Monday, April 30, 2007

A Bittersweet Birthday

Today would have been my brother's 23rd birthday. Instead, he's been at 19 for several years now.

That's one part of his death that takes an adjustment. His sisters around him all age and live to see another year pass, but he is eternally nineteen. I mentally tally the passage of another year, the arrival of another April 30th, and I can tabulate what his age would have been had he still been here. But there's another dynamic; I can only imagine him as a teenager. I speculate what his life could have been, someone catches my eye because of some passing resemblance to him, but he is securely in place as the blond-haired introvert that sported dry humor, a creative streak, and would come to rival me for pages read.

So today on Jon's birthday, I indulge in an afternoon off and time to reflect. In fact, it's the first time since I finished it that I've picked up my NaNoWriMo project and have begun reading. It has been good to isolate myself to do so, as I am unfortunately adept at closing off my thoughts and feelings when it suits me.

It's difficult to articulate today, or to understand how, even when years have passed, just a simple date on a calendar can mean so much. I guess all I can say is that I'm feeling thoughtful.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Our Anthropomorphic Friend

Eric and I are without child, no small feat when you examine the fertile surroundings in the state that is Indiana. In fact, I have strong evidence to prove that much of the recent baby boom can be traced to a particular water fountain at my workplace.

However, these last few months have given us a glimpse as to what parenthood will be like. If you recall, a feline entered our lives last September. In many ways, she has acted in the stead of a child. I will now lay out how she has tried to show us a glimmer of what will be in store for us when she is usurped by a (hopefully) less hairy version.

Sleep deprivation. Before Augustine arrived, I slept through the night. If you recall, I've had some difficulty with waking up due to her antics when she wants me to tend to her wants. Furthermore, when I turn over at night, I'm conscious enough to know where our cat is so I don't smother her. However, this is not always fool-proof, for if she is trying to look out our window, I can't sense her and I'm liable to kick her off. She's learned it can be in her best interests to also adjust her position when I stir.

Cutting the cord
. I have friends discussing when they finally moved their child to the nursery and out of the master bedroom and the great difficulty they had in doing so. While it was hard to set limits, I have learned it is worth kicking her out of our room so that I can sleep soundly.

Connecting with others in the same stage of life
. We find ourselves conversing about cat issues with fellow owners:
- How did you train your cat to stay off the Christmas tree?
- What do you think about declawing?
- Does yours interact well with other cats?
- Do you use wet or dry food?
- Does your cat's breath have the smell of festering meat?
- What did you do to toilet-train?

Separation anxiety
. When she went to the vet to be spayed and remain overnight, we were anxious at home. "I wonder how she's doing. She's probably so scared and nervous, and we're not around! It seemed like a nice clinic, right? How did the veterinarian appear to you? You're picking her up when they open tomorrow, right? Call me and tell me how she is, okay?"

Tendency to worry
. Soon after her surgery, we called an emergency vet to discuss our fears when we saw some fresh bleeding. In the standard response, they said this can be normal and that we should monitor the situation and if it got worse, bring her in.

Tending to their bodily discharges
. Let's ignore the obvious litterbox reference. We've also experienced what it is like to be guardian to a carsick feline. She became sick no fewer than two times during our Christmas travels. And for no apparent reason this afternoon, she was sick on a discarded scrap of carpet in our utility room.

Knowing what's in their best interests
. She whines when we don't let her have her way (i.e., let her outside beyond our screened-in porch to chase the birds and get herself stuck in a tree when she attempts to befriend Samson the Squirrel). And yet, we know the power of the automobile and the canines next door, so we remain firm.

Common complaints
. She sleeps too much. She spends too much time working on her appearance. She trails her toys around the house. She's distant much of the time. She's not willing to tell us what's bothering her and we're left to figure out that she's upset because she has yet again tossed her small stuffed mouse into the coat closet or into the toes of our shoes.

Monday, April 09, 2007

April Snow Showers...

...bring no May flowers.

As a new homeowner, I impulsively purchased and planted some tulip bulbs in the fall. With the warm temperatures, leaves shot up. As you can see from our Easter scene above, snow and cold temperatures have threatened my flowers. Some of the worst affected have been cut and are sitting inside in a vase, where I hope to have colors emerge.

In further plant news, I have been in the business of distributing pitcher plants. A graduate student in our department finished his research with them and I have taken it as a personal mission to give as many away as possible (he started with around 100, and I was enlisted somewhere around 50). With one sitting on my counter, it's easy to lasso volunteers as they show interest in my plant; by now, it seems half the faculty have at least one. The stash has steadily decreased -- I took pride in distributing twenty in two days last week (excluding the gentleman I referred who went straight to the source and collected ten more for his personal greenhouse).

For those of you ignorant of all things pitcher plant, it is a carnivorous plant (our construction guys were sold on a couple with that information). Natural habitats are bogs, so one favorable quality is that they need to be in saturated soil -- no real worry for overwatering.

At the top of their leaves, there are downward-pointing hairs. Once a creature finds itself inside, the hairs make it difficult to emerge, leaving an exhausted creature condemned to the lower section. The plants secrete an enzyme that can digest little critters who find themselves so caught. Periodically, these plants will send up a shoot that can flower; the one shown above would normally have a pinkish bloom, but mine has been in some indirect light, causing the green to remain.

Even with my amateur sales pitch, many have found happy homes. Now don't you have a sudden desire to visit me at work for one of the remaining plants? If you're a long distance from me, perhaps you can visit a greenhouse to secure one for yourself.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wherein I Update You on My Challenges for the Year, So As to Have Something to Write

My life has been fairly routine lately, but I thought I'd update you on my challenges for the year.

My yoga class has come and gone. And while there were times I felt out of place and out of my element, it was beneficial for me (and my neck/back).

And I have now been tutoring for a few months now. My training course ended in mid-January. The last evening was to be held at the St. Joseph County Public Library. I had been there a couple times previous with Eric, but it had been several months. And I thought I knew where I was headed. Alas, my instincts are not to be trusted. After I eventually realized I was quite mistaken, I asked for directions and showed up noticeably late.

The very next evening was to be my first tutoring meeting with my student. And, knowing my ill luck with directions, I even printed some off although I had been there not even 24 hours previous. Wouldn't you believe it, that there was an accident due to the weather and to allow the tow truck to remove a car, traffic was diverted onto side streets. I couldn't tell how to return to my route, so I called Eric in desperation and begged him to call the library and inform them that I would be late. Eric did so, guided me with directions, and I finally showed up fifteen minutes late. Not exactly the first impression I was going for.

The library had noted my message, and when I arrived informed me that my student had not yet shown up. My relief was short lived, however, as it turns out he had been patiently waiting near our chosen destination. The initial meeting went famously, in spite of my lateness.

We are about the same age and he is here with his wife, both who hail from Venezuela. She is expecting their first child any day, which will result in a temporary sabbatical from our sessions.

Since then, we have been meeting two evenings a week, practicing reading aloud (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning), writing, and pronunciation issues. We've taken to TOEFL exercises, as he would like to do some Masters work in the States. And I've certainly noticed a marked improvement since we started.

Two early exercises we tackled were the rules dictating how to pronounce words ending in -ed and how to pronounce words ending in -s/-es. For native English speakers who didn't know there was a difference, notice how the endings of the following words differ: jumped (-t sound), wanted (-id), listened (-d), watches (-iz), sleeps (-s), and boys (-z). Now imagine trying to decipher when to pronounce words a certain way without knowing the rules for doing so. Quite the daunting task. We approached -ed rules first, and I must say I was astounded when the next time we met my student knew the rules when given new words. He had moved beyond memorizing the rules to ably applying them with no hesitation. Had the situation been reversed, I certainly don't think I could have performed as well without decided pauses as I tried to visualize which camp any given word belonged to.

Planning and tutoring take a certain amount of my free time, but it is nice to return to some measure of teaching again. I like being beholden to others during some of my free time, as otherwise I'm sure I'd squander the time. It's also good for me to look beyond myself and not selfishly hoard my free hours. I felt lost during the evenings and weekends before tutoring, as I had so much time before me and no good ways to structure it. I'm not wired for such a life. Some leisure: wonderful; too much: laziness sets in.