Sunday, September 21, 2008


That's been Joe Maddon's motto all year. It takes everyone on the team to make it to the final 8 standing in October. And yesterday, the Rays proved that they could make it by following this mantra.

Every game has seen a different hero. Starters, bench players, bullpen, rookies, everyone contributed and I'm so proud of all of them. We were at the game Thursday and yesterday. We had gotten great tickets months ago for the Twins series and both games we had a lot of fun. But I have a confession to make. Both games I rooted against my Twins, for the first time in the 22 years I've been watching baseball.

The Twins were supposed to have a rebuilding season this year after losing Santana and purging the rest of their starting rotation. Instead, they have put together a winning season and late in September are still in contention for the central division pennant. That's very admirable of them, and I am thoroughly impressed. But if they happen to eke past Chicago, even I wouldn't be stupid enough to bet on them making it past the first round. The majority of the starting rotation has never pitched into September, let along October in a playoff atmosphere. The Twins have choked in the first round of the playoffs in three of their last four appearances. And I stand by my assertion that if they couldn't get the job done with Santana, Mauer and Morneau all having career seasons (still dwelling on 2006), then they need a miracle.

This is the Rays' year. It is their story that in 11 seasons they haven't had a winning season, and this year they will win 90+ games. I see so much in them what I saw in the 2002 Twins, with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, when they took everyone by surprise and made it to the playoffs. The little guys finally won, and frankly, the Twins aren't the little guys anymore. I rooted for the Rays because for 5 years we watched shitty baseball, and our last season here we got redemption. We went to so many games where the visiting team drew more fans than the home team. And the Rays forgave Tampa Bay because after clinching a playoff spot yesterday, they didn't disappear into the clubhouse to celebrate, they brought the champagne out to the fans. They all trotted around the perimeter of the field giving high-5's and hugs.

I cannot describe how excited I am for playoff baseball this year. It takes the edge off of moving, switching jobs, and facing the cold weather.

But today, on the last game of the Rays-Twins series, after the Rays have secured their place in history, I'm rooting for the Twins. Joe Mauer is in the batting title race, afterall.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

France and Frankenkitty

I got in from France very late Monday night and honestly meant to write sooner, but this pesky thing called life keeps getting in the way.

France was pretty much perfect. After nearly 30 hours of flights, layovers, and trains, I could barely stay awake until I saw the French Alps and realized it was totally worth it. Worth having to give up my cushy aisle seat for a middle seat on an 8 hour international flight to appease a family with screaming children. Worth the 6 hours I had to spend guarding my suitcase at Gare de Lyon train station rather than walking around Paris for an afternoon. And worth the nauseating car ride 5 km winding up the side of a mountain once the train from Paris arrived in the Alps. Because when I finally dropped my suitcase in my room and opened the sliding door to the balcony, this is what I saw:

The conference center was on the outskirts of a small ski resort town in the Alps. The center itself was built specifically for French scientists and can be used either as a conference center or a vacation spot for the scientists and their families. The rooms were small, but since my assigned roommate didn't show, it was fine for just me.

Everyone told me that this particular conference (one of a series on a diverse set of topics) would be entirely different than any I had been to. I am used to going to large conferences with thousands of physicists where there are multiple presentation sessions going on for 12 hours a day. This conference consisted of 102 physicists, all with the same research interests. It was the first year that grad students and post docs were especially encouraged to go, which was why I got the funding and was able to go. There was only 1 session at a time, and only held in the mornings and evenings. The afternoons were free for us to socialize and network. We were
especially encouraged to go hiking in the mountains and visit the small down down the hill.

The first full morning of the conference, I met a French woman who is just finishing her Ph.D. in Switzerland. We hit it off amazingly well and spent the whole week hiking and learning about each other's cultures. The conference was mostly Europeans, so I got a very eye-opening lesson as to what fascinating research is being done overseas and how oblivious American scientists can be at times. The frustration they felt about their lack of recognition in America was palpable and led to a little tension at times. But it was a lesson I am grateful to have learned, and these bigger truths were in a sense far more important than the details of the research presentations.

After and exhausting 5 days hiking in the Alps and listening to presentations, I took the train back to Paris and stayed there for 3 days. Despite my fatigue, I was bound and determined to make the absolute most of my short time in Paris. So after a four-hour train ride and dumping my bags in my hotel room, I set out on foot for le Louvre.

Honestly, visiting le Louvre wasn't initially on my list of things to do, but it was Friday evening and not much else in Paris is open, except restaurants. I overheard someone on the train saying it was open until 10 pm so I thought I'd go see what all the fuss was about. I spent several hours wandering aimlessly through the museum trying to make sense of the layout. And my tour book said they had made substantial improvements in general navigation around le Louvre. But I did see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo along with miles of other paintings, sculptures and artifacts.

The next day was "Catholic Day" as I visited Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle. These were my favorite places I visited. I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea Notre Dame was still in use as a church and was surprised to see a mass going on and tons of religious pilgrims flocking to this holy site. In between tours of the cathedral, I took the tour of the towers which consisted of climbing the approximately four hundred stairs of one tower and walking outside along the perimeter of Notre Dame to the bell tower on the other side. This is where I saw the infamous gargoyles that guard Notre Dame and watch over the city of Paris. The view from the towers was absolutely amazing.

But the gargolyes were my favorite.

In the bell tower, you could actually go see the bell that was made famous by Vicor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Next, I went to Sainte-Chappelle, a holy chapel that was build in the confines of the palace of Louis IX. It was built to house holy relics (among them supposedly the crown of thorns) which were only on display to the public on Good Friday. The chapel itself was absolutely stunning, the second floor walls (the main part of the chapel) were mosly made of stained glass. I have never seen anything like it. While the size was nothing like Notre Dame, the beauty and intricacy of the stained glass was just as humbling.

The third day I took the shuttle boat up and down la Seine where I first visited Musee d'Orsay, which houses just about every impressionist painting you can think of. And thousands more you didn't know existed. I also walked along le Champs-Elysees from la Seine to l'Arc du Triomphe, which was pretty cool. I saw some filthy rich people shopping, more people gawking (such as myself) and several beautiful women who were probably models. Lastly I went le Tour Eiffel. It was getting too late for me to go to the top, which was just as good. It was packed.

Unfortunately, since I was a woman travelling alone I was too scared to do much at night. I mostly tried to finish up my sightseeing right around dusk and then ate dinner in the evening pretty close to the hotel. It's not that I felt particularly unsafe in Paris at night, but the streets were so tangly and the stores all closed early and I was really scared I'd get irretrievably lost.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I was scared to death to go and wished Dean could have come with but it was worth all the time and stress leading up to it. I am trying to get the rest of my approximately 3 million photos loaded to share with anyone who wants to see. While I recognize this shouldn't be difficult, I expect it to take a little time and it's not currently at the top of the list so it might have to wait awhile.

Lastly, McLovin had his surgery on Wednesday. His incision is a little scary (we have dubbed him Frankenkitty) but he is already moving better than he was when he still had the bad arm. His posture has improved dramatically and he has made the transition to full-fledged tripod without incident. I can't seem to get a really good picture of him, but I got a pretty close one of the surgery site because it's so freaky. Because he's still so little, they had to practically shave him bald and the incision seems to take up his whole right side. I think he'll look a lot better once the fur grows back. But for now, he's definitely comfortable. The vet said to ease her own mind she opened up the arm during surgery and confirmed there was very little blood flow and the tissue looked unhealthy. Despite my initial reservations, this was definitely the right thing to do.