Blog Archive

Friday, December 21, 2012


I don't know about you, but normally I'm positively itching to walk out the door the last day before vacation, a weekend, or holiday break.  Well, I was up until last year.  There's something about being fully immersed in a satisfying job that makes you actually want to keep working.  This week I worked as usual and even found myself offering to come to campus to work on some stuff for the course I'll be TAing for next term (a class about which I know practically--and theoretically--nothing).  Like, I wouldn't mind coming in on Christmas Eve to review the syllabus and website with the professor, who said she'd be working through the holiday on the course.  Crazy.

It helps that we were on vacation last week.  And by "we" I mean Dave and me.  No Eddie.  Although, we did invite Edward to come once we were there so while we weren't on a solo trip, we were child-free, which was quite nice.  I already posted pictures on Facebook and I have a Picasa album I can share with you if you like, just email me or leave a comment.  (After combing through and annotating 200 pictures I've lost motivation to write up a blog post about the trip at this point...but I will soon.)  The trip was amazing and I'm so glad we went where we did, for the reasons we did, and when we did.  The author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People advocates for time off to "sharpen the saw."  I couldn't agree more.  It was recharging, uplifting, relaxing...and calorific.  Mmmm, I love cheap eats.

So going to work this week was sort of nice; I liked getting back to my data, my samples, my plan.

My building, however, was dead.  I only saw people from two separate labs other than myself, all day.  My goal for the day was to pack 1/3 of my samples into tin capsules for total nitrogen analysis (something that should have been done in the summer but I checked the "carbon only" box on the form instead of "carbon and nitrogen" box...doh!).

So this is what I did all day...while listening to about 5 episodes of This American Life from 2001.

Even if I forgot to eat lunch, it wasn't a bad way to spend a rainy, freezing cold day.  And at the end, I helped my friend Danny water some stuff in the greenhouse before he drove me home.  Eddie was napping so Dave couldn't come fetch me and with the buses on break service who knows when I would have been able to get home.

The Mayan calendar ended today...but the world didn't end.  I thought about making some doomsday cookies to bring to work but I didn't have a flame shaped cookie cutter and as it turns out not enough people were at work to enjoy them anyway.

I hope everyone has a safe, fun, delicious, relaxing, and just-a-little-chaotic (too keep you on your toes) holiday season!  It's here!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

San Diego: Part 3 (AKA Santa Barbara)

To wrap up our San Diego beach vacation, my mom, Eddie, and I drove north to Santa Barbara on Tuesday morning, October 3.  We met up with her grad school friend, Janice, at a Shoreline Beach Cafe, a cute little on-the-beach diner.  This place was perfect for Eddie because it not only had outdoor seating, but it was actually IN the sand and the restaurant provided sand toys for kids (and posts on which to tie up your dog if you brought one).  It was hot and we sat in the sunshine, soaking up the remnants of summertime.  (The food was pretty good, too.)

Then we drove up to Goleta to stay the night with some friends.  This was Eddie's favorite part of the trip because we stayed with Jonah--his bestest friend ever.  You remember Jonah, right?  I used to swap-sit with his mom, Morgan, before they moved for her new post doc position at UCSB.  These sweet boys of ours picked right up where they'd left off a year ago: playing, running around, talking our heads off, playing dress up, reading books together.  It was so awesome for them to be together again.
Sweet boys.
They love each other so much it's just adorable.
Morgan and Kristin made us a picnic dinner, which we ate at the beach.  We stayed at the beach until it was too dark to see where the boys were running off to, so we packed up and went to get ice cream at McConnell's.

After baths and stories, we tried to put the boys to bed.  Jonah usually sleeps with his moms but wanted SO BADLY to sleep in his actual room with Eddie, who had his own little mattress to sleep on.  So after a while, Kristin and I both ended up in the room, cuddling our respective boys to sleep.  I could hear Jonah whispering to her that "Eddie is STILL MOVING!"  He thought it was weird that Eddie twitches and rolls around until the moment he actually passes out.  Haha.

The next morning we had a yummy breakfast (minus the weird vegetarian soy bacon...) and everyone piled into their respective cars to take off. It was a super short visit with them, but I'm so glad we stayed there instead of at a hotel.  They let it slip that they might be getting a baby girl placed into their family the very next month...I was good and kept my mouth (and fingers) motionless on the subject until they posted pictures of baby Sofia on Facebook after Thanksgiving.  I can't wait to go down again sometime and meet her!

My mom, Eddie, and I met up with my good friend, Justin, and a local park.  Eddie played and ran around while we chatted about...well, a lot.  We were there for nearly 2 hours I think but it felt like 10 minutes.  I wish we could have spent all day with Justin.

Our drive back to Livermore was uneventful, if you count Eddie having a tantrum in Burger King while we got a milkshake as such.  We made pretty good time so Eddie and I decided to hang out in the garden with my dad for a while before taking off for Davis.  And of course we picked and took home a huge basket of veggies (his summer garden was still going strong).

So...that wraps up our fun beach vacation. I hope we can make beach vacations a regular thing.  We'll be living in Gualala but it's not that kind of beach, you know?  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prav's Wedding

A few Saturdays ago, our very best college friend, Pravin, got hitched down near Los Angeles.

Originally, Dave and I had planned on taking Eddie with us so we could visit Disneyland during the first part of this week.  But after tallying up all the travel expenses we would have incurred by the end of 2012, the budget was getting redder and redder.  Not good.  So we decided to hold off on Disneyland until next year.

I know, I know.  Most of you are going to say that we should wait anyway for Disneyland--wait until Eddie is old enough to remember the experience.  Blah, blah, blah.  And part of me agrees with you.  But there are a few reasons I think that's bunk.  And I'm sure these reasons all center on the fact that my family never "did" family vacations when I was small.  Sure, we went to Alabama to my grandparents' farm every few summers to visit.  These visits were absolute heaven for Edward and I.  Ouf, my heart actually aches that I can't take Eddie there for the same experiences we had.  Lordy we were smothered in love (and gravy) while there.  But we never did the typical suburban middle class vacations that alllllll my friends got to have--the beach, the cabin in the snow to go sledding, Disneyland, camping at National Parks, you name it.  I didn't go to Disneyland until 8th grade.  And it was with another family!

I want Eddie to have those classic family vacations his whole life.  He deserves it.  It opens up his world while he's too young to care about gender/age stereotypes.  True, he may not remember every little thing he does on those vacations, but they do certainly impact his little life in big ways: new flavors, new sounds, new sights, new actions, new people.  I mean, just because a child doesn't remember you being "nice" to them when they're small doesn't mean you'll be a jerk until--what--age five when they will probably remember your actions and words and then you'll start being polite and treating them like a deserving human?  Uh, no.

He's also at that age when he throws himself into whatever interests him without even knowing about gender stereotypes.  We all know he looooooooves dressing up in glittery, lacy princess dresses.  And I wanted to take him to Ariel's Grotto for breakfast so he could wear his costumes and meet The Princesses.  Too soon he'll learn from mean boys at school that boys don't like pink and princesses are for girls only.  It'll break my mama heart to see his confusion and then his new-found preferences for only boy-approved toys, colors, and pastimes.

So, no Disneyland on this trip and that makes me sad.  But as you'll see, Eddie had a fantastic time with Miss Amanda and Friend Tim.

Dave and I took off Thursday morning, November 15, after packing the car and dropping Eddie off at daycare.  We drove down south, stopping that night for a 7:30 pm showing of Skyfall in Santa Clarita, perfectly timed to avoid much of the traffic on the 405.  The movie was awesome, as were our popcorn and Raisinettes treats.
Apparently, it was the Twilight premier, as evidenced from all the old ladies wearing ridiculous, bedazzled character clothing.  Barf.
Eddie spent the night at daycare with Cassie while we stayed our first night in a crappy Torrance Days Inn hotel room.  The saving graces of this particular hotel were that 1) the a/c stayed on all night long (rather than cycling on and off) so it was fantastically cold in the room, which is how we like to sleep; and 2) it was situated in the same building as an Indian restaurant, our favorite cuisine.

Friday morning we headed off to Wildflower Cafe for breakfast and a long chat over our coffee.  I dropped Dave off at the hotel and then I walked around some shops nearby before we pigged out at the Indian buffet downstairs.
Handsome man, delicious breakfast.
That evening we attended the wedding rehearsal at the venue since Dave was a groomsman.  Rain was a major threat so the wedding party practiced both outside (preferred) and in.  Then we headed over to Bucca di Beppo for dinner.  Afterward we went to a bar--and by "we" I mean the groom's entire party.  His parents even came to the bar.  Heehee, so cute.  The last bit of our group had just checked into the hotel so they joined us, too.
Us at the venue, La Venta Inn, waiting for the rehearsal to begin.
Prav, Anthony, Javi, Matt, Devin, and Dave, with the groom's parents in the foreground.
It was soooooooooooooooooooooooooo fun to have the "whole gang" together again.  Despite children, weddings, moves, careers, etc. the guys all picked right back up with their old shenanigans: quoting South Park and Super Troopers, picking on each other, and reminiscing about their dorm and apartment days (many of them lived all together in both places).  Ahhhh, I missed those guys.

Sunday morning we picked up Kaitlyn and Brady for breakfast and ate at CJ's Pantry.  The food was good, but of course, the company was even better.  K and B have a 5 and a 2 year old and was it was awesome to talk to them about everything under the moon, including our kids' antics and everyone's jobs and stuff.  Kaitlyn had to run off to buy a dress for the wedding, so Dave and I headed back to the hotel to get ready.  I had to repaint my toes, iron Dave's shirts (two, I brought an extra because you just never know what he'll spill down his front), and figure out how to wear the new makeup I'd brought.  We watched a lot of Food Network while we did all that stuff.
Scallop eggs Benedict?  Heck yes.
Prav asked us if we could come to his hotel at 1:30 pm to pick up all the guys and shuttle them around for pictures.  Miracle of miracles, we were on time.  I wasn't in my fancy dress yet because I didn't want to risk getting it messed up, but Dave was all dressed up and ready to pose.  Of course, the groom never knows what's going on so we ended up waiting for a loooooong time in the hotel lobby for Prav to even show up! The valet parking guy allowed me to park my van in one of the coveted spots right out front, which was awesome since it was raining buckets.  Eventually, I just went chatted with Brady in the hotel bar.
Dave, why aren't you smiling?
The wedding party in the hotel lobby.  Isn't Grace, the bride, lovely?
When Prav arrived, the groomsmen went up to his room to stage pictures of him getting ready--I guess so there'll be matching pictures of the bride getting ready?  It seemed weird and Dave confirmed that it was.  In fact, the man of honor kept joking about how many more times he'd have to unbutton and rebutton Prav's coat for all these damn pictures.  Haha.  At about 3:30 pm everyone was ready to drive up the hill to take some more pictures.  The bride was standing in the drizzle, holding up her gown, while her bridesmaids shuffled stuff around in the rear of their car to make room for her.  She finally just asked if she could ride with us.  Of course!  We're in a minivan!  We can hold 6 brides plus the driver!

So off we went to a pretty arched building and a ridiculous fountain to stage some photos.  I was dispatched to take pictures with Javi's camera since the photographers (all 4 of them) seemed to have taken a wrong turn somewhere.  Eventually they did show up.
Trying to arrange photos before the rain got worse and ruined the bride's make up and hair.
A close up shot of the fountain where the wedding party had some pictures taken.  Heehee, isn't this fountain hilarious?  
The wedding had to be done inside since it was pouring rain by 5 pm.  Although a little crowded, it was really nice with the fire place and candles. Prav told us later that he was roasting and sweating being so close to the fire.
I took this picture just before the wedding began.  Check out that dark cloud just looming over the wedding venue.  Good  thing rain is lucky on your wedding day, right?
We were seated at a table with all our Saint Mary's College friends, so dinner was obviously a hoot.  My salmon was scrumptious, mostly because it was topped with a green olive tapenade...mmmm.

After eating and many toasts translated between English and Chinese, we all headed to the dance floor and stayed there until 10 pm.  Because the venue is in a residential area, the music had to stop that early.  Phooey.  So we all headed back to the main hotel and met up at the bar.  Those of us who are parents and had to travel back home the following day were soooooooooo tired by midnight so we only stayed for a little while before crashing.
Exhausted from dancing, chatting, and celebrating.
Dave and I headed off toward home at about 8:30 am Sunday morning while the newlyweds took off for their honeymoon in French Polynesia.  I hope they had tons of fun!

We didn't want to stop for breakfast so we got fast food and hit the road.  In Manteca, we did all our Thanksgiving Costco shopping so I wouldn't have to do it with Eddie during the week.  You know what's crazy?  I was confused and though that Thanksgiving was the 28th, not the 22nd so I was sort of scrambling to get things organized food-wise on our drive back up north.  Oops!

We came home to a happy Eddie and a tired Amanda.  She also babysat a fellow daycare kiddo, Insee, oat our house on Saturday morning. I know they had fun and I am so grateful we have her to watch over Eddie on occasions like this.
Amanda reports that the boys and dogs played pirates on our bed for quite some time on Saturday.
For each night we were gone, we left Eddie a small paper bag containing a piece of candy and a little note.  Apparently he loved the notes so much he insisted that they be taped to the fridge (where they still are).
It was a fun weekend away to celebrate with our friends.  This was the first time (other than my heart surgery) when I actually wished Eddie was with us...normally we like to be away from him for a little parent time alone.  But not this time.  Congrats to Prav and Grace--we wish you all the best!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fall Meeting

Yesterday I presented my first oral paper at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting.

Back in August when I submitted my abstract, I'd only just finished collecting all my data from this analytical method I'd created.  I wasn't sure I'd be able to get enough data analysis done by December, but it seemed like a good idea to push myself into it.  So with my friend Garrett's encouragement (he's my cheerleader at school), I submitted my abstract for an oral presentation.  I've never done a talk at a conference before, only posters, and I've never been to this particular conference before.

I didn't have a good experience practicing my presentation in my lab meeting the week prior to the conference.  My labmates were silent, offering NO help whatsoever. So that left my PI and our post doc to give all the helpful and teasing advice that I could handle.  Ug. I left lab meeting frustrated because I felt like their constructive criticism was hidden amongst unnecessary teasing about my color scheme choices (which turned out to be the exact suggestions on the AGU website!) and giving me a hard time about how my computer's ghetto operating system is incompatible with the departmental projectors so my animation wouldn't work, leaving me to manually fiddle with the plots.  I should have been more prepared and tried the Power Point with the projector beforehand, probably, but they could have at least been a little more empathetic (or simply shut up and only offer feedback about the content of my presentation!).  Gah.  When Dave picked me up for dinner that night he could tell I felt defeated.

The whole weekend I stressed over the organization of the slides and the interpretation of my data. I gave myself Saturday "off" and didn't even touch it until Sunday.  Monday I reviewed the presentation with my PI, who gave me a thumbs up.

He and Garrett asked me who else was speaking during my session, and I admitted that I didn't want to know, lest I become more intimidated.  I was not as excited as they were that I was the only student presenting--and out of 8 speakers, 3 were invited.  Sheesh.  Talk about intimidation.

Tuesday I recorded myself doing the presentation and watched the videos to see what I could improve upon.  Learning to speak more slowly is something I will always struggle with, no matter how much practicing I do.

Dave couldn't justify taking Wednesday off so I could go to the conference unhindered with childcare duties, so I had to do Mama stuff in the morning, drop Eddie off at daycare, bolt to the Amtrak station to buy my ticket, look for parking (scratched the right side of the van in the parking garage when I reacted to another car coming quickly into my side of the ramp), decide to park in a timed spot anyway and deal with a parking ticket, take BART from the Richmond Amtrak station, and then walk to the Moscone Center.  I wore travel clothes and changed once I got to the conference center, leaving me only an hour before my presentation (during which time I ate and uploaded my Power Point onto the server). Garrett and I chatted over lunch before I entered the session, where there were probably 80-100 people in the audience.

My talk went only "eh" on a scale of "I'm amazing" to "I suck" ("eh" being toward the sucking end).  I spoke too fast, was nervous for the first half, and then was hammered with 2 difficult questions (and 1 easy one!).  See, Julie?  If you'd learn to speak more slowly, then you'd take up more time and prevent the chances of having any time left for questions!  Lesson learned for next time.  =)  My friend warned me about a particular professor who would probably ask me some difficult questions, just to prove a point (that he's a badass scientist man), and indeed it happened.

I'm not happy with how my presentation went: I could have been a lot more clear in some cases, I spoke to quickly, and I don't feel that the awesomeness and implications of my method and data was felt by the audience. BUT--my personal goals for the conference were to a) present an oral paper just to say I've done it (and to practice the vital communication of findings, as all scientists should) and b) force myself into data analysis/synthesis to get the ball rolling on dissertation-writing.  So in those regards, my presentation was a huge success. 

Once my entire session was over, I met up with Edward who'd come in on CalTrain to hang out.  We got an early dinner at an Irish pub and then walked around for a few hours, sipping hot cocoa, looking at all the holiday decorations, and doing some window shopping. It was really nice to just wander around for a few hours, unhindered by the stress of a deadline or a whiny child.
The Starbucks near the conference center had a cute sign up for all us geeks.
I'd hired a baby sitter to pick Eddie up from daycare since I knew I wouldn't be able to get back before 5:30 pm.  So I texted him to make sure everything was going okay, and it was.

Garrett and I BART/Amtrak'ed back together, rehashing our experiences at the conference to each other.  Of course, our train was late so I got back to the house until after 10 pm, 30 minutes later than I had promised the sitter.  But the good news is that my car didn't get a ticket after all.  Woo!

So. I'm done presenting. I feel like I've done my piece--not that my PI has ever told me that I must present at conferences, but it's sort of implied.  Now the work really begins: to outline the dissertation chapters, visualize my data, write about the data, add some introductions/sweeping conclusions, format it all into a dissertation, and ring that graduation bell!  And that should only take a few weeks, right?  (, more like a year.)

But first, I have some relaxing to do.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012 Resolutions

Remember my resolutions from last year?  I'm sad to report that I have only accomplished part of one of them.  I did collect nearly all my data for my dissertation (just not the plant extractions, which will happen in early January). The good news is that knitting and selling stuff on ebay doesn't actually contribute anything substantial to my life.  But dang, I wish I'd finished collecting data earlier in the year so I could have prepared those two manuscripts.  It was a lofty goal in the first place, though. I guess I'll just have to bump up the number of completed manuscripts from 2 to 5 for this coming year.

Last year I didn't even send out Christmas cards because things got so dang busy that I never had time. 

I remember standing at my back patio door last year after Thanksgiving, watching the leaves fall from the trees.  Tired and nervous that I would royally screw up my big research project (on which the entire dissertation hinged), I sighed and thought to myself, "Well, at least we got Thanksgiving and Christmas out of the way so I can just concentrate on my research."  And then I realized we hadn't even come close to December 25th yet. Yikes.

This year is a bit different, with the big project behind me. Now I have loads and loads and loads of data to massage into a story...and then I can write about it.

I'm writing this with my arms perched on a huge stack of Christmas letters that are stamped, addressed, and sealed.  We'll pop them through the slot at the post office on our way to a friend's birthday party this afternoon.  Woo!  I feel super accomplished, even for such a trite thing as mail.