Friday, April 30, 2010

May Scientiae: Bumps & Humps

As you may know, I’ve been trying to start up an education and outreach program (EOP) centered around the nearby observatory. The main reason for this is the observatory is slated to shut down at the end of the year, and I think that’s just sad and it should be used for something instead of being allowed to just crumble to the ground.

I knew from the very beginning that there would be lots of bumps in the road, but I never really guessed how vast they would be.

Initial Issues

Funding: everyone was supportive of the creation of an EOP, from the students to the professors to the deans. No one is willing to give me a dime.

Perpetuating misconceptions: I cannot believe how many people have told me that “No one will be interested in driving all the way out there, especially since the last km is a dirt road”. First of all, it’s a whole 20 minutes out of the city. Second, I’ve had people ask me about that observatory more times than I can even count. Third, other observatories in Canada have these kinds of programs, are much further out from any city, are at the top of giant hills with dirt/gravel roads, and they have NO problem getting people out to their events!! There is demand for this kind of thing!!

Personnel: The telescope technician is retiring. He’s really the only guy who’s been looking after the telescope for 30+ years. He knows what is wrong by the sound. He doesn’t have a manual of any kind. The telescope seems to break down often. How are we going to learn how to maintain/fix the thing?

Changing of the guard: There is one professor that uses the telescope for research purposes. So, he basically has a private 1.2m research-grade telescope. Think it’s going to be hard for him to give that up?

Arising Issues

All talk: People love to talk about this program. They like to share ideas, and go totally crazy coming up with things that could be done. But, when it comes right down to it, very few are willing to put anything in to action.

Committees: I’ve posted about how I’ve put together a steering committee to help me write a business proposal and such. I hate this. I hate this so much. Everyone just has better ideas than everyone else and it totally gets out of hand. We have gotten nothing accomplished.

My commitment:waxes and wanes. There are times where I want to give my all, and get this program off the ground running. Other times, such as when dealing with committees or curmudgeons, I desperately want to walk away.

Red Tape: Insurance, liabilities, permissions, etc. etc.. So much shit that I know nothing about, and have no idea where to start.

As you can see, there are about a million and one bumps on the road to creating the EOP. My question is, when do I know when to keep going, and when do I know when to walk away? I don't know the answer.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Some of you asked to see the house, so here it is:

Fig. 1: Our house.

It took our cats a while to come out from under the bed to start investigating the joint. Isaac is fairing much better than Izzie, who basically just stays in our bedroom or eats. I have a feeling the kitchen renovations, which start today, are not going to help settle them down.

Being an ultra-organized person, living in a sea of boxes is killing me. Hopefully we can get things unpacked in a decent amount of time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Proud of Myself

Yesterday I had a bit of a confrontation with a professor. I don't want to get into any details, but he didn't like the way I did something, and he accused me of a not-so-nice character flaw over email.

When I first read it, I was pretty upset. I went for a walk, grabbed lunch (trying not to cry), and then went back to read it again. I started writing my response - what I really wanted to say (making sure not to have any email addresses in the "To:" field, just in case!). That was very cathartic, and I was then able to edit it so that it was respectful, yet still got the point across. I even brought attention to his accusation, by using the absolutely wonderful technique of "I'm sure you didn't mean to attack my character and insinuate that I *enter bad thing here*, as that was not my intention." To score yet another good-confrontation point, I added at the end how we could work together to solve the issue.

I felt really good about myself when I sent the email back, and wasn't really worried what his response would be (which is a huge step for me). I knew that I handled the situation with grace and respect. He emailed back, saying he thinks it would be a great idea for us to work together, clarified some of the things he was talking about before, and even apologized for what he said! After another couple emails back and forth, things seem to be settled.

I am so proud of myself! Now, if I could only translate email confrontation skills to in-person, I'll be set!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Well, we are home owners now!

We got the call from our lawyer yesterday around noon that everything had gone through, the deal was closed, and we could pick up the keys. So, we left work early, grabbed the keys, and went straight over to the house...and proceeded to get completely overwhelmed.

We walked through the backyard (so much work needed!) and every room (look at that crack! the toilet is wobbly! this room has to be painted too!), and felt like running out the door! We went to Subway, grabbed lunch, and went back to the safety of our apartment.

But, after I had a much needed nap, and DH packed some stuff into the car, we headed back. We set up lawn chairs in the living room and ordered Indian food. We ate our first meal in our new house, and were finally able to relax. We are feeling much better about things, and have to keep reminding ourselves to take it one step at a time - one project at a time - and that the house will become a home in no time.

Fig. 1: Mmmm....chicken korma!

Monday, April 19, 2010

One Day to Go

Sorry I've been kind of quiet lately. Things are exciting for us these days, but I'm sure they would bore the crap out of my readers!

Anyway, today we met with our lawyer and gave him our down-payment for the house. Then, the lawyers and banks do their thing tomorrow, and we will get our keys sometime in the afternoon! DH and I have decided that we'll take a couple of lawn chairs over there, grab some take-out, and celebrate being home owners in a not-so-grand, but still fun, fashion.

This weekend we bought a lot of "must-haves" for the house: BBQ, lawn mower, garbage can, recycling bin, broom, rake, ladder, etc.. I know all this stuff sounds excruciatingly boring, but we were so excited!! Especially for the BBQ and lawn mower.

We're pretty much all packed up now, except for stuff we're still using. The cats are having a field day with all the boxes piled up - it's like their own personal jungle gym! We are excited to watch their reaction to the house, especially with the hardwood floors, all those rooms, and stairs! I'm sure it will take them a good week or so to explore every nook and cranny before finally settling down.

Even though we take possession tomorrow, we won't be fully moved in until the weekend. Each day this week we'll take some of our more fragile/important items over ourselves. Then we'll get the movers to do the rest on Saturday. This time next week we'll be living in our first home, and the kitchen renovations will begin!

Monday, April 12, 2010

High School Music Teacher

I got a message today that my high school music teacher is retiring. He was my favorite teacher, and he was the one that pushed me to become an excellent clarinetist. He was always very supportive of each of his students - whether they were the top of the class, or barely able to put three notes together. He knew how to get the best out of each and every one of us, and his music ensembles always did extremely well in the festivals.

You could tell he was a very influential teacher because he would constantly get visitors that were previous students of his. In fact, I've been back to my high school a number of times just to visit him, and I know many of my classmates have done the same.

There will be a retirement party for him in mid-June back in Calgary (my home town), and I'm contemplating going back for it. But, with the house and other stuff going on, I'm not sure if I have the time or the money. Granted - if I do go back, I'd get to see my family too, which is always a bonus (right parents? :D). Hmm...not sure what to do!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why the excessive crunching?

Have you noticed that more and more commercials about food now include sound effects when people are eating? Why is this? Do they think it's appetizing to listen to people chow down? Or to listen to a dog gnaw on a big-ass bone?

It's disgusting.

Okay...I might be a little over-sensitive to it. Just ask DH. I generally send him the death glare if he's eating anything remotely crunchy: cereal, chips, carrots...oh God...*shiver*...carrots. Sometimes I'll turn the volume up on the TV. Sometimes I have to leave the room. Seriously.

It's like nails on a chalk board for me. For example, the worst part about going to the movies, besides the constant fussing with wrappers (ugh!!), is listening to people eat their popcorn like they haven't eating in 6 days and they have to shove as much of it as possible in their mouth that they are forced to chew with their disgusting mouths open.

So, commercial makers: take note! Please leave out the gross eating noises! We get the gist that the people are enjoying the food without having to hear each individual chew. Adding this grossness factor does not help sell your product.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

< 2 Weeks

We are taking possession of our house in less than two weeks! We're going to start moving our stuff over starting on the 20th, and then movers are coming on the 24th to move all the furniture and boxes. We're also getting all our new furniture delivered on the 23rd, and then the kitchen renovation will start right away - on the 26th!

As we get closer to the possession date, we're getting more and more nervous. I mean, buying a house is a big deal! There are so many things to think about, from finances to renovations, from how are we going to eat for the two months during the kitchen reno to how the heck do we take care of the yard??

It all seems very overwhelming right now. There is so much we want to do to the house! But, I think we really need to just take it one project at a time, and realize we don't need to do everything right away. The kitchen will be the first big project. During that, we'll probably do some painting and other small things. Then we can think about adding a bathroom on the main floor, putting a gas fireplace in, getting the gutters replaced, etc..

I'm sure, though, that there is a ton of stuff that we haven't even thought about that will come up. Random things we will have to buy because we'll be in a house now.

Any tips for first-time home owners? What are some of the surprises that might come up? Is home-ownership all that it's cracked up to be?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Eggs!

DH and I don't really celebrate Easter. Although, he did cook up a huge ham yesterday (after buying it to try to do an MRI scan on it at work - weirdo!).

On Friday though, I got together with a few of my friends to try making Ukrainian Easter eggs. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are the intricately designed eggs that look hand painted:

Fig. 1: Some very cool Ukrainian Easter eggs.

I learned that they are actually not hand painted at all! Instead, one alternates applying wax and then putting the egg into dye.

Fig. 2: Naked egg.

Fig. 3: First application of wax (whatever is covered will stay white).

Fig. 4: After the first round of dye.

Fig. 5: After the second round of dye (whatever sections were
newly covered will stay yellow).

Fig. 6: Next application of wax (whatever is newly covered stays purple).

Fig. 7: The final dye stage (black). Now we hold the egg over a
candle to melt off all the wax.

Fig. 8: The finished product!

Fig. 9: All of our eggs!

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Do you think you could beat the boys?"

The other day, DH and I watched a news story about a local chess tournament. The report was centered on a grade 7 girl, who has won in her grade level five years in a row.

The story started out well - they reported how the ratio is now 60% male, 40% female, while only a few years ago it was 90% male. Great news!

Then it all went downhill.

They were interviewing a grade 7 boy, and asked him if they (the boys) were intimated by the girls. He said, "Well no, because they're in a different division".


A different division?

Why the hell do they have a different division for girls and boys? It's chess, people! It's not like they're wrestling or something! Seriously?

The reporter then interviewed the girl who has won 5 years in a row, asking "Do you think you can beat the boys?" Thankfully, she knows what's up, and said of course she could!

If only they would let her!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Losing Battle?

Last time, I posted about how I'm not feelin' the outreach program I've been trying to develop for the last few months.

Micro Dr. O and Cath made some interesting comments:
(MDO) I'd say if you're already unhappy with the project, then, unfortunately it's probably not going to get much better.

(Cath) It really does sound like this project is going to make you unhappy either way.
These got me wondering: what has happened in the last few months to make me go from super-excited and gung-ho about this project, to wanting to walk away?

I know exactly what it is: people.

You see, a couple months ago, I met with another person who is creating a similar program at another telescope in Canada. He had all sorts of great ideas, one of which was to put a steering committee together to help me write a business proposal.

At first, I thought this was a great idea - I could bounce ideas off others and the program could benefit from their experiences and unique skill sets. But, as time goes on, I'm not sure if it's a good way to get things done.

First of all - I'm an introvert. So, I have a huge problem articulating myself in groups. It's not that I don't know how to talk...no...it's more like I let people finish their sentences, or it takes me a few seconds for things to sink in before I want to say my part. Most people, though, are extroverts - they feed off interrupting and talking over each other. So, I tend to get pushed to the background, while everyone else is freely voicing their opinions.

I also have an issue in trying to be "the leader" of the committee. Even though I have ample experience in developing and running outreach programs, I feel looked down upon because I am younger than everyone else on the committee. I don't think it's understood that this is my program, and I've asked them to be on the committee to help out, not take over.

Adding these two together, I have a hard time "wrangling the troops". I send out a list of things I want to talk about at a meeting in the hopes people will stick to the topics, but this never happens. We often go off topic, and when I try to get things back on track, it lasts for about five minutes before someone else goes off on another tangent (again, good for extroverts, not so good for introverts).

Lastly (and Cath alluded to this in her comment asking if I can "cut the fat" and get back to basics), all of these people have great ideas....but sometimes it gets out of control. I really want the program to start small and simple, and to grow at a sustainable rate. But, every time I start talking about an event, all of a sudden we're inviting the local who's who, hosting a black-tie banquet, or entertaining 300 Scouts from across Ontario.

What it comes down to is I'm not enjoying working with a team. They are wonderful people, have great ideas, and lots of energy...but I just cannot "manage" the meetings the way I would like too. Things are getting totally out of hand, and I just want to scale back and start from the beginning again.

Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with this situation? How can I become "the leader" without turning into "the bitch"? How do I get them to understand that their role is "helper" not "taker-over-er"? Part of me wants to disband the whole idea of a steering committee, but I think if I could find a way to make it work, it would really benefit both me and the program.