Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thinking slowly

My brain is slow these days. I can see it in my need for nine hours of sleep every night, in my inability to do much beyond the basic chores of working, making dinner, and feeding the cat. In fact, I was so overwhelmed by dog care that my parents are took Ada the dog back to Ohio for a few months. And at work, I'm doing my job reasonably well, although more than once my boss has come into my office, asked me to do something, and then once she left, I just didn't do it. Because I forgot.

I've been wondering what my brain is doing, if it's not managing my life. I know that I'm "processing", but since my job is to think about learning and cognition, that isn't a sufficient explanation. Luckily, I've been reading a book about research on grief. (And right now, all the academics are nodding, thinking, "I'd want to read about grief research too, if I were grieving.") I finally got a partial explanation of what my brain is doing. I know that brains automate a lot - we have routines for doing lots of things, so we don't have to think about them very much. But my routines, and my assumptions about the world, were challenged. How many places should I set at the table? Who walks the dog? Do I say "we" or "I"? Suddenly I have to think through everything very carefully, because everything is new and I can't trust the world to behave in the way that I thought it did. So I can't do as much, or as quickly, because I have to constantly test if what I'm going to do is the right thing.

I like knowing what's going on in my brain. But it is still very, very hard waiting while it figures out the world again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Digging in the dirt - a retrospective

     It turns out that I love gardening. I planted my first garden this year, motivated mainly be the fact that a garden plot came with the apartment and I hoped to save money. By the middle of the summer, I found myself wishing that I had even more work to do in the garden, and by then I knew that I was hooked.
     I think gardening can be a hobby aligned with frugal living, but then you have to garden carefully. I kept a careful tally of all my expenses during the summer, and I can report that I spent $162 on non-durable supplies like seedlings, seeds, mulch, and compost. In the future, I can probably limit myself to $100 of expenses, because I now know where to get bulk mulch and compost. I had planned to keep an equally careful account of food harvested, but I abandoned that during this difficult summer. Hopefully I can track next year, because I would like to prove to myself that gardening is thrifty.
     I managed to take pictures at the start of most months, and they let me tell the story of the garden this year.
     By June (above) I had two plots, but I spent the first month or two eating salads of weeds because nothing else was big enough. Andrew stood in the back to show the size of the plot, so I did that in future pictures too.
     In early July we had several trellises, including an incredible winter squash trellis on the right. Sadly, the winter squash all rotted, so I will have to try using the trellis again next year. In July I ate zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, and basil.
     I'm shorter than my husband was, so it's harder to see me in the back of this picture taken in early September. During August, I ate more green beans, more tomatoes, beets, and watermelon. I also discovered that you can eat sweet potato leaves, both in salads and stir fried.
     This last picture is of course a bit sad, because it has Andrew in it. But it also makes me happy, because we were so proud of the very first harvest - one zucchini and a basil.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Earning a living

In a conversation with my uncle this week, I was reminded that I had not talked very much about what I do for a living. I started my new job in April, so I have had about four months to figure out what it's all about. If you're an academic, the short way to explain it is: I do 100% service. (Translation for non-academics: professors typically have three components to their job: research, teaching, and service to the professional/university community.)

The longer way to explain it is that I work for a professional organization of physicists. If you are a physicist in the U.S., you likely belong to this organization, because you read their journal and attend their conferences. I work in the department that specializes in education and diversity, so we work on projects to increase the number of high school physics teachers in the U.S., or to increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities earning undergraduate or graduate degrees in physics. Instead of spending time on education research, I plan conferences, supervise grant programs, and assist committees in their activities.

I am happy in this job, because I really support the mission of the department and of the company. I use many of the skills I learned in graduate school, like synthesizing education literature and writing, and I get to help the larger physics community think about issues of education and diversity. I also work with a great group of people, and, in my experience, a good working environment makes the difference between an acceptable job and an outstanding job. One more thing I love? I have an office with one wall of windows, with a great view of the woods surrounding the building.