January 16-18


Whew — I’ve got some major catching up to do.

Friday:  Ran some errands in Blacksburg and finally got on the road to Charlotte much later than I planned.  I ate at a Burger King in Hillsville, which is not the place where I usually stop with Clara to break up the trip, but this time I was the one who needed to pee.  Not sure what it was that I ate there, but I had a mildly upset stomach the rest of the night.

Saturday:  Replaced the water pump in Mom’s washing machine — but in doing so, managed to loosen the drain hose from the back.  Getting the drain hose back on would have normally been an easy task, but for the incredible lack of space in the room, and so reattaching the hose took three times longer than getting the water pump changed.  Still, she has a working washing machine again; I do most of the laundry down there these days — Mom can’t lift heavy clothes (large towels, jeans, blankets) into the toploader, and Brett, well, does laundry only under duress.

Received the news that a somewhat distant family relative passed away — specifically a first-cousin-once-removed (and how Southern of me that I know these things).  Spent a great deal of time listening to my mom read the obituary over the phone to her blind sister, and hearing them try to remind each other of who the various people named in the obituary were.  (“Diane?  Is she the one who drove the white Mercury?  Janice Driggers — I wonder if she was Janice Finch!”)   It must be awful to lose one’s memory so.

I missed Saturday Night Live for the first time in ages — not that I’m a big fan of the host or the musical guest this week — but I do try to watch all the new episodes.

Sunday:  Two loads of laundry in the new machine, plus some general house-cleaning; stocked up on groceries.  Spent way too much time this afternoon goofing off, though.   Tomorrow:  the trip to Hope Mills.

January 15


Last day in Blacksburg before I head back to North Carolina (wasn’t I just there?!)

I met with the other Linear Algebra instructors, and the meeting was not an entire disaster, though I did have to hold my tongue at one point.

I got some (mildly) good financial news, but I’m not comfortable discussing financial matters in a completely public (even if obscure) forum, so I’ve shared it with a few Facebook compadres.

January 14


I had a much more productive day today than yesterday, and I actually managed to shorten my to-do list instead of merely treading water.  In fact, I treated myself to a little television tonight.

I have a love-hate attitude towards television.  I realize how seductive it can be and how easy it is to just veg out and watch for hours on end (seriously, binge-watching is now a thing), and I hate that feeling.  I don’t have cable; I cut that cord back in 2001, gave it a try for a couple of years after I moved to a different location/provider, and gave it up again when that didn’t work out.   I do have Roku, though, which I find more convenient and satisfying than I ever did cable.

What I watched:  one episode of Red Band Society and one episode of Black Mirror.

I haven’t decided whether I like Red Band Society yet.   Octavia Spencer is great, but the episodes I’ve seen whitewash the messy medical realities in favor of teen drama (Emma likes Leo, but she thinks Leo likes Kara, yadayadayada).  I’ve watched my mom go through cancer twice, and the unpleasantness of the chemo and the rest of the treatment is only hinted at on this show.  The show feels like The Breakfast Club in a hospital setting, and I’m hoping it’ll evolve into something more.   The pilot showed some promise, and so I’m sticking with it for a little while longer.

Black Mirror was recently recommended to me by an old, old friend.  Netflix compares it to Twilight Zone, a show which I adore.   Two episodes in, and I’m convinced it’s no Twilight Zone.  (Thankfully, it’s no Twilight either!  😉 )    The pilot dared to ask the question, “Would you boink a pig to save a life?”, and while the story line was executed well (if unevenly paced), I’m hoping for more interesting explorations from later episodes.  I’m sure pigs around the world agree.

January 13


On organization:  I’ve come to regard organization as being essentially of two types.  Organization of time — the  management of deadlines, schedules, and events; and organization of things — keeping drawers and closets tidy, never misplacing important objects, and so on.  I am not naturally organized in either way, but I have over the years and out of necessity learned to fake organization of time, so that to the untrained eye I am a skilled time manager.

I filter incoming tasks a few ways:

  • Does it need to be done at some specific time in the future?  These are scheduled events — classes, meetings, doctors appointments, and so forth.  I enter those in my computer and have it remind me incessantly.  I would be up the creek if my computer ever failed.
  • Does it need to be done right away?  I’ll stop what I’m working on to put out a fire.
  • Everything else:  A lot of my work falls in this category.  The homework I just collected doesn’t need to be graded this instant, but can’t sit around for the next three months either.   There’s either an implicit or explicit deadline attached to these tasks.   Laundry, grocery shopping, and routine car maintenance fall in this category as well.

I have the lowest of low-tech approaches to the everything else category:  I write them down on a to-do list that’s nothing more than a sheet of paper taped to the wall of my bedroom so that I see it in the morning and at night.   I cross things off when they’re done.

I started this morning with eight tasks on the list.  I finished four of them today, but over the course of the day, four new things got added.  That’s par for the course — most days I feel like I’m treading water.


January 12


I showered today.  I’m very lucky to have Aaron as a friend.   I never thought those two sentences would be connected.  :)

On a less cheerful note, the volume of email I got today reminded me that vacation’s over and I’m back on the job.  I’m teaching two courses this semester:

  1. Linear Algebra.  (Nearly?) every baccalaureate math program in the country has a linear algebra course.  For decades, our department had two—a 3000-level proofs-based course, and a 1000-level computation-based course.  The latter course has been problematic for years, because the content was so elementary and watered down that the transition from the lower-level course to the higher-level course was exceptionally difficult.  As of this year, we are phasing out the 1000-level course in favor of a 2000-level course which is more rigorous and introduces some theory if not outright proofs.  I’m teaching the brand-new 2000-level course.

    The new course has been a political minefield in our department with lots of chiefs wanting to have their say in how to run the new show.  There’s a palpable tension over how (or even whether) to integrate technology into the course, with one chief imposing the textbook publisher’s online homework system and another demanding Matlab “projects” involving elementary programming; other sources of tension is the question of how close should this course be to a bona fide proofs course?

    As a decidedly non chief, I’m unhappy with the tension and with the current state of the course, even though I recognize what an improvement it is over the old 1000-level course.

  2. Combinatorics.  This 3-credit Frankencourse is really about 1.5 credits of graph theory and another 1.5 credits of classical enumeration theory.  I’ve only taught the course once before, back in Summer 2007, so this is essentially a new course for me.  I am excited about the textbook I’ve chosen for the course, though, and given my mixed feelings about Linear Algebra, this may end up being my fun course for the semester.

January 11


My First World Problem:  If I start watching a show on Roku, I feel an obligation to finish it, even if I find I don’t much care for it.  Case in point:  Dexter.  I’d heard good things about the show, but it’s not clicking with me.  I slogged through season 1 and the first few episodes of season 2, and now I’m ready to call it quits.  But there the show sits in my “recently watched” queue, teasing me to not give up and dig deeper to find what my friends liked about it.

My Not-So-First-World Problem:  No running water; had to shut it off because of a ruptured pipe.  Thankfully, Aaron says he knows how to fix it and will come over tomorrow.

January 9/10


January 9:  The trip back to Blacksburg got delayed for a bit as we untangled a weird letter from SSA regarding Brett’s benefits (basically no change, but the letter did not make that clear.)  By the time I actually got back to Blacksburg, I was exhausted.  Had to unpack and warm up the house again.  Forgot to post anything at all when I got back.  Not a good sign for this resolution, eh?

The trip was uneventful, save that I ate dinner at one of the very few Popeye’s in the region, saw an Alberta license plate, and saw gas for 1.959 on the way in, which is the lowest I’ve seen it so far around here.

January 10:  I took a day for myself before starting back to work.  It was nice sleeping in a bed again after having slept on the couch for the past three weeks.  Watched a little Netflix, goofed off on the computer a bit, and had dinner at Alejandro’s with Aaron.  As I’m writing this, it’s six degrees outside, and I am so ready for this winter to be over.


January 8


Last full day in Charlotte.  Mom’s status:  mixed, mostly good, with one dark bad time bomb.

The shoulder is healing on schedule, and her physical therapy is progressing ahead of schedule.  Her blood work is great, and the decline in her mental functions has slowed.  The meralgia is severe, but treatable, and the success she’s had with the shoulder replacement makes the possibility of a knee replacement greater.

The time bomb is that her heart disease is progressing.  Mom can no longer walk up both flights of stairs without resting on the landing at the top of the first flight.  She can’t walk all the way out to the mailbox and back.   What she can do—watch television all day—isn’t good for her (my small success at improving the television she watches notwithstanding! 😉



January 7


I did a stupid thing today.  Ordered a new battery for Mom’s laptop — and then stupidly forgot to change the shipping address.  So the battery is heading to Blacksburg.

Smart guys can be dumb sometimes.  But bald is forever.


January 6


I love politics, about which more some other day.  But for today:  Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was sentenced to just two freaking years in prison for offenses where the minimum federal sentencing guideline was 6.5 years.  Democrats picked up a state house seat, and retained another, in a special elections back in Virginia tonight.  I’m not back in Virginia myself, but I’m following the stories.

What I did today in NC:  rewired a light fixture.  By myself.  On a ladder.  So for now, I feel a little extra butch.  :)

I wish I could say I did more today.  I prepared meals, picked up prescriptions, picked up the things mom dropped, walked her through her exercises.  It’s not a full-time job, but preparing for a new semester takes a lot of my attention and that’s not getting done.  I’m not stressed about it yet (much), but I’m ready to be back in Blacksburg.

But—unlikely and true—my mom’s discovered Sports Night.  That’s making the time pass more easily.