Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Vegge Tale

Much feasting and fraternizing has taken place in the last two weeks, as Styling with Renee Michelle has taken her annual Christmas pilgrimage to the Midwest. We've been sampling the local cuisine. One night at dinner I was rather in the mood for some veggies, so I ordered a salad. (I need to insert a disclaimer here, at the request of my sister-in-law: some Midwestern food is quite nice. And she's right. It's just not as fun to talk about.)

When the salad arrived, I laughed out loud. The vitamins had fled in terror, leaving only iceberg lettuce, mozzarella, and ranch dressing. (Shown in its full monochrome beauty below.)

When we got home, Andrew comforted me by making me a crunchy, flavanoid-filled salad, with homemade vinaigrette.

And my taste buds rejoiced.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Frugal art

Someone looking at the pictures from the party pointed out that one of our paintings is a Mondrian. I guess it is, although I didn't know who he was. (For further education, go here.) This painting was one my recent projects. I wanted something large and colorful for our single largeish wall. After much searching, I realized I would need to make something because I wasn't going to be able to afford anything I really liked. I researched art from the 50s and 60s (thank you, Wikipedia) and settled on a blocky geometric design using the paint I had already purchased for the furniture.

The implementation turned out to be the easy part: I purchased a large canvas and gesso'd it, then laid it on the floor and used pieces of string laid on the canvas to visualize the divisions. (That was the cat's favorite part.) Then I replaced the string with masking tape and painted the divisions. When I removed the tape, here's what I got:
Total cost: $35 (for 1 canvas, 1 can of gesso, and a roll of masking tape)
Total time: about 3 hours
Satisfaction: High

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Party time

I'm so proud of myself. I managed to throw a party on a Friday (that is, no day off to prepare) and yet plan ahead enough that we were ready, calm, and sitting on the couch (really! I wasn't madly garnishing as guests arrived!) when the first guest arrived.

By spacing out the preparations (one weekend for decorating, one weekend for grocery shopping and baking, one weeknight day for the last of cooking), I enjoyed the work even more than usual. Here's an pictorial survey of the menu:

On the left, you can see the cookies: chocolate orange hazelnut cookies, chocolate peppermint sandwiches, and madeleines. In the middle are the savories: in the blue bowl, a warm white bean dip, flavored with cumin and Monterrey jack (the closeup is below); baba ghanouj, the yummiest dish that I can't spell, and lemon cured olives.

The bread was the no-knead recipe I've written about before. I was flattered because most people thought it was store bought. (It's funny how that can be either a compliment or an insult.) The olives need a whole post themselves, but I'll save that for another day. Here are the happy guests, munching and chatting and looking fabulous like only physicists can look.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The long and short (ahem) of it

I think I baked about 24 dozen cookies this weekend. I'm only estimating, you understand, because I quit counting after a while. But I baked a lot, that's my point. And every time I spend much time in my kitchen, I'm reminded of my dream that someday I'll have a kitchen that fits me. I'm a rather short person. I like to think that I'm exactly the right size, because that's what it feels like to me, but (alas) the rest of the world seems to be built for someone larger.

And this leads to my dream of a kitchen where the counters are the perfect height, instead of four inches too high. I've spent some time thinking about how to accomplish this, and because I don't think I would want to permanently alter the kitchen, I've considered installing fake floors up to the point where the cabinet doors open. This will have to wait until I'm planning to stay in a apartment more that a year or two, but it's nice to dream.

Friday, December 07, 2007


I've been busy getting into the Christmas spirit. I think I'm done with my Christmas shopping, which was facilitated by the realization that Amazon ships directly to Australia (where I have several godchildren), allowing me to skip the tedious line at the Post Office. Another thing that helped is that my whole family not only provides wish lists, we combine them with appropriate links on a Google spreadsheet, so that shopping becomes a point and click exercise. I love the digital age.

While I've been hanging tasteful snowflakes inside the house, our landlord has been busy festooning the outside of the house with riotous lights. Each day he adds one more string, and every day it's a new kind of light. The first day, there were multicolored lights twined around the top porch railing. The next day, red rope light appeared, to be followed by white icicles, pastel colored globes on the bush, and a different color on the next bush.
Here's a photo, although I don't think it truly captures the tumultuousness of the scene. While I'm not sure I can give this the Styling with Renee Michelle Seal of Approval, it does make me laugh every time I come home at night. I appreciate his desire for cheeriness and festivity, even if the lights do make my eyes cross.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Because now 170 of us graduate annually

Today as I was walking into the building, I was looking at the majestic old pine trees and enormous magnolias and thinking about how this campus probably didn't look that different fifty years ago: the same brick buildings with tall white columns and the same flowing tide of undergraduates rushing to class. Then I realized one thing that would have been different: I wouldn't have been part of it. Fifty years ago it was almost unheard of for a woman to get a PhD in physics. (The best statistics I could find showed about 8 physics PhDs conferred to women in the entire country in 1958.) So, although I like to consider myself a fighter, that kind of battle would have done me in. I'm grateful to be living now, studying something that I (on alternate Tuesdays) enjoy.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Free: good music

I finally availed myself of a bit of Washington culture that I had been ignoring too long. The Kennedy Center (you know the place - home of the National Symphony Orchestra, looks like it was decorated by Jackie Kennedy, makes you feel like you should be more well-dressed than you are, regardless of the formality of your attire) has something called a Millennium Stage, which hosts free shows every night of the year. You can catch anything from African drumming to Orthodox Jewish bluegrass (honest to goodness - they'll be there on Tuesday). I caught a string sextet made up of National Symphony Orchestra members, and it was terrific. Every note was precisely in place. Oddly, it was the only classical concert I've ever attended where the audience applauded after every movement. Although it's a slight breach of classical music etiquette, I took it as a sign that the audience was not your traditional stuffed shirts, so that means a lot of people are hearing music they wouldn't regularly get to.

And they have performance archive here in case you'd like to catch a peek at those Orthodox bluegrass musicians after Tuesday.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The amazing ever-expanding table

As I have mentioned before, our small house requires small furniture. When we moved in, I got rid of my kitchen table, which seated six, and we downsized to this small table, which seats two perfectly.

We chose it because it was small and because it has the ability to accordion out. With the sides folded out, we can have additional dinner guests. But Thanksgiving required more drastic measures, so Andrew built two leaves, and now it seats twelve:
Impressive, eh? I certainly choose my boyfriends (and tables) well.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The changing of the (holiday) seasons

Today I've been busy changing the theme of the house from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This morning we got up early and cleaned up the remnants of the feast (a fervent thanks to all the guests, who in total did about two hours of dishes) and then headed off to buy a tree. I'd like to claim that I buy and decorate early because trees purchased early aren't brittle and dried out. But mainly it's because I love Christmas, and like the season to start as early as possible (while still maintaining my fervent belief that Christmas can't begin before Thanksgiving ends).

We had to whittle the six foot tall tree down to five feet in order to fit it in our lilliputian apartment, but as a result I have lots of leftover branches to make into garland. Since I've met Andrew the Christmas trees that we decorate tend ever more toward a Star Trek theme. With some now acquisitions this year, we now have seven large Star Trek ornaments, many with glowing phaser banks. In a few years, it appears that it will be a tree hung solely with lights and spaceships.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Color me... pink?

Thank you all so much for your color suggestions. I hadn't even considered yellow or pink, so I'm really glad I asked, because it opens my mind to a lot more possibilities. For the moment they will probably only remain possibilities, because I don't think we'll find time to paint until at least the new year.

If anyone wants to suggest more paint colors, feel free to comment here or on the previous post. The debate about what GGSA means (see comments on the last post) is undecided, so you can weigh in on that, too.

For the record, Andrew gets a say in how we decorate. I always run all the big decisions by him. Usually it goes like this: I explain my idea, he comes up with all these ideas about why it won't work, I convince him that we should try it, and then after it's all done, he says, "Hey, that looks much better than I expected." (I'm being a little snarky here - sometimes he comes up with the great idea and I come up with the reasons why it won't work. We have a very equal opportunity relationship.)

If all goes according to plan and I paint all weekend, I should have new pictures of the eating area next week.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Let your voice be heard!

Remember this? It's my bedroom.

And you might also remember that the bedroom has no color. (Not counting the hideous bedspread, which I will throw out as soon as I can.)

I would like to add color, both in the form of wall pigment (I think I can paint the walls any color, but I would tend more toward neutrals so I don't have to repaint when we move out) and a new bedspread. And I am soliciting suggestions, as I really don't know what to do.

Here are the constraints: The room is tiny, with about a three foot path on each side of the bed. The ceiling angles down, so it appears even smaller. And I have a dark blue dresser (seen above and featured in its own video here on March 9th) which I quite like and therefore need to incorporate into the color scheme. Anything that fits into those constraints is a consideration. So far the only color I've thought might work is beige. But beige is so blah...

So. Please. Help!

Friday, November 09, 2007

The styling living room

My living room has received a dose of style. I spent the past few weekends sanding and priming and painting and painting some more. It still needs additional work, but if I write about it now, I get more then one past out of the project. Here's what the living room looked like for a few weeks:

This earthquake-inspired look lasted a bit longer than I wanted because of paint problems. I bought paint from a certain big box home store (which has "ow" in its name, so maybe that should have warned me). The colors were great, but I painted one piece and after two weeks it was quite tacky. Furniture that you can't touch didn't seem to me to be very useful. Internet searches revealed that this is not an unheard of occurrence, but there don't seem to be any good fixes. So I sanded it back down, purchases all new paint from Sherwin and Williams (because I've always had success with their paint) and started over.

And here's what it looks like now. Note the accent color of yellow on the coffee table behind the sofa. It's hard to see from this view, but I repeated it in the lamp shade over the dinner table, and I really like how it contrasts with the turquoises.

I'm pleased with how this all looks, but I think the room could use even more. There's still too much wood in the room. So the dining table is next on the list to be bathed in pigment. Stay tuned for further updates.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Philly, part two: the food

We managed to sample food from five good restaurants in three days, which I thought was pretty impressive since we ate breakfast at the (appropriately named) bed and breakfast. Here's the good, bad, and ugly, with emphasis on vegetarian (which can be either good or ugly depending on your carnivorous tendencies, I suppose).

The first night we didn't want to venture far from the bed and breakfast, so I found a Philly pizza place that had an outpost in Jersey, Tacconelli's. The suburban location turned out to be a plus, because the wait wasn't too bad for a Friday night. They made a thin-crust, sweet-sauced pie, loaded with garlic. (Okay, it was garlic powder, but that made it slightly sweet instead of overly spicy.)

Lunch the next day was New Harmony's vegetarian dim sum, and turned out to be two plates laden with food in every shade of the rainbow, as long as your rainbow is all brown. I'm told that meat-eater's dim sum is also protein heavy, and they did their best to replicate the heavy, oh- my-heavens-how-could-I-eat-that-much feeling with tofu, gluten and assorted fake meats. Tasty, definitely... but, well, brown.

Which left us ill equiped for our fancy dinner at an upscale vegan restaurant, where they served up more tofu. The whole experience was rather "meh" so the less said, the better. I continue my search for a fancy all vegetarian restaurant where I would choose to eat a second time.

Sunday we brunched on crepes at Beau Monde (with most of Philly, it appears, as the dining room was deafening). If I did it over, I'd skip upscale vegetarian and double our time with the crepes. Excellent: mushrooms with a cream sauce, and then a caramel crepe for dessert. I think we could have eaten two or three each, if we weren't starting to feel the pinch on the pocketbook at that point.

We ended with Capogiro's gelato, which should have been fabulous. Either we had simply eaten too much to appreciate it, or this place made (How else can I say it?) weird gelato. We tried a rosemary goat cheese honey flavor, which was exceptionally smooth from the goat cheese, but the rosemary overpowered any pleasure derived from the eating. Apple with apple brandy was less odd, but the flavors just didn't blend.

In the end, we gave up, tossed the rest of the gelato out and drove home to eat spaghetti. Home sweet home and noodles.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Philly, part one

Last weekend was our escape from grading and lab reports. (Sadly, after the delicious three day respite, reality has swiftly returned in the form of exams, but that's another story...)

We spent two nights at a lovely bed and breakfast in New Jersey. (I bet you didn't know there was anything lovely in New Jersey, now, did you?) The bed shown to the left was big and down covered and required me to use the step stool next to it to clamber upon it.

We soaked up a lot of history, etc. But one of the highlights for Andrew and I, because it combined our two passions in one store, was this Chinatown gem. Here we were able to stand hand in hand as I contemplated cutting boards and Andrew lusted after transformers and WD-40.

And we ate much. Much and wonderfully. But I will leave that for the next post.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Trick or Treating is not logical, Captain

Pictures of Andrew's first ever Jack o' lantern, which he chose to make as a Vulcan.

I think this one shows the raised eyebrow and pointed ears the best.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Compost - the hidden beauty in garbage

In the past few months, a few friends and I have fallen head over heels in love with composting. Our leader in this endeavor is S, who reads books on the subject and then sends us helpful composting links. S has convinced another friend, who doesn't have the time to start her own pile, to collect garbage to add to S's pile. So there are a lot of stinking vegetable handoffs at our weekly Star Trek gatherings.

The husbands and cohabitors of these enthusiastic composters are less than thrilled, however, because now they are often chastised with comments like, "I can't believe you threw away egg shells - they're so good for compost," and "Make sure you scrape all the coffee into the bucket - we need those grounds." One husband even alleged that his wife buys vegetables just so she can put them directly into the compost pile, but this was never substantiated.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

All dressed up

We attended a birthday party last week with a jungle theme. Andrew's costume took him days to create, and I made mine it about ten minutes. I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Friday, October 26, 2007


To celebrate Fall's arrival, I took a drive through Shenandoah National Park last weekend. It was perfect weather - a bit windy and cool, but sunny. We left early and so avoided the other thousands of Washintonians who thought this would be a good day trip. We snapped lots of pictures like the one below, but they don't really do justice to the beauty.

And now it's been cold and rainy for the past two days. (I'll skip the picture of that and let you just imagine the gray.) But at least it's not hot and humid anymore!

Friday, October 19, 2007

These boots were made for wokking

My camera woman gave me a thoughtful birthday gift this year. She's aware that I don't cook Chinese food often, so she wrote up a half a dozen Chinese recipes that she cooks well, and then presented them to me, along with the ingredients necessary to make them. (This was especially helpful with respect to the dried mushrooms, because they all look the same to me and the careful labeling in Chinese does not help much.)

Alas, it appears that I don't cook Chinese often because I am no good at it. I have so much knowledge about cooking, which mainly originated from training with French and Italian cuisine. When I taught myself Indian, these European cooking skills were still useful. Once I mastered toasting my spices, many of the ingredients (milk, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes) and techniques (long slow simmers, frying) were appropriate. But when cooking Chinese, they're useless. Faced with a sauce that's too runny, I would add some cream and boil it down quickly. But, um, Chinese doesn't do dairy. The dish is a little bland? I've got olives, pesto, nut oils, and cheese for Italian dishes. For Chinese I have.... um, soy sauce and sesame oil.

So, I may give up for a while. Last week we got bok choy in our farm share. I pretended it was Swiss chard, mixed it with a bechamel sauce, and topped it with bread crumbs and cheese for a killer gratin. Of course, my camera woman almost cried when she saw what I had done to the poor bok choy, but boy was it good.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Weekend Projects

The pattern that seems to be developing at our house is that I have brilliant (if I do say so myself) ideas for projects around the house, and then I convince Andrew to complete them. Often he is not as convinced as I am of my brilliance, but afterwards he usually likes the results. Below is one of these projects. I bought an old desk at a thrift shop (Eight dollars! And just look at those lines! I fell in love fast) and then he removed one of the drawers and lowered the bottom a bit to make room for the computer tower, which is now neatly tucked away. We're still discussing if we should just leave it like this or build a cabinet door over it.

(And before you ask, because everyone does, he also removed the drawer back so the computer is cooling just fine.)

A second recent project, which I completed myself, was the quick conversion of a new garbage can to a compost bin. Yes, all I had to do was drill a bunch of holes in it, but I was still proud of myself.

I did a lot of painting this weekend, too, but pictures of that will have to wait because it really doesn't look that impressive in its as-yet-uncompleted state.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rain, rain go away

Every week we play laundry roulette, and last night we lost. We've been making an effort to hang our laundry outside to dry (which makes us rare - does anyone else do this anymore?). What happens is that Andrew washes the clothes when he comes home from work, then looks at the weather report for the next 24 hours to see how likely it is to rain. If it's low then the clothes are hung outside so that they can dry the next day. Last night the prognosis was a 10% chance of rain during the night, but two hours after the clothes went out we got a good, drenching downpour. However, it's supposed to be windy today, so we're waiting to see if they'll dry anyway. Then we can just count it as a second rinse cycle.

Monday, October 08, 2007


My brother called me last night to tell me about someone who had done something not very nice to him. (Since this isn't his blog, I don't think I should be any more specific than that.) It made me soooo mad. Even though my brother is thirty, has a wife and a child, four cats, and a mortgage, I still like think that as the big sister, it's my job to protect him, and I hate it when people don't treat him right.

I offered to go over to Ohio and straighten this guy out, but my brother thought that he could probably take care of it himself. Ahem. I suppose he can. I guess I'll just sit here and think revengeful thoughts on his behalf.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pork and more pork

Sorry I've been AWOL for a while. This week has been pretty exhausting, as I took my regular responsibilities and added about 15 hours more work to it. My students had their first exam, which I now need to grade, and I did some interviews for a project that I'm working on. I still have lab notebooks and regular homeworks to grade, which means that my desk is just one big mess of papers waiting for my marking pen. What a fun weekend...

But I can report that the pig roast was a great success. I didn't have to do much at all, as my mother had been preparing side dishes and desserts (plus three different homemade barbecue sauces!) for about a week and my dad and uncle manned the pig roaster itself. (Apparently possession of a Y chromosome is required for this type of work).

Andrew and the physics friend who had accompanied us feasted heartily on the meat, as demonstrated here:

For even more, check out my uncle's post on his blog, de-Intimidator which gives all the gory and glorious details.

Friday, September 28, 2007


In a few minutes I'm off on a whirlwind trip to Ohio. My parents are throwing a pig roast for everyone who helped with their move last year. As a vegetarian, I'm not terribly excited about the upcoming abundance of pork, but my fellow travelers (Andrew, a friend, and the cat) are already salivating.

I'll try to post some pictures of the carnage... er, feasting.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Small homes mean less to clean

Because someone commented on the size of our new apartment, I decided to calculate our square footage. This turned out to be more complicated than I thought, because no agreed-upon standard exists. But I borrowed the guidelines used by New York City Realtors and measured the size of the entire area, including exterior walls but excluding stairs, which are not considered habitable space (although closets apparently are habitable). The grand total is 425 square feet, although apparently 75 square feet should be subtracted off, because when the ceiling slopes lower than 6'6" it's not considered habitable anymore. (Andrew would agree, since he still hits his head almost daily.)

This is pretty small - the size of an average mobile home is now over 1000 square feet. We can be grateful, though, that we don't live in London or New York or Tokyo, where our apartment would be even tinier, but even more costly.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A parting gift

The day that my mother left, while I was away at school teaching, she cleaned the entire apartment. As a result, two different couples have already offered to house her next time she is in town.

What a styling mom.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The scales have fallen from my eyes

Last night we took my mother to a tapas restaurant which I remembered as being really good as well as reasonably priced, but which turned out to be neither. Few things get my goat more than paying a lot of money for food that I could have cooked, and cooked better. I can only explain my memory of the great food with the fact that Andrew and I went there on what was probably our second or third date, and so at that point in my life all food tasted heavenly.

My mother has certainly earned her keep this week, helping me purchase curtains and then hemming them by hand. We also picked up an awesome hanging lamp for over the kitchen table, but I'm not posting pictures of anything until all the decorating is done, so that all socks in the immediate vicinity will be knocked off.

I think I'm falling out of love with IKEA. I still appreciate their insanely cheap, reasonably attractive products. But when I want something more than a wastebasket, I look for furnishings that are different than what everybody else has, and in than respect the thrift stores beat IKEA hands down.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Let me entertain you

Whew. Teaching is really knocking me out. The grading, so far, isn't unbearable, but I spend all my time talking about floating and sinking. I am immersed in it. (Which leads to bad puns.)

To distract you from my lack of words, a photographic study of my niece and Logan the Cat. And since the current exchange rate is 1 picture = 1000 words, I'm all set, right?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The new digs

The planets aligned and I managed to find new batteries and the computer cord for the camera. The result of this is apartment pictures for you. I'm sure you didn't want to see quite this many photos, but I'm treating these as the "before" pictures - I need to fully document what it looks like now so that when there are finally "after" pics you will be sufficiently impressed.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

IKEA Hacker

New York Times wrote an article (free subscription required) featuring a blog that I've been reading for a while - IKEA Hacker. The site collects different projects that repurpose Ikea goods. It's a lot of fun if you are either into decorating your house so that it doesn't look just like everybody else's, or if you just like to recycle. I've added a link to the list of blogs an the right, as well.

Bits and bobs

All I can say on the issue of okra is that I'm highly suspicious of a vegetable for which people have developed so many techniques to disguise the texture. If it is so wonderful, why do we have to work so hard to hide parts of it? That said, if someone cooked me some and put it on my plate, I'd eat it. I just don't like it enough to prepare it myself.

I keep meaning to put up some pictures of the new apartment. However, while I swear that I've unpacked everything, I can't find the cord that connects the camera to the computer...

My mother is coming next week, at my invitation, to give me decorating advice. I'll be sure to report on the details, especially on my attempts to turn my wood-paneled living room into a groovy 60's den. Shag carpet has already been purchased, but the rest of this masterpiece remains a vision in my head.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sweet corn, the taste of summer

Happy Labor Day! I am doing my best to avoid laboring this weekend.

We went to the farmer's market yesterday and I may have went a little crazy. I blame this on our farm share: while they provide us with a wide variety of veg, they tend to go a little heavier on the squash and eggplant (And don't even get me started on the quantity of okra they keep trying to foist on us, for goodness' sake, I'm a Midwesterner and my yearly maximum of okra is just under two bites.) and a bit too light on the tomatoes and corn. So we bought twelve ears of corn, about two dozen tomatoes, watermelon, and plums. I invited a foodie friend over for dinner and we had an orgy of summer food: tomato, sweet corn, and bread salad with basil, pasta with homemade pesto and tomatoes, fresh baked bread with a trio of gooey cheeses, and Italian plum custard tart. We had to waddle to bed, but I felt like we made an praiseworthy attempt to completely enjoy summer (and of course, for me that is synonymous with eating).

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back to School

It's never a good sign when your alarm goes off and you suddenly find yourself staring at the clock and wondering why it's making that beeping noise. Being forced to remember what an alarm is is a definite sign that summer is over.

And for me, it is. The school year begins on Wednesday, and this time, I'll be a teacher instead of a student. This all happened rather suddenly, a week ago. The department found that it had more teaching positions than teachers, so I am now the instructor of a course. I'm quite excited - it will be fun to immerse myself in the teaching instead of research for a change. It has, however, required a reshuffling of my schedule, because I think the class will take up most of my time this semester. This means minimal research and giving up the philosophy of science course I was planning to take. But in return, I get to grade forty essays a week! What a trade...

In other news, I have been hit be the desire to do some back-to- school shopping. So far I have resisted the urge to purchase the Crayola 64 crayon set (Can I just mention here that I hungered for that when I was a kid, but it was always deemed too expensive, and I always had to make do with the 24 pack. All the cool kids had the 64. How can you be creative with only 24 colors? You know, we can probably trace my lack of fine arts skills directly back to the lack of crayon diversity I had to endure as a kid.) But I did manage to pick up a suit and a few shirts last weekend. Oh, and I also bought a snazzy maroon leather coat that hits just below the hip. I'd model it for a photo but I can't bear to put it on again unless the temperature goes below 90.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bar Harbor

Because I'm too lazy to write a proper post, but am overwhelmed by guilt because I really owe you a post, here are some photos from my trip to Maine. My thanks to the organizers, both for the conference itself, and for these photos, which I stole from them.

I am unconvinced by my colleague's argument:

Yes, even in twenty-fourth grade, we still sit around in a circle on the floor when we have discussions:

Maine is incredibly, insanely beautiful in the summer:

No, we're not reenacting a sacrificial scene to the gods of tenure, we're gazing at the stars:

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I am flush with a good thrifting find today. We needed a DSL modem, and being too cheap to pay $50 to the phone company and also unable to scam an old one off my brother, Andrew had the brillant idea to head to the thrift store. They had a selection of half a dozen appropriate models, so even if the one we chose (for a mere $7.50, thank you very much) doesn't work, we can go buy another one and try again.

In other news, the eggplant and summer squash season is in full swing. Anybody have any great summer squash recipes? So far, the winners this month are a saute with garlic and mint, served at room temperature and a marinara sauce with lots of summer squash and garlic, which was sweet and spicy. But I've got enough squash for any other recipes you feel like tossing my way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Conferenced out

I'm back! And those two conferences: Wiped. Me. Out. The first, four days in North Carolina, were a jam-packed overview of everything that's happening in the field. We left our sleeping quarters at 7am and returned each night around 11pm. (Boy, sleeping in a dorm room again sure makes you appreciate the finer qualities of apartment living: Your own bedroom! A bathroom shared by only two people! No one walking by your door at two in the morning, their conversation amplified by their beer consumption.)

The second, a week in Bar Harbor, Maine was more fun. The conference was, as conferences go, tiny, with only 53 participants. While the days were long, there was lots of unscheduled time to eat good dinners, enjoy hanging out at the dock watching the Perseid meteors, and spend a lot of time hearing about people's work. It was the kind of schedule designed to give you time to really hash out ideas, as well as just better understand how all the different research fits together.

Now it's back to real life. Andrew organized our move and spent many long hours cleaning, so I've focused my efforts on finding homes for all of our belongings. As soon as the last box is gone, I'll be posting pictures, because this house comes with a whole host of new decorating challenges, and I'll be looking for ideas.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Yesterday was a perfect summer day. Andrew got up early and played golf (which was perfect because he got to play golf and I got to sleep in) and then we went to the beach. There we feasted on tomatoes and bread (these tomatoes were so yummy that they didn't need things like salt and pepper or aioli to make them taste better) and iced tea and deviled eggs. Then we played in the surf, took a nap in the sun, and came home.

The only un-perfect thing was that Andrew got sunburn on his belly-button. (Let that be a lesson: when they tell you to apply sunscreen everywhere, they mean everywhere.

Now I'm off to conferences. I'll probably be be out of touch for the next two weeks, but don't feel bad - when I return I'm sure I'll be full of fascinating tales of curriculum development and implications for classroom activties.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A pinata how-to guide

My dad turned 60 this year, and I decided that to celebrate this
occasion we required pinatas. Motorcycle and bulldozer pinatas, to be
precise. So, in case you too wish to make machinery-shaped pinatas, I
provide this handy how-to guide.

1. Tape a bunch of balloons into a shape that vaguely resembles your
chosen vehicle.

2. Prepare your supplies. (Useful Internet tip that may be true: use
several tablespoons of salt when making the paste to prevent the
fomration of mold.)

3. Apply strips to the balloons. It is impossible to do this without
becoming covered in paste, so wear something easily washable.

(Useful tip that should have been on the Internet: keep your balloons
away from sharp, pointy plants.)

4. Place the proto-pinatas next to a dehumidifer.

5. Repeat steps 2-4 several times.

6. Paint.

7. Convince your boyfriend to spend the evening adding construction
paper to approximate the vehicle of your choice.

8. Hang, and beat repeatedly with a stick.

Whistle while you work

Ahhhh, the book was lovely. I'm just so sorry it's all over. Although I won't miss the sobs that wracked my body for two days as I mourned so many dead characters. I understand that it required death to show what a big, important book the Order of the Phoenix was but did we need so many? As all my acquaintances know, I am prone to tears in the best of times (Who cries over Kleenex commercials? Why, I do. Talk about creating a market for your product.)and this certainly did me in.

But on to happier thoughts. I have been busting my butt this week. It's the week before everything happens to me, and I'm busy getting ready. And by everything, I mean that next week I attend a conference, give two talks, schmooze for four days, oh and I'm moving. Of course, when I say I'm moving, I really mean that my stuff is being moved, because I won't even be in the state while it's happening. But don't think I've just left all the work for Andrew. I've been packing for three weeks, and gosh darn it, I guarantee I'll be leaving that house gully packed up and ready to be transported.

Enough of the complaining - I'm grateful that I get a full night's sleep every night (unlike my acquaintances who just had babies), I'm happy that I'll be living in a new place, with Andrew, soon. And I'm looking forward to my conferences being done in two weeks.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

No news is good news

Starting this morning, I have imposed a media blackout. Well, it's really more of a media brownout. I am one of the legion of Harry Potter fans who detests spoilers. Since a few copies have already escaped, I'm only consuming media that I'm reasonably sure will not tell me anything I don't want to know. Before today's events, I would have assumed that avoiding HP websites and television would be sufficient. But since the newspaper The Baltimore Sun published spoilers (this may be just a rumor, but as I won't look at any news sites, I can't confirm), I've decided I need to be extra careful until my copy arrives on Saturday.

So, adieu to NPR and the Washington Post. Goodbye to surfing the Web (maybe I'll actually get some work done). I'll see you all again once I emerge from my book on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I went to a Star Trek convention in Baltimore this weekend, with Andrew and the friend who went with us to the Vegas convention last year. It was great fun and a lot less tiring that the four-day marathon that was Vegas. The highlight for me was Nichelle Nichols (whom you may know as Lieutenant Uhura): she told lots of stories evoking the era when starlets would jetset around Europe, as well as explaining the work she did to encourage NASA to add gender and racial diversity to their astronaut pool. (When they originally asked for her help, they said it would be best if she could find an African-American woman, because then they could check off all the diversity boxes at once.)

Now, laugh as you may about Star Trek conventions, one thing that is really cool about them is the variety of people you see there. I'm not just talking about seeing grandmas, or people with different colored skin. I'm talking about people who don't know what hairstyle has been in fashion ever. People who were several standard deviations away from even the geeks in high school - these were the people who sat alone at lunch. But at Star Trek conventions we're all friends. We all share a passion for this crazy thing, and we're all having a blast. And that's pretty cool.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Partying hearty in the Buckeye state

I'm back! The vacation was great, which maybe you could tell, because I was too relaxed to care that I hadn't posted in over a week. Life at the new house, situated in the middle of nowhere as it is, is quite easy-going. It's not much of a stretch to say that we sat around and watched the corn grow. There was great excitement during one supper when it started pouring rain through a mainly sunny sky and we spotted a double rainbow. And I spent lot of time watching the hummingbirds that buzzed around the back porch while I'd sit out there reading.

The party was a great success. I think about 30 or 40 people showed up, and everyone feasted on Mexican food that my mother had spent days and days preparing. I hadn't realized the similarities between Mexican and Indian preparation techniques: every sauce that I helped her prepare began by roasting flavorings (in this case mainly garlic and various peppers) then pureeing them into a paste that formed the basis of the sauce.

I forgot to take pictures at the party, although I snagged a few of the cutest party attendees. Here's Andrew with Molly, the cat who adopted my parents and shows her gratitude for being allowed to sleep in the shop by bringing freshly-killed birds and mice to my clearly hungry parents.

And here's Kyla, clutching her toy of choice, an empty soda bottle. I can't imagine why she's looking so surprised - maybe she's astounded that my parents run a household with just one cat, instead of the four they have at her house?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Cornish Pasties

Renee Michelle divulges the secrets to making authentic high quality Cornish pasties.  

Disclaimer: Beware, this video contains explicit meat images and references. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The life of a writing woman

I've been writing, writing, writing the past few weeks. Sometimes I write about students, and then for a break, I write about teachers. Since writing is a big part of research (what's the point of having all these brilliant ideas if you don't tell anybody about them?), I'm lucky I don't dislike writing as much as some grad students I know. But I have to admit that I like having the finished project a bit more than the actual writing.

This week I've been creating presentations and posters, which is just a different kind of writing, as far as I'm concerned. (For those of not in academia, when you attend a conference, two of the most common ways to present new findings are either with talks, accompanied by Powerpoint slides, of course, or on a poster, a great vinyl sheet on which you print all your deep thoughts, then stand in front of it at prescribed times. You accost anyone foolish enough to wander by while looking vaguely interested. It's like a science fair without judges and afterwards you go out for beer instead of ice cream. )

Tomorrow night I leave for a week's vacation in tropical Ohio. I know that's not everybody's idea of paradise, but I'm hoping for lots of garage saleing combined with a week's respite from washing dishes (my mother spoils me). Bliss!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Garage Saling

There comes a point each day when I want to cut off my own hands in frustration, because they just can't get the words that I want to say up on the screen. There is some progress it my battle with the Dvorak keyboard - I'm very fast at typing 'the' and my name. But I continue to mix up the positions of the 'c' and 'r' keys. (They are right next to each other.) And I'm rather dismayed at how often I need either 'c' or 'r'.

My town (which is really just a big neighborhood) had it's annual town-wide garage sale last Saturday. Andrew and I snagged some great deals: a still-in-its-original-packaging split keyboard for my new computer at school ($3), a single-speed bicycle ($6!) that I'm going to try riding to school, and some decorations for my dad's upcoming birthday party. I look forward to this sale every year because it's rare; it seems that fewer people have garage sales in the DC area compared to Ohio. It's a good chance to get out and meet the neighbors, too, and it reminds me again why I'm glad I live in a neighborhood full of families instead of an apartment full of undergraduates.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The struggle with my fingers continues

Five days of typing on Dvorak and I'm up to 8 words per minute. Don't expect any chatty posts until I can raise that painful number a bit. For now it's, "Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Coded Message

If you recently received a piece of paper from my mother asking you to do something, please try to do it soon. Time is running out.

This message will self-destruct in thirty seconds.

Friday, June 08, 2007


I... am... typing... this... so... slowly... that... I'll... forgive... you... if... you... want... to... leave... and... find... a... peppier... blog... today.

So I had this great idea to teach myself the Dvorak keyboard. It's supposed to be faster (because a large number of your keystrokes are in home position) and reduce the likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome (because a large number of your keystrokes are in home position). As others who have done this have promised, the transition is excruciating. I've gone from something like 70 wpm to something like 4 wpm. I literally find in easier to cut and paste a word that I have already typed than to try and type it again. So blog posts may be shorter for a bit while I struggle to remember where the 'k' is located.

The visit with my brother and his family: we saw monuments, memorials, and museums. Kyla and sis-in-law rode the carousel on the Mall. (I think s-i-l enjoyed it the most. In all the pictures - and my brother took one every time they came around - there's a big grin plastered on s-i-l's face, while Kyla wore the same expression as she does when she's in her stroller. She just couldn't quite see what all the fuss was about.) We ate good Indian and good sushi and good bubble teas accompanied by a terrible steamed bun. We had chocolate cake every day.

I must stop now. This post took me all morning and at some point I need to do the work they pay me for.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A picture book

Fun times were held by all this weekend. More soon, I promise. But in the meantime, a short illustrated story to read to your wee ones before bed.

Kyla asks her father to play one - two- three - Wheeeeee!

Not receiving an affirmative answer quickly enough, Kyla stands up and demands to play one -two - three - Wheeee!

One... Two...



Friday, June 01, 2007

Visitors from another dimension - children

My brother and his family are coming for the weekend! I am so excited. Expect many, many pictures of my incredibly cute niece next week.

We're ready: we've purchased everyone's favorite drinks, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and I'm baking a cake tonight. I think the best way to show someone that you love them is with buttercream frosting.

I have never had a toddler spend more than an hour in my house. I've tried to pack up everything that she could either eat or bang her head on, but I'm sure I'll have misjudged what I should have done. I'll just have to count on her parents to keep her alive for the weekend, in spite of the (probable) death trap that my house is.

Have a nice weekend!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A wonderfully boring weekend

I had a great Memorial Day weekend, and did not a lick of work. We went and saw Prairie Home Companion. (In this case, "saw" is just an expression - we only had a view of the stage if we stood up.) I've grown up listening to this show, and I love going to see it live. It's not as if it's wildly different than listening to it on the radio, but somehow just sitting there, with no dinner to put on the table, and nowhere else to be, allows you to just focus on the stories and songs.

We also went thrift shopping, and purchased a kitchen table for our new place. The new place, as you recall, is tiny, tiny, tiny. So I'm hoping this will fit it. It's perfect for two people on a daily basis:

Then, when we have guests, you can pull up both sides and it expands to allow six or eight to sit comfortably:

And if you're going to invite an entire soccer team to dinner, it expands even more:

You'll have to imagine the leaves we'd put in the middle for now, since we'll have to make them.

I'm excited - it was a good deal and solid wood and Andrew is willing to let me paint it. Now to look for some matching chairs...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go (I've not been as productive as the dwarves lately.)

After a mere four days of research, I've ordered a new computer. When I ran my plan by the professor administering the grant, he thought I was spending dangerously too little. I tried to reassure him that since we bought our last computer for the group, six years ago (which is pretty much the stone ages, in computer years), the type of machine we needed was tip-toppity top of the line. Now, computers are insanely big and fast, and we still use the same digital cameras as six years ago. It's like we still build the same size pyramids, but now we get to use cranes and premade bricks, and don't have to have slaves drag stone blocks over logs. But, just to make him feel a little better, I threw in a second hard drive, at 250 GB. That's a quarter Terabyte, people. Although that's so much space it feels like we'll never use that, I know that it will fill up quickly. To use another rather contrived analogy, putting video data on your computer is like packing your station wagon for camping. The car looks sooo big, and only two of you are going, but still you manage to fill the entire car and have to hold the firewood on your lap. Um, well, that's what happens when we go camping anyway.

I've been struggling to write a paper for the past two weeks. It has no official due date, which isn't helping matters. Nobody really cares if I work on this or go cook myself a terrific meal. (Which must explain why we've been eating so well lately.) I also can't figure out what my point is, exactly. That has not stood between many an academic and his paper, but, you know, it's hard to know when to stop if you're don't what you're trying to accomplish.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Computer woes

I'm having computer problems, again. After the massive rebuild, my machine hummed along happily for a few weeks, but now is suffered what has been deemed a terminal illness. It is much worse, I think, to lose a work computer than to lose a home computer. I tend to back up most of the stuff I care about, which at home means photos of my family and friends, and at work means videos of students doing physics. But it's really lowering my efficiency to not have all my documents and articles and notes easily accessible at work. For right now I've borrowed a laptop, but it's not available all the time, so we (i.e. me and my advisors) will have to figure out a better solution for the longer term.

But enough grousing. Let me tell you about my wonderful weekend. We went camping with three other couples. There was a bit of hiking and canoeing (not by me, of course, because I just sat at the campsite and read all day) and much socializing and eating. The weather was quite cool, but bearable with two layers of long underwear. And having some time away, even though it was only two days, was a nice break between the end of the spring semester and the start of the summer semester. I don't think we'll go to the Pennsylvania State Parks again, though, because they have a no alcohol policy, and really, what's the point of camping if you can't sip some whisky after dinner?

I finished grading student exams yesterday, so now I have a whole three and a half months stretching before me that can be filled up with just research. I'm working on two different projects this summer, one which focuses on Teaching Assistants and one that focuses on introductory physics students. I'm going to two conferences, one in Maine and one in North Carolina, where I will present a total of three posters and give two (short) talks. I need to write two papers and, of course, have a lot of brilliant ideas, but those are awfully hard to schedule in.

What are your big summer plans?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Phi, the physics wonder cat

Every time I go to download pictures on to my computer, so that I can post a few here, I find that Andrew has used the camera to take several dozen pictures of the cat. His dedication to her is probably even greater then mine, for when she meows at five a.m., I'm inclined to lock her in the living room so I can get me some more shut-eye, while Andrew gets up and feeds her, then lets her outside.

Some further testimony to his devotion to Phi:

There you have it, ladies and gents. A styling cat with a devoted photographer.
More news soon.