Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Old friends

     My long-time friend M and her daughter J were my most recent visitors. M and I got our PhDs at the same time - I can remember when we made the rule that only one of could cry about an E&M (Electromagnetism) exam at one time, so the other could do the comforting. Luckily, those days are long past, and now we both have "Dr" in front of our names and work for science education nonprofits. But M still gets tipsy on one glass of wine and I still over-plan all our get-togethers.
     Her daughter J is now five years old and she fell in love with Molly the cat. This suited Molly just fine, as there is nothing she wants more than to have someone pet her continuously and remark on her every meow. I hope to use Molly as bait to lure them both back for a future visit.
     Unfortunately, I was under the weather at the end of their visit, and still haven't recovered. I feel exhausted, but not quite sick enough to need to stay home in bed. I was just tired enough that I forgot to smile all day Sunday, which probably wasn't pleasant for my house guests. Now I'm just wading through a week with twenty-two hours of scheduled meetings. (I counted.) I normally have a lot of meetings, but this is an especially dense distribution, and it's probably not helping my energy levels.

Friday, April 14, 2017

      The parade of visitors using my guest room continues unabated. I need to update on last weekend's activities before I can let myself have fun this weekend.
     My parents' visit was all about the project, of course. I made a (huge) master list of everything that needs to be repaired in my house or vehicles, then narrowed it down to the top ten things I was stuck on. We decided to be official and have people sign off on the completed projects.
     I was very pleased with our accomplishments. When we didn't have time to complete things, my father surveyed the situation and gave me his expert advice on how to proceed, so I have about five projects that are underway right now. 
     The most exciting result of the weekend is my newly-powered bicycle. About a month ago, I decided that I would bite the bullet (and really, I probably need to bite a bullet to stop the pain, as I am so loathe to spend great sums of money) and buy an electric bike kit. After a year of cycling to work on the commute from my new house, I was still walking the bike up a few hills each way. And when I get home from work, I always have to sit and rest a bit before I can walk the dog. The kit I found has an electric motor in the front wheel hub, so you just change out the front wheel on your existing bicycle, wire it up to a battery, and off you go.
My friend S and his wife came over for dinner, but before we let them eat, my father and S installed the kit. Of course, nothing ever goes quite as smoothly as you hope, and my father needed to modify my bike to make it all work. 
Filing the forks - proof that I helped a bit.

The motor is designed to give you a boost when you're already pedaling (this its name Hilltopper) and it's just what I need. Roundtrip, I have a ten-mile, somewhat hilly ride, but now it feels like a six-mile, flat ride. I'm hoping the result is that I ride even more often to work, and I will be especially grateful to avoid the strenuous rides as the summer heat and humidity approaches. Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, April 03, 2017

An academic party

     This weekend I basically went to a class reunion for my PhD. My advisor turned 75 and the university organized a celebration. When regular people celebrate, they drink a lot and dance. When academics celebrate, the drink a lot and go to talks. So there were receptions, lectures on the many topics he has studied in his career, and physicists from all over the globe, who came to celebrate my advisor, talk about physics education research, and drink wine.
     In the picture, you can see my advisor (I actually had two PhD advisors, but that ruins that narrative) seated in front, with all of the students and postdocs who studied with him. Some of the people who were getting their PhDs at the same time as me stayed in research, so I regularly see them at conferences. But others decided to teach, or to become lawyers or make policy, so I hadn't talked to many in years. It was simply delightful to find out how many kids they now had, or what kind of awesome job they had.
     It was also heartwarming to hear all the great stories about my advisor. I have fond memories of him because he had faith in me for years, even when I kept failing my qualifying exams. But I am just one of many people who had positive memories of his intellectual curiosity and his unwavering support of his students. As a result, I left resolving to myself to be a better mentor to others.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Anti-social

     One of the reasons I wanted to own a home was to have a guest room. I thought it was high time that my parents quit sleeping on the couch in the living room, and I wanted to be able to offer a comfortable place to friends when they came to visit. Well, they're coming to visit. Many of them. Next month I'll have guests for four weekends in a row. Every one had a different reason - my former thesis advisor is being feted, a friend's kid had Easter Monday off so it was a good time to travel, and so on.
     I'm delighted to see them all, but I purposefully kept March as low-social-event month so I could build up some socializing reserve. Instead, I caught up on projects, since I won't have much spare time in April. My mother made me a dressing gown from a vintage 1940's pattern, and I had to finish the hand-sewing on it. I am expanding the gardens in the back yard by five square meters, and I hauled in extra dirt and compost for them. I replaced two switches to my hallway light (which took me four tries, two calls with my dad, and the help of my friend N). I replaced my kitchen light. I snaked my drains which is most definitely the most disgusting homeowner job I've done so far (from now on, I will be seeking only roommates who are bald).
     And the guest room is ready: I added bedding, extra shelves, a luggage stand, and a reading light. Bring on the people!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pre-spring

     The past month or so have been very busy at work, with a conference in Atlanta and a two-day meeting in Virginia, so I used a vacation day today. It was delightful to have a weekday off without any need to visit anyone, so I thought carefully about how I could use the day to the best advantage. My decision was to shovel compost. The city only sells compost on weekdays before 3pm, so it's quite difficult to manage it when I'm working and this seemed like a good solution. The only catch was that we were hit with a winter storm on Tuesday, and it's still pretty wintery. (My Minnesota family will laugh when I say that our 3" shut down the city, but that's what happens when you live in the almost-south.)
     The good part was that shoveling frozen compost meant it wasn't too muddy, but hauling the wheelbarrow across the snow was difficult. It's a bit jarring to see the fresh brown compost laying on top of the snow, but I figure that in a few days it will warm up, the snow will melt, and the compost will be right on top of the beds where I want it.
     My basement is filled with tiny pots of soil under the grow lights, where I soon expect to see tomato and eggplant seedlings. Today didn't feel like spring, but it's tantalizingly close.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jam

I love making jam, but I only eat about two pints per year. In physics terms, this would result in a net positive flux of jam, except that it turns out that homemade jam makes a great hostess gift.

This year I made cherry, apple butter, and, just this weekend, blood orange marmalade. I'll be having the marmalade for dinner tonight, since it is Pancake Day. But there will still be plenty left in my larder. And if you'd like some, now you know what to do- just invite me over for dinner.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just plain lucky

I just got back from Atlanta, where I was helping to run a 100-person conference. Now that I've recovered from the twelve-hour days and the people overload, here are some things that I am grateful for.

  1. I have a job that makes the world a better place. Like everyone else, my job has ups and downs and sometimes all I do is write email all day long. But there are people out there who have studied physics, become teachers, and discovered that people just like them can be scientists because of the programs I help run. This is immensely rewarding.
  2. Having a cat again, especially one that would prefer to sit in my lap all day long.
  3. A work friend who carefully noted the date of Andrew's birthday, and then, a year later, brought me a plant and a card to cheer me up on that always-bleak day.
  4. Living now, in the era of anesthesia for operations, safe drinking water, and wonderfully insulated homes.
  5. My brand-new currant bush, a Christmas gift from my in-laws, that I planted this morning. I am crossing my fingers and hoping that I'll have at least a bite or two of fruit this year.