Thursday, September 30, 2010


For some reason, James Cameron (director of Titanic and Avatar) and his visit to the oil sands in Alberta has been making the news pretty consistently over the last few days.

Am I missing something here? Who gives a crap about his opinion on such things? Does he have some sort of expertise that I'm not aware of? Why are we holding press conferences to hear his opinion after three whole days of touring the area?

I don't get the whole celebrity champion for a cause thing. They don't know ANYTHING!! I get that it can bring attention to a cause because of their celebrity status. Sure, we can use them as spokespeople...I guess...if you're into that kind of thing and somehow have great respect for these people. But, when they take it upon themselves to "investigate" an issue and then hold press conferences about it? Come ON, people! Should we really be taking their opinions to heart on such matters?

Maybe celebrities should stick to their day jobs, and let us scientists do our thing too.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sunday, Yummy Sunday

For some reason this weekend I was really motivated to cook some more adventurous meals. As we were planning our menu for the week, DH suggested we try making a beef dip (my all time favorite sandwich that I must get if I see it on a restaurant menu). I was intrigued and found a highly rated recipe to try. Then, as we were grocery shopping on Saturday, I had a flash back to this amazing crepe place in Montreal, and wanted to recreate the meal too. I also had a strange craving for cherry Jell-O.

Needless to say, Sunday was a day of good eatin':

Fig. 1: Crepes stuffed with granny smith apples dusted with cinnamon, brie, and topped with maple syrup. Crepe recipe from allrecipes.com, stuffing was recreated from memory.

Fig. 2: Homemade beef dip sandwich (made in the slow cooker), served with fries and au jus for dipping. Recipe from allrecipes.com.

Fig. 3: Jell-O cake (layers of graham crackers, cherry Jell-O and whipped cream). Recipe from my Mom.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Alyssa 2.0?

I'll admit that I haven't been keeping up with technology so much in the past couple of years. Yes, I have a blog, a Facebook account, and check my email every 13.26 seconds. But, I've never used Twitter, I've never downloaded a Podcast, and I keep track of the blogs I read by clicking on them over on the right hand side as opposed to subscribing to them through some sort of reader.

Just this past week though, something has come along and has made me think about expanding my technology repertoire again: Netflix.

For those of you who don't know what Netflix is, first let me ask...

have you been living under a rock??


One of my online friends (see? I'm not that behind the times) who lives in the US has been raving about Netflix forever. But, it hasn't been available in Canada until just last week. I signed up pretty much immediately and watched my first program (interestingly enough, about how technology has affected our society) within 5 minutes.

It was eye opening. To be able to sit on my couch, choose a TV program that I would never have access to given our lowly basic cable package and watch it without much effort and very little cost was amazing. There really are great things about technology!

On the same day, I posed a request to my Facebook friends. I have become bored with the music I listen to and wanted some recommendations. Well, Cath suggested that I download some Podcasts - something I've never done! So, now I have a 2-hour program sitting in iTunes that I can listen to at my leisure.

Also, because I live almost across the country from my parents, we are starting to replace phone calls with video chats over iChat. As great as this is now, it will be even more fantastic once Baby G arrives. He'll be able to meet his grandparents from 3000 km away!

I'm also considering a Kindle, though I'm not entirely convinced I would enjoy that more than the real experience of a book. Does anyone have one, or some other reader? How do you like it?

Now I'm wondering what other wonderful technology is out there that I should try out. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Evolving Roles

There is a job possibility for me when I come back from parental leave. I don't want to get into specifics because it's not official or anything yet, but it would involve working with some of the same people (staff/faculty) I've been working with as a student and/or post-doc, and supervising graduate students as TAs.

One of my concerns about the position is that I really won't have any peers, or anyone I can connect to on a personal level, because I'll be working at the same institution. On one hand, I'll be working with professors, and I don't feel like I'll be on the same "level" as them because I've worked for/with them as a student and now a post-doc, and don't think they will change their perception of me. On the other hand, I'll be working with students, and I don't feel like I can/should make a personal connection with them either.

The job is right up my alley, but I'm still wondering if I'll be happy in such a situation. I know from my PhD experience that having social connections with people I work with is also important. I don't want to feel isolated like I have for the past few years.

I think maintaining a professional relationship with the students will be relatively easy, as there is such a high turnover rate for TAs. But, what about the flip side? How would I navigate the student to post-doc to staff role at the same institution (with the same people) so other staff members and professors will see me as an equal now?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

31 Work Days To Go

Not that I'm counting or anything, but I have a maximum of 31 work days to go before I start my maternity/parental leave on November 15th. Of course, things could happen to make me leave work early, like having to go on bed-rest or Baby G arriving early, but planning for the longest length of time is probably best.

Now, here's a strange problem - I am running out of things to do! I seriously don't know if I'll have enough work to keep me busy until November 15th. Back in August, I listed everything I need to get done before I leave work. Here is my progress:

1. MSc paper - I passed the latest draft on to my MSc supervisor at the end of June. I have sent her a couple emails, reminding her that if the paper isn't submitted by the time I go on maternity leave it never will be (it's been over 5 years in the making). I haven't heard a thing.

2. Post-doc project - this is basically on hold until I get some vital information from our collaborators. I have been asking for it for weeks now, and nothing has come of it.

3. Outreach how-to packages - these have been written up and sent to the appropriate people. The equipment has also been transferred to someone else.

4. Post-doc lit search - this still has to be finished, but is a small project.

5. Education conference - the lit search has been done. Other people have signed up to take over my organizational role.

6. Astronomy outreach - all events are done. I may or may not meet with the department head about the observatory project again before I leave.

7. Post-doc association stuff - the only things I have left to do is attend one more meeting and a post-doc get together (both next week).

So, as you can see, I have very little to work on right now. The days are starting to drag by because I'm getting pretty bored, and it seems it will get worse as I check off more and more things off my to-do list. I guess I shouldn't complain. I mean, how often do we get to say we don't have enough to do?

What I'm guessing will happen is I'll get what I need for #1 and #2 too late and all of a sudden be freaking out that I won't have enough time to get it all done!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Crucial Confrontations: A Book Review

A while back, I was looking for books about dealing with confrontation. I ended up finding one on Amazon that had really great reviews: Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Paterson et al.. I picked it up from the library and excitedly started to read.

It started off on the right track - promising that I will learn various techniques on how to deal with sticky situations. Confrontations don't have to be aggressive or scary (which is what I'm always afraid of), that they are merely interactions in which one holds someone else accountable for their actions.

However, as I continued to read, I noticed a common theme: they were great about defining what problems people encounter in confrontations, but not specifically how to address them. They would say that the problems should be addressed, but no concrete advice was given.

A lot of the information is also plain common sense. What I ended up learning was that my confrontation techniques were just fine. It's more that I need help when other people have bad techniques (such as abuse of power/authority, choosing wrong issue to confront, confront for no reason or don't give reasons, etc..). The book did not address this whatsoever.

I noted a couple weeks ago that I'm starting to realize that self-help books aren't helpful at all (unless you're the 1% of people that the advice is tailored specifically for). This books was one of the reasons for that post. I was questioning my confrontation abilities, and thought I could learn about this from a book. But, when I read the book, nothing helped, and then I felt even more confused!

I think this will be my last "self-help" book I read in a while. I just think they make me question my abilities too much, and that's a bigger problem than where I started!

I would not recommend this book to anyone, but there were a couple of interesting nuggets. 2/5.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Big Boy

Because I've been measuring big, I had an ultrasound done a couple weeks ago and also did a gestational diabetes (GD) test last week (where I had to fast, then drink a God-awful orange drink, and had blood drawn 3 times). The test results are back and all is good!

My blood sugar levels are well within the normal ranges, so that's great news. No GD for me! As for my ultrasound, my fluid levels are "generous" but still within the normal range. Baby G is measuring a bit larger than average: he was already about 3 pounds 6 ounces at 27.5 weeks! So, it sounds like he's going to be a big boy.

The fluid levels and the size of the baby could mean I end up going into labour earlier than expected, but we'll see. I'll be getting another ultrasound done sometime in the next three weeks to keep an eye on the measurements.

Overall, I'm happy with the results! I'm glad I don't have to deal with GD, but a bit scared at how big this boy is going to get!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


So, I had my meeting with the department head yesterday to discuss the future of the observatory. I was hoping for an indication of whether or not I can still push ahead and develop an education/outreach program for the facility. As you might guess from the title of this post, I did not get an answer either way.

During the meeting, held with another professor in the department who is supportive of the program, the head brought up a few of his concerns. Each time, either I or the other professor had a reasonable answer. Yet, by the end of the meeting the head was still not convinced the initiative is worthwhile, and I got the feeling he will never be convinced but doesn't want to be the one to say "no".

Where does that leave me and the program, then?

Well, he wants to discuss it more in another month or so. Before then, he wants us to come up with a proposal that outlines what outreach can be done at this observatory that can't be done on campus, how it can be tied into the priorities of the department (research and student recruitment), what we need in terms of support, and what our plans are to prove the viability of the program.

If you've been keeping up with this particular sub-plot of my life, this might sound familiar. About a year ago, I was asked to write a very similar document.

In addition to the proposal, the head also wants us to prove the viability before he commits any funding to the project. This is a Catch-22, because we're not allowed to use the facility before December 31st. But, if we wait until after this date there is a whole host of issues that arise: I'll be on maternity leave; the weather is awful until about the end of March; the telescope won't be maintained (and so will basically degrade); etc..

So, here I am again - I have to decide whether to jump through another hoop, or just give it up already. On the one hand, writing the document won't be too difficult or time consuming. So, jumping through that particular hoop won't be particularly onerous. On the other hand, a year ago I told myself I would give this project a year, and if nothing comes of it, then I should move on.

I have put a lot of time and energy into this project (for free), put together a draft of a business proposal, put together a steering committee, ran two very successful events this summer, and still haven't been able to convince anyone to give me the full go ahead. I've done everything that's been asked of me, and still no progress.

Is it worth it for me to jump through yet another hoop? Maybe after this, I'll actually get backing from the head; or maybe another hoop will appear and I'll have to rethink this whole thing again.

Lots to consider (but nothing at the same time). I'm not going to rush into any decisions right now. I'll just sit on it and see how I feel in a week or two.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Tomorrow (Tuesday) I'll be meeting with the department head to discuss the possible future of the nearby observatory slated to shut down at the end of the year. Two other professors, who are big supporters of the program, will also be there (which I am grateful for!).

I'm not really sure how it will go. The head seems to be supportive of outreach stuff in general, but I think he's hesitant about this particular project for various reasons (funding, technical support, etc.).

In the end though, all I want is either a yes or no to go ahead with the program after December 31st. If he says yes, then that's great, and we can start going to other university VIPs with the knowledge we have the backing of the department. If he says no, then that's honestly fine by me too. I know I have done my best to create awareness of the observatory, the two open houses this summer were a success, and I did all I could do to keep the facility open. No regrets.

Stay tuned for an update!

PS: It's our two-year wedding anniversary today! Happy anniversary, honey :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

True (?) Happiness

For some reason, lately I've been doing a lot of self-help related reading. I read through the Living Oprah blog, and have been reading a couple books about handling confrontation, worry, etc.. As I've been reading, I have started to wonder if this kind of thing really helps. Does the advice really make us better, more well-rounded people? Or does it just make us question the way we do things and make us feel worse about ourselves?

In the same theme, have you noticed that there is a very concentrated focus in our society on finding "true" happiness, finding "our calling", living our best life, etc.? What does that even mean?

I like my life. I have hobbies I enjoy (knitting, reading, writing, cooking). I love my house, and spending time at home. I have a great husband who I get to share my life with. But, sometimes I catch myself wondering if it's all enough. Could I be happier? Should I be doing more to have a better, more fulfilling life? Should I be traveling the world out of a backpack, going white-water rafting, practicing yoga, meditating, making hand-crafted greeting cards, or donating all my time to a worthy charity?

Is it me, or does all this pressure just make us feel worse about our lives? At what point do we just enjoy what we have instead of trying to make ourselves, or our lives, better (and "better" according to who?)? Do we really need a push to find true happiness, or is all this stuff just a bunch of crap creating more stress in our lives?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Baby G Knitting Project

Last month I mentioned I was started a knitting project for Baby G's nursery: knitting squares with the letters of his name and make a wall hanging.

Well, I finished the squares last week, and got around to blocking them on Monday night. This was the first time I ever blocked something, so it was kind of exciting!

Fig. 1: One of the letters in Baby G's name, and the other colors I used to make up the wall-hanging.

Now I have a decision to make: do I hang the letters separately, or do I sew them together somehow? If I go for the latter, do I sew the pieces directly together or put some sort of a boarder between the squares?


Now I'll go back to working on the felted tote bag. I'm really excited about the final product, but to be honest the knitting is pretty boring, since it's just the same stitch over and over again. I think that's why I keep putting it down. Hopefully I can get it done before Baby G arrives though (not because I'll need it, but it would be nice to have it finished).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Living O Update

Back at the beginning of July, I wrote about our book club's side discussion about Oprah. Specifically, what it is about her that makes women base some pretty major life decisions on what she says/advises?

The conversation came about because one of the book club members (Andrea, a regular commenter on this blog) had recently read the Living Oprah book by Robyn Okrant, and still felt many of the questions that came up in our discussion were unanswered. So, I decided to read the Living Oprah blog myself to see if Robyn had any insights in to how Oprah's advise and suggestions affect women, and why some women take her advice without thinking or doing their own research.

I finished reading Robyn's 2007 entries a couple weeks ago. She posted pretty much every weekday for the entire year to share her thoughts about each Oprah show. Not only that, she gave herself completely over to Oprah: every suggestion Oprah made on the show, Robyn had to do. It was a very interesting, funny, and sometimes frustrating read.

One common theme that came up (which we discussed at the book club) was Oprah's contradicting advice. One day she would get everyone to sign a contract to live their best life (exercise, diet, meditation, etc.) then the next day she would be giving out cake and ice cream to her audience. These contradictions seemed to frustrate Robyn quite a bit - and for good reason! First, it was difficult for her to follow Oprah's advice. Second, she felt that even though she was living her best life, Oprah was not practicing what she preached. Robyn brought up an interesting point a few times throughout the year: should we hold Oprah to her own standard she sets on the show? Does she have to follow all her own advice, or is she purely a way to get this information out there?

Another interesting thing that happened to Robyn was how her outlook about life and herself seemed to become more confused as the year went on. A number of times she mentioned that she had never thought about her appearance more than during that time. She had never been the type to ask her husband if she looked okay, but she started constantly worrying about her looks and if she was put together enough. This kind of behavior extended to how she was eating, what her house looked like, what activities she was involved in, and if she was spiritual enough. It was interesting how the more advice she received from Oprah, the more unsure she became about her own life and decisions.

Robyn mentioned a few times how Oprah would not follow up on certain challenges or stories, even if she promised too. For example, the 2007 season started off with Oprah getting everyone to sign up for The Best Life Challenge - but she never returned to the topic to see how people were doing! Interestingly enough, this was one of my beefs with Robyn's blog as well. She would write these great posts, but would rarely follow up or reflect on them. Perhaps the book is better for this? Or maybe she is more reflective in her posts after 2007?

I am continuing to read the rest of her entries to see if she has any more concrete thoughts on how the experiment affected her. If I find anything interesting, I will let you know, but I just wanted to share my thoughts about the blog up to this point.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Depression at the Undergraduate Level

A couple days ago, I attended a teaching workshop that focused on issues facing current undergraduate students. One reoccurring theme was that today's students suffer from stress and depression much more than earlier generations. Some of the causes could be heavier workloads, too many other things taking up their time (cell phone, internet, etc.), not taking care of themselves physically (sleep, diet, exercise), and lack of ability to deal with emotions.

A lot of time was spent discussing what the signs are for depression and what can be done to help, such as making students aware of the issues in the first place, knowing who to call for help on campus, and being sympathetic.

Although it was interesting, I was left feeling even more confused on how to deal with these types of situations. How do we as teachers (i.e., not trained psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.) tell the difference between a student who is just having a rough day from one who is truly suffering? What about students who try to take advantage of such situations (for example, I went to school with someone who's "grandmother" died 3 times - all during exam times)? How are we supposed to know when to just lend a sympathetic ear, or when a student needs more than that?

Has anyone else been to a workshop like this one? Did you get any concrete advice?

Has anyone had to deal with such a situation in their classroom or lab? If so, then what did you do? Did you feel you did the right thing?

In a more general sense - do you believe that more people suffer from depression these days, or is it just more accepted/more diagnosed?

If anyone is interested in seeing more of what was discussed during the workshop, one of the speakers has his PowerPoint slides available here for download.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

28 Weeks

Well, Baby G has been with us for 28 weeks as of yesterday.

Here's the deal: I know I'm supposed to be grateful for being pregnant, especially after the loss we experienced in December. I know this whole thing is a "miracle", and I should be happy, and glowing, blah, blah, blah...but, you know what?

Pregnancy is HARD!!

Hard on me emotionally, mentally, and (duh!) physically. I've definitely learned that I'm not one of those women who LOVES being pregnant. At this point, I'm just trying to get through it without killing someone.

So, in honor of getting to the 28 week mark without being arrested for manslaughter, I'm allowing myself to vent. If you don't think I deserve to vent, then sod-off and don't read on.

I'm so tired of:

- not being able to eat the foods I used to love. From the nausea in the first trimester, to random food aversions in the second (and now third), there have been a lot of things I haven't been able to enjoy like I used too. Spicy foods in particular.

- not being able to have a glass of wine with dinner. I generally don't drink that much - maybe a glass of wine or two a week - but to not even have the option is brutal. What's worse? I've actually been craving beer lately. I can't even remember the last time I wanted a beer, but here I am.

- having to sleep with 4 pillows so that my hips don't hurt, or so I don't roll on to my back (because then I can't breathe).

- (TMI alert) having to get up 3-4 times a night to pee.

- not being able to breathe properly. I get out of breath walking from my car to the office, or walking up the stairs at home.

- not being able to bend over without a) being in pain, b) feeling like I'm squishing the crap out of Baby G, and/or c) looking like a complete fool.

- the frickin' heat!! This has been a record-breaking year in terms of hot temperatures, high humidity, and low precipitation. Yay.

- generally feeling like ass most of the time. If it's not back pain, it's Baby G kicking me in the ribs, or feeling nauseous, or being super emotional, or being exhausted, or, or, OR.

- my belly getting bigger, and bigger, and BIGGER. How is it possible that this baby is going to grow more? How is my belly going to stretch anymore? I still have another 12 weeks(ish), and Baby G is supposed to triple in weight by then. HOW????

Not that I want Baby G to be born premature, but I'm pretty much ready to be done with pregnancy. I seriously cannot believe that I have another 2-3 months of this.

If anyone says shit like:
- you should enjoy this time before the baby comes...
- it will all be worth it when you see Baby G for the first time...
- at least you CAN sleep now...
- just wait until the baby comes...
- just wait until the baby is X, Y, Z age...

...or any other "helpful" comment we like to tell other people, I will frickin' lose it.

That is all.