Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mentoring

One of the things we are encouraged to do at the lab where I work is volunteer. There are several local community programs which have been approved for employee participation. While we of course do not need approval to volunteer our time, these specific programs allow for up to 2 hours a week paid leave for employees wishing to participate and I have been told that public outreach is highly regarded by management when it comes time to decide which postdocs get to stay for good.

I have enjoyed volunteering in the past, but needless to say, there really aren’t any approved opportunities for federally employed scientists to sterilize feral cats. The next best thing is working with kids. There is a program that my group leader heads which hosts scientific workshops for elementary kids once a week. The scientists involved take turns lecturing, demonstrating and then guiding students through that week’s science experiments. To be quite honest, this didn’t appeal to me at all. While I like kids, I am still a physicist and my ability to connect with audiences is lacking. I have never liked doing demos and if I liked lecturing I would have stayed on the academic path. And while I’m being brutally honest, the fact that these workshops take place early on Saturday mornings was less than appealing.

I felt bad turning down the woman who approached me to join this program and I’m thankful it was her and not my boss, who is careful not to pressure me into anything. I will gladly work 12 hour days in the name of research, but my Saturday mornings are for stumbling out of bed just as Deano returns from the bakery with bagels, coffee, and the paper, thank you. I told the woman to please keep me in mind for other opportunities, and I meant it. So I was very happy when several weeks ago this same woman put me in touch with the local branch leader
of the American Association of University Women. The Gaithersburg AAUW runs a program that pairs local career-oriented women with eighth grade girls from a local middle school. The program’s main objective is to provide mentoring to girls with academic potential who are perhaps lacking in one or more of the tools necessary to succeed in high school, college, and beyond. Furthermore, studies show that girls growing up in homes where neither parent went to college are at a disadvantage for attending college themselves. By introducing these girls to college graduates, their chances for success immediately improve. Since this is a one-on-one atmosphere, I felt more confident in my ability to connect and provide meaningful insight to a young girl who is looking for a role model. So I joined, and I am happy I did.

Our first session was just for mentors and it was a presentation by the AAUW branch leader explaining what a mentor is and what we can do for the lives of young women who are reaching adolescence in an age unlike any other, where college educations are absolutely critical and careers must be chosen with care. Our second session was Parent’s Night in which the mentors got to meet the girls they were paired with as well as the girl’s parents. I really hit it off with the girl I was assigned to. I know that the woman running the program asks the girls about what they want to do when they grow up and tries to pair them with mentors of similar careers. My girl doesn’t want to be a scientist per se (she wants to be a doctor), but she likes science and most importantly, I see a lot of myself in her which gives me a strong desire to reach out and help her get through this confusing time.

That isn’t to say the program is perfect. We spend two weeks exploring career options, several weeks talking about what to expect in high school, what to expect in college as well as discussions on peer pressure, bullying and substance abuse. I think this is great, but I really think there is too much emphasis placed on careers. If I could tell 13-year old me that I was going to be a physicist I would have never believed it. My career path was highly circuitous. In high school I was clueless and in college I tried a number of classes and majors. It took me an extra year to graduate, but I can guarantee I am happier than many of my classmates who knew what they wanted and pursued it essentially wearing blinders. I have not wanted to scare my mentee, but I have been trying to convey to her that many people don’t end up doing what they thought they wanted, not because they couldn’t achieve their goals, but because along the way they found something they liked better, maybe something they didn’t even know existed. The career quizzes seem to cover a lot of ground, suggesting some pretty unusual careers (adventure therapist? snowboard designer? tattoo artist?), but still I would stress that these girls are not yet completely who they are going to be. I am relieved that as of now she has chosen a career that will always be in demand and seems to have interests that would lead her towards a recession-proof profession. But most of all I am excited for what is to come and hope I can help this girl find her way.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Crisis of Camera

Awhile back someone suggested that if I can’t post very often perhaps I could post some pictures of the kitties, the apartment or the area. Great idea! One of the first things I wanted to take pictures of and write a very short post about was the new Drinkwell Water Fountain we bought for the kitties a few weeks ago. I wanted to give my ringing endorsement for this product and show each of the kitties using it (either for drinking, bathing, or splashing each other). So I got out the camera to discover that the battery was dead. I removed the battery and set it aside while I looked for the charger, which I thought was in my “pile”. I never found it. I searched high and low for this thing. I never found it. So I broke down and ordered a new charger from Amazon. That took a good week to get here. When it finally came, I went to insert the battery and I couldn’t find it. The stupidest thing is that I know I set it someplace thinking specifically that it would be a safe place where I wouldn’t lose it. I looked everywhere for the battery. I checked under every piece of furniture that we have (in case the kitties got to it – I recently found an entire roll of stamps Dean thought he lost for good, it was under the bed…). I didn’t order a new one, but I think I am going to have to. In the meantime, I thought I would share some picture that my mom and stepdad took while they were here a couple of weeks ago. We had a fantastic time. I got to show them our new town, our new apartment, and all our new furniture. Plus, they got to see Washington, DC for the first time.

To my disappointment, I couldn’t be with them the first day they got to see DC. They came in on a Wednesday afternoon, and I had to work Thursday but I took off Friday. So I gave them directions to ride the metro into downtown themselves. To their surprise, they happened to go downtown by themselves on the same day as the Michele Bachmann tea party rally. It is ironic that they all come from the same state though my mom and Tom would stress that they do not subscribe to her bizarre ideology. Nevertheless, they did a lot of gawking.

Friday I had the day off and we went back downtown since the weather was beautiful. We saw the rest of the monuments that Mom and Tom didn’t visit on Thursday, which was good because I hadn’t yet seen the Jefferson Monument, the FDR Monument or the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. We had a couple extra hours to spare so we checked out a couple exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History. I love that the Smithsonian museums are free, because they are perfect for just such an occasion. You can spend days there, but I prefer to choose one or two exhibits at a time so that I don’t become over saturated with information.


Saturday we decided to get away from the city a bit and visit some Civil War sites. We first visited Harpers Ferry, a town that changed hands during the Civil War eight times due to its strategic placement and the armory it housed. We first got lost in the actual town which was a bit of a frightening place. Think mountain town with lots of trailers, abandoned furniture and angry looking dogs. What we didn’t realize that we wanted to see was the Harpers Ferry National Park and the Historic District. Once we found them, the park was gorgeous though the Historic District was a bit of a tourist trap.

After that we drove the 30 or so minutes to Antietam National Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest single day in the Civil War. Approximately 23,000 Americans died there on September 17, 1862. I'm not a big believer in ghosts or spirits, but the old farm that served as the site of the standoff between the Union and the
Confederacy had such a palpable feeling of sadness and loss. To walk the ground that had one time been soaked with the blood of American pitted against American was something I just could not wrap my mind around. We later visited Antietam National Cemetery, where many of the Union Soldiers that died in that battle were buried. Interestingly, the cemetery remained a national cemetery until the ‘50s so there were soldiers from both World Wars buried there as well.

Sunday we again took the metro downtown and went to the Wizards game. It was so much fun. My Mom and Tom are huge basketball fans (they must be to be Timberwolves season ticket holders, right?) and picked out some really nice seats for us. Dean and I treated them to a round of beers and while we were waiting in line on the concourse we saw Wolf Blitzer. The whole game was great (even though we lost) and we are going back next Saturday.

Oh, and here is the only picture of our apartment currently in existence. I only wish our awesome coffee tables were in the shot, but maybe next time.

So hopefully that will tide you over until my camera crisis is resolved. But with my luck, once I finally get the battery, my whole dang camera will be lost.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hi.

My name is Natalie, aka magnetbabe. Once upon a time I used to blog here, and at times quite regularly. While I have tried to gradually lower expectations for regular updates, I have become aware that my lack of posting has made some of you worried, frustrated, or even confused. I apologize for that and while I can always try to do better, that doesn’t always mean I will do better. The biggest impediment to my regular updates is that fact that I absolutely cannot blog at work. I don’t think it’s a big secret where I work, or for whom, but it has been made clear to us that social networking via blogger, twitter, facebook, etc. is forbidden on government time. It is not forbidden to have a blog or have a facebook page (though it is strongly encouraged that all privacy settings be enabled) but suspicious traffic to those sites using government computers is monitored. While I totally understand where they are coming from with this (in theory none of us should be blogging at work and taxpayers would be understandably upset to see federal employees spending their days taking facebook quizzes) it does hamper my online activities considerably. I will justify this statement by saying that research in general is laden with downtime. You heat something up, cool something down, let something react, press a button that cycles and entire experiment and all these things involve waiting. This isn’t news to any of us in science which is why internet activity is considered just part of the routine. But as I have learned over the past four and a half weeks, public service does require some sacrifices and from what I have experienced in my short time here, those sacrifices are well worth the rewards of a challenging, meaningful career.

So. Why don’t I just write up a blog post when I get home? Or on the weekend? Welll…. Easier said than done. By evening I am usually exhausted from working and preparing dinner and the last thing I want to do is get back on the computer after hours of reading papers online or staring at data. Plus, how can Deano and I catch up on our days when one of us is glued to the computer? So that leaves the weekend. Have I mentioned that Washingon DC is a totally over stimulating place to live? Free museums, festivals, demonstrations, ceremonies, two baseball teams, and excellent food combine to make my weekends even more tiring than my work weeks. We’ll see how things go in the few weeks. Baseball season is effectively over – if I can’t see a team in person (like the Nats or the O’s) or root for them in good conscience (like the Twins) it might as well be over. And I could just like to say that I was incredibly proud of the Twins winning the division, and then horribly, terrifically embarrassed by their performance against the Yankees. My intramural physics department softball team from USF could have scored more runs than that. And the weather should be cooling down a bit. We only have a few more weekends to do the outdoor things downtown that we really want to do, most notably going on the Monuments by Moonlight trolley tour.

Dean started his new job this week. He is working for a large car insurance company outside of Baltimore. He seems to like it, it is a position that he had held in Tampa for a different company. Even though he complains about the actual duties, he excels at it and of course everyone loves him. I have a feeling he won’t be so adamant about packing our weekend full of activities once he has a few 40 hour week weeks under his belt. But maybe that’s just the cynic in me.

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty to say. I would like to sit down and write a post about what my actual job is, despite the fact that the description would probably put half of you to sleep. And the ever-present rant on the level of political discourse occurring in our society is always front and center in my mind. I definitely want to post some pictures. Our new “grown up” jobs have given us some financial freedom to replace our couch, loveseat and coffee table with a new set a few weeks ago. I ordered a TV stand this week that I’m very excited about, and Dean’s talking about that big flat screen he’s been dreaming about since Florida. I keep saying once it all comes together, then I’ll send pictures. Embarrassingly, we still have quite a few boxes sitting around.

But I miss you guys. I knew most of you aren’t posting as often as before. Is life just busier or has blogging run its natural course? I hope not. I don’t find tweets or facebook status updates nearly as informative, or frankly, as intimate. But that’s just me. I feel like it’s been 18 months since I’ve had a real routine where I felt comfortable and that I had time for everything I want to do. Even though I miss them dearly I couldn’t ever imagine caring for a colony and doing TNR and fostering on top of what I’m doing now, which makes me a little sad because I had hoped to volunteer. I wanted to join a reading group, but I’ve only read 100 pages since the move. But the upside is that my days are filled with more satisfying business than before and my mental and physical health in general is strong. Anyway, I hope you all don’t give up on me. I’m still around, just more sporadically. For now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

MB Goes to Washington

Hi Folks! I just wanted to check in and let you all know things are going great. I apologize for not getting up and running sooner, likewise about the absence from your blogs. It's all been a little overwhelming.

We left Providence on September 4th. The movers came that morning. It was a very surreal feeling, waking up in our apartment with everything in its place and then three strangers came and packed and loaded our stuff on the truck in a matter of hours.

Because I have anxiety in general with driving and specifically on the interstate, we decided to drive the cars down to Maryland overnight. After the movers left, we cleaned the apartment and went out to dinner. We we got back, we loaded up the cars, loaded up the kitties and got the hell out of town. This past year has been tough for a number of reasons. Even though I was so nervous to drive for 7 hours, it felt so cathartic to just leave it all behind and start over. I still can't believe it.

Needless to say it was a very long day and night. We were exhausted by the time we pulled into the Waffle House in Frederick. That was our initial destination since we knew we would be quite a bit earlier than the apartment complex would open. We had a delicious breakfast while watching the sun rise. After our final dose of caffeine for our long journey, we drove the last 25 miles into Gaithersburg. We were still a little early so we walked around the apartment complex and the neighborhood for awhile.

We got into our apartment okay once we met with the manager and proceeded to pass out on the living room floor for awhile. It took us a few days to recover from the whole ordeal. But now were are getting used to everything and have found our groove.

Our first week in Gaithersburg was awesome. I am ashamed to say it, but I am really enjoying the suburbs right now. I have never not lived in a city. That isn't to say I am done living in the city, but for where we are in life, this is perfect. And I'm very close to the lab. We went to Washington twice (we live close to the metro), both times going to Nats games. The second time we also went to the National Museum of American History which was very cool. We've also been furniture shopping but we promised ourselves we wouldn't make any decisions for one week to prevent impulse buying. We are very happy with the apartment. We are getting a little tired of renting, but this place is very comfortable. The bedrooms are huge and we each have our own bathroom which is nice. The balcony is huge and faces the woods which is makes me (and the kitties) very happy.

I started my new job yesterday. It's been mostly paperwork and training so I haven't done any experiments yet. But from what I've learned about the lab and the people I've met I have a feeling I'll be very happy here. The facilities are amazing and the Institute is deeply committed to research excellence as well as public service. I am already proud to be a part of it.

Dean is still looking for a job. He's had two unsuccessful interviews and is feeling a little discouraged. I don't blame him, but really it hasn't been a very long time and our savings along with my new salary is more than enough for us to live comfortably for quite some time. I really want him to take his time and find something that makes him happy. Not so secretly, I want him to follow my lead and look for federal employment. There is a lot out there right now. In the meantime, there is still lots of unpacking to keep him busy. I really can't believe how much stuff we have. I promise to post pictures one we get the new furniture and this place gets put together. Right now, things are still a little chaotic. But I'll try to be around more. Outside of government hours, of course.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Signing Off

Thanks guys for all the compliments and well wishes. The movers will be here at 8:30 tomorrow morning. We called to set up a cable/internet account at the new place and were stunned to learn that they have to install it in person and the soonest they could come is September 13th! I'm VERY upset that I have to be off line for 9 days with the possible exception of an internet cafe if we can find one. Dean pointed out there was actually several years that we were alive before the invention of the internet. I don't remember that at all. I'll check in as visit you all just as soon as we get hooked up in our new place.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Transition

I think when I look back on this past year, I will most associate it with transition. Indeed the position of postdoc is transitory in nature, designed to help scientists bridge the gap between grad school and their permanent careers. As someone who naturally experiences anxiety, it hasn't been great for my psyche. But it has been great for forcing me to figure out who I am and for Dean and I to realize what we want out of our life together. Turns out we really want air conditioning and a few nearby chain restaurants. Who knew?

Yesterday was my last day at Brown. In one year I went from a relatively new Ph.D. eager to experience scientific life outside that lab I "grew up" in. I came away with a firm resolve with how science should be done, how I can contribute to that with my own skills and how I can cultivate scientific relationships to help me succeed in my goals while helping others achieve the same. This is no small feat in such a large community with such a wide range of styles and attitudes.

I am still digesting many of my experiences and I think many of the benefits of this past year have yet to be revealed. For now, I'd like to put a little distance between myself and this year before I try to describe my feelings on it any more.

Right now, we're looking to the future and it is coming at us like a freight train. The movers are coming Friday to both pack us up and load our things onto the truck. Friday night we'll drive to Maryland. Before then, we are taking a couple days of much needed rest before getting things in order. There isn't too much to do, mostly getting the cars serviced, getting organized and cleaning up. We'll have a week in Maryland before my new job starts, which will consist of hopefully getting new furniture and getting unpacked. We're ridiculously excited. I'm not sure how much writing I'll do before we leave, but per Jenn's request, I'll definitely take some pictures when we get there and as we're settling in. Before then, I'll just share my impulsive haircut I got yesterday. I thought I had turning 30 out of my system, but the 20s-to-30s transition coupled with my impending grown up job made me decide to cut 5 inches off my hair and get serious about looking professional. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Impulsive Buying for Geeks

One thing we have been doing a lot this past year is going to baseball card shows. I know, WAY nerdy. It started in the winter time. If I say nothing else about Red Sox fans, it is this: they know their baseball, and they love their baseball memorabilia. So during the long winter, there are frequently baseball card shows within an hour drive of us or so. We usually do it on Sunday mornings, there is no traffic and we breakfast at a diner we find along the way. It gets us out of the house and there is some superb people watching. Dean isn't a huge baseball card guy per se, he likes autographs so he usually gets a ball, a photo or a card signed by the old retired Red Sox player the show hires to come sign. Then we giggle over the crazy Sox fans and the big fat card collectors that probably live in their mother's basement. Plus, I get an ego boost being one of the only women there and likely the best looking. I'm not usually vain or self-promoting, so the fact that I can state that with confidence is an indication of the clientele.

My biggest complaint about these shows it that all the stuff is Red Sox stuff. I mean ALL of it. I knew I probably wouldn't find any cards of obscure Twins players from the "dark years" (mid- to late-90s), but I expected to see some Mauer stuff or some Rays stuff. They were, afterall, the AL champs. Nope. Nada. But they do occasionally have non-sports related memorabilia, and after I become saturated with Sox stuff, I gravitate to those tables.

Last weekend we knew would be our last show in Massachusetts. As I said before, Dean always gets the autograph of the headliner. He occasionally also finds some cards he wants like some cheap sets from the 80s. (He likes to mail them to retired players' homes to sign and send back, but that is a different blog post.) But I have never bought anything for myself. I'm not opposed to some self-indulgence and I know the sports collectors circuit has been hit hard by the economy. I just haven't found anything I wanted. Until Sunday. My one memorabilia purchase from a Massachusetts collector show:
A rare Bobby Kennedy presidential campaign button. This particular one was only produced for one campaign stop (I actually believe the guy because he seemed super nerdy like me and was thrilled to talk about political memorabilia in a sea of Sox talk). I thought that with my recent obsession with New England history, politics, and all things Kennedy, it was perfect. I have no idea what I'm going to do with it. But I'll probably display it along with my rare Kucinich for President button, which was eventually replaced by my not-so-rare Obama button.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Because it's Friday

Supper time in the MB house. One of the only times you will see peace and tolerance. I'm soooo going to miss my gigantic kitchen. Dean has heard just about enough of my worrying over where the feeding spot will be in the new apartment. A cat mom has to have priorities.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bewitched

My life right now is a broken record. Excited to move, feeling restless at work, blah blah blah. So that's why I'm going to write another book review. But rather than recommending this book or not, I think I'll write a little more about what I learned from it in hopes the topic, more so than the specific book, may grab your interest.

I bought Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum while visiting Salem, Massachusetts in April with my mom and step dad. The town as it is now is rather disappointing, having over time opted for kitch over actual historical significance. We did visit the Salem Witch Museum, where we were shown some mannequins re-enacting some key events of 1692 but overall the lack of artifacts and access to historical sites made it difficult to fully grasp this strange piece of American history. So at the Salem Welcome Center, I decided to buy a book to help me better understand the Salem witch trials, and decided on Salem Possessed because I thought that not only would it explain what happened there in 1692, but also shed some light on the reasons why it happened.

Most everyone is aware that between 1692 and 1693 nineteen Massachusetts women and men were executed for witchcraft. While allegations of witchcraft were not terribly unusual in colonial New England, the scope of the epidemic that began in Salem and spread radially across several towns clearly remains an aberration in our history. However, it is still unclear exactly what caused the initial outburst to gather momentum and become a full-fledged phenomenon. What made Salem different?

It turns out there were a lot of things that made Salem different from your average New England town in the late seventeenth century, which is the premise of this book. Now, from what (admittedly little) else I have read on this topic, the common consensus is that a perfect storm of political, religious, and socio-economical factors combined in Salem in the 1680s and '90s and continued to gather strength until it erupted in a flurry of accusations (over a hundred total), convictions and ultimately executions.

It is widely believed that the first witchcraft accusations made by a group of young girls was likely due to the overall lack of intellectual stimulation afforded to adolescent Puritan girls of the time. While adolescent boys were allowed to hunt, fish, and play games, young girls were taught to sit around and act pure until they found a husband. It is thought that it was likely sheer boredom which brought about the strange behavior-either as a manifestation of neurosis or simply out of some desire for attention from the elders. Alternatively, it has been speculated that the girls themselves were the ones dabbling in witchcraft by attempting to tell each others' futures (who they were going to marry and how much money they'd end up with) and interpreted their visions as them being bewitched. This is still highly speculative.

If this theory is true, then why did grown men and women chime in and start making accusations? Because Salem itself was a town deeply divided during this time. Salem started out as a small town which eventually grew and naturally split into two factions. "Salem Town" remained where the town center was including all the businesses, the meetinghouse, the church and the port where goods were imported and exported between the colonies and Europe. Meanwhile, as families grew, they began to buy farmland further out (to the Northwest) so as to add both land and the crops they sowed to their own incomes. Pretty soon, "Salem Village" wanted its own church because they were tired of riding their horses 15 miles into town on Sunday mornings. Then they wanted their own representatives in the meetinghouse to negotiate their taxes so they didn't have to pay city taxes for services they didn't regularly use. The request for a church was granted, and the people of "Salem Village" suddenly had a geographical place to gather, and a leader (Samuel Parris) around whom to rally so that they could fight for their rights as a distinct faction. As an aside, which is still very important, the governor might have stepped in at this point to try to diffuse the growing factional tension and try to come to a fair resolution to this problem. However, he was busy being overthrown at the time as a result of the dethroning of King James II, effectively leaving New England with no central government for a period of time.

This is the context for the witch trials laid out in Salem Possessed. And Boyer and Nissenbaum's central thesis is that the rampant accusations of 1692 and 1693 can be explained as a result of the tensions between the two factions. Interestingly, in 1695, a petition was circulated to oust Samuel Parris as reverend of the Salem Village church, and from this petition, they put together two "camps", the pro-Parris and anti-Parris camps, comprised of people whose names show up in several other Salem documents. With the petition as well as the other historical documents from Salem at the time (tax records, marriage records, land deeds, etc), they convincingly piece together a story in which the people in Salem Village feel frustrated, threatened and cheated by those in Salem Town. The evidence? Nearly all of the "accusers" resided in Salem Village. Some of them were people who were cheated out of their inheritance by step parents and an increasing average family size. They all belonged to the same tax bracket, namely they didn't make a whole of of money and were upset about what their taxes were being spent on. And they all went to the Salem Village Church where Samuel Parris preached sermons that began as suggestions of injustice towards the village and crescendoed to incendiary accusations of betrayal and witchcraft. In fact, it was much easier for Boyer and Nissenbaum to build a generic profile of a witchcraft accuser than of the accused.

Who were the accused? This is much more difficult to pinpoint. The "witches" lived in various towns around Salem, and in Salem Town as well as Salem Village. But for the most part, they lived in Salem Town. While they were mostly women, there were some men. You had your usual "witch" suspects for the time: the spinsters, the promiscuous, the social outcasts. But you also had rich people, powerful people, and very poor people. They infrequently bore any direct relation to the accusers at all. This is where Boyer and Nissambaum's thesis gets interesting. They found two patterns for the accusers and the accused:
  1. The accuser felt some personal wrong in their lives and in many cases the wrongdoer was readily identified, but not accused. The accusers, in general seeing Salem Town as their "oppressors" would project that personal wrong onto an analogous member of Salem Town. A classic example would be a person living in Salem Village who was written out of their father's will under the influence of their stepmother. Instead of confronting their stepmother, they claimed to be bewitched by some older woman in Salem Town who had likewise married into wealth. Whether this behavior was conscious or subconscious was not ascertained, though their was patterns of evidence to back up this hypothesis.

  2. The accused witches were all "threats to the social order." That is, their social position at the time of accusation was different from that where they started or where society would traditionally have them. Those that were rich had married into money or had come across it luckily. Those that were poor were fallen, not born poor. There were women who had married socially beneath them that were accused and one extremely "lucky" man who in reality was amazingly shrewd and rose to the ranks of one of the richest men in Salem Town through smart business dealings. In this day and age, we are used to the notion that we bring about our own destiny. But that wasn't always so, and the average colonial American died in the same place in the social hierarchy in which he was born. America, evidently, had not yet whetted its appetite for capitalism.

Overall, I walked away with a couple impressions about the book. One, I wished it had contained more explanation about the the witch trials and the events leading up to it using a broader brush stroke. I knew the basic story and there is a time line in the front. And towards the end, they outlined a few of the cases I alluded to above. But perhaps one chapter where it gave a typical text book description of the accusations and the trials before delving into the analysis would have helped tremendously. I actually found myself going to Wikipedia on occasion to revisit the outline and reconstruct a fluid story into which all the facts and figures could fit.

Second, it was actually a little dry. I am happy I read this book or I never would have thought of the witch trials in terms of socio-economic upheaval and village factionalism. I am happy for the knowledge I gained, I just didn't always enjoy getting there. I love data as much as the next geek, but I can only stand to look at so many tax tables cross-referenced with town petitions before even my eyes begin to cross.

I have really been getting into American history lately. Perhaps it has been this past year of living in the oldest part of the country, where history is all around me and so accessible. What parts of American history, big or small, most interest you?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Group: Smart Chick Lit

I wasn't sure what to make of Mary McCarthy's The Group when my mom picked it up at a used book store and handed it to me saying, "Here, I think you should get this." I looked at it puzzled for minute, shrugged, and added it to my respectable stack. Why didn't I tell her to get the book herself if she thought it looked good? Because after 30 years and multiple advanced degrees, "I think you should get that" still means, "don't even try paying for that if I'm around." So it sat in my "to read" pile for over a year. At almost 500 pages, I didn't think I could concentrate on a story for that long with so many other distractions in my life right now.

Interestingly, I picked it up just to reread the back - like I do with so many books when making the important decision of what to read next - shortly after my visit to the JFK Presidential Museum. I noticed that the book was about a group of Vassar graduates, the same college Jackie Kennedy graduated from. Intrigued, and struck by the coincidence, I decided to read it. Rarely do I read a book that I enthusiastically recommend just because reading a book is a commitment and people have such different tastes. I was so pleasantly surprised by this book that I just had to write up a review and recommend this book to those of you, who like me, may have never been exposed to it.

The Group is chick lit before chick lit as we know it existed, let alone became the homogenized retelling of the same story and marketed for beach goers and only the most casual readers. It is about eight friends who, after growing up privileged, graduate from Vassar college in 1933 and find themselves in a whole different world, namely New York City at the height of the depression. It was written in 1963, an odd time from my perspective. Not only is this book sort of "old" but it was written itself about an older period. Maybe this is why it escaped my attention, though just a little bit of internet searching revealed Mary McCarthy to be a literary force in the 1960s. If the story line as I'm describing it is failing to grab you, don't feel bad. I wasn't taken in immediately either. But once I started reading it, I was hooked.

The book drifts in and out of the lives of these eight woman, who after graduation all choose different paths that span between immediately marrying, going abroad, and aggressively pursuing careers. And let me just tell you that for the 1930s, I found their lives much more full of intrigue than I had ever expected (e.g. you learn a great deal about 1930s birth control than you could ever hope to). The way life unfolds for each of these girls is fascinating. But what I really loved about this book was that the characters actually had depth and dimension, something you don't find in female-oriented novels these days. While it would have been easy to allow one girl to be the prude, one the ditz, one the slut, one the brainiac and so on, each girl was complex, facing her own set of problems and making decisions that then re-shaped her character as she aged.

One caveat - I'm not sure if you guys out there would like this book very much. It is, after all, about women with female protagonists, and well, male antagonists. There's the roaming husband, the egotistical doctor husband, and the bachelor seducer. I forgive Mary McCarthy for this, because she managed to portray the educated woman as such a complex creature. Plenty of books out there do the same for men.

And lest you think this book is only about women and relationships, there is still the back drop of the depression including life during the implementation of the New Deal. The characters are constantly engaged with each other over the state of a country nursing its wounds after being brought back from the brink of collapse and how the foreign concepts of the New Deal will shape their lives. Sound familiar? It's nearly uncanny, the only difference being that the two sides actually converse and exchange ideas rather than carry out two divergent monologues.

If you are looking for a book with a great story line, told by an interesting literary voice that challenges you while entertains you, I highly recommend this book.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happy One-Year Anniversary to McLovin, the Three-Legged Wonderkitty

I can't believe it's been a full year since we acquired McLovin. I know I filled you in shortly after we rescued him and I let you know when we decided to keep him (even though you knew already). One year later, McLovin is such a joy and so big and healthy I marvel at him after remembering the beginning. Since that was such a stressful and hectic time, I don't think I ever really conveyed to you what a heap of a mess he was. For awhile I honestly didn't think he was going to make it.

I remember so clearly the night I first met McLovin. It was mid-July and we were in a particularly rainy spell. The kitties weren't regularly coming out for feedings and on that night I was feeding at a later time after working late. The food from that morning was still sitting out and soaked through to the point of becoming a soup. I went back there and he was sitting all by himself eating. My first thought was "shit, how many are there and who can I talk into taking them?" I was puzzled because he seemed about 12 weeks (yes, I got that good at it) and I had never not seen kittens before around aged 4 to 5 weeks. How could he have escaped my attention? So my second thought was perhaps he was dumped. I was hoping he was dumped because that would mean he was not scared of people and I'd have a much easier time getting him into foster. No one I knew of at the time would even consider take a 12 week old feral. So I slowly approached him and saw the classic signs of feral kittens. He watched me closely with ears reared all the way back and ran away just as I got within arm's reach. And not only that, he hopped away, dragging his front foreleg. Double shit. I also knew from experience that leg dragging is about the worst sign you can see in an injured animal. Functional injured legs - twists, sprains - the animal limps or lifts it above the ground. Dragging means a break, a dislocation or paralysis. I freaked out and called a friend who sent her boyfriend over with a net. We tried for two hours in the pouring rain to lure him out and catch him but didn't see him again.

For three more days I looked for him at regular feeding times and anytime in between. I'd wake up at 6:30 in the morning and right away go look. On my way home from work. Late at night. One night I woke up around 2 am and couldn't get back to sleep so I went out and looked. I asked all the maintenance men if they had seen him and they told me the same thing, yeah they'd seen him but not for a few days. I was distraught, certain a raccoon had gotten at him. Or he'd been hit by a car. Or worse, had wandered far from the colony and was starving to death.

That weekend, Dean had booked a night for us right by Tropicana field so we could enjoy the game and the after concert without driving the hour home as my birthday present. Being the patient, wonderful husband he is, he gave me the out so I could stay home and obsess over the kitten, which was what I had wanted to do. But my friend encouraged me to go. She and her boyfriend had Saturday free and were going to sit outside and wait for him. "If he's still out there, we'll get him," she promised me.

That night at the game, which in itself was one of the best games I've ever been to, I got a text message from her that simply said, "Got him!" I was thrilled. I had no idea what came next and for the moment I didn't care. But I did know I was going to do everything I could to find him the perfect home, even if it was ours.

Since he wasn't in obvious pain, we decided that rather than taking him to the emergency vet that night or even the next day (Sunday) she'd keep him in a holding cage in her house and I'd take him to the vet associated with one of the local rescue groups. They had offered to pick up the medical expenses if we dealt with the foster and adoption on our end. I remember on Monday morning I got up early to take him in. I was encouraged by how he behaved. Again, typical of feral kittens, he shied away from my outstretched hand, but let me grab him out of his cage when he saw there was no place else to go. I gently wrapped him in a towel and put him in my lap. He began purring immediately.

He was totally disgusting. Mud and probably poop all over that limp little paw that had been dragged all over God knows where. Mud on his face. I could see the fleas jumping on him and the dark paste in his ears that was certainly mites. But of course it was that leg I was worried about, though it didn't really seem to bother him.


I brought him all the way across town to the special vet and was completely terrified. The nurses of course snuggled him gently (despite his filthy appearance) and took his blood to test for FIV and feline leukemia. The doctor came in and started examining him, his ears, his teeth, his heart beat and finally his leg. He moved it around in its socket (it wasn't dislocated) and verified all the tendons were in place and said he couldn't find a break. Then he took the kitten's little paw between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed as hard as could. Then he murmured to the nurse, "no sensory response." He told me it was likely nerve damage but couldn't be sure. What he didn't know was if the problem was in his leg or in his head. That freaked me the hell out and I almost began to cry. He left the room with the nurse for a few minutes and I sat there just looking at the poor pathetic kitten purring in my lap. I imagined him having some awful degenerative disease and needing to decide to euthanize him immediately or watch him progressively get worse. Then the nurse came back in took him from me and put him on the floor. She said she wanted to see how he moved and if he could walk in a straight line. I thought he did okay, but I was still badly shaken.

Next the doctor came in and said he was satisfied that the injury was localized and due to trauma, not disease. But we were still waiting on the blood tests. In the meantime, the nurses had taken several "samples" from him and the doctor informed me that he had 5 types of stomach parasites, ear mites, fleas and an infected cut in his mouth. He said he didn't want to give him his first set of shots until after he had done a course of antibiotics. After about another eternity of anxiety, the blood tests came back negative so he was ready to go home.

Because of the deal they had with the rescue group, I had to go to them for the medicine. I went to the rescue lady's house and she had a look at the kitten. She gave him his first dose of de-wormer and gave me enough for him and my other three kitties to have three months worth of doses (giving Wrigley de-wormed is NOT a fun experience, by the way). She also gave me flea medicine, antibiotics, pro-biotics (to promote stomach health while on the antibiotics) and Pepto-Bismol to counter the diarrhea he'd get from the antibiotics. She also suggested that before I apply the flea medicine I should try giving him a bath. The baby shampoo would wash off most of the adult fleas, it would clean up his muddy paw and it might "stun" him into socializing a little easier. But she warned me socializing him would be tough and at 12 weeks he could go either way. She said there was a small market for people who wanted to adopt special needs pets but being feral wasn't going to help his case.

This is where you came in. After he had been nursed back to health, bathed, doted upon and taken into the fold with our other kitties, "Ray" felt like part of the family.

Here's what I never confessed to you: After a couple of weeks of hard work getting him patched up, my same friend who trapped him said that she had a friend who might be interested in adopting him. She had recently adopted another tuxedo kitten and was looking for a playmate for him and since she worked with animals, the little bit of leftover feral tendencies wouldn't bother her a bit. This sent me into an absolute tizzy because I realized at that point I just couldn't give him up. She said she would ask her friend about taking him after the weekend.

That weekend, I didn't tell Dean that I had potentially found a home for Ray. But after weeks of beating around the bush I asked him outright if he thought we could give him up at this point. He could see in my face that I didn't think I could and I didn't think he could either. And then he told me something I'll never forget, one of the best things he has ever told me. He said, "These past couple years I've seen you do a lot of things I never thought you could do. When you brought the first kitten into this house I thought we were doomed. But you did what was best for it and for us and you gave it up. And you did it so many times without ever putting me in the position to tell you no. I know this is almost over and I know you love this kitten. He's your reward for all you've done for those cats." I started crying and hugging him I was so happy. And then he said, "All I ask is that we change his name from Ray to McLovin." Well, all his records are still in the name Ray, because it is admittedly a little strange. But I thought it was a fair trade off.

The next day I emailed my friend and told her we were keeping Ray, her friend couldn't have him. I never told Dean that someone might have been interested. It turns out this friend was a vet tech at the clinic that ended up doing his amputation. Seeing the feral tuxedo kitten with the bum arm, she asked if this was the kitten she had heard about from our mutual friend. I confirmed and we had a good laugh over it. She spent two days with him while he was in recovery before I came and got him. When I picked him up, she made a point to send him off and told me, "You know, I definitely would have taken him."

You all followed his amputation and recovery and know that it stressed me out. Every step of the way with him I have talked myself into the certainty that he won't make it. That I'll have my heart broken. Even now I know his one year checkup is coming up and I am a little more anxious about taking him in (after we move and settle) than I would be for the rest. But for the most part, after his surgery, his healing, and his maturation into a big (!) healthy, happy adult cat I have learned to accept that I have myself a survivor.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Birthday at the Cape

Dean and I celebrated my 30th birthday in style at Cape Cod, as opposed to wallowing in self pity and despair as was my initial plan.

Dean made all the arrangements, and we stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast on the beach.



The owner said a lot of people won't advertise for her because they don't want all the rooms to be taken when they come to visit. Since we probably are not going to make it back anytime soon, I'll gladly let you know that if you want to stay at a great place close to the water and lots of fun restaurants, the Inn at Lewis Bay is perfect. Thanks, Janet!

We chilled at the beach, watched the sailboats in the bay and the kids building sand castles. Once I got past my initial snobbery that the beach wasn't anything like the white sand and green water of the gulf, it was quite nice. This is the type of beach everyone else is used to going to, and probably close to what we'll be by in Maryland.

Like everything else in New England, Cape Cod is crowded, compact and expensive. But beautiful, and full of rich history. We were only a short ways away from where the Kennedys stayed when they vacationed frequently in Hyannis. And we watched another piece of tradition, Cape Cod league baseball. I didn't know much about it, and was surprised to learn that so many people turn out to go to a high school baseball field to watch the top college players (and certainly soon-to-be top draft picks) play some pretty good ball. They come from all over the country and stay with volunteer host families for the summer, often times taking on daytime jobs for spending money for their summer at the Cape. The owner of the B&B said that she had friends that routinely took in players and said that despite a couple bad apples, they are usually gracious and polite. Plus it gives the host family a player to watch for their whole career.

We also had some amazing food and we even snuck out late for a midnight picnic (bottle of wine) at the beach under the stars. We are not usually an overly romantic couple, but that was picturesque, complete with people shooting off fireworks, and watching the lighthouses light up over the bay.

And I was delighted by my souvenir, a t-shirt from Cape Cat!

But most of all, it provided a much needed couple of days away from the stress of putting together another move, Dean trying to find another job and me trying to still excel at this one to keep up my contacts and reputation. It's going to get very busy over the next several weeks, best to face it all with a clear mind and a fully charged battery.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Big Three-Oh

It's here. My thirtieth birthday. I am handling it in my patented mixture of grace and anxiety with which I handle most of life's events. Yes, like everyone who has come before me, I'll admit it snuck up on me. For awhile I was experiencing the existential crisis that many 30 year old women in my position experience. The feeling that I should have kids by now. I should own my home by now. I should be driving a car that is less than ten years old. Okay, some of these goals haven't been met. Some are barely on the horizon. Sure, ten years ago this definitely is not what I had in mind for myself. But in a lot of ways, this is better than what I had in mind. So instead of dwelling on what I don't have today, I'm going to put together a short list of all the things I've experienced that I would never have imagined doing by the time I was 30.


  • Eloping in Vegas.

  • Getting a Ph.D. In Physics.

  • Going to Europe. By myself.

  • Living in 3 different states, just a few weeks shy of moving to my 4th.

  • Seeing baseball games at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Miller Park, Nationals Stadium, Pro Player Stadium, Tropicana Field, and the Metrodome.

  • Publishing 15 papers in academic journals and one book chapter.

  • Eating beignets at Cafe du Monde.

  • Looking out over the Grand Canyon, hiking in the French Alps and the Great Smokey Mountains.

  • Walking along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Lake Superior.

  • Listening to jazz music at the Village Vanguard.

  • Sterilizing over 30 cats and placing about 15 cats and kittens in loving homes (including Dixie, Sauvi, and McLovin).

  • Teaching Girl Scouts about Astronomy and how to find the North Star.

  • Seeing Canada and Mexico.

  • Giving talks to magnetism experts in Los Angeles, Denver, New Orleans, Baltimore, Boston, and Montreal.

  • Meeting a Munchkin.

  • Bombing a job interview.

  • Owning a three-legged cat.

  • Having a little sister.

  • Seeing two presidents speak in person.

  • Eating lunch with a Nobel Laureate.

  • Climbing the steps to the Bell Tower at Notre Dame.



Now it's your turn. What were you proud experiencing when you turned 30? For those youngsters, what do you hope to experience by the time you're my age?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Being a grown up can be so boring

The actual text messaging conversation I just had with Deano.

Him: What's 4 dinner 2nite?

Me: Veggie soup.

Him: What's 4 dinner 2morrow nite?

Me: Pulled pork sammies.

Him: Can we move up the pulled pork to 2nite? I'm excited 4 the draft and soup isn't really a good draft food. Maybe if it was chilli.

Me: No, I don't have the pork yet. I was gonna cook it overnite.

Me: Do u wanna order pizza?

Him: No, I want 2 go 2 Big Cheese on Saturday. Or maybe Mexican. We are in a tough spot now. What do you think?

Me: I have frozen chilli too. I can swap it out for soup.

Him: Keep the soup but maybe pick up some snacks.

Me: But it's ice cream night.

Him: What kind of ice cream do we have?

And so it continues...

Monday, June 22, 2009

130, Bitches

Lifted from Pole Hill:




Your IQ Is 130



Your Logical Intelligence is Genius


Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius


Your Mathematical Intelligence is Genius


Your General Knowledge is Above Average

A Quick and Dirty IQ Test


That last one is a little embarrassing. I can no longer think of myself as quite the well-rounded person as I once did.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cat Bomb


As most of you know, Dean and I have a problem child named Wrigley. This is a picture of him as a kitten that I found in my archives. See that absolutely demonic, possessed look he has on his face? 5 years later he still gets that look on his face. Every morning at 2 a.m. to be precise.

I reassured Deano that he would "grow out of it", and as a full grown adult, he has more energy and gumption than our not-yet one-year old. He was totally insane as a kitten, I'm shocked he survived to see 5 years old and his first few months with us were filled with jokes of why he might have been abandoned by his previous owners. No, I realize pet abandoning is not funny. But sometimes humor is all you have when you are sleep deprived because an eight pound creature is terrorizing you at all hours of the night.

After we returned from our trip to D.C., he was out of control for three nights. His chosen method of distraction was sitting on my pillow alternately howling (while loudly purring) and slapping my face. I had tried gently tossing him off the bed and squirting him with a water bottle, both tactics making him even more aggressive. Finally, too dysfunctional to work last Wednesday morning, I googled "cat behavior" and clicked on an article entitled Midnight Meowers. Perfect.

I actually learned quite a bit about cat behavior and why my naughty boy-kitty does what he does. Apparently it's not all that uncommon, and could have been predicted by us working long hours and just returning home from a long weekend. He wants attention and his body is tuned to be at its highest energy in the wee hours of the morning. One of the things the article advised was to have an intense play-session with your cat just before bed to tire him out so that he'll sleep through the night. Right. Like I needed one more thing to do nightly before I can finally hit the sack, but I was desperate.

So we dragged out his favorite piece of string, which attracted McLovin. Wrigley just sat watching while McLovin went nuts over the string. I brought out some catnip filled stuffed toys and Nellie promptly started attacking them and raking at them with her hind feet. Then we started throwing bouncy balls and rolling plastic balls filled with bells and beads. Allison chased all of them, Wrigley chased none of them. It was like a circus in there with three of the cats running around like crazy, Deano and me clapping our hands and chasing them in hopes Wrigley's interest would be piqued by the commotion. Finally, we brought out the piece de resistance: the nylon spring tube. We usually keep it coiled up and bring it out only on rare occasions. Wrigley's favorite mode of play is stalk and pounce so he finally got up after seeing the tube as a hiding place. He proceeded to hide in there and pounce out, attacking whomever walked past. Finally, success. After about an hour things started winding down and Deano and I felt like we could sleep through anything. We sat down on the couch and studied our surroundings, which consisted of the floor littered with strings, toys, and plastic balls. Empty soda cans were knocked over and papers strewn all over as Wrigley had skidded on them chasing the other kitties. According to Dean, it looked like a bomb had gone off in the apartment. A cat bomb.

But by God it worked! We do the routine now every night after we're done cleaning up dinner. I don't know how long it will last, but for the summer it is okay to watch the baseball game in the periphery while giving Wrigley his nightly dose of "running the crazies out". Not to mention it gets the others some much needed exercise as well. And the best part is Wrigley sleeps through the night, spooning against me and just as sweet as can be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Home Stretch

We got back on Sunday after spending a long weekend in the DC area looking for apartments and meeting my new research group.

The weather was bad Thursday and Friday, but we had a wonderful time sightseeing in downtown DC on Saturday and at the Nats game Saturday night. Dean, by nature a little pessimistic, was nearly distraught about the rain all day Thursday and Friday. Even though he was dead on his feet Thursday, having flown back from Minneapolis the previous night, he had wanted to go to a minor league game in Frederick that was rained out. I, the eternal optimist, pointed out that the more perfect and picturesque the trip was, the more difficult the two and a half months before we actually got to move would be.

I took a bunch of pictures, but didn't load them onto my computer yet. Besides, how often can you look at someone else's pictures of the White House and the Lincoln Memorial? So we'll see if I post them at all. The bad news is that apartments in suburban Washington, DC are f-ing expensive as hell. The good news is that we can afford it now. But that doesn't necessarily mean I want to spend that kind of money on rent. However, I do believe in getting what one pays for. I love our apartment now, it is cute and old and quirky and the rent is cheap because we live in a run-down neighborhood. Apartments by my new work are spacious, luxurious with modern appliances and amenities, and in a safe neighborhood minutes from the metro.

Speaking of the metro...ohmygod I love it. It's so easy and gets you so close to where ever you want to go. And it's clean with normal people who ride it, unlike some of the other public transportation I've been on.

Nationals Stadium is literally a half a block from the metro stop, which also was incredible. I love Fenway park, but my disdain for the Red Sox has made it impossible for me to feel like anything but an outsider there. Even though I don't follow the Nats religiously, I feel like I could go to several games there and fit right in. Plus, like Tampa, the DC area is full of transplants and we sensed there much more tolerance for people with other team allegiances. Not to mention the ballpark, in only its second season, was beautiful, clean and GREEN!

My research group seems pretty cool, even though I already new my future boss and the group leader from conferences and networking. But everyone else seemed nice and a tour of the facilities revealed a cornucopia of exciting toys and state of the art measurement systems including a one of a kind ultra high precision magnetometer and a top of the line high field magnet sporting a serial number 9, out of 12 currently in existence. To put it mildly, I was totally geeking out. I also saw an old friend who has been working there (in a different department) for a year. We competed for the same grant to work at the lab. Initilaly he got it and I didn't. I'm really looking forward to spending more time with him, and Dean was thrilled to see a familiar face from Tampa. I think he will thrive there as well, he seemed to hit it off with my co-workers and prety much everyone in the town we'll be living in is either a scientist or relocated there because they are married to one.

I don't have much else to share about the trip. We are still deciding between two apartments and will start the application process for one or the other in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, it's back to work and counting down until the next big move. One of these days, we'll stay put.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Portland


This might be the single strangest statue I have ever seen. And we saw it outside the Seadogs' stadium in Portland, Maine. Before I tell you how awesome Portland is, let me just draw your attention to exactly how bizarre this statue is. First, the mom. Her attire is completely inappropriate for a ball game. Her dress looks like how I might imagine a Mormon prostitute and she appears to be wearing bedroom slippers. And she clearly is not wearing a bra. Not to mention, the little girl hanging from her hip is wearing an identical outfit. And don't get me started on the scary calf muscles. But the dad is even stranger. He seems to have sewn a patch of the American flag onto his polo shirt. But the weird part: he appears to be scalping their tickets. He is holding them up suggestively while the poor son looks distraught and protesting. I suppose the cynic in me might say that this motley crew bears a strong resemblance to many dysfunctional families I've witnessed at a minor league ball game. But to make a sculpture of it? Can any Portlanders help me out on this one? Very odd.

Anyway, Portland, Maine was freaking awesome. THAT was how I pictured New England - fun shops, excellent food, fun, small, family-owned pubs and the friendliest people ever. The vibe reminded me of the area around my parents' lake home if it wasn't quite so remote and the people were more outgoing. We went to check out the minor league baseball team (because that's what we do) and we ended up having a half-serious discussion on whether or not we should just cut our losses and stay there for good. Have the kitties shipped up, of course. But in the end we compromised that we'd try to make it back once more this summer and if we ever decide to retire in a harsh environment, it'll be in Maine.

Next stop - DC/Maryland tomorrow for apartment hunting. And a Nationals game, of course.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Peace of Mind

A rare glimpse of our problem child, Wrigley, at rest.

I am feeling good these days. Being able to say that at this stage in my life under these economic conditions is a triumph. Sure, I am busier than ever working, traveling, getting ready for the next move but I have peace of mind which is absolutely invaluable.

I don't think I was ever officially clinically depressed this past year, but I think if I hadn't used the tools I acquired recovering from my previous bouts it could have happened. A little over a year ago, I got my Ph.D. with no job offer in hand. This was discouraging since I had heard so many stories from professors about how easy it was to find a job once they graduated, how in demand physics Ph.D.'s were. I applied for a fellowship for my dream job in D.C. and got turned down for it almost exactly a year ago. I was disappointed, but never truly believed I could get it since it was only awarded to a handful of people each year.

The weeks without an impending job turned into months and I became distraught and withdrawn. I went on a couple interviews and the fit wasn't right. I tried not to take it personally, my advisor said I was too specialized. But nevertheless, I didn't want to talk about it with anyone except Deano, whose future was on the line as well as my own. That's partly why the blogging decreased. Talking to friends and family decreased too.

I accepted this current position knowing it was temporary, it would be tough, and the pay would suck. The result? I put my head down and worked my ass off, planning to stick it out one maybe two years and hopefully my time here would pay off career wise. So as you may imagine, this regimen still did not make me very happy. Sure I had Deano and the kitties. We spend every other weekend together as a happy family, while on alternate weekends he is scheduled to work and I rely on discipline to be extra productive especially in my competitive workplace. In this I found a little joy and a stronger bond with Deano via the age old "we're in this together" perspective. Our brief time together is spent not only traveling to minor leage ball parks (his passion) and awesome New England diners (mine), but also conspiratorially whispering about how weird it is here and what crazy things the Rhode Islanders do. But my overall feeling was that how things were going, the place I was in careerwise and geographically was making me miserable. And I didn't want to talk about it. I just wanted to get past it and close this chapter in my life.

I am trying hard not to build up my new job too much. But things have changed for us so much since the offer. At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to take it. Of course my first thought was that becuase the position was created from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, I had been called to service in my own little way by a president who was finally taking science funding seriously. But I had already started the application process for a permanent position on the periphery of science because I was so fed up with the hierarchy of the scientific community, especially academia. That's a whole other post that will have to wait until the frustration is a little farther off in the rear view mirror. But when Deano told me to take it without even thinking twice and my new group was so helpful and supportive I knew I made the right decision, the first one I can be sure of in a long time. I am sleeping better, I have a better temperment, less anxiety, and something to really be excited about. I feel more confident in my abilities after months of doubting myself. Sometimes I even tell Deano that I'm glad I didn't get the job the first time around. Living a consistently charmed life leaves you with less of a sense of appreciation. He doesn't necessarily agree.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MB's Guide to New England Travel

Life has gotten busy. I know this has been happening ever since we left Tampa and really ever since I graduated over a year ago now. There is so much I always want to say, but I am severely lacking the time to sit down and say it. But I am trying my best. Since my book blogging idea seemed to have gone over like a lead balloon, I'll probably scrap that idea from now on, blogging about the books I especially like since the feedback on my review was good and it some seemed to have found it interesting and helpful.

It also seems like since I accepted the new position, there is all of a sudden an urgency in getting the things done that we want to do in the four months we still have in New England. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather have a busy spring and summer enjoying New England while we can if the alternative is fighting out another winter here! But what you've heard is true. The spring here is amazing, and much appreciated after a long, snowy winter season.

So for now, I'm going to group all the fun things we've done over the last month into one post. I don't really like doing that since I know I as a reader prefer short, frequent posts on other people's blogs to long, infrequent ones. But hey, sometimes you've just gotta take a few minutes to write when you can get them.

Last month my mom and step dad flew to Providence to visit us over the long Easter weekend. I knew it would be great to see them. Forever I had wanted them to see our apartment, and meet McLovin, our latest addition. Finding out about my new job just a couple weeks earlier had eliminated much of the underlying stress I had been experiencing since accepting this job, knowing it was only temporary. All this made for a fantastic time together.

My amazing husband was able to get us all tickets to the Red Sox - Rays game at Fenway on that Thursday afternoon. The weather was absolutely perfect and I'm happy my parents could see a little bit of Boston, where they hadn't ever visited. I hadn't yet been to Fenway, and I loved it. The running joke since then is a comment I made to Deano afterwards: "I LOVE Fenway! I just wish the Red Sox didn't play there." Sorry, Sox fans. But I'll never come around. For the most part, my Evan Longoria jersey t-shirt was ignored, until he hit a double, then a home run, then a single. After that I put my jacket on. Afterall, I'm still a non-confrontational midwesterner at heart.





While my parents were here we finally made it to Newport too. It was so much fun. We got there late because we took the long way (which pretty much took us through ALL of Rhode Island) and putzed around the downtown area (I have restaurant recommendations if anyone is going...) before finally taking Ocean Drive to the mansions on Bellevue Avenue. To be frank, I had no idea Rhode Island could be so beautiful. We live in a rather run down neighborhood on the border of Providence with another blue-collar suburb. And while it's functional, it isn't much to look at. But the coast line and the mansions were so amazing, we went back two days later when we found out the mansion tours operated on Easter (unlike many other local tourist attractions).




We really got into the mansion tours and even into learning about society life in New England during the late 1800s to early 1900s. I'd highly recommend spending time in Newport if you are in New England. And it's one of those places that are as cheap or expensive to visit as you want. There are very good, reasonable sandwich shops downtown and it costs nothing to just drive along the coast sightseeing. But there are also excellent restaurants and informative tours for a little extra.




The day in between the two days we spent in Newport, we went to Salem, someplace I had been wanting to see since learning we'd be moving to the area. I'm going to be frank. Salem is a total tourist trap. We had fun and learned about the history of the town and the Salem Witch Trials (and I bought an informative book on the subject). But the town seems awfully eager to exploit a rather dark part of American history and despite the Salem Witch Museum's message of the benign nature of "true witches" there was plenty of campy images of pointy hats, black cats and warts. Just a litte disappointing. We also visited their pirate museum which consisted of a bunch of mannequins dressed like pirates enacting out various "scenes" and a smarmy twenty something dressed as a pirate giving a tour. In predicabale fashion, he left us towards the end so we could conclude with a self-guided tour, only to have the bejesus scared out of us by a live pirate jumping out as us at the end. I wouldn't have expected less. But the real history of piracy in New England is very interesting (not to mention timely), and I'm glad I know more. Even if I do feel like a tourist. I do have to concede that we went there when it was raining and we were limited to indoor activities like museums and gift shops. I really would have liked to walk around more, even though the brochure seemed to indicate there wasn't a whole lot from the 1660's left in Salem to look at.

All in all it was such a fun trip. It was great to see my parents and see what they thought of this new place for us (it's a little different from Florida). The only disappointment was I really wanted them to get to know McLovin. It turns out he's still feral. The sad part is we NEVER have house guests, so we didn't know how he'd react to visitors. Here we thought we had done such an amazing job socializing him since he just acts like the other three around us. But he was still really shy around my parents. He came around a little towards the end.

Since then, Dean and I have taken two weekend trips to Connecticut. The first was to New Britain. If New Britain sounds familiar to you Minnesotans, it is because it is the home of the New Britain Rock Cats, AA affiliate of the Twins. The town itself wasn't terribly impressive (though if you find yourself there, you HAVE to go to Miss Washington's diner. Oh. My. God.) . But the stadium was nice and the game was a lot of fun. I got a Justin Morneau Rock Cats jersey tee and we stayed for fireworks after the game. I hadn't seen a fireworks display in a looooong time, but this one was really impressive. Plus, it was nice to be in a town where there were legitimate Twins fans. We are so saturated by Boston sports (hence the pushback on our part) that we forgot what it was like to be amonst our own people. And the people of New Britain know their Twins baseball.

We also went to Norwich for a Connecticut Defenders game. They are the AA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. That was pretty fun too, though I must admit their gift shop was a disappointment. The stadium food there more than made up for it. Hnads down the best selection of high quality food I've sesen at a minor league stadium. Again the weather was nice. Instead of Twins fans, there were Giants fans. I was again reminded of how little I follow West Coast baseball, but oh well.

That's my travel log for now. I'm not sure where we're off to in the near future, but we are all booked up for a trip to Maryland next month to look at apartments. Courtesy of my new job. Eek!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book Blogging Discussion: Rabbit, Run

In Rabbit, Run, John Updike answers one of society’s great questions: What happens to the high school jock when he wakes up one day and realizes he has drifted into mediocrity? Answer: he runs. From everything. Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom decides on his way to pick up his young son from his parents’ house that instead he will just leave his life behind. This after a moment of clarity in which he becomes disdainful of his pregnant wife and the life they share. He leaves her, their son, and a job selling vegetable peelers and hits the road, Jack Kerouac-style. For a night. And then decides to head back to their suburban Pennsylvanian town and shack up with a prostitute introduced to him by his old high school coach until his wife goes into labor.

In my old book group, our mediator never failed to ask one question about a book: Is it character-driven or plot-driven? In other words, is the point of reading it to find out what happens to the characters or to see how they develop and respond to the plot unfolding around them? Your average page-turner is plot-driven. Most books are difficult to classify as one or the other and generally fall in between. This book is one that is easily identifiable as character-driven. This book was all about Rabbit, his choices, how his character influences those choices, how others respond to him and how he himself becomes changed by his circumstances. To me, it is unusual to find such a character-driven book where the main character is so emotionally immature. Catcher in the Rye immediately comes to mind, but not much else. Yet despite his faults - narcissism, immaturity, impulsiveness, short-sightedness, possessiveness – I found it really difficult to dislike Rabbit. There was something tragic about him (besides the sad turn his life takes at the end) that made me feel like wasn’t a bad person per se, he just didn’t get it. And I often feel sorry for characters who cannot just enjoy life for what it is but must instead always be looking at the greener grass on the other side. Did he finally get it at the end? There is evidence for both answers. He honestly felt grief for what happened and grasped the finality of the events. But the outburst at the funeral blaming Janice in front of everybody definitely suggests otherwise.

Since this book is all about Rabbit and recounts a rather odd period in his life, I am still not sure I like the twist that the plot took, throwing a tragic wrench into things. Sure, it was good to see the consequences of Rabbit’s neglect of his marriage and his selfishness in regards to his own needs, but I also thought that to stay true to the point of the book it might have been better if the banality of the plot continued while the fascinating character insights remained the main focus. I’m interested to see if any of you agree or disagree.

I found myself feeling very torn about almost every character. Rabbit most of all, of course. I found Janice almost insufferable, but had to feel bad for her as the victim. I also had to keep reminding myself of the time period of the book. She had to take him back – she was soon to be a mother of two and probably had no work skills whatsoever. But I kept thinking she didn’t have to be so eager to do so. I saw Eccles as well-meaning, but in the context of today’s thinking, I’d say he had a man crush on Rabbit and wanted badly to live vicariously through the ex-basketball star. I think I liked Ruth most of all. I liked that she was confident but struggled with her weight. Unfortunately her independence brought out a mean streak in Rabbit and I think she understood why that relationship wasn’t going to work. And yet faced with the prospect of raising a child without a father without help from her parents she handled it much better than Janice.

But what I liked the best about the book was definitely the prose. I was so intrigued by the dichotomy of describing an average person and an average place with unbelievably beautiful language. And it wasn’t just Updike’s acute sense of detail. He doesn’t just describe what’s in Rabbit and Janice’s apartment, he makes you feel claustrophobic and frustrated by returning several times to the fact that the closet door when opened bumps up against the TV set. And he also describes feelings everyone experiences but in a way I’ve never thought of before. I am still struck by a particular passage where Rabbit wakes up in the bed of his old coach during a poker game. At first, while he is disoriented, his senses are fuzzy. He can’t understand what people are saying, he can only register the noise. And then the noises “crystallize into words” as he becomes fully aware of his surroundings. As a scientist, the metaphor of your surroundings undergoing a phase transformation from amorphous to crystalline as you wake up from sleep delighted me to no end and made me ashamed I never thought of it that way before. The book is full of passages like that. Several parts I read over again just to try to digest the language.

As I wrote before, this is an experiment. I’m not sure if I’ll get much discussion or not. I enjoyed reading the book and putting down my thoughts. I’ll probably continue to do so no matter how much response I get but whether it heads more as a book review feature or a discussion is up to you.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Apology, Teeny Tiny Update and Reminder: Book Blogging

Sorry peeps. I didn't mean to leave you for so long, but things have been insane. What else is new, right? Just when you think life stabilizes, it tosses you a curveball. And then you write about it in mixed metaphors.

Here's the short version: We're moving again. I told real-life family and friends about this a few weeks ago, but didn't feel comfortable posting about it until things were finalized. I was offered another postdoc position. Even though being a postdoc kinda sucks, this one pays much better (and includes moving expenses!), involves doing something that I absolutely love, and comes with the possibility of a permanent position at the end. It is in a suburb of Washington, DC so if it turns out not to lead to a permanent position, there are still plenty of opportunities for me without necessarily having to ask Dean to quit his job and pack up all our belongings again. We are not moving until September which gives us a little time to enjoy New England when it isn't cold as hell which we have already started to do. I fully plan to write about our recent exploring (including a visit from my mom and stepdad) AND the back story behind my new job very shortly.

But first, I haven't forgotten about our book blogging experiment. I am still reading Rabbit, Run in between dodging job offers, apartment hunting and baseball games. I told you I would write about it next week. I'm not sure yet whether it will be early or late in the week depending on when I finish the book. But I am already formulating my thoughts and hope some of you can contribute to the discussion.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Name Game

Lifted from Dianne's place. She posted it a couple weeks ago, but I'm just getting around to it now. The gangsta name doesn't make much sense for me (even though it's funny) and I've never heard of Minneapolis for a last name. But this is still pretty fun. Post it to your blog or put a funny name in the comments section.

1.Your rock star name (first pet, current car) - Cocoa del Sol

2.Your gangsta name (favorite ice cream flavor, favorite type of shoe) – Neopolitan Wedge

3.Your Native American name (favorite color, favorite animal) – Purple Cat

4.Your soap opera name (middle name, city where you were born) – Anne Minneapolis

5.Your Star Wars name (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 of your first name) - Hulna

6.Superhero name (2nd favorite color, favorite drink) – Blue Cape Cod

7.NASCAR name (the first names of your grandfathers) – Kenny Ruben

8.Dancer name (the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy) - Lilac Truffle

9.TV weather anchor name (your 5th grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter) - Simonson San Diego


10.Spy name (your favorite season/holiday, flower) – Summer Peony

11.Cartoon name:(favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now) – Mango Sweater

12.Hippie name (what you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree) – Granola Oak

13.Movie (or porn) star name (first pet, first street where you lived) – Cocoa Logan

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Field Lines Feature: Book Blogging


In response to this post, my longtime blog friend spants agreed to participate in a stress-free, low commitment, minimally structured, very low-key book club. I mentioned that I missed my book club in Tampa. I missed reading books I might not normally read and I especially missed exchanging thoughts and opinions of books. spants is an avid reader herself and agreed to read anything that wasn't "chick lit" and preferably something that "doesn't suck". So here goes.

In honor of the recently deceased John Updike, we have chosen Rabbit, Run, one of his most critically acclaimed novels and first in the Rabbit series. I will be posting my thoughts on the book sometime during the last week of April. I'm note sure if spants will be making her own post for it, or just posting her opinions here. Either way, it should prove to be an interesting experiment. Fellow bloggers, feel free to post your own opinions of the book on your own blog or here if you feel moved to do so. Readers and lurkers are encouraged to participate as well to whatever extent they are comfortable. I'm excited to read this book, but more excited to have a lively discussion in about a month!