Monday, April 28, 2008


I'm a bad Twins fan. My longtime readers will notice a distinct lack of baseball postings this season. I think you are all aware that my usual Spring Training activities were slightly hindered by my dissertation, though I did make it to a couple games. We also usually order the baseball package on digital cable, but just couldn't bring ourselves to cough up the money when we are currently unsure where we will be living in a couple months time and whether or not the package is transferable to our new home.

Turns out we aren't missing much. The Twins are currently sitting at an underwhelming 11-14 for the season. As for the couple of games I have been able to catch, it is clear they are suffering from the exact same anemic offense as last year, only most of the faces are different. In one game against the Rays (televised down here of course) I watched no less that 4 lead-off base runners be erased by double plays. The Twins earned their reputation as a small-ball team that manufactured runs. They are not known for home runs, but this year (as in the last couple of years) manufacturing runs is a struggle.

To compound the problem, they lost 3 starting pitchers this year, including, of course, Santana. I was surprisingly indifferent about the Johan trade (unlike my poor mother who was inconsolable for days afterwards). I wanted to have one more year with him, especially with Liriano getting back in the rotation this year. But I think most Twins fans would agree with me that after the 2006 season, which produced the AL Cy Young winner (Santana), Batting Title winner (Mauer), MVP (Morneau) and a Golden Glove winner (perennial recipient Hunter), they were doomed to be a team that couldn't quite seal the deal. And it was clear that with Santana, we were sitting on a gold-mine. It made sense to gain prospects from a trade before losing him forever to free-agency, where the Twins would quickly be out of the running. With the Santana trade and the near team-swapping that occurred with Tampa Bay, the entire Twins team was transformed.

It was clear that the Twins wanted to rebuild the team around Mauer and Morneau, and as long as the little kids could still wear their #7 jersey tees and there was a stadium being built, the fans would stay loyal. But unfortunately, the problems from last year seem to be plaguing the Twins once again, and they don't have strong enough pitching to turn only a couple of runs into a win.

So, unrecognizable Twins club that can't gain offensive traction + poor starting pitching + no baseball package = downgrade from Twins fanatic to casual fan who can barely go out of her way to check the online stats. I will baulk at the term "fair weather fan" simply because I can assure you all with confidence that I would definitely be fixed to the television watching the 2008 train wreck if we had the baseball package, just how I watched the 2007 train wreck from ground zero.

HOWEVER. This year, as predicted by my own personal baseball god Peter Gammons along with many other commentators and speculators, it has been really fun to watch the Rays. Their young team (Carl Crawford, at 25 years old and cute as a button, is the veteran) is enthusiastic and the chemistry is undeniable. For once, Rays fans are starting to out number the visitors' fans at the Trop. They added Matt Garza (one of the starters the Twins lost) as well as Eric Hinske and recently brought up phenom Evan Longoria. They are currently in a 3-way tie for the top of the East after sweeping the Jays and the Bosox back to back. The weekend series against Boston was huge and we found ourselves glued to all three games. Saturday's dramatic finish where Akinori Iwamura hit a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 8th ("I make myself happy" he reported in his post-game interview) and James Shields' complete game shutout against Josh Beckett yesterday was a loud and clear indicator that the Rays are finally ready for prime time, just as we are about to pick up and move. But perhaps just as I wore my Twins gear with pride when I moved to Florida, I will now wear my new Carl Crawford jersey tee to our next destination.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Girls Night: Tampa Edition

For Friday night, my lab planned a dinner in honor of my successful defense a couple of weeks back and we all agreed to meet at a local Thai restaurant. I was completely shocked (and hopelessly confused) to go to the restaurant with Deano and find Geb and Di, two of my best girlfriends from Minnesota. You know the weird things that go through your mind when you see someone totally out of context? Here's what I thought when we walked in and saw those two sitting at the table:

Wow, those two girls look just like Geb and Di. And they're staring at me like I know them. Oh my God, that is Geb and Di! They came to Tampa and didn't tell me, and happened to come to the same restaurant as us. This is going to be awkward when they try to explain why they are here without telling me. Oh wait! They came for ME! They came to hang out with ME!

Ridiculous, right? Needless to say they got me good. They had been in touch with Deano, my parents, even my lab mates to pull off this feat. And the predictable subsequent collision of worlds ensued how you might imagine with the girls telling my lab mates and Dr. Hari about the wild college days when my reputation as a robust drinker preceded my intellectual prowess. And so, being reminded of those days, and since I am still the same person after all, I decided it was perfectly reasonable to drink the way I did in college. Never mind the fact that age and an adult lifestyle have seriously eroded my tolerance, not the mention my ability to bounce back from a wild night.

I blame the girls. They force me to party every single damn time. Except this time Geb is preggo, which is totally awesome because not only do I get to be an honorary auntie in a few months, we also got a designated driver for the weekend.

Dinner at the Thai restaurant was excellent and I had a lot of fun watching my girlfriends and my co-workers mingle. Especially when one of my lab mates tried out her best Minne-sooo-tan accent on my friends. After an extended dinner and a couple of cocktails, half the lab went home to their spouses and families. The party continued (with Dr. Hari!) at the bar next door for a little while where we shared some pitchers and listened to Dr. Hari reminisce a little about his own college days.

Later, Deano, the girls, and I hit the neighborhood bar at the end of our street where things got out of hand very fast. We ran into some fellow grad students (a couple of "lifers") who took it upon themselves to hit on my friends. We also played a rather mean game of "who has the best drinking story". I got pretty emotional as it is a rarity to have my husband and my best friends with me (usually the husbands tend to step back a little in the wake of the force that is us girls) but I know they wanted him to hang out with us since they hadn't seen him in a few years.

Things got blurry after several rounds and the last clear memory I have is the clock reading 2:00. After that there are fragments of the remainder of the night including a not-so-great toilet-hugging session, but it was worth it to have an evening with my friends in my neck of the woods. Girls night in Tampa was a success.

Saturday we went to Clearwater. We ate lunch at Frenchy's and then headed to the beach where we recovered from our hangovers under a cabana among the sounds of the waves and seagulls, the smell of the saltwater and the beach eye candy that we realized for the first time was way too young for any of us. But it didn't stop us from looking. Or commenting.

In the evening, we just watched sappy chick flicks with candy and more junk food, reminisced some more and said our good byes until the next time we meet up, when Geb will either be big as a house or even a mom and I'll likely call some place else home. They flew back yesterday morning, and I resumed life as normal.

Thanks, ladies, for planning your trip down to Florida in a completely covert fashion, surprising the bejesus out of me and showing me a fantastic time, as usual. After 10 years, we still know how to have a totally kickass time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Got Pot?

I am still having sinus problems. For several months now I've lived with sporadic sinus pressure and almost constant post nasal drip. Just what you wanted to know, right? I recall my general physician telling me that if my sinus issues didn't improve, I should go see an ENT so he could "tweak" my allergy medications. I am skeptical. First of all, the term "tweaking" to me implies a long, systematic exploration of various medications which I do not have the patience for. Second, my mom and stepdad (who I've already mentioned both work in a pharmacy) have explained to me that most allergy medicines are nearly the same and switching medications usually involves finding one your body isn't used to yet, using it for a year or two until you are completely acclimated to that one and moving on to the next. That sounds even less appealing as far as a long term strategy for coping with sinus issues. I don't really want to be dependent on medications for anything and one of my goals is to be drug-free when we start trying for a baby (NOT YET NOT YET NOT YET).

Awhile back, my stepmom suggested trying a Neti pot. This completely terrifies me, but I'm starting to feel persuaded. Over the last couple of days I've done a lot of reading up on sinus irrigation and it seems like an all-natural, yet medically proven, successful treatment for chronic sinus sufferers. So why don't more people do it? Like I said, it looks pretty strange (you should watch the video) but after the last six months of feeling like I'm drowning in my own mucus, I am willing to try pretty much anything. I've asked a couple of people about it. No one I know has actually tried it, but everyone seems to "know someone" who "swears by it". What do you you guys think? Anyone own one? Tried one? Got any hilarious shoving-liquid-up-your-nose stories?

UPDATE: I bought one yesterday (Sunday). It felt kinda funny the first time, like getting water up your nose when swimming. But now it actually feels pretty refreshing. The only difference I've noticed with my sinuses (which as I mentioned don't always feel congested) is that the post nasal drip feels thinner and not quite as thick and gross. I don't know if it is supposed to take awhile to reach its maximum effectiveness, but I think I'll continue using it either way. Even if it keeps me from getting sick and/or developing another sinus infection it will be worth it. Plus as fermi mentioned it will help keep allergens and dust from accumulating which is another bonus. Will update after it's been a little longer.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I just wanted to clarify something. After poking around the internets it has come to my attention that Oprah had this product on her show awhile back. This is not, I repeat IS NOT why I bought the Neti pot. I think I mentioned before that my step mom suggested it for me several months back. I don't think she watches Oprah either.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

See ya, Buddy

I realize that Buddy is not an original name for a cat or any other sort of animal, but "Hey, Buddy!" was my involuntary response each day when I found him waiting for me. Buddy was one of the "originals", I believe he and his siblings were the second litter to be born. All the kittens of that litter (there were four) were black and white tuxedos, but Buddy's coloring was more smoky, like his mom, whereas his two sisters and brother were completely black and white.

His twin sisters were terribly shy, always staying in the brush until it was clear I was leaving. His brother, who I referred to for a long time as "A-hole", but whose moniker has since been relaxed to "Bully", hisses constantly at me but refuses to back away in the presence of food. Buddy used to be there everyday waiting for me and underfoot the entire time I was feeding. He never let me pet him, but I had such a tender spot for him with his expressive face and unique coloring.

He managed to get caught nearly every time I went trapping. I even trapped him twice in one evening, such was his excitement for the spoonful of tuna sitting on the lever. (The picture above was taken the last time I went trapping and caught the cow kitten. I had decided to bring my camera to try to catch some of my ferals on film before moving away. As usual he was front and center in the process and I had to shoo him away from the trap several times.) He would pick at the sides of the trap, trying to scoop out the food through the bars until his impatience took over and he ran into the trap. The last few times I was so familiar with his routine that I managed to chase him away before the trap sprung, avoiding scaring him and all the others.

A month or so before I went away for the summer, Buddy stopped showing up for dinner. I had assumed he either wandered away to another feeding site or was killed. Disappearances always leave me uneasy (it has happened more times that I care to think about) but I try to understand that it's a tough world. I can only keep watch over them for a small fraction of the time, and they are wild animals after all. Then, several weeks after returning from my internship, Buddy came limping back like a feline Lazarus, a little rough around the edges and looking more like a true alley cat than ever. He was back nearly every night since then, again a fixture and always up for a good trapping.

Friday afternoon one my cat friends called me to let me know that she had found one of my kitties hit by a car. Judging from her description, it was Buddy. Even though I have been gearing myself up for some time to say good bye to these guys forever, this was a tough blow given my affection for some some of the older originals. She told me she had buried him under a tree near the edge of the woods by my complex and said a couple words. When I went to feed that night, I wandered several of yards away and easily found the disturbed earth where he had been laid to rest that afternoon. "See ya, Buddy," was all I could choke out.

Friday, April 11, 2008

What Now?

For the last couple of days I've been trying to figure out how to write this post. What have I been up to these past couple of months? How has this experience changed me? What now?

I guess I'll start at the beginning. I spent every waking moment from the middle of January until a week ago working on my dissertation, which, for the record, was officially submitted and approved today (it is 9 chapters, 82 figures, 7 tables, and 174 pages). Well, that's not entirely true. I made it to a couple of spring training games, but believe me when I say I didn't stop thinking about my dissertation for more than approximately five minutes. As usual, Dean took a couple of weeks off of work to go to games and practices, and we spent a few days in Orlando and Ft. Myers. He went to practices and I stayed in the hotel room to work in a new environment without the distraction of kitties or my material possessions. Surprisingly, the chapters written in hotel rooms actually turned out the best.

10 days before my defense, bound copies of my finished thesis had to be distributed to my committee members so they could read it beforehand. Most people have on their committee their major professor, 3 departmental professors and a chairperson from a different department. For two years I have been fortunate enough to have a national interdisciplinary fellowship which paid roughly one and a half times what a teaching or research assistant would make. For my defense, it was time to pay the piper because on top of the 5 people mentioned above, I had to have two additional committee members from the College of Medicine. Turns out that all this didn't matter because not a single committee member actually read my dissertation. That's pretty normal though.

Anyway, three days before my dissertation was to be distributed I was still writing vigorously, and I had to leave town for a job interview. The interview, for an assistant professor position at a liberal arts college, was two days worth of interviewing, teaching, giving a seminar and touring the campus. I did the interview both days on about 3 hours of sleep as there literally weren't enough hours in the day to finish all I had to do. Needless to say, it didn't go well and I was made keenly aware of my own limitations as far as multi-tasking and performing under intense pressure. The silver lining was the experience I got interviewing and the ability to scratch teaching at a liberal arts college off of my "possible career choices" list.

My point with all this is that returning home from the dreadful interview only to have more writing to do on top of being terribly sleep-deprived marked one of my lowest moods in my entire life. Add to that the fact that I still didn't have a job lined up and all I wanted was to go hide under a rock. Dean, whose future basically depends on my ability to find work, wasn't about to let that happen. I am so grateful that he has been the supportive, loving husband he is.

But what I learned from that low point is that going through the last stages of your time as a Ph.D. student, in my opinion, makes you just as deserving of the degree as the 5 previous years I spent doing research. Whatever pride I take in this accomplishment is a result of being almost completely torn down only to emerge a stronger, more confident individual.

My mom and stepdad flew in for my defense. I want to thank them right now for putting up with me the evening before and the morning of. I was an absolute wreck and I'm positive I wasn't very much fun to be around. In fact, there were lots of times I wasn't fun to be around and again I have to give credit to Deano who endured the brunt of the "crazy eruptions." To show my appreciation I dedicated my thesis to him, something I thought was lame when other people did it, but now I see why it is completely appropriate.

When I started speaking, I was unbelievably nervous. Dr. Hari had told me time and again that I know this stuff better than anyone and I had no reason to be nervous, but I couldn't help it. I eventually calmed down, and from what I've been told actually did a very good job. My presentation was about 1 hour and 20 minutes, followed by about another half hour of questions from my committee members. Most of the questions were easy, and the ones I didn't know I didn't try to bullshit, I speculated on the answer while admitting I was only guessing. Then everyone had to leave the room except for the committee (did I mention there was an audience too?!) for them to deliberate. It turns out that instead of deliberating, the committee scarfed down the cookies I brought, which they were too polite to eat during the presentation.

Mom and stepdad and Dean and I had a wonderful celebratory dinner, I took calls from well-wishers and then had a lovely, relaxing weekend before they left. We went to a couple of state parks, and did something I've wanted to do ever since moving down here - went to Big Cat Rescue. We went drinking one night and accidentally wound up in a gay bar. (We thought there just a lot of lesbians there, but it turned out the good-looking gentlemen in suits sitting at the bar were lesbians too. In fact, everyone was a lesbian except for the four of us, but we were too happy and buzzed to care.)

So what's next? That's the million dollar question right now. I don't have a job lined up for certain. The good news is that a couple days before my defense I found out I made it past the first round of reviews for a national postdoctoral fellowship I applied for. The bad news is that I still have to wait 4-6 weeks to find out if I actually have the job. I think I have an excellent shot and the first round of cuts was the biggest. But not having a job is still scary as hell. Dean is working his job and Dr. Hari said he'd pay me until I found something, but who knows how long that could be - I am entering to most volatile job market in decades.

I will still continue to write, but I'm afraid things may have to get much more vague. When I have a real job to protect (hopefully one at a government-funded lab) I'm going to have to be really careful and the rules may have to change a little.

I'm slowly getting back into reading blogs. Unfortunately, I'm horribly obsessive compulsive when it comes to reading, which requires me to actually go through and read what I've missed. If I haven't visited you yet, don't worry, I'll get there eventually. And thanks to all of you for stopping by and leaving encouraging words. It helped me more than I can say.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Magnetbabe, Ph.D.

It's over. I am now the proud owner of a Doctorate of Philosophy in Physics.

More later. Now, I have to go have a drink.