Friday, September 30, 2016

Week One of Grad School

Week one of grad school is in the books and we all managed to survive. Granted, the first week will likely be the easiest week, so that's not saying much. But it's something. I didn't have anyone to take a first day of school pic of me, so I did the best I could on the bus as I rode in to campus:

I managed not to get too lost on campus or in any buildings this week, which is saying a lot, especially considering how confusing the Health Sciences Building is. You think you're on the right track then suddenly you take an elevator a couple floors down and find yourself in a different building. Or in a hallway that reminds you of Half-Life 2 and you're sure you'll be stuck there in the creepy lab hallway forever. Thankfully our classes in that building are in easier to find wings, so we only got lost finding orientation stuff spread through the building.

For the first time ever I'm recording lectures in a class. All the 2nd years recommended recording our metabolism lectures. I think it'll be a very useful thing as this professor doesn't put much information in his powerpoints. Everyone I'd talked to about the Epidemiology class had indicated that it was horrible, so I was surprised that it didn't seem all that bad. Granted, I've only been to one day of the class and it could definitely get much harder. We had our Food and Society class today, which the professor refers to as a book club. We read articles or books and then discuss them. Things like Fast Food Nation, Behind the Kitchen Door, and Food Politics. It should prove to be a very interesting course. A classmate and I had a good conversation about themes in the first article and first couple books as we walked to our bus stop after class today.

One thing I can't get over is how gorgeous UW campus is. They have their fair share of ugly concrete buildings (the Health Sciences Building being one of them), but the buildings at the center of campus more than make up for it. For instance, the Suzzallo Library, Drumheller Fountain (and the buildings near it), and the buildings along the Quad. My department (Nutritional Sciences) is housed in one of the old buildings on the Quad. I sat outside it this afternoon to review the reading for class before heading in and this was my view across the quad:

This will be a breathtaking place to sit in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

With 6 classes this quarter my biggest concern at the moment is that I'm going to lose track and forget about an assignment or be unprepared for something. I'm currently trying to determine the best way for me to keep track of everything/when to start working on stuff.

The boys did well this week, though Gareth was disappointed one night that I needed to do work rather than play a game with him. Mal is adjusting better to his new preschool. One day for breakfast they served this amazing French toast and Mal ate a ton of it (or so I heard). Between knowing that will happen occasionally and discovering an astronaut costume and just getting used to the place, drop offs have been going a little more smoothly this past week. Ryan cooked dinner each night and still managed to have some time for the gym. I'm excited for my classes, despite the heavy workload and scary amount of papers. We'll see how I feel once things get really busy and winter weather sets in.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Orienting Myself

Monday started my orientation type stuff. Monday and today were an RA/TA conference all day. I'm not a TA this quarter, but the conference is required if you want to be able to apply for TA positions going forward. I'm doubtful I'll ever have time to add a TA workload to my plate, but since the conference was free figured it didn't hurt to go to the recommended sessions. (Personally, I was really interested in the session about balancing grad. school and family life, but in the end decided to do all of the sessions recommended by my department instead.) Most of my cohort was in attendance as well, even though most of us aren't TAs this quarter, so it was a great opportunity to get to know many of them. I also enjoyed the opportunity to get to walk a small bit of campus and to get familiar with my bus route.

Tomorrow we get a final day off, then Thursday we have a library tutorial. Friday we have Epi/Biostat prep followed by the School of Public Health orientation followed by the Nutritional Sciences Program orientation. Next Monday and Tuesday are full days of Epi/Biostat prep. Which wasn't required, but most of us seem to have decided it was a good idea and registered for it. Then the real insanity begins next Wednesday.

At this point I'm back to feeling mostly terrified. I've seen a couple syllabi and they're frightening. I've started on my reading for the first couple weeks already, but still feel like I'm drowning before I've begun. The metabolism professor doesn't assign a textbook and instead lists several (typically 4-10 but as many as 15) studies/papers for each class period (the class meets twice per week). So, yeah, that feels impossible already. Most of the classes don't have standard exams, instead opting for take home essay exams (only a 25 page maximum!).

Right now I'm just trying to take lots of deep breaths and telling myself that all the 2nd year students survived, so I probably can as well. Maybe. Back to reading.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Gram's Visit

One of the first things we did when my mom got into town was to find a duck pond to take Mal to. He'd looked at some pictures on her phone and among them were some of a duck pond, so he was insistent that he needed to see "his" ducks. I turned to Google and found one not too far from us, Meadowbrook Pond.

It's a great location. In addition to being a lovely neighborhood park, it serves to prevent flooding from Thornton Creek. Not too many people there, and tons of blackberries growing along the trails. We'll have to remember it next summer when the berries are at their peak. The boys still got many berries as we walked, but there were lots that were past their prime. Mal loved getting to see the ducks and we enjoyed checking out all the walkways.

We found some large rocks places among some trees and the boys wanted their pictures taken.

Once the boys were in school my mom and I did some shopping. We set out looking for some things to help us organize paper clutter. When we didn't find what we wanted, we ended up wandering into a couple clothing stores and I bought this outfit:

I also got the same top in grey. I'm hoping I can slowly start purchasing some professional clothes so I don't have to do it all at once in a couple years.

Aside from our quick foray into clothes shopping we kept on task and worked hard finding places for all our pictures. We focused on the boys' room first and got their pictures and book bags hung. Gareth was incredibly excited to have Starry Night and the book bags hung. He'd been asking when both were going to happen for some time now. We also got a couple other pictures hung through the house. We left a few for me to do this next week, hoping I can figure out how to hang multiple levels of pictures from the picture rail so I don't have to nail into the plaster walls.

On her final day here we did a bunch of baking, making various breakfast items that we can freeze and pull out later to give some occasional variety to breakfasts - waffles, muffins, quick breads, etc. The pumpkin-cream cheese muffins turned out beautifully (we ate these that day).

We were all sad to see her go, but she had to move on to see my sister's family. She took with her a couple projects that I'd started - Gareth's quilt and Mal's stocking - but which I will not have time to work on for the next couple years. I'm so glad she's willing to take them over for me. The stocking shouldn't take long, but the quilt has lots of work left to do. Gram will definitely finish them faster than I would!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

First Day of School 2016

This school year is bringing a lot of adjustments for us. I'm glad I have a couple weeks to get the boys settled in their routine before we have to throw my classes into the mix.

Gareth was assigned to a 4/5 classroom this year. Unfortunately, all of his friends are in regular 4th grade classes. We got to meet the 5th grade teachers yesterday and they all seem dynamic and excited for the year, so I think he'll really enjoy the teachers. And his homeroom is the Reading classroom where, instead of desks, his teacher has several cushy couches and chairs; he was pretty excited about that. Drop off was difficult for me today. I was already exhausted because I'm finally getting the cold that everyone else has had for the past couple weeks and because we had to be up early due to our new early start time (my children are not early risers - they even sleep in on Christmas - so this is going to be a very difficult transition for us). I felt sad to see Gareth glancing around nervously in his class line, seeing no familiar faces and surrounded by 5th graders all at least a head taller than him. He smiled for myself and Gram whenever he looked our way and hopefully he'll get to hang out with his 4th grade friends at lunch and recess still. And I'm sure he'll see some familiar faces once he gets into his classrooms. In our rush to get out the door we didn't have time for pictures, but my mom grabbed some on her phone when we dropped the boys off.

On our way home I realized that I'd forgotten to remind him that he'll be taking the bus after school to his after-care location. He's never taken a bus before, so has no idea how this works. Neither do I for that matter, as I never took a bus when I was a kid. I'd meant to send the letter stating his route with him so he could make sure he was getting on the right bus and all that. So i sent an email to his teacher and hopefully he'll make it on the bus at the end of the day.

As soon as we got home we turned around and got Mal in the car to take him to his new preschool. I think he'll definitely miss his preschool from last year (as will I), but they didn't have a full-day option, so hopefully he'll adjust to the change easily. I was a little nervous for this drop off partly because the preschool hadn't communicated any information to me. Were they actually expecting us today, or not? They at least didn't seem surprised to see us, but also didn't have a sign in sheet for us yet (they will by this afternoon) and haven't set up our tuition payment yet. When we entered the preK room we discovered that it was rather disheveled looking. Apparently they're going to be painting it. So we talked to a woman in the preschool room who told us to leave him there, she took down his name, and I'm assuming that will all get sorted out. He was enjoying checking out all the toys, but seemed a bit surprised that we were going to leave him there. Not upset by it, I just think this location isn't in his head yet as his preschool, so it was unexpected.

I also discovered that the transportation department did in fact get Gareth's bus stop incorrect (I'd called them the day before to check on it because I thought it might be off by a block and was told that it was correct), but was assured that the after-care would call the transportation department and sort things out. Apparently the transportation department messes this up every year, which is ridiculous because there are lots of kids from Gareth's school that go to this location every year.

So, yeah. Lots of transitions. A bus, after-care, full day preschool, early mornings, and essentially 5th grade classes. Hopefully in the next couple weeks we'll get everything ironed out before my orientations start.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Catching Homelessness

My school year hasn't begun yet and I already have work to do! Each year the School of Public Health chooses a common book. This year the book is Catching Homelessness: A Nurse's Story of Falling Through the Safety Net by Josephine Ensign. It's a quick read that's fairly engaging; it only took me a couple days to read through it. The SPH provides a reading guide of questions to consider while reading, which I haven't yet looked at but will try to peruse before the SPH orientation where discussion of the book with the author is the main event.

Here are my initial thoughts on the book:

This book was an engaging and interesting read. It jumps around a bit, so it can be easy to lose where you are in the author's timeline, though she sometimes recaps information she's already told you which helps you reorient yourself again (I occasionally got impatient with the recaps though - you already told us this, why are you writing it out again as though you haven't?!).

The author doesn't delve deeply into the reasons for homelessness or how effective our efforts toward it are. I'm rather ambivalent about this approach. For instance, she would mention the closure of state mental health facilities or the Vietnam War, but only spend a few sentences on them, almost just mentioning them in passing. She offered little opinion on these events or even information about how they impacted the homeless populations. This was frustrating at times, but could also be seen as her providing more of a jumping off point for people's independent research.

Also fascinating is reading along as she details her own life unraveling. I suppose this is more the true focus of the book - telling stories of the homeless people she worked with and then using her own experience to show just how easily everything can fall apart. The author was able to get her life back in control, and again she talks about this in passing - she realized she needed to leave the South and then talks very little about the work needed to make this happen. This could come across as a bit flippant about how easily it is to improve one's situation, though I don't think the author intends it to. Again, it would have been an opportunity to discuss the impediments to leaving homelessness, but the author doesn't take you there.

Overall, an easy, interesting, and I think worthwhile read. It's not going to provide opinions for you or give you all the information about the myriad of things that impact homelessness, but can be a great starting point for not only further thought and research, but also increased sympathy for those who find themselves without a safety net.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Off to Camp

Last Wednesday the auto wrecking place came to pick up the car. It was a good thing I'd printed out a form from the DOL, because they hadn't brought anything with them. The driver handed me fifty bucks and loaded up the car after I signed over the title and the DOL form. I was a little nervous about if I'd done everything I needed to or not. I knew I needed to report the sale to the DOL, so I did that after the driver was gone and that put my mind at ease a bit. Not sure if there's any way for me to know that the company has done their end of the things, but it seems like it may not matter so long as I've reported the sale - the DOL will know that we're no longer responsible for that particular car/license plate (apparently WA doesn't allow you to transfer your plates from one car to another).

Saturday we pulled together most of Gareth's items for camp. Finished packing up Sunday morning and then headed out. It's crazy to think that a year ago we had just moved into the house - we drove Gareth to camp the day after moving in. Mal was excited to see the "statue-tree" again. I was very confused when this first came up, but then we realized he was talking about the totem pole at camp. Sometimes his memory astounds me - hasn't seen or talked about that in a year but as soon as camp comes up again he remembers. Now if only he'd choose to apply said memory to learning letters and such things.

The camp drop-off/pick-up are a little difficult because you're only out of the car for maybe 10 minutes when you get there, so you drive 1.5 hours, get a slight break, then hop back in the car for 1.5-2 hours back (we got stuck in some traffic on the way home). Gareth was very excited to be back at camp, so good-byes were easy. Mal was not thrilled to be coming home with us. We almost had a tantrum on our hands as he started to whine that he wanted to stay at camp. I have a feeling the displeasure at not being able to stay will not dissipate over the next few years. Thankfully I had signed him up for summer preschool this week. When preparing for that the next morning he asked "is my preschool camp?". I responded that it was indeed and he's been thrilled that he also gets to go to camp ever since.

Being at the camp made Ryan and me wish we were going camping. Not much of that will happen over the next couple years, but hopefully we'll do more of it after that. As we were driving off the island we discussed how it might be cool to own a second home - a small cottage type thing - somewhere like that. It'll never happen, but it's fun to dream sometimes.

Since I'm kid-free in the mornings I've used the quiet to do things like practice and go on a bike ride. One night I made Mal a simple dinner and tried a new recipe that's more expensive (so something I wouldn't want to make when feeding everyone) for Ryan and myself. That's about as exciting as things can get when one kid is gone and the other is still around. It's amazing how much quieter things are with no one to pick fights with. We'll head out to pick Gareth up Saturday morning and another year of Camp Quest will be in the books.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Good-bye to the Pod

Our Vibe had been making some unsettling noises for a little while, so I finally got around to taking it in for a tune-up last week. Later that afternoon I got a call telling me that there was oil everywhere, a seal had failed, and to replace the seal and compromised hoses and everything else would probably cost $1200 or more. Plus another $1200ish to fix several other things that needed doing. Considering the car is 12 years old and that we'd replaced the same seal 18 months prior, it was more than the car was worth to us and seemed to carry little guarantee that we wouldn't be in the same boat a year down the road. We had a bit of panic that night as we tried to sort out what we'd do. Bus was able to take care of most of our urgent needs. Friends stepped up to the plate and offered cars for getting Gareth to camp in mid-August if needed and any other help we might need.

We debated getting a car similar to what we already had (even though we felt it was a bit cramped for Ryan and cargo) just to get us through the next few years vs getting a more expensive car that we actually want and is comfortable. Spent a few evenings putting together spreadsheets to compare leg room, cargo space, and price points of various cars. It's exhausting to do this; all weekend it'd hit 9:30/10:00 and we'd just go straight to bed. We had some money saved up to put toward a new car since when we paid off the Pod we'd kept setting aside our payment each month to build up a nice amount toward an eventual new car. We knew we needed to figure out if a dealership would even consider our car for any kind of trade-in, since it is neither produced anymore nor running, at least not reliably running.

On Sunday we had friends come pick us up and drop us off at a dealership in their neighborhood. They kept the boys with them and entertained and fed them all afternoon and into the evening. The cars we were leaning toward were Subarus (gotta be like everyone else here in Seattle, right?), so we test drove a couple of those. By this point we were leaning more toward getting a car we actually want, so our drives were mainly about figuring out what would fit our family better. Subaru was offering some amazing financing through them and the prices on the cars surprisingly seemed to match fair prices we'd found online. They had just a couple 2016 Outbacks left on the lot that were decently priced with a few things we likely wouldn't have paid to get in a 2017, so we went with one of those. It took hours (entered about 1:30 and left about 7:30), but was so much less onerous than our previous car-buying experience.

The dealership had no interest in taking the Vibe off our hands, so I spent yesterday figuring out what we'd do with it. There are a large number of auto wrecking places out there with really slimy websites. I didn't feel comfortable calling most of them because they seemed so payday loan-like. One legit one near us heard Pontiac and immediately said they had no interest. Another south of Seattle was surprisingly willing to head up here to pick up the car. They seemed like they expected me to be disappointed in what they could give me for it ($50) because scrap metal prices are so low right now. I was just thrilled anyone was willing to take it off my hands. We still have to get that finished up and I have no idea how to handle the title/registration stuff as far as that goes, so hopefully they'll be helpful in that regard and hopefully by the end of this week we'll be done with the whole business, having said our good-byes to the Pod that served us decently well for 9 years. It's almost too bad it needs so much work because it has pretty low mileage for being 12 years old. That said, the fact that it isn't made anymore really seems to impact how anyone looking to buy views it (despite the fact that the engine is a Toyota engine, so finding parts shouldn't be too difficult).

The new car has been dubbed TARDIS, because the Outbacks never look particularly large to us when we see them from the outside, but feel much bigger on the inside. That may just be an artifact of us having been in such a small car for so long, but the color even worked out pretty well, so TARDIS seems a good fit:

2016 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium