Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

EcoGeoFemme is hosting the November Scientiae carnival, and asked us to write about the best and worst parts of our lives as scientists.  Generally I love my job and my life, but there are definitely superlative aspects of all of it.

The best thing about my job is that I enjoy what I'm doing, it intellectually stimulates me, and it allows me to live a lifestyle that is (mostly) conducive to my happiness.  The big fat paycheck, flexible schedule, and cushy benefits are the top three benefits that I enjoy outside of the workplace.

The worst thing about my job is that it can take over my life.  You may recall me grousing starting in June and going through September about how much I needed a vacation.  This past summer, I bit off way more than I could chew, and then somehow had to swallow it all down anyway.  I was having trouble keeping it together every day, because of the stress, and because I was unable to get away from it all, even for a day.  Lesson learned.  Don't do that again!

Anyhow, I have taken on a new role at work, as I indicated a few months ago, which is postdoc supervisor.  It is (mostly) a lot of fun, but just for some added hilarity, I will tell you about some of the best and worst moments of that!

We are trying to fill a couple more slots (Anybody wanna be a computational science postdoc?  Lemme know!) and I have been doing some recruiting, interviewing, and hiring, and there have been some... interesting times.  Let me tell you about one of the most special of all snowflakes that we interviewed.

I had the privilege (?) of hosting him, and got him all to myself for an hour first thing in the morning.  We were engaged in some small talk, because we had already run out of technical things to talk about, when he asked me what the weather was like in the winter.  I told him that the winters were mild, and he breathed a sigh of relief, because he'd had to quit his postdoc in a Cold Northern State because he couldn't stand the weather and he hated all the deadlines.

At this point, the interview was already over, because a) he had not put this postdoc on his CV and b) we have lots of deadlines.  Unfortunately it was not yet 10:00 am.  But I am polite, and instead of sending him on his way to the airport, let him complete the day.

He sent me a thank-you email talking about how awesome he was and what a
perfect fit he was for the position (fair enough, everybody does that).  But then he sent me more emails... and more emails... culminating in one that literally asked if he could have the job.

At this point, I sent him a message that anyone with at least one-tenth of a social skill would recognize as being of the "Dear John" variety.  I even wished him well on his career!  Evidently he lacked that fraction of a social skill, because he did not get the message.  Upon advice from other colleagues with more experience in hiring people, I had the recruiter send him a rejection letter.

Then things started getting ugly.  He sent me a personal nastygram, and then another nastygram about the mean hiring manager who had made this decision (which he evidently did not realize was me), but I was expecting this blowback and did not reply.  (I'm not sure in what universe insulting or badmouthing the person you want to give you a job is a good idea.)  I thought all had calmed down until a month later when he sent an email to a colleague of mine in a completely different division who did not know him but who shared the same alma mater, asking him to persuade me to hire him.  My colleague said he could not do that, and told the guy to give up, which I believe he has.

Anyhow, that was an interesting time, and then when we interviewed the next candidate, that person was like a breath of fresh air.  We made him an offer but sadly he turned us down.  Ah well, it's all part of the job!

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Poor Sad Head

Last Sunday, we decided to go on a hike with my dad and bonus mom.  It was all great until about five minutes in, when I realized that I was beginning to see the signs of a migraine.  Sure enough, my vision went bad and when it returned, the pain began.  We were still hiking at that point, because I didn't want a little headache to ruin everyone's fun (including my own).  The trail was beautiful and the weather was perfect; the company was great too.  I went home afterwards and slept a bit, but and it got a little better for a while, but the next day, I just felt miserable.  I went to work but only survived a half day, and came home and slept most of the rest of the day away.  I felt better on Tuesday but I did not begin to feel like myself until Wednesday.

I'm glad to be feeling better, but I am getting concerned because I have had several migraines over the past month, which is unusual for me.  I wish I knew what exactly triggered it and I'd quit doing that!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Partying and Partying

At the beginning of the month, we held a family party for Vinny's birthday, just the three of us.  Then, when my dad and bonus mom came last weekend, we celebrated again.  Then yesterday, we had Vinny's big birthday party to which we invited his class from school and many other friends.  And then in the evening, we celebrated his birthday again with Jeff's parents, who drove down for the weekend.

That's four parties for one little boy!  I joked that it was one party per year old, but that is not a scalable tradition to keep up.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I came up with a pretty funny joke on Friday, and I was actually fairly proud of myself.  Vinny and I had been talking about his shoes, and how he has to pull the tongue of his shoes up before he straps the velcro straps.  I pointed out how silly it was that shoes have a tongue and people have tongues too.  Then I asked him,
"Vinny, do you have a tongue?"
"Yes, I have a tongue.  It's in my mouth."
"That's silly!" I said.  "I thought only shoes have tongues!"

This led to some more similarly structured jokes:
"Vinny, do you have any ears?"
"Yes, I have two ears, here and here."
"That's silly!  I thought only corn has ears!"

and punchlines
"I thought only tables have legs!"
"I thought only potatoes have eyes!"

Others I thought of include:

  • Bread has heels
  • Roads have shoulders
  • Cows have calves
  • Macaroni has elbows
  • Roses have hips
I'm sure there are more out there.  Anybody?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oh, Hi!

I've been a little bit busy lately!  So busy that I failed to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of my beloved son (that was October 5), or discuss the family party that we held for him, or talk about the student who started working with me at the beginning of the month, or the vacation I've taken for the past week.  I'll try to remedy that right now:

  • I can hardly believe that Vinny is 4.  He is such an amazing little boy and I am so glad he came into my life four years ago.  Every day I love him more and more, as if that is even possible.
  • Since his birthday was on a Tuesday, we held a family celebration the Sunday before, just the three of us.  Vinny's aunt and cousin had a little online video chat with him for his birthday.  We ate homemade pizza and a Dora the Explorer cake for his birthday dinner (more on that cake later).  He got lots of great presents, including a remote controlled car; Lego Rock Band plus a guitar, drum set, and microphone for the game; and a fun set of gears that you can put together on interlocking backing.  He was positively thrilled with the whole thing.
  • He had requested a Dora cake for his birthday.  I said okay, I would make him a Dora cake.  Jeff bought a Dora cake pan and I baked the cake.  That was the easy part.  The hard part was decorating it.  You need 10 different colors for decorating Dora.  For example, she has light brown eyes, but dark brown hair.  Furthermore, she has the whites of her eyes, the light brown iris, the black pupil, and a little dot of white in her eyes.  She also has a bracelet that has light blue, dark blue, and yellow beads in it.  Luckily I bought some sort of frosting mix that was probably actually some amalgam of petrochemicals.  I mixed up all the ten different colors of frosting in ten different bowls, but I was having a lot of trouble with doing everything I had to do to follow the directions.  I had to change out frosting colors, which was an arduous process, especially because I had only one tip of each kind that was required.  A lot of times I just had to do one or two little tiny things and then I had to move on to the next color (for example, red was used only for Map's mouth and nothing else!).  By the end I was going so nuts that Dora's eyes and hair were the same color, and furthermore, she did not have a pupil, not to mention that glimmer in her eyes.  And she evidently forgot to put her bracelet on, because even though I had mixed the blue colors, I did not use them because if I had, I would have completely lost any shred of sanity I had at that point.  I had allowed myself two hours to decorate Dora; it ended up taking five!
  • I have a student working with me who worked with me the summer before last.  He has a prestigious fellowship and worked with me the other summer on something completely unrelated to his research.  He asked me if he could come back and I could help him with something that he's doing for his research.  I said "of course" and the rest is history.  He's a really smart dude and easy to work with.  He is close to graduation, so he asked me to write him some letters of recommendation for jobs.  I'm trying to figure out if there's a way we can hire him at my workplace.
  • Last weekend, we went to Memphis.  We saw the children's museum, which Vinny loved.  They had this wind tunnel with a model airplane in it, and you could turn the fans on to create the wind, then operate some levers which would operate the flaps on the airplane and lift it into the air.  He absolutely loved that wind tunnel because it had fans!  He was talking about the "fan tunnel" for days.  We also went to a place called Incredible Pizza, which was a pizza buffet plus arcade games and also larger games such as miniature bowling and go-karts.  Vinny rode with me in a go-kart, and we were winning the race until somebody hit my go-kart in the back left corner and spun me out, which caused the race to stop until they cleared it up.  Some of the other go-karts had passed me before they had to stop for the cleanup, and they ended up winning.  Anyhow, the food was pretty good and the games were fun too.  The next day we went to Graceland, and that was a lot of fun to the adults in the party but not so fun for the four-year-old.  On Monday we headed back home but we stopped at Shiloh National Battlefield Park, where a major Civil War battle was fought.
  • Then, I stayed home for the rest of the week.  I went in to work for a half day on Wednesday, but otherwise I just spent the week at home.  I did some cleaning up around the house, and I did some shopping, and Jeff and I went out to lunch together once, but I basically took it easy all week, which was really nice.  I really needed to get away from work for a while, and I feel really refreshed after this time away.
  • Today, Dad and Marvis are coming to celebrate Vinny's birthday.  It should be a lot of fun!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Night Race!

Last night, I participated in my first-ever night race.  A friend of mine is involved in a community organization that held a 5K race that began at 9:00 pm.  I did the race, and while I didn't win any prizes or anything this time, I felt like it was a huge success for me.

I talked Jeff and Vinny into doing it too.  Vinny was lured into it by the promise of a flashlight.  Jeff graciously agreed to supervise Vinny and participate in the race instead of just cheering me on at the sidelines.

All my other races have been in the morning, so I would just wake up, eat something like a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast at least an hour before the race, and then go race.  I wasn't quite sure what to do for an evening race, because I could have really worn myself out during the day and been too tired to do the race in the evening.  I tried to just take it easy for most of the day, and then I ate an omelet for dinner at about 6:00, and then did not eat anything else for the rest of the evening.  This worked out well, and I was just at the right stomach fullness to be able to race.  Eating any later I would have still been sloshing at 9:00.

We got to the race at about 8:00, because Jeff and Vinny were participating in the 5K walk, which started at 8:30.  They started off on their walk and I stretched and talked to some friends while I waited for the run to start.  The race started at an old Revolutionary War-era fort, and they used a canon as the starting gun for the race.

I knew that I would be the slowest runner in the race, so I started at the very back of the pack.  I ran really slowly and in fact enjoyed a personal police escort right behind me during most of the race.  There were some people who faded and I passed, but I was definitely one of the final people across the finish line.

That being said, I was really proud of myself because I ran for 90% of the race.  I just started running and kept running at my extremely slow pace.  The only times I walked was when I got the water (because I didn't want to choke on it like I did in the last race I was in), and again for about 30 seconds up a hill, but after I got my breath back I started running again.

During this race, I realized that for me, breathing is the trick to running: as long as my breathing was not out of control, I could run.  When I had to coordinate breathing and drinking, I couldn't run.  And when I was going up that hill, I got out of breath and had to slow down until my breathing could get under control.

I counted my breaths as I ran.  This helped me to focus, and I was able to talk myself into running further by saying "Okay, I'm gonna run until I get to 600" and then "Okay, you're at 600, let's make it to 650," etc.  As I was nearing the halfway mark, I saw Vinny and Jeff on their walk, and Vinny waved and shouted "Go, Mama!" which was also an inspiration to keep running.  Also I would tell myself that I wouldn't want my police escort to be disappointed by me slowing down and walking.

When I saw I was near the finish line, I tried to run a little faster, and as I neared the finish I looked for Jeff and Vinny, hoping they were there to cheer me on.  As it turned out, they were not yet there; we all finished our races at about the same time.

Like I said, I did not win any awards or prizes, my mile pace was just over 13 minutes, and in fact my total time was longer than it was in the previous race I was in, but I am just so proud that I ran almost the entire race.

I was also really proud of Vinny for completing the 5K walk (with some help from Daddy).  We have a stash of gold metals and when we got home, we gave him one.  I think this really encouraged him to do more races.  And in fact, I saw that there is another race on the same route in November -- the flyer was in the packet they gave us -- and it says they are giving prizes to walkers.  So I think maybe he and I will walk that one and if we are lucky they will give him a prize (and if not, I will take along another gold medal and ask them to present it to him).

Friday, October 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

What, you didn't hold a party last night and stay up until midnight?!?!  Okay, neither did I.  But it is a new year -- a new government fiscal year.  My project that was due at the end of the fiscal year is done, so I'm feeling free!  Hopefully this new year will be as much fun or (better yet) even more fun than last year.