Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hot Stuff

2/26/2006-2/27-2006 Minnesota Twins, Ft. Myers, Florida

Sorry to be missing in action for awhile. I have been in Ft. Myers with my boys (oh yeah, and my boyfriend) watching practices. My boys look good so far. Johan's arm looks just as strong as ever. I stood a few feet away while he hurled the ball into L'il Joe's mitt. The sound was so impressive I called up my mom and let her listen over the phone to Johan pitch. She is sad because Johan is her favorite but he will be playing in the Baseball World Classic while she is in town (starting tomorrow, yippy!).

I got my picture taken with L'il Joe, who might just be the cutest thing on the planet. I have met him a couple times now and each time I do I get too shy to tell him that my aunt is his neighbor in St. Paul. She really is. She calls him up to sign stuff for benefits at the hosptical where she works and he comes over INTO HER HOUSE to sign stuff to be auctioned. She has also seen him playing pingpong and drinkning Coors light in his garage with his friends. How cute is that? I now order Coors Light instead of Bud Light when I think of it. She says Joe is just the nicest guy.

Anyway, whenever I talk to him I feel stupid for not telling him how we have this connection, but I thinkg it's best I don't for two reasons. First, I'm sure since he is from St. Paul, Twins fans are constantly coming up to him saying things like, "My mom was your high school teacher!" or "My little sister's boyfriend was on your little league team!" He's got to not think much of it these days. Second, it might be a little creepy to essensially say, "I think your'e sooooo hot and guess what?! I know exactly where you live!"

I also got my picture taken with Torii Hunter, another extreme hottie. This picture didn't turn out as good, but there is sort of a story behind it. Torii gets a little tired of people asking for his autograph. He's always happy to do it for kids, but gets cranky about doing it for adults because he doesn't trust you to not sell it. I can understand some of his concern. While he was signing, someone asked him the strangest thing he had to sign was, he answered, "That's R rated!" When the crowd thinned out I nervously asked him if I could get a picture with him. He was happy to do it because he thinks its more personal than signed a ball that may or may not end up on ebay. Anyway, when I asked him for the picture he said, "Well of course, Ma'am!" MA'AM?! That stung a little. He was a good picture taker though because he threw his arm around me and pulled me to him. I put my arm around his waist and cherished the few seconds I was in his huge, warm embrace. Yummmm...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Crabby Old Bitty

Once in a while I get into these moods where I get all cranky about my lab mates. I usually wrap up my rants by confessing an obsessive fear that I’m going to end up a stereotypical bitchy female scientist. Guess what folks? It’s that time again!

Okay. Here goes. It is just about 10:00 here and I am the only person in the lab. I wake up every morning at 6:30 to work out, and then I get ready and get into the lab around 9:00 or 9:15. I’m ALWAYS the first grad student here. Inevitably people start wandering in about 10:30 or 11:00 complaining about how tired they are and how it is such a struggle to get here so flippin early in the morning. Today we have a nobel laureate visiting the lab at 3:00. One of the grad students who I’m not particularly fond of thought it was yesterday and came flying in the door at 3:15 and then got all upset that he had “rushed here” to make it by 3:00. I went off on him.

I know I sound extremely grizzled when I bring this up, but it just seems like the newer grad students in my lab spend all their time whining about how busy they are. How they can’t have a life outside this place. How so much is expected of them. I’m sorry, is grad school supposed to be easy? We all go through the same thing. Your first year you take three classes and teach three classes. You have little time for research but you can pretty much count on being here 8-10 hours a day. And you can forget about a life.

My lab mates and I have the best advisor ever. I’m not kidding. His only requirement is that when we have liquid helium in stock with which to run our giant magnet we keep experiments going around the clock. Since we have several experiments that can be left alone for 8 hours or more, this requirement isn’t unreasonable. Other than that, he never complains when people don’t get here early in the morning or stay late. He never complains when I take off for a few days when my parents are in town or when I go to Minneapolis a couple times a year. He will pull people aside when he doesn’t see enough productivity, but other than that he leaves us alone. I follow a structured regimen because I am 26 and one of these days when I have a grown up job I know it will be required of me. The sooner I get used to that, the better. Sure, once in a while I sleep in and roll into work at 11:00 and it feels good. But I just think doing it everyday takes advantage of our easy going boss. Any other boss in the department and in all departments around the country would expect much more than our advisor is getting.

I know in my heart that people reap what they sow. I will be a better scientist for having the discipline to work long hours when I could get away with less. I’ll get my PhD in a timely manner and get a good job. But in the present I can’t help feeling snarky about it.

Now comes the part where I worry about being a bitchy female physicist. To detour a minute, I read an interesting article about a phenomenon where people become so afraid of fulfilling a certain stereotype that it affects their performance. I can’t remember what it’s called. Something about threatened stereotyping I think. I’m pretty sure I suffer from that. I suffer from being a cranky old bitty who is destined to rub it in how easy people have it and I’m pretty sure I’ll bust out with “Oh yeah? Well when I went to the University of Minnesota I walked six blocks to campus everyday. Sometimes through the snow and in below zero temperatures.” I’ll spare them from the assertion that it was uphill both ways.

Monday, February 20, 2006

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

2/19/2006- Cleveland Indians, Winter Haven, Florida

Pitchers and catchers reported for spring training this past weekend, marking the start of the most wonderful time of the year. There is nothing like spring training. There is such a different feel to it than the regular season, and for those of us who grew up watching baseball in a dome watching outdoor baseball is still a special treat. It is so laid back and personal. You can sit behind a chain link fence 10 feet away from the players practicing drills. If they are bored they might just walk up and start a conversation with you. Division rivals and the hated Yankees aren't quite so bad when the games don't count and they're all just a bunch of boys goofing off. If you want anyone's autograph, spring training is the time to get it. Same goes with pictures. And if you're a relatively attractive twenty-something, pictures and signings are even easier.

If you are a relatively attractive twenty-something who has a thing for players in baseball pants, spring training is an especially wonderful time of year.

Dean loves spring training even more than I do because he is a baseball fiend and being so close to the players and getting ALL his baseball cards autographed is a dream come true. Often I am enlisted to get autographs for him because, let's face it, I am a little better at getting the players' attention. In exchange for this service, Dean takes my picture with my favorite players, saying "May I please get a picture of you with my sister?" Dean is so good to me.

This a picture I got taken with Shannon Stewart last year.

I didn't take any pictures yesterday in Winter Haven because I'm not a big Indians fan. I just sat back in the grass reacquainting myself with the familiar sound of a ball hitting the catcher's mitt and soaking up the sun. I got a couple autographs for Deano who bought me lunch afterwards. I'll also let you in on a little secret. Dean has no idea just how much I love spring training. I sit there watching the players run around in their pants, once in awhile exchange winks with them, taking in the sun and stimulating my other senses with the sights, sounds and smells of baseball. When we are ready to go Dean tells me what a great girlfriend I am, going to training practices and games with him. Waiting patiently while he gawks at his favorite players and gets autographs with the other fans. I'm such a great girlfriend to help him with the autographs even though I get my picture taken in exchange. Then he says, "I promise, when spring training is over we'll have a weekend or two where we do what you wanna do." I cash it in with a couple of movies I want to see, dinners at my favorite restaurants when really, spring training is what a wanna do.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Miles for Moffitt

I, along with RunnerGirl and some of Randy's friends and family are doing the Miles for Moffitt 1 Mile Fun Run in April. Moffitt is a premier cancer center here in Tampa on my campus and where Randy received his treatments. The small group of us effectively organinzing it (RunnerGirl, Randy's sis and me) have a feeling that there will be some incarnation of the group walking and/or running at many of these events in Randy's memory. My hatred towards running will lead me to walk at any event where its acceptable which will help encourage newcomers to do it without being intimidated by the "run" part of the events. Randy's sister is having t-shirts made for us to display why we are walking and RunnerGirl ordered bracelets with Randy's initials on them. Both will also contain Randy's characteristic phrase "woot". I can't help but think he's somewhere watching all this honored and slightly amused.

I asked Dean if he wanted to walk with us since it was only a mile and campus is so close to our apartment.

Dean: Do I have to raise money for it?

Me: No. That's the great part. You just pay an entrance fee, $20 I think, and you get a t-shirt and some goodies and it's all for a good cause!

Dean: You mean I have to pay for the privilege of walking a mile? I don't think so.

Me: Come on. What about the free stuff?

Dean: That's not doing it for me. How about I pay not to walk?

Me: You mean, just make a donation in Randy's name and not do the walk? Sure, that works for me.

Dean: Deal.

A couple days later...

Dean: I've been thinking... I want the t-shirt and free stuff.

Me: Great! So you'll do it?

Dean: No, I think I'll register, drop you off, get my free stuff and you can call me when you want a ride home.

Me: It's a mile. I'll be done in 20 minutes.

Dean: Then maybe I'll just wait in the car. Or better yet, I'll leave the car with you and walk home.

Me: Walk home?! That's at least a mile itself. Why not just do the event?

Dean: Because that way I'm still not paying to walk. I'm paying and then walking. It's different.

If I'm going to keep doing these events, I think we will need to address this whole "paying to walk" issue.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Third Child

Jackie at Life in the Canadian Desert along with her blog buddy declared February 13th to be "Blog About Your Dog Day". I jokingly commented that her and the other dog people could have that day. Us cat people have the other 364 days. She suggested I make February 15th "Blog About Your Cat Day" (it doesn't have the nice ring, does it?). Anyway, this banter reminded me that I completely spaced out Allison's 2nd anniversary with us. I still don't know the actual date offhand. Sometime in February before Valentine's Day. I distinctly remember Nellie's anniversary, she was the first cat Dean and I got together only days after we moved to Florida. It was a big day for us as a couple and as proud new parents. Wrigley found us the day after Thanksgiving. Allison, like many third children, does not have a birthday that stands out in my mind. Poor little Alley! She must be one of the sweetest, gentlest creatures I've met and an awesome cuddler. She also has a coat like Egyptian silk and to see her muscles move beneath it reminds me what amazing animals cats are.

I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to describe just how it came to be that we own three cats.

It was a Saturday night. Dean and I were home watching college basketball and drinking beers. Lots of beers. I got a little bored by the sports and went in to the other room to surf the internet. I have no idea, NO IDEA, what possessed me to go on petfinder.com to see what was out there. Maybe I was feeling like Nellie and Wrigley weren't enough work already or maybe I was secretly looking for a way to punish Dean for making me watch so much damn college basketball. Whatever my hairbrained, drunken reason, I went on petfinder.com and found Yankee Cat Rescue, located about hour from my apartment. One of the cats they advertised was a pathetic black kitten named Allison decribed thus (lifted verbatim from their Happy Tails):

This little girl LOVES attention. Her brother never made it over to adoption as he was born with hip problems. She's very depressed without him and needs to get out of this shelter QUICKLY. She just came over, but she's so stressed that she'll get sick and because she's still a kitten (at only 12 weeks) she'll be put down. This animal is available at a very high kill county shelter. We have posted their pictures in order to help find them new homes before their time runs out. Anyone listed with this disclaimer is on a VERY limited time in adoption. If you see that the animal is listed as “Urgent” they may only have days to live. Please email quickly if you’re interested in saving this life before it’s too late.

Well, I did just that. I called Dean into the spare bedroom and made him (likewise in a drunken stupor) read this heart-wrenching account. "Oh, God!" he moaned, "We have to save her! We have to!" So I emailed quickly. When some people have too much to drink, they experiment with drugs. Or have casual sex. Me, I adopt kittens.

The next day I got the call from the rescue center. "Hi Natalie! You're still adopting Allison, right?" I couldn't very well say no, not with Allison's life on the line. Of course we adopted her. And I have not regretted it once. She is an absolute joy.

I should clarify some things that I learned about the rescue center. It is run by just one lady that works full time at the Manatee County Humane Society, which is indeed a high-kill shelter. Stray cats are brought in and are displayed for awhile. If they are not adopted, they are put on a list to be euthanised. The woman gets ahold of the list, takes all the cats on it home and continues trying to adopt them out. Allison's description never lied. She was at a high kill shelter. It neglected to add that if someone didn't adopt her, the rescue center would. Thus I didn't actually save her life. I don't begrudge the shelter in the least, it is just trying to give cats loving homes. I've even made a couple of donations to this amazing one-woman organization. For awhile though I've told the story with some of the facts, well, massaged.

By the way, make sure after you've had a few drinks, you come back to this website and click on the "adoptable pet of the day" button...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Music Sweet Music

From before I was born up until I was about to start kindergarten, my dad was a musician by trade. I spent my first years of my life traveling around the country with my mom and dad and our “family”, the group of people in the band. I only remember snippets of that time: getting my own official band jacket made to wear along with the grownups, living out of a trunk with stickers all over it from the places we visited, my mother allowing me to listen to the first couple of songs in a set before being taken drowsily to bed.

When my dad settled down to raise a family, he got a “real” job and never looked back. He still plays his drums and piano for fun, but enjoys the comfort and security of a 9 to 5 job.
Two of the other members of the band, Ted and Nuala, never had kids and saw no need for a 9 to 5 job. They fell out of contact and eventually moved to Florida permanently to keep being musicians. My dad had only spoken to them a handful of times over the years until I thought about moving to Florida for graduate school. When I came down here to tour the campus, they picked me up at the airport and gave me the “hard sell” to move down here. That included dinner on the beach and speed boating alongside a school of dolphins. I hadn’t seen them in 18 years, yet they were still “family” and I was perfectly at ease.

Now, whenever my dad comes to Tampa, we go across the bay to St. Petersburg and listen to them play in their new band consisting of the two of them and a new keyboard player. 30 years after Ted and Nuala started playing edgy music in smoky bars they are playing standards at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. But they are still making music several nights a week, doing the only thing that makes them happy. Ted has an amazing musical mind organizing arrangements, filling out the trio with synthesized beats and taking his turn on saxophones, the flute and vocals. Nuala is a quiet, petite woman. When she opens her mouth to sing, a 300 pound black woman comes out. She is incredible.

Once they established themselves in the community, Ted and Nuala set up an organization to bring music therapy to a local children’s hospital. Music therapy involves teaching sick children to play instruments to express themselves and take their mind off their illness and even ease their pain. The organization is called Music...Sweet Music and you may have seen the link on this page. It is now a blossoming organization with several fundraisers and has gotten a lot of local attention. If you are ever looking for a tax deduction, click on the link!

While my dad was in town this past weekend, we watched Ted and Nuala’s band do three sets at the Yacht Club. We chuckled at the rich members putting their expensive salsa lessons to use during covers of Marc Anthony songs. They requested Stones tunes and shouted, “I can’t get no…satisfaction!” and boogied to “Play that Funky Music”, a song Ted and Nuala played with my dad- the first time it was famous.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Why Living in Florida can be Scary

Look what I found today:

Some lab mates and I called him the World's Biggest Moth. I don't know if it's true, but in my world it is!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Life is slowing returning back to normal and some of the pain is melting to pleasant memories.

I have a busy week this week. I am meeting with my coadvisor to plan out fellowship related research. I am excited to really get my hands in some of this research and get a good collaboration going. I think our group and his group are a good match and we have a lot to offer each other.

Bookclub is meeting tonight to discuss Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult. Not my favorite author, unfortunately, as she is a favorite amongst the other group members. If she has a new book out, I can count on having to read it for group.

My dad is coming down on Thursday. Yay! He is coming to visit and lavish me with Legacy chocolates and fatherly affection. Parental visits entail a good bit of spoiling and living like royalty for a few days. When my dad comes down we also spend time with a couple that he used to play with back in the day when he was a musician for a living. They live in St. Petersburg so Dean and I get to leave the confines of the ghetto for awhile and pretend to be inhabitants of that classy town across the bay.

Now, for a little fun! I found this on Jackie's site and she invited whomever wanted to play along. Maybe you'll learn something new about me...

Four Jobs I've Had:

1. Cashier at Bachman's
2. Customer service and sales rep for software made for pig farmers
3. Student secretary for the Forestry department at the University of Minnesota
4. Astronomy teacher

Four Movies I Watch Over and Over Again:
1. Ghostbusters
2. Dirty Dancing
3. Office Space
4. Wizard of Oz

Four Places I've Lived:
1. Out of a suitcase on the road
2. Minneapolis
3. Dinkytown
4. Tampa

Four TV Shows I Watch:
1. Arrested Development (it's technically still on the air...)
2. Scrubs
3. King of Queens
4. My Name is Earl

Four Places I've Vacationed:
1. Huatulco, Mexico
2. New York City
3. New Orleans
4. Montreal, Quebec

Four Websites I visit daily:
1. www.barnesandnoble.com
2. www.dooce.com
3. www.physorg.com
4. all my blog friends

Four of My Favorite Foods:
1. mint chip ice cream
2. Vietnamese spring rolls over rice noodles (Trang's by my work)
3. pasta with pomodoro sauce
4. fresh pineapple

Four Places I'd like to be right now:
1. the beach
2. at a Twins game
3. at home with Dean and the kitties
4. at a used book store

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bye Bye, Friend

This is how I want to remember Randy. Half-smiling, wild-eyed and with lots of hair.

One way to gauge a person's impact on the world is the memories they leave behind. The day after Randy passed away I went into the lab. Not to work so much as to see the same people I see everyday. The people that saw Randy everyday too. I didn't want to be alone. I was right in assuming no one else wanted to be either. While wandering the halls in a numb haze, I was stopped by a number of people offering condolences, themselves on the verge of tears. These weren't people who ate lunch with Randy on a regular basis or watched movies at his apartment. Some were people I didn't associate with even knowing Randy. Yet they all shared the same sentiments. Randy made them laugh. Many newer students said they had only met him a few times but would never forget him. The ability to leave a footprint on people's souls will be Randy's legacy.

To those of us that knew Randy, truly knew and understood him, his footprint will be much deeper.

When I first got to know Randy, I often came to him for help with my homework. He was (and still is) the smartest person I have ever met. Coming from a physicist, that means a lot. I realized early on that he was always willing to help in any way he could. He was patient. He knew he was smart, so he never really thought others around him were dumb. Soon we were hanging out a lot together along with mutual friends. When it became obvious that he really did like me and not just tolerated me for being around his friends, I wondered why on Earth a person so smart and talented would want to hang out with someone, well, not as smart or talented. Part of Randy's inner beauty though was recognizing exactly what others were good at. We found that we had a passion for piano in common and we used each others strengths to further our techniques. He often called me for advice on how to deal with girls. He asked me for recipes when he wanted to try cooking new things. He made me realize that even though I couldn't do quantum physics as easily as he, I was the go-to girl for some of the things he needed help with. Besides knowing I had a special friend, my friend made me special too.

As the few short years I knew him progressed, I felt like Randy and I had a unique bond. My habit of coming over to practice his piano made me feel like I did something with him no else else did. I was his "piano buddy." I was also his "crossword buddy." He would come to my lab around lunchtime and I'd break to eat a sandwich with him. We'd huddle around my computer and work on an online crossword puzzle. Those were the times we could see the wheels turning in each other's heads. I would see him get an idea while I was struggling and he'd shove my hands over to type in a word. I'd occasionally do the same to him.

At Randy's memorial service on Wednesday, two things stood out in my mind. First, when my friends and me finally met the people Randy used to talk about from high school or his undergraduate years, we saw that we were all similar. We all got along amazingly well and not just due to the sad experience that brought us to the same place. We could have all been in the same circle and we agreed that under better circumstances we would like to get to know each other better. We all exchanged contact information and said "If you're ever in the neighborhood, call." And we all meant it.

Second, we all felt that our personal relationships with Randy were special. I was honored to be the piano buddy. And the crossword buddy. He also had a buddy he ate cereal with and watched sci-fi shows. He had a buddy he lifted weights with, buddies he played video games with, a buddy he spoke Spanish with. Buddies he played other musical instruments with. Unnamed Friend from my previous post was his best buddy- his running buddy, movie buddy, sporting event buddy. The list goes on and on. She was also his go-to girl for organization and advice on his aquarium. I saw this trend take shape when we discussed what Randy meant to all of us. I could imagine him getting to know each one of us and filing our likes and dislikes away in his mind. Finding what he had in common with each one of us and making that into the thread with which he wove his friendships.

I know that the imprint he left on my soul is so deep it can never filled by another person. There are activities both important and trivial that I will never do again without thinking about my friend Randy. So even though I have to say "bye bye" ( as Randy himself would say), I will carry him always in my heart.