Sunday, June 17, 2018

Moving and growing

My friends N and S bought a new house. It is a wonderful house, with more bedrooms and bathrooms and a gorgeous view of a wooded park. They have been househunting for a year or two, so I was excited when they closed the deal on the new house (but probably not as excited as their realtor was). I can only imagine how much work it is to move a family of four and all of their stuff from one house that needs repairs to a second house that needs repairs, but I did my best last weekend to assist a bit. I packed, I mopped, I took apart furniture, and I unpacked. I surveyed the mountain of boxes that is their home. And then I came home and solemnly swore to get rid of even more of my belongings.

In the meantime, my garden has been soaking up all the glorious sun and rain in the last month, and growing like mad. Of course, so have the weeds, so this weekend I tried to get more of it under control. The snapshot taken this morning shows two lovely patches of petunias, gifted to me by a friend. There are dying yellow pea plants, and knee-high tomatoes. I'm eating spinach, chard, peas, and raspberries, and I'm hoping in a few weeks to see some zucchinis. Of course, a few weeks after that I will hope to never see a zucchini again...

Saturday, June 02, 2018

What I get paid to do

Once every few months, I end up running a workshop or a conference. Today was a 40-person meeting where we helped teach professors and graduate students how to run conferences, since every January we run about a dozen of them simultaneously to encourage women to keep studying physics.

It's sometimes hard to understand what someone else does when it's not your field. For example, my cousin AinA works in sales, which I know means she tries to convince people to buy stuff, but I'm not actually quite sure what she does all day long.* If you've ever wondered what I do, you're in luck today. Nature is one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, and this week they published something about a project that my department works on. If you want to read about the types of things I do, you can here, or you can listen to the podcast here (minutes 0-7).

*In truth, I suspect that the answer for my cousin is the same as the answer for me: we write emails for a living.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Worker Bees, aka Bathroom Installation, Part 5

If I ever wondered how I came to be the kind of person that is always doing things and never sitting down to rest, a week with my parents will clear that right up. They just finished a visit to my house. Keep in mind that they are both in the seventies. In spite of that, my mother weeded my entire garden, and spaded up several beds. She mowed my lawn and walked the dog. She made meals and planted about a dozen different vegetables. This morning, before they packed up and left for the eight-hour drive, she vacuumed.

What was my father doing during all of this? He led the construction. We finished the subfloor, which is the plywood layer that supports the floor covering. We laid vinyl flooring, then covered it up with cardboard so that it won't get damaged during the rest of the work. He installed two-thirds of the drains, and project managed friends that came over to help. We framed out two walls, installed the base of the toilet, and ran the water hoses up from the basement.

And me? I'm an apprentice. I sand, and I sweep. I apply plumbing cement and cut pipes as instructed. I go to Home Depot twice a day to buy parts, and I fetch the hammers and measuring tapes from wherever they were last cast aside. I'm learning a ton, and I can see the glimmer of an actual bathroom emerging.

Sunday, April 29, 2018


Here are some random things I've been thinking about lately.

Since I have one deaf and one nearly-deaf animal, I have to communicate with them differently. I still catch myself talking to them, but I'm working to always include hand signals. For the dog, that will help her to see what command I'm giving. Cats don't obey commands, of course, but I do find the cat is more likely to climb into my lap if I catch her eye and give her a welcoming wave. I'm thinking about installing a some sort of flashing light in my bedroom that I can activate remotely, because I'd like to be able to "call" the dog from downstairs with ease.
Sometimes when I'm telling people about my career trajectory, or at least the last fifteen years of it, I sum it up as "my job is to get people to do the things I want them to do." Usually, thankfully, these are things that people sort of want to do, but don't have the time or energy to do. In physics education, this getting students to interact with each other and the ideas in the ways that I knew would help them learn best. In my work with education and diversity, it's about helping professors (who have the desire but not the time) to make their classes and departments a place where all students can succeed. Now, as a manager, it's about helping my team do their work more effectively. In all cases, the training that I received in science education has been invaluable - if you alter the environment, the context and the rewards in the right ways, it's just easier for people to do the thing that I want them to do than not. And since that's usually a thing they intended to do, everyone is happy.
Google has decided that I am gluten-free and sends me recipes every day. Thus far I have been unable to convince it that I do not ever need to make gluten-free, grain-free bagels. If I were eating gluten-free, I think I would not ever want to eat a torus made of egg and cheese called a bagel. Then again, I eat veggie burgers, but only if they taste nothing like meat - no bleeding burgers for me.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


The next month of work promises to be pretty difficult. We are short staffed, as perennially seems to be the case, and I'm going to have to take some extra supervisory work. I'm pleased that my boss thinks that I can handle it, but it means that May looms a bit in my mind.

When work is difficult, I try my very best to do completely distracting things during the weekends. Lately, many of them involve hard labor. Last week, I hauled loads of compost and mulch from the city mulch center, and spread them on the beds, which meant lots and lots of shoveling and a car that will harbor little piles of dirt in the cracks and crevices for the next few months.  I hope that each year, as I add compost, my garden soil will be a little bit nicer, but this is playing the long game. In the short term, I had to deal with my aching back, and arms that I couldn't lift above my shoulders for a day or two.

This week I was able to help my friends S&N with their roofing work. The roof that they need to replace is only one story high, thank goodness, but that still feels quite high when you are up there. I asked to be tied to the house with a rope harness, so that I couldn't fall all the way to the ground. This made me feel quite secure, and I walked around with relative ease. I spent most of the afternoon tethered on the roof outside in the sun, but it was a relatively pleasant day, and I could stop and hear the birds sing in between scraping shingles. Again, it was pretty hard physical labor, and I attacked the beer and pizza when dinner time arrived.

The big news at home is that the asparagus has arrived. I've been waiting three years to pick the first stalks, and they are every bit as delightful as I hoped. Asparagus is a funny looking plant. While most plants have the produce nestled in leafy bushes or under ground, asparagus looks like what would happen if you gave a bunch of stalks from the grocery store to a three-year-old and asked her to plant them in the dirt, i.e. this. I think I could have eaten it for a month straight, but because it's the first year I've only had enough for four or five meals. It is delightful, however, to think that I could be eating from these same plants for the next two decades.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Vacation Roundup

I'm back home now and have access to a computer, so I thought I'd close with highlight reel of my favorite memories from the trip.
Eating beignets. This cafe in the City Park sells beignets 24 hours a day to meet all the beignet needs of New Orleans. 
My brother wondered how wide the streetcar tracks were laid, so I used the 5'2" measuring stick that I carry with me at all times.
 My brother and his lovely wife at the cemetery where the tour guide makes stuff up.
The kids loved collecting the beads that are strewn on trees throughout the city, which meant that they spent most of the vacation being hoisted up by my brother or standing on each other's shoulders to reach the best beads. In the end, they only took a few of their favorite strings home, and my niece and I rehung all the extras on foliage outside our house.
There was tire swing in a park near our house, which was visited multiple times. Considering how many times one of the kids almost got beaned by a speeding, child-laden tire, I'm amazed that such a swing can remain in today's litigious society. Still, it turns out the kids are very good at quickly ducking.
My father bought the t-shirt in black. Clearly I now need to move to New York, as I refuse to live in Cleveland.
I plotted how to get this cocktail the entire week, but only managed to procure it on my final day, after the rest of the family had left and I had time to putz around the city. It's a Ramos Gin Fizz, one of the roughly dozen cocktails that they claim have been invented in NOLA. It takes an egg white and about ten minutes of preparation to achieve that towering foam with the straw balanced on top. It was delicious.

Friday, April 06, 2018


     My brother and I are a lot alike. We both like spreadsheets, and logic (one programmer, one physicist). We are both project managers and can DIY most broken things. (My father, of course, can DIY any broken thing.) On this trip I discovered another interest we have in common: fact-checking tour guides. Some of the errors are easy to spot because of our professions- my brother notices that a 3D printer doesn't work the way the guide at the Mardi Gras museum says it does, and I known you can't use radiocarbon dating to determine the ancestry of a corpse. Some "facts" just don't pass the plausibility test- some random New Orleans gentleman was richer than Gates, Trump, and the Kardashians put together? Some quick googling shows the numbers are off by a magnitude of a thousand.
      On one hand, it's fun to figure out the errors together. On the other hand, it's a bit disappointing that the tour guides aren't more factual. In any case, it's good that our mother raised us to be polite enough to save our nit-picking for when we are out of earshot of the tour guide.