Friday, July 29, 2011

Earth's Trojan

My PhD supervisor was involved in the discovery of the first Trojan asteroid of Earth. It made the cover of Nature and everything! It's all over the space news websites, as well as in pretty much every Canadian paper. The best resource for information seems to be the university webpage, which has links to animations, interviews, and the Nature paper itself.

Cool stuff! Happy long weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Believe it or not, this the 500th post I've written on this blog since I started it on Sept. 27th, 2008.

A lot of things have happened since starting this blog almost three years ago. I went from an almost-quitting, depressed PhD student, to a bored post-doc and disgruntled volunteer committee head, to finding a full-time job doing what I truly love to do.

DH and I went from apartment living, where-are-we-going-from-here newlyweds, to finding real jobs, buying a house, dealing with contractors, having a baby, and now being two full-time working parents of a nine-month old boy.

In that time, my blog has evolved too. I started blogging under Mrs. Comet Hunter, and wrote (ranted?) mostly about my grad school experience. After defending my PhD I decided to come out and blog under my real name. A few months later, I suffered a miscarriage, and the variety of topics I wrote about expanded. Now I write about anything from my job, to book reviews, to parenthood, to knitting, and of course the occasional rant.

What I've valued the most over the past 500 posts are the comments I receive from my readers. Because, what's a blog without readers and commenters really? Even though I tend to straddle the science and motherhood blogging communities, I have felt welcomed by both.

I don't know where this blog will be in another 500 posts, but I don't see myself stopping anytime soon. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Memory Keeper's Daughter: A Book Review

My ninth book of the year was The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. The story begins with a mother giving birth to twins, one of which had Downs Syndrome. The father decides to give the baby away, and the rest of the story is about how that secret influences many lives.

This was a beautifully written book. The narratives transport you to another place, and I was captivated many times by the use of her words.

But, honestly, the book just did not hold my attention. Evidence: it took me almost two months to read it. I felt the story basically went nowhere, and was incredibly predictable. Being a mother, I usually feel strong emotions when I read books about children and parenthood, but I did not connect with the characters at all. I don't know what it was - perhaps Edwards was so focused on the narrative that the characters were lost.

I give this book a 2.5/5, because it was beautifully written, but the character development and storyline severely lacked.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grandma M

My paternal grandmother passed away earlier this week. She was a month away from being 95, and had been in a home for a while, so it wasn't unexpected; however, it's sad nonetheless.

I haven't seen much of her in my adult years, but I have lots of fond memories of her from my childhood. My parents would send my brother and I to visit her for a week or two during the summer. She always had wonderful goodies in the fridge and freezer, gorgeous flowers growing outside that she let me pick, and a giant yard where we would play endlessly. She was so caring and loving, especially when I was home sick. She was constantly smiling and laughing.

For some reason, one of my clearest memories of her was during a drive between Alberta and Saskatchewan. Every time we passed horses, she would say "Look! Cows!!" and I would giggle and say "No, Grandma! Those are horses!!". I don't know why that stuck with me, but it always makes me smile.

Back in May, Evan and I made a visit to Saskatchewan, seeing both my grandmothers. I am so glad he was able to meet her before she passed, and it was wonderful the way he made her smile.

Grandma, I hope you know you are deeply loved and that you're now with all your family and friends who passed before you. See you on the other side.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

9 Months

9 months --- Evan has lived longer in the real world now than in my belly (I guess this was true last month too, but whatever).

- He is still sleeping right through the night, usually from about 8pm until 6:30-7am. We won the sleeping-baby lottery, because he's been doing this since about three months.

- He LOVES bath time now! It completely changed overnight. One day, we stood him in the water for a few minutes and then were able to sit him down (before he would be as stiff as a board and we couldn't get him to sit), and ever since then he just adores bath time. Even though it takes way longer now, since we let him play and splash around, it's so much nicer.

- He can army crawl like a champ. He can get on to his hands and knees from a sitting position, but for some reason prefers the army crawl. The cats are not happy now that he's mobile, though he's still slow enough that they can escape his reach easily.

- He can pull himself up on to his knees and on to his feet from certain positions.

- He started daycare and absolutely adores it. This makes Mommy and Daddy very happy.

- He's so amazing when we take him out. He loves people watching, and he loves trying all sorts of different foods when we go out to eat. So much easier than when he was a fussy-pants in his earlier months!

- We're dealing with his first-ever fever at the moment. I guess we are lucky that he hasn't been sick for this long, but it still sucks! Poor little guy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Powder Room

One thing that was lacking when we moved into our house was a second bathroom. However, we knew there was a spot we could put one:

Fig. 1: Closet off the stairs. That is not our stuff.

A few months ago, DH started on the project. It was a bit slow-going because he also takes care of Evan in the evenings, but he stripped the wallpaper off, put in a new light/fan (including a light switch), installed a GFI outlet, and added duct work to heat the room.

Fig. 2: In the early stages.

We decided to hire a contractor to install the plumbing (since it was a complete installation, not renovation), switch the swing of the door, and lay the tile. We also ordered a custom stained-glass window.

Fig. 3: Tile down, and sink & toilet in.

Four-and-a-half months later, we finally have a wonderful new powder room! We were a bit concerned about it being too small, but the corner sink and toilet really save space and it's actually quite roomy (for a powder room).

Fig. 4: The final product!

Now we need to decide what's next on our renovation list. Gas fireplace? Landscaping the backyard? Finishing the attic? Hmmm...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Last week, the first ever Western Conference on Science Education was held here at the university. I was on the organizing committee from the very early stages, so it was amazing to see our ideas and hopes finally come to life.

This was the first conference of its kind in Canada - we brought together staff, faculty, graduate students, librarians, and others from across all science disciplines who do research on science education at the post-secondary level. The initial goals of the conference were to just get all these people together in one room, to learn what everyone else is doing, and to figure out if we can (should) work together to create a cohesive group.

The answer to the last part is an overwhelming "yes".

As we heard from many speakers, including Adam Bly (the founder of Seed Media Group), the science world, and the world in general, is moving from departmentalized issues to complex issues. For example, climate change is not just an atmospheric or meteorological problem, but traverses many disciplines from biology and chemistry to urban planning and sociology. We live in a time where there is such an immense amount of data that scientists need the help of designers and architects to visualize it in new and innovative ways in order to understand it. Everything is moving toward a more collaborative environment, and science (and science education) is no exception.

The major problem facing science education research at the post-secondary level in Canada is that we are miles behind that of the United States, Europe, and Asia. Why? Well, as with most things, it all comes down to money.

Representatives from both NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) and SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) spoke at the conference, but neither gave answers we were looking for. NSERC kept re-iterating their mandate is to fund research, but NOT education research, as education is under provincial jurisdiction. SSHRC does fund education research, but mostly for primary and secondary school. They also have a much smaller pot of money, but a much larger pool of applicants. Science education research at the post-secondary level falls through the cracks.

Many suggestions floated around on how NSERC could change their mandate, or even just their interpretation of their mandate. After all, education research IS research, so it really shouldn't be that difficult. But, as with many government institutions, they have to stick by their guns and dig in their heels to change.

So, what can we do? Well, we can try to conform to the rules of NSERC and/or SSHRC but try to bend the rules within their boundaries. Maybe we can find collaborators in the United States and other areas and tap into their funding resources. Or, maybe we could just say "screw the government" and find some billionaire to give us an extremely large private donation (any takers?).

The last session of the conference was a brain-storming session on where we should go from here. Since these conferences will only happen every three years, how can we keep the energy and excitement moving until 2014? There were many great ideas, from keeping a blog and having online meetings to hosting smaller, regional workshops and creating an official society. It will be interesting to see if ~100 multidisciplinary science education researchers from across the country can pull together, and what will happen if we do.

Monday, July 11, 2011

McMaster Astronomy Outreach

Last Wednesday, I drove up to McMaster University and had a tour of their 3D visualization lecture theatre and planetarium. The reasons were three-fold: 1) to get in contact with people doing astronomy/physics outreach at McMaster, 2) to see what they're doing in terms of outreach, and 3) to get some ideas for potential programs here.

The 3D lecture theatre was very cool. It's just a "regular" theatre-style lecture hall but, in addition to the regular projector, they have a two-projector system that can create 3D images. They have a special screen that keeps the polarity of the projections, and audiences wear linearly polarized glasses. Anyone on campus can use the theatre, so it is not an astronomy-only facility.

The Origins Institute at McMaster acquired 3D movies and images from the Swinburne University of Technologies’ Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing. They chose various movies and images to create an hour-long presentation to give to the public, entitled Extreme Alien Worlds: A 3D Voyage Through and Beyond Our Solar System.

I was able to attend a practice session, and it was fascinating. The 3D movies and images were amazing, and I could see how the public would really enjoy the "show". If you're ever in the Hamilton area, I suggest you get tickets!

I also had a short tour of their planetarium, which is in the basement of one of the buildings (weird, eh?). It's a small planetarium - seating about 35 people - but they have recently upgraded their system to a digital projector and they can do some really cool stuff. They offer a variety of different shows, from how the night sky is viewed in different cultures to how accurate astronomy is portrayed in the movies. Again, if you're in the area, I definitely recommend taking in a show.

Next month I'll be visiting the outreach facilities at the University of Toronto and the Dunlap Institute, so I'll be sure to write a similar post about the programs they offer.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Update on Comment Polls

The results from my recent polls about the ability to comment on this blog were positive enough that I won't be making any changes or moving my blog to another host. I apologize to the few of you who are bothered by this. If you do have something you would like to say, please feel free to email me and I can even post your comment for you.

Thanks to those of you who responded!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

So, this sucks

I knew sending Evan to daycare was going to be hard. I just didn't know it was going to be this hard. It kind of feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. And I guess it is in a way, since Evan is my heart.

Working from home for the past month with Evan around was difficult. I thought it was a good way to make the transition a bit easier. After all, I knew that I would be able to concentrate on work while at work, then on Evan while at home (instead of doing a crappy job of both). But, I think whatever the circumstances are, it's always hard to give your child over to someone else.

I don't feel guilty, and I know I'm not a bad mother. But, I do feel bad that Evan will be the youngest at the daycare by far. Most children around here start daycare at about 1 year, and Evan is only 8.5 months. I kind of feel like we're being robbed of that time together, and it doesn't seem fair.

It just hurts. I know it will get better, and it's good for both of us, blah, blah, blah. I just want to wallow in my heartache for a bit.

This all being said, it seems like Evan is dealing with it all very well. Apparently, he's a lot better dealing with change than his mommy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Long Weekend

We had a fantastic long weekend!

On Friday, we headed up to Toronto. On the way in, we visited a friend of mine and her husband. They made us taco pie for lunch, and then we went for a walk in their area. They live less than 5 minutes from the beach, and it was so gorgeous!

Fig. 1: Evan enjoying the view.

After lunch, we headed in to downtown Toronto, checked in to our hotel, and Evan had a snack of Cheerios. Then we went out for dinner. Unfortunately, we walked out of the hotel right as the Blue Jay's game let out, so every restaurant within a 5-block radius of the stadium was completely packed. So, we had to walk for about 20 minutes to find a place that a) was suitable to bring an 8-month old, and b) had food we actually wanted to eat. We ended up at this family restaurant - not the greatest cuisine, but it did the trick. Then we bought a couple snacks and went back to the hotel so Evan could get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Fig. 2: For such a little guy, he can sure take up a lot of room. When we woke up in the morning, he was perpendicular to the regular sleeping direction.

The next morning we got up and headed to the zoo! We were worried the weather was going to turn on us (the forecast was for high temperatures and humidity, with thunderstorms), but it was perfect. Evan didn't really seem interested in the animals, but we had a good time anyway.

Fig. 3: Elephant! More zoo pictures to come on Wednesday.

After that, we went back into the city to meet a friend of ours (DH's best-man) for coffee and to see his awesome new apartment. Then, we drove home.

I guess this could constitute our first family vacation, even though it was less than 48-hours. Even though it was short, we still learned some valuable lessons:
  • Keeping Evan's schedule is of vital importance for everyone's sanity
  • Mom & Dad skipping meals is not a good idea
  • Having food and snacks on hand is a good idea
  • Ready-to-go formula is a blessing (for those of us using formula)
  • It's best to give Evan breaks from being in his car seat and/or stroller
  • You do have to sacrifice things for your child when it comes to travel (like limiting your choice of restaurants, or only doing 1-2 things a day), but things are also more fun with him.
Getting back on Saturday evening was wonderful. We were able to get Evan to bed at a reasonable time and relax before heading to bed ourselves. Then, we had Sunday to catch up on all of our usual weekend chores. Plus, we had time to make an amazing dinner of ribs, corn, potatoes, wine, and rhubarb crisp.

I love long weekends, and I have a feeling we're really going to enjoy and take advantage of them now that we're both working again.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Another Poll: Blog Comments

I've heard from a few people that they have had difficulty posting comments on my blog. Obviously, this bothers me, since I really like to hear from my readers. I also don't like the idea that some readers might not feel included. I'm contemplating moving over to another blog host, but first I'd like to see how big of a problem this really is.

So, dear readers, please answer the following poll(s):

How often do you have trouble commenting on this blog?
Every time
most times
some times
pollcode.com free polls

If you have had trouble posting comments, then:

How much does it bother you?
A lot
More often than not
About half and half
Not most of the time
Not at all
pollcode.com free polls