Sunday, July 31, 2016


One of the highlights of my vacation was a kayak trip that my brother and I took across Tomales Bay. In that bay live particular plankton, that bioluminesce when they are disturbed. A colleague had done the trip a few years earlier and recommended it. It was quite an ordeal to even get out there - a two-hour drive, a one-hour safety lesson, a three-hour kayak trip, and then a hour drive home after midnight. (Luckily, my brother did almost all the driving, so still-on-East-Coast-Time me got to sleep on the way home.)
Pictures can't capture what it looks like, although this video gives a rough idea. Shawn would make sweeping arcs with his paddle, and light-filled ripples shot out. I dragged my hand in the water, and when I'd pick it up, just for a second, I'd be holding sparks of gold. It's important to be far from other lights, although it wasn't clear to me if that was so that our eyes would adjust to better see the bioluminescence, or because the plankton won't light up around other light sources.  
I have never particularly desired to be a Disney princess, but running my hands through the water made me feel like I was in a Disney movie, with magical light just pouring off my hands. 
The two of us halfway through the trip, sporting our stylish sea kayak skirts.
Cormarants. There is a small island in the middle of the bay. Many, many birds rest there, making a terrible racket.
Some kind of non-poisonous jellyfish, included in the pictures simply because it was so interesting.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


I extended my work trip in California so that I could spend some time with my brother and his family. It's been like a foreign exchange trip, where the country is the Land with Kids. I've attended swim meets, gone on trips to the candy store, and played at playgrounds. I have learned about Pokémon Go, but thankfully haven't had to learn much about the preteen pop artists my niece favors.

Since I'm an introvert, though, I also appreciate the quiet times a vacation provides. Every morning I sit out with my coffee in their front yard, which is dominated by a giant redwood whose branches form a canopy over the entire yard. It's a lovely way to start the day.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Not talking

Every year, since 2006, I have attended a conference in July run by the American Association of Physics Teachers. When I was a student and postdoc, I would present a poster and talk every time, and often I would moderate a session or run a committee meeting. Once I started my present job, I wasn't doing research any more, but there were still workshops to run and presentations to do.

A few years ago, I asked if we could change some of my responsibilities at work, because I had realized that I really, truly do not like being in front of people. I don't like giving talks. I don't like running workshops. I don't even like standing up to give announcements at meetings. It was quite a realization, because I did these things for many years and thought that doing them was a fundamental part of academia and of my current job. Moreover, I was fairly good at them. At some point, though, I wasn't willing to do things I that made me utterly miserable anymore.

In fact, we were able to arrange things so that I can avoid much of that. This year was my very first conference where I did not give a workshop, a talk, a poster, or even announcements. And it was the least stressful conference of my life. I still had meetings from 7am to 8pm, and I was pretty tired at the end of every day. But I was no longer exhausted and mainlining Advil. I feel lucky that I could identify what would make my work life better, and that I had a position where we could make that happen. Sometimes happiness is achieved simply by asking for it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Growing season

     We now interrupt your regularly scheduled update on the house to give you this update on the garden. This year, I knew that my garden would have to be smaller and less tended than last year; since I'm trying to get most of my home updates done in the first year, there's just not that much time left over. That's sometimes hard for me, because I miss the joy of working in the dirt, and I'll definitely harvest fewer vegetables than last year. Hopefully I can make up for it next year.
     I can't fit the entire garden in one picture, but this about two-thirds of it. That bare patch is where I planted leeks and fennel, twice. Both times I got nothing but dirt. I also planted basil three times, from two different sets of seeds, but nothing came up. This is the first time in my garden career that I've planted viable seeds and just had entire crops fail to even sprout.
     The pole beans are starting to work their way up the teepees. Pole beans are long green beans, and they produce more than the bush green beans than most people grow, so I think they are worth the effort. And standing on a stepladder in the middle of the yard and pounding in eight foot stakes with a rubber mallet above your head is some effort, let me tell you. I dropped the mallet on my head twice, and had the bruise to show for it.
      Some of the gardens I inherited are out of control with years-old weeds. After consulting with my mother, I'm solarizing (a fancy way to say "using the sun to kill everything alive") the beds. I covered the ground with sheets of plastic, and in a few weeks or months, I'll pull it up and try planting again.
Happily, the watermelons are a success again this year. I train them up a trellis, making little hammocks to support the fruits.