Partnerships

As the new year approaches, it’s a time of reflection of the past in attempts to improve the future. This year, with so much that transpired in 2017, I would like to focus on partnerships.

It was, essentially, the theme of the entire year. All the major events revolved around the concept of togetherness and helping each other out. Of supporting and belonging. Of friendships and partnerships.

To start with the most recent (and wordy) example, I direct your attention to my science website. I created it years ago and hosted it on Google so my students would have an organized place to go to for all their studies. It took time to set it all up and I only cared about the content, not the appearance. As time passed, I updated the site with more images and tried to color-code some of the notes. It got better and better. Eventually I moved it to my own site and updated it further.

Then I started coding and Kevin was a huge support. If I got snagged on an issue, like converting C# code into JavaScript or drawing automated Bohr models, he pitched in and gave me enough help so I could implement what he was saying but still get the heart of it done on my own. It was a true case of partnership.

Currently, I’ve been creating a Quizzler applet that lets the students study by asking them questions and showing them the correct answer. I have been creating random-question generators for each section where it makes sense to. This week’s challenge was chemical reactions.

On my own, I was able to create the program that would put together binary compounds from a list of elements. It could create four main types of chemical reactions (synthesis, decomposition, single displacement, double displacement) and display them nicely. I was even able to check whether or not the equation was balanced. What I could not do was create a way to efficiently balance the equation.

I did have one idea to use a brute force method. Because my auto-formulator would, at most, have two reactants and two products, I was able to create a nested loop to solve the balanced equation problem. There was a loop for each of the four reagents. The first loop ran 20 times for coefficients 1-20 for the first reagent. Within that loop, there was a second loop also running 20 iterations for the second reagent. So when the first loop finished its third round, the computer had gone through 60 calculations. There was a third and fourth nested loop. If it needed to run through all 20 possible coefficients, that’s 160,000 computations.

And it worked, if you were able to wait for a lengthy pause, especially if the computer chose elemental sulfur. Sulfur is able to exist as a self-bonded compound comprised of 8 atoms. This threw a major monkey wrench into the calculations, bringing some coefficients as high as 48. If I increased the loop counters to run 50 iterations, that’s 6,250,000 possibilities !!! and if the first coefficient was the high one, then it took a long time to process. It worked, but was far from ideal.

I explained this to Kevin, who then asked me to show him how to solve a chemical reaction balancing problem. We talked about it and then he offered to help with that. I’m still not comfortable with iterative functions and concepts like breadth first sesrches and having the expert offer a helping hand was wonderful.

And then he spent over 15 hours making it work. He had to parse out the compounds, find a system that balanced all four types of reactions, which he did using a system of computer-generated parallel equations (omg) which solved themselves. And he did this to support me and my students and a website that he will never make personal use of. It’s at the heart of partnership. He listened to my needs, then he offered to help, and then he followed through in a timeframe that worked for my needs.

That’s an extreme case of togetherness, but it highlights the essence of partnership. It’s not about having someone else doing work for you; it’s about working together on a task even when one of you doesn’t directly benefit except in the helping of the other.

I’ve always felt I’ve tried to be a good partner to all my friends, family, colleagues, and students. I have tried to support their needs, which sometimes means not giving a final answer but instead offering guidance. For me, I need to work on communicating more what my needs are so those who want to help are able to offer it in the best way. And the same is true in reverse. We can’t read minds and so we need to ask. It’s not always easy.

Rolling back in the year, I lost my first and most precious partner. Her first act was in carrying me and bringing me into this world. She was a support all my life, even on those tough days when I wasn’t in the mood to do homework, or by insisting we help with chores because we live in the house too. Mom fought for me in ways I never knew until later and, in some cases, will never know. And I supported her too in many ways. We worked together on major life issues and smaller events. But it wasn’t all about doing, either. We would also talk for hours about our lives and go gallavanting off to the city to see shows or head out to grab lengthy lunches. We didn’t always see things the same way, but that was healthy too because it gave us both a way to expand our thinking and ideas. It helped us not to fixate on a single problem because we were both trying to find alternate solutions.

Seeing mom always try to pitch in and guide us was a motivation for me to do more than “just enough”. She challenged me to be better and to always learn and grow. She’s a major reason I do things like create that science website, ever trying to support but always trying to expand myself. It’s a part of her that will always be with me. I will never feel like I spent enough time with her, especially in her final months before her unexpected passing. She was the center of our home and she did all she could to be a mom first, especially when we were younger, and to be partner for us as we grew older.

And to all the people who came to support us in that tragic time, from all the cards and calls, from those still reaching out, from past friends coming in and reconnecting, to my sister-in-law for coming all the way up from Virginia just to support me at the wake… It is amazing to be surrounded by so much.

In the first half of the year, we were surrounded with partnerships from all directions. As Kevin and I worked toward planning our wedding, so many people rose up and went beyond the norm to help provide us with the best experience ever. From restaurant staff at our favorite places making sure every event was done to perfection, to all the work filling sand bottles, organizing bachelor parties, to Lois and Leanne for all the details poured into our shower, to my sisters for their support, my parents for being magical parts of the day, and to my brother, my mom’s sister and family, my dad’s brother, and others from out of town for making the journey to come to the wedding. We had support from all our vendors and our officiant, who all listened to our needs, heard our responses, and adjusted as needed, seeking out and offering complementary suggestions along the way.

When I look back at it all, I’m still floored by everything. Our wedding was not a single day event. It was eleven months of friends and family coming together in support and partnership. It’s the foundation of our marriage in every way. It’s also why we wanted to incorporate everyone into our wedding plans, from the photo book invitations to the sand ceremony where every guest added to the vase.

As I venture into the new year, I’m still facing my own personal challenges and I’m physically not capable of doing as much as I wish I could. Even watching a movie is input-overload right now. But even there, people have risen up to support me and to cover for the areas where I’m struggling. My doctors are working with me, listening to my daily ups and downs, trying to find the best method of treatment to help me get back on my feet.

Life is richer when we have strong partnerships. We can try to do everything on our own, but we lose the meaning of what it is to be people. No one is really paying attention to the list of tasks we take on for ourselves. Any time I talk about all I’ve done, my friends all say, “Why didn’t you call me? We could have done that together.” I’m finally understanding that asking for help with things isn’t weakness. It’s an opportunity to let people in, to let them be a partner in my life, to enrich all of my experiences. 

And in turn, I can do the same for them.

Happy and healthy new year to you and to all of your own partnerships in the days ahead.

 

Christmas Decorations

[Picture-heavy post] When I was a kid, mom always called me Thomas Edison. I loved lights. Lightbulbs of any color fascinated me. After a trip to the firehouse one year, where they had red and green light bulbs, I wanted one. Dad had some red paint from the house in the garage so I took it up to my room with a white lightbulb, and I painted it red. I was so excited to have the red lightbulb, I brought it down to show mom. She kindly discarded the potential fire hazard but then we went to get some colorful lights.

Every year, one of my favorite activities was decorating for Christmas, from setting up the tree to convincing dad that it was okay to have more and more lights each year and that they were perfectly safe. Once I was on my own (and single again) in 2006, I was able to fully decorate my space as much as I wanted. And so I did. My challenge was always to do something different. It was my tradition; put on Harry Potter movies in the background, and while Harry worked his magic, so did I.

I will typically start decorating around Thanksgiving and keep adding things, up until my annual Christmas party. I never need house lights or lamps on once I have all the Christmas lights on. It’s even pretty easy to read books without eye strain, there are so many lights inside and outside. It’s not a competition for those houses you see on the news, but it’s my little piece of heaven.

Because of how things are at this moment, I’m not going to be able to create my extravaganza or host a party this year. So I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at the decorations from the past. Apparently, most of my photos in later years are from the parties themselves and not of decorations, so those aren’t included (to protect the innocent, of course).

Okay, here we go…

2006

My first Christmas tree of my very own

And of course lights in the bathroom hanging from the shower curtain

A little touch-up for the lamps with red and green bulbs

The doors, all wrapped with gift wrap.

Lights above and below the cabinets

The front wall and door, because why not?

The tree in the center of it all

A snowflake point of view

Across the room view

My PhD research posters made it to the festivities

Snowflakes from the ceiling

Gotta have Rudolph somewhere

The birth of Sofa Claus and Santa Chair!

Towels added to the bathroom

Even the fridge gets decorated

2007 (Not sure why there aren’t more photos…)

Little Max waiting for Kim to return from her car

How else do you wrap hangers as a gift?

Tree’s second year with all the new ornaments everyone had brought the first year

Frosty and Rudolph gadgets were added to the mix

2008

Tree year 3 at night

The beginning of the Christmas card display

Hey, down in front!

The return of Sofa Claus and Santa Chair

Red and green paper for the snacks

All the stockings were hung

Food table is ready

Lights around the door

Shiny paper for the cabinets

Goody “bags” for party attendees

Hiding the ugly shelves

The view from the zzz room

2009

A diamond of garland and lights on the ceiling

Wrapping doors with paper and lights

Now ALL the cabinets were covered

The collection atop the bookcase

The elliptical machine… as Rudolph

The tree is still kicking

Party food for an army of elves

2010

Rudolph wanted a close-up (this was before the term “selfie” was being used)

As seen on TV… oh wait, that’s a slideshow of current and past Christmas on display during the party

Flying reindeer

Rudolph returns

The long view

Wrapping that fridge and those cabinets again

Lights in the bathroom

Lights in the bedroom

Star on the ceiling

The CVS Reindeer are flying in

The north pole! (What else do you do with a large cardboard tube?)

2011

My classroom door at school (which I duplicated this year)

Santa Snuggie at school

With some “real” lighting

So many ornaments on the tree!

Closets are covered

Looking toward the restroom

Filled stockings

Sofa Claus and Santa Chair have moved

Icicles from the ceiling

Reindeer in the kitchen

Glowing orb

New lights for the bathroom

Glowing gifts

A tree of lights for the ceiling

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s house

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s tree

2012

Shiny door

Song puns in pictures

A periodic table shower curtain, complete with errors

The rainbow room

Even the outside of the door to my apartment was decked out

The bows and ribbons that had been attached to gifts from Kevin’s mom and aunt

The kitchen

Looking into the blue room

The tree

Wreath on the window

Witchy the Snowman

Critters on gifts

The overview

The view

Santa snuggy on a lamp

Comfy!

Display cases with backlighting

The holidays can be puzzling… Classroom door in a year where I taught HS physics and so had fewer 7th graders

2013 (First year in Kevin’s house)

Santa Claws

With the new surround sound system!

Our house

Our house aglow

Merlin in the tree

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s house

Mom loved these reindeer

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s house

Mom and Dad’s tree

Classroom fireplace with stockings and window

2014

Merlin helping to assemble the tree

Cutest gift under the tree

More decorations

Aglow!

Across the way

Fireplace

Basement decorations

Ribbon tree, in memorium for Kevin’s mom

2015

Merlin helping with the decorations

Santa Max

Monty’s turn to help

Our House

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s house

2016

Party food

Santa travels by balloon when the reindeer are on vacation

Peek-a-boo

Do you see a Monty?

The tree — before ornaments

Tree-trimming Time Lapse video: 2016-12-11 13.57.55

 

 

Depression

There are many different types of depression and it affects everyone differently. Some of the common symptoms include loss of motivation for things you once enjoyed doing, difficulty sleeping or eating, low energy, poor self-image, and difficulty concentrating. Depression affects people of all ages. Sometimes it is prompted by a drastic change in circumstance. Other times, the cause is unknown. There are genetic tendencies; in other words, it can run in the family. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

 

It is difficult for me to say this, but I have been struggling with a form of depression since this past summer.

 

At first, I didn’t know what was wrong. I was tired. I couldn’t do things like I used to. I didn’t want to write or play video games – two of my favorite hobbies. I was content collapsing on the sofa binge-watching TV show after TV show. Seriously, I watched all seasons of The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow, Supergirl, and Marvel’s Agents of Shield, not to mention a dozen or so movies. It’s crazy.

 

We were renovating our upstairs and we were proud of the work we were doing, but it was so hard to get things done. I used to be able to paint a whole room on my own in a day, but here it was taking much longer in smaller rooms. It wasn’t adding up.

 

School started and I was back to my regular schedule. Usually by the end of the first week, I know 98% of my students’ names. This year it took me three weeks to know them without hesitation. I missed a handful of days because I just couldn’t get moving in the morning and I felt unsafe to drive.

 

I was also finding it hard to make decisions, whether big or small. I couldn’t choose things. I couldn’t commit. My brain just wasn’t cooperating. My good friend got married and I had to push myself onto the dance floor, and I’m usually the one who has to be reminded to sit and eat.

 

In October, as I was looking back, I realized I was a shell of my former self and it was time to seek help. Even getting to the doctor’s office was a wild chore. I was misled by GPS on one turn and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, so I drove around this extra loop for twenty minutes. I was in tears by the time I got there.

 

I have been on medication ever since. The first one helped me reclaim some of my energy but I was so dizzy, it defeated the purpose. The new medicine, I’ve had to wean myself onto very slowly. I’ve had three major concussions in my life and the doctor is trying to ensure I don’t have a similar reaction. It makes sense to take it slow, but I wish it would just work.

 

Each day is random for me. Many days, each hour is random. There are times that talking is a challenge. I have a hard time in groups because of all the interactions that take place. And concentration of any kind is draining. 

 

What does this mean? My life passion of teaching has been extremely difficult. I’m the teacher who jumps on desks and sings songs and walks around the room. I do 5000 steps just from being on my feet. But this year, I’ve had to sit for most of my lessons. There has been more group-work time for the students. (That’s not a bad thing, actually.) It takes longer for me to grade things. And most unfortunately, I can’t always be there. It breaks my heart that my students aren’t getting the absolute best of me, but they’re getting the best of what I’m currently capable of.

 

I spend every off minute I can recuperating. I’ve asked for help where I can and I pace myself the rest of the time. With any luck, as the medicine does its thing, I’ll be more and more my old self.

 

On the one hand, I’m lucky because I don’t have the worst of the emotional symptoms of depression. Most of my feelings are due to knowing that I’m not able to do more right now. And I don’t know how to accept that. Everyone has been patient with me and I’m grateful for that. There are times where I just need to sit in silence and let my brain calm down and relax.

 

 

Photo by Mike Dennler on Unsplash.com

I feel like I am a smaller version of myself trying to pilot the full-size version of me. Think how exhausting that would be if each action, like moving your arm, required concentrated effort to move while also being several times its normal size. That’s about how it has felt. Every action is a chore. Draining. Difficult. Every day is like climbing a mountain in fog.

 

I’m mostly in cheerier spirits and I try to focus on happiness and on the things I have been able to do. I try to keep up with my awful puns, even if I can’t say them in the moment. I try to keep with my usual routines and that means getting out of the house for more than just work.

 

They say it’s one day at a time. I often feel like it’s one hour at a time. I push through where I can, I rest when I must, I do what I can, and I have to let the rest go. I’m glad I sought help when I did. Things would have gotten so much worse if I hadn’t. I’ve always tried to be the trooper and fight through, but sometimes we just need help. For me, this was one of those times.

 

And with all this going on, my mom suddenly, unexpectedly passed away one month ago. I don’t even know how to handle that on top of everything else. Some days it feels more real than others, that she is gone and I can never talk to her again or do lunch or go to a show. Other days it feels like I just haven’t called her recently. It is a strange pain. But I have her kitty with me everyday, a gentle reminder of how much love she had for the world around her.

 

I share this in case you are going through difficult times. Don’t let yourself suffer. Get help sooner, not later. There is no hero award for making it through without help. And to all those who see me with a little less bounce in my step, this is why. I’m ok. I’m just struggling. To my family and friends, let’s still get together and have some laughs. I will need rest breaks but it’s just how I have to cope right now. To my students, your well-being and education are still my priority. I’m just a little slower but I’ll be ok.


I’m not asking for sympathy, just understanding and patience. There are plenty of people literally fighting for their lives who are in worse situations than this. My heart goes out to those of you dealing with such things. May you find your light and hope in the days ahead.