Archive for February, 2014

February 24, 2014

What I Learned Last Week #6

by Janie Jones

Last week was a short week.  Monday was a national holiday, so no school.  Friday we got a doozy of a snow storm and the school actually shut down.  Community College NEVER shuts down, so it was shocking and I enjoyed every minute.

It is possible I may yet learn what one must do when you run out of places to put snow.  But I hope not.

So I guess I can say I learned that Hell must be frozen over before Community College closes, and Friday, despite being Hell on Earth was actually pretty wonderful.  I caught up on reading a lot of your blogs.  Sorry I’ve been so desultory a reader lately.  I hope you’ll understand, and I am really doing a lot more studying than these posts might imply…

Biology class didn’t actually meet last week, so I have nothing new to report there.

In Calculus I learned that the asymptote will come back to haunt me.  We were studying limits last week.  I get the impression that limits are the place in mathematics where being precise actually doesn’t matter, but you get so close to being precise that you sort of are.  It makes my head hurt.  But you do very little actual math with limits, it seems mostly like a logic puzzle, and if it sounds sick, twisted and wrong, I’d rather do that then actual math.

I had no O Chem lab this week, so I have no exciting explosions to report.

About the most exciting thing happening last week was I had my first ever try at the potter’s wheel.  I didn’t manage to make anything worth saving, unless one actually wants a lopsided pot.

So, hopefully this week will yield more fascinating educational trivia.

February 22, 2014

Now this is what it takes to get a snow day in the Great White North

by Janie Jones

I choose to live in a winter wonderland.  However, even up here it gets stupidly cold.  We’ve experienced -50 degree days, I’ve driven in white outs to get to school and gotten stuck in the parking lot at campus, but the Powers That Be never called off class.  Until yesterday.

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And, not only was school called off, but the post didn’t even come.

It started Thursday and ended Friday mid morning.  Friday morning we couldn’t get either the front or back doors open to let the dogs out, and when we put up the garage door, poor Rupert had to wade out chest deep to pee.  It literally took us two days to get caught up with all the snow.  We had quite a bit to begin with, and we are running out of places to put the snow we clear off the walks and the driveway.  I don’t know the official count in inches, but I’d wager it was at least a foot, not counting the areas it drifted. In some places the piles of snow are over 5 feet tall.  I know because I have to lift the shovel over my head to dump the snow.

The joke up here is, Global Warming?  Bring it on!

February 21, 2014

The memory of a song

by Janie Jones

This semester I have a creative writing class I am helping with as a teacher’s assistant.  I’ve never taken a creative writing class personally, but I gave a stab at the Creative Non-Fiction project as part of a tutoring project.  This is what I came up with:

I can smell the heating curling iron; a mix of burnt hair, old curl enhancer and that electrical smell that defies description but is so familiar with hot wiring.  The curling iron is ready.  I look at the clock.  6:45 am, I better get moving or I’ll be late.

I flick on the radio.  “Coming up next:  La Isla Bonita, by Madonna,” the DJ’s silky voice announces.

I smile.  I hate school.  I hate getting up early and fighting for the bathroom.  I hate having to walk to school, and on cold and wet days my hair style gets ruined and all my hard work on my hair will be for nothing.  But this song is catchy.  It’s… it has a… a certain quality.  What is it about this song?  I don’t even like Madonna.  But I’m not thinking about this right now.  I’m in the moment.  I sing along.  It feels good.

The air coming through the open window is cool and damp.  Late last night someone in the neighborhood mowed and the fresh cut grass scent is aerosolized on the moist, dewy air.  It clings to my skin, it seeps into the pores.  I feel my skin pucker, the hairs on my arm rise into goosebumps.  It doesn’t make me cold though, despite the chill, despite the fact that I’m holding back a shiver.  I want this feeling.  I deliberately dressed light today.

I breathe in deep between bars.  Filling my lungs with the fragrant dew I reach for the curl enhancer and cut back in on time.  I’m in tune, and it gives me a thrill to my core.

“All of nature wild and free this is where I long to be…”

The dew, mixed with the smell of grass seems fresh, it is full of spring on the cusp of summer, newness, promise, rebirth.  It is the smell of a gentle rain shower, heady with newly turned earth; rich, heavy, real.  It is filled with heady notes of brilliant flowers.  A visual and olfactory assault of shocking yellow and fuchsia alongside a delicate whisper of lavender, rose and white, as burgeoning buds fight to thrust their expectant faces to the sun.   The smell, the color, the tingling on my skin, as I sing to the hauntingly beautiful tune is somehow exhilarating, refreshing.  I know it is the harbinger of a beautiful day to come.  The sun will rise and the humid, clammy air will blow off on the morning breeze.  I’ll be left feeling clean, awake and energized, stretching for the sun like those flowers.  As the sun heads toward the zenith, I will drink in its golden promise:  My future is just a few weeks away.  I can graduate and shake off childhood.

I start to curl my hair.  The sensation of more cold and wet; I spritz curl enhancer on the ends of my long hair.  The smell of the curl enhancer combines with the fresh scent wafting in the window.  My nose tingles and twitches as the curl enhancer’s potent blend of perfume attempts to mask the alcohol and chemicals, but all it masks is the realness of nature’s fragrance drifting in on the breeze from the open window.  The curl enhancer’s obnoxious odor screams fake, contrived, artifice.  I feel a vague sense of surprise to discover the contrast is jarring to my nerves.  The goosebumps tingle on my skin.  I feel anxious, I want to be done with this arduous chore.  I want to sing unfettered.

“Ring through my ears and sting my eyes…”

My hair sizzles as I roll it up in the curling iron.  The lingering presence of goose bumps rise up my neck in response to the cold air it is now exposed to, but within an instant I feel the familiar micro-climate of hot humidity as the iron vaporizes the curl enhancer.  The tingling of the goose bumps change in intensity but don’t go away.   I pull on the iron just a bit as the heat from the iron starts to irritate my scalp and neck.  Sometimes I pull too hard and it hurts.  I can feel the hair follicles straining.  But I don’t slack off.  Sometimes I want to feel that pull.  I don’t know why.

I begin to smell that pungent, acrid smell of overheated hair just before it scorches.  So, I squeeze the handle on the iron and let the hair go.  It falls from the iron, brushing against the over stimulated skin on my neck.  I feel a rush of sensory input as hot hair lands on my cold skin.  Crispy from being cooked with the curl enhancer, the ringlet of hair hits my shoulder or the base of my neck with a surprising bit of weight.  The feeling is hard to describe.  It doesn’t quite tickle and yet it sort of does.  Sometimes the hair is so hot it burns my skin for the merest fraction of a second.  Mechanically I repeat the process.  Cold then hot.  Damp then dry.  Pull, release.  The battle of my hair mirrors the battle in my head.  The turmoil between childhood and adulthood.  The smells of frustration: harsh, hot, choking, painful, versus the smells of hope; cool, clean, gentle, cloying.

I’ve done this every day for years, but today as that stupid song plays in the background I feel like I’m in a daze as I work the hair brush to coax and tease the curls into the latest fashion.

“Beautiful faces, no cares in this world…”

I hum along, dousing my coiffure with yet more masking, offensive smells.  Aqua-net.  Sharp, chemically pungent, fake.  It glues my fluffy, big-hair curls.  Who is that girl in the mirror?  She doesn’t smell real.  She doesn’t look real.  I suddenly realize I feel uncomfortable.  The goosebumps thrill my body in a way that is frightening and yet leaves me both exhilarated and nervous all at the same time.  At home in my own room I feel a like stranger, I don’t belong here.  I feel anxious to get through this ritual, to start something new, to find where I belong.  I put the iron and the brush away.  My heart races, just a few more weeks and summer will be here.  I put the sticky bottles of stinky hair product away.  I need to get outside.  It will undo all the curls in my hair, and the dampness will intensify that horrible Aqua-net stench but still I feel the need to get out right away, even if it means walking to school, to get more of that fresh air and envelope me in what is real.  I long to wash those artificial smells of hairspray and burning hair from my nose, from my life, and from my memory.  Today I need that foggy morning air in me as well as all around me.

“La Isla Bonita.”

The song has long since ended on the radio, but the melody haunts me.  I cling to it as I leave the house and walk through the fog.  I store that cool clean feeling of damp, spring air and flowers and cut grass deep in my soul.

“I want to be where the sun warms the sky…”


Some 25 years later La Isla Bonita no longer plays much on the radio.  If anyone had asked I doubt I’d even remember the lyrics or much of the melody much less the last time I heard it play.  But a whiff of damp spring air brought it all crashing back.

“A young girl with eyes like the desert
It all seems like yesterday, not far away…”

Thinking of that song just now I still get goosebumps, and feel that mixture of excitement and renewal slowly replacing the oppression of an unhappiness.  I remember that stupid hair curling ritual and how it was the one problem in my life I could control.  I couldn’t fix my problems between me and my parents.  I couldn’t suddenly become the girl everyone liked.  I couldn’t be the smartest kid or get the lead role in the play.  I couldn’t go to prom with the suave drum major, or even that funny guy in my art class.  But I could make my lanky, dull, stick straight hair curly.  And with my job and my own money no one could deny me the gallons of hairspray to do it no matter how much my parents complained about the wastefulness or the smell.

“Hey,” I would say tartly, “At least I don’t waste my money on cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.”

I remember the softball fields I passed on the way to school, covered in freshly mown grass, dripping with dew.  Some mornings near the end of that spring I would tromp through, the grass and it’s scent sticking to my sopping shoes.  Despite the grass stains on my white Keds, which I had to buy for myself and the discomfort of wet shoes, I marched through desperate for the simple elation of the smell of wet dewy grass.  And there was the satisfaction of knowing that they were my shoes.  Shoes that I earned the money for and paid for myself, there was a deep sense of satisfaction in that.  It was my prerogative to ruin them with no one to reprimand me for being wasteful or irresponsible.

It was a strange year, that year “La Isla Bonita” hit it big on the radio.  I threw out my curling iron after graduation, I didn’t need it anymore.  I had control of my whole life now.  Early that spring I got suckered into buying sleek looking, steel bodied, black bucket of bolts called a Ford Thunderbird, which died on the way home from the used car dealership and caused a family row that lasted until I graduated high school.  You would have thought I wasted someone else’s money and not my own.  But I managed to get that car to limp me through my first year of college before wrapping it around a fire hydrant. It taught me a valuable lesson about the value of comprehensive auto insurance.  I managed to get a big enough cash payout to buy a real, albeit economy, brand-new car.  I remember the freedom those cars gave me, the sense of opportunity within my grasp.  I remember playing the radio and listening to this song.  I went to community college.  My parents laughed but I became mistress of my own destiny.

After all these years the memory of this stupid song still reminds me of that first thrill of facing the future, of the first time I realized I had hope that I could find something better.  Ironically, perhaps, but I don’t think that’s really what Madonna’s song is about.  It seems more of longing for the past, which I don’t do at all.  But still it is somehow indelibly linked to that beautiful island of hope for a better future that I created for myself.  That island of hope still keeps me going after all these years.


February 19, 2014

What I learned last week #5

by Janie Jones

I meant to post this Monday as I usual, but I have been having problems with WordPress over the weekend and then got crazy busy.  C’est la vie, as they say….

Things continue to plod along.

As usual, I’m tired and overwhelmed with homework, work, and life in general.  But I’m soldiering through.  And, to the casual observer, I might appear to be a woman with my poop in  a group.

For anyone keeping track besides me, we got our grades back for the calc test we had at the end of week 3.  Apparently I got the second highest grade in the class.  I was thrilled even though I later I had to wonder how bad every one else did, as I only got an 86%.  It’s totally respectable, but if that’s the 2nd highest grade a lot of people must be doing somewhat less than stellar.  I won’t let it go to my head, doubtless this is the highest grade I’ll likely get, as this first test was 90% algebra review.

In biology I learned that the Portuguese Man-Of-War is actually not a jelly fish.  It belongs to a class of invertebrate animals known as hydroids.  Interestingly, while sparing you the biology-geek details, it is not a single creature, but the whole Portuguese Man-Of-War is a colony of hydroids wherein some members take on very specific body shapes and functions to benefit the colony.

Portuguese Man-of-War, courtesy of Wikipedia,

Portuguese Man-of-War, courtesy of Wikipedia,

Because we are studying the animal phylum Cnidarians, which encompasses the class which both the Portuguese Man-of-War and the true jelly fish belong, here’s an interesting factoid about jelly fish. The largest species is called the Lion’s Mane Jelly Fish and the largest specimen known reached 7’6″ with tentacles up to 120′.

In Chemistry I learned that even though your separatory funnel containing a solution of sodium carbonate has stopped fizzing it doesn’t mean it’s stopped off gassing.  I also learned that it only takes a few seconds for the pressure to build up enough inside one’s funnel to shoot the glass stopper off and send it sailing across the lab bench to shatter on the floor.  Last week was not a good day in lab.  I also got 2/3’s of the way through my experiment and then the beaker tipped over in the water bath ruining my sample so I had to start all over again.

February 10, 2014

What I Learned Last Week #4

by Janie Jones

Last week was a big week for tests so I guess we’ll really see what I’ve learned.

In OChem I was very disappointed.  I thought I did well on the test but only managed a C.  That was a huge bummer.  But I wasn’t the lowest scoring student so I’m not totally a loser.

In Biology I kicked butt.  I got an A on both the lecture and lab portions of the exam.  Biology Teacher has a sense of humor which appeared on the exam.  We had two of the same question:

What do you call a person who specializes in the study of mushrooms?

a.  A mushroom lover.

b.  A mycologist.

c.  A fungologist.

d.  A real fun guy.

Hahaha.  Science geek humor.

I haven’t gotten the grades back from my calculus test, but at least I didn’t walk out wanting to cry.  I am hoping at least a C.  Funny how I get mad at myself for just getting a C in OChem but am relieved if I manage a C in Calc.  Life is sad and funny that way.

Ceramics class continues to be exhausting (it’s a night class and Janie don’t do nights) but fun.  Although I do have to admit to being a bit put out, my project last week was confused as a pig not by one person, but two.  It’s supposed to be Rupert:


Now, I’ve never worked with clay before this class, and I don’t claim to be a superstar artist, but I thought it looked quite like my Rupert:

misc fall 006

So I have to say ceramics class is probably the most insulting to my dog of any class I’ve ever taken.  Now I have to make another sculpture of Rupert to do him justice.  Apparently, the snout is all wrong.

I have had some “better” ceramics projects.  Nothing’s been glazed yet, but here’s some of my other accomplishments:


This is, quite clearly, Spongebob and Patrick, and not a couple of pigs.  They are actually maracas and when you shake them they make noise.  The need to make maracas is a requirement of the class.  Don’t ask.  I don’t know why.  I can only assume the successful project must demonstrate some particular clay technique proficiency.

And, this is one of my bowls.  I apparently forgot to get a picture of the other one:


Okay.  So that’s how I spent last week.



February 3, 2014

What I Learned Last Week #3

by Janie Jones

No Earth-shattering, mind-blowing, or otherwise life altering factoids were imprinted on my brain this week.  It was difficult coming up with something for this post as I spent most of the week feeling utterly brain-dead and stupid.  Calculus has been very frustrating.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

In Biology we were focusing on Fungi last week.  I did learn some interesting things about the value of Fungi in an article I had to read for class.  Apparently they have potential applications ranging from bio remediation (including septic runoff management, to oil spill and radioactive waste cleanup), healthcare (everything from penicillin to anti nerve gas to cancer cures) to  pest control.  If mushrooms are your bag baby, you can read the whole article yourselves: Mushroom Manifesto:  How Mushrooms Can Save the World by Ken Miller of Discover Magazine.

I have a test for O Chem today.  Just like last semester, poor O Chem gets the butt end of my study time.  So I’m up at 0400 to try and squeeze in a few hours of study time so maybe I can remember somethings I learned for the test even if I can’t remember them for this blog entry.

Three weeks down, 13 to go.