Saturday, June 30, 2012

Guest Post 2: I am an...

Nicky, who found out about the I Am An... meme through Jenny F. Scientist, PhD's blog, wrote a great post herself. Thanks for writing, Nicky! To see my post and the list of others, go here.

When I was a little girl, I never wore shoes. I was loud and liked to lay upside-down on my grandmother's couch and put my feet on her walls.  I loved picking berries, going fishing with Grandpa, exploring the woods with my brother, and eating beets with mayonnaise and lettuce sandwiches from my grandparents' garden.

When I got to school, my best friend was smarter than me and I envied her extra credit ocean creatures workbook. I persuaded the teacher to give me my own and loved it, even though it was too hard. In 3rd grade, I discovered Nancy Drew, and never got through the long division worksheets. I loved building and watching fires on weekends at our lake lot.

We moved. I was bullied and retreated farther into books.  I became quiet and  I discovered Narnia. We moved again, I started puberty and was happier reading in the library than playing outside at recess.  In one year, I read more books than anyone else had read in their six years of elementary school. I failed 6th grade math and science. I got my desperately-needed glasses and made some friends.

In middle school, my math teacher discovered I was bored and bumped me to high school algebra. I had some excellent teachers and discovered Little House on the Prairie. I got a 26 on my ACT college entrance exam in 8th grade.  I wanted to be a librarian.

At 12, I planted veggies and roses and killed everything with neglect. I cooked supper for my family every day after school, so my parents could come home to food on the table. I wanted to save the world.

In high school, I took Chemistry from Mr. Hall. He made everyone memorize the periodic table, and when we started to look bored, would set something on fire. I learned the different colors of fireworks came from different elements burning. He also taught physics, and we shot a spud gun in the football field to test physical laws. I spent my sophomore year reading literary classics for fun, and read a book a day.  I got a 32 on my ACT and applied to colleges.

In college, I was a Chem Demon (chemistry demonstrator) and finally got over my fear of public speaking by setting things on fire in front of a hundred people.  I loved knowing my profs and enjoyed nearly every class.  I met my husband and married him after we graduated, both of us were "Best Chemistry Student" 4 years in a row (he was the year behind me).  We headed to grad school.

I was surrounded by brilliant profs with no time to talk, and took useless classes while I struggled to define a project. I fell asleep reading scientific articles. I enjoyed teaching Biochem Lab, though I had never taken it as an undergrad. I successfully presented my prelim to my committee that loved me, but I still wasn't happy.  I wanted to MAKE something, DO something useful!  I gave birth to my son and realized I was happier spending a bad day with him than a good day in lab. I wrote my Masters thesis, graduated, and had my second son a few years later.

Now, I'm home with my boys (ages 4 and 2). I read lots of parenting books at first, and observed their reactions to various parenting methods until I found ways that worked. Oldest boy requires regular sleep, healthy food, and just enough exercise or else his little brain turns off his reasoning center and a TANTRUM is imminent.  Youngest boy does well with his brother's schedule, but he is much easier and happier. And more stubborn.  I am so happy to be able to cook a decent meal every night, and eat it at our dining room table.  I do 90% of the shopping and invest our savings in a diversified portfolio of mutual funds.  I analyze my household chores and determine the most efficient ways to complete them.  I listen to Science Friday podcasts while doing dishes. The boys are asleep by 8:00 pm every night, so DH and I have quiet kid-free time to unwind and catch up with each other.

We moved to a house with a yard (50' x 150', minus the 30'x30'  house) nearly 2 years ago, and I've read almost every gardening book in our library system. I've put in raised beds for veggies, 14 fruit trees, 20 fruit bushes, and my favorite flowers here and there. I volunteer to prune the fruits at a public garden in town.  I just turned 30.  I love picking berries, fishing with my oldest boy, hiking with my husband, eating roasted beet salads and home-grown lettuce sandwiches. My kids never wear shoes. I still want to save the world, but I'll start with my own little corner and my own little boys. Only God knows what I'll do when I return to paid work.

I am a mom, wife, gardener, iron chef, cleaning lady, and financial analyst.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Guest Post: I am an...

Mari, a friend of mine from another online venue and commenter on the blog, wanted to add a post to my "I am an..." meme. Thanks for writing, Mari! You can see my post and a list of others here.

When I was a young kid I was quiet and shy. I had a lot of trouble making friends in school and felt like an outsider most of the times. I did enjoy playing with  my sister and brother and with my many cousins, so I wasn't really lonely. I also discovered books, and spent many, many hours with them. I loved pink, lace, flowers and dresses. Unfortunately, my mom (who is a very sensible woman) thought those clothes were not comfortable and got too dirty, so instead I had to use lots of navy blues and tartans.

As a teenager I had already found the way to making friends, and had a good group of girlfriends in school. I also was part of the church's youth groups. I discovered boys, but somehow I managed to always fall for the guy who didn't know I existed. I also discovered that I loved history, if "ancient" much better. I dreamed to become an archaeologist... I had trouble fitting with the moment's ideal of beauty, but I managed to stay in a healthy place about my body.

Out of High School, I had to decide a career path... Archaeology seemed so hard and distant... I wanted a family someday, and babies and excavations didn't seem compatible.  One day I realized that what I loved the most about history was to learn "how people lived", and that buildings were a huge part of that. I still don't know why it seemed like such a good idea, but I started to study architecture.

I was also really active in the youth groups, becoming a leader for the younger kids, always going on church camps and retreats. I made friendships in those years that are still strong. I also made the usual amount of mistakes regarding men and relationships, usually because I fell in love with my mental picture of the guy, instead of who the guy really was.

Once I graduated I started to explore other interests, like landscaping, and have been trying ever since to make a business out of it. I met my husband, married and had two kids. I spend most of my days in sweats, but I like to wear high heels and make up when going out.

I still love reading and history, but there is so much more now, like gardening, cooking, sewing and just enjoying being a wife and a mom.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The End is Near

This is the last week for many of the ladies who work at Evan's daycare. From now until the end of the summer, there will be three teachers, the director, and the chef.

It's a sad time. Evan's favorite teacher is leaving. He loves her, and she loves him just as much. There were times when she was the only one that could hold him, and they still snuggle together every morning. She was such an important person in his life - not just for cuddles, but for everything he has learned in the last year. Things we will be forever thankful for but will never have enough words or gifts to express that. Hopefully we can manage to stay in touch. She will be having her own little bundle in just a few weeks, and she'll be an amazing mom.

We will be bring in cupcakes tomorrow and giving each leaving teacher a card with a photo of Evan in it, but I wish we could do more (like keep the daycare itself open). Inspired by Kim at The Money Pit, I am including a poem in each card:

The Hand Holder
A Tribute to Childcare Providers
There is no job more important than yours,
no job anywhere else in the land.
Your are the keepers of the future:
you hold the smallest of hands.
Into your care you are trusted
to nurture and care for the young,
and for all of your everyday heroics,
your talents and skills go unsung.
You wipe tears from the eyes of the injured.
You rock babies brand new in your arms.
You encourage the shy and unsure child.
You make sure they are safe from all harm.
You foster the bonds of friendships,
letting no child go away mad.
You respect and you honor their emotions.
You give hugs to each child when they're sad.
You have more impact than does a professor,
a child's mind is molded by four;
so whatever you lay on the table
is whatever that child will explore.
Give each child the tools for adventure,
let them be artists and writers and more;
let them fly in the wind and dance on the stars
and build castles of sand on the shore.
It is true that you don't make much money
and you don't get a whole lot of praise,
but when one small child says, "I love you,"
you're reminded of how this job pays.
~ By Dori Rossmann
Executive Director, Kids Town USA

With this downsizing at the daycare and subsequent dwindling numbers throughout the summer, going on a couple long(ish) plane rides to visit both sets of grandparents in July, mommy going away on business for a few days in August, and finally starting at a new place in September, the next couple of months will bring big changes for Evan.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Book Review: Irma Voth

Irma Voth by Mariam Toews was our most recent book club choice. It's about a 19 year-old Mennonite girl who's married to a total jerk and daughter to a bigger jerk. She becomes involved with a movie production crew as a translator, and there is some fall-out from that.

I can sum up this book in one word (well, sound): meh.

I found the first half incredibly boring and just annoying to read because of the writing style. The second part was a bit more interesting, but still just kind of random and not memorable at all.

I'll be nice and give the book a 2.5/5, since the story was a good idea, just not executed or developed very well.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Am An ___

As part of the I Am A ___ Meme Want to join in? Write your own post and send me the link! I'll add it to the end of this post for others to read.

When I was a young kid, I loved the color pink. My room was pink with flower wallpaper - things I insisted I chose myself. I played with Barbies, Jem dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, and My Little Ponies.

When I was a young kid I also played soccer, baseball and golf. I loved to wear bright colors like orange, red, and yellow. I played with Legos and Transformers.

When I was in high school, I was an average student and was in a fairly popular group. I spent too much time chasing after boys, or getting them to chase after me, and our close-knit group of girlfriends loved to go to the mall and host costume parties. I played classical clarinet and jazz baritone saxophone.

Now, as an adult, I like to knit, read, cook and also kayak, bike, and swim. I love to wear stylish clothes, make-up, and high heels. I love getting pedicures, watching So You Think You Can Dance and drinking wine. I watch football, eat junk food, and drink beer. I have a house, a husband, and a son, and we spend lots of time being silly together.

What stereotyped box would you put me in?

I am an astronomer and a science outreach advocate. 

Posts from other bloggers:

Jenny F. Scientist, PhD @ A Natural Scientist
Nina @ Kiwihorizons
Neil Gerhels @ Women in Astronomy (not an official meme post, but it's written in the same theme)
Mari as guest post on my blog
Shannon @ One of Those Memories
Nicky as a guest post on my blog
feMOMhist @ her blog

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Am A ___ Meme

There has been a lot of talk recently about what kind of people make good role models.  Specifically, should female scientists be girlie or tomboyish?

Well, I'm here to say, who cares? Instead of trying to put people in preconceived stereotyped boxes, how about we show students and children the diversity of people interested in and doing science? How about you can be a scientist if you're girlie, a tomboy, geeky, sporty, or some combination of everything and anything in between?

So, here is my request to my readers and fellow bloggers: write a description of yourself both as a kid and now. What were you like as a kid? What kinds of things did you enjoy? What about now? Then, end it with "I am a ____" (where ____ is whatever you do - because this isn't an issue only in the sciences).

Bloggers: send me a link of your post so I can make a list available. 

Don't have a blog but want to contribute? Send your post to me and I'll host it on my blog.

Who's in?

Also, if you're interested in smashing the scientist stereotype, you can submit a photo to This is What a Scientist Looks Like.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Front Patio and Yard

Our latest project for the house was painting the front patio and adding some landscaping to the area right in front of it. Here are the before and after shots:

For the first two years we were in the house, we tried to keep the original bushes in front of the house under control.

Then, earlier this summer, we decided we wanted to paint the patio. The last paint job was probably 10 years ago or more, so it desperately needed it. Plus, the colors (chocolate brown on the ceiling and red on the floor) were not our favorite and made the area seem very dark and boxed in. The bushes were also mismatched, and the bottoms of the two on the left were pretty much dead. So, the first thing we* did was rip out the bushes and prep the areas to be painted.

We then painted the ceiling and trim all in white (look how much brighter it looks inside the patio!):

We painted the door white and the floor and stairs a light grey. Then we added a new lamp that was a better size for the patio (the one before was tiny and really ugly).

Finally, we built a stone wall to outline the garden area and bought some interesting trees and shrubs that will turn gorgeous shades of red, orange, and yellow in the fall (one of my top priorities). We also bought a very nice bench, which you can see the top of.

The large tree on the left is a Pyramid Hornbeam, the shrubs at the back are Persian Ironwood (which will grow into a hedge), and the shrubs at the front are Magic Carpet Spirea (which will stay low to the ground). It's a bit sparse right now, as things need room to grow, but we're very happy with how it all turned out!

Next up --- putting up a fence between our house and each neighbor (mostly so we can lock Evan in the backyard).

*I say "we" throughout this post, but it was DH who did most of the work. YAY DH!!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer Dishes

I'm sure we're not alone in this: our food tastes and wants definitely change in the summer. We tend to opt for much lighter food that doesn't require as much stove-top or oven cooking time. No soups or heavy casseroles like lasagne, and lots of BBQing!

But, even though we've really only had a few weeks of nice warm weather, I'm starting to run out of ideas. 

So, tell me what your favorite summer dinner is - and add a link to a recipe if there is one online!

Monday, June 11, 2012


This past Saturday I had my first kayaking lesson, and it was awesome!

I've been in a kayak before, but it was more of a tourism thing, and we didn't learn any specific stroke or technique. I remember enjoying it, though, so I thought it'd be fun to give it a try for real.

Saturday was a gorgeous day - sunny and not too hot. We learned about the different types of kayaks and paddles, and then we all tried out a few kayaks before deciding which one fit the best. I was in a sea kayak, which tend to be longer and have higher cruising speed than white water kayaks, but can be harder to turn.

After some more land-based chatting, we each got into our own kayak and off we went. We learned a few different strokes: forward, backward, draw and sculling draw (to move sideways), the sweep (to turn in place), and the stern rudder (to turn while going forward). We also learned how to raft together our kayaks for safety purposes.

We spent a lot of time practicing, which was amazing. I loved being on the water in my own little kayak-bubble, concentrating on my movement and technique, and enjoying my surroundings.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher demonstrated the wet-exit - basically how to get out of your kayak safely if it capsizes.

Gotta say, I was really nervous about it. I'm not a huge fan of putting my head under water, especially when I'm in something. But, after three attempts at rolling the kayak over*, I went under and got out pretty quick. 

Looking forward to the next lesson in a couple of weeks!

*It was actually nice to know how hard it was to tip it over!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

I finally got around to reading the last book in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson.

First - I really wish I had read this book soon after I read the second, because I had a hard time remembering some of the details of the story and this one picked up right after the other.

Again (as with the second book), the Lisbeth Salander character was portrayed as a strong female who you would love to have your back in any kind of confrontation. This is vastly different than how she is portrayed in the first book (mostly like a victim with no heart). In this book, she is dependent on her friends to help her prove her innocence to the multitude of charges that are filed against her.

I had the same problems with this book as I did with the first of the series - the first 100 pages were very slow, and it actually didn't pick up to a good pace until the last 150 pages. Larsson just loves to include tiny little details that mean nothing but take up half a page, but it wasn't as bad in this book as it was in the other two. There were also a lot of similar sounding names that were tough to keep track of.

That being said, I thought the story unfolded as a very exciting mystery. Much of the plot included the secret police of Sweden, and how a certain top-secret section of it was all wrapped up in Lisbeth's case. I also quite enjoyed the court-room scene, where Lisbeth's lawyer made fools of many of the people who had made Lisbeth's life a living hell.

This book was not as good as the second, so I'll give it the same rating as I gave the first: 3.5 out of 5. I'd like to see the whole series of movies now!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Venus Transit

If you are an astronomy buff - or even if you're not - there is a very cool event happening in the sky today.

The planet Venus will transit directly between the Earth and the Sun, so will appear to travel across the disk of the Sun. It will start on June 5th at 6:04pm Eastern Time and will last for approximately 6 hours. 

The transit of Venus is a rather important astronomical event. It was actually one of the ways that the distance from the Earth to the Sun was initially calculated. At the time, astronomers new very well the relative distances of the planets, but they could not put it into km or miles. But, knowing those distance ratios and being able to accurately time how long it took Venus to transit the Sun, they were able to calculate the true distances between the planets. Transits of Mercury can also be used for this purpose.

I highly recommend trying to check this event out if you can - it's most likely the last time in your life you'll be able to see it! The next time it will happen is 2117.

Most observatories, astronomy departments, and amateur astronomy clubs will be hosting events. If you can't find any, here are some tips on how to safely observe the transit (remember: looking at the Sun is not a good idea!). If it's cloudy where you are, or you can't get outside to view it for whatever reason, NASA will be hosting live streaming video of the event.

Here in London (Ontario) - we'll be hosting an event at the Cronyn Observatory on campus, starting at 5:30pm. We'll watch the transit until the sun sets, and will then turn our telescopes to other interesting objects in the sky. If you're in town, I hope to see you there!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Time For Activism

I've never been huge into being an activist. Sure, I've always had opinions on stuff, but I was never one to get too bothered by politics and the like. Not enough to do anything, anyway.

But something has changed in the last few years, and especially in the last few months. I don't know if it has something to do with getting older, and I tend to care more about the world around me, or if everything is just getting worse out there. Whatever it is, I've changed my tune.

It started during my PhD when I began to talk to more and more women in the sciences, and started reading science blogs. I began to find a disturbing trend: this sexism thing people were talking about not only was rampant, but it was right in front of me. I'm not sure why I didn't see it before - I would always shrug it off as "just a joke" or it didn't even occur to me that it was sexist. I was one of those women who would chastise others for being "too sensitive" or think they must be making it up. But, reading other peoples stories, it opened my eyes, and I started to "get it". Not only did I start noticing comments or behavior but, as I looked back on my life, I remembered other instances of sexism. It was far more common - and real - than I thought.

That's what started it - I began to look at the world differently. I was able to see things from other vantage points. Even if something didn't directly relate to me, I had empathy for the people it did affect. I stopped laughing at off-color jokes (before I would so I didn't seem "rude" - really??), and I began to quietly call people out if they made inappropriate comments.

Now, when I find things I hold near and dear to my heart are attacked (such as help for teen-mothers being taken away, the complete lack of respect for basic science research by the Canadian government, or the fact that LGBT rights is even an issue in the US) I have this overwhelming desire to DO something. To speak up. To fight. 

Here's my problem: I don't know how to make time for it. I get overwhelmed with the number of injustices in the world that I want to help fix. Even if I just focus on one thing, I don't know where to start. 

I know there are a lot of you out there who are passionate about your causes. How do you make the time? What kinds of things do you do? Where should I start? Is doing something small ever worth it?

Well, here's a start: for those of you in Canada who are fed up with the Federal Government (recent budget cuts, Bill C-38, etc.), there will be an online protest on June 4th where websites all across Canada will be going dark. Get more information on the Black Out Speak Out website. My post on June 4th will be a banner from that site.