Sunday, April 30, 2017

May Garden Report: It's hot already

      As I started my garden planning this winter, I decided that outside work would take precedence over inside work this summer. Last year repairing and refurbishing the house took so much time that I didn't work in the garden as much, and it showed in my vegetable output. This year, I am choosing planting/weeding/watering over sanding/painting/rewiring.
      Alas, I am already off to a mediocre start. I planted at the regular times, but it got really warm, really fast this in March. I should have peas by now, but instead I have 6" tall plants, which will soon die from the heat. So I've said goodbye to my hoped-for broccoli, peas, and spinach, and moved right to hot-weather crops.
     Like last year, the garlic and herbs look great. I planted 11 tomato seedlings today, which were carefully nurtured under my basement grow light, and I'm just plowing ahead (yes, that's a gardening pun, thank you) with all the other summer planting. According to my spreadsheet, I'm two weeks ahead, but the soil and air temperatures seem okay for what I'd call "tropical" plants like tomatoes and eggplant.
     I know that gardening, like farming, is somewhat dependent on luck. My spreadsheet has almost 40 different edibles because I know that one-third of them won't thrive in any given year. It keeps me, the gardener, humble, and and also makes me extremely grateful for grocery stores. Unlike farming, if my crops fail, I still eat.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Marching, or Rather, Standing

     In all my thirteen years in DC, I have never participated in a political rally. But when my physicist friends R and B said they were flying in from Ohio with their toddler daughter to attend the March for Science, I figured this was my big chance. After all, I can't let a fifteen-month-old be more politically hip than me.
     On Saturday morning, we got up bright and early and headed to the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where my company was hosting a breakfast. After picking up our free shirts, free hats, and free granola (it was uncommonly good swag!), we started walking to the Mall. There was a steady stream of people going the same direction, and it was nice to hear some of their stories and why they had decided to come to the march.
     If you've never done something like this, the picture below sums it up. You stand on a flat patch of grass with 40,000 people and listen to many, many people give short testimonials, which was interspersed with surprisingly good live jazz music. I will note that the organizers had great diversity in speakers, and not just race, age, ethnicity and physical abilities. They included science diversity, too - I have to admit that I wasn't even aware of firefighter research.
We were expecting to stick around all day for the march, not just the rally. But three hours in, as the cold rain continued to pour down on us, and the toddler with us was really wailing, we packed up and went home. It was an interesting experience, and introverted me will be sure to do it again, probably in about thirteen years...
And extra proof that I was there: I'm in the crowd picture of this news story. Right below the Washington Monument, in the left-hand corner, is a person in a neon green hooded raincoat. That's me! My moment of fashion shame (neon green went out in the nineties) captured forever.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Old friends

     My long-time friend M and her daughter J were my most recent visitors. M and I got our PhDs at the same time - I can remember when we made the rule that only one of could cry about an E&M (Electromagnetism) exam at one time, so the other could do the comforting. Luckily, those days are long past, and now we both have "Dr" in front of our names and work for science education nonprofits. But M still gets tipsy on one glass of wine and I still over-plan all our get-togethers.
     Her daughter J is now five years old and she fell in love with Molly the cat. This suited Molly just fine, as there is nothing she wants more than to have someone pet her continuously and remark on her every meow. I hope to use Molly as bait to lure them both back for a future visit.
     Unfortunately, I was under the weather at the end of their visit, and still haven't recovered. I feel exhausted, but not quite sick enough to need to stay home in bed. I was just tired enough that I forgot to smile all day Sunday, which probably wasn't pleasant for my house guests. Now I'm just wading through a week with twenty-two hours of scheduled meetings. (I counted.) I normally have a lot of meetings, but this is an especially dense distribution, and it's probably not helping my energy levels.

Friday, April 14, 2017

      The parade of visitors using my guest room continues unabated. I need to update on last weekend's activities before I can let myself have fun this weekend.
     My parents' visit was all about the project, of course. I made a (huge) master list of everything that needs to be repaired in my house or vehicles, then narrowed it down to the top ten things I was stuck on. We decided to be official and have people sign off on the completed projects.
     I was very pleased with our accomplishments. When we didn't have time to complete things, my father surveyed the situation and gave me his expert advice on how to proceed, so I have about five projects that are underway right now. 
     The most exciting result of the weekend is my newly-powered bicycle. About a month ago, I decided that I would bite the bullet (and really, I probably need to bite a bullet to stop the pain, as I am so loathe to spend great sums of money) and buy an electric bike kit. After a year of cycling to work on the commute from my new house, I was still walking the bike up a few hills each way. And when I get home from work, I always have to sit and rest a bit before I can walk the dog. The kit I found has an electric motor in the front wheel hub, so you just change out the front wheel on your existing bicycle, wire it up to a battery, and off you go.
My friend S and his wife came over for dinner, but before we let them eat, my father and S installed the kit. Of course, nothing ever goes quite as smoothly as you hope, and my father needed to modify my bike to make it all work. 
Filing the forks - proof that I helped a bit.

The motor is designed to give you a boost when you're already pedaling (this its name Hilltopper) and it's just what I need. Roundtrip, I have a ten-mile, somewhat hilly ride, but now it feels like a six-mile, flat ride. I'm hoping the result is that I ride even more often to work, and I will be especially grateful to avoid the strenuous rides as the summer heat and humidity approaches. Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, April 03, 2017

An academic party

     This weekend I basically went to a class reunion for my PhD. My advisor turned 75 and the university organized a celebration. When regular people celebrate, they drink a lot and dance. When academics celebrate, the drink a lot and go to talks. So there were receptions, lectures on the many topics he has studied in his career, and physicists from all over the globe, who came to celebrate my advisor, talk about physics education research, and drink wine.
     In the picture, you can see my advisor (I actually had two PhD advisors, but that ruins that narrative) seated in front, with all of the students and postdocs who studied with him. Some of the people who were getting their PhDs at the same time as me stayed in research, so I regularly see them at conferences. But others decided to teach, or to become lawyers or make policy, so I hadn't talked to many in years. It was simply delightful to find out how many kids they now had, or what kind of awesome job they had.
     It was also heartwarming to hear all the great stories about my advisor. I have fond memories of him because he had faith in me for years, even when I kept failing my qualifying exams. But I am just one of many people who had positive memories of his intellectual curiosity and his unwavering support of his students. As a result, I left resolving to myself to be a better mentor to others.