Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best Thing Ever of the Day

TIL manta rays jump out of the water and make a loud splash, and nobody's really sure why.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gimli's Early Christmas Present

I did a craft swap for the "mini 12 days of Christmas" so we got to start opening presents yesterday. Except Gimli apparently knew that today's present was for him, because he opened it shortly after the package arrived.

Here's a video of him playing with his new scratching post thingy:

(Yeah, sorry it's sideways. I didn't really think about that when I took the video. Or things like turning on the light.)

Friday, December 6, 2013

New Job!

I start the full-time job on Tuesday!!! So basically, I'm doing this all day:

Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to use a David Tennant gif. But David Tennant gifs are for all occasions! Especially happy ones.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Merry Christmas, Ms Merrill

I was a lucky kid. I had excellent elementary school teachers. I was going to say "six excellent elementary school teachers" (fifth grade was team-taught) but that would be discounting my teachers from ODC, the reading teacher, music teacher, art teacher, PE teachers, office workers, librarians, and everyone else who was awesome at King's Grant Elementary and Old Donation Center.

It would really be impossible to say who was the "best" but I have to admit that Ms. Merrill, my second-grade teacher, is the most memorable.

This was a teacher who dressed up as the characters in the books we read, and pretended she was really them. For Halloween, she became Ms. Merrill's evil twin sister or something along those lines.

I remember a lot from her class. Whenever I hear someone refer to the Golden Rule, I picture the poster of it from her classroom. I still use a little counting trick that involves imagining dots on the written numbers if I need to add a lot of things quickly in writing. She taught us not to use VBOs (Very Boring Overused words) in our writing and speech, which I think of every time I replace "very" or "said" or "big" in a sentence.

You might think this is where I say she died, or something tragic like that. I certainly hope not. I haven't been in touch with her since I started middle school, and I deeply regret that. Now I don't know where she is.

But, this year, I pulled two very important objects out of storage and hung them on my Christmas tree.

I believe the one on the left was technically for my mom, for doing elementary school mom things (PTA, class mom, etc). It's a big red jingle bell adorned with festive Christmas things, and the tiny note says - in picture-perfect second-grade-teacher handwriting - "the bell still rings for all who believe," in reference to The Polar Express. The one on the right is a jingle bell wrapped in that cute little holly fabric, and my note says "to Allie" because she didn't have to explain the bells to the kids. They are both signed, "Love Ms. Merrill 1993."

And before you ask, of course I can still hear both of them.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Wait... you're telling me that not everyone plans out their NaNoWriMos like this, with what looks like complete nonsense on a dry erase board?

Well... to each their own, I suppose.

(Besides... I Pantsed the first part of the book, Planned the second part with kind of the Snowflake Method, so now I guess I'm using the patent-pending Dry Erase Method for the third part.)


29,693 words!

That's where I've been for a couple days (to figure out what I'm going to do for Part Three) but I'm still ahead of the goal line on the stats graph, so I'm doing okay. I have my dry erase board and I'm ready to plow through another 20,307 words (and then some)!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Neil Gaiman and Libraries, Sittin' in a Tree...

It's no secret that Neil Gaiman loves libraries. Perhaps that's a large part of why he's my favorite author. There's a recent article from The Guardian where he goes into great detail about this fact (that he likes libraries, not that he's my favorite author) and I think anyone who has ever questioned the reasoning behind having a library or librarians should have to read the entire thing, beginning to end. You can find it here.

This is my favorite paragraph from the whole thing:

"I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content."

But there's a lot of other really great points and opinions and jokes of a British nature to enjoy in there, too. If you think it's tl;dr, all the more reason for you, specifically, to read it. You'll see what I mean if you actually do.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


I've been wearing my suit jacket for a couple days to get comfortable in it so I don't move like an awkward robot during my interview, and I discovered that I feel like Picard when I'm wearing a jacket. If I leave it buttoned, whenever I stand up, I do that double-tug he does to his uniform when he gets out of the captain's chair. This realization makes me feel dignified, and kinda makes me want some tea. (Earl Grey. Hot.)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Post-mortem Facebook

The other day, I saw that a Facebook friend had said "RIP [name]" in a status update. Since the name was linked and looked vaguely familiar, I clicked through to see if I knew the guy. I didn't, but that's not the point. I scrolled through pages of comments on this guy's wall from his many bereaved friends and family members, expressing surprise, saying they had just seen him however many days ago, and he was so young (approximately my age), and sadness at his passing, and condolences for the others commenting there. I kept scrolling because I was still unsure whether I knew him, and I thought maybe one of the comments might mention something about school, or an extracurricular activity I might have known him from. They didn't, but eventually I got past all the RIP comments and I found the last post he made himself. It was... unflattering.

It wasn't anything horribly shocking or terrible. I didn't know the guy, like I said, so maybe he wanted everyone's lasting memory of him to be that he was the guy who liked beer and chicks and probably some swearing. That's absolutely fine with me; none of my business. But it did make me think...

Be careful what you say on Facebook. You never know which post will be your last.

Doing vs. Getting Done

How is it that everyone always seems so busy but never seems to get anything done? I finally have the answer: doing things and getting things done don't have to have anything to do with each other.

See, right now, I am doing something. I am thinking critically and typing and blogging and also laughing at the cat because he's sitting on the desk licking his butt and it's funny.

But what I need to get done does not include any of those things. (Well, I do try to laugh at the cat at least once a day, but it's not really on the to-do list.) I need to do laundry, dishes, vacuum, clear off the living room table, take out the trash, find a good tailor, work on a Powerpoint presentation, move that box to the outside storage, read three books, find the charger cord to my iPod shuffle, return a text message... you get the point.

I'm always doing things. Even if I'm in the shower or on the computer goofing off or watching Netflix, I'm doing something. My mind is active and my body usually is too in some way (walking, typing, etc.) Even going to bed and falling asleep is doing something (although, to be fair, I'd consider that getting things done too, because I do require sleep in order to get anything else done the following day... it's like a getting things done prerequisite, which in itself counts as a thing that got done).

I'm thinking that, if I stop doing things constantly, and take just a few minutes every once in a while to not do anything (not just not get things done but to not be doing anything) it would be nice. And maybe once I returned to doing things after a short period of not doing anything, more of the doing would contribute to getting things done because there would be less time for doing without getting things done.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


I haven't had a Coke since last Monday. That's twelve days now. I'm pretty proud of myself, so I wanted to share that. And I've only had a few Sprites/Sierra Mists. Mostly I've been drinking LifeWater. I only had a headache for about three days, and that was over a week ago.

Actually, come to think of it, I haven't had any caffeine at all. I don't drink tea or coffee, and I have Aleve and caffeinated mints but I haven't had either one. I have had some M&Ms (pumpkin spice, exclusively from Target!) in the past two days, so I guess those probably have a little caffeine, but that's it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Christmas Crafting Can Commence!

(Awesome alliteration, no?)

It's officially Christmas crafting season... Today I got a big box from [undisclosed specialty company] full of the supplies I ordered!

Only one hint... is wassail the best thing you've ever smelled, or what?!? Yummmmm.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Active Learning in Library Instruction

I need to start incorporating a lot more active learning in my library instruction sessions. I can't keep watching students play with their phones while I try to impress upon them how important the library is, and releasing them into the world knowing nothing more about the library than they did when they walked in. (Disclaimer: I have some excellent classes that are very attentive and ask great questions. But then I have some that can be described as above. And I think both types of class would benefit from a more interesting, hands-on, interactive class structure.)

I feel for my students; I really do. I sat through sixteen of these things myself between first grade and my senior year of undergrad. They were all boring. Some were informative, I admit; I was using JSTOR, Gale, and EBSCO like a pro in high school thanks to our librarians. But I can do better; I can be interesting.

Here's a blog post about active learning being applied in library instruction classes. It doesn't have detailed plans for how to apply active learning concepts to LI, but it has some good information.

I love this article that gives some simple activities that introduce active learning to the session. I really want to try Deck of Cards Boolean.

The idea of a Human Citation (among others) is presented in this article, and I really want to do that one too, but I think I'll rename it ("citation" is just a touch too close to "centipede" for my comfort). Unfortunately, this would only work for the (very few) classes where citation is strongly emphasized. (Out of the 102 classes I've scheduled so far this semester, two are about citation. And they're at a time where I won't get to teach them, despite my avid love of MLA.)

Slide 8 of this slideshow has some great activity ideas. I like the idea of "Shoot Out" (students write questions down, crumple up the papers and throw them to the front of the room, and they're answered at the end) but I don't want to encourage students to throw things toward me and the two 90" screens up front. I also really like "Press Conference" (students are given cards with questions that are answered at predetermined points in the presentation). A slight alternative on "Synonym Race" that would take a little less time would be to have students (as a whole class) offer alternative search terms (like "death penalty" also being "capital punishment" and "execution" and whatever else they come up with).

Pete was talking a few weeks ago about when he used to go into middle school classes and demonstrate science concepts, like electromagnets, or how different elements create different colors of flame when lit on fire. He noticed that, at the more well-to-do school, the students would sit, watch and listen to the explanation, and then participate in "experiments" using those concepts. It was a model that worked for them. But when he tried to apply the same frame at the poorer school, the kids got antsy and didn't pay attention. They wanted to play, and have something happen, then ask why (and there's your teachable moment). I think I need to start applying this latter, sandbox approach. "Here's a database; go screw around with it and see what you learn. I'm here if you have questions." It would give me an opportunity to walk around the room (which deters them from playing games or using Facebook because then I can see their screens) and lets them move at their own pace. If nobody runs into something to ask a question about, I can pepper comments on limiters and searching techniques and results throughout the time allotted.

Part of me also really wants to create and use a Powerpoint Jeopardy game. I wouldn't have the time to teach the concepts and then play the game, so it could be a learn-as-you-go, I-don't-expect-you-to-know-all-the-answers, low-stress game. Of course, they'll expect candy or prizes if there's a game involved... or maybe not. Maybe just not being lectured at will be sufficient reward. If it isn't, maybe I'll point that out. ("It's this or listening to me drone for an hour!")

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I Have an OFFICE

Today we bid farewell to the Bayside building as our library... and we moved into the new joint-use library for good! Which means... I HAVE AN OFFICE. With a desk and a door and a book cart and everything.

That's me. In my office. With the desk.

And the desk behind me? It has a crank so it can be the height of the front of the desk but it can also be a standing desk! I've wanted a standing desk for YEARS! And you can see my book cart to the right.

Yeah, I'm a little ridiculously excited about this whole office thing.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Vacation: Iceland, Day 10

Iceland, Day 10

We woke up on our last day to discover that we didn't get up early enough for a last-minute whale watching tour, so I was disappointed, but I was also well-rested, so I couldn't be too sad.

We had some time to kill, though, so Birk wanted to go eat some puffin. Yes, that's absolutely a thing in Iceland. I know they're cute, but they're probably delicious. (Think about it... ducks have more fat than chicken and they're more delicious. Puffins must have a ton of fat because of the climate they live in, so they should be even more delicious!) Based on the fact that I'm still conjecturing about what they taste like, you can probably guess that we didn't get to eat puffin. It was on the menu at a place around the corner, but (1) it was closed that early in the day, and (2) it was only on the dinner menu, not the lunch menu.

We did a little shopping and wandering, and saw Hallgrimskirkja from down the street (a big beautiful church):

We reconvened at the van, drove back to Keflavik, and got onto the plane to come home. (I watched Argo, which was very good, and most of A.I. which I've seen dozens of times before.)

In DC, we went through the slow customs process (something we didn't do ANY of at the other airports... take whatever you want to France and Iceland, apparently, but be careful bringing that jelly into the States). You declare as a family, so I declared separately, since I'm not legally family to the rest of our group (yet!)... I got straight through, then had to wait because Elaine had a sandwich. (China has H7N9 right now, so they had to go through the rigorous task of... asking her what country it came from, not hearing "China," and waving them through.)

Sultan picked up Sarah, we got back to the van, and we drove home. Except... It isn't exactly a Birk family vacation until something goes very wrong.

Yup, that's a busted-up tire. It started flapping about 4 miles before the HRBT, and went ka-chunk about a mile before it. Birk pulled over, and before we could even open a door, there was a VDOT assistance vehicle pulled up behind us. The whole process of changing the tire didn't even set us back 15 minutes, and they said they'd watch us on the traffic cams through the tunnel just in case. So, as far as vacation disasters go, it doesn't get much better than that.

We were back in the apartment (and snuggling Gimli) by 1am, happy to be home but happy to have gone on such a great vacation! Back to real life now...

The Vacation: Iceland, Day 9

Iceland, Day 9

(Again, that's day 9 of the trip, which is day 2 of Iceland.)

We spent the whole day wandering around Reykjavik, which is such a neat city. It's a perfect halfway point between Paris and home, I think. Everyone speaks English (but among themselves, they spoke Icelandic), stores let you use their bathrooms whether you buy anything or not, all the housing we saw was apartments... etc.

Yup, that's an internet meme in a sushi ad in Iceland.

If I'm not mistaken, that's the Arctic Ocean.

Still think that's the Arctic Ocean.

And that is a Lebowski Bar.

Street art is awesome in Reykjavik! (To be fair, it's also awesome in Paris.)

We were taking pictures of each other and a woman sitting in a car
in the parking lot of a fast food place called out the window to us,
asking if we were tourists and if we wanted her to take our photo together.
It was very sweet of her, and she took about a dozen for us to choose from.

Viking boat statue

The road is blocked to cars in several spots with these neon bike gates.
Also up and down this street were neon-painted benches and picnic tables.
We went to dinner at a place called Snaps (where I had the catch of the day, which was salmon, and delicious, with mashed cauliflower which was more delicious than cauliflower has any right to be, and a cabbage-and-beet slaw type of salad, which was a lot like the one you can get at Busch Gardens in the Festhaus... and therefore delicious).

Birk made me stay up til midnight so we could get this photo of the midnight sun:

The color is almost exactly right; that's what the sky looks like at
midnight in Reykjavik in July (8pm at home... I love that my phone
wanted to make sure I knew what time it was at home while I was roaming).
And thus ended our last night abroad... One day to go!

The Vacation: Iceland, Day 8

Iceland, Day 8

(To clarify, that means day 8 of the vacation, not day 8 of Iceland. We only spent two days in Iceland. You didn't miss something.)

So we got up in Paris, packed up, hopped on the shuttle van, got to Charles de Gaulle, and boarded a plane to Keflavik, Iceland. There wasn't much to photograph until we saw our apartment, so here's that.

It was impossible to describe via photo, but I'll try with words. If you walk in the front door and turn left, you work your way clockwise through the living room, bathroom, kitchen (back of the apartment), bedroom 1, bedroom 2, and you're back at the front door again. You can only move around this apartment in a circle. Halls do not exist. It was weird and unusual and very expensive because this is Reykjavik so of course it is.

On our way to dinner, we saw this! Spelled the same and everything!
I don't know what this building is, but I prefer to keep it a mystery.
We went to dinner at a seafood place called the Sea Baron, which was in a credit card commercial a while back, and the old man who owns it (and was in the commercial) is really milking that for all it's worth. He handed out postcard photos of himself from the commercial (signed on the back!) and was clearly very proud of it.

We had an assortment of foods, including their famous lobster soup (which, for someone who doesn't eat soups and isn't a big fan of lobster, was quite good) and char (a fish similar to salmon) and scallops (which I tried for the first time... not a fan, but they aren't terrible, I guess) and... WHALE. It was minke whale, and it tasted like very iron-rich steak, and it was done medium-rare, and it was delicious.

It looks like steak! Partially because of the color, partially because
of the texture, and partially because it's on Birk's plate.

The Vacation: Paris, Day 7

Paris, Day 7

Day 7 was our last day in Paris. We took it easy, sleeping in and wandering around Montmartre again.

We found this shop called Alexine... it was closed,
with a notice on the door that said something about
non-payment of some kind of bill or tax or something.

That evening, the entire family went to a cooking class. First we went to the various markets (fromagerie, boulangerie, poissonnerie...) to collect our fresh ingredients.

We took our ingredients back and started cooking!

We made a salad with haricots verts, artichoke, a yummy dressing with shallots, etc... poached then pan-fried skate with wilted spinach, Grenoblaise style... cheese plate (below)... and dessert was minced mango with ginger, sauteed pineapple with vanilla and rum, whipped cream, and crispy coconut wafer cookies. Yum!

That bright orange cheese is actually illegal in the USA, because
the thick rind is aerated by mites who tunnel through it.
After the class, we met up with Dana, who was in Paris for the weekend to see family.

And then we took our last photo in Paris:

The Vacation: Paris, Day 6

Paris, Day 6

To get some different shots of the Eiffel Tower, we started at Trocadero Gardens.

On our way to our next stops, we went through the Concorde metro station, which - on one platform - looks like this:

Check out the letters to the right of my head.
I honest-to-goodness don't know if the tile right behind
my head is an A, but let's pretend it is.
Outside of that stop is the Obelisk, which was originally erected at the Luxor Temple in Egypt. Louis-Phillippe had it brought to France, and it was placed in the Place de la Concorde in 1833. (Birk bought the beret for his international hat collection. I told him to put it on for the photo. I think he wanted that on the record.)

From there, we entered the Tuileries (gardens, not the palace) and wandered around that for a bit. We got to the other end and realized the Louvre was right there (I thought it would be further down the Seine).

No, we did not go into the Louvre. It wasn't high enough on our priority list to make the cut this time, so I guess we'll just have to go back to France! Darn...

We went back through the Tuileries to get lunch at a little stand (sandwich and Coke) and we both used a pay toilet. (Not something I would normally mention but... pay toilets. Not my favorite thing in France.)

We left the Tuileries and walked down the Seine, stopping to check out Pont Neuf and Pont de l'Archeveche (the new most-popular place for love locks).

We did not add one, but I considered it.
Then we continued on to the Ile de la Cite, where we found the Conciergerie. That's the prison that has held lots of famous people, but most notably, Marie Antoinette before her beheading. (I promise that I tried to take a photo of her cell, but I couldn't get it quite right, and it's all done up as a reconstruction which I never like anyway.)

Birk said the hall of the Conciergerie looked like Moria.
I don't disagree with that statement.
Right next door to the Conciergerie is the entrance to the Palais, inside of which you can find La Sainte-Chappelle (the Holy Chapel) which holds the most stunning display of stained glass windows you can find anywhere. My photos really don't do it justice, and you'd be better off finding Elaine's photos or just Googling it. It's just incredible.

It doesn't look half as impressive here as it does in real life. Not even 1/4 as much.
(This was the number four thing on my must-see list, and I'm so glad we went. It was soooo beautiful.)

Then we went to see the Notre Dame, which is of course large and beautiful and the bells started ringing after we got there, which is pretty cool.

The very eyes of Notre Daaaaaaaaaaame!
(Don't get it? Go watch Hunchback of Notre Dame. RIGHT NOW. DO IT.)
We went back to the apartment after that, and went to dinner at Pain Quotidien on the corner. (It's a chain that can be found in the US too, but it was still very French.) We both had tartines (open faced sandwiches). Birk had a very good beer that I swear I only photographed to see if we could find it when we got home:

 And we finished the night with Christopher's recommendation of crepe: beurre et sucre (butter and sugar)!


The Vacation: Paris, Day 5

Paris, Day 5

Okay, buckle up; we got a LOT done on this day.

First, we went to the Musee de Rodin, which was one of my top three "must-see" things on the trip, because I love Rodin's sculptures.

Birk isn't unhappy to be here; he's imitation the guy just over his shoulder.

One of my favorites (took forever to get a photo without people all up in it)

There were lots of varieties of pretty roses

I argue with a statue about his public nudity

"Sir, I really must insist..."

Birk turned into an art student for a second and took this awesome photo of Le Penseur

M. le Penseur... qui pensant

Birk with what I can only guess is the Gate to Hell

...and a tiny baby on the side of it

I couldn't take photos of The Kiss, unfortunately (it's inside, with signs about photography, and how you can't do it, and it's guarded...) So, having had our fill of sculpture, we moved on past Les Invalides.

It's a veteran's hospital that was built because Louis XIV wanted to
take care of them, but out of the public eye (because wounded vets
sort of contradict the appealing view of war he was trying to use
for recruiting). Napoleon is buried here.

Moving on from there, we found the Eiffel Tower.

So that's what it looks like.

And then Birk picked it up with his mighty grip

From there, we walked over to the Seine, crossed a bridge (I never was entirely sure which one... the next one closest to the Eiffel Tower from Pont l'Alma, I guess) and went to see the Flame of Liberty. It's a replica of the flame held by the Statue of Liberty in New York, installed as a symbol of the good nature between our two countries.

It happens to be right over top of the tunnel where Princess Diana died, so there's a lot of graffiti in her name.

When we got back to the apartment, we decided to get sushi from the place across the street (Sushi Shop) for dinner, to see what French sushi is like. (Spoiler: It's just as good as home, with their own unusual "weird" rolls, like the Fried Chicken and the Caesar.) They do delivery, but since they were right across the street, we walked over and picked it up.

Fun language story: At the bottom of the online order form, it tells you the things you can have for free (ginger, wasabi, etc) and asks how many you want of each. One of the things was "pairs of baguettes." This being France, I figured it's just because they put bread with every meal, regardless, and I couldn't understand why they'd be in pairs. So I added a pair to the cart just to see what they were like. Hey, they were free! Well, we get our food, and take it back, and discover that we only have one pair of chopsticks... Yeah, that's what they meant. Anything long and skinny is called a "baguette" there.

Pictured: baguettes. (Also, the cutest little soy sauce bottle I've ever seen.)
Later that night, we decided to check out the Musee de l'Erotisme. Yes, that's the Museum of Eroticism, appropriately placed on the street (Boulevard de Clichy) full of sex shops and strip clubs. It was very interesting... the first couple floors were artifacts and ancient art and things like that. Then there were three floors above that, each dedicated to a different artist (one photographer, one who does pencil drawings, and one - not my favorite - who did what I can only describe as crude humor in lots of different mediums). (Fair warning: the next two photos are MILDLY inappropriate. MILDLY.)

If you can't figure out why Birk's doing that, look at the small statue to the left of him.
(Your left, not his.)

There were a couple of collections of these sculptures on the walls of the first couple floors.
Caption: Phallus jardinier, arrosant sa plantation de trous de culs. Too cute.
And that is finally the end of Day 5! We got a lot done that day. Stay tuned... Day 6 was also pretty busy!