Friday, December 31, 2010

Springtime in San Diego

It's the last day of the year and I just took a walk wearing short sleeves. I haven't lived in Utah for a while, and we've spent a few Christmas/New Year's holidays in Birmingham with Derrick's family, but that doesn't change the fact that for me this weather just screams spring, rather than being a harbinger for the coming of a new year.

I don't often do this--mostly my goal setting is vague and goal achieving even vaguer--but there are a few things I want to accomplish in the coming year. First, I want to write my dissertation. Then, I want to defend it and, assuming that goes well, graduate. I think that's doable. I need to finish two to three papers to do it, but I have the data and I've pretty much though out what I'm going to say. Now it's a matter of pulling it together. I want to have figures for the papers finished by the end of January (very reasonable) along with an outline I can hand to my committee to see if they think the product is sufficient, or if there's something else they'd like to see me do.

For a long time I've had a desire to write a novel. This year I want to actually do it. I'm sure it'll be bad, so I'll probably start with a story that's been kicking around in my head since, oh, high school. High fantasy (kind of) but not so epic. In pursuit of that goal, I'm going to keep listening to Writing excuses and writing at least a few hours each week.

There, now I've written down my goals.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Post Mistborn hangover

If you couldn't tell from the obscene number of gifts surrounding our tree in the previous post, Santa (or rather, Derrick's parents) were good to us this year. Among the many gifts, they gave me the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. I managed to not start reading until Sunday, but pretty much the moment I cracked the cover, it was all over. I plunked myself down on the couch, waving and muttering goodbye as my in-laws left (okay, not quite--I did fix breakfast and then I carried Sylvia out to watch them drive away, but my nose was stuck in the first book pretty much all morning) and then read as often as I could for the next four days. Sylvia started pulling the books away when she wanted my attention. Derrick threatened to hide them from me. I finally took pity on him and spent three hours with him before the twitchiness was too much and I had to get back to reading.

Wow, those are good books.

On the minus side, I was so engrossed with them yesterday I skipped lunch and have had a headache ever since I finished reading. It's been a while since I last immersed myself so fully in reading anything, and it's actually kind of tiring to read that much.

But oh, I loved those stories. I loved the characters, the world, the plot twists and turns, and that ending was one of the most fitting, satisfying endings I've read in a long time. I'm a bit of a romantic, so I want things to come out right in the end. I want the good guys to succeed and live and I want the bad guys to be frustrated and die. Sanderson doesn't disappoint. Though he does kill off a lot of good people, their sacrifices aren't wasted. The characters change and grow, leaving behind their less admirable traits as they face their adversaries. Even the bad guys (most of them, anyway) come out looking complex, even good. It's obvious by the end of the third book that the big bad from the first book did his best, but in the end was deceived by the real big bad. It's possible to respect him for some of what he did, and see the tragedy in the tyrant he became.

It's an amazingly good, complex, full body of work. If you like fantasy, I highly recommend it. Just don't ask to borrow my copy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ah, holidays

I have my house back.

Don't get me wrong--I love having visitors, but there is something wonderful about the day or two after guests leave, after everything is put back in its place, after you reclaim your bed and the kitchen and your schedule, when life slows back down to its normal place and you remember the deliciousness of monotony and boredom.

Christmas was a little hectic this year. First off, we didn't have many decorations and, 'cause that's what Derrick and I are like, we decided to make some. The tree turned out a little sparse, and perhaps I should have chosen a smaller tree (though I object to trees that are only a few inches taller than me), but I like it. I thought it was a good start, especially for a couple of people who aren't so into the holidays anyway. Here are some pictures of the tree.

Neither of us had to do any last-minute Christmas shopping this year, though we did have to buy all the food for Christmas dinner. Again, 'cause Derrick and I are ambitious, we decided on a dinner of stuffed pork loin with pear salad, three-cheese risotto, stuffing, zucchini with wild rice, and roasted smashed potatoes for dinner, and a mixed-berry pie and a pecan-caramel tart for dessert. Basically all of which we made Christmas day. Derrick's Mom was quite happy to keep Sylvia occupied and out of the kitchen, leaving the rest of us to get the food made.

Sadly, cooking was apparently a dangerous undertaking for me Christmas day. I skinned my thumb grating apples for apple latkes (which we had with the caramel-apple reduction and Derrick described as apple pie without the crust) and then, while pulling the roasted potatoes out of the 500 degree oven for smashing, I stuck the other thumb down on the pan. I spent the next couple of hours cradling my injured hand, resting my burned thumb on an ice cube. Still, it's healed pretty well--I finally took some Tylenol for the pain and, even the next day, it didn't feel too bad.

Dinner was excellent, if you can't tell.

I realize this is out of chronological order, but we spent Christmas eve at the San Diego zoo. I'm going to include some of the pictures from our trip (mostly taken by Derrick) to finish off the post.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Too wet to go out, too cold to play ball

I thought we moved to San Diego. Apparently, we're really living in Seattle. At least, from the amount of rain that's fallen and the swamp growing in the front yard. There's a river running through the alley behind us, and a waterfall trickling down next to the stairs. Doors won't shut properly and all the windows in the house are thick with moisture. If this doesn't stop soon, I think we'll be swimming by Christmas!

This is perfect weather for hot chocolate and soup, and curling up with a good book, but with four adults and a kid in a cramped house, I think we're going to have to get a little more creative in our activities. In spite of the title of the post, I've got plenty to do while we're stuck inside--I'm making a tree skirt and a table runner and a bunch of bird-shaped ornaments for the tree this year. Oh, and I discovered the sing-off, which is such great music. Makes me wish I was still singing in an acapella group.

Friday, December 17, 2010

When flying isn't faster

So. Things have been a little quiet around here between prepping for the big conference and then being at the big conference. It's been fun.

Getting home is turning into quite the adventure, though. We got to the airport about 6 pm. Our flight hasn't been canceled yet, but at the moment it's scheduled to leave here at 3:20 am.

It would have been faster to drive.

A lot of airports are apparently moving to designs with a bunch of small, isolated terminals. Normally that doesn't make much of a difference--once you get through security, typically you don't spend much time waiting for a flight. On days like this, though, that particular layout is irritating. There's one small bookstore, one coffee place, and about three restaurants to choose from, none of which sound good. At least when terminals have a few more gates (and the associated restaurants and stores) you can waste 10 minutes or so examining the creatively stacked, similar or identical items before getting bored. Right now, 10 minutes is a significant chunk of time!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sotto Voce

Sotto Voce, a singing quartet that includes my Mom, is giving the following performances in the coming weeks:

Friday, December 10th, 7:00pm
Sacred Light of Christ Church
823 South 600 East
Salt Lake City
Donations will be collected for Homeless Youth Programs in the Salt Lake Valley

Saturday, December 11th, 7:00pm
Holy Family Catholic Church
1100 East 5550 South
Ogden, UT

Friday, December 17th, 7:00pm
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
410 East Hillcrest
Donations will be collected for Cubby’s Cause for Paws, which provides pet food for the Utah AIDS Foundation Food Bank

KSL Radio 102.7 FM~1160AM
Thursday, December 24th, 11:00am
Annual speak with Santa on the Doug Wright Show

Worship Services
December 24th, 7:00pm
Christmas Eve Service at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
410 East Hillcrest

So, if you're in Utah, or going to be in the general Salt Lake/Ogden/Copperton area, you should go listen to them sing, and share a little with the worthy causes they're supporting.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Certain threats just don't work with my child. For instance, today the nursery workers discovered the ineffectiveness of telling Sylvia not to hit other kids or they'd take her to me. That promise wasn't even completely vocalized before it was put it to the test.

She definitely understands cause-and-effect.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Arsenic-based life

Earlier this week a friend of mine posted on facebook about an exciting astrobiology-related announcement NASA was about to make once the embargo was lifted. He was very excited about it, but also very, "I can neither confirm nor deny." Not that his refusal to hint anything deterred any of us from posting wild speculation, from creating new life (d-aminos and l-sugars?) to new models that predict the energetics of life on Titan.

Yesterday, it was announced bacteria capable of using arsenic in place of phosphorus was discovered in Mono lake. Mono lake (which is extremely basic) hosts a number of bacteria capable of living off weird elements (tungsten, and now apparently arsenic) because it has such weird chemistry. Apparently, some people were disappointed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dives & Lazarus

There is some music I simply love. These variations on Dives and Lazarus, for instance, by Ralph Vaughan Williams:

Or Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia:

Or Samuel Barber's Adagio (which I totally want played at my funeral):

and has moments in it that make me hold my breath.

There is some music in this world that is so stirring, so powerfully emotive, that I have to listen. While these two pieces aren't Christmas pieces, many of them are, and I am grateful we're finally in the season when they return, like long-missed family and force me to think and feel beyond my everyday experience.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I'm a little slow about reading Science (the journal). Sometimes there's good stuff, but more often than not, I'm just not that interested, and there are other journals that have many more articles of direct relevance to my research. Sometimes, though, Science gives exposure to articles that, while outside my research area, are still interesting and even useful. Last week's (which I finally got around to skimming today) included this article, in which physics students were asked to either write an essay about their most important values (the affirmation group) or an essay about why something they don't value might be important to others (the control group).

Women (but not so much men) who wrote about their own core values did better on exams and better on the tests than those who wrote about someone else's values. The effect was particularly pronounced for women who start out believing men are better at physics than women. The thinking of the authors is that when people reaffirm their values while in a hostile environment, they basically remind themselves of their own worth and that allows them to perform better. Men apparently don't find physics classes quite such a hostile environment, so the exercise did nothing for them.

So, if you, or a girl you know, is entering into a learning environment that might be considered hostile in some way, perhaps a little directed journaling at the beginning of the experience, focused on core values and why she finds them important, will remind her what a talented, awesome woman she is and provide a buffer that will aid her in learning.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good end to a good weekend

I made probably the best apple pie I've ever made in my life for thanksgiving. I added about a tablespoon of sugar and maybe 1/4 tsp of baking soda to the crust, omitting the vinegar and pre-cooked the crust 'till light brown. I pre-cooked the filling, too, sauteing the apples in butter and brown sugar before adding cinnamon and cloves and a couple of tablespoons of flour. For the top crust I made my typical crumb topping--1/4 c butter, about 1/3 c each brown and white sugar, a few tablespoons flour (and I added about 1/4 c spelt flour, since we had it), and then probably a cup of oats. Spiced with a bit of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and a bit of salt and sprinkled over the pie it was delish--and made enough for another pie.

The pecan pie was more of a tart, modeled after this one but using a graham cracker crust and pecans. Oh, and it was beautiful!

We spent thanksgiving with Matt and Sam--a couple of friends from college--and Matt's parents, who live in San Diego. It was a night of good food and good company, and between the six of us, we made it through half of each pie (Sylvia had ice cream. About 5 helpings of it).

Friday we shopped (I shopped at stores, Derrick shopped online), hung out with more college friends at the SD zoo, and had Mexican food at a local hole-in-the-wall we like.

Yesterday we shopped a bit more and just hung out as a family. We haven't done that in a while because we're all so busy, Derrick especially, and it was very nice.

To round out such a good weekend, church was actually really good today. Sylvia went through three wardrobe changes before I found something for her to wear she couldn't take apart. I made her an "I spy" bag, which she just wanted to dump out (or "spill it"), but her friends enjoyed playing with. Sunday school was probably the best one I've been to in this ward, and was actually a pretty good discussion overall. Last week (which I didn't blog about on purpose, not wanting to complain all the time) wasn't so good. The teacher isn't my favorite and I thought about not going, but went anyway and regretted the decision when the teacher (not the same one as this week) suggested AIDS was punishment for homosexuality. I was livid. I didn't walk out, though, and eventually, after several minutes of people going on about how much better the lives of those who follow the gospel are in comparison to those who don't, I asked the (rhetorical) question, "how then, do we explain bad things happening to good people? How do we explain evil people prospering? How about kids with cancer?"

So, since last week's teacher pretty much just moved on, we discussed my question this week. I didn't say much--just re-stated my question. I have my own thoughts, mostly relating to the probabilistic nature of our existence and the conflict between that and our deterministic (or Newtonian) expectations for the world, but really other people said much the same thing without relying on physics analogies. It was much more interesting to hear how people deal with the question of the unfairness of life, though, than to sit through a superficial comparative analysis of the blessedness of gospel living vs. non-gospel living.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The lost women

As a female working in science, it's sometimes discouraging to see how little women have contributed historically. Admittedly, there are very few people who make it through the filter of history to begin with, but the erosion of names that leaves behind only a few pillars makes it seem like the only people who have been involved in science were those male pillars. Here is a summary/review of a book that details the lives and contributions of the women the Royal Society refused to admit to its hallowed halls but who nevertheless were important contributors to science in their day.

One quote, from Maria Mitchell, struck me especially. She said,
"The laws of nature are not discovered by accident; theories do not come by chance, even to the greatest minds, they are not born in the hurry and worry of daily toil, they are diligently sought… and until able women have given their lives to investigation, it is idle to discuss their capacity for original work."

The discussion below the article contains the typical, 'men are more accomplished because the distribution of intelligence is flattened, leading to more smarter--and more dumber--men' (debunked--entertainingly--here and here. Personally, I think Mitchell comes much closer to the mark. My experiences tell me cultural factors, especially expectations regarding women's roles, are far more important. Women are responsible for so much, especially for children. Having a small child prevents one from giving their lives to investigation completely, so as I'm struggling to finish my dissertation the tension between my two lives--my life of the mind and of investigation, and my life of the home--is quite stark. I've been extraordinarily lucky to have people supporting me through my graduate career, especially post-Sylvia, but it's much, much harder. In the end, there is nobody who can (or, perhaps more accurately, is willing to) do the job a mother can for her own children.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nice moves

I'm going to write down a few more Sylvia stories that I found entertaining (though I'd understand if everyone else is bored by them).

Yesterday morning, Sylvia asked for chocolate for breakfast. I looked at her and said, "Dude, no."

With perfectly matched inflection she repeated back, "Dude, no."

Last night we had friends over for dinner. Sylvia was sitting on her little stool, wiggling as she ate. Somehow she fell over backward and hit her head. It made a pretty loud crack, and our friends were obviously a little concerned. Her response: "Woah, bonked head."

This morning Sylvia was dancing and Derrick told her, "Nice moves." Apparently repeating that saying is a little harder than "dude, no" because she told him, "Nice boobs." Derrick laughed, so my ham of a child ran around the house saying, "Nice boobs. Nice boobs."

I really hope she doesn't repeat that one at school.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Career options

My daughter has a career in advertising waiting for her.

This morning, Sylvia, after climbing into bed with me, started mashing up my lips. As if that wasn't enough, she then let me know about the inadequate state of my lips, telling me, "What's wrong lips? Scary lips."

Her solution:


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A couple of months ago, Sylvia had a really bad fever--like 103.5 degrees. Needless to say, it was very worrisome and, since it (predictably) happened on a weekend (oh, yeah, and since the doctor our oh-so-intelligent insurance company assigned her to isn't actually a pediatrician), we took her to an urgent care center to see a doctor. Over the course of the hour or so it took for us to be seen, Sylvia's temperature dropped to less than 100, so by the time we saw the doctor, I was feeling rather sheepish about having her there.

But no need to worry--the doctor took Sylvia's former temperature seriously, checked her thoroughly, diagnosed an ear infection, and sent us on our way with a prescription for antibiotics and a bottle of bubble solution.

The paperwork given along with the prescription said that something like 2/3 of ear infections are caused by a virus, which said to us there was a 2/3 chance the antibiotics wouldn't do anything, so we decided to wait and see if Sylvia got better on her own before filling the prescription. In our case, that was the right thing to do--Sylvia was better by Monday and has been none the worse for wear.

I found it odd, though, that the doctor didn't suggest we wait a few days to see if Sylvia would get better on her own. Apparently, given the quantity of antibiotics prescribed for ear infections very few doctors tell people to wait it out, or very few people listen to that advice. As grateful as I am to have antibiotics, it bothers me a bit we use them so freely, given their expense and the possible complications they can produce in the form of antibiotic-resistant microbes.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I do not think that means what you think it means

Sylvia calls many things "scary" lately. We're guessing she picked it up at school from Halloween activities. Some of it makes sense--I understand calling strangers walking down the street after dark "scary," but today apparently elephant noises and toast with jam also both qualified as scary

Too bad Mandy Patinkin isn't around to correct her.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Since it's a holiday today and since we're out of necessary ingredients for most breakfasts, Derrick suggested we make waffles this morning. He pulled out the waffle iron and set it up in its usual spot while I made batter. After the batter was made, and our starving-to-death child occupied with a handful of frozen blueberries, I sprayed the waffle iron (and of course, everything near it) with Pam and started a waffle. Derrick was annoyed I'd sprayed his clean spice grinder with Pam, so he moved it next to the sink and washed it, and then went back to getting Sylvia's lunch ready.

A few minutes later, the first waffle was done--and none too soon, since the blueberries were no longer sufficient to placate my daughter. So, I carefully tried to open the waffle iron. And it didn't open. So I not so carefully lifted the whole waffle iron by the handle. Still didn't open. Realizing my Pam-job hadn't been sufficient, I pulled out a fork, tried to loosen the edges in hopes that would free the waffle, and finally gave up and pulled the whole thing in half and started prying off the waffle in pieces.

Sylvia didn't mind--taste is more important to her and, as I might have mentioned before, she was STARVING! We've faced this situation before--where the waffle just sticks to the waffle iron and there's no way to remove it other than slow, careful scraping, so I heated up a skillet to start making pancakes (not Derrick's favorite. In fact, probably something that's only slightly better than cereal in his opinion). Derrick volunteered to finish cleaning off the Awfful (as Sylvia was calling it) so I could make the pancakes, commenting "at least this isn't the worst thing that could happen."

To which I said, "yeah, at least this isn't something that'll ruin the waffle maker so we can never make waffles again."

I didn't want to spend all morning cooking pancakes, so I pulled out another cast iron skillet and rinsed it, and in the process knocked over the lid of the spice grinder, which broke into two pieces when it hit the floor. Derrick put it back together with some epoxy and rubber bands, and then, since he hadn't given up on waffles, went back to cleaning the waffle iron. A few minutes later it was apparently his turn to be clumsy. He dropped the still-warm waffle iron from three inches into the sink, breaking the plastic piece that holds the cover over the heating plate.

Unless anyone knows of heat-resistant epoxy or has the necessary equipment for attaching a new handle and cover to our old waffle iron, it appears our waffle iron has made its last Awffle.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


My father in law called me a commie today.

Admittedly, I goaded him into it, telling him that the government should be in the business of redistributing wealth. Not that I think income equality should be strictly enforced--there are jobs that certainly deserve higher or lower pay--only that the current system supports too much income inequality and, since people are unlikely to take the steps necessary to fix that on their own, the government should step in.

But that's big government, and I'm a tax and spend liberal, a.k.a--communist.

Derrick, being the caring son that he is, called his parents back later to skype with Sylvia and go through stuff we want them to bring out at Christmas. He really is a good son and I skould learn more charity from him.

In other news, there's a bit of a baby boom in my new ward. Something like 9 women are pregnant--many suddenly (to me, gone for a couple of weeks) visibly so. Seven or eight of women got together for a picture after church, which reminded me of the picture we took of all us pregnant ladies just before Sylvia was born.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bat infestation

We have a bat problem:

Fortunately, she's cute so we don't mind.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On being known

I've heard that for a woman, moving is a major traumatic event, on par with death of a loved on and divorce, while for men, it's just an event. Given how differently Derrick and I have reacted to our last two major moves, I'd believe it. I have a very hard time moving, while for Derrick it's not that big a deal.

I'm back in Indiana this week working with my advisor in preparation for a conference next week. I flew in yesterday, and pretty much from the moment I got off the plane, I've felt more at home, more comfortable, and happier than I have in months. It's so good to be home. I wish this were still my home truly, but I'm happy to find Indiana still feels like a home to me.

It's great being here--I'm staying with my former neighbor, and while it's a little weird staying right next door to the house I used to live in, I love staying with my friends. I'm almost giddy, and it's very difficult for me to actually work or go to sleep because I want to visit and renew my friendships. I know, I probably should have announced I was going to be here on my blog, but it didn't occur to me to do that until people asked me about it today at church. So, sorry I didn't get the news out--I just didn't think about saying anything until I was already here.

Church today was wonderful. People knew me, and they were happy to see me. I didn't feel like I was anonymous (not that I'm truly anonymous in my new ward, I just don't know very many people, so I still feel like I could disappear and nobody would really notice). I know that the friendships and the comfort and recognition that go along with them will come in time, but it is wonderful to come back to a place where that foundation is already, to remember what it's like to feel truly at home at church. I know I will come to love the people in SD, and boy, it was so nice to be reminded how wonderful it is to know, to be known, and to love and be loved.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Her father's daughter

Doesn't she make you want to donate to charity?

Yesterday Sylvia fell into a book shelf at school. According to the teachers, she cried really hard for about five minutes, and then was up and running and climbing again. In fact, when I went to pick her up, she was climbing all over me and trying to rough house with me, so apparently her injury didn't slow her down. But it does look pretty nasty. Here's what it looked like that evening after getting home:

This is what it looked like the next morning (apologies for the darkness of the photo--I was trying to avoid using the flash):

And this is what she looked like today after getting home from school:

Impressive bruise, no?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Berry smoothie

Mmm, tasty.

Since tomatoes are a berry, would you like berry smoothie with your hot dog?

Mind the gap

I finally listened to Radio West's interview with Timothy Noah, who wrote a series of articles on income inequality on It's worth a listen and/or read.

The gist of it is this: there's a growing income gap between the rich and poor. Today, the top 1% of wage earners take home 24% of all income earned in this country. In the late 1920's, just before the Great Depression, the top 1% took home more like 18% of all wages. We actually see more income inequality now than was present during the Gilded age, yet there's almost no public outcry. Indeed, people are angry at the government and over taxes rather than angry at the rich over their increasing compensation. Noah documents the economic and political forces that are likely at work, showing it's a host of small things like changes in the tax code and increasing executive compensation, that have added up to the great divergence between incomes at the highest and lower levels. The NY Times has an editorial on the ethics of letting such an income gap continue.

And of course, today I read this blurb. Guess avoiding paying taxes doesn't count into the whole not being evil mantra.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Katy Perry on Sesame Street

Katy Perry sang a duet with Elmo on Sesame Street that caused some controversy. To be specific, her outfit caused some controversy as it shows off more of her cleavage than was strictly necessary.

The song's actually pretty cute, if you can get past the outfit (which I must admit is an outfit I would have worn to dress up in as a kid. It's, uh, kinda ugly). Sylvia loves the song in spite of the fashion. Unfortunately, it's getting harder to find a copy of the song itself on youtube, so I'm embedding it here so nobody else has to wade through pages of entertainment "reports" on the controversy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

We are so lame

I think about quarterly Sylvia's day care does a parent's night out--basically, inexpensive child care for a date night. We signed Sylvia up for it, which I figured she'd enjoy since she always resists going home when I come pick her up.

The only bad thing...I didn't think about what Derrick and I would do with our evening of freedom. At all. So, we went to Target to pick up a movie and a pizza (which is kind of our default and has been as long as we've been married), and discovered Target doesn't carry any movies we wanted to see or any pizza we wanted to eat. Derrick thought Greek food sounded better than pizza anyway, so we went to another grocery store, but their olive bar wasn't terribly diverse (its contents consisting entirely of olives--go figure) and since Derrick really wanted dolmades, we tried another grocery store. That grocery store wasn't any better in terms of selection and was more expensive, so we picked up a pizza and some ice cream and went home.

Yep, we started out looking for pizza, changed our minds, went to three stores, spent at least an hour and a half, and ended up with pizza. We spent the approximately 45 minutes of our non-shopping alone time scarfing pizza and watching hulu since we didn't manage to identify an acceptable movie (which could be the subject of another post, since that's a problem we've had a lot lately--movies just aren't appealing anymore. But I'll spare you that rant for now) before going to pick up Sylvia. And that was our night.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Almost lost it

I've been helping a college friend out with a project and today was the last day. Most of my help consists of taking pictures of what we're doing. There's not a great spot to set up the camera and tripod, so we've had the tripod legs sitting out in a walkway maybe six inches. That arrangement hasn't been a problem until today, the last day, when someone walked in and tripped over the tripod, sending it spinning and almost crashing into the floor. Fortunately, I was there to save it, but I almost lost my camera! THAT would have been a sad thing. Since I haven't posted any pictures of Sylvia for a while, here are a few of her with her dad in Philly:

Monday, October 11, 2010


Derrick's spent the last three days, or thereabouts, going through his mail-in ballot, deciding how to vote. He's carefully read candidate's statements and pondered the independent analyses of each proposition and come to carefully considered opinions on each of them.

I voted in about a half an hour.

I'm not sure if that indicates Derrick is more careful in his voting, or if it's simply that I have an easier time voting party line and liberal than he does, or perhaps just that I've been exposed to a lot of the arguments during my drive every morning. Any way you cut it, we've both participated in our democracy--something to be proud of.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I know I'm going to feel gipped

The weather here is not at all what I expected. We had an unusual summer, in that the only week that even resembled a true summer was the first week of autumn. Now we're well into October, and it feels like...October. It's chilly enough Derrick saw his breath yesterday morning--not something I'd expect to see in southern California. I almost feel like I could be in Indiana or Utah, or some other more temperate part of the country right now, anticipating apples and winter squash; potatoes and warm bowls of soup.

I'm sure spending last weekend in Pennsylvania didn't help.

I am amazed at how similar the weather's been in those two cross-country places. Indeed, if anything the weather in PA was nicer since the skies were clear and blue, not overcast and doing everything from spitting mist to really raining.

The difference is, I know I have no winter to look forward to. No crisp winter mornings, with frost coated windows and icicles; no snow; now biting wind chapping lips and hands, and the delicious warmth after escaping. It's all so uncomfortable, but this weather's teasing me into anticipation of that discomfort. Somehow I suspect I'm going to be disappointed with spring rolls around before I've paid my winter dues.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Red wedding

I'm calling this the red wedding since I'm not sure if my friend (M, who married K) want any details of herself and her new spouse up on on teh interwebs. So, to preserve their anonymity, I'm just going to post some of the pictures I took this weekend at their beautiful wedding.

There were two ceremonies--the first Hindu, for the bride; the second Christian, for the groom and his family.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

So, what would you get out of this?

I gave the following talk today in Sacrament meeting:

I was asked to speak today on a talk that touched me from the last General Conference. I have to admit, I don't remember too much from the April General conference--first, because my memory just isn't that good, and also because last April I had an energetic 20-month-old who was, shall we say, a distraction.

So I went back and re-read the talks and noticed, first, that I actually remembered more than I thought I would, and second, that there was a recurring theme running through many of the talks--the theme of family and the importance of nurturing our children and raising them in the gospel. I realized I didn't need to feel bad because chasing after my daughter, catching snippets of talks here and there, was exactly what I needed to be doing last April, and is probably what I'll be doing next week.

But today I'm not actually going to talk about the family. Instead, I'm going to give you a quick introduction to my family and then try to weave together some of my favorite thoughts, quotes, scriptures, and stories from the last General Conference.

I am a scientist, as is my husband. We both study Geology. He has a PhD from the University of Utah and I am finishing up a PhD at Purdue. We moved here from Indiana a few months ago. Our daughter, Sylvia is two years old. I the past climate of the area around the Great Salt Lake over about the last 8,000 years. I love my science--it's a great job and a great life. But I'm frequently asked the question, how do I balance my science and my faith. Just to head that question off at the pass, I'm going to answer it now. Very simply, I see science and religion as complementary in their goals, but operating in separate and distinct spheres. Both search for explanations, for truth, but science searches for natural truths using skepticism and rigor, and requires that those truths be independently verifiable. Religion seeks to give us spiritual truths that are no less real, but can't be poked and prodded and weighed: a testimony that will help us be better people, to be more resilient when times are bad and more humble when they are good. I don't see the two as generally incompatible, so long as they don't stray into the others' sphere.

The greatest difficulty my scientific background poses for my religious belief, as you might expect, is the skepticism my profession requires. You see, a testimony--my faith--is not an independently verifiable thing. I can not test another's faith any more than anyone else can run an experiment to accurately measure my faith to seventeen decimals as was just done for the passage of time.

Ultimately, I am the only one who can test my own faith. In Alma 32, Alma gives us instructions in this experiment, telling us,
If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment up on my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if you can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

I have performed this experiment for myself and as you might guess from my attendance today, I do believe. I believe this church is Christ's church, that he died to atone for my sins. I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and that through him the priesthood authority was restored to the Earth. I believe the ordinances of the temple seal me to my family for eternity.

But as a scientist I am aware of the importance of the control experiment, and the control experiment in this case--the people who don't experiment upon the word, who may not live lives according to the gospel principles we know, like the law of chastity and word of wisdom--those people are still good, loving, Christ-like people.

This may not be the most satisfying observation, but I believe it is necessary for life to be this way to preserve our agency. I fall decisions were clear-cut, if good decisions always let to good outcomes and bad to bad, if we couldn't get away with things, and if bad things couldn't happen to good people, our choices would be prescribed and easy.

I see my belief as a choice. It is not knowledge; it can not be in this life, at least not for the vast majority of us. But it is a choice I am glad to make, glad that I have open to me. This gospel resonates in my soul with a beauty I can only describe as truth.

This truth informs me of my duty to my fellow men. Bishop Keith B. McMullin spoke of our duty, which is,
...what we are expected to do and to be. It is a moral imperative summoning forth from communities that which is right, true, and honorable. Duty does not require perfection, but it does require diligence. It is not simply what is legal; it is what is virtuous. It is not reserved to the mighty or high in station but instead rests on a foundation of personal responsibility, integrity, and courage. Doing one's duty is a manifestation of one's faith.

Bishop McMullin, in the same talk, gives the following story as an example of Christians performing their duty.
In Holland during World War II, the Casper ten Boom family used their home as a hiding place for those hunted by the Nazis. This was their way of living out their Christian faith. Four members of the family lost their lives for providing this refuge. Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie spent horrific months in the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp. Betsie died there—Corrie survived.

In Ravensbrück, Corrie and Betsie learned that God helps us to forgive. Following the war, Corrie was determined to share this message. On one occasion, she had just spoken to a group of people in Germany suffering from the ravages of war. Her message was “God forgives.” It was then that Corrie ten Boom’s faithfulness brought forth its blessing.

A man approached her. She recognized him as one of the cruelest guards in the camp. “You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he said. “I was a guard there. … But since that time, … I have become a Christian.” He explained that he had sought God’s forgiveness for the cruel things he had done. He extended his hand and asked, “Will you forgive me?”

Corrie ten Boom then said:

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“… The message that God forgives has a … condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. …

“… ‘Help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“… Woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. As I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. UAdd a Note

“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart.’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

There are several duties prominent in this story, among them our duty to treat our brothers and sisters with respect and love even when political or societal forces are arrayed against them, and also our duty to forgive those who have wronged us.

To be perfectly candid, forgiveness is hard for me. When I take offense at something, it's hard for me to let that go, especially if I feel justified in my anger. I have to work at forgiveness. Sometimes granting forgiveness takes years of effort--prayer, scripture study, pondering on the other person's perspective. In my own life, in which I have never been wronged to the same degree as Corrie ten Boom, I've extended forgiveness and felt it slip away in moments of weakness. But I believe this is part of my duty--to forgive trespasses, whether minor or major, and I have found granting that forgiveness brings peace.

We have many other duties in our lives, both spiritual and temporal. Navigating and prioritizing our multitude of duties is a great challenge in our lives, but one that can bring us closer to Christ. Pres. Julie Beck said (and I would ask the men in the congregation to substitute men in place of women),
A good woman knows that she does not have enough time, energy, or opportunity to take care of all of the people or do all of the worthy things her heart yearns to do. Life is not calm for most women, and each day seems to require the accomplishment of a million things, most of which are important. A good woman must constantly resist alluring and deceptive messages from many sources telling her that she is entitled to more time away from her responsibilities and that she deserves a life of greater ease and independence. But with personal revelation, she can prioritize correctly and navigate this life confidently.

The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life. Qualifying for the Lord’s Spirit begins with a desire for that Spirit and implies a certain degree of worthiness.

Every week we go to church in part to be reminded of how to be worthy of the Lord's guidance, and every six months we have the opportunity to listen to Prophets testify of Christ and of this gospel. Elder Quentin L. Cook said,
As we listen to the messages of this conference, we will be touched in our hearts and make resolutions and commitments to do better. But on Monday morning we will return to work, school, neighborhoods, and to a world that in many cases is in turmoil. Many in this world are afraid and angry with one another. While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions. This is especially true when we disagree. The Savior taught us to love even our enemies.13 The vast majority of our members heed this counsel. Yet there are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught. I invite each one of us individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior. It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable. Violence and vandalism are not the answer to our disagreements. If we show love and respect even in adverse circumstances, we become more like Christ.

This sentiment is true for all our relationships--marriages, friendships, and with our fellow countrymen. I bring this quote in because not only are we approaching another general conference, we are also approaching another election.

Now, I'm relatively new to California, and perhaps more importantly, I've been in grad school, which is a little like living in a box, but in the few months I've been here I've been appalled a the political rancor exchanged between parties. I know people who fall all along the political spectrum and I can say they are to a person good people who care deeply for their country. They don't come to their beliefs because they are deluded or because they are unpatriotic. They come to their beliefs through different assumptions and a desire to improve very complicated and difficult problems. Our nation is going through hardship at this time. Let us remember that these difficulties are an opportunity to serve and love one another.

I believe one of the greatest gifts and most difficult to achieve goals of the gospel is simply to teach us to see each other as our Father in Heaven sees us, to teach us to love one another as he loves us. I believe that our Father in Heaven and his Son, Jesus Christ are loving, fair, and merciful. I believe that thorugh the atonement of Christ we, imperfect, petty, selfish creatures are redeemed and can be perfected; that we are blessed with living prophets, who testify of Christ and guide us in these Latter days.


I got a lot a positive comments after my talk. The gospel doctrine teacher even said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you for your comments today." Then he went on to define anyone who voted against Prop 8 a "Mormon in name only," so I'm not sure he really got what I was trying to say.

Was I too subtle?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Did you know...

Disposable diapers, when washed in the washing machine, make a terrible mess? You can ask Derrick all about that, if you're curious but don't feel like performing the experiment yourself.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I decided to go to choir rehearsal today. We were late--no surprise there--but I scooted in with Sylvia in time to sing a bit of a pretty Christmas carol. I think Sylvia liked the music as well--she stayed pretty close and calm while I sang.

Which was probably why I spotted the flea crawling through Sylvia's hair.

I managed to catch the flea between the fingernail on my thumb and my index finger, and then went back to singing, wondering what to do with the little bugger. Releasing it was out of the question--I couldn't conscience letting my Indiana-bred flea out into the wider world--so I just kept between my fingers and continued singing.

Sylvia of course became restless after not too long, so I pulled out some snacks to keep her occupied. The first thing she pulled out to eat was a sesame cashew, which she apparently doesn't actually like since she spit it out as soon as she'd chewed it. Right into my non-flea holding hand.

Fortunately, I had a flannel rag, so I was able to wipe most of the chewed cashew off my hand, but there's nothing short of water and soap that'll really remove the stickiness. We made it through the last five minutes of choir practice without incident, at which point I very gingerly started gathering my belongings.

Sylvia and I dropped my bag on a seat in the back row and we high tailed it toward the restroom. And of course, ran into my home teacher, who wanted to talk about geology. Sigh. Most conversations I'd probably politely excuse myself from--especially while covered in regurgitated nuts and holding a flea--but not that one, apparently. In spite of getting to church early, we still managed to miss all but the last line of the opening song. Sigh.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

War paint

A friend gave me a bunch of make up she's not going to use. Sylvia had a lot of fun painting us with it:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It seems like you're poor

Yesterday evening my cousin from Utah came to visit us with her husband and two of her four kids. We fed them pasta and this luscious cake, and kept them far too late before sending them north to LA.

Her oldest son is in a very honest part of his life. At one point he said to me, "it seems like you're kind of poor." I had to laugh (as did his Mom). I'm sure it does seem like we're poor to a kid who is used to much bigger, much newer houses than the one we're living in. Mostly our relative poverty stems from living in California. Our rent for a two bedroom duplex is about the same as my cousin's first mortgage for a brand-new, three bedroom, large, airy house in Lehi, UT.

Man, isn't southern California wonderful?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's not Promoxis nigaris, papa

I've been a fan of fish and of fishing since I was a small child. Supposedly I was so into fish that I started learning the scientific names of the species we fished for from a big, red book I still have fond memories of. There's a story that's been told many times about me that while fishing with my dad and uncle, I insisted on reeling in every fish they hooked. Upon landing the black crappie, I would announce, "it's a Promoxis nigaris, Papa!"

Well, guess what: it's not Promoxis nigaris. Apparently black crappie is actually Pomoxis nigromaculatus. Sigh.

Sylvia's following in my footsteps and absolutely loves fish. If she starts learning scientific names for things, I'll have to do a better job of teaching her the correct terms so she doesn't have a moment like this one someday.

Monday, September 13, 2010

To the top

Most days I lag pretty far behind Derrick while we're biking in. Much of that is a function of his better endurance and strength, since he's been biking a lot more than me. Today, though, I mostly kept up. Admittedly, that's probably mostly because he was tired because he stayed up pretty late last night and because he was carrying my computer today for me. He said he was a full gear lower most of the way to school. Still, that probably means I'm probably only a gear and a half below him most days, which also means catching up with him is really a possibility.

On the way home Derrick reasserted his speed dominance. There's one truly killer hill probably a mile or less from our house. Once we got to the top of that hill (which we both walked up--it's that steep) I didn't see him again until we got to Sylvia's daycare and he carried her out to me. I still have a long way to go.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sour cream

Sylvia loves sour cream. When we have any sort of Mexican food, she insists on at least one big dollop of the stuff on her plate, most of which she eats in long, full, fingerfuls. She's not such a fan of yogurt or milk, but sour cream she loves. In fact, she loves it so much, she's started calling ice cream "sour cream." And she can't be convinced to call it anything else. Tonight she had dulce de leche (caramel) "sour cream" and the insisted on eating as much of my chocolate sour cream and pistachio sour cream (from spumoni ice cream) as I'd let her have!

Every other weekend since Sylvia started daycare, she's had a cold or some other illness. This weekend was no exception, so we stayed home from church. I'm beginning to be afraid this ward is going to think I'm inactive with as many weeks as I miss. I also hope the patterns shifts a bit, since in two weeks I'm supposed to give a talk. Derrick's even agreed to come so somebody will be there to watch Sylvia while I'm speaking. It'd be a shame to miss out on having my husband with me at church for once.

I've also been working on new diaper inserts for Sylvia. Her daycare has been good about doing cloth diapers with her, but I haven't been so good about picking them up at the end of the day. I didn't think that would be a problem since they're in their own, closed bucket that's kept outside, but apparently the janitors were throwing out the cloth diapers every night that I didn't take them home. So, now I'm making new diaper inserts from t-shirt rags, terry cloth, and flannel. I'm a little annoyed, and the extra task right now is certainly not convenient, but at least the diapers aren't too difficult to make. They're pretty much just fabric layered and stitched together, and then covered with terry cloth and flannel. And they seem to work pretty well. Maybe for the next kid I'll just make more of my own inserts and not worry about buying the more expensive "real" ones.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sylvia sands

Derrick always asks me to sand for him because it's one of his least favorite parts of woodworking. Looks like he may have a new helper:

Get used to it, kid!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I think she likes them

Today during the testimony portion of fast and testimony meeting Sylvia knocked over a container filled with the raisins I brought for her to snack on. I could hear a collective sigh from the people around me as the raisins radiated out around me. I got down and started to pick them up and a couple of young boys, probably 10 years old, came up and helped me pick up the raisins. Sylvia stood there, staring at the boys the whole time, and when they left, she kept looking back toward their seats a few rows behind us.

Sylvia was still hungry so I pulled out the other snacks I'd brought: rainbow goldfish. All of about ten seconds after I pulled those out she'd upended them and was looking back at the boys in the back row expectantly.

I think she likes them.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The politics of Mormonism

So, Mormons tend to be very conservative. In fact, the more active a Mormon is, the more likely he or she is to be conservative and republican, at least here in the US. You'd think that would earn us some props from religious conservatives, but no, apparently we still worship a different Jesus:
Mormonism and Mammonism are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They offer another Lord Jesus than the One offered in the Scriptures and Christian tradition, and another way to approach him. An embrace of these tragic new vehicles for the old Gnostic heresy is unloving to our Mormon friends and secularist neighbors, and to the rest of the watching world.

Wow! First, I didn't realize Mormonism, with its emphasis on charity giving and tithes, was the equivalent of Mammonism. Second, I didn't realize I'm actually a Gnostic. But apparently because we believe the pre-mortal Christ carried out the action of creation, rather than the Father, we're Gnostics. Of course, the reasonings behind Christ creating the world in Mormonism and in Gnosticism are completely different (since we don't really talk about why--I've always assumed it was just a delegation of authority to teach or lessen the burden--Gnosticism holds God couldn't create the Earth because matter is inherently evil and God can't handle anything evil, thus he created an "emanation" capable of handling evil matter). No, it doesn't matter that the underlying philosophy is completely different, it's the ill-informed, outward image that's important here. So until we start worshiping the true Jesus, we will never truly be worthy of leading the republican party.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Picture catch up

A day at the beach

Friends at the Zoo

Mailing Sylvia to Grandma

The kitchen floor: a great spot for a nap