Monday, November 13, 2017


     One of the highlights of my trip was watching my brother and niece run obstacle races. This was a new experience for me. We drove 90 minutes outside of San Francisco to a ranch where they raise cattle and occasionally host thousands of people at outdoor events. They set up a bunch of obstacles, like barriers to scale, tractor tires to pry up and heave over, sandbags to trundle long distances, and rows of fiery, burning logs to hurdle. Luckily, the kids' race omitted the fire, although it added spears.

     As a committed non-exerciser, this all seemed a bit crazy to me. I can't imagine voluntarily participating in such activities, much less paying a hefty admission fee to do so. Luckily, my job was to be the proud aunt/sister, take pictures, and drink the free beer that my non-imbibing brother didn't want. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

On Holiday

I'm on vacation in San Francisco, or at least in a close suburb of San Francisco where my brother and his family live. This trip was something I badly needed. We've been short staffed at work, and we recently hired some temps. This was a good long-term decision, but in the short term it meant that I was training two people while looking for a permanent hire and doing my regular work. Several times a week, I have suddenly discovered that I overlooked something and needed urgent help from others to clean things up. While mt boss pointed out that this just means I'm human, I pride myself on being the kind of person that doesn't let balls drop and I'm grateful for a week off to recharge.

Trips to see my brother and his family are the perfect pace for me. Since everyone works or goes to school, I can sight-see or read during the day and then hang out with the family in the evening. This is just the right amount of people time for me. On this trip, I have three goals*: spend time with family, study Spanish, and learn about the building code for plumbing work in my county. That's everyone's idea of a good time, right?

*Because even when I'm on holiday I have goals.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Not-so-imposter syndrome

     Today my boss' boss walked into my office and told me she was supposed to make some opening remarks at a conference in two hours, but wouldn't be able to attend. Since my boss wasn't around, could I do it? Well, of course the answer was yes. I scribbled down the talking points she suggested, wrote them into notes, and then biked home to change into my suit and speed off to the conference. When I started this job, an assignment like this would have made me quite nervous. While things like this don't happen every day, I can now handle this pretty easily.
     My cousin recently wrote about imposter syndrome. This is something that comes up frequently in my work, particularly for scientists from underrepresented groups. I sometimes felt like an imposter while in graduate school, but now it's rare, and I'm really grateful for that change. I have a pretty decent sense of the parts of my job that I'm good at, and I've been lucky enough to have bosses and co-workers that give positive feedback. Instead, I find myself amazed that I can do my job. In this job, I have quite a bit of authority - I make recommendations about funding, I suggest how ideas should be presented, and I can be called on to represent the organization. People in the community ask my advice. When that happens, I (not infrequently) have something useful to tell them.
     And that just keeps surprising me. It feels like it wasn't that long ago that I was paid to mop floors and clean toilets, and here I am, a physicist, giving advice that physicists listen to. I guess that's what it means to get an education and work experience, but still, isn't that a little bit amazing?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mainly treats

Once a year I expect my dog to earn her keep by wearing a silly costume and entertaining me and the entire neighborhood. She's a dog, and is highly evolved to make humans happy, so she complies.

Halloween was a success this year, primarily because I remembered to purchase candy. Last year I forgot, and remembered only on October 31st, as I was returning from a business trip at 8pm dragging my suitcase from the metro stop. I had to sneak in my back door because I didn't want kids to see me coming home and then have to admit that I had no candy.

My current roommate is from Thailand and this was his first Halloween. It's such an American holiday! He had fun passing out candy and complimenting all the little kids on their costumes. I taught him how to gently harass the teenagers who show up without costumes - but of course I give them candy anyway, after ribbing them a bit. I just want to reinforce the social contract: you show up at my door in a costume and say "trick or treat" and I give you a handful of nutritionally deficient food and tell you happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


     On the spur of the moment last week, I decided to go camping. It's getting a little cold for tents, but there were no cabins available at the state parks. However, I found a camper that was being offered on AirBnB. Set up next to someone's house in rural Virginia, it was essentially a cabin plus en suite bathroom and kitchen.
     This was just the place for me to do a little refresher course based on the retreat I did last year. I walked, read books about philosophy, and took stock of the year. I checked in on my goals from last year (prognosis: some I had achieved and some I hadn't even remembered). It was a terrific break from life, and I might even try to do this every year.
     I decided to do some hiking while I was there, and found a five-mile trail rated "moderate" which ran along a tiny portion of the Applachian trail. Alas, the rating turned out to be inaccurate. Up and down mountains, climbing over boulders, on a track so studded with rocks that my foot hardly ever landed on a flat surface. The five miles ended up taking me five hours. Ooof. At the end, having already fallen a few times, I took extra care, as I was starting to worry that either the dog or I would come out of the trip with a sprained ankle (if dogs even have ankles). I haven't done a hike like that since Ben Nevis in Scottland twenty years ago, and I think I can wait another ten or twenty years to repeat the experience.
     I will say that the dog was a trooper. Mile one: lost of tail wagging and sniffing. Mile two: a bit more focused. Mile three and on: head down, still always ahead of me, but never a sideways sniff, as she seemed to figure out that we just needed to slog this out. The good attitude was in spite of her sad discovery that bees have stingers - for years, Ada has been snapping at bees. During the hike, she finally caught her first bee, but then immediately spit it out and pawed at her mouth for a couple of minutes. I felt bad, of course, but there's no other way for a creature with a one-ounce brain (that'd be the dog, not the bee) to learn. And this bigger-brained creature has learned her lesson: read the trail guides REALLY carefully.

Saturday, October 07, 2017


 This is the point where I'm really ready for the garden to be done. Luckily, it's easy to coast on the efforts of the early summer. Because it's cool, the weeds grow slowly, and I'll just wait until it freezes to pull them. The last of the peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes are coming in, and I get a few pints of raspberries every week.
      I didn't have time to put in a fall garden, which gives me a breather, although I'm trying to use some of the time to take notes. I've decided I'm done with edamame - they grow really well but they take a ton of space in the freezer. While I like them, I wouldn't miss them if they were gone. Instead, I'd like to try growing more carrots. It would be great to have enough to eat through most of the winter, although I've never come close to that. Also, I've asked my parents to bring some metal fence posts for next year, because I need some way to corral the floppy asparagus so that a 3' wide bed doesn't become a 6' wide bed, which shades everything around it and makes it impossible to mow.
     In other food news, my freezer is stuffed full and I noticed that some of the dry goods in my pantry came with me when I moved into the house two years ago. I think this calls for drastic action, so I decided to restrict my grocery budget until I've eaten through some of these stores. My regular budget is $50/week, but I'm aiming for $10/week until about Christmas. I've even roped in a few people to give me moral support. Another frugal friend is has a goal of $20 weekly grocery bill and my mother has vowed to not buy any meat until Thanksgiving, because she has so much pork and beef stashed in her freezer. I've managed to spend only $5 in two weeks, so I think this might actually work for me. But I'm just a single person, so I shall have to be diligent.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Back to Ohio

     As I have mentioned before, I go to Ohio for cut-rate deals on medical care and farm produce. Now I can add car repair to the list. Although I had some belts replaced last week, it turns out that my car needs even more work. I'm willing to pay for it, because I expect my Scion (a car that is a Toyota in all but name) to last at least three or four more years. But I wouldn't mind paying less for it. Thus, my parents and I devised a car exchange this weekend: I drove their car to Maryland, and they'll take my car to the lower-priced Ohio mechanic and get all the work done. When they come to visit at Thanksgiving, we can all trade back. My father was amenable to the deal (especially because the size of the Maryland mechanic's quote for repairs horrified him) but only committed once my mother promised to have my car cleaned out. My continual transport of dogs, mulch, and plywood results in a very messy car.
      In other news, we celebrated my father's 70th birthday. There were appetizers, and three types types of meat. There was a big cake, 30 guests, and a toast. And, of course, funny hats.

 Most of the photos featured either grandkids or vehicles, of course.
 I socialized as long as I could and then hid in an empty room with my nephew.

It was a terrific weekend. I'm grateful that my dad's health is better than last year and that we could all spend time together.