It’s not easy being human

When you were tiny, your humans fed you, bathed you, dressed you, hugged you and gloried when all you did was smile at them or sleep through the night.

When you rolled over, sat up, and pulled yourself to standing they applauded.

You learned to color, and worked hard to get better, trying to color inside the lines.

You learned your letters, how to count, and read and add. You never gave up. You just kept getting smarter and stronger and your humans nudged you along and picked you up when you fell.

You learned to run, you ran faster. To jump, you jumped higher. You shot free throws and tried to make ten in a row. All of life is about the challenge. We feel most human when we stretch ourselves to see how much farther, how much better we can be.

I teach a very challenging college science course. This course is so hard, my doctor squirms when I quiz him on drug molecular structures and functional groups and stereocenters and why interactions between drugs might happen. And my students stretch. They work. They come to class. They try.

I wish they interacted more, but they are timid behind their COVID masks fresh from online “learning” environments. They are improving and trying. With time they’ll relax with me and learn to trust the loud woman behind the mask. I can ask for nothing more. Well, maybe a larger salary, but that’s another (whiny) post for another rainy day.

It’s Tuesday, so here’s your update: another week of about 10% decrease in US COVID-19 cases. That’s good. Keep it up.

TWL: 4 week update

I almost missed a Tuesday update. I almost completely forgot to do this on the 91st week since I started tracking and blogging the pandemic. I almost fell asleep and shirked my duties, exhausted by normal life, my job, driving, laundry, the neighbor’s dog pooping on my lawn, email, a Zoom meeting, seeing an old friend, editing a book, making coffee. But here I am awake and still at it.

It’s a 4-week update Tuesday and as you can see from the handy dandy graph, 3.2 million sick Americans in the last 4 weeks. That’s one percent of us, one out of every 100 of us are still sick while a vaccine is available. Still spreading the virus while we’re all still wearing masks for them. The idiocy is unfathomable.

At least cases are slowing down. Now we can wait for the next variant to hit for the holiday season and the winter surge. Always an optimist, this one.

unaware nevermore

A year ago I posted a puzzle, and so far to my knowledge only three people have solved it. In the middle of last night, while I worried about insomnia, another puzzle came to me. Try it.

These words fit in the unaware nevermore puzzle:

zero morons, one scarecrow, seven women, azure cosmos, sun screen, mauve moon, erroneous venus, unaware uranus, mars ocean, mourn men, warn woman, oreo mom, xenon or neon, crave romance, measure once, crown concern, namesake reason, cavernous museum, exude or ooze aura, cancer snooze, cameraman zone, revenue razor, rum scene, morose zoo, summer cow, moose ear, excess oxen, swan menace, worm curve, mouse nose, ares ram, mean wren, arm marrow, sour carcass, ever armor, we seem, see us, uncover me, serene snooze, sue sure can answer now

When you figure out the criteria (or think you did), post other words that fit the list (and at least one that does not) in the comments.

Fall Break

Today is the first day of Fall Break. We have not had a semester break in a year. Last fall we taught without a day off until Thanksgiving to keep everyone from traveling in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID. (That didn’t work.) Without a day off, it was grueling. In the spring, they decided to try someone else’s brilliant idea: they spread the five days of Spring Break out in individual days. The result: professors worked every day anyway because what can you do with a Tuesday off except plan for Wednesday? And many students took their own week off anyway. So they gave us back our 4-day weekend at the midpoint of the fall semester and it is glorious. Here are some thoughts dancing in my happy head.

No email. No teaching. No parking. No grading.

Just coffee. And napping. And reading. And baking.

No mask. No headache. No traffic. No shoes.

Just grilled cheese. And soccer. And cornhole. And booze.

No alarm clock. No hairbrush. No getting dressed.

Just piano. And singing. And Netflix. And rest.



Breathing, talking, teaching, policing, not sleeping, not crying

If we breathe in and out 16 times per minute, and each breath is about a half a liter, we consume only about 8 liters of air per minute. In those 8 liters, at sea level and at room temperature, there are 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 particles. Most are diatomic nitrogen. Enough are delicious oxygen. In the South, too many are H2O molecules. During this damn pandemic, some are COVID-19 particles recently breathed out and ready to stick in your hair, or breathe up your nose, or land in your open water bottle.

If I teach 75 minutes, I take 75 x 16 breaths while I teach, and consume 600 liters of air–pulling it through the mask and blowing it back out with my wimpy lungs. The mask gets wet. My lungs struggle, reminding me of my wheezing in the last miles of a half-marathon. I have to project as I teach so the students can hear me so it feels like I yell for the whole time. When lecture ends I feel like I sprinted a few miles. The kids file out and the next group comes in and I do it again for 75 more minutes.

In a lecture with 120 students, together we consume 120 x 600 liters, or 72,000 liters of air. A liter is a cubic decimeter–about the size of a good box to wrap a coffee mug in when you give it as a gift. Could we fit 72,000 coffee mug boxes in the lecture hall?

Let’s see. By my estimation, there are about a million liters of air available in the largest lecture hall where I teach. So we’re breathing less than 10% of the air in the room, but we are certainly sharing gulps, molecules, virus particles–especially between the students who don’t spread out and sit shoulder to shoulder, and those heavy particles do hang down in the bottom 5 feet with us air-breathing mammals.

Teaching in a mask is exhausting and I can’t see students’ faces so I receive no non-verbal feedback. They can’t read my face either so they’re afraid to participate. That sure cuts down on the verbal feedback. They spent the last two and a half semesters in online lecture so they can’t remember how to participate. Statistically 40 of them are not vaccinated, so they have caught (or will catch) the disease. Some have been exposed and been forced to isolate for ten days, and then do catch it and are forced out another 10-14 days–missing so much instruction. The safety net of recorded lectures and live streaming lectures from before the availability of the vaccine when classes were remote is gone. Students overwhelmingly chose face to face instruction so I am required to provide it–certainly before the danger has passed. Students are angry, annoyed, and frustrated about the masks and want to wear them on their chins or not at all. They want free masks provided to them. I must remind them every lecture to breathe through the mask and not above it. They have survived for almost two decades of life; they are not children. And still they must be told. The other 100 students appreciate my diligence. Many have told me so.

When the second group leaves, I have a mile to walk back to my office but I have to clean up my teaching mess. Students for the next professor’s lecture stream in before she gets there. I have to tell those kids to put on their masks. They grumble and glare. One kid today ignored me and had to be told twice before I could leave the lecture hall. He patiently eye-rolled and explained his situation so I’d understand why it was ok for him to be in the building where masks are required, but it was ok for him to break the rule due to his personal exception.

He said, “I’m on the phone.”

My turn to eye roll. He put on his mask and I limped back across campus under my heavy bag.


This week in COVID in the US, only 720,000 new cases so the downward trend continues. “Only” 100,000 new sick people each day. The current number of new cases is very close to the number of deaths-so-far-due-to-COVID. It’s taken about 90 weeks of this hell to kill 700,000 of our friends and family. We can continue to be careful, continue to carry on, try not to whine too much about the physical burden of teaching in a mask–as we watch in horror while the next 700,000 deaths insist on happening among the unvaccinated. It’s too sad, just too heavy a burden to carry, especially when I receive reports weekly of my sick students and their dying family members, especially when we have protection and can prevent this pain.