Thursday, December 18, 2008

I must produce more words

On Wednesday I labored all day on a paper and managed to eke out a page of writing. Then I went home and cranked out a two page Christmas letter in under an hour. Of course these two types of writing aren't precisely the same (thank goodness my Christmas letter isn't peer reviewed) but it does make me wonder if I might be able to loosen up a bit when doing my academic writing and produce, say, two pages a day. It might improve my chances of finishing my thesis in the next decade.
I overheard a conversation sorting out the difference between Wayne Newton and Isaac Newton. Wayne Newton was the one on "Dancing with the Stars" and Isaac Newton, apparently, was not. Just in case you were wondering.
I'm stressed. It's not exactly due to the appearance of Christmas, but Christmas + paper draft deadline + preparing for two weeks overseas. This has resulted in an increased consumption of Tums. I also (this is so pathetic) told Andrew what I was planning to buy him for Christmas and asked him to buy it himself so I could gain an hour in my day.

How are your holiday/winter break preparations?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wintery thoughts

We had our annual Christmas party this weekend. I forgot to take any pictures, but if friends send some my way, I'll post them. This year I repeated a trick I've used before and asked everyone to dress up a bit. We had two tuxes, a bunch of ties, and some lovely gowns, ranging from the floor length prom style to the sophisticated little black dress. Physicists rarely dress up (while the rest of the world wears suits to job interviews, we opt for khakis and a less rumpled button-down shirt) so most of my guests actually think this is fun. Add finger food, mulled wine, and much discussion of academic topics and you have a night of fun.
Today's newspaper reminded me why I'm glad to live in Maryland, and why you should be glad to live wherever you live, as long is it's not northern Minnesota. The weather map, which shows the daily predicted highs, shows the full range of colors from red in Florida to the blues in the northern parts of the country, which correspond to temps of 90F all the way down to the teens. But when they got to northern Minnesota today, part of the state is white (-10F) but then the top part is just more white (-20F). They ran out of colors, it's so cold there.
May I return to the topic of mulled wine? I was introduced to this lovely concoction in Germany, where it's called Gluehwein ("Glow wine"). I hadn't drunk any in a few years, but a friend brought me a packet of the proper spice mix from Europe so I made it for the party. I need to figure out a way to brew this by the glassful, instead of by the kettlefull, so that I can have a mug every night during the winter.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kibbles vs. livers

My cat eats homemade food. This means that about once a month I chuck a great deal of meat, a tub of chicken livers and some assorted vitamins (actual recipe here, in case you're interested) and boil it until everything is mushy. A quick spin in the food processor and the freezer is filled with homemade goodness. That is, I know that it is homemade goodness, but Phi is less convinced. She eats the concoction that we ladle into her bowl every day, but she does so grudgingly.

When Phi goes to visit my parents it's a different story. We supply my mother with sufficient homemade food, but a lot of it gets returned. That's because, according to my mother, Phi doesn't eat the homemade food and she's forced to feed her dry food. (In other words, the cat capitalizes on my mother's grandmotherly instincts and looks sad and hungry until she gets the kind of food she likes.) After the last visit my mother even sent a little bag of commercial dry food home with us.

The other day I decided to feed this stuff to Phi just to use it up. When I poured it into bowl, the sound of the little dry chunks hitting the bowl woke Phi out of a sound sleep and she bounded across the room to eat up every last morsel. So the question is, am I an especially bad cat cook or do they put cat narcotics in the dry food?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

We've joined the cool kids

Our house finally shows up on Google Street View. You can more or less tell when they took the picture because our car is in the picture, and we can date by the bumper stickers displayed. This is exciting because you don't really exist until the Internet says you do, right? Although the address matched with the picture isn't actually ours, so maybe we still don't exist.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bits and Bobs, Part Four

As usual I managed to have a Thanksgiving which mainly avoids the traditional foods. Highlights of the table included curry, tofu pockets, Hungarian stuffed pancakes, and Sangria flavored soda. (From Mexico - who knew?) Our Thanksgiving guests are always a set of physics students who don't have family nearby to visit, and mostly we only see each other on Thanksgiving (even though we all study at the same school and live in the same town) so you still get to enjoy that old "So what have you been doing all year?" conversation, just as if you were seeing relatives.
I've been eating popcorn a lot, lately. Like every day. My mother gave me some terrific popcorn, which pops up about twice as high as the store-bought kind. (Presumably her popcorn was also bought in a store, but probably the Amish-run kind.) I also decided to try sprinkling nutritional yeast on the popcorn and after some experimentation I've come up with a recipe of popcorn, a bit of butter, dried garlic (rehydrated in the butter), lots of nutritional yeast and some season salt. It's a bit unhealthy (see salt and some butter) and a bit healthy (half my fiber for the day and a quarter of my protein), so it doesn't seem too bad overall. I do wonder, though, whether there will be unintended consequences resulting from eating it every day.
A project at work has been nearly done for two weeks, and yesterday I finally finished it. It felt pretty terrific to have an end result. At my next meeting we'll start discussing whether my end result proves what I want it to prove, but I think it looks promising.
We put up our tree this weekend and it is sporting even more Star Trek ornaments this year, due to a convention visit last spring. We found a geeky artist who makes hand-painted Star Trek ornaments which are about a hundred times better looking than the plastic action-figure style put out by the Hallmark and the like, so the tree looks a bit classier this year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And now we break from our regularly scheduled program

I don't even have a good excuse for why I haven't posted. All I can say is that I recently figured out that General Relativity, often referred to as "Gee Are" really should be referred to as "grrrrr."

How about some wedding pictures to distract you?
Andrew apologizes for a cheeky remark- good practice for the rest of our marriage.
The fathers, probably practicing their after-dinner speeches.
Andrew and his parents outside the church.My mother celebrates the fact that both of her children are married off by finishing off a magnum of champagne.

Have a terrific Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 17, 2008


My niece is showing many signs of becoming the clambering monkey that my brother was. One of her more memorable exploits occurred a few months ago when she managed to pull down part of my brother's computer, including his oh-so-expensive, very large, very beloved (and quite new) monitor. Which broke into many pieces, but did not break her in any way. This was a much luckier fate than my brother has suffered in the past: two broken arms and so many stitches I lost count.

For his birthday, we made a contribution to the "Replace the Monitor Fund" and received this perfectly lovely thank you from my brother:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Misty morning

Today is a cool, wet, gray November day. As I was walking to my office in the mist and fog, I was enjoying the trees with their muted colors, and the lonely leaves clinging to bare branches. I love fall. Actually, I love having four seasons: early winter evenings that make your home feel like a cozy haven, the burst of light and chlorophyll that is spring, the deep green of summer, and the crispness of fall. (Cliched descriptions, but nonetheless true.) I've occasionally wondered if I love winter and the change of the seasons because I spent most of my growing-up years in the Midwest. On the other hand, my father claims to abhor winter because he grew up in Minnesota, but I notice that he's still living in the Midwest. So is it environment or personality that determines this particular desire?

What about you? Do you live in a climate that is akin to where you grew up or is it radically different? And do you wish you could change the weather where you live?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


At the end of summer, a number of my friends became less available to me, due to a combination of physical distance (i.e. some moved) and lack of time (i.e. some had a baby). This meant that my pool of really good friends, the ones that you can ask for a ride to the airport when your plane leaves at 5 a.m., had dwindled to two. So I've been a little lonely. But today I found out that a good friend who has been living abroad will be returning to Maryland in January. This increases the number of names on my "really good friends list" by 50%. Yippee.

(And don't worry, E. I was kidding about the 5 a.m. flight - I never schedule a flight before

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You can't escape Freud, I guess

When I met my husband-to-be, he was not particularly handy. He didn't own any tools, and I don't know if he had ever changed a car's oil himself. As we started dating, though, a transformation took place. He bought a car, and expressed an interest in trying to do the maintenance. I loaned him my tools, and he started messing around. He discovered the great wide community of Internet mechanics. (Did you know there are people who post detailed instructions on how to replace the engine mounts on a Ford Escort? Neither did I.)
Since I come from a rather do-it-yourself kind of family, this new interest was only encouraged by my family. He started receiving power tools for Christmas and tool boxes for his birthday. He built some furniture for the house. Last week the toilet started leaking, and he didn't have time to repair it right away, so he showed me how I could turn off the water at the base of the toilet and turn it on just when it needed to refill. As I was going through this ritual a half a dozen times daily, I reflected that my life is now EXACTLY as it was in my childhood. I'm surrounded by ingenious temporary fixes, which eventually morph into creative permanent solutions. I'm told that we can't move to Europe because it would be too hard to take the tools. I'm spending far too much time in hardware stores, praying we'll be able to leave soon.

In other words, in spite of a promising beginning, I have married a man who turned into my father.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Time for comfort food

We had a quiet weekend. Lately I've spent half of the weekend cooking; my homework load this semester is (as I have already extensively complained here) rather large and I find that if I can make a couple of big dishes on Saturday or Sunday I can coast until about Thursday without doing any significant cooking. Leaving me to devote more time to homework.

Saturday I baked an enormous winter squash and mushroom lasagna. I made it once, about a year ago, and it must have made an impression on Andrew because he asked for it again this year. It's not in our regular menu rotation because it's the kind of dish that takes about four hours to make. But then you get about five pounds of heavenly lasagna, so that makes it an occasional indulgence.

I also got to experience some good cooking karma. I baked two apple cakes like this one and gave one to some friends.
This morning, my neighbor gave me a pumpkin pie which he had make with his Jack o'lantern pumpkin. I thought jack o'lantern pumpkins weren't supposed to be very good eating, but this was a terrific pie:

So, you might ask, which did you decide to have for breakfast? Neither, I answer, we made beignets:

which were excellent, but a recipe of 18 fried dough lumps is perhaps a tad too much for two people's breakfasts. Not that we let that stop us, of course.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Snack crisis averted

Today's afternoon snack was supposed to be three Belgian butter cookies. After I made the accompanying cup of tea, I discovered they were a bit chewy, so I popped them into the office toaster oven. Set to toast dark. Three minutes later, I was rewarded with three small, smoking black wafers. Thinking quickly, I carried the entire toaster oven outside until the smoke cleared.*

But what to do? A day without a snack is a day without sunshine. Luckily, some of my office mates were up for a jaunt. A quick trip to the campus ice cream parlor provided us with pumpkin pie ice cream cones, and life was good again.

*I'm actually quite practiced at this, as I had to carry the microwave out last year when I set its contents on fire.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Things I am thankful for today

1. Fall weather. Besides providing me with beautiful arboreal colors to enjoy, autumn lets me dig out all my favorite winter coats and hats. I bought a new one in Italy this summer and was especially keen to wear it today.

2. People who provide free blog header pictures for common use. (Hence, the redesign.)

3. My cast iron pan. A friend recently told me that she doesn't have one because she can't handle the worry of cleaning them improperly. A well-seasoned cast iron pan is a joy. It's insanely cheap (I don't know how you'd even spend more than $15), it lasts forever, and it holds heat like the sun. They aren't that scary to clean - either scour with salt or coffee grounds, avoiding soap, or wash with soap and water, and then re-season (i.e. smear with oil and heat) after each wash. Voila.

4. My husband. On Friday night, around midnight, I realized there was nothing that could make me happier at that moment than mint chocolate chip ice cream and he went and bought me some. I'm embarrassed to admit how often things like this happen.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I happened to get a deal on lemons when we were in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. That led to last week's lemon fest, salted lemons (on the left) and the previously mentioned lemon mousse. (Recipe here, although I didn't make the berry puree. The mousse was pretty terrific even without it.)

I have survived the homework crunch of the past three days. You know it's going to be a doozy when you think, "Why change out of my pajamas? I'm not going to leave the house all day, and I can spend an extra five minutes working on this problem."

Now it's back to the work that pays my bills. Looks like I'll be working this weekend too...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

All quiet on the Eastern Front

I seem to have no time, and yet I have nothing to tell you about. Our house is a busy beehive of work. Andrew spends every spare moment coding, trying to get a program to run and give him data (sweet data!) before his conference in November. I alternate between homework and trying to write a draft of a paper.

Luckily, this weekend I went on a cooking spree and we have been well fed during our work. I made a particularly lovely dessert which layers homemade lemon curd and lemon mousse. So when I'm totally frustrated by space-time as we know it (that was a general relativity reference, by the way) the lemon mousse soothes me.

Monday, October 13, 2008


A secretary admonished me for using a microwave I wasn't allowed to use. And while I violated the letter of the rule she was quoting, I don't think I was violating the spirit of the rule. I wish I wasn't so prone to feeling guilty about things like this. In real life, it took me two hours to quit feeling bad about the encounter. In my ideal life, I'd just let this slide off my back. How do you just let stuff go?

Friday, October 10, 2008

My newest favorite toy...

Bento boxes. (Also known as tiffins or small stackable tupperware.) 

Andrew and I got new lunchboxes at the start of the school year, and I'm loving them. There are four individual containers that all fit in one insulated holder, so I can send either hot or cold food. We get more variety than we ever did before, and even though I know what is in them each day, I still enjoy the surprise. 
Here's how they work. You lay them out:

You fill with leftovers:
They all get a lid. 
And they they all get stacked (and put into the thermos).
I thought it would take loads of time to prepare this much food, but I normally only fill the largest container with leftover dinner. Then one gets some miso paste and veggies, which we turn into soup with the addition of hot water at school. The other two get some combination of fruit, yogurt, nuts, dried fruit, or some cake, if we're lucky enough to have some. Yum.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Adventures in the kitchen

Monday I had a cooking disaster. I have no pictures of the (two!) wretched pot pies to show you. I hope to expunge them from my memory. I figured out what I did wrong, but only after they were all done. Even worse, I had made the second one as a gift for friends who just had a baby. I can only hope that their sleep-deprived state inured them to the tragedy that was my crust.

Not one to give up, I ventured back into the kitchen yesterday and made an outstanding cabbage soup. I can use such adjectives without appearing boastful because all the credit goes to Epicurious. I must admit that I didn't expect such pizzaz from cabbage. But the onion and cabbage soup was topped by apples quickly sauteed in butter, which provided a more toothsome texture and delicate sweetness to occasional bites. On advice from one of the commenters, I topped each bowl with gruyere cheese (the maiden voyage for our new french onion soup bowls) and got this:

Epicurious, you've saved me again.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ring, ring goes the cash register

In these difficult times, are you craving a little retail therapy? The president has told us many times that when the economy goes south, the people should go shopping. If you don't have any money to spend yourself, help me spend mine. Thanks to our generous friends and family, Andrew and I have wedding money to spend. Accustomed to our frugal graduate student ways, we're having trouble actually spending it. This is where you, my great reading public, come in. If you had a couple of hundred dollars to spend on an item or two for your household, what would you buy?

We want to buy good quality stuff that will last, if not as long as we hope our marriage will, at least a couple of decades. So far we've purchased silverware and wine glasses. Suggestions?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A tour of Rome

I am of the opinion that there is nothing more boring than someone else's vacation photos. (Have none of you experienced a vacation slide show?) In spite of that, I yield to the barrage of requests I've received. If you're like me, you should just mosey along and read the latest article on

We saw many, many permutations on the theme "Old Stones in Italy". Sometimes they were famous ones, as on the left. (Random and interesting fact I learned at the Colosseum: the Romans invented concrete.)

Sometimes the old stones were less famous, is in the ruins of the port town here.

Sometimes the stones were still standing.

Sometimes I could no longer stand, so exhausted was I from looking at all the old stones.

These stones were rather new, and were used to make the most striking fountain I have ever seen. The Trevi fountain is built along the rear wall of a palace, and it's as if Neptune and the various ocean creatures are bursting forth from the building.

And here the old stones are used as a stray cat sanctuary, an ingenious use of ruins cordoned of in the middle of the city. The stones are protected and so are the cats.

Once again graduate school pays off

I'm concerned about the economy, like everybody else. But for the first time in my life I am truly grateful for my complete lack of assets and net worth.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bits and bobs, part three

Just for the record, I need to correct one error in the comments from last week's post. Nutella does not contain trans fat. Saturated fat, sure, but what's a little saturated fat among friends? (Especially if those friends are eating the chocolaty nutty goodness that is Nutella.)
I spend all of my spare time (and some not-so-spare time) doing homework and reading for the class I'm taking. General Relativity. Doesn't that just sound stereotypically physics-y? I have to admit that it's a little fun to actually being playing around with equations and thinking about how the great, big, wide world works (instead of just thinking about how the inside of the mind works). On the other hand, my last homework assignment took 16 hours. Andrew tutors me, so considering the going tutoring rate of at least $25, I owe him $400 for last week's work alone.
Speaking of homework, when I was a kid in elementary school and we had complained about how much homework we had to do, my teacher told us that when we got to middle school we would have to do ten minutes of homework per class hour, and that in college we'd have to do two hours of homework for each class hour. This scared the bejeebers out of me. How could one person do that much work? I hadn't really caught on that in college you'd have fewer hours of instruction than in elementary school. (I also hadn't realized that I would grow up and be able to do that much work in a day...)
So from the past few weeks' experience in General Relativity (also know affectionately as GR) it seems that the ratio in grad school is five hours of homework for each class. But who needs free time, anyway?
The weather is getting cooler here, which means I have a limited time to use the flourishing herbs growing on my front porch. I can always think of things to make with basil, but the lavender is stumping me. I've got a recipe for a lemon lavender tart which sounds enticing, but does anyone have any additional ideas?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A styling breakfast?

Last year I decided that we needed to wean ourselves off breakfast cereal, especially cornflakes, because the added sugar and salt plus lack of fiber is a terrible way to start the day. For a while I replaced the cereal with homemade muffins, but the baking is time-consuming, and anyway I make muffins loaded with butter. Then we tried health-food store granola, which was delicious and high in fiber, but still really loaded with fat and sugar.
This led me to oatmeal. This is far and away the best option: healthy and cheap, easily prepared. The only problem was that I hated it. I tried every trick in the book: I bought steel-cut oats, I loaded my bowl with maple syrup and nuts and dried cranberries. I ate it several times a week over the course of months, trying to retrain my palate. It still tasted like library paste, just with added crunch.
This week I had an epiphany. As a kid, I loved Coco Wheats. If you haven't experienced this miracle of manufacturing, Coco Wheats are simply Cream of Wheat cereal (For those not from the US - it's a semolina porridge) with added cocoa. I have no idea why my mother let me eat it, because once you dump on the requisite three or four teaspoons of sugar, you're basically looking at chocolate in a bowl. Anyhow, I decided to riff on that, and now I stir in a heaping tablespoon of Nutella into my oatmeal. Sure, it's not as healthy as plain oatmeal. But I'm eating it and I'm happy with my bowl of (pretty-good-for-me) chocolate sludge.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Continuing with the theme

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Ohio. We went for the dual purposes of retrieving Phi the Physics Cat from her summer home (where she went to avoid the wedding hoopla) and to pick up two garbage bags full of basil plants my mother had grown for me. Let me repeat that, for emphasis: we drove all the way back to Maryland with two black trash-can bags full of basil plants. That's a heckuva a lot of basil. I convinced a friend to take one off my hands, and then we picked and washed for two long evenings. The products of that work are pictured below, right before I pureed them with the Parmesan, walnuts, and garlic to make thirteen pints of fresh pesto.

Luckily, I received a small chest freezer as a birthday gift last week, so all that pesto is resting peacefully in the deep-freeze. Last time I made it, the pesto was still good two years later, so next year I'll get a vacation from this particular job.
The car still smells like an herb garden.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

You say toe-mah-to

The weather has been cool lately. (That is, it's been below 80F, which counts as cool in DC.) This is perfect timing, as my kitchen is currently a fiery inferno where I devote myself to removing water from tomatoes by various processes. The picture below pretty much sums it up: the oven has been on for two days as I oh-so-slowly turn twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes into about two pounds of dried tomatoes. The top of the stove is devoted to turning the other twenty pounds into tomato sauce. This is the first year I've attempted to dry tomatoes. I'm astounded by how small and light each slice becomes - this really is an ideal way to store tomatoes long term. Since I'm planning to keep them in the freezer, I've dried some so that they're almost as dry and leathery as the ones you buy in the store, and some are still moist like a plump raisin. If I find that I prefer one type when cooking with them, I'll stick to that in the future. (I act as if I planned this all out, but really the variety is a consequence of my occasional lapses of attention and my inability to slice the fruits to consistent thicknesses.)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Roman vittles

We spent our honeymoon in Rome; ten days in a tiny but cozy apartment that was less than a block from a metro station. It had everything we needed, including TV (to watch Italian police dramas, which are so filled with plot cliches that you don't need to understand the dialogue to follow them), a kitchen with a two burner stove (on which I made pasta every night), and a tiny washing machine (which held no more than four shirts and a pair of pants OR two towels).

Andrew and I agreed that we really enjoyed having an apartment. It was wonderful to sleep in and not worry about people needing to come in and clean, and having a kitchen so that we could eat one or two meals at home saved us enough money that we could splurge a bit on the third meal. Generally we had a big, two or three course meal at lunch, and then salad and pasta for dinner at home.
The quality of the food at restaurants varied tremendously. Our worst meal cost us about $60, and included stuffed squash blossoms (which I had always wanted to try) which were most assuredly vegetarian, except that the oil they were fried in was so impregnated with a fishy flavor that it was unpleasantly akin to eating calamari. The second worst involved some pucker-worthy wine that I'm desperately trying to forget.

Eventually we learned that there was a marked difference between a $50 meal for two and a $70 meal for two, and that it really was important to trust the guide book. This led us to our best meal, which was also our last. (It was also the only one that featured Neapolitan instead of Roman food, but I have too few data points to make any firm conclusions regarding the two.) We shared a bottle of prosecco (sparkling wine), and I had incredible homemade orecchiette (little 'ear-shaped' pasta) with pesto and a limoncello cake.
I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) that most of the food that we ate I could have made at home, and probably made better. I don't know if this is a comment about the quality of the restaurants there, a backhanded compliment to my own cooking ability, or just plain bad luck. I will say, though, that the quality of the ingredients available was outstanding. Whether we purchased at the market or the grocery store, the zucchini were small and tasty, the melons perfectly ripe, and the mozzarella creamy and perfect. To me this was evidence that Italians do care more about what they eat than we generally do here, and it gives me hope that there is good food in Italy, and that I just have to figure out where they hide it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils

Just a quick post today. Pictured as the Very Righteous Reverend herself, although she vamped a bit less during the actual ceremony.
This week was the first week of the school year, and this year I was aware of it more than usual. When you're a graduate student, the time sort of blurs together. (I'm a sixth year grad student! Argh! Soon it will be time to retire and I still won't have completed my thesis.) This year a bunch of new students joined our research group and the excitement and terror of the first year has been vividly brought back to me. I'm also taking a class this semester, and it's been so long that I was a bit blase. I didn't remember to figure out where the classroom was until I was almost-too-late, and I don't seem to own any decent pens anymore, because I only type everything. I'm sure the impending due date of the first homework assignment will make it seem more real.
Now, it's time to head home and batten the hatches in preparation of Hurricane Hanna.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wedding, Part 2

Other than the small congregation, it was a pretty normal wedding. My brother was my attendant, earning the title "Man of Honor," although I think he would have preferred the title "Grand Monkeyboy of the Universe," while Andrew's sister was the "Best Woman." Our good friend M (who makes the videos for this site) got herself ordained online so she could officiate and now prefers the title "The Very Righteous Reverend."

The somewhat blurry photo on the left shows the wedding cake I made. It was supposed to be tiered, but the columns were accidentally left at home, so it turned into a big layer cake. It would have been kind of cool to have a stunningly beautiful cake, but my specialty, quite frankly, is more on the tasty side than on the handsome side when it comes to baking. It did taste wonderful, though: raspberry jam and orange Cointreau-flavored butter cream held together by cake.

Because we had decided to do so much ourselves, the guests also had to pitch in. I was especially touched by my friend A, who I hadn't seen in five years. He flew all the way from California and ended up doing dishes and driving Andrew and I home so we could each have a second drink. A friend who chooses rolling up the sleeves on his dress shirt and clearing tables instead of having a glass of wine is a friend indeed.

Next post, the reception in Ohio.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wedding, Part 1

Well, I'd apologize for the lack of posts in August, but if spending time with your new husband on your honeymoon in Rome isn't a good enough excuse for neglecting the cyberworld, then nothing will satisfy you people.

I promise to give you all the gory details of the wedding and honeymoon over the next weeks,but here's a starter photo for today. As has been reported here, the dress was my paternal grandmother's. It seems that she was precisely my size, because it didn't need to be altered at all. (Although we had to repair the ravages of time). My mother and mother-in-law did the flowers. This led to a few less than relaxed moments when they weren't yet complete three hours before the wedding, but they turned out beautifully and my bouquet cost a whopping $6 so I am grateful to them both.

We were all extremely happy with how the wedding went. The small guest list made planning quite easy, although it made me laugh at one point. When I walked down the aisle, I was accompanied by both my parents. Andrew had walked down with his parents, and they were all standing at the front, with our siblings who were attendants. Two friends were playing music, one was officiating, one was videoing, and three were taking pictures. This left a grand total of six people in the "congregation," one of whom was a two-year-old and not really paying attention to me. So if you are a bride dreaming of walking down the aisle as multitudes gaze upon you, it would be best to invite more than twenty-one guests.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bye for now.

Wedding cake baked? Check. Veil made? Check. House cleaned from top to bottom, so that not a mote of dust shall be spotted by in-law eyes? Check.

I may be tied up for a while - if there's radio silence until September, don't be concerned. I shall return with many stories of weddings and Rome.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Surreal scenes - resolved

The answer came to me in the middle of the night! You photo sleuths think you're so clever, but I couldn't figure out where that photo came from. This is the first time I've ever renewed my license in this state, and when they took my picture five years ago, it was a different color. And about five inches shorter.

Now these minor details might escape someone (like my future husband, say) but I know that picture couldn't be from five years ago. So I ruminated long and hard. Do they share pictures with the federal government? I mean, could that be my passport photo? But that seemed pretty unlikely. Could the have taken my photo for any other reason? I mean, there was that mug shot they took after the incident with the...

And then it hit me. Four days earlier, I had attempted to renew my license, but at the last minute, they decided I didn't have the right paperwork. I had already waited an hour in line, and more importantly, they had already taken my picture. Mystery solved. The picture is me a week ago.

I'm sure we can all rest easier now.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Surreal scenes from the Motor Vehicle Department

I went to renew my driver's license this morning. In the process, I uncovered a devious plot in which the MVD plans to make me question my sanity. Their attack was two pronged. (Bear with me here - you'll need a lot of background information to fully appreciate this rant.) I wanted them to change their records to show that my first name is "Renee Michelle." I had brought my birth certificate for this purpose. For the record, while I care that people call me Renee Michelle to my face, I don't actually care what the MVD names me. But they had previously informed me that my license record needed to match my passport and birth certificate.

So I showed them the birth certificate. (Surreal Experience #1) They objected to the fact that my name was merely listed as "Renee Michelle Last Name." To be specific, there was no clear indication whether this was a first and a middle name or two first names. They told me that in order for my first name to actually be recorded "Renee Michelle" I would have to get a court-ordered name change to "Renee-Michelle." When I pointed out (1) that Renee-hyphen-Michelle is not the name I actually use, nor do I wish to change it for their convenience and (2) that previous states and the federal government had no problem with my current name, they just stared at me blankly. I told them that, actually, I no longer cared what they named me, as long as I could get the little plastic card and they gave it to me.

This is when Surreal Experience #2 (SE-2) occurred. Look closely at the pictures below. The one on the left shows me, wearing what I wore to the MVD when I was photographed. The blurry one on the right is what now shows on my license. My hair is the correct length. My glasses (which I did not own last time I was photographed for my license) match. The lipstick color matches. But I am wearing different clothes! How did they do that? And even more intriguingly, why did they do that?

Any conspiracy theorists want to weigh in?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Black and Decker wins the day

The first wedding gifts have arrived, and among them were the router and miter saw that Andrew put on our registry. I think if he had realized that weddings could result in new tools, he would have agreed to marry me a lot sooner...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I'm slowly recovering from the three conferences I visited in seven days: one large physics educators conference, one more tightly-focused physics education research conference, and one mathematical psychology conference. (That last one was mainly because it was held in DC and I just couldn't stop conferencing, apparently.) And I won't bore you with any more academic details.
I recently received an iPod shuffle as a gift. I'm enjoying listening to music as I walk down the street, but until yesterday I was always careful to load whole albums and listen to them in order, neglecting the whole "shuffle" part of it. My question: are you ever in the mood for a twelfth century chant followed by Frank Sinatra? My answer: only if you have a 3-minute attention span. But I've decided to take the plunge, because the Shuffle is really made to well, shuffle, so I'm trying to embrace the musical stream of consciousness, as it were. When this results in an inability to concentrate on any one topic for more than 180 seconds and I fail out of school, I'll blame iPod.
I watched the movie Ratatouille a second time this week and let me say, I am astounded by their detailed portrayal of food in the movie. When the cooks drop an herb in the soup, you can tell if it's thyme or basil. Amazing! I recommend it as a Styling movie, and one that you can watch with your kids.
I've only got seven workdays left in my summer. Then it'll be three glorious weeks of spending time with family and visiting Rome. Oh, and I'll probably find time to get married during those three weeks.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Learning important stuff

Please forgive me - this will be a quick post, without any more to come until probably next week. I'm in Canada for a conference. Specifically, I'm in Edmonton, which (for those of you not in the know) is very, very far away from where I live and yet still on  the same continent. It took a long time to get here, so long that I finished the book that was supposed to last me the entire week and instead I had to do actual work.

I have to say that as an American, Canada is the worst of both possible worlds. This is not their fault; the country (so far as I have explored it during this trip, with only my trips between dorm and conference center :) is lovely. But it's not foreign enough compared to America for it to feel exotic, yet it's different enough to be annoying. For example, they have the same boring big box stores, yet you have to struggle with unfamiliar money. It looks the same as the Midwest here (and they speak with the same long o vowel) but there's a 3% exchange fee every time I charge something. I had to go through customs, but the airlines don't really consider it foreign, so those new annoying fees for extra bags apply, just like on domestic flights.

But don't think I spend all my time complaining. The weather is sunny and cool and I'm having a great time. I should also mention how much I'm learning, in case my advisor (who shelled out big bucks on her grant to let me come) is reading this. Hearing new talks, check! Making professional connections, check! Gaining much education on your dollar, check! (Please let me go next time, too!)

Thursday, July 10, 2008


The old bathroom...The new bathroom...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Vintage clothes, in a way

A good friend just defended his thesis (and graduated! Congratulations, Doctor!). He wore a suit and tie, which isn't that unusual, although the field of physics is not known for its sartorial excellence. He did make one distinct (though subtle) fashion statement. The tie he wore was also the same one he wore to his 8th grade graduation, high school graduation, and college graduation. Does anyone else have a piece of clothing that they've owned for 15 years (and that you still wear)?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Construction Zone, Part 2

In the DC area it's rather common for people to remodel or add to their houses rather than upgrading to a bigger or newer model because land (and proximity to the city) are in short supply. I have recently been reminded that I would never survive a remodel if I were ever to attempt such a thing. Andrew painted the bathroom and hallway last week, and even though these are the two most sparsely furnished rooms in our house, displaced belongings filled the narrow walkways to our bed. The disorder lasted on a week or two, but it makes my insides itch. I avoided being in the house when possible and tried to look forward to the pretty walls to come.

I think I've always been a neat person. At one point, when my brother and I needed to share a bedroom for several months, I remember stretching a jump rope across the floor to show him where his belongings could sit (on his side) and where they could not sit (on my side). And I've continued to prefer my surroundings to be orderly. (Those who have shared housing with me may prefer choicer terms, perhaps referencing psychological classifications, but this isn't, after all, their blog.) So, if we were ever to remodel our home, I think I would have to leave on a very long trip and not return until every scrap of leftover lumber was removed.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

That's "Sir" to you.

I earned a promotion last week. Sadly, there is little money involved but I get a different pip on my collar. This is because I completed my dissertation proposal, which is basically a miniature version of what my dissertation will be. I wrote a paper on what I plan to do and how, along with a sample of the data analysis I've done so far. Then I gave a talk to the PhD's that will likely be on my committee, and they gave me lots of feedback on what I should do as I write my dissertation over the next two years. In my case, this also corresponds to my reclassification as a Level 3 Graduate Student, otherwise known as a Doctoral candidate This means a $100 a year raise, which is about $6 more per month after taxes. That two whole cups of coffee! Furthermore, because we have assigned Starfleet ranks to all the positions in our research group, I have also earned a promotion from Lieutenant, junior grade to full Lieutenant.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I love olives and olives love me

I think I forgot to tell you all about my great olive experiment. Last fall I read an article about curing olives at home. I was smitten with the idea and even my lack of access to olive trees could nat deter me. I found an olive farm (olive grower? olive ranch? I'm not sure) that ships them, and I ordered 20 pounds, split between two varieties. I had calculated that (even including shipping, a few bruised olives that would have to be discarded, and the cost of the brine ingredients), the olives would still end up being about $3 a pound.

After they arrived, I spent an evening cutting a slit in each fruit, removing the most bruised olives, and the starting the cure. Olives are cured because the bitter compounds in them have to be leached out, and there are several ways to do this. I tried two different methods: one in which the olives are immersed in clear water which is changed daily for several weeks; and one in which the olives are immersed in a brine which is changed once after several months. All of the olives turned out nice, but the salt water leached out more flavor than I meant it to. The water method was easier, too, because I got in the habit of changing the water every night (which only took a minute) and they were edible sooner.

Once the olives were sufficiently un-bittered (and that point is determined by personal taste), they can be placed in brines of vinegar and salt. The plain red wine vinegar-soaked olives were pleasant and versatile, but the flavored olives have been outstanding. So far we've tried a garlic lemon combo and a dill fennel mix. I'll definitely be repeating this again during the next harvest, although I plan to get some green olives as well then.

Monday, June 16, 2008

'Til death do us part

Sorry for disappearing for a while. Andrew and I were both in a wedding this past weekend (not our own, in case that's not clear). There was much gnashing of the teeth over the Best Man speech, and a fair bit of rending of the garments when I saw how the stylist did my hair. (We were in the south and there was a fair bit of teasing in the 'do and that's all I'll say.) But our friend beamed for the entire wedding, which was worth any amount of bad hair.

And by going we've actually saved ourselves several hundred dollars. As we took part in this wedding, Andrew and I decided we could do without a few more services in our own wedding. For one, I don't need to spend over $100 on a hairdo I won't like - I can do that on my own, for free. If I'm not careful, I'll soon whittle the reception down to soydogs and iced tea.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Let's just all lay here quietly until Fall

I know the whole country is suffering from various weather-related ailments (what's your poison? tornadoes? floods?), but it is HOT in DC. We are melting. And our air conditioner just isn't up to the challenge. It can keep the indoor temperature about five degrees cooler than the outdoor temperature, which, you know, is better than nothing, but when it's 98F then our house is 93. On Saturday we lay around, stretched out under the ceiling fans, surrounded by cats trying to cool off the same way. On Sunday we went to the beach, and the bliss of the frigid Atlantic cannot be described.

Can I retract that blissful ode about the joys of summer that I posted a few weeks ago? I've changed my mind.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Lounging around

I finished the paper that was consuming my life, but now I'm supposed to be writing the talk that goes with it. And when I sat down to Powerpoint, I found that all of my work ethic has already taken off for the weekend.

So I'll send the following puzzling question out to the great electronic ether. Andrew and I watch a lot of musicals, especially old ones. Last week we were watching Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (and let me pause to say... Meh.) There was a scene in a nightclub (a lounge? a cabaret?) where the two heroines are singing in fancy, sparkly gowns to a crowd of well-dressed patrons sipping cocktails. You see scenes like this all the time in movies. My question? Did people really do this? I mean, did they get all dolled up and go out and drink Manhattans and watch people sing swingy songs? It just seems like something Hollywood invented. And I don't know anyone old enough to ask, except my Mennonite** grandmother, who probably couldn't help me much with this one.

**Because Mennonites, even the liberal branch I come from, don't drink, dance, or listen to much popular music.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Mazel tov!

My Star Trek group had a little party last night to celebrate a momentous engagement. (Sure we've got two engaged couples in the group, but this was bigger than that.) George Takei* recently announced his engagement to his partner of 21 years, Brad Altman. This happened, surprisingly, right after California ruled that gay marriages were legal. We were so tickled by both of these developments that we made them a cake (which was also my trial-run wedding cake) and a congratulatory sign.

*Sure, you know George Takei. He played Sulu on the original Star Trek series and he has this amazingly smooth, deep voice.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Just a bit off the sides, please

GACK! I have so much writing to do in the next three days that I'm considering skipping my monthly writing meeting... While we do write during our time together, sometimes we also talk about our writing. And I can't be wasting my time yapping; there are too many words to pry out of my brain.

In the meantime, I learned something that will make one of my chores easier. I have been cutting both my and Andrew's hair, because, well, I am insanely frugal. While it's more complex to cut my own hair because of the mirror, scissors, and comb juggling, Andrew's haircut is more trouble. This is because, no matter how long it is, he doesn't see the need to have it cut and thus protests mightily. He prefers the Old Testament prophet look, as far as I can tell. But this time I took a cue from those children's barbers who show kids cartoons so they'll sit still during the haircut. I hauled the laptop into the bathroom, turned on Star Trek, and handed him a glass of wine; he sat quietly the whole time I was cutting.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A brief aside

One of my advisers told me that I need to learn about styles. She was referring to this nifty part of Word that lets you format titles and headings more efficiently. And she was right, I did need to learn about styles. But I didn't need the tutorial where Word promised that it would help me make my documents more stylish. My writing already drips with style, thank you very much.

Now, if only it dripped with clarity and persuasiveness as well. Sigh... Back to my editing.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Summer is here

For my two non-American readers, Memorial Day weekend is considered the start of summer. And it feels like summer in DC this weekend.

Every Saturday from May to November we climb out of bed and head to the farmer's market. We buy the veggies we need for the week, and I always get a bouquet of flowers there because the flower lady sells the delicate, not-bred-for-commercial-sales flowers that you can't get anywhere else. This week there were peonies.

Another Saturday tradition is listening to a Prairie Home Companion, a radio variety show. Yesterday we went to hear a live performance, because sometimes they take the show on the road. The performance took place in an outdoor amphitheater and we picniced beforehand on cheeses and homemade bread and strawberries and Cointreau (one of my newest food obsessions). The weather was perfect (which of course shows that it's not really summer in DC, because that would mean humidity approaching 100%), the beer was cold, and the impressions of McCain and Clinton were spot-on.

Hope you're all having a great weekend too.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Next to Godliness

It gives me such a thrill to have a tidy, well-organized environment. And if you can find enjoyment in an activity that doesn't involve drugs (mmm, Merlot) or spending money, then it's my opinion that this pursuit should be encouraged. Andrew, I'm afraid, does not get this some thrill, and when I start organizing he generally flings himself over his belongings in an (often) vain attempt to protect them from my purging.
As a break/reward for my writing thus far today, I just tidied my desk. This also included the introduction of a new file cabinet for the rapidly growing collection of research papers I've read. Now a lot of things that were right out in the open, offending my eyes, are tucked away neatly, and I'm basking in the shine of newly dusted shelves.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I've got a big work deadline this week, so writing a coherent post just seems too daunting of a task. Instead, I provide the scrolling news ticker of my life (which, sadly, does not actually scroll).
Andrew is having his wisdom teeth out tomorrow. He was scheduled to have them out two weeks ago, but when we arrived they decided that he was seriously dehydrated and the operation had to be postponed. Under questioning, he admitted that he had primarily been drinking coffee and beer for the previous week. He has since been reintroduced to the substance known as water.
I've been freaking out a bit because I washed my intended wedding dress last week. (It hadn't been washed in sixty years; it seemed like a reasonable idea.) The fabric survived but the net overlay shrunk a great deal. After an emergency consultation with the mother of the bride, we've decided to show it to a seamstress and see if a new net overlay could be added. The fabric is rather fragile, so it may yet be that I end up thrifting a wedding dress.
For Christmas, Andrew bought be an incredibly lovely fountain pen. It makes writing research papers almost fun. Recently I lost it, and I've been missing it absurdly. No one should care about a material object that much, but I did. I'd think about its weight in my hand, how the ink flowed, the color of the casing. I finally broke down and bought a replacement, but I couldn't afford the same quality as last time. It's nice to write with, but it's not the transcendent experience that I had before.
My basil has finally sprouted. Each seedling is tinier than a grain of rice, but there's definitely life there. I had planted it twice and both times we'd receive days and days of rain immediately afterwards. I thought nothing would survive, but no, there will be pesto this year! The miracle of life and pasta, what a great combination.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The bright lights of the city

On Friday, Andrew and I spent our date night doing three things: eating homemade gnocci (which he adored), thrift shopping for new T-shirts for him (which he hated), and visiting the National Cathedral (which he grudgingly enjoyed).

This weekend, the National Cathedral was lit by various slides designed by Gerry Hofstetter. I think he's lit a lot of monuments this way, although this was the first he had done in the US. Although it's the kind of thing that makes cynics say, "And that counts as art?", it was a lot of fun to just stand and watch with dozens of other people as the slides slowly changed. I've included a photo from the National Cathedral's website to better show what my words are failing to describe.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Garage Sale!

Summer is fast approaching.  That means it's time for barbecues, beaches and garage sales!  To help you prepare for this American summer tradition, Renee Michelle explains about different garage saling cultures. 

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Yeah, I'm still here. And I've got no news... I'm supposed to have a draft of part of a paper done by Tuesday and it's so far from done it's not funny. Every time I think about writing a post, I think, "If you're going to be sitting at the computer writing, you'd better be writing your paper..."

In the meantime, it's beautiful. Returning to Maryland after arid Colorado just blew me away. I kept exclaiming, "It's so green and verdant!" (Well, okay, I didn't really say verdant; I just wish I had.) It turns out I live in a rain forest. The rock gardens of Boulder have been replaced with grass and fully-leafed trees and azaleas and a million other chlorophyll-laden organisms. Although I had to work today, I dragged the laptop outside and soaked in the springy bursting-with-life feeling.

And that makes the work a bit more bearable.

Friday, April 25, 2008

All you ever wanted to know about PER but were afraid to ask

Warning:  if you came here looking for style, come back tomorrow. Physics is not particularly stylish. 

What is PER?
Physics Education Research (hereafter known as PER) is a sub field of Physics (just like Plasma Physics or Gravitation Theory). We study how people learn physics, why they have difficulties, what happens on the way to becoming an expert, and how to teach physics better. We build (or borrow) on ideas from many fields, including education, cognitive science, learning sciences, and anthropology.

Do other fields have education research groups?
Sure, there is similar work going on in Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, and Math. People in Education Departments do work in all of these subjects, too, often in Science Education departments. Physics has been around longer (a mere thirty or forty years) than most, though, so we're probably the biggest.
Why do you need a PhD in Physics to do PER? It's not like your detailed understanding of electrodynamics (and I'm not claiming that I have such a detailed understanding) is going to help you figure out how people think about forces.
You don't need a PhD, it's true. Lots of people get a Bachelor's degree in physics and then get a PhD in Education and do really awesome work. But there are some advantages to the Physics PhD: (1) If you want to be a professor in a physics department, they'll expect your degree to be in Physics, not some other field. (2) Getting a PhD in Physics means that you become a part of the physics community, and not the education community. Thus you share (or at least understand) the ideas and practices that physicists value, so that you're teaching the things the community wants taught. Also, other physicists are more likely to take your ideas seriously. (3) One of my advisers makes a good argument that if we care about physics, then we have to care about how it's taught, because that's how the field grows. And if we care, we shouldn't leave the teaching to other people.

What do cameras have to do with physics?
You can study how people think about physics many ways: look at their homework, give them multiple choice surveys, interview them, and more. My group often learns about how people teach or learn by observing them as they are doing physics au naturelle - that is, we videotape them while they are in class or working on homework. Then we analyze the video, looking at who people talk to, the content of what they are saying, their gestures, their tone, etc. 

I hope I have provided you with more that you ever want to know about the arcane subfield, which, for better or worse, is my life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not to get all schmaltzy on you...

In three days I'll exchange this view:
for this view:
and I'll be happy because it means I'll be home.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More new specs

Yes, the mountain fresh air seems to have done me in. I'm longing to return to pollen encrusted, pollution filled Maryland. I'm doing my best to vanquish these germs, but it's a bit too early to put up the "Mission Accomplished" banner, except, um, considering when the last one was hung, it's probably exactly appropriate. In the meantime, here's a photo of my newest pair of glasses, my very first pair of frameless glasses. How many pairs can I own, do you think, before I'll have to admit to being the Imelda Marcos of eyeglasses? 

Friday, April 18, 2008


I was going to write this informative little post all about what physics and video cameras have to do with each other, but my immune system has failed me again and I'm only in the office to spread my germs and then leave. (What is it with this place? I haven't been well since I got to Boulder. Andrew is overwhelmed by the whining that accompanies this much sickness.)

So I promise more soon. Now, off to enjoy the sunshiny (not to worry that I'll be spoiled  - it snowed yesterday) and 70 degree day by laying in bed and hacking up a lung.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Please let me be smarter than a camcorder.

I'm happy to report that I didn't get sick, which is great because this left me with lots of time to obsess about work. Since I've been here in Boulder I've had ample opportunity to explore my experimental side. (I'm already well acquainted with my feminine side, thank you very much.) This means that I spend all my time fiddling with equipment and trying to figure out why it didn't do what I wanted it to do.

I'm trying to think of a humorous and entertaining way to describe how I've been TEARING MY HAIR OUT because: The microphone wasn't plugged in. The tape suddenly gets staticy just as someone says something interesting. The microphone only picked up the people sitting right next to it, and not one guy over. Everyone who volunteered to be taped teaches simultaneously, resulting in my sincere desire to give up physics for a while and go into biology, so I can figure out how to clone myself.

The good news (the not so bad news?) is that the semester ends soon, and so Thursday (aka V-Day) is my last chance to make this work. I've got bonus cameras. Fresh batteries. New microphones. A positive attitude and a chipper smile. (Because darn it, I will bend these cameras to my will).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


There will be no exciting styling news this week, I'm afraid. Work is really, well, work. Which means I'm doing a lot of it. On top of that, I'm not my usual energetic self. One of my flatmates was hug-the-toilet sick this week, and I'm waiting to see if my stomach is merely clenching in sympathy or whether I face the same destiny.

More (hopefully cheerier) posts next week, my dears. 

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sticky Fingers

In regards to the last post: I really do feel sorry for the driver who almost hit me, but in a man-that-really-sucks kind of way. This is not to say that I am not very grateful that he didn't hit me. 

A word about personal safety from another angle. Expectations regarding personal safety seem to be another West/East Coast cultural difference. In DC, I try to be as careful as I reasonable can. I rarely walk alone at night, even to the grocery store that is just a block away. When we moved into our current house, I asked Andrew to install locks on all the windows, even though we live on the second floor. This was around the time that some guy was sneaking into homes and cuddling up to women asleep in their beds, even (in one case) when her boyfriend was asleep beside her. Add the fact that my county has almost legendary car theft rates and a not too shabby number of murders, and it just behooves one to be careful.

Here, I live in a house that doesn't have locks. Well, the front door has a lock, but no one has a key to it, so the front door is always left open. They leave their laptops in the living room (although I notice all the bikes have locks) and no one seems worried that their stuff is going to get up and go walking. This freaked me out when I first got here. My solution has been two pronged: I took all my equipment to the university as soon as possible, where it is all safely locked up, and each night I tie my door shut. I haven't told my flatmates about that second one, because I'm sure they'd think I'm crazy, but I can't sleep if I'm worried about the crazies that might wander in.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Downs and ups

The not-so-great parts of my new life:

1. It has snowed the past two nights. As the room that I'm living in appears to have no insulation, the frigid weather means that if I'm in my room, I'm under my feather duvet.
2. While I found a sublet that is a half-hour walk from the university, it's an hour and a half walk to most everywhere else I want to go, like the grocery store or the movie theater. So, taking a trip to the bookstore can basically eat up the whole day.
3. I don't know anybody here.

The pretty-great parts of my new life:

1. I get a lot (A LOT) of exercise walking places.
2. I've found a terrific bakery that's just a fifteen minute walk from my house. In Maryland, I live on the (ahem) less affluent side of town, and there are no bakeries.
3. The people I work with are very nice, so I shall soon know people.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Boulder beginnings

Of course I'll be blogging from Colorado. It is the frontier, but they do have Internet.

Thanks for all you suggestions of what to do while I'm here. I'd like to get to Denver, but that may involve complex bus connections, so this weekend I'm planning to just stay local.

Although I have lived in the West before, I haven't been here in a while, and there's small amount of cultural adjustment required on my part. The people here are so relaaaxed. I forget how uptight we all are in DC. I like uptight. It's the German in me, what can I say?

With respect to local diversions, my taxi driver with the long bleached-blond hair  told me which radio show features good discussions about aliens, and I was invited on a hike (which I regretfully declined, due to the fact that my feet fall off if I get too much exercise). 

My environments here (both work and home) are startling different than those in Maryland. There are the mountains, of course, and the more arid landscape, which is cram-packed with emptiness. The house I live in is a step above a hovel, thank goodness, but only one step up. It seems like the kind of place that if there's a hole in the wall they shove some rags in to fill the gap. There is an alarming infestation of slow-moving beetles, and because Andrew has more or less convinced me that it's bad to kill bugs (except roaches, of course - I show them no mercy) I find that I carry one outside every fifteen minutes. The roomies seem most friendly, though, so I think I shall be fine. 

The physics building I work in is awesome. At home I share a concrete block office with eight other people. Here no more than three are in a room, and the room has (Are you ready for this?) windows! Which look out on to the campus from ten stories up! And let in natural light! So there's an actual live plant on my desk! (I must pause here for today, lest I exclaim myself into breathlessness. But the window does induce a bit of giddiness...)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Where everyone speaks your language

Tomorrow I leave for my month long adventure in Colorado. I'll be staying in a sublet I found on Craigslist, in a town I've never been, and working with people I don't know. I only have one friend in the whole town, and I haven't seen her in six years, so I can't quite claim that we are bosom buddies. When I was a kid, the idea of doing something like this, where you had to spend all of your time with strangers would have terrified me. (Warning: shameless plug to follow.) But I can credit my current ease with such situations to one particular event - study abroad. (Thank you, Rotary.)

Sure, I spent the first four months in Germany dreadfully homesick and unable to communicate beyond rudimentary present-tense phrases. In spite of the fact that Germany is so similar to America (Work ethic, anyone? Latin alphabet? Strange appreciation for David Hasselhoff?) I still messed up lots of things: I kept the door open when I was in a room, when it should have been closed. I showered too much. I poofed up my bangs. (It was the nineties, after all.) I didn't know to bring flowers to every dinner or party I showed up to. I didn't know what forms I needed, before I was legally allowed to live in a city. (In Germany, everyone is required to register with the police, not like here, where just the pedophiles have to.)

So when I think of heading off to a new place now, it's not scary at all. At least everyone speaks English. In America, I'm perfectly clear an when I need to shake hands (not that often) and how to communicate with people in a professional setting without sounding clueless/presumptuous/foolish.

I still love going new places, but I'm also grateful when I'm headed somewhere where I know the unwritten rules as well as the written ones.

See you in Colorado!

Friday, March 21, 2008

It's done!

Remember the whining posts you endured, where I complained about my sawdust-filled house? Well, the complaints will now cease. I announce a new addition to our family: the window seat.
It's beautiful! It's sturdy! It can hold our entire liquor supply plus the good silver! (Hmm, have I just tipped off the thieves reading this? But really, how much resale value does half a bottle of brandy have?)

I love it. (And the guy who made it, of course, but I'll try not to get too mushy on you.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Prettying up the house

I may disappear from the Internet for the next week on so. I mean, I can only rely on pictures with pithy comments to entertain you all for so long. But my trip to Colorado approaches, I'm swamped with preparations and trying to write a draft (or at least part of one).

Can I fob more pictures on you? My parents were in town this weekend, and when my mother the photographer snapped away I realized we had completed some more styling projects that I hadn't managed to slip into a post. The first one shows the shelf that Andrew built in our living room. My inspiration for this project was a built-in, back lit shelf, filled with objets d'art in a swinging bachelor pad from the movie "Down with Love." I really like how it turned out, although I'd like to replace a few of the things up there, especially the boring clear glass vase.
A more recent product of arts and crafts time was this clock. I learned how to take apart a wooden Ikea lazy susan and use the wooden disks as clock faces on Ikea Hacker. It sounded pretty easy, so I found inspiration in a 60's children's picture book, Harry the Dirty Dog. (No, it's not X-rated - Harry just doesn't like baths.) I mod podged the pictures on and installed a clock kit through the back. I make it sound a little easier than it was: I foolishly didn't realize that the size of the clock kit determines how thick the face can be, and Andrew had to carve out the back to make it thinner. So, if you decide to try this on you own, I recommend either measuring first or having your own carpenter on hand to fix your mistakes.

(A shout-out to my styling dad, who did the final assembly of the clock. Thanks, dad!)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More new glasses

I just can't stop! They were only $40, and that included my splurge for thinner lenses (that's a higher n, for you physicists).
Now, the real question is: do you think I bought these glasses so I could look like him or him?

Monday, March 10, 2008

My secret desire...

Right now, the cat is longing for spring, so that she can go outside again. I am longing for a microphone that runs on AC power and a couple of really cute pairs of spring pumps. Andrew is (always) longing for more golf stuff. What do you long for?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Even the trees are styling

Because of work, I'm going to be going to Colorado for most of the month of April. It's a great opportunity, and I'm happy to have the chance to go work there for a bit. But I've been a bit disappointed that I'll miss spring in Maryland, because Maryland does spring better than anywhere else I've lived. There's just enough cold weather in the winter so that you really appreciate the warm weather, and the trees and bushes just erupt with color.

But today I looked out my window and saw a little bit of spring. And I rejoiced, for I am happy to have moved from a basement apartment to an attic apartment, and I am happy to see these beauties:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Make it so.

I am a little bit poor and a little bit crazy. This Sunday a car full of Star Trek friends will be attending a convention in New Jersey so we can see (gasp!) Patrick Stewart, a rather rare convention guest. The convention starts at 9am, however, and we are all too poor to get a hotel room. So we plan to leave DC around 4am. Add to this the fact that Saturday evening is the daylight savings time switch, and I'm looking at veeeery little sleep on Saturday night.

My plan? To wake up a half an hour earlier each day, to help prepare myself. By Saturday I should be grumpily rising at 5:30am, which is a full three hours earlier than my regular weekday wakeup time.

(For the record, the part showing that I am crazy is not that I'm attending a Star Trek convention, it's that I'll be up before the birdies.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Muffin Smackdown!

Due to poor planning, circumstances forced me to make two kinds of muffins this week. (i.e. I forgot to buy enough ingredients to make a double batch of any single kind of muffin.) In one corner, the Iron Chef of my muffin recipes, the Sour Cream Blueberry Orange Muffin, reliable standard of Fine Cooking magazine. In the other corner, the upstart Banana Raspberry Muffin, the untested yet hopeful recipe from the newly acquired Australian cookbook. The Blueberry Muffin was expected to be the winner as it has not one, but two types of luscious dairy fat - sour cream and butter. But the Banana Raspberry won hands down, mainly due to juiciness of its lovely, ruby raspberries. The banana base provided a fruity, moist base. Considering the two recipes have the same amount of sugar but the Banana Raspberry muffins have much less fat and are being consumed at a much higher rate, we have a new Styling with Renee Michelle champion!

The muffin is dead, long live the muffin!

Friday, February 29, 2008

The new look

As requested, here's the new haircut, with a bonus unveiling of new glasses. The frames are kind of crazy, so I think I'll buy some less attention-grabbing frames as well, but it's fun to wear something a little more edgy.

I snapped a picture of my outfit, too, because it's new and I wanted to show it off.