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I have moved my blog to Blogspot, and revamped it a bit.  You can find me at “A Crab Among Perls” http://acrabamongperls.blogspot.com/.  I am finding the interface MUCH easier to deal with, and posting pictures is quite simple — unile the new format here.  Come check me out please!

Outta here

Hello all three of you who subscribe to my blog.  I know that it has been a very long time since I posted — I have had a crazy semester, and all of my free time has been spent teaching myself enough psychology to then go ahead and teach it to my students each week.  And while I was gone, WordPress went and completely changed the posting interface, which seems to make it impossible to post both text and photos together.  I don’t like it.  At all.  So I think I’ll be moving to another blog host soon.  Not to mention, the blog needs a rehaul, since I’m not an archaeologist anymore.  So once I find a new home, I’ll let you all know.  Hopefully I can get back to posting regularly soon, just in a new location.  See you there!

A Non-Traditional Thanksgiving

I know that I have been neglecting this blog for months.  This has been a particularly difficult semester for me, since I need to teach myself enough psychology each week to teach two 4-hour classes.  It sometimes feels like every waking minute is spent lesson planning.  But I took a break over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Since there are just two of us, and T isn’t really into turkey, I decided to try a recipe I’ve had in my recipe box for over a year: Alton Brown’s cornish hen with bacon and onion.

Knitting Season Begins

I can finally get back to blogging about my craft projects!  I don’t want to go anywhere near knitting during the summer, but almost overnight we went from 80 degrees to 40 degrees around here, so suddenly knitting seems like a good idea again.

I have a lot of knitting projects lined up — mostly Christmas decorations and presents — but I had a few projects that I needed to get out to people quickly.  A good friend from high school (K) has a 3-year-old daughter, E, who has been having a rough time recently.  I decided that I needed to knit her a hat and a toy to go with it.  Another friend’s mom is going through chemo, and she put out a request for hats, so that seemed like another good project to work on quickly.

I had seen a yarn store not too far from my house a few months back, but I hadn’t been in yet.  I decided to go check it out, both to get yarn for the toddler hat, and to scope out whether or not there was a knitting group nearby.  I have definitely missed having a group to knit with, and I figured it wuld be a good way to try and make some local, IRL friends.  It turned out there is a knitting group that meets at the shop on Thursdays, so I got to kill two birds with one stone — make new friends, and knit E’s hat!

I wanted something very soft and fuzzy for E’s hat, and I found an unusual yarn.  I discovered later that it is designed to knit up like terrycloth, but this is what it looks like:

fuzzy yarn

I haven’t worked with a lot of fuzzy yarns before, but I knew that it would be a little challenging.  The fuzziness makes the individual stitches impossible to see.  It also could be less yarn than it looks like, so I asked the shop owner whether I could get a toddler hat out of a single skein.  She said to buy a second skein to be safe, so I did.
I got to the knitting group late, and missing most of my materials.  I had all my needles, but forgot the rest of my toolkit, and the pattern book I typically use as a guide for hat measurements.  But I have knit so many hats in the past, I figured it would be no big deal to do this one off the cuff.  I did have to ask the store owner for the appropriate circumference of a toddler hat so I could get started, but that was no big deal.
The first problem I ran across was figuring out my gauge.  I started to knit a swatch, but I couldn’t see the individual stitches to tell how many I had per inch.  I tried to guess, and was waaaay wrong the first time — when I saw the knitting start to curl up on my round needles, I knew it was much too big.  When I took it off the needles, it was at least 40″ in circumference!  So I eyeballed it, and the second time I got roughly the right size.
Then, as I started knitting, I realized that I was going to have a hard time ribbing the edge of the hat, since I couldn’t tell my stitches apart.  I typically use ribbing or seed stitch on the edge of hats to keep the rim from rolling up.  But I had a hunch that this yarn might not roll.  More consultation with the store owner and looking up some patterns using that yarn confirmed that it shouldn’t roll, so I could do stockinette stitch for the whole hat.  And the best part of the yarn was, even though I was halfway through my first row, no one would ever know that I was switching from ribbing to stockinette!
The last problem I ran into was the decreases.  I first learned to make hats by doing regular decreases up to the crown, making a smooth, beanie-style top, rather than the gathered top that is created by doing a rapid decrease at the end.  I never use stitch markers for this, and don’t even own any, because I am used to being able to see where my decreases are.  But that was impossible with this yarn.  So I needed stitch markers to keep tabs on where my decreases would go.  And the great thing about knitting in a yarn store — I was able to buy stitch markers on the spot!
Despite having to start twice, I had most of the hat done by the time I left the sit and stitch.  I just needed to switch to double-pointed needles for the final decreases.
On Saturday, I sat down and decided to finish E’s hat.  It took less than half an hour.  I realized once it was done that I hadn’t upped the number of decreases quite enough at the end, which had resulted in a pointed top, but it looks adorable, so I decided to keep it.  The best part is, it looks good whether you roll the bottom or keep it straight.

straight brim

rolled brim

In the process of gathering up my knitting materials for the sit and stitch, I had discovered an unfinished hat I was knitting for T last spring.  So I picked it up and started working on it again.  Apparently, I had run out of the black yarn I started with, and continued with a different black yarn.  It resulted in a black striped look that I really like.  Something awfully strange had gone on with the knitting a row or two below where I picked the project up again — it looks like I pulled out sone stitches and picked them back up twisted — but it took a while for me to notice it, so I didn’t go back and fix it.  It took an hour or so to finish this project, and when it was done, it looked like this:

black striped hat

Finally, I decided to work on the hat for my friend’s mom.  I hadn’t used the whole first skein for E’s hat, so I decided to use the second skein for this.  I know that it will look goofy instead of elegant, but I thought the yarn would feel really nice against her head.  But I was afraid that there wouldn’t be *quite* enough yarn for an adult-sized hat.  So I looked through my stash, and found some super-silky fuzzy yarn that I picked up during a stash swap.  The green would go well with the baby blue yarn, and I thought a stripe would help the hat look a little bit more grown-up, while also helping stretch the terrycloth yarn.  This time, to get my gauge (since I never really figured it out last time around), I knit a swatch of 10 stitches.  Ten stitches was a little less than 4 inches wide, so to make a 21-inch circumference hat I cast on 56 stitches.  The silky green stuff was SO silky it was difficult to knit with — I was glad that I only had a few rows worth of it.  But I think the finished hat will be really nice and cozy!  I tried not to make it too long, so she wouldn’t have to roll up the brim.  I also went with the quick decrease, so there’s a little bit of gather at the top.  Even after making a full-sized hat, I still have some yarn left over.  I hope it fits and she likes it!

chemo cap

The next thing I need to make is a stuffed toy to go with E’s hat — I have a pattern for a cute little frog that I think will be perfect.  And my plan is, with the little bit of fuzzy yarn I have leftover, I will make him a hat that looks just like hers.  I don’t have enough green yarn to do him all in the same yarn, so I decided to wait until next Thursday and buy a new skein at the next sit and stitch.  I can hardly wait!

We Are the Yanomamo

Yanomamo village from the air

Before I was an archaeologist, I was a cultural anthropologist.  I even have a master’s degree to prove it. Cultural anthropologists love to study other cultures around the world, ostensibly for the purpose of bringing back observations that shed light on our own culture in comparison.  And one of the tribes we studied was the Yanomamo.

The Yanomamo are a hunter-gatherer group that lives in the Amazon rain forest.  Their villages aren’t made up of lots of individual homes; instead, they build a single, shared shelter for the whole group.  There is a ring-shaped roof with a single wall along the outside of the ring, roughly divided into sections where individual families live, sleeping in hammocks and cooking over open fires.  The center of the ring is a large, flat shared living space where most community activities take place.

Surprisingly, unlike American towns and cities, Yanomamo villages tend to all be roughly the same size.  Of course, young people get married and their new spouses move in, children are born, and the village grows over time.  But at a certain point, when the populations gets too large, the village divides.  Squabbles add up over time, factions develop, and one faction leaves to build their own village.  Maybe it’s a function of too much genetic distance between people — I’m willing to sacrifice for my parents or siblings, but not for my second cousin’s wife who I have no blood relation to.  Maybe as the number of people increases, the local resources — food, building materials, and other supplies —  become scarce and people begin to argue when there isn’t enough to go around.  Whatever the cause, larger numbers means more bickering, and eventually it gets bad enough that someone moves out.
We Westerners tend to think of hunter-gatherer groups like this as less developed than we are — primitive, backwards, uncivilized.  The truth is, while their technology may be less developed than ours is, their way of life tends to be perfectly adapted to their environment.  They maintain groups of just enough people to support themselves nicely based on what they can find nearby.
Meanwhile, here in the US, we are in the middle of a recession.  There aren’t enough jobs and money — resources — to go around these days.  And I have noticed, while we are living in an environment with scare resources, we are doing an awful lot of squabbling.  We’re dividing into factions.  There’s rich vs. poor, Republican vs. Democrat, Tea Party vs. liberals, citizens vs. illegal immigrants, working poor vs. welfare freeloaders, fiscal conservatives vs. social safety nets.  I see lots of people who are angry at Them, and They are the people who are competing for the resources we don’t have.  And it’s not just the U.S. — look at Germany vs. Greece, the British people vs. youth mobs, American vs. Chinese workers.  If we were the Yanomamo, this fighting would result in a division, one faction would leave, and then there would be enough to go around for the people who were left.  The problem is, we spend all this time dividing into factions, but there’s nowhere for us to go.  We have created a globalized economy, and there is nowhere that anyone can go anymore where they wouldn’t still be sharing the same global economic pie.  No matter how much we fight with one another, we’re all still stuck in this mess together.
Do you know why Americans are so often obese?  Because we are genetically adapted to love high-calorie foods — sugars, fats, and salt.  This was a great adaptation when we were hunter-gatherers, who spent most of our days walking from place to place and engaged in physical labor, and food was sometimes scarce.  Even as we changed and became farmers and herders and even city-dwellers, the amount of physical work we needed to do and the scarcity of these foods meant that we were still in pretty good shape.  But now that we have machines to do our work and carry us around and our jobs have us sitting at desks most of the day, while at the same time those high-calorie foods are easier and easier to obtain, that adaptation isn’t working for us anymore.  It’s making our situation worse, and our health along with it.  The trait that was helpful in one setting hurts us now that our circumstances have changed; it’s called an evolutionary mismatch.
I think our tendency to point fingers and fall into factions during bad economic times is another mismatch.  And the longer the economy stays bad, the more we point fingers and fight with one another, when what we really need to do is overcome this tendency towards anger and division, and work together to find solutions.  Just like many of us need to eat lower-calorie, high-nutrient foods, and do more physical work during the day in order to lower our collective health risks.
We all know that we need to eat right and exercise, yet it’s often really, really hard to do.  So is there any hope that we’ll collectively realize that all this political infighting is hurting us as a nation, and start working together to solve our common economic woes?
I’m afraid the answer to that question is, fat chance.

Failure

Half of my students are currently getting a D or an F in one of my three classes.

That’s 11 out of 22 grades, exactly.

This makes me really upset.

Any time a student is doing badly in class, there are only a few possible reasons: 1) the student is not applying him- or herself, 2) the student is not capable of completing the coursework accurately, or 3) I am not teaching the material well.  Realistically, it is often a combination of all three.

Do my students apply themselves?  Sometimes students are genuinely lazy and they don’t want to do their homework.  Maybe passing with a C or a D is good enough in their book.  Often, they never learned good study habits in high school, they are accustomed to having assignments and deadlines spelled out for them repeatedly, they simply don’t stay on top of their work.  In a 12-week term, there is often time to catch back up.  In a 6-week term, it’s a lot harder.  You don’t check the syllabus, you fall behind, and suddenly, the class is done.

For reason number 2, I originally phrased it as “the student isn’t capable of learning the material,” but most of the time that really isn’t the problem.  The reasons why they can’t complete the work are legion.  My students often work 40+ hours a week, have children to raise, partners and family members to spend time with, household chores to do, and on top of that they are trying to get a degree.  So often there isn’t enough time to get everything done.  Add to that the fact that, in my computer classes (which account for 19 of my 22 students), many students don’t have regular access to a computer at home, or the Internet, or both.  They are expected to do 2 hours of homework outside of class for each hour they are in class — that would be 16 hours of homework each week.  And many of them need to do it on a family member’s computer, or a friend’s mom’s computer, or at the public library, or during the few hours they have on campus just before or after class.  If they have a computer at home, they may not have Internet to allow them to email me their homework assignments.  They may not know how to install the trial software that comes with their book.  Even if a computer is readily available, I have students who don’t speak English as their first language, so the directions, “Point to the Title cell style in the Titles and Headings area of the Cell Styles gallerty to see a live preview of the cell style in cell A1” is extremely confusing.  Even I find it confusing!  Hell, despite the fact that I have walked them through the process at least one time per class, I still have students, on Day 8 of class, who don’t know what to do when we are in Word and they need to send me their assignment as an attachment to an email.  They can’t remember how to open Internet Explorer and navigate off the home page and go to their online email provider.  I have students who have had so little exposure to computers during their life, they can only type roughly 10 words a minute.  So whether it is because of a lack of access to computing resources, or reading comprehension skills, or previous exposure to computers, many students are unable to complete the work I assign them.

But I always, always worry that the real reason my students are failing is because I am not teaching them what they need to know.  I know that computer classes are difficult to teach in a large group setting.  I know that I have students of all skill levels in the class, so some are surfing between steps during demonstrations because they are so bored, while others are completely lost.  Knowing those things doesn’t make it any easier when you see your students failing, and you don’t know what you can do to help them.  When there are dozens of zeroes in my grading spreadsheet, is it because they are too lazy to turn their work in, they can’t do the work, or because they don’t understand what they are supposed to do?

I don’t know.  And without knowing why they are not turning their work in, I can’t help them.  And that’s the worst feeling of all.

Guilty Pleasures

I got trapped in a “Sex and the City” marathon last night when I should have been going to bed, which inspired this list of my Top 10 Guilty Pleasures:

  1. Reruns of “Sex and the City” (duh)
  2. The Twilight book series (but NOT the movies)
  3. Marshmallow Fluff, eaten off a spoon
  4. Cotton candy, which I buy every time I see it, even in those horrible foil pouches at gas station convenience stores
  5. Reruns of “The Golden Girls”
  6. Cheesy romantic comedies with preposterous premises, like “When In Rome”
  7. Eating a whole jar of olives in a single sitting
  8. Standing in a hot shower an extra 5 minutes
  9. Costco churros
  10. “My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding”