Friday, December 31, 2010

Out with the Bad, In with the Good

I know. I risk boring even myself as I continue to write about diet and health issues. How much duller can it get? But this is probably the last time in a while that I’ll feel inspired to write about these things, at least in any great detail. And I’m not going into that much detail today. It’s just that I’ve spent the last week being much more relaxed about what food I eat, and I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way I feel. That seemed worthy of a post.

As I recently noted, I feel very good about the efforts I’ve made. However, from Christmas Eve through New Year’s, I decided not to restrict myself. I wasn’t going to go overboard, but I wasn’t going to avoid things, and Christmas day itself was a free-for-all. Today, New Year’s Eve, is also supposed to be a free-for-all. You probably think that means I’m having lots of fun. But the truth is – I kind of hate it. As soon as the protective dietary walls came down, I’ve felt worse. More sluggish, more uncomfortable in my gut. The good news is, this motivates me. I’m actually looking forward to being more disciplined again. It feels better. I wasn’t on my new health kick for very long, but I’m glad I can already recognize a difference. That’s an inspiring thing. In fact, I’ve been surprised to learn that eating better has resulted in me getting full faster. I didn’t notice that while I was eating better, but since reverting back to recklessness, I can tell I don’t want to eat as much as I used to. We got pizza a few days ago, and I ate less than I normally would have and felt like I’d eaten too much. It’s probably a good thing – just one piece of pizza I ate had half a day’s worth of saturated fat in it. (Cheese is a killer, I’m afraid.) Even though I’ve been more relaxed, I’ve been paying attention to what I eat, and there have been a couple of days when I’ve taken in almost three times the daily recommended amount of saturated fat. That’s easy to do when something like a half cup of egg nog gives you 25% of the recommended daily amount. But it’s also pretty freaky.

So yes, I’m finishing out the year with all the bad stuff, and I’ll begin the New Year on a much better note. I really will go back to better practices, even after this splurge. I’m not worried about that. If sheer feeling better weren’t enough motivation, there’s also the fact that in the brief time since I’ve seen my doctor, I think I’ve dropped a pound or two. I’m not sure. I got a bathroom scale several days ago, and according to it I weigh ten pounds less than I did when I was at the doctor. Some of that is probably due to differences in what I was wearing and, perhaps, differences in the scales themselves. But I’m crossing my fingers that those things cannot account for all ten pounds. Who knows, I may have put those pounds back on in the last few days, but I trust they’ll disappear again. Here’s to 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas 2010

Another year and another great Christmas, our first as a family of five. If I tried to capture all of the details, it would take me forever, so I’ll just stick to some basics. In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s already come and gone. I wish I had listened to more Christmas music than I did. Maybe then the Christmas season wouldn’t have felt so fleeting.

Melanie grew up with the tradition of acting out the Nativity on Christmas Eve. She wanted to carry that over to our family, but this was the first year we’ve done it (though we didn’t wait until Christmas Eve). With a four- and a two-year-old as our lead actors, the production was a bit more avant-garde than we would have planned, but that’s OK. Edison and Peter did their best in the various roles which they played. Here is a picture of them in character as, respectively, Mary and Joseph, at the door of the inn. Mary (Edison) is holding onto the donkey, played skillfully by air molecules.

The traditions continued on Christmas Eve, when Melanie again prepared a delicious soup that was served in bread bowls. This year’s soup: Pumpkin Coconut Bisque. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to taste butternut squash soup, this is in the same ballpark—or, should I say, gourd patch! LOL!—though it was quite gingery. It was yummy, though it had over a day’s worth of saturated fat in it. (Sorry, I’m sort of stuck in that mode lately!) Adding to the richness, we drank egg nog. Both the egg nog and the soup were sprinkled with nutmeg. For good measure, we also had Mountain Dew. It was wonderfully indulgent. Here are some pics:

Knowing we would have lots of presents to open on Christmas morning, we let Edison and Peter each open a gift on Christmas Eve. They did this last year and received Christmas blankets, which they then took with us as we drove around looking at Christmas lights, another Christmas Eve tradition. This year we let Eddie and Peter choose what to open. Edison ended up opening a super cool helicopter from Grandma and Grandpa with the Silly Car (Melanie’s parents, so-named because Melanie’s mom drives a Volkswagen Beetle—a model of car that a younger Edison once dubbed “silly”). Peter opened a new kitty cat from the same grandparents.

Like last year, Edison and Peter fell asleep during our drive to look at Christmas lights. Unlike last year, Edison woke up when we got back home. Fortunately, he easily went back to sleep, and Melanie and I were able to get to work on prepping for Christmas morning. We wouldn’t be to sleep until around 2 a.m. Of course, we were up by 7 a.m.

Christmas morning was great, but Edison’s being one year older made a big difference in how things progressed. Last year, Eddie and Peter were content to open one gift at a time and spend quite a while playing with it. The unwrapping process lasted all day, which was neat. This year, Edison was much quicker to move on and to want to unwrap another gift. Peter followed suit, so things moved much more swiftly. It didn’t start out that way, however. The first gift Edison and Peter discovered was the fire station Santa Claus left, a kind of doll house complete with three identical (and disturbingly pantless) firemen, an ambulance, a fire truck, a helicopter, a fire pole, a Dalmatian and dog house, and various furniture (everything from an outdoor grill to a large screen TV to a treadmill). Eddie and Peter have loved the fire station. They have played with it more than with anything else, and they spent the first while on Christmas morning playing with it alone. It was almost an afterthought when Edison finally moved on to find his stocking. Peter was even slower to move on. Throughout the day, they continually returned to the fire station. It helped that they eventually opened another set of smaller but fully-dressed firemen. It’s become quite the busy fire station.

Notice the lack of pants on the fireman. I think we may have gotten the stripper version of firemen. Careful, Santa Claus!

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Creegan. From what I can tell, Creegan enjoyed his first Christmas. He peed and pooped and ate and cried and spit up and everything. He really seemed himself, so I think he was having a good time. And yes, he received presents, including a stylish new outfit from my parents, pictured below.

Although it looks even better out of the box...

Surprisingly, Creegan himself gave out some gifts. Some of the best gifts of the day, in fact. Smiles. He’s only started smiling very often this week, and Christmas was one of the best days for it. I got the biggest, longest smile from him ever that day. Sadly, the huge smile was long gone by the time Melanie grabbed the camera, but we still got a few good pics. Here are a couple of them:

I got some cool stuff. One of the coolest is a digital scale for the kitchen. Now I can weigh in grams or ounces just how much cheese I’m eating, etc. This will really help me in keeping track of what I’m eating. Another really fun item I received is the new Michael Jackson CD. I know there has been some controversy surrounding it, but overall, I think it’s a very good album and I’ve enjoyed listening to it. Melanie also received some gifts that I’ve benefitted from. Aside from eating some of the treats she got, I’ve utilized her new family-size grill. (Not to be confused with the kind of family-size grill that cannibals favor.) I first used the grill for Christmas breakfast, which consisted of egg nog French toast and a hash brown / egg / sausage medley. I’ve since used it to make grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s nice not having to make one piece of French toast or one sandwich at a time. The grill is a nice addition to our home.

Aside from half-naked firemen, Eddie and Peter both received Nerf guns, swords, Transformers, sleeping bags, an indoor tent (jointly shared between them), books, and more. Our movie collection also swelled. We went from owning zero movies on Blu-ray to owning six—Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; Despicable Me; The Sixth Sense; The Dark Knight; Inception; and Slumdog Millionaire. If that weren’t enough, we also got some DVDs—Bolt; The Pursuit of Happyness; Lars and the Real Girl (which I strongly encourage everyone to see, despite the fact that the setup sounds like it could be questionable—it’s one of the sweetest movies in existence); and the first two seasons of 30 Rock. Santa found some great deals, I think, and I’m not sure his helping elves always realized how much the other helping elves were doing. Not that I’m complaining. We actually haven’t bought movies in quite a long time, so this was fun.

And that’s that. Here are a few final pics, just to round things out. I hope everyone else had a wonderfully merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Health Hath No Fury

After my bout with diverticulitis in early October, I’ve been watching my fiber intake quite closely. Since that time, I have not gone a day without eating at least 25g of fiber, and often I’m closer to 30g. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s getting easier, and I’m pleased with the options that exist out there for high-fiber food.

Last week, I went to the doctor for a routine physical, something I haven’t done in years. Before my doctor’s visit, I was instructed to have some blood lab work done. Overall, the results were quite positive, and the things that need improvement are not that daunting. I’m low on vitamin D, which is not so much a dietary thing as a matter of not spending enough time in the sun. My cumulative cholesterol level is in the normal range, although the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol needs improvement. I was told to be careful with saturated fats in order to help with that. And finally, my blood sugar level was basically at the very top of the normal range. Because my family has a history of diabetes, it is worth being extra careful with this. It’s recommended that I limit my carb and sugar intake.

Since my doctor’s visit, I’ve been tracking not only my fiber intake, but my carb and saturated fat intake. I’m proud of myself. I’m allowing these things genuinely to influence my decisions about what I eat. The other day, I ate a side of raw spinach without any salad dressing on it. I’ve hardly had any regular soda in the past week. When my family recently ordered a peppermint shake to share, I had only one bite of it and felt fine with that. I’m not being complete anal, especially with it being the holiday season. I know I will be having treats here and there, and I don’t even plan to pay attention to carbs or saturated fat on Christmas or New Year’s Eve. The cool thing is, if you’re selective about what you eat, the occasional treat doesn’t completely destroy you.

As an example of how well this is working for me, the other day Melanie and I decided to splurge and go to Chick-fil-A. We’re down to our last few “free combo meal” coupons that we received when I won a “year of free Chick-fil-A.” A few months ago, here’s what I would have eaten on a typical visit to Chick-fil-A:

1 spicy chicken sandwich (includes lettuce, tomato, pickles, and pepper jack cheese)
1 large waffle fries
1 large Dr. Pepper (refilled once or twice)
3 pouches of mayonnaise (2 to dip my fries in, 1 on my sandwich)

On my most recent trip to Chick-fil-A, here’s what I ate:

1 chargrilled chicken sandwich (includes lettuce, tomato, and pickles)
1 medium waffle fries
1 medium Diet Dr. Pepper (refilled once or twice)
1 pouch of light mayonnaise (to dip my fries in)

I share these details because I’m quite pleased with myself. I’m especially pleased that I’m making these choices so happily, not begrudgingly or only with great effort. And I’m quite pleased with the Chick-fil-A visit because I considered fast food a splurge, and yet that day ended up being one of my very best in terms of what I ate. My grand totals for the day that we went to Chick-fil-A were 243.5g carbs and 14g saturated fat. That’s about 81% and 70% of the recommended daily intake values, respectively. To reiterate, on a day when I went out to eat fast food, I still only consumed 70% of the recommended saturated fat daily intake level throughout the entire day! As Vanessa Bayer impersonating Miley Cyrus would say, that’s pretty cool!

I suppose it will take some time to see the results of all of this. I’m tempted to say I’ve felt more awake and alert and energetic in the mornings these past few days, but I’m not sure if that can be because of these changes. I’m not entirely sure how that would make sense. I know diet affects your energy levels, but would that happen from reducing carbs and saturated fats in particular, and especially this quickly? I still think it may be a fluke, but I’m not complaining. Anyway, time for me to go eat some high-fiber oatmeal. Laters!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Somebody on Facebook linked to the following comic, which I think will speak to quite a few people I know. It comes from the xkcd website, which as a grad student, I’ve been directed to a number of times. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Potpourri No. 28

Random bits o’ life…

Worst Things First
In my previous blog entry, I reported that things were looking good with Creegan and that, if things continued to go well, he would come home from the hospital that same day. Creegan did make it home on Saturday. Shortly after getting home, however, he projectile vomited. This was a bit unsettling, as this was the very thing his surgery was meant to cure. He projectile vomited again a few hours later, and then again many hours after that. Melanie and I had read that sometimes babies still projectile vomit for a day or so after having the surgery because that is what their bodies are used to doing. One nurse also said this to us, but everybody else—including Creegan’s doctor and the surgeon—said we shouldn’t expect to see any more vomiting at all. I wasn’t sure what to think. I wanted to feel completely at ease by this point, but I didn’t. And I hated the suspense of not feeling completely settled. On the positive side of things, though Creegan was still projectile vomiting, the vomits were getting further and further apart. I hoped this meant his system was just getting used to things again. I also took comfort in the fact that Creegan had pooped twice since his surgery, a sign that the surgery had worked. However, the pooping then seemed to stop. And, one of the projectile vomits that Creegan spewed after leaving the hospital was oddly thick, almost like clay or putty. These things bothered me, but Creegan did seem better overall. He looked immensely better, and when he was awake, he seemed more alert and attentive than he had ever been. We knew Creegan had a follow-up doctor’s appointment on Monday (yesterday), so we decided not to panic. I kept all my hope invested in the “readjustment period” theory.

The morning of Creegan’s doctor appointment, he pooped. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled to have a child defecate as I was at that moment. Then, at the doctor’s office, with the doctor watching, Creegan pooped a big one. He’s been pooping regularly ever since, and it’s now been something like 40 hours since he’s projectile vomited. I finally feel at ease, like life is and will be normal, both for Creegan and for us. It’s a wonderful feeling after all of this. Creegan’s doctor put him back on Zantac, still thinking that he has acid reflux, which could explain some of the post-surgery vomiting. As I said in my previous entry, pyloric stenosis wouldn’t explain the more active spitting up that Creegan experienced during his first couple of weeks of life, so I’m not skeptical that he has acid reflux. But I think the post-surgery vomiting was probably just his body adjusting back to normalcy. Things had almost completely mellowed out by the time the doctor saw him. But that’s OK. The Zantac does seem to help Creegan when it comes to normal, non-threatening, mild spitting up, of which Creegan is quite a fan. We’re going to keep him on Zantac for a month and then reevaluate. I’ll let you know what happens.

Sharp Thinking
During the past week, I’ve often taken Edison and Peter out to the playground to play. I’m not sure where he got the idea, but Eddie likes for me to pretend that I’m a hunter chasing kids whom I plan to eat for dinner. He and Peter run around the playground screaming while I chase them. Here and there, they climb up on things and “barely” escape me by going down a slide as I come climbing up after them. Additionally, sometimes Eddie pretends to have a sword with which he can defend himself. It’s an especially deadly sword, a creation of Eddie’s own imagination. At the tip of the sword is—get this—a cactus needle! Just when you thought swords couldn’t get any more dangerous!

So, yes, living in Florida, we can still head out to the playground and play, even during the first week of December. I know that’s what some of you are thinking, and you may feel jealous. I’ll be the first to admit that there are many perks about our climate, such as not dealing with snow. But make no mistake, it gets cold here. And it’s quite cold here lately. The high for today is only 50 degrees. Morning temperatures are in the low 20s. It’s no picnic, even if you won’t get snow on your picnic blanket here. I feel I have to remind people of this because they often imagine that I’m living somewhere tropical, which I’m not. I remind you that I’m 15—20 minutes outside of Georgia, that Tallahassee is not a beach town, and that there is nothing picturesque about it.

The fall semester has ended. I’ve written what needs to be written and graded what needs to be graded. It’s over. Good riddance. I’m slightly disappointed with my not-quite-perfect grade in the one seminar class I took, simply because I think it would have been perfect had my first two papers been graded by the main instructor rather than by his assistant. That sounds like lame whining, but I have strong reasons for believing this and have been a student long enough that I can typically gauge how well I’ll do on things before I actually get graded. To share just one bit of evidence, my final paper in the course was an extension of one of my earlier papers. The instructor’s comments on my final paper were that it was “excellent,” “well-written,” “well-argued,” and demonstrated a “good command” of the material on which I was writing. Trust me, that didn’t come out of the little bit I added to it to turn it into a final paper, but the earlier version wasn’t nearly so well-received when graded by the instructor’s assistant. OK, OK, enough. From now until the spring semester starts in January, I need to be working on my special area exam, and I’m toying with the idea of trying to prep something to submit to a conference. I’m at the stage where I should be doing that kind of thing. It’s intimidating, but it has to be done. There’s a philosophy conference at the University of Utah in April. Wouldn’t that be cool if I got something accepted there? Grinders 13, here I come! Oops, I mean, family. Yes, of course, family is what I’d be excited about. Yeah. Sure.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

How My Baby Dropped Acid and Ended up in the Emergency Room

I’ll try to make this short, while also hitting all of the important details. We’ll see how brief I can be.

Ever since Creegan was born, he seems to have spit up a lot more than is typical. We assumed, as did Creegan’s doctor, that he had acid reflux, which is not wholly uncommon in newborns. Melanie and I both have acid reflux, so I figured that increased the odds of our children having it, and thus I never really questioned that that’s what Creegan was dealing with.

At about four weeks of age, the spitting up seemed to increase. Creegan had a doctor’s appointment at about 4½ weeks old, and the doctor prescribed Zantac. The spitting up only seemed to get worse. In fact, “spitting up” no longer seemed an appropriate description. He was projectile vomiting. It looked quite literally like someone turned on a garden hose hidden inside Creegan’s mouth. It didn’t come out in one quick spew either; it would sometimes keep going for a second or two, which was really crazy looking given that the stream was so big and arching.

Mama called the doctor and the doctor said that the Zantac could possibly be making things worse. And so, quite counterintuitively, she instructed us to increase the Zantac dosage and instructed us to make sure Creegan had some breast milk immediately after taking any Zantac. We hadn’t been instructed to do that before, so we tried it. If anything, matters only got worse. By this point, Creegan had gone a day without pooping and his urinating was quickly disappearing too. Clearly, nothing was getting through his system. Consulting again with the doctor, we were told to cease with the Zantac altogether and put Creegan on Pedialyte and nothing else. If things didn’t improve by that evening, we were told, we should take Creegan to the ER.

Things didn’t improve. Wednesday night, Melanie took Creegan to the emergency room. As I’ve learned all too well by this point, emergency room visits generally take 6 – 8 hours before anything is figured out. Finally, they were able to deduce that Creegan has pyloric stenosis. The condition affects about .3% of babies, mostly males, and typically first-born males. It usually manifests itself at about 4 weeks of age. It’s an overgrowth of the muscle between the stomach and small intestine, and because the muscle is too large, food is unable to pass from the stomach into the intestines. Having nowhere else to go, that food eventually comes back up. The only treatment is surgery. The surgeon goes in and stretches out and spreads the pyloric muscle open, eliminating the obstruction. (For an excellent summary of pyloric stenosis, including its symptoms and treatment, see this article from It’s spot on from what we can tell.)

Creegan had surgery on Friday morning at approximately 10 a.m. We were told this surgery is incredibly routine and simple, a guaranteed fix if performed correctly. The actual surgical procedure takes as little as 8 minutes. Dr. Crooms performed the surgery, and by 10:45 or so, he told us everything had gone well. The surgery was over.

Now for the recovery. Creegan had to wait until 4 p.m. to eat any food by mouth. He hadn’t eaten since 5:30 a.m. the previous day, almost 35 hours earlier. An IV kept him hydrated and nourished, but he wasn’t happy not to be eating. Melanie had to do her best to keep him calm, all the while feeling heartbroken to deny him what he was asking for. At the 4 p.m. feeding, Creegan was allowed only half-an-ounce of Pedialyte. Fortunately, he ate well and did not fuss and fight for more. He was a bit doped up on morphine, so that helped. In fact, he slept almost all day yesterday, into the night. At 7 p.m., he had a full ounce of Pedialyte, again doing well with it. His next feeding was scheduled for 10 p.m., at which point he was going to receive an ounce of fluid, half Pedialyte, half pumped breast milk. He was too doped up to eat at 10 p.m., and kept sleeping. He didn’t eat until 1 a.m. He spit up after this feeding, but the nurse said it was nothing to be concerned about. The spit up was kind of snotty, and they expect there might be some spitting up as Creegan gets used to eating again. Since then, Creegan has had two more feedings—still the half Pedialyte, half breast milk mixture—and is up to two ounces. He has not spit up again. He is doing well. The next feeding will be two ounces of pure breast milk. If all goes well with that, then he can begin breastfeeding (at the breast) like normal at the next feeding. As long as the doctor makes his rounds at a decent hour, Creegan will supposedly be able to come home today.

It’s still possible that Creegan has acid reflux. The pyloric stenosis wouldn’t explain the spitting up that occurred during Creegan’s first few weeks of life. Even though acid reflux was dropped as a possible cause of his most recent ailments (and yes, that’s the lame and convoluted way that I got the title of this post), it may be something we’ll all have to deal with. That’s something we happily accept.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Honestly, People!

It’s been about five years since I started grading essays in some capacity or another. I’ve whined about it before, but it is mind-blowing just how horrible college essays can be. If you ever want your faith in the educational system to be eliminated, just see what incoherent drivel is constantly being churned out by those who are somehow receiving bachelor’s degrees. Worse, academic integrity is disturbingly absent. Every semester that I’ve taught or been a TA in a class that required essays from its students, I have had at least one case of plagiarism. I’ve also been in charge of tracking attendance in oversized classes where a simple roll call is too impractical. In such classes, we’ve tracked attendance by having a sign-in sheet that students must sign as they come into the classroom, or that gets passed around the classroom during the lecture, etc. Think a lot of fraud goes on there? Indeed. I estimate that, during the current semester, I receive an average of 5—6 forged signatures per class meeting. These are students who are signing in their friends, even though their friends are not showing up to class. It’s a joke.

Why do I bring all of this up? Well, as the end of the semester draws near, I realize that a lot of these scamming students are reaping the benefits of their misdeeds. Even the one or two students that have received some sort of academic penalty are not getting the punishments they deserve. There are at least three plagiarism cases this semester from the one class for which I’m a TA, but the instructor does not want to pursue them in any rigorous manner. Instead, the students receive a heavy point-reduction on their essays and a nice little warning written at the end of their paper. Yes, this will disappoint these students, since they expected to get away with the plagiarism. But it’s a slap on the wrists compared to what their punishment could and probably should be. At my previous institution, plagiarism resulted in an automatic “F” for the course, no questions asked. And there was an official note put into your file so that subsequent instances could be more severely dealt with. That’s not going on here. Neither are those committing attendance fraud going to be held accountable. The instructor of the class has informed me, in not so many words, that it would be opening a can of worms for us to deny certain students attendance points for days on which a signature appears next to their name. Never mind the fact that I know who these students are, that I specifically watched for them to come to class and verified that they weren’t there, that their signatures look vastly different on days when I also could not see them in class, that I have done a headcount and verified that I received 8 or 9 more signatures than students were in class that day. But hey, somebody signed these students in, so we better just give them the points. Way to go, dishonest students. Had you been honest, you would have lost points, but because we know you weren’t honest, we have to give you the points. Well played.

And since I’m complaining … can it really be going on midnight, going into December 1st, and I’m dying to turn on the A/C in our apartment? The answer: yes!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Putting My Scanner to Use

I admit. Sometimes I think I’m very funny. Probably a lot more often than anyone else does, but that’s okay. One such instance occurred just the other night, after Melanie and I had taken a grocery shopping trip to Wal-Mart. With it being late in the afternoon, we decided to buy something quick and easy for dinner, and so we purchased a couple of frozen pizzas that were on sale. One pizza (that I chose, unfortunately) was a Buffalo Chicken pizza. Now, I’ve always had the problem of thinking of Buffalo Chicken, Buffalo Wings, and other Buffalo treats as being barbecue based. I’ve thought this even though I’ve learned on more than one occasion that this is not true. Buffalo sauce is some kind of hot sauce based concoction, rather on the spicy side. And so, that’s what our pizza had all over it. This concerned us once we started eating because Melanie is breastfeeding Creegan and we didn’t want her to eat something that would ultimately upset our baby boy.

Now, I am anything but an artist, but I decided to draw a warning label that can be applied to all spicy foods to serve as a warning to breastfeeding mothers that the food in question is potentially dangerous to their young ones. I grabbed a napkin and a ballpoint pen and came up with this:

Of course, on the products, the picture will have to have a “jet” through it, like so:

For the record, Edison coined the phrase “jet” to refer to the familiar red circle with a line through it, indicating a warning. I don’t know why he started calling it a jet, but it’s stuck with us and now it seems like a good word for the thing.

Because I was using my scanner to take a picture of my napkin art, I thought I’d also scan the cover a book that Edison (or perhaps Peter) recently picked out from our local library. It’s a children’s book, but the cover is a bit unsettling. Even the title of the book seems all too easily to hint at something very perverse. I’m just glad there aren’t only two civil servants standing in the background, one Caucasian and one African-American, or I’d start thinking Mr. Levine and Ms. Lewin really are trying to corrupt our youth.

Thanks, and good night!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

...and Exhale

I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief right now. I’ve faced the inevitable, spoken to the appropriate powers that be, and officially postponed my taking of a special area exam until next semester. I wrote about the special area exam (hereafter SAE) in some detail here, but as a quick reminder, it’s an exam that all PhD students must take before they can officially register for dissertation hours. I knew aiming to take the SAE this semester would make my life incredibly hectic, but I forged ahead with the plan anyway. Things were going pretty well until I got my first batch of essays to grade as a TA and, during the very same week, found out I had diverticulitis. I feel like that’s when everything got derailed. I got behind on things and haven’t been able to catch up. Then Creegan arrived, about two weeks early, which was semi-expected but nevertheless added to the craziness for several days. The deadline for taking the SAE this semester is now a mere two weeks away. It’s an impossibility at this point, because it took something like four or five weeks to do just the preliminary work on only about half or the articles I need to read. Bottom line, I probably still need a couple of months to prepare. And so, I’m thinking late January, early February. Either way, it won’t matter, because it won’t be within the next couple of weeks. Really, it should be a lot easier because next semester I won’t be taking any regular classes. All of my non-TA efforts can go directly to the SAE and then to preparing for a dissertation prospectus. If those are the only things on my academic plate outside of my TA responsibilities, I think I might actually get somewhere. Regardless, not trying to take the SAE this semester is a huge weight off of my mental shoulders.

Looking at the next month or so, I’ve got another big batch of papers coming in next week that will need to be graded. A couple of weeks after that, I’ll have a final paper due in the seminar I’m taking. And that’s basically it, school-wise. Not shabby at all. Quite tolerable. Again, I should be working on preparing for the SAE even now, but that can safely go on the backburner as needed. All in all, I’m feeling good.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Fatherhood, Take 3

When a new child arrives, there is so much to say about it and yet so little time to say it. Life has been pretty crazy since Creegan was born. With Melanie and Creegan staying the mandatory 48 hours in the hospital after Creegan’s departure from the womb, I became a single parent of two. I am not accustomed to being the primary caretaker, and sadly this makes me pretty bad at it sometimes. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, we’re all exhausted, but when you’re the parent, you’re supposed to handle whatever happens with restraint. I’ve failed numerous times in the past week, being quite short-tempered with my two eldest. Poor guys. They seem to be doing really well, but I know they’re affected by all of this, too. When they’re not completely obedient or otherwise test me, I know there are better ways to respond than lashing out at them, but that’s what I’m doing all too often. For crap’s sake.

Creegan came home on Saturday. On Tuesday, he was back in the hospital because his jaundice was quite extreme. It seems like every baby I’ve ever heard of has had jaundice, so I wasn’t scared by it, but it was still sad to have him going back to the hospital. Melanie stayed with him, which meant she too was gone. Once again, I was a single parent. We hoped the jaundice would improve overnight, but it didn’t improve enough. Creegan (and Melanie) were stuck until at least Thursday morning. That meant I was stuck as a single parent until at least Wednesday evening, when Melanie’s parents would arrive in town. Making it to Wednesday evening wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the fact that I had a paper due on Wednesday afternoon. It was a paper for which I had already received an extension because Creegan was born. Even though another extension might have been warranted once Creegan was going back to the hospital, I really didn’t want to have to ask for even more time. Miraculously, I got the essay completed, with a little bit of help from the television, which acted as a babysitter for much of the day. I felt bad about that, but I didn’t want to take the time to drive Eddie and Peter to a human babysitter. I didn’t feel like I had time even for that. (Everyone we know whom we would feel comfortable asking to babysit lives about 20-30 minutes away, so taking the kids to a human babysitter would have eaten up a decent chunk of time.)

Melanie’s parents coming into town has been a sigh of relief. They’re very helpful, and it makes me feel much less guilty about doing schoolwork and other necessary things when they entertain Eddie and Peter. Melanie and Creegan finally came home yesterday afternoon. Creegan had yet another follow-up visit with his doctor this morning, and things are looking great. He’s home for good, which is awesome. Mind you, the awesomeness brings challenges. The only perk to having Melanie and Creegan at the hospital is that I got a full night’s sleep. Those are no more, I suppose. (During the first two years of a child’s life, the parents lose an average of half a year of sleep!) Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re here. It’s just that I’m already feeling quite exhausted—even more so than before.

I’ll end this post on a happy note, with a few pictures. I’m only posting a few because many of the pictures we’ve taken haven’t yet been uploaded to our computer. Also, I don’t want to spend copious amounts of time looking over the pictures and trying to choose the best ones. Hopefully these will satisfy those family members and friends who have been eagerly watching and waiting for additional photos to appear.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Because It's Friday

Someone took an old Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen video and slowed it down. The result is both terrifying and hilarious. I'm now posting it for your viewing pleasure. There are some glitches in it, but it's otherwise just the normal video played at a slower speed. Which really creeps me out, because it seems a bit spastic even in slow-mo.

Monday, October 18, 2010


After my recent bout with diverticulitis, I’m supposed to be gradually increasing the fiber in my diet until I’m eating quite a bit of it on a daily basis. If you’re an average American, you don’t think much about your fiber intake and you get less than half of the recommended daily amount of the stuff. The exact recommendation varies depending on where you get your information, but an adult should be eating something like 25-35 grams of fiber per day. The fact that Americans eat very little fiber is a factor in the presence of diverticulitis within our culture. Some cultures that eat quite a lot of fiber don’t ever get diverticulitis, and it’s fair to say that diverticulitis is one consequence of the industrial revolution, when processed flour and grains that are low in fiber became common.

I haven’t been too much of a stickler yet, but seeking to increase my fiber intake has had an impact on the dietary decisions I’ve been making. One thing I’ve realized is that eating upwards of 25 grams of fiber per day will not be easy, unless I start taking supplements. Maybe supplements are fine, but for whatever reason, I’ve always had it in my head that taking supplements of any kind—vitamins or whatever—isn’t ideal and doesn’t really benefit you like the real things would. Maybe that’s a paranoid way of thinking, but somehow that’s what I’ve always thought. So, as I’ve been doing my research, I’ve started feeling like I’m going to have to spend all day, every day eating, if I’m ever going to stand a chance at eating enough fiber. Start the day with a bowl of Raisin Bran? Fantastic—you’ve got 8 grams of fiber. Now just make sure you get at least 10 more grams of fiber for lunch and 10 more for dinner. Mind you, if you ever start your day not with Raisin Bran but instead opt for, say, Corn Chex, well, you’ve only got 1 gram of fiber in your system. It hardly even counts.

I don’t know. Maybe this doesn’t strike anyone as a challenge, but it seems a bit overwhelming to me. There are some great sources of fiber out there, including beans, but am I stuck eating chili for dinner every night? Do I have to eat three or four pears between each meal to get into the recommended range? Can I never have a (normal) waffle or pancake for breakfast again, just because I don’t have room in my stomach for anything that isn’t fortified with fiber? It’s the “every single day of the rest of your life” aspect of this that seems daunting. Eating that much fiber two or three days a week sounds difficult, let alone rarely having a day that dips below 25 grams.

And that’s that. Fiber’s on my mind pretty constantly lately. Just thought I’d give you a glimpse at what my mind is thinking, almost all of the time nowadays. Isn’t it fascinating?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Newest Member of the Family

Well, it’s happened. A new bundle of joy has arrived and we’re all very thrilled. Eddie and Peter are especially excited and can’t stop talking about the new arrival. Melanie and I are very excited too, though understandably a bit nervous and overwhelmed. This is a very big deal, and you always wonder if something will go wrong right away and turn your giddiness into distress and grief. We’ve got our fingers crossed, of course. We’re sincerely hoping this will be our favorite one yet. Looks-wise, there is a bit left to be desired, but if that were something we were going to be picky about, we could have just left the thing in the parking lot and went home, am I right?

So, anyway, here are a couple of pictures:

I was going to make a joke based on that second photo and say that we had bought Edison his first car. That would have been funny, but I decided to play it straight and do a serious post instead.

So, if you’re wondering, this is a 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan. We heard from a few different people, including a car mechanic that we know outside of his work as a mechanic, and they all recommended Caravans when it came to owning a van. With Creegan on his way (probably within three or four weeks!), we simply didn’t have room for three car seats in our car. Buying the Caravan has wiped out a decent chunk of my student loan money for the year, but it needed to be done. If we get three or four years out of it, I think we’ll be pretty happy. It wasn’t that expensive, all things considered. Probably our cheapest vehicle ever. The first photo above is the good side. The other side has a noticeable dent, but nothing that gets in the way of anything other than looking stylish.

So there you go. Cool, eh?

Friday, October 01, 2010

So, ER, We Meet Again

Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, I was feeling quite bloated. I slowly ate dinner, not feeling incredibly motivated to eat, and several hours later, went to bed. When I woke up on Thursday morning, I didn’t feel any better. That surprised me, but I went about my day. I felt like I had gas pains, but I wasn’t passing much gas. The left side of my abdomen felt especially bothered. When I’d walk, it would kind of hurt over there, and it would hurt if I pushed on it. The pain wasn’t extreme. I went to school, so I obviously wasn’t very afraid of walking around, even though I was much more physically comfortable when sitting still. Again, the pain all felt very much like gas, and I figured I was just backed up or something.

By Thursday afternoon, I had a fever. I thought it was unrelated to the gas pain. In fact, I had interacted with a fellow grad student on Thursday morning who said he thought he had the flu. He and I work together as TA’s, so when I started feeling feverish, I figured I probably had gotten whatever bug he had. I spent most of Thursday lying on my couch, and the gas pain never subsided. Finally, around 9 p.m., I for some reason looked at my stomach in the mirror. The left side of my stomach actually appeared slightly bulged, quite similar to when a woman first starts to look pregnant (although in my case, the “baby bump” was poking in the wrong direction). That didn’t seem good, especially in light of the fever I had had. Melanie suggested going to an InstaCare type of facility. At this point, I wasn’t really feeling feverish anymore, and the pain still wasn’t horrible—it was more uncomfortable and annoying than crippling. Nevertheless, I agreed that I should go to InstaCare. (I will continue to use the label “InstaCare” even though I have no idea if that’s officially what I’m talking about or not.)

Before leaving the house, we looked up the InstaCare facility, just to make sure I knew where I was going. On their website, it said you could call ahead and thereby speed up the process for when you arrived, in most cases resulting in a 90-minute-or-less visit. I called and told them my story. They told me that with something like that, they would probably want to do a CT scan, and seeing as how they did not have the machinery to do that, they told me to go to the ER. Being told to go to the ER can sound scary, but it didn’t sound like my situation was worrisome so much as that the InstaCare wouldn’t be able to adequately assess me. And so, feeling quite calm and optimistic, I decided to go to the ER. I drove myself to the hospital, which is not far from where we live, and checked myself into the ER at precisely 9:30 p.m.

At 12:40 a.m., I was seen by a doctor. He required some blood work to be done. They drew some blood, hooked me up to an IV and a blood pressure monitor, and left me in bed for just under an hour. A nurse then came in and said that they wanted to do a CT scan. (Two minutes later, the doctor reappeared and told me my blood work was inconclusive, and that was the reason we were proceeding to the CT scan. I did have a high white blood cell count, which could be indicative of infection.) The nurse gave me two cups of ice water with some sort of solution in it and told me to drink all of it within 45 minutes. Once I was done drinking it, I was supposed to press my call-button and let them know I was ready for my CT scan. I was already quite tired of being there, so I chugged both cups of water down within about 5 minutes. (This left me feeling incredibly cold in the already quite cool room, and I chattered quite a bit over the next little while.) I called them and told them I was ready to get my CT scan. I don’t know if chugging the water quickly did me any good, for it was still another 45 minutes before anyone took me to get a CT scan.

Now the real fun begins. When I got to the room where I would receive the CT scan, I was informed that I would be given an enema that I would have to hold in while I was given the scan. My first enema. Very exciting. There wasn’t much point in fretting about it, so I did what they told me. I lied down, turned on my side, and let the nice young woman pump cold water into my derriere. The worst part was having the water go in. She told me it would feel like the kind of cramping you have when you have a really bad bowel movement, but to me it felt more like some of the worst gas pain I’ve ever had. At least with bowel movements, you can push, but I was under strict command to take it all in and keep it there. Awful. Fortunately, once it was in, it was not nearly as bad as it was going in. It still wasn’t very comfortable going through the 10 minutes or so of CT scanning, but I was glad it wasn’t worse.

After the CT scan (and a few minutes in the bathroom to evacuate my bowels, which even once you’ve done so, you can’t help but worry that you’ll be leaking as you go on your way), I was returned to my not-officially-admitted-to-the-hospital hospital room. At this point, I was told I had another hour or so to wait for results. I tried to get some sleep, but I never quite got beyond the thinking-turns-into-semi-nonsensical-quasi-dreaming stage. It actually seemed pretty soon that the doctor was back in my room. He told me I have diverticulitis. He said something about me having an infection in the “out-pouches” of my colon. He said something about prescription antibiotics and told me I would be discharged. I probably would have asked him a question or two, but he was in and out of my room in about 45 seconds (no joke) and I didn’t even process what he said until after he was long gone. Even so, I was ecstatic that this was merely an infection that could be cleared up with antibiotics and that I was about to go home. But…

Not so fast. When the main nurse came back into my room, I said something about putting my shirt on (I had been wearing my shoes, socks, and shorts all night, but was wearing only a hospital gown on top), and she said something like, “Did the doctor tell you you were going home?” That was quite a dreadful thing to hear, and so I said something like, “Yes. He said I was being discharged,” trying to emphasize the last word to make it clear the doctor indeed gave me permission to leave. The nurse said that I would be discharged, but that I still had to receive two antibiotic treatments via IV. Each would take approximately one hour.

Sigh. And so, I was again in bed, sleeping here and there, and not being officially discharged until almost three hours later (by the time it was all said and done). I got home just before 7 a.m. What a surprisingly long night. Of course, I’m glad to have been treated. The sad thing is, apparently diverticulitis is something I will always be susceptible to. As I understand it, it is an infection of the pouches that can develop in the colon as one ages. I don’t know how sensitive I’ll be, but apparently I’m supposed to prevent future flare-ups by eating a high-fiber diet and avoiding foods that can easily get trapped in the pouches, which includes seeds (everything from seed-covered strawberries to, dang it all, poppy seeds, which I absolutely love!) and popcorn (which I eat fairly regularly). Sucky. The thing is, I don’t know if I’m supposed to NEVER eat these things again, or if I’m just supposed to eat them very sparingly. If these things can more easily get trapped in my colon pouches, I imagine they should be avoided completely. But that really sucks. Seriously, never have popcorn again? Ever??? Man, I was planning to go to a movie with Melanie for my birthday and splurge on popcorn. Crap. Sort of literally.

Overall, I guess I was more impressed with this ER visit than the ER experience I had in 2007 after our car accident. But I can’t believe how long it takes for things to happen. It seems like they should have been able to cut out at least two hours of the time I spent there. But they were fairly attentive once the ball got rolling, so that’s something. Here’s hoping I never have another ER experience to compare these earlier ones to. I like ranking things, but I’m not interested in compiling a list of Top Ten ER Visits. Top Two ER Visits will do just fine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Exotic and Knowledgeable

When I started this blog just over six years ago, I had a policy of not discussing religion in any explicit sense. My primary motive for doing so was to avoid religious debates that might arise. I wanted any religious discussion that took place to be respectful, sincere, and most importantly, open to everyone, whether religious or not. I feared that divulging too much about my own particular beliefs would deter people from participation and/or invite those who strongly opposed my views to attack my beliefs rather than sharing their own, thereby derailing the conversations I had hoped to have. Believe me, I had reasons for supposing this could happen, as I’d seen it happen elsewhere.

At this point in time, pretty much the only people who read my blog are my family, so there is little mystery as to my faith. I’ve also said things here and there that, if you knew what I was talking about, would make it obvious to what faith I belong. You could also take a slightly informed guess as to what my religion is by the fact that I hail from Salt Lake City, Utah, though that hardly guarantees anything and my oft-advertised love for Mountain Dew may have cast doubt on your guess, depending on what preconceived notions you have about Mormons. From what I’ve gathered, those notions can be pretty off-base.

Yesterday, as I was waiting for my graduate seminar to begin, there were about six or seven of us in the room. Somehow the topic turned to Facebook, and one girl proceeded to tell a story about her friend who set up a bogus Facebook account so he could “make exotic friends. He friended a Mormon.” The girl in my class then went on to tell a story about how this Mormon girl was very religious (“Did she drink caffeine?” someone interjected) but ended up pregnant out of wedlock. I was amused, and I was going to say that I was unaware I was “exotic,” but it all passed very quickly and people were talking about other things. At that point it felt silly and relatively pointless to break in and tell them I was Mormon, so I didn’t, but part of me felt like I was being dishonest somehow. Is that weird? I don’t know. People just don’t expect other people to be Mormon, I guess, and so every once in a while you get someone talking about Mormons in front of you (or to you) with the assumption that we’re all in agreement that Mormons are a little strange or whatever.

A few years ago, I took a philosophy of religion seminar at Georgia State. There were several religious studies graduate students in the class, including one that always struck me as wanting to have something very interesting to say. She was probably in her 40’s and probably not exactly buddies with anyone in the class. Anyway, one day before class got started, she started telling our instructor a story about how she once attended a Mormon church service. She said that after the church service concluded, she talked to the priest (which is not the right word for what she meant, but that’s OK) and showed him some documented evidence that the Book of Mormon had been changed from its originally published version. (This is true, and it even says so in an introductory part of the Book of Mormon, which makes the rest of this woman’s story all the more suspicious. Obviously, the changes are not anything Mormons find worrisome, as they are primarily aimed at clarification and correction.) According to the woman telling this story, the Mormon “priest” grew very agitated and asked where she got the documentation she was showing him. He then confiscated her materials and refused to give them back to her. Those are the details I remember, but I think her story may have been even slightly more wild. Anyway, it’s possible her story is true, but I find it incredibly unlikely. The “priest” would have to have been surprisingly ignorant, and he also would have behaved quite unlike any “priest” I’ve ever dealt with. I just don’t buy it. And I didn’t buy it then, but I wasn’t even part of the conversation, so I didn’t say anything. Again, I wondered if I should have. But what do you say and what would be the point?

Go back an additional few years. I frequented a religious message board that, I thought, was aimed at generating respectful interfaith dialogues. There were only a handful of regulars who participated on the site, and I became one of them. But for a short while, I didn’t mention what my particular beliefs were. I did a lot of asking about other people’s beliefs. Well, eventually, I made it known that I was a Mormon. The backlash was surprising. A couple of the born again Christians were particularly sinister toward me after that, and one of them made a big to-do about how I had been so sneaky and crafty, trying to lure them in before telling them I was Mormon. I was astonished. The attacks seemed ravenous and immediate, and I hadn’t done anything other than apply the “Mormon” label to myself. Yikes!

Today, I am quite intrigued by this article (which was also covered here by the New York Times). A recent study of Americans found that, on average, atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons are the most knowledgeable about world religions in general. The study consisted of a survey wherein participants were asked 32 general knowledge questions about various faiths. On average, atheists and agnostics (who were lumped under the same group) answered 20.9 questions correctly. Jews answered an average of 20.5 questions correctly, and the average Mormon provided 20.3 correct answers. The next highest group after these three is “white evangelical Protestants,” who answered an average of 17.6 questions correctly. When it came to questions about the Bible and Christianity, Mormons answered more questions correctly than any other group.

I find these results interesting for a few reasons. It wouldn’t surprise me if most atheists (of a certain ilk) would assume that Mormons are even more deluded or in the dark than most other religious adherents. These survey results at least suggest that such attitudes are ill-founded. Also, I find it interesting that Mormons fare better than any other group on questions about the Bible and Christianity, when there are still many Christians out there who would insist that Mormons aren’t Christians. Of course, getting the questions right about Christianity doesn’t make you a Christian, but some might find it amusing that the average Mormon is more knowledgeable about Christianity than the average Christian who would deny that Mormons have any claim to that title. (It should be noted, of course, that white evangelical Protestants aren’t far behind Mormons in answering the Christian-themed questions correctly.)

And the moral of the story is? If nothing else, I’m exotic and knowledgeable.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If I Had $1,000,000

Once in a while, I like to take the old “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” question quite seriously. To be more precise, I like to think of what I’d do if I had enough money that I didn’t have to work to live at whatever standard I see fit. It’s not an easy question to answer, if you take it rather seriously. Truth be told, I wouldn’t want to be too rich. That would bring problems of its own. But there are times—right now, for example—when not having to work sounds pretty good.

So what would I do, beyond the obvious “get out of debt, buy a house, get some new clothes and a decent car” hoopla? I used to think I would continue to work on my Ph.D., though perhaps happily taking it at a slightly slower rate. Now I’m not so sure. It depends on the moment, but no longer do I think I’d have to be working on the Ph.D. in order to keep from getting bored. I used to think that’s what I’d need to do. Remember, I’m trying to be completely realistic here, and the fact is, I wouldn’t want to spend every day lounging around or traveling Europe or anything. That’s what you imagine, but few of us would really enjoy that being our lives. I know I wouldn’t. I would want to be working at things, but a Ph.D. isn’t all there is. So how would I like to fill my days? Aside from being more involved in the childrearing—and believe me, I recognize that as being to some extent a disadvantage of having plenty of money—I would work on writing and playing music, I would hope to read a lot of interesting stuff without worrying so much about critiquing it, and I would hopefully do lots of service and humanitarian deeds of various kinds. I would live near a temple and go frequently. I would hopefully write a lot, though without the worry of having someone read it and critique it. I would write about my life, my thoughts, and yes, philosophy, but without the pressure. Sounds lovely.

I would travel, but not that much. At least not for a while. It’s difficult with kids, and money isn’t going to change that very drastically. I would splurge on hiring babysitters so Melanie and I could date quite regularly. I would have to be super careful about not eating out too much, because it would be a temptation if you had plenty of money. Instead, I’d have to see if Melanie and I could take cooking classes together somewhere. We could have a great time honing our culinary abilities together. That would be a neat way to bond, and we could buy great ingredients with all the money we’d have. We’d laugh and smile a lot as we cooked side-by-side in our lovely, spacious kitchen. Somewhere in Washington state, perhaps.

I’d watch plenty of movies. I’d buy plenty of CDs. I’d listen to music at a more leisurely pace, not just as background entertainment while I’m reading articles or writing essays. I’d actually just sit and listen to it, focused on it, on a nice stereo system. I’d have people over—my little sister, for example—who would like to just listen with me and talk about it afterwards. Hopefully people would bring and share music with me, too.

I don’t think I’d want a pool. Maybe there’d be a temptation, if someone else could be paid to take care of it. But maybe it would be more fun actually going somewhere to swim occasionally. Maybe that would make it more special. My schedule would be flexible enough that we could probably go whenever we felt like it, so it wouldn’t be too big of a deal not having one in the backyard. No, as far as home-based luxuries are concerned, I’d like a nice home theater, an awesome game room (with a billiard table, air hockey, and some old school arcade games), and a recording studio for my music. I’d have plenty of musical instruments, too. I’d very much look forward to my children getting older and being able to play with me. It’d be awesome to have us playing as a band together, and we might just play cool enough music that my kids wouldn’t feel like it was nerdy or embarrassing to jam with their dad.

A few times lately, I’ve found myself feeling quite speculative about what my future holds. Getting a Ph.D. in philosophy, the obvious goal is to land a professorship gig at a decent research university, where you’ll teach a couple of classes a semester, have graduate student TAs do all the grading for your undergrad class, and spend a good amount of time researching—reading, writing, and publishing. Is that the life I imagine for myself? Sometimes I don’t know. But I think the reason I don’t know is because it’s just hard to imagine that really being my life. I’ve always had a hard time imagining myself really doing things, but usually it’s not as bad or as serious or as daunting in real life as you imagine it to be (whatever it is). I always found it hard to imagine myself in a Ph.D. program, and I didn’t always feel like I was cut out for such a thing. But now that I’m doing it, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, really. So maybe that’s how it will be with becoming an actual professor and writing and publishing articles of my own. It’s hard to believe, but it might just be the way life is at some point. That being said, I sometimes picture myself doing something less prestigious, at least by many standards. Sometimes I picture myself teaching at a state university somewhere not very large—probably in the Midwest, for as generic as I imagine it—having a good rapport with my students, but not being anyone high and mighty on the philosophical radar. I imagine life being relatively quaint and family-centered. I imagine not being a workaholic. I imagine having weekends that feel like weekends. And you know, I find myself quite charmed by that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Blu Heaven

This weekend has been wonderful. Honestly, it’s the best weekend I’ve had in a long time. It took this weekend for me to realize that it’s been a very long time since I’ve had a weekend that felt like a weekend. I’d forgotten what they can be like. Typically, I spend the majority of every day, Monday through Saturday, working. Even when I work from home, I break for meals and otherwise am reading and/or writing. Typically, I do an hour or two of work after dinner too. Sundays are different, but they’re not exactly relaxing. I am often teaching a class at church, but even when I’m not, getting ready for and going to church seems to take the majority of the day. It’s been forever since a weekend felt like an honest to goodness break from my “job.”

Well, I sure hadn’t planned to take a break this weekend, but that’s exactly what I did. Since Friday evening, I haven’t done a lick of homework. On Saturday morning, my family and I attended a tailgate potluck party thing at our church. We saw some friends and enjoyed the culinary talents of many. My original plan was to go home immediately afterward and hit the grindstone, but that’s not what happened. Prior to the potluck, we went to Wal-Mart and ended up buying a Blu-Ray player. It wasn’t exactly an impromptu purchase. Melanie wanted to buy me a Blu-Ray player for Father’s Day, but she thought it best to let me figure out which one would be the best for us. I researched them a bit, but we never invested the time or money into actually buying one. On Saturday, Melanie encouraged me to look them over, since it’s a very rare occasion that I’m at Wal-Mart with her. We looked and, based on the little bit of research I did a few months ago, I was pleased with what you could get for what seemed like a decent price. We took the plunge and brought one home. We don’t even have a Blu-Ray disc, but already, I’m extremely pleased.

Here’s why. The Blu-Ray player we purchased (a Vizio something or other) has a built-in wireless connection. Because I have a wireless router hooked to my home office computer, this enables me to view Netflix instant streaming movies through our Blu-Ray player at the touch of a button … or at least, at the touch of relatively few buttons. It’s kind of silly, but this has been quite a thrilling thing for us. I say it’s silly because instantly viewing movies online has been an option for us since we joined Netflix three years ago. What’s more, it was not altogether uncommon for us to watch such movies on our television by hooking our laptop computer to the TV. In short, the Blu-Ray player doesn’t make it possible for us to do anything with Netflix instant viewing that we haven’t already been able to do. It just makes it immensely simpler to do it. And that alone makes Netflix instant viewing feel like a completely new toy to us. The movies have always been available for instant viewing, but not having to hook up a laptop, load Windows, pull up the Netflix website, etc., makes it feel like this extensive collection of online movies are ours. Like we can really just watch them anytime we want. I don’t know how to put it into words. It just feels very different, and it’s very fun. After we got home on Saturday afternoon, I hooked up the Blu-Ray player and within a couple of minutes we were watching a movie as a family, in glorious HD no less. Very cool.

Now, don’t you worry. We’ll get a Blu-Ray movie eventually, so the Blu-Ray player is not just for streaming Netflix. That was never the plan. We very rarely buy movies, but there are a few I wouldn’t mind getting on Blu-Ray. Also, I’ve been told (though I haven’t yet verified) that even DVDs look better through Blu-Ray players because of the interface that the latter utilize. That’ll be cool. For the moment, I have no plan for us to change our Netflix subscription so that those movies we receive in the mail are on Blu-Ray rather than DVD. I don’t necessarily think that’s worth the extra money. But the Blu-Ray experience will be cool for any movies we want to buy in the future.

On Saturday night, the family and I went out to dinner. Today, church went about as well as it can—it should be noted that I often hate Sundays, so to have a good Sunday is awesome—and we once again watched a movie as a family via the Blu-Ray player. These things probably sound very simple, but for me, they are rare. It’s rare for me to just spend time kicking back with my entire family, and I loved it. It was very refreshing. Just thinking of tomorrow makes me sad, to think of being back to work and seeing my wife and kids pretty much for mealtimes and little else.

Sigh. Sorry, I feel like this got derailed a bit. I feel like I’m ending on a somber note, but I think it’s because I’m listening to a somber song right now and I just had some discipline problems arise with my oldest son. (He’s supposed to be going to sleep, and I just had to run into his room because I thought I heard something shatter. It was a false alarm—just a toy xylophone spilled all over the floor—but it happened because someone’s not following the rules and trying to sleep like he’s supposed to. His bed also has water droplets all over it because he’s throwing his water cup. I best not type the next few words I’d like to type.)

Honestly, it was a great weekend. All but the last few minutes.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Going Mental

As one would expect, school is in session and my online presence has largely evaporated. I know it’s still early on, but it’s a bit frightening that three weeks of the semester have already passed. That’s a decent-sized chunk of time, especially with all I need to be doing. I think I’ve been working diligently this semester, but it’s always a bit disheartening to compare how much time has passed with how much work has actually been accomplished. Somehow it’s never quite the ratio you had hoped for in the beginning. But what can you do? Oh yeah … work more, I guess.

So, for the two or three people who might pretend to care, I thought I’d say just a tiny bit more about what I’m doing this semester. As I’ve previously stated, I’m gearing up to do what’s called a “special area exam,” a customized four-hour essay exam that tests you on a rather specific topic within philosophy that you’re interested in. The goal is to home in on a fairly narrow topic, not something broad like “ethics” or “free will.” As for me, I am tackling the issue of mental action. What kinds of issues does that cover? Basically, it deals with questions concerning how much, or to what extent, our mental goings-on can be considered actions—that is, things that we do and not just things that happen to us. It’s easy to suppose that of course we do something when we think, but the point is, how much of our thought process is in our control? How much of our thought process should be deemed intentional? Or do our thoughts just kind of happen of their own accord? When we work on a math problem, do we have much choice about the way our thoughts unfold? Or is it fairly automatic, once we push ourselves in that direction? When we daydream, do we decide what we think about? The easy answer is ‘yes,’ but you can’t really choose ahead of time what you’ll think about, so in what sense do you control what actually pops up? Even if we actively cause the thoughts to come up, do we actually control what pops up? It’s tricky to see how, even though we’re inclined to think we do control it (or at least we’re so inclined before we start thinking too much about it, which is what philosophers do).

I’m interested in these types of questions because I feel that anyone interested in free will must ultimately confront them. If our actions stem from our thought processes, which seems obvious, then it matters a great deal whether or not certain of those processes are controlled, intentional, and/or free. It’s nice for me that I’m interested in this subject, because it’s a rather undeveloped and underexplored area in philosophy. There should be a lot of work to be done on it. I think it’s cool.

So, the way the special area exam works is as follows (with some variation, depending on one’s committee): the student compiles a reading list of approximately 15-20 essays (or comparable works, like chapters from a relevant book) on the topic of choice. The student has a committee of professors who oversee the exam, and the head of the committee must approve the reading list. Once the list is approved, the student studies those readings and makes up essay questions about them. (The committee might also construct essay questions on the readings.) Each essay question is designed to take approximately 10 typed pages to answer. Prior to the exam, the questions are narrowed down to four, and on the day of the exam, you’re given three of them and must write on two of them. You’re locked in a room with a computer—without books or notes, of course—and must write two essays on the spot. So, in a four-hour timeframe, you compose two 10-page essays. It’s a bit daunting, but you’ve helped design the exam yourself, so you should feel pretty good about it. Alternatively, you can do a take-home version of the exam, where you have a week but must write even more. The standards are higher for the take-home test, and it requires an oral defense. No thanks.

So that’s what I’m up against this semester, on top of my TA responsibilities and the one class I’m taking for credit. I remain hopeful. I have my reading list approved and I’m slowly working through it. I really hope to take the exam before Creegan gets here, but that’s not an absolute must. It really would work better with my school schedule, though, because shortly after Creegan arrives, I’ll have final papers both to be grading and writing. It would be nice to have the exam out of the way before then. I’d like to spend some time with my new son before he’s a month old!

And, speaking of babies and of mental action, check out this photo and headline from The Onion. There’s not a story to it, just a headline and a photo, but I find it hilarious—probably because of what I’m studying right now more than because it’s actually that funny.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Second Guesses, First Impressions

Five days ago, I wrote a post explaining that after much deliberation and uncertainty, I had come to a conclusion concerning what my fall class schedule would look like. In the days that followed, I second guessed that decision almost constantly, but every time I thought about making a change, I felt very apprehensive. Changing plans is a very difficult thing for me, even when it seems pretty obvious that changing my plans would be for the best. I don’t fret over making the wrong decision from the outset (like some people I know), but I do worry about changing my decision once it’s already in place. That’s when the fear of regret really sets in. It makes it very difficult whenever I become uncertain about a decision I’ve made, because nothing feels right after that—it feels like a no-win situation, whether I stick with my original plan or not.

Fortunately, my apprehension about changing plans doesn’t always get the best of me. Sometimes I go ahead and change my plans and realize a short time later that I have undoubtedly made the right decision—I just had to give the anxiety time to settle. Such is the case this semester. Contrary to my previous blog entry, I will not be taking the dispositions seminar after all. Instead, I will be taking another seminar from the most famous philosopher at my school. It will be my third time taking a seminar from this person, which is part of the reason I hesitated taking his course in the first place. Not because of the teacher’s style or anything, but because I’d heard rumors that this seminar was very much going to be a repeat of a seminar I’d already taken from him. I’d also heard rumors that the class was going to focus largely on philosophical topics that I’m not very interested in. For those reasons, I originally chose not to take the class, but after seeing a copy of the class syllabus, I realize those rumors were not accurate. Yes, there is going to be some material in the course that I’ve already studied, but overall the class sounds much more interesting than I had originally expected. I’m actually rather excited about the course, and I think it will better serve me in preparing for my dissertation than a class on dispositions would have. So, instead of a Tuesday afternoon class, I have a Monday afternoon class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll have my TA responsibilities, and on Tuesdays, I’ll also hold some office hours. But that’s it. Not too shabby.

If you read my previous entry, you know that one reason I favored taking the Tuesday afternoon class was because doing so would allow me to stay at home on Mondays. I very much liked the idea of commuting to campus only two days per week. It’s probably premature of me to say otherwise, but having made it through the first two days of the semester, I’m already feeling differently. I think taking my own class on Monday afternoons will feel good, because I’ll go to campus specifically for that purpose. I won’t have been there all day and be worn out and tired of being there. That will be nice, because I always find it terribly hard to stay awake during afternoon classes when you’ve already been on campus all day. As for Tuesdays, I thought I would feel annoyed at staying on campus to hold office hours when I didn’t have an afternoon class to attend. Students pretty much never come to office hours, so they typically feel quite pointless to begin with. I thought it would ease the pain if I knew I was sticking around for another class, not just wasting time being on campus. Well, that didn’t feel so bad today, either. In fact, I think I felt more relaxed during my office hours because I knew I wasn’t going to class immediately afterward. I knew that, as soon as the office hours were over, I could get out of there, and that I’d be getting home before it was very late in the day. It was nice—nice not having a day that starts early and ends late. I think I’ll enjoy this.

And so you see, wisdom has prevailed. (Knock on wood—it’s only the second day of school and I don’t want to jinx myself.) Other things seem to be falling into place, too, which is nice. I’m feeling very hopeful today, very confident about the semester. It’s a nice change from how I was feeling one week ago.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Storm Before the Calm Before the Storm

The fall semester begins on Monday. The powers that be only just today informed the graduate students in my department what their TA assignments for the semester would be. That means there is now some last-minute scrambling to be done, figuring out office hours and making final decisions about what classes to take and what not to take. Sometimes it’s just easier to work around your TA schedule, and sometimes that can be a tiebreaker when you’re deciding whether to take a Monday night class or a Tuesday night class. If you’re going to be TA’ing on Tuesdays anyway, you might as well stick around and take the Tuesday class. It reduces the amount of time spent commuting to campus, and that can be a big deal.

So, how is my semester shaping up? I’m almost too mentally exhausted to bother explaining, but I’ll give you the basics. After much turmoil and stewing about, I’ve decided I’ll take one class for credit. (I kind of have to, but that’s too long a story in and of itself.) It’s a class on dispositions, so it falls into metaphysics. Metaphysics is typically a rather grueling field, so I fully expect this class to be a challenge. You may wonder why I’m taking it, given that dispositions don’t immediately—or at least don’t obviously—align with my area of specialization, which is free will. Well, quite simply, I’m curious about it, and I do hope to leave school with metaphysics being an area of strength for me, even if it’s not my primary area of focus. (And really, free will is a subcategory of metaphysics, but being an expert on free will doesn’t make you an expert on metaphysics, broadly speaking.) What’s more, the class is on Tuesday afternoons, which is convenient because my TA assignment is on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I can lump some office hours in between my Tuesday morning TA class and my Tuesday afternoon dispositions class, and I’ll be good. Other than that, I just need to prepare for my special area exam, which I hope to take within the next six or seven weeks. That means, aside from a long day on Tuesdays, I’ll be at school for a couple of hours on Thursday mornings, and that’s it. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be able to stay home. Very nice. Very nice indeed.

Now for the not-so-nice. I will be TA’ing for the same course and instructor for which I TA’d last spring and last fall. In other words, if you don’t count summer, this will be the third time in a row that I’ve TA’d for the very same class. Looking on the bright side, I’m very familiar with the class and it should be easier going for me. That’s what I’ve been happily telling myself, anyway. But, wouldn’t you know it, the instructor for that class has since contacted me and given me the syllabus for the fall semester, and she’s changed things up a bit. There will be several new readings, and that means I’ll have to be paying a lot closer attention to the class (and to the readings) than I did in the spring. That’s a bummer, because I was really hoping to devote as much mental energy as possible to preparing for my special area exam. I don’t think this will be the easiest TA gig for that. The first semester I TA’d for this class, it was very demanding. Throwing in new material this semester will make it more demanding again. Crap. The instructor’s even got Kant on the syllabus, for crappity crap’s sake. Wish me luck!

I almost had another bright side to turn to, but it’s since been snuffed out. This was the class that formerly was located just a hop, skip, and a jump from my department office. I could get to it from my office in less than 30 seconds, literally. I just assumed it would be located there again. But nope. It’s on the other side of campus. Which means I’ll have to be walking quite a bit in this lovely humid Florida August weather. By the way, Florida has August weather for September and most of October, too, so that’s truly something to cry about.

Alas, I’ve had it good. This semester will put the pressure on, which I guess is highly disappointing to me only because I thought it was looking peachy keen for a brief moment. It’s still more manageable than I’m probably making it sound, but I’m in the grieving period right now, learning that my assumptions were really making an ass out of “u” and “mptions.” I'll get over it … by January, I suppose.