and tried baking my own. I wanted a snack that wasn't too sweet. That led A, a British friend of mine, to introduce me to McVities Digestive Biscuits, especially the dark chocolate variety. I quickly became addicted because they have such a nice flavor and aren't too sweet, unlike most American cookies.

But there is a problem: they're made with palm oil. Given what I know about palm oil production, I just CANNOT support the current industry, especially given the merely superficial efforts to end the ongoing deforestation to plant palm plantations. I wish I could give palm oil a thumbs-up, because there are some signs that oil palms are a really productive fat source, especially compared to many other crops grown for oil. But I cannot, at this time.

Regardless - after a whole lot of looking, I've discovered that the McVities Rich Tea Biscuits contain only sunflower oil. Also, they are very tasty when topped with homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread (the name brand variety is far too sweet and also full of palm oil).

I'm not sure whether this is really a good discovery or not.

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