Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another step closer

Today I finished running columns. It's funny, but every time I finish a task I feel a little hollow, even though I'm excited to be that much closer to my degree. I still have tons of work--enough that I need to work quite hard between now and the end of the summer if I'm to have any hope of graduating close to on time. I realize, with nothing to look forward to scientifically, that's a scary prospect. Science has been such an important part of my life for so long, but I'm not actually sure I'll be able to pursue it much further. While there are other things I'd love to do (I have, oh, half a dozen or so stories kicking around in my head that I need to sit and write out) I don't really relish the thought of doing them enough to be excited about potentially loosing this aspect of me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Good dinner

Last night we watched our neighbor's boy while the two of them went to an awards banquet. He gets along well with Sylvia, and keeps her occupied, so it's actually kind of nice to have him around.

Anyway, when I got home I was pretty hungry--we had no leftovers so I had oatmeal for lunch, which just doesn't stick with you all afternoon. I was therefore all for making something quick and easy for dinner. Something like rice and lentils, since that basically involves boiling water and dumping in a few spices. Derrick, as usual, wanted something a little more involved that would use up some of the perishable food we're shortly going to leave behind. Tempura, specifically. 'Cause it's so easy, right? You just dump some veggies in a batter made from flour, water, and egg, deep fry it all, and presto! tasty dinner!

Yeah, I've tried it that way before. It's not actually that great.

So, I made Derrick look up a better recipe than "flour, egg, and water," and started cutting up veggies. We had a lot of veggies--too may, I was thinking. We had a sweet potato, an onion, two carrots, and a head of broccoli, all for two adults and a couple of kids who typically don't eat much at dinner.

While I was in the kitchen, the kids pretty much kept each other occupied, though convincing them they could, in fact, share certain toys was, as usual, a challenge. Eventually I produced a few pieces of tempura and, even though Gareth had already eaten and Sylvia had shown no previous interest in food, I put out a few pieces for each child.

They were demanding more before I finished the next batch. The two of them were so into eating the batter dipped and fried veggies (even the broccoli!) I wasn't sure there would be enough for Derrick and me. About the time Gareth slowed down, he pronounced the food, "good dinneh."

Anyway, here's the tasty, wonderful recipe, modified from here:

Tempura batter
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c cornstarch (which I finally found on the top shelf of the pantry--grr)
1/3 c ice water
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white sugar
1 tsp shortening
1/2 tsp baking powder

Mix dry ingredients. Cut in shortening, then add egg and ice water. Beat until smooth. Dip cut veggies into batter and fry in hot oil (375 degrees F, give or take).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Darth Gi

Sylvia's gotten into looking through a photo album that has a bunch of pictures of her early days. In one of the pictures (of her in the outfit I came home from the hospital in) I'm sitting on a rocking chair with one of Sylvia's favorite blankets behind me. Every time she sees that picture she says, "Gi, gi!" (pronounced like "ghee") and we have to go get her blanket. Last night she was so happy to have her blanket she draped it over her head and walked around, giggling and bumping into things.

Derrick thinks we should call her "Darth Gi."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Child endangerment

I knew it would happen sometime. I mean, letting a kid who likes to push buttons play with the keys and the keyless remote is probably not the best idea if you actually want to avoid locking your child inside the car.

I took Sylvia to the sitter's today for the first time this week (she's had a bad cold all week). The sitter asked if she could borrow the car seat so they could go to a park, which was fine, so I went to pull out the car seat. I took Sylvia with me because she's been a little clingy, and let her loose in the car with the car keys to keep her occupied while I unclipped the car seat. I've acquired Sylvia's cold (though mine is significantly less intense) so I was not thinking the best today. I pulled the car seat out and took it to the other car and was chatting with Kim while she installed the car seat. Then I heard my car honk once.

So, the panic button on my keyless remote causes the horn to honk three times. Honking just once, on the other hand, means the doors are locked. I looked at Kim and said, "I think my child just locked herself in the car."

Yeah, so I was hoping I'd left the car door open, but of course I had responsibly closed it behind me. Oops. Kim followed me over and we both stared at my child, happily playing at driving inside the locked car with no apparent interest in doing anything other than playing. Still, I was reasonably hopeful Sylvia would just keep pushing buttons until she hit the right one and then we'd have a few minute delay to our activities and a funny story to tell. For several minutes she was quite happy to push the lock button or put the key into the ignition and then turn the steering wheel. Eventually she found the tissues and pulled every last one of them from the dispenser.

At about that point she got bored and wanted me to get her out or join her. I was still relatively amused, but slowly realizing my child was unlikely to get herself out. We kept trying to get her to push other buttons or pull up the lock on the door, or roll down a window--anything that would give us access to the interior of the car, but she was only interested in the lock button or in touching the same place on the window we were pointing to. She got frustrated with my inability to get in and tossed the keys on the floor and then started pulling the anti-theft warning sticker off the window. Eventually she picked the keys back up, pushed the lock button a few more times for good measure, and tossed them on the back seat.

Have I mentioned Sylvia was sick? By this time she was frustrated enough to cry and, along with her tears, a sticky, streaky slick of snot covered her upper lip. I don't know why putting her mouth against the glass would do anything, but she left long arcs of snot on the window as she moved back and forth.

I finally decided to just call Derrick and have him bring the keys. Two minutes later, Sylvia hit the unlock button on the car door and I rushed in, which set off the car alarm, but hey, I got my child out. Derrick showed up shortly after and we sent him home without having him even turn off the truck.

Incredibly, when we got home this evening, Sylvia asked for the keys so she could go out and play in the car again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Missing writing

Last night was the last meeting of our ward's writing group. I have loved attending the writing group, and loved doing the writing (though I admit I've only finished a few of the assignments). The facilitator is a wonderful woman (my advisor's MIL, incidentally) who is an example to me of how to live a full, productive, and faithful life. I feel privileged to know her. I was apprehensive to move into this huge ward, where I imagined it would be easy to get lost and easy to never find friends. I'm so pleased that hasn't been my experience. They are so careful to watch over everyone and to make sure everyone has a place and a job. All too often it seems like once a woman reaches a "certain age" she's relegated to the family history center or some similarly "age appropriate" calling. In this ward the talents and hard-won experiences of these women of a certain age are used to their fullest, typically in teaching us younger women how to grow into the vibrant, talented women we can become.

Anyway, I read an essay I wrote in February on the plane to Providence. The response I received was probably the highest compliment anyone could have given me--people discussed their own lives and their own difficult, testimony-challenging experiences. I trembled after reading the essay, and wasn't even sure I wanted to look into the faces of the women around the table when I was done, I was so scared I'd offended one of them. But no, they took what I said, and accepted it, and shared the way their own lives brought them to similar conclusions.

As scary as it is, I love sharing my thoughts and hearing the responses of others. Sometimes I think, hey, if this science thing doesn't work out, I can become a writer! Then, I sit down in front of a computer and convince myself I'm doing research by reading other people's blogs or news stories, and don't actually do any writing. Which was why it was nice to have a group I met with physically to share writing. Sure, I had an online writing group for a while (technically they haven't kicked me out yet, but I'm sure someone will eventually) but online groups are relatively easy to blow off. Meeting with people--with friends--in person puts more pressure to actually DO some writing instead of merely thinking about it. And hearing the writing of other women is inspiring and has been a great way to get to know them in a more meaningful, deeper way than is typical through just church interactions.

So, maybe when I get to San Diego I need to find a group of writing friends to force myself to actually write. Assuming, of course, that getting a post-doc doesn't pan out and I have to find some other way to spend my copious free time. Or maybe I'll have to start posting goals and achievements to my blog to keep myself motivated, since having goals and a little bit of competition seem to help me.

In the mean time, here's a poem(ish thing) I wrote for the group:

I don't like the way this starts

Beginnings are always hardest,
Full of blood and water, the carnage of birth
Painful, the shadow of death lurking behind the midwife's back

Every beginning unique, but how to capture fickle interest of
A reader with catastrophe on her mind?

In the beginning, it was the best of times, once upon a time, it was dark and stormy, when a truth, universally acknowledged...

Hang it all!

Baby cries on the table
Cold and hungry
Covered in the vernix of a long gestation
Beginnings unimportant in the face of her living
Growing so quickly beyond the way she began

I'll come back to it at the end.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pretzel recipe

I would have put this recipe for pretzels in the previous post, but it was kinda long already. So, here the recipe for the tasty, delicious pretzels pictured above.

1 1/2 c warm water
1 pkg yeast
1/3 c brown sugar
5 c flour
baking soda
kosher salt

Mix yeast into warm water and let yeast soften. Add brown sugar, then add flour slowly, mixing well to incorporate. The dough in the end should be relatively soft and not too sticky.

Pinch off golf-ball sized pieces and roll into ropes. Twist ropes into pretzel shapes. Place shaped pretzels onto a floured surface and cover with a tea towel or greased saran wrap and allow to rise for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Make a solution of 1 tbsp baking soda to 1 c water in a pan and bring to a boil. Boil pretzels for 30 seconds and place on a well greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt while still wet (we used sea salt and it works okay, though it's harder). Bake pretzels at 475 for 8 minutes, or until golden brown.

If you have any leftovers, store in a paper bag as an air-tight container will ruin the texture of the crust.


Derrick says I'm pacing. I say it's only because I'm waiting for water to boil. My neighbors came over this evening and helped us make soft pretzels but I realized while making the first batch they'd probably be better if I let them rise a bit before cooking them, so after their hard work I sent them home with only a very dense taste of the goodness and promises of better to come.

Anyway, while I'm assiduously not watching my pot of water, I want to write down a few of the events of today and my thoughts on them. A new presidency was installed in my stake today during stake conference. I actually know two of the three (the SP is one of the former counselors and was in 1st ward and the 1st counselor is my current bishop), which is unusual and kind of cool. I like knowing who my leaders are if for no other reason than because it makes me feel a little less anxious about meetings.

Elder Richard G. Scott and Elder Garrit Gong presided over the meeting. What I heard of it was pretty good, though I didn't hear much because Sylvia is at that age where she pretty much just wants to run around all the time. Some (very kind, generous, and thoughtful) friends of mine saved a seat in the main meeting room for the two of us so I could sing in the choir, and I (thinking to save them the hassle of my overly energetic daughter) ditched them to sit in the foyer. I probably got less out of the meeting, but my daughter had fewer opportunities to harass the older girls. Mostly people bore testimony that the former stake presidency was called of God and the new stake presidency was also called of God, so I don't think I missed anything earth shattering.

Elder Gong talked to the primary kids and told a story about a kid who became the Emperor of China because he had the integrity to admit the seeds he'd been asked to grow didn't grow. I think the kids in the audience appreciated being spoken to (even if he did kind of speak in a little kid voice while telling the story) because even from outside the main room the drop in volume was evident.

Elder Scott talked about a bunch of things and had a couple of the daughters of the outgoing SP talk a bit. Somehow modesty worked its way into the conversation--referring only to girls--but whatever. He also told us how decisions are made in the Quorum of the Twelve. The matter is discussed until everyone is satisfied with the decision; if there are still unsettled minds, the decision is tabled until everyone can come to agreement. I really appreciated him describing that process and then suggesting decisions made in our homes should be made in the same way. Such a decision making system could only work among equals, but oh, what a wonderful thing it would be to have true equality in all relationships within the church. Sadly, Elder Scott then went off on the natural nurturing abilities of women and how men should tell their wives and children they are loved and their efforts are appreciated. Not that I'm against any of that, I just think the coddling of us women right after prescribing a decision making method that would create truly equal partnerships dulls the message somewhat.

Sylvia took a nap shortly after we got home and the home teachers came by. We hung out with our neighbors and, after dinner, had them over to make pretzels since Gareth was so insistent on coming to my house. The pretzels are now done and distributed, so I think it's time to go do something more productive than blogging!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Big, wrong ideas

Scientists love big ideas--ideas that explain in a coherent way a big open question. Extinctions, for instance. Explaining the extinction of dinosaurs was caused by a meteor impact was definitely a big, and therefore intellectually attractive, idea.

Unfortunately, impacts are so intellectually attractive that they're called on to explain all kinds of things they almost certainly are not related to, like the end Permian extinction, the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, and end-Pleistocene extinction of megafauna in North America. The suggestion impacts caused all of those extinctions is just a bit nutty and most scientists would agree meteor impact is at best an unlikely explanation for any of those events.

The general public, however, is not made up of scientists, and apparently the general public likes a big idea as much as a scientist. The problem, of course, being that without the background to critically assess a claim or recognize a reliable source of information, it's not difficult to convince non-scientists something unscientific is true. Especially if it's something that sounds good or is something people want to believe.

My rambling here is because yesterday in the seminar I'm taking from Jay Malosh, we discussed the idea that the end Pleistocene megafauna extinction was caused by a meteor impact--an idea popularized through a popular science book, legitimized by a paper published in a prestigious journal without a peer review, and an idea that's more than likely wrong. The problem is, people don't want to believe the most likely culprit (humans) were capable of causing the extinction of almost all the big animals in North America.

None of this would matter except that these situations make science look bad. Global cooling (which was popularized by a couple of articles written by a couple of guys who did not present the scientific consensus, 'cause there wasn't one in the 70's) gets brought up to me all the time as an example of "scientists not knowing what they're talking about," or "changing our minds." It's irritating. The science that makes it into the popular press is so limited and too often not rigorously described, so people get wrong impressions about what's going on in science. It doesn't help that most of what makes it into the popular press is controversial or new and sexy (and so more likely to be wrong). Reporting results that essentially validate our current understanding of things just isn't interesting enough most of the time, so even though the vast majority of science does exactly that (reinforce our current understanding of things) people seem to want to see science as constantly being shaken up or pushing new, exciting, unexpected boundaries.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Front loading

Wednesday and Thursday (and Tuesday, I believe) a friend of mine from college was on campus interviewing for a position in my department. Catching up with her was quite a treat--and one that makes me wish I could go to the 10 year reunion in a few weeks. I'm amazed at how well we still know each other, in spite of not keeping in touch for so long. While she was speaking her mannerisms were at times distractingly familiar in a way that made me feel almost like I was back in Blacker. But, of course, we're not at tech anymore; we've moved on in our lives.

She is, I suspect, almost exactly where she wanted to be right now, with the possible exception of not having a tenure-track position (though that's a little out of control, since apparently there haven't been any tenure-track planetary science positions available essentially until now). She's written a number of successful grants and published many papers, one of them in Nature Geosciences. Not only is this friend wildly successful by academic standards, she's also engaged to a guy who is apparently similarly intellectually gifted, so (at least from my perspective) it looks like she's really living the dream.

I am excited things are working out so well for her. I'm totally unsurprised by her success because it's always been obvious she is going to make her mark. She's passionate about her research, about education, about science in general; she works really hard and is ambitious and charismatic. She is an amazing scientist and I really do feel it's a privilege to know her and to count her as a friend (long lost though she is).

I am envious only in that I look up to her as an example of what I wish I were more like. Comparison is a deadly thing and I should shun it, especially when it comes to my old tech friends. Even so, it's hard to see all the wonderful, exciting things my friends are doing and look at myself and think I should have done something equally impressive. But I haven't. I'm lazy; I like to blog instead of work (like right now, for instance). I like science, but I am not passionate about it most of the time; I often feel like an idiot as I struggle to understand papers I should easily understand. I just don't know if I can hack it. Some of my happiest moments are when I'm working on my science, when I feel that passion fill me to overflowing, but then some of my deepest despair comes too from the daily failures and worthlessness of much of my effort. Science is such a big part of my identity at this point, but not always in a positive way. I wish I could see a path that would let me change that.

I heard Ira Glass (of This American Life) talking about how all stories tend toward mediocrity, how it takes real effort to make something good instead of just blah. ACB was happy to diagnose the current state of my career as resulting from my front loading my family life while she front loaded her academic life. She was also happy to predict our trajectories would converge within a decade. It would be lovey if that were to happen, though I fear my natural tendency toward mediocrity is the real thing keeping me back.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I can't sleep. This isn't a spectacularly unusual thing for me, though it's been a number of months since I've suffered insomnia. I guess it's my own fault I'm awake--after all, I did lay down at something like 10 or 10:30, which is way earlier than normal. Anyway, since I'm awake, I figured I'll take advantage of the few extra hours and be marginally productive (if blogging can be seen as productive, that is).

Last week my Mom and sister drove through here, which was fun. My sister, after living in New York for something like seven years, decided she wanted to move back to Utah. So, my Mom flew out and the two of them packed up her car with as much stuff as it could hold and drove cross-country. They stopped here for a day and we had a nice, mellow visit as they rested up for the remaining two days of intense driving. It probably helped that a pretty good lightning storm came through (which everyone here thoroughly enjoyed watching!).

We ate lots of veggies, and discovered the juice left after cooking artichokes is yet another acid-base indicator (though not nearly as cool as red cabbage juice).

I was unbearably cranky the day before Easter, so Derrick bought me an Easter lily. (I'm not entirely sure why my bad behavior warrants flowers, but I am grateful for the flowers--and for a husband forgiving enough to get them for me).

One of the nice things about celebrating Easter at church a week late is that I was able to find Sylvia's Easter dress for half-off. Isn't she cute? The Easter basket actually belongs to our neighbor (as does the rest of the room).

Sylvia has re-discovered the joy of throwing herself backward.

And finally, Derrick was helping Sylvia learn to spell.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

20 months

Today is the 20 month anniversary of Sylvia's birth. She spent the morning with her Grandma Nixdorf and Aunt Lissa while I waited around for my advisor to help me set up a carbonate run (yeah.). The afternoon was pretty low-key, if for no other reason than because a thunder storm came through. In Sylvia news, she's apparently figured out how to thread her zipper--something she's been trying to do basically since we put a coat on her last fall. She loves her fine motor skills!

Monday, April 5, 2010


You know, yet again, I have a reason to wish we were already in San Francisco. I mean, if we'd gotten there when we initially planned we would have been there for the magnitude 7.2 earthquake yesterday. Grr. I'm so disappointed.

In other news, Derrick dislocated his finger playing basketball and it's turning lovely shades of blue. Easter Sunday was not so kind to him, though I know he did enjoy the strawberry pie we made (even if it wasn't ready to consume until 10:30 or so). Sylvia enjoyed her first Easter egg hunt, though I think she was pretty much happy after a single egg. Mostly she played with her jelly beans rather than actually eating them. The chocolate she ate, but I think she maxed out on jelly beans after just about a handful. Smart kid. fortunately for her, she has a loyal friend next door who generously helped her with her candy. They're very cute together.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hi-ho stable isotopes, away!

The thought of anything being poisoned by evapoconcentration of ones own excrement is pretty gross; nevertheless, it's cool that stable isotopes can be used to reveal when suspected foul play is simply fouling of a water source.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Unfortunately not

I wish this were an April fool's joke. Why, oh why, is Utah full of such wankers? Why do they keep getting reelected? How does it make sense to take $3 million dollars from the education system to fund a lawsuit that's doomed to failure (since it makes absolutely no sense)?

Yeah, this is what you get, people, when you have a effective single-party system and that party decides to go off the deep end.
My body is not my own. I wake at some dark, unforgivably early hour to a small, toothy mouth wanting only to suckle, while the associated hand searches for the other nipple to grasp as if it were a handle. When the first side is finished, the hand releases its grip, only to push and pull the second nipple into position for the greedy mouth. Back and forth, the hand and mouth exchange positions for what feels like hours before they are satisfied and either return to fitful slumber or signal a tiny brain into intensely cheerful wakefulness.

The child lays herself over my neck, pushing on my throat and threatening to choke me. That positions' comforts exhausted, she rolls off and throws her bulk over her dad, arching her back over his bear-like form and extending her legs into my shoulder. If she is awake, her bouncing is punctuated by "Da" and "cat;" if she's still groggy she simply whines and growls until she wakes more fully, or I lower her from my bed to whine and growl on the floor.

And that is how my day begins.

When I shower my daughter attaches herself to me, clinging to my legs and begging to be held until I acquiesce, and the hungry mouth again finds its target. Eventually I convince her to play as I finish my shower, then finish getting us ready to leave.

When I am at work, I belong to myself again. I forget the child who wants so much from me, I forget how ever present she is. I luxuriate in the alone time--often too much. The hours fly by far too fast as I try to fit in all the work I need and the play I crave. Then, 5:00 comes and I have to retrieve my child from the other women who, in so many ways, know her better than I do, and yet can never truly substitute for me, and give myself, again, completely and whole to her needs.