Category Archives: crankiness

Death and Taxes

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” –Benjamin Franklin, 1726

April 15th is known in the US as tax day, the day when tax returns for individuals are due. It is a date that leads to much crankiness and frustration.

The Boston Marathon is always held on the third Monday of April. Marathon Monday is traditionally festive occasion for the state of Massachusetts. Last year was a year when the two dates coincided: tax day and marathon day.


Flowers in Copley Square, from a late summer day several years ago.

With the anniversary the bombing of last year upon us, I find myself thinking back to that day, and the crazy week that followed. I wasn’t in Boston, but my close ties to the city, updates from my school, my colleagues, and my friends, kept me feeling tethered.

I was out with the kids that Marathon Monday, it being a state holiday and the first day of school vacation. Phoebe was recovering from a stomach bug, so we didn’t go far from home. We were parked at the music school before Phoebe’s and my violin lesson when I got text alerts from BU with notification of the explosions, and warnings to stay away from Copley. I couldn’t really process the news, and didn’t want to worry the kids. As the afternoon and evening wore on, I found more detailed reports of deaths and injuries. Like so many, I worried about the safety of my friends, and realized that my friends and family would worry about the safety of me and my family. It was very unsettling to learn that one of the dead was a BU grad student. (I, too, am a BU grad student.) I found myself wondering about the other BU grad students I know. Were they safe? The news that one of the people killed was a little kid left me feeling shattered. Even though I was many miles away, and my family and I were safe, it all just felt so horribly close and personal.


The view from Storrow Drive at dusk, from 2010.

That week, I remember reflecting on my fondness for the city, and spent probably too much time hunting for photos I’d taken there. (Naturally, I have hundreds of photos of Boston, if not thousands.) I am not a Boston native, but I have lived outside Boston for over 18 years. I spend a lot of time in the city. It feels like home.

Today I got caught up in memories, reading stories and articles of the many lives that were so deeply affected by the bombings. I was distracted and contemplative, and managed to get a time mixed up for something I’d committed to, which made me very cranky and off-kilter.

The day ended up rainy and stormy, which actually quite fit my melancholy mood. And probably also the cranky moods of so many faced with the frustrations of tax day.


Under my umbrella this afternoon, waiting to get the kids off the school bus.

Bidding Winter goodbye

Tomorrow is the official first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, in the particular part of the Northern Hemisphere where I live, Winter seems not to have gotten that message.

I’ve gone into Boston for meetings the last couple of days, and the snow is all but gone there. Roofs, roads, and ground are free of snow and ice, save for the occasional fist-sized stubborn lump of ice remaining from what once have been a mighty mound.

Not so in my neck of the woods. Here is my front yard:

This is the mound of snow and ice resulting from shoveling out the top of the driveway. This was this morning. It was 20 degrees out.

It’s true that I have really enjoyed looking at and taking pictures of many of the ice and snow formations.

I have many, many photos of ice and snow. Icicles, frost, falling snow. Snow flakes, snow men, snow caves. Sparkling ice in the morning sun. Smooth frozen puddles with embedded bubbles and cracks. Fluffy untrampled snow, and interesting patterns of tracks in the snow. Quite honestly, I am about ready to move on to another subject matter.

Soon, I hope to fill up my phone with images of green shoots and early blooms. Unfortunately , this is where our first crocuses tend to emerge:

There are many things that I like about Winter. One of them is that it eventually ends and gives way to Spring. So, here’s wishing a fond farewell to Winter. (And here’s hoping that Winter gets the message and departs. Before I have to file a restraining order against it.)

access denied

I’m feeling rather obstructed in my progress these days. Here are 4 photos of gates and doors that I couldn’t get through.


September, 2009. Sevilla, Spain.


August, 2011. Macau.


March, 2012. New York, NY.


August, 2012. Massachusetts.

Clearly, I am able to attach significance to these bits of metal (unlike those of 2 days ago). Also, I do seem to get around, even when I’m not getting through…

The Form of Shame

Two years ago, in a mad rush of research-fueled productivity, I submitted a paper to a major conference in my field. It was a big accomplishment for me, as while I had co-authored a variety of papers on group research projects, this was the first such paper that really felt like my own. The web form by which I submitted the paper asked the usual information about my name, address and institutional affiliation that you might expect. It also asked a little question, “is the first author of the paper a student,” along with an explanation that student first authors would be eligible to be considered for a “best student paper award.” It had the additional caveat that students needed to be “full time students.” In my grad program, as in many others, we typically register as part-time students, but we can additionally be certified as full-time if we meet certain criteria, based on work load. While I was no longer taking classes, I was considered full-time by the university for my funding as a research assistant. So in submitting my paper, I checked the little box saying I was a student. I thought to myself that I should remember to officially change my status to “full time” when registering for the following semester. Then, as you might imagine, I promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to the following Spring semester. I received notification that my paper had been accepted to the conference. Further, it had been accepted for a talk (rather than a poster), which is actually kind of a big deal for this particular conference, as they don’t have parallel sessions for talks. I had gotten really quite glowing reviews. I was thrilled. I felt validated! Successful! Like I was really making progress! Maybe I’d even win a prize!

And then I remembered the eligibility for the “best student paper” award. I was registered as part time. Crap.

I did some investigating and learned that it might still be possible to have my registration status changed, even though the semester had begun. I contacted some people and submitted the required “full-time certification” form.

And that was when I appeared to have awakened the dragon.

My late-arriving form got the attention of someone in the grad school office who apparently enjoys her job very much. She informed me that I had exceeded the time limit for my degree and would need to petition the graduate school in order to change my status, and in order to continue with my graduate studies. I had vaguely been aware of this process, but most friends I had from the program had not had to go through it, even though they had also exceeded the official time limits. They had somehow managed to fly under the radar. I, however, blithely skipped into the radar screen covered in flashing lights and a “kick me” sign stuck to my back.

And so it was that I first encountered The Form of Shame.¹ This innocuous-looking one-page document requires one to lay out each of the requirements of the degree, and list the dates for each of those that have been completed, and give agonizing detail and “expected completion dates” for those that aren’t done yet. When one’s progress through graduate school has been Slower Than Anticipated, such a form feels an awful lot like a big punch in the gut.

After spending a day or two in the fetal position, I pulled myself together and moved into action. I spent several days tying up loose ends for some requirements, and chasing down signatures. After various setbacks and more unanticipated hoops to jump through (including, at one point, being told by the same gleeful bureaucrat whose attentions I had first caught, that “the form had not yet been received at her office,” in spite of me having walked it there myself and handed it to the receptionist several days previously), I was eventually notified that my petition for a time extension had been granted until early 2014. After more setbacks and explosions of my head, I was finally informed that I was officially a full-time student. I received this news 2 days after I presented my talk in Shanghai. In all, the time from my first submitting the request to change of status to actually being granted this change was 2 full months. Over those months, there were dozens of emails sent, dozens of hours spent dealing with formalities, and immeasurable amounts of stress added to my efforts to actually do the work that would eventually lead to me getting the damn degree.

Fast forward to Friday, when I cheerfully dropped of my registration form for next semester at the graduate school office after spending a day running subjects on some new experiments. (You know, work that I’m supposed to be doing for my degree.) Feeling self-satisfied with both my research progress and having gotten some administrative hassles out of the way, I treated myself to a coffee from my favorite coffee shop before returning to my car for the long drive home. By the time I got back to my car, a quick peek at my phone revealed an email from someone whose name looked slightly familiar…

And so it begins again. As it turns out, the extension for time for my degree does not extend into next semester, and my registration cannot be processed until I once more submit the Form of Shame.

It gives me some degree of satisfaction to imagine the words of the email from this individual in the voice of Principal Snyder³. While I recognize that she is almost certainly “just doing her job,” I also can’t help but feel that she takes a certain pleasure in doing so.


¹ Not the official name of the form. The actual official form name is “Documentation to Justify Your Sorry Existence as A Delinquent Graduate Student.”²
² Maybe that’s not the name, either.
³ The principal from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who so relished the thought of keeping Buffy out of school:

Principal Snyder: I have not only the right, but also a nearly physical sensation of pleasure at the thought of keeping her out of school. I’d describe myself as tingly.

Image of stocks is a public domain image from wpclipart.com.

leaves of three (friday foto finder: leaf)

Here is a photo of a rather pretty native plant that is very common in my heavily wooded neighborhood. These shiny leaves show up late spring, often starting out red, and then developing into a lush bright green.

This plant is entirely evil.

In case you don’t recognize it, it is poison ivy: Leaves of three, let it be.

You know what’s even more evil than these leaves of three? The plant when it has no leaves. The vines stretch out over the ground, climb trees and rocks, and grow into bushes. And in the winter and very early spring, the woody stems and vines look pretty much like all the other leafless stems and vines that grow in the woods. But the leafless vines apparently have plenty of urushiol.

This is a photo I took last May on a walk in my neighborhood. This year, the poison ivy leaves are barely starting to bud. Three weeks ago, there probably weren’t any leaves on the stems that Phoebe must have touched while playing outside. She may well have washed her hands well with soap and water before she touched her face and rubbed her eyes, but urushiol doesn’t come off the skin with just soap and water.¹ Even if you use plenty of soap and scrub really hard. It was almost 3 years ago to the day that I learned this fact the hard way. And I really, really wish that we didn’t have to be reminded of this the hard way at this point in our lives.

This week’s friday foto finder is leaf. In general, I love leaves, and have posted plenty of photos of pretty fall leaves. (After all, I do live in New England.) Perhaps my choice of this less friendly leafy subject is somewhat a reflection of my toxic mood. Let’s face it, this has been a really bad month.² One good thing about the month is that it is almost over. With May coming up, I hope to be able to start fresh and turn over a new leaf.

¹ You can use products specifically formulated to work on the oils, such as Tecnu, or liquid dish detergent.
² And by “really bad,” I have a large number of expletives in mind. You can fill in your favorites.

marginal progress

The temperatures got quite warm yesterday afternoon, thankfully, and much of the snow on our driveway melted. When I checked for the crocuses again today, they were bravely poking up through the snow.

Crocuses at 8:30 a.m. 3 spikes have poked out of the snow. (Actually, there are more spikes off camera.)

As for me, I confess that today I’m feeling snowed under (though it’s not the snow that’s doing it). I ran up against a wall with an experiment I’m designing (which is not actually about running up against walls), and then decided to switch gears and work on a different work project (which is not about gears, or switching them). Only to find that I’d managed not to save the file I’d worked on the last time I worked on the project. And another file for a different project to boot. (There were no boots.) I spent a fair amount of time hunting for the files, before determining that I had to retrace my steps. (Though there was no actual stepping). I spent a fair amount of time swearing at myself. (You can bet that there was actual swearing.)

It did not feel like a productive day.

On the bright side, the crocuses are making some progress.

Crocuses at 5:30 p.m., from a slightly different angle. You can see a 4th purple spike just emerging in the middle of the 3.

Searching for Signs of Spring

Today is the official start of Spring in my part of the world, but you might not realize it by looking out the window. We had a bit of a winter storm yesterday, an icy-slushy-snowy mix that brought messy roads and cancelled schools. Today is bright and sunny, but I hear that more snow is on the way.

A couple of days ago, I saw the first spikes of crocuses poking out of the ground. I was too rushed to get a photo. Here is the stretch of ground where they were a couple of days ago:

No signs of crocus here. But I was happy that my lens managed to capture the rainbow sparkle of the icy snow in the sunlight. (Rainbow Sparkle sounds like a My Little Pony name. Crocus, on the other hand, sounds like a name for a toad.)


It wasn’t was I was looking for, but I will admit that the snow is pretty.


Iced mushrooms on a stump. (Sounds like the name for an unsuccessful recipe.)


Pretty it may be in clumps on pine needles, but “pretty” is not what I was thinking as I was chiseling through the 1-inch crust of frozen slush on my windshield.


The sunlight hitting the drooping rhododendron leaves made for a splash of color.


The most color was to be found in the wintery clothing of my children. (Here’s one splash of color sweeping the snowy footprints with a branch of pine. On my driveway. Yes, that sheet of snow and ice is my driveway. Good times.)


Here, one of my splashes of color cradles a lump of ice. (Additional color provided by the recycling bins. Pick-up delayed one day by the storm.)

So, there we are. Spring? Not so much sprung. I may have to resort to looking at photos of last year’s spring.

I don’t remember growing older

Today I registered Theo for kindergarten. Come fall, we’ll have two elementary school students in the house. I feel a bit sappy and nostalgic (my baby!), but I am also really looking forward to the easier schedule we’ll have when the bus comes to the house to collect both children. (The pick up and drop off at Theo’s preschool take about 45 minutes on either end, what with the 15 minute drive plus the time it takes to deliver or collect. It’s like I have a commute even on days when I work from home. I can’t seem to manage to get Theo to his preschool and be back before Phoebe’s bus, so I don’t get back home to start working until around 9:30. )

My post title is, in case you don’t recognize it, a reference to “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, which has been running through my head much of the day. Of course, I feel like I’ve just grown older tonight, as in the course of choosing a photo to go with this post, I managed, with the help of a very annoying bug, to completely screw up the keyword tagging system I’ve been using in iPhoto the last few years. I’ve noticed that a bunch of my keywords were showing up on photos that I hadn’t tagged as such, and in the course of “fixing” some of these, I witnessed the bug in action. As I watched, I saw keywords getting applied to thousands of photos that shouldn’t have had them. So now those keywords are completely meaningless. Years worth of tagging rendered useless. So, you see, I can measure my aging by means of the technology that torments me. Why 10 years ago, I didn’t even have a digital camera of my own, let alone a digital photo library of many thousands of photos to mismanage.

In other (less cranky) news, the wave of nostalgia triggered by getting ready to send my baby out into the wild world led me to go poking into my blog archives from the time when Theo was a new arrival. In addition to finding the expected ramblings about having a new baby, I also found this other post, which (if I do say so myself) is quite entertaining:
Advanced Topics in Procrastination. If you are a procrastinator, you should definitely put it on your list of things to do later on.

Stewing

Tonight finds me cranky. There are a number of things contributing to my crankiness. A pinch of irritating interactions that struck a nerve, a dollop of research frustrations, and some generous quantities of life things have combined to make a recipe for a simmering stew of crankiness. I am the crockpot of crankiness.¹ I’ve spent much of the last few hours trying not to boil over.

We came home last night from my in-laws’, aiming to beat the Sunday end-of-holiday-weekend traffic. (We also had some projects we needed to take care of, including something Phoebe had to do for school for Monday). That all went well, but I was up too late, my sleep was further peppered by a nagging cough I’ve had for over a week.

Today, I spent a ridiculous number of hours trying to tame the gigantic pile of art supplies, craft kits, and kids’ art projects in various stages of completion that has taken over the breakfast nook² portion of our kitchen. This is not the first time I have spent hours trying to tackle this mess, a fact which is also seasoning today’s stew of crankiness. I actually took a break from this task to do some work. And now I have to get back to it. I will tame the beast, or go down trying.³


Here are some other odds and ends that surfaced on our visit to my in-laws’. Phoebe and I had a little sewing project, and we needed to dig out a needle. This image has nothing to do with anything that I just wrote about, but I was amused that this sewing tray contained both a tomato (in the form of a tomato-shaped pin cushion) and a basket, thus handily tying together two of my recent themes. (cf. basket, basket, tomato, tomato, tomato)

¹ The crankpot?
² Really, I don’t know what to call this area. It’s the part of the kitchen where we have our table, and where we eat meals, including, but not restricted to, breakfast.
³ Should I toss the beast into the stew?⁴
⁴ Wow, this is totally not the post I thought I was starting to write. In fact, I changed the title. And then even deleted my original first paragraph. I was going to write about various things I’ve said I’d do but haven’t yet done. Which is often a source of crankiness in itself. But I won’t go there tonight. Hopefully I will have simmered down by morning.⁵
⁵ Happily, few things cheer me up more than getting carried away with a metaphor.