Friday, June 29, 2007


A pair of birds have been hanging around the front of our house. I go out, drink my coffee in the morning quiet, and two birds watch me. They usually sit on the utility wire. I go out there most mornings, get the paper, check on the plants, water if it's been dry. Our one outdoor cat tends to go out, too, and often joins me on the porch.

I kept seeing what seemed to be the same pair, over and over again, so I looked them up in the bird book; they're house finches. Houses are where they like to be generally. These particular house finches like the look of things chez Weasel, I guess. When I watered the hanging plants Wednesday morning, there was a little circle of twigs in the middle of one of the plants. Yesterday morning, it was a complete nest! They work fast.

The finches now think they own the place. Tweet, tweet, tweet when I water "their" plant. They perch and glare at me while I drink my coffee. They were pissed off when I peeked at how the nest looks today (flutter! flutter! TWEET!). Still, they knew I was a factor before they moved in.

We're getting ready to go on a trip; it's been difficult. I put off making final arrangements until the last possible minute, from the habit of needing to wait to finalize until I can make sure it's all okay with...oh. I knew the planning would make me burst into tears at weird times, but I'm still doing it. I like travel. I do realize it's going to suck sometimes, but I still like it.

So I'm bustling and readying, crying and moping and eating too many cookies. Bustle, bustle.

Flutter, flutter.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Settling down and getting it done

I’m watching the Colbert Report, and when the Coors ad came on, my first thought was, oh look it’s lateral ventricles! Um, no, just the Coors logo. My bad.

I think I might be the weensiest bit immersed in neurobiology just at the moment---what do you think, hm?

Thank you so much for the birthday wishes, you all. That was fun! Hi!!

Lecture Numero Dos was tonight, of course, and we didn’t quite make it all the way to actually working through the Nernst calculations, darn it all. I continue to be pleased beyond all reason that I’ve been preparing so much. I get to focus on the interesting side eddies of the lectures, rather than trying to absorb absolutely everything at once because I’ve never seen any of it before.

The vagaries of the T meant that I got to Harvard with an hour to spare tonight, so I found my way into the Science Center. Which you don’t have to have an id to get into! Geez! Pure intimidation kept me from even trying the door, all those years I worked in Harvard Square. And it was massively air conditioned (yay!), and there’s a decorative simple amino acid diagram painted onto the side of the staircase (which I now am able to recognize) (go, me) and a frilly hanging sculpture of the molecule hangs mid-air beside it. And I had a bit of (gulp) sushi for dinner.

Understand, I do not normally like sushi. Not even a little bit. Sushi is to be endured. But I fancied some rice, and not Mexican rice like they had at the grille, and there wasn’t very much fishy product in the California rolls, and what there was appeared to be cooked fake crab. Turned out to be just the thing on such a hot day. Yay!

I did some coloring in my human brain coloring book, trying to get a grip on where in 3-D space the structures are in relation to each other and what the hell they are, anyway. Pons! Got it! Except it’s shaped differently in some of the cross sections. Damn! Pineal gland! Got it! Okay, and you can not see it at all from the anterior rendering of the whole diencephalon-midbrain-godknowswhat structure. There is a bit of the thalamus that looks like little round things from one side, and so, these things being labeled by men, mostly, they’re called mammillary bodies. Okay, I get that, they do sort of look like teeny tiny boobs, but they could also be testicular structures, folks. I’m just sayin’. The funny thing is, I think the whole shebang looks like...well, you look at the brain stem and thalamus thing, and what do you think it looks like?

Yeah, it’s probably just me.

More good things: Mead! Nashoba Winery makes some mead. I finally tried some. It tastes exactly like thinned alcoholic chilled honey, tasting of clover or something. Just the thing. That and some toast. With the nice jam I made last summer. I am home again, I’ve worked my butt off learning new things for a few months now, and it’s paying off. Good night, everybody.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hippo Birdie, Two Ewes

Happy birthday to me! I'm 43.

First class meeting last night was spiffy! The professor is great--knows lots of things from many different angles, clinical as well as research (I think he said his Ph.D. was on calcium channels, and now he's working on AI among other things; cool!) which made for some fascinating answers to questions. I did not, as it turns out, need to know all of neuroanatomy in advance. Phew! It slowly dawned on me that there is a difference, probably, between expectations at undergrad level vs. grad level. Met two other women who are not teenagers. A good night out, on the whole.

I think I messed up my directions last post - I meant "bottom of brain", re the cranial nerves (of which there are 12!) (and the one sticking out from the top first in the sequence *after* the optic nerves I think controls mouth and tongue movement!) (but I could be wrong!), which is not ventral actually; that would be, um, caudal, I think. (blushes) At least I can accurately recall the difference between a sagittal section and a coronal section. Gack.

Anyway, one of the nice things is that almost every question asked in class was really interesting, as opposed to annoyingly stupid. Perhaps that's the self-selection inherent in the subject matter--probably not a lot of people interested in neurobiology are total fools. Maybe. I feel extremely capable of mastering this material and am shooting for astonishingly high exam scores.

So...I will probably go to class Wed. instead of knitting group, 'cause that's when we work through some Nernst calculations and I get to hear the full explanation of the equation, doubtless including the mysterious 2.303. And if not, I can ask.

Back to self-indulgent sloth, now. Happy birthday to me!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Amino Acids R Us; plus SP10!

Well, it's been a busy week. I've been cramming in a lot of biology, which includes the organic and inorganic chemistry I never really understood the first time I touched it in the early 80's. Guess what? I get it! I get it!! Oh, I'm so excited. So simple! Carboxyl group, then that bonds to a carbon atom which bonds to a hydrogen and an amine group (which is either NH2 or NH3, depending it seems on what the notation convention being used is--you either stick the extra H on the carboxyl end and call it COOH or the amine end, and either write the charge or not), and then--ah!--then the last bonding site for the carbon that's in the middle gets one of the R thingies. And you can keep on sticking these molecules together in really long chains willy-nilly, and then they scrunch up on themselves and that's determined by the interactions between the R pieces. So cool! Ha ha! Biochemistry joke in the heading, there. Did I mention that I'm excited? Well, I am. And the particular type of sequence in the protein determines how it reacts to the ions inside and outside the cell wall and whether it will let in (or out) the potassium, sodium, chloride, or calcium--and there are only those four options, actually.

Did I mention I was excited? I was wondering, hm, if you could figure out the exact structure of those protein gates, that'd be pretty darn interesting. So according to my textbook, the structure of the potassium gate is now known and was such a huge deal to figure out that, um, that was the 2003 Nobel prize. (the diagram is pretty fun and slightly unintentionally funny, because it's very pretty and helpfully says, "the red ball in the middle represents the potassium." well, duh, it's a potassium gate. Snort.) So maybe not so simple trying to actually figure out the actual conformation of the molecule; perhaps not even the precise amino sequence. Details, details.

I completely owe my grasp of this to the astonishingly clear explanations in the Thinkwell biology course. Both my kids are working through this, too; which means they know it as well as I do, probably more so. Which is pretty cool. If you click on the link and look at biology, you'll see the stupendous sample lecture on functional side groups. Very exciting stuff.

So I've done the reading for the first class meeting of my neurobiology course, also for the second class meeting. First class: all of neuroanatomy. Gulp. Good thing I checked ahead of time and started early, eh? I've got it down pretty well, as long as I'm looking at a neat tidy drawing in a book. The class handout has photos of actual brains, though, and they're covered with blood vessels and I can't quite even identify the central sulcus from there, fer cryin' out loud. Amazing how the cranial nerves are sooo easy in a drawing, and then since I know them in relationship to each other, if I can't see one of them in the photo of the actual brain, I'm basically screwed. Well, except for the first optic nerve. 'Cause it's in a totally different part of the ventral side of the whole structure. Oh, and I keep forgetting the name of the cortical stuff you can see underneath when you pull apart the Sylvian fissure.


Anyway, reading for the Wed. class is--ta da!--the biochemistry I just finally "got" over the weekend, plus a few extra bits. The Nernst equation, for example. Which gives you the equilibrium potential of the ion--basically the voltage (no chemistry pun intended, ha ha "base," ha ha). I think. It's 2.303 times the temperature (body temperture, usually, in C) divided by the charge (yes, dividing by plus one, plus two, or minus one--this is not rocket science) (but it is neuroscience, mwa ha ha), then multiply that by the log of the ratio of the concentration of the ion outside the cell to the conc. inside. Ta da. Easy-peasy. I do not get where the 2.303 comes from, or why you can just disregard the Faraday constant and the gas constant but somehow have to use the (apparently Nernst constant?) 2.303. But the calculation itself is really simple.

Okay, I probably lost most of you a paragraph or so back. Yay, action potential! (yes, Suzanne, yay!) Yay, neuroscience! Yay!

I couldn't think of a way to combine the oh-so-exciting neurobiology with my Secret Pal parcel, so ... you get an inelegant post today. Ah, well.

I got my final Secret Pal parcel! It is *amazing*! I'm so thrilled, and touched, and thank you so much, Ruth! Pic:

I posted a while back that I'd really wanted to make the Peace Shawl rather than the Charlotte's Web that I started, and she's sent me the pattern for the Peace Shawl! Amazing! Thank you so much. Plus three skeins of laceweight... malabrigo. (swoon, thud) (just once, could I not faint? apparently not.) It's green, and lovely, and there's some way fun doodads and some awesome chocolate. Gasp. So wonderful. Thank you so much, Ruth. (this is not this Ruth; she's a different Ruth. Just in case you're confused.) (hi, Ruth!)

'Bye from Geekland, all; see you soon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sometimes it's not so complicated

My neurobiology class starts in a week (!), so I thought I'd better start on the reading for week one, just in case it takes me a long time to process information. 'Cause, you know, that's been known to happen.

Good thing I started. We've got Ch. 2 and Ch. 7, and this is basically all of neuroanatomy plus beginning the chemistry of transmitters. I do know a little of this already, but not in a systematic way. I find I need to re-read things to absorb them.

Not everything, though: "Another simple way to classify neurons is according to whether their dendrites have spines. Those that do are called..." wait for it...."spiny."--Bear et al., "Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain." Yes, you, too now know some technical neuroscience terminology.

On the grief front, I remember my husband's physical presence very acutely. I am not transposing the feelings; my mind seems to be okay with allowing directness, for which I'm grateful. Nothing complicated; no avoidance because it'll hurt too much; just simple (though intense) recall.

Those of you who have been through labor might remember the shock of really knowing what it means for your own body to pull itself apart from the inside to make an opening ten centimeters across, through which you will push out your child. It hurts, of course. Duh. Ten centimeters is a pretty big diameter. Bigger than my wrist, certainly. At the same time, it can not hurt any more than it does at that point, and there is a relief in knowing that. That's sort of where I am today: I know it won't hurt more than the absolutely it already has, and that frees me in a way. Simple perception, possible at last.

Peace, all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

At last!

Two "finally!" items - item the first:

Dear daughter found a Youtube version of this for me. It's the grand prize winning anime music video from Anime Boston last year. I love the song, and the experience of watching this incredibly moving thing with thousands of twenty-somethings who were as moved as I was (probably more so) was a revelation. You look at a crowd of fairly snarky people dressed outlandishly and think, uh-oh, defenses on high, here. But what happened while this showed on a big screen was something very different. For anyone else who really doesn't get what this anime thing is about or why people like it so much, this is a step toward understanding what it is fans are responding to:

Thing the second: I bought a bunch of plants, and...they are now all in the ground. Yay! I hope the few things I've started from seed survive nicely, too, but I have purchased plants. This feels like cheating. Some things are growing, which is a pleasant surprise and a lesson in faith, frankly, but what with the woodchuck family and the deer and the rabbits, I kind of needed to hedge my bets. So thanks to the wondrousness that is Lexington Gardens, chez Weasel now has a garden plot with: eggplant (because youngest thinks it is hilarious that there is something called an egg plant); tomatillo (which I have never grown; we may soon see why, but fingers crossed); brandywine tomato (purchased for the name alone); supersweet 100 tomato (these grow like a weed when I've had them before--fabulous!); some more pole beans (and it is galling, but yes, I did buy bean plants. just a couple. just in case the woodchuck gets my scarlet runner beans.); zinnias; onion sets (I've never grown these but another homeschooling mom has had great luck with them); a few pumpkin plants; and a few cucumber plants. This in addition to the random strawberries and mint and previously planted other varieties of tomato. I moved some of the more absurd strawberries and sort of have all of them in the same general zone of the garden now. I also weeded. A bunch.

Um, I now recall that I am the only member of the family that likes tomatoes. Oops.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Done and done

Finished the commission, sent it off express mail because my fedex account is doing something weird, emailed what could be emailed. First on-time work done in this here Phase II of my life--yay! The children tell me I was very grumpy before it was all done. I am inclined to believe them. I am always grumpy on deadline. I do not think this is likely to change. This involved fastest-ever pattern writing, too, which was sort of a hoot--I'm not precisely sure anymore how much detail really needs to go in, because it's been a while since I wrote a pattern. I hope it's okay--I do know that instructions have to be more than, "Make hat. Weave in all ends." And I did give more than that. Just not very much more.

Also planted the second fruit tree! Another yay! The hole for this one didn't have nearly so many rocks in it, so it didn't take all day.

Yes, Rosana, you're right about the movie with the John Denver song--I keep forgetting what it's called, but yeah, that's the one ("Whisper of the Heart"). The supermarket now seems to have his greatest hits on rotation. Aargh, indeed.

What is it with weeks going by? We keep running out of milk and clean laundry, and I get all "ALREADY??" and then recall, oh. Oh, yes. It has been about a week. Time to buy milk and do laundry again. Sigh.

Today's revelation on cognitive impairment was the realization that if I don't actually need my finance dude to sell any stock, I won't have any realized capital gains. And thus my tax bill, quarterly payment due this Friday, might in fact be hilariously miniscule for this year. Oh, yeah. Oh. It has been eight months with the same dude, same plan, same strategy, same everything. I just failed completely and utterly to grasp one of the most basic things that is going on with all that. Yeah. Okay, so...still reveling in the constant surprise that is my own mind. Good lord. I feel like a total idiot. Una idiota, totalmente. For some reason my head is supplying the word "agradecido" here; I do not know why. Perhaps I am agradecido por ese hombre y su mente que functiona cuando no functiona lo mio. Or something like that.

My Spanish grammar is a bit rusty.

Also I never learned how to put accents and tildas where they're supposed to go.

I am resolutely not giving a crap about politics lately. It's making me tired. I've gotten some fundraising mail from two candidates for Meehan's seat and honest, I don't know who the other ones are, or really who these ones are. It is important, but also feels sort of futile.

Oh! My Harvard summer course means I get a summer school id, which means...I can go to Widener Library. They have a Folio in there. I'm quietly very excited. I don't think they'd let it circulate, you understand, but it'll be nice to stand near it, and go "oooo" (they don't have one at Stratford on Avon, btw).

That's all for today. Hi, Lynne and Carole and blogless Lynne and Lorena and Rosanna and Lucia and farmwitch and Jena and Kat and Double Helix and everybody. (Grief update: kids violin recital yesterday, at same church hall as funeral; surprised for some reason that this would make me lose it. Go figure. Bawl, bawl, bawl. Went out to dinner with homeschooling moms afterward, which turned out to be the best thing I could have done. Back on even-ish keel now.) (a deep thank you to all those ladies: thanks.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Catching up

Goodness, that went fast.

I finally got at least one of the fruit trees planted. Yay! I've made a start on Great Big Hole Number Two, in which I will plant the other tree. Youngest child assited. Youngest child has now learned first hand about the rocky soil of New England. We have some plants in our little garden, too. I need to get down to Lexington Gardens tomorrow and see what they have left (I love it there. sigh.) The indoor plants are still alive, another yay, although the coffee plant is looking very sad indeed. New addition: a pineapple plant, complete with baby pineapple growing. It's very sweet, and there it was at the grocery store, and so it came home with me. I have really run out of places to put these things.

I've read the whole four-book "Emperor" series, now, by Conn Iggulden. Yes, since my last post. Quite addictive, although the writing is in places really annoying; Conn appears not to have given any thought to the idea of sticking to one character's point of view. Other than that, they're really ripping historical fiction, based on the life of Julius Caesar. You know how it's going to end, but it's good fun; he makes Suetonius out to be a whining spotty neighborhood bully, and really, there isn't all that much suspense about "will Julius survive this battle" 'cause, well, geez, of course he does, also yes he will decide to go back to Rome, duh, so he can get stabbed to death in the Forum, like you do, sheesh. Also, uh-oh, that's no ordinary carpet, Julius, look out! There's a queen of Egypt inside! Coincidentally, this person has written a brand new megabestseller called "The Dangerous Book for Boys," which is rather splendid. I had no idea I was getting into megabestseller territory at all. There you go.

I'm thinking about writing an actual Shakespearean play called "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter." I think I have a writing partner on this--will need to tell him about this brilliant idea, of course. Details, details.

The knitting! Ah, yes. Well, I, um, do indeed have a project due in a few days. I have started, but have not yet finished. It'll be fine. I'm working on other things, too, and ALSO plotting and scheming the last package to my Secret Pal for SP10. Mwah, ha, ha. Plus one more secret project. Oh, the drama of it all, how will I ever cope.

More under the category of "good lord I'm glad that's done": Finally hauled the bezillion-pound broken set of drawers downstairs and out to the curb for trash day; finally vacuumed the stairs and other areas that were so full of pet hair it was bothering me; oldest took the last of her getting-ready-for-college standardized tests for this spring; trimmed the dog's claws. Paid bills, yuck. Avoided going to see No Man's Land at ART--honestly, this is not a time of my life where I think, oh hey wouldn't it be great to go and watch some unspeakable human cruelty for a while? I'm sure it's just fabulous, and the tickets have now officially Gone To Waste (oh no! my stingy yankee heart tightens in the ancestral grumpiness of my forebears! waste! wastrel! hedonist!) (hm. might be overdoing it, there; hard to make hedonist accusation over not going to the theatre.) (well, in this case, actually, not so hard--the yankee suffering would be in going to this one.) (hey, I win!)

And that's about it for the night, all. More wailing and rending of garments another time, perhaps (won't that be fun?). Time to take the dog out, in the rain, miserable creature, whine whine whine, ack. Blah.