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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Crawling out of the woodwork

In the last two weeks I have been contacted by people from two different companies about job openings. Unlike in the past, these were not recruiters contacting me. Instead, both inquiries came via LinkedIn, although one was from a company where I'd previously turned down a job offer.
I'm not sure what to make of this. I'm not actively looking to move, and if I were I would be trying to get back to northern California.* These are both very good openings, but I am pretty happy here. Even if I weren't, the thought of moving to a new town again less than 2 years after moving here is pretty unappealing. I have the flexibility to be able to move, but that doesn't mean I want to do it all the time.
Naturally, this all happened once I started doing 'personalization' projects on my house. Sigh. That's the same thing that happened when I remodeled my bathroom back in California.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My cat ate my homework, and more

My boss is teaching first semester organic chem to 800 undergrads. They had their first test last week. As always, he got a lot of emails afterwards pertaining to the test. Here's the most entertaining of the bunch.

Dear Professor Old Biddy's Boss,

Hello, my name is Sleepy Slacker and I am a student in Chem 3580. I missed
the first prelim due to ongoing sleep problems I am having. I did
not inform you or the chem department because my condition is
ongoing, not acute (e.g. flu, mono, cold...).

I spoke to Dean Wormer today and he encouraged me to contact you
anyways....I also spoke to the undergrad coordinator and she and her colleague said
I should email you as well.

I currently qualify for extended testing time....on that particular
day, I got in my car at around 3:00pm since the test is at 3:45 for
extended time people, and before I started my engine, I fell asleep
in the driver's seat. If I had not fallen asleep, I would obviously
have gone to take the exam. That particular day marked Day 7 with 0
hrs of sleep...

I was unable to sleep the night before the prelim which I thought
was ok, because I just reviewed my notes and p-sets all night, and I
promised myself I would stay awake and make it to my exam....I
thought it was particularly unlucky that I would fall asleep less
than an hour away from my prelim.

The purpose of this email is to ask you, where I stand in the class
now I have missed a prelim, and did not tell anyone until I told my
dean (Dean Wormer) today. Is it possible to pass the course with a
0 as one of the prelim grades + average scores on the other prelims
and the final? Thank you for your time and patience with me.

-Sleepy Slacker

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I have a confession to make. When I am tired and unmotivated at the gym I "phone it in" and ride the stationary bike and read trashy magazines. This doesn't happen too often, mainly because there aren't a lot of magazines so it's rare that I find a new one. Besides, this is Ithaca so there are some dull hippie magazines like Mother Earth News. Bleah. when I'm phoning it in I need brain candy.
Anyway, they got an issue of Cosmo so I eagerly hit the exercise bike. There was an article about what to do when your boyfriend just drops off the face of the earth. They even had a term for it - "ghosting", as well as descriptions of what to do when it happens at different times (early on, 6 months, a year). In the last few weeks I'd also read an account in the New York Times about someone whose fairly serious long term boyfriend suddenly cut off all contact, and T had someone ghost him around the same time that cowdude went all Casper on me, so women are guilty of it too.
Call me an old-fashioned old biddy, but is this some sort of new, crappy trend? I've been reading trashy magazines since I was a kid and this is the first I've heard of it. I don't mean disappearing early on - I've heard about that in the past. I mean thinking that it is ok to just disappear after a few months or more. Did some people misinterpret the general rule of thumb that you shouldn't break up over the phone or electronically to mean that it's better to just disappear? Is this some sort of new bad habit that is somehow being made easier by our reliance on the internet, cell phones, Facebook, etc.? I don't really know.
What I do know now, of course, is to be more of a honey badger and not let it get to that point ever again.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Seven Habits of Cranky Old Biddies

I'm thinking a lot about habits now, and how to establish good ones so that I can save my willpower/motivation for more interesting things. I used to just power through and willpower it all the way, or go all honey badger and not give a fuck. My current targets are my diet and keeping my kitchen clean. When I master these I will take on some more interesting goals.
You've heard about my diet. Basically, I'm trying to make it as easy as possible for me to eat fairly healthy food in small-medium portions because in the end, laziness often wins out, provided that I'm not too hungry. Keeping myself from getting too hungry, especially in the late afternoon/early evening has provided the biggest payoff for me. I've taken some inspiration from the graduate students and have started storing lots of food at work. I keep my office stocked with healthy snacks - fruit, string cheese, cans of V8, Rye-crisp crackers, peanut butter, yogurt, and Zone bars. I eat them when I am hungry, in larger quantities than you might expect. On weekends, I cook large quantities of main dishes/veggies so that I usually have something ready to eat on weeknights, and I portion it into tupperware containers with about 1 1/2 -2 servings/container. That way, I usually end up eating about half of it at lunch. Depending on what I'm doing, I may eat the other half for dinner or leave it at work for lunch for the next day. I've stopped keeping really tempting snacks, like ice cream, salted nuts, potato chips, gummi bears, etc at home.
I then pondered my kitchen, and why it gets so messy so quickly. I have a big kitchen, with lots of counter space, but it gets cluttered in no time flat. I'm one of those people who can't keep too much on the counter, because clutter breeds clutter. Nonetheless it was a perpetual mess of drying tupperware, handwashed dishes and pans, mail, etc. I didn't have this problem back in CA, though. I mostly just assumed it was because I'm getting lazier in my old age, but a few weeks ago I realized it was due to my dishwasher not working very well. (Once again, my first instinct is to be too hard on myself.) I spent lots of time pre-washing the dishes before they went in, or bypassing the dishwasher altogether and handwashing. The dishwasher didn't actually dry very well either, so that meant that all the tupperware and mugs then ended up on the counter drying, along with the stuff I handwashed. I was using up my limited supply of cleaning motivation on the dishes, and all of the stuff drying was breeding additional clutter. I treated myself to a new dishwasher - nothing too fancy, just one that actually cleans dirty dishes and gets them dry. It's only been a few days but I notice a difference already. The other thing I did was get a bigger container for the recycling - the other main contributor to the clutter was paper/cans/cardboard that were waiting to be taken out to the garage.
There was an interesting article in the the New York Times about how companies track your spending habits and try to catch you at transitional times to get you in the habit of spending more money at their stores. During transitional times, people pick up new habits. Examples of transitional times include when you move or have a baby. Anyway, the article talked about habits, and why we develop them. It turns out that in the absence of ingrained experience, the brain is working hard at every stage of a process, but as we pick up habits the brain can bundle things into stuff it's done before, and not work as hard. You may not think about it in your daily life, but this covers most everything you do. Try moving across country to a town where you've never lived before and a new job. I've only done this three times - to grad school, to North Carolina, and to Ithaca. (Moving back to California doesn't count - I knew my way around since I lived there before.) The first two times weren't so bad - perhaps my brain picked up new habits more quickly when I was young, and I had fewer grownup responsibilities to keep track of then. The move to Ithaca really made me realize how much my brain goes on autopilot during my daily activities - it was exhausting having to be 'on' pretty much every waking hour figuring out my new surroundings and developing my Ithaca habits. Meanwhile, I think my energy levels are the same as in CA, but there are a lot more demands on my energy/willpower. As my recent experiences have showed me, some of the habits I picked up weren't great ones, so part of this exercise is to pick up some habits that work better for my life here (e.g. my new dietary habits), and part of it is to identify little ways to make my life easier (e.g. the parking pass, new washing machine) so I can use my energy/motivation/willpower for more interesting things.

Diet Update, and Mad Props to my LoseIt Mean Honey Badgers

I'm doing well on my diet and am starting to see the results. I've lost about 8-10* lbs since the beginning of the year. My two pairs of everyday jeans are fitting better, and I was able to bring the tighter of the two pairs back into the everyday rotation, along with a couple of sweaters. Some stuff (eating less/healthy, not letting myself get too hungry, stockpiling healthy food at my office, exercise, etc) has become habit now and require a lot less active willpower. That makes it easier. The few weeks it takes to make new behaviors become habits is not all that fun, but it is worth it.
I am not going 100% in this diet. I lose weight every 4-6 years or so. The last time that I deliberately lost weight was when I was part of the diet study almost 8 years ago. I followed it very strictly then, and was working out a lot. I lost weight very quickly - 20 lbs in the first 2 months. It was good, but it was hard work. I guess I could've done that here, but I didn't feel like it. So I'm coasting along at about a lb/week. I eat chocolate pretty much every day, and get a mocha or chai at least once a week due the the bad influence of my office mate, sample the baked goods that people bring in, and still get Thai food for lunch on Fridays, although not every week. Working late still takes priority over workouts sometimes, but not always. But all this half-assery is getting balanced out by the fact that I am really busy and a lot of meals have been replaced by large healthy snacks/semi meals, and I'm being diligent about not letting myself get too hungry.
I am kind of surprised that I am actually losing weight. The surprising thing is not that this works, but that I stuck around long enough for the good habits to take effect. The memory of my rapid weight loss during the diet study spoiled me and if I don't start off with a bang I got discouraged quickly and gave up. So what was the difference? Well, in part it's due to some online support in the form of the aptly named Team Mean Honey Badgers.
Missy told me about, which is a free diet/exercise site. I signed up, and tracked my calories and exercise for a few days. I was starting to get bored with tracking my calories when I took a look at the forums. I saw one called "Team Mean Honey Badgers" and you know I had to go check it out. At first I was dubious - they had a weight loss competition. That didn't seem very much in the spirit of not giving a shit. But after reading the posts I realized that it was a very fun supportive group and it was 100% motivational and 0% competitive. I admit, I've stopped tracking my calories and exercise, but I still follow the honey badger forum. Mostly it's just for fun, but there are days when I am really unmotivated to work out and they inspire me, and other days when I just don't give a shit about dieting and it's nice to see that there may be others that are busting their asses and sometimes a few who are don't give a shit either, and so I have company either way.

* depending on how bloated I am, how carefully I balance on the scale, etc, etc.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lake Effects Mushroom and Leek Soup

It's Sunday. I was getting ready to run errands when a big band of lake effects snow blew in and cover up my newly plowed driveway and sidewalk. My thoughts turned to soup, which is perhaps not too surprising since it was also lunchtime. I decided to make mushroom soup using a bunch of dried mushrooms that I bought at the warehouse store. I soaked about half of them (2.5 oz) and then tried to figure out how I wanted to cook them.
I've never made mushroom soup before. I'm not a fan of the creamy kind so I envisioned something brothy with big pieces of mushrooms. Most recipes I found online were for the creamy kind, and even the brothy ones didn't quite have what I was looking for. I used them as a general guideline and made up my own. It had stopped dumping snow by that point so I ventured down the hill to Wegman's and bought some leeks for the soup.
It came out quite well. I left it low calorie and didn't add any potatoes or barley, but those would be tasty additions. I have a block of tofu that I may add at some point. It's about as easy as it gets so feel free to improvise with your preferred ingredients/seasonings/etc, or whatever you have around the house. I'm sure it would be quite tasty with fresh mushrooms or Asian flavorings.

Lake Effects Mushroom and Leek Soup
makes appx 6 large servings

2.5 oz dried mushrooms (mine were a mix of different types)
1 tsp salt
6-8 cups broth
1/4 cup butter or olive oil, or a mix (use less if you're trying to keep it really light)
2 leaks, white parts only, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp fines herbes
salt and pepper to taste

Put mushrooms in saucepan and cover with about 4 or 5 inches of water + add salt. The mushrooms will tend to float - use a bowl to hold them in place underwater. Bring the water to a boil and then let it cool and soak for at least 30 minutes.
Drain the mushrooms and save the water. Dry them with a paper towel and cut them up into bite size pieces, if necessary. In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat up oil/butter and saute mushroom and leeks until somewhat softened and browned. Add garlic and saute briefly (30 seconds or when you can start to smell it). Add wine and deglaze pan. Add broth, herbs, soy sauce and mushroom water and bring to a boil. Simmer until mushrooms and leeks are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste (salt really brings out the taste of the mushrooms). Enjoy.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Diet Update + Well, Duh: Weight Watchers Users Complain about Points Plus System

Last summer I tried Weight Watchers' online program for a brief, unpleasant time. It did nothing but make me ragey against WW, inspired an epic rant on this very blog, and made me so cranky that I actually ate more just to be contrary. I am now on a diet and am using a competing (but free) online program, LoseIt, to track calories.
To recap, WW changed its points system to allow people to eat unlimited fruits and veggies. They then tweaked the number of calories in a point down to account for the added calories from fruits and veggies. They also cranked back the daily points/calories but gave a number of free weekly points/calories. I'm sure some people liked it, but not me. I'm a scientist. Even though I do eat lots of fruits and veggies, years of dieting have resulted in me eating mainly non-calorie dense ones. I wasn't going to suddenly start eating lots of bananas. It just made me cranky to have a target daily intake that was about 500 calories below what it should be. The fact that certain processed food, particularly WW's own products, had substantially fewer points than healthy things of similar calorie count, such as plain yogurt, also pissed me off.
Strangely enough, the strictly calorie counting of approach of LoseIt, or the rigid protein/carb/fat balancing act of the Zone never made me ragey like WW did. I just assumed that I am a cranky old badger and thought that the WW approach might work just fine for other people. However, even some WW oldtimers have been struggling with the new system. In contrast to my experience, they are having trouble losing weight and have had to cut their points further. It didn't say anything about them getting ragey or too hungry, so perhaps they were approaching it from the other extreme as me, but nonetheless it suggests that it's not a great system for more than a few people.
Anyway, that's enough WW ranting for now. I am doing well on my diet and exercise routine. I'm not going in 100% on either, but am eating less (and healthier) and working out about 4 times per week. I once read that people don't have unlimited supplies of willpower, and that has been my experience. There are times when I've had to pour most of it into my work, or just life in general. I'm sure you have too. This was the case as I got settled in here in my current job/life in Ithaca. Sadly, my metabolism is not such that I can do this all the time. Every few years I have to make losing weight a priority. I still feel like I need to put some of my spare energy into work, so this time I'm experimenting with a half-assed balanced approach. (This is also in line with my general New Year's resolution of being nicer to myself) It's going well so far. I have lost 7 lbs in as many weeks and have made some habits into a routine, which has made it easier by requiring less active willpower.