Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weird weather and a garden that grows too well

Whoever is in control of the weather this summer apparently decided that late April or early May has the ideal weather, and so they would just replay it over and over again instead of giving the normal warm and humid summer weather. This has irritated a lot of people, but it was just fine with me, because I really hate warm and humid weather. Then again, I really hate cold weather, too. My ideal climate would never go above 70 degrees or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (that's between 10 and 21 degrees Celsius for all you non-Americans who insist on using slightly more rational systems of measurement). Then, this week, the weather went back to being seasonal, i.e., warm and humid. Well, the window air conditioners are finally getting a workout after sitting around and doing little but collect dust for over 2 months.

The cool, rainy weather has been great for my lawn and garden. Actually, that's a lie, since I don't have any lawn and garden, since I don't own any land. What I do have is my father's lawn and garden, which I help take care of, and often lapse into thinking of as sort of mine. The gardens are what really stand out. As I grew up, I watched Mom expand the gardens over a larger and larger portion of the yard, and at times I took a casual interest in gardening myself. Mom passed away from cancer in late 2006, and my father and I have tried to keep up the gardens since then. Unfortunately for the gardens, neither of us has the dedication that mom did, and so the nicely arranged cultivated plants are often mixed in with quite a few wildflowers and outright unattractive weeds. I will periodically attack the weeds in part or all of the garden, then see a whole fresh crop of weeds come up, sometimes in just a few days. The rainy summer seems to have encouraged an especially lush growth of weeds.

Still, some of the unasked-for plants have turned out to be very attractive wildflowers, and I've kept most of those, which leads to a somewhat chaotic and unkempt but colorful garden:

There was once a grove of pine trees here. Then, there was an above-ground swimming pool.
Then, there was a formal garden, which a certain amount of benign neglect
is in the process of turning into a wildflower patch. At least it's colorful.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sibling non-rivalry, or me as the family underachiever

My younger brother flew in yesterday evening and is staying here for the next few days while he attends and presents a paper at a computer science conference being held at MIT. He currently lives in Germany, is married and has a daughter, and is close to getting his PhD. This sometimes makes me feel a little ashamed of what seems to be my own relative lack of achievement. Of course, it doesn't take much to make me feel ashamed, but still ...

I am the oldest of three brothers. I never had a sister - I think that Mom would have liked at least one daughter, but after having three sons, she resigned herself to being the only woman in the family. Stereotypically, I get the impression that the oldest brother is supposed to be the overachiever, the one that the younger brothers alternately admire and fear a little. Unfortunately, I totally dropped the ball when it came to being a stereotypical older brother. I was never an overachiever, and I often hovered precariously on the edge of being a complete underachiever. I also totally failed in my assigned role of keeping my younger brothers in a state of fearful awe. I mostly kept to myself and struggled with mental and emotional problems that turned out to be Obsessive Compulsive disorder, leaving my younger brothers without either a positive role model or someone who would keep them in line through a combination of respect and sheer terror. Since I was a rather distant figure, lost in my own little world most of the time, my brothers went their own separate ways, and also cultivated a strong rivalry with each other.

So, years passed. If I went into too much detail, this post could turn into a short book, so I'll have to jump to the present day. Suffice it to say that the oldest brother (that would be me) currently works at a non-profit organization, lives at home with his father, and shows no signs of ever getting married or having a family. He also spent almost 7 years working in a job that had nothing to do with anything that he studied, and never became a real academic who actually does research and publishes papers and all of the other things that real academics do. The middle brother is close to getting a PhD in computer science, is married, has a daughter, lives overseas, and is completely bilingual in German and English. The youngest brother is a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, has a master's degree in physics, has been a co-author on several papers, and will soon be starting a PhD program. It's pretty clear that the oldest brother is the underachiever of the group.

I am very creative at thinking up of reasons why I should feel inferior to just about everyone else around me. A lot of those reasons are probably total bs, but some of them are pretty solid.

Good news from my employer

There was a talk this morning about how my (non-profit) employer is doing, financially. The very short version is that we are doing better than expected given the general financial situation, and that there will definitely not be any more layoffs in the near future. This is especially good news to me because I'm still a pretty junior employee who has only been working here for a year and a half.