Monday, August 31, 2015

A Tale of Two Graduates : What You Need to Know About Me

Check out Dave's first post here!

And the award for the longest title goes to me!

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Dave eagerly approached me with this idea of a joint blog series where we depict two paths which diverge after college graduation. Him, entering the workforce. Me, entering graduate school.

The hopes are to provide dubious advice by telling our story, our attempt to enter the real world-- or perhaps just to entertain you. But before that can happen, you need a little backstory! And since Dave seems intent of drudging up bad photos from freshman year, that's where I'll start.

((I actually have a whole treasure trove of worse photos but I'll be nice and just leave you with this Dr. Who watching party :))

Dave and I met pretty early on freshman year. From day one, we were confident in what we wanted to do. I wanted to get a bachelors in physics, minoring in French, and then go on to graduate school (for astrophysics at the time), and Dave wanted to get a bachelors in history.

Why physics?

I was tempted to cut and paste my personal letter from my graduate school applications where I addressed that same question but I think I'll just sum it up in two words: Star Trek. I was introduced to Star Trek when I was in middle school and quickly became enamored with their romantic portrayal of space and science. I decided I wanted to go into astrophysics-- a title I stumbled across on Wikipedia. I wasn't entire sure what 'physics' was, but I knew that I needed to get a degree in it first, before I could move on to astrophysics.

And that's pretty much how I found myself at my first physics class on the first day of classes at Hendrix. I wasn't entirely sure what I had signed up for, but I knew I wanted to major in physics.

Luckily for me, I loved physics! Literally I was sitting in a general physics lab (background: aka known as some of the most boring labs) timing a ball dropping from a height and I was so taken with the determinism of it all. Give me enough parameters and I could tell you exactly when the ball was going to hit the ground, without actually dropping the ball-- and that, oddly enough, was what made me believe that maybe this whole physics major thing would work out.

A year later I was in yet another lab (background: these were the really cool labs) measuring the charge of an electron, a fundamental property of the universe. I was definitely hooked. :)

My Plan

So, four years and one degree down, I find myself studying at the University of Missouri on a five-year track to get both a master's and a PhD in physics. Now, if we look briefly at the financial side of my plan, I'll tell you straight up that I've been incredibly lucky.

Since I'm from Arkansas, I received some really awesome scholarships if I went to college instate (which I did). Paired with some generous donors at Hendrix meant that I got out of undergraduate debt free (I know! I'm very lucky).

In most physics graduate programs you work for the university while studying, and they pay you. This means that I'll be teaching three intro physics labs this semester and in return will be paid enough to cover my expenses (and hopefully put a little into savings!). Not all graduate programs have such a generous stipend. Some graduate programs have you teaching actual classes (like English 101) while a grad student which to me just sounds crazy. I'm not at all ready to teach general physics to undergraduates!

That's it!

That's me! The major challenges I have up a head are mainly in the realm of time managment; with three courses to keep up with (which is a challenge!), and three labs to teach, making time to keep sane/do laundry will be interesting!

Thanks so much for checking this out! Dave and I will (hopefully) put out a new post every Monday so check his blog next Monday and then come back here the following Monday to hear more!

Friday, August 7, 2015

An Upcycled Loveseat

Next up on my search for furniture was a loveseat. My apartment isn't the largest, so I opted for a smaller loveseat rather than a couch. At first, I figured this was something that I would just have to buy new. After all, loveseats from the thrift store conjure up all sorts of bad imagery.

However, after seeing the price of loveseats today, I decided to consider a secondhand loveseat. The cheapest loveseat I could find new was around 350-- and I didn't love it, just the price.

But where could I find a decent, clean, affordable loveseat? A co-worker recently raved to my mother about this thrift store she had found in a nearby town. She got some great pieces for even better prices, so we headed to check it out.

And we hit jackpot. My entire apartment was like 80% furnished by this one thrift store (or antique mall; I use the words interchangeably, though I know for some people they mean very different things. This place was clean and organized (not like a thrift store) and had quality pieces (like an antique mall) but for thrift store prices (see my confusion?)).

I found this adorable loveseat tucked away by the front window. It was small-- two cushions wide rather than three-- but lovely. It had a yellowish cream damask fabric that I wasn't loving, but it was for the most part clean and without stains. The cute wood feet hinted at the age of the loveseat.

I plopped down on the loveseat and promptly found my first problem-- it needed a new cushion; it had so much give I figured the cushion was just shot. Also, the fabric wasn't the color or pattern (or century) that I wanted and reupholstering isn't cheap. I figured it was a lost cause until I saw the price. 86 dollars!

86 was a steal for the loveseat. It was in great condition (no smell and only one small stain), even with the thin cushion. If I needed to, I could've used it as is. But with that price, I had room in my budget to update it and still come in less than a new loveseat.

Here's where I lucked out-- my father knows a guy. He owns an upholstery shop called Trumann's Upholstery in Bay, Arkansas. Trumann is small town and Bay is an even smaller town, barely a wide spot in the road, near mine. It's a rundown old white brick building with absolutely no signs anywhere. Every time we drive there we're leaving Bay before we realize we missed it.

Bubby (that's his name. For real. It's great) has been in the upholstery business nearly his whole life-- and if you stop by you're guaranteed to hear at least a part of his story. Most likely he'll start in the middle and leave you trying to puzzle the stories together. The shop itself must break every fire code ever written. The front portion has every square foot covered with the bones of old furniture and dusty fabric to the point that you can't even walk in. Instead you have to go to the unmarked white door to the workshop and walk in. The workshop isn't much better-- there is a thin path, one person wide, carved out between work stations and projects.

He also doesn't really quote prices, he just assures you it won't be much (and it never is!). When we brought the loveseat to him we still didn't have fabric. Upholstery fabric can run 20 a yard and we didn't know how many yards we would need. Bubby was able to tell us the age of our loveseat-- it was made either in the 1940s or 1950s, judging from the way it was constructed. Also, that cushion I thought need to be replaced? It was down feathers! This loveseat was quite fancy back in its day-- instead of a foam cushion, they had a large pillow that was full of down feathers.

Bubby estimated it would take 8 yards of fabric-- which is also how he prices the work. The work he estimated would run around $240, still making the loveseat less than the new ones (which are found in big box stores that mostly certain do not have the history mine has;)). I explained how I was looking for some neutral color, not too dark, but not light enough to show stains. He dug around in his shop and pulled out a huge bolt of light green/grey fabric, which he graciously threw in for free. ((Perks of knowing the right guy!))

This brought my loveseat up to 326, all in. Bubby added a zipper to the main cushion, stuffed it with some batting to make it super comfy, made arm covers, and made two little pillows, as I had mentioned wanting some.

It turned out great! The new fabric is gorgeous and it looked great. Not only that, but the extra batting in the cushion makes it perfectly comfortable. It'll look great in my apartment. :)

I originally titled this post "DIY loveseat" but then I realized I didn't do really anything-- I had a professional do it instead. Seat cushions are one thing-- an entire loveseat is way out of my crafting league.

Anyway, just wanted to share my story! Apparently it is possible to shop for couches at the thrift store and not end up with a smelly/stained/awful mess.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

DIY: Upcycled Thrift Store Chairs

This summer I've been browsing through flea markets, searching antique malls, and hitting up local thrift stores all in search of apartment furnishings. There are plenty of old tables out there, but most of them don't come with chairs decked out in the most modern fabrics.  

My parents found this old wood dinning table with four chairs for a great price. The only problem was the seat fabric wasn't really what I wanted for my apartment.

 As you can see the fabric isn't really bad, it's just a little outdated and not the color I was looking for. As I'm living in what's technically a 'basement' apartment I'm trying to bring in bright colors whenever I can.

This type of chair is the easiest type of chair to recover. The seat, after a little unscrewing, just pops off, allowing you to strip the fabric and staple on the new.

Which is exactly what we planned on doing! To pick out my fabric, I headed to Hancock's Fabric, armed with a 50% one fabric item coupon. Turned out I didn't need it. I perused the clearance rack and stumbled upon a couple yards of fabric that I thought would be just right.

And for 5 dollars a yard, it was a steal! Most upholstery fabric retails for closer to 20 a yard. There was four yards in the clearance section-- which was more than enough for the four chairs.

I thought if I covered the chairs with this, I could go back and do bright yellow/blue pillows on my couch for even more color.

Now comes the fun part!

Step One:

Unscrew the seat. There should be four screws, one in each corner. Once they are out, the seat will just pop right off. 


Step Two:

Strip the old fabric off. Most likely it was stapled onto the seat, so just pull the staples off and the fabric should fall off as well. This isn't a necessary step-- you could leave the old fabric on and use that as a little extra cushion.

Step Three:

If desired, add more more cushion to the chair. You can do this by buying some batting at a fabric store, then using the seat to cut it to size. Make sure to cut it large enough that you can wrap it around the back of the seat in order to staple it.

Using a staple gun, staple along the edge to adhere the batting. Then, fold the corners and staple them down as well. The corners require a little trial and error to figure out which fold works best.

One way to fold the corner is to pull the sides in, leaving a top flap, and then pulling the top flap down, stapling it, and then cutting any excess off.

[[As a side note, my first assignment in computer science 101 last fall was to write down how to fold an origami owl using only words. I thought it was an interesting assignment-- I got style points for my LOTR reference, but when my roommate tried to follow my directions, the resulting blob of paper looked more like a mishapened creature of the dark rather than a cute owl. This flashback brought to you by the batting description ;)]]

Step Four:

Next up, the fabric! You're going to do the same procedure as with the batting-- use the seat to trace out how much fabric to cut, allowing a good 3 or more inches on either side to pull over. Once you've done one seat, you'll see how much excess you really need. For the first seat be sure to err on the side of caution and cut out a large square of fabric.

Note: Be sure not to cover up the screw holes in the bottom of the seat with your new fabric. If you accidentally do, then just take scissors and dig the holes out so that you can properly reattach the seat.

Step Five:

Now, just pop your seat back onto the chair and screw it back in. You're done! You've transformed a dusty old chair into a hip new one. 

((I'll post a close up later when I got home! I'm blogging from the road today and this is the only 'after' photo I could find)) 

EDIT: here you go!

As always, thanks for reading! And be sure to stay tuned-- I have some fun posts coming up including more up cycled furniture and possibly a collaboration! 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Move: stage 1

Last Tuesday night I began to process of packing up all my stuff for the first stage of my move to Columbia. Since my lease began earlier than I wanted to move to Columbia, I thought I would make the move in two parts-- which also allowed us to use a small U-Haul for part one and then just load up the car for part two.


I wish I had taken a photo of the inside of the U-Haul! I think my dad broke some world record as he Tetris-ed a desk, a dinning room table (with two removable legs), 5 chairs, a coffee table, a tv-table, a twin mattress, a twin box springs, a huge dresser, a shower rod, a curtain rod, two small bookcases, and a lot of packed, heavy boxes all into that small trailer! Suffice it to say, when we were done, the trailer had reached maximum capacity.  

And that's not even all my stuff. 

Still to go are all of my clothes/shoes/tv/love seat (which will get its own post soon!)/crafting supplies/misc. But those will all fit between the two cars we'll take up for my final move-in to Columbia. 

We took the long way up to Columbia-- we wanted to stop at a flea market/antique mall an hour or so outside of St. Louis. This route took us through my favorite national forest-- the Mark Twain National Forest where we stopped for a quick picnic lunch at an old abandoned town-turned park. Unfortunately, this route also took us through the bedlam that is St. Louis ten-lane traffic (I wasn't driving so maybe there were less lanes but it sure didn't feel like it) so this isn't a route I would take up myself. Which is sad because I love any opportunity to visit my favorite national forest.

The flea market stop was successful and I picked up a huge four drawer well-loved dresser (pictures later!).

After 8 hours, and as many stops, we finally arrived in Columbia and set about the very fun task of moving every piece of furniture into my semi-basement apartment.

Here's the before picture of my living/dining room area! Note the fireplace on the left wall :) The space is huge! More than enough room for me.

It was surreal to get keys to my very first real-world-non-Hendrix-off-campus apartment! The complex I'm in is very nice. Not only is it pet-friendly but it has a lot of security, which is great. It's a short drive from campus. If all goes well, I should be able to park at my church and walk the short distance to the physics building!

Flea Market Finds:

I thought I would share just a couple of the furnishings I got from scouring dusty flea markets/over-stuffed antique malls.

Isn't this cute? I found it when we stopped to get a dresser from a flea market outside of Farmington, which is close to St. Louis. It's funky and when I saw it I realized my search for a nightstand was over! It's solid wood with a leather top and two functional drawers. For those playing along at home, this piece was around 40 dollars. I probably could've bought a cheaper nightstand but it would have been cheaper materials. For what I'm getting, this piece is a better buy for me. 

While we were in Columbia we headed a mile or so out of town to visit the plethora of antique stores/flea markets that surround the city. I'll write a more detailed post about the stores but I wanted to share a great find.

We were browsing through the many stalls at a place called Veranda Antique Mall when I found a tub of hand-crafted photo mats! The map mat above really accents my photo of Big Ben. And the total cost?
Mat : 5
Frame at Hobby Lobby : 3.60 (use the 40% off coupon!)
Photo : 2.84
Total : 11.44 for a personal, gorgeous wall hanging 

This was another mat I picked up at the antique mall. It's hand-crafted and cost only 2.50! The total cost for this wall hanging was just over five dollars!

I love how the colors complete this photo of my roomeis and I :) It's going to be a change, to say the least, to live on my own as I have been spoiled with amazing roommates. 

Here's a panoramic of the almost-finished living/dining room! Fun story, that isn't my couch. As we were pursuing the antique malls, my parents stumbled upon this antique love seat that was in great condition. The fabric is in pristine condition-- with fabric on the back of the love seat as well, which meant it was pretty spiffy back in its time. When they saw the price of 48 dollars they were sold. Unfortunately, it wouldn't fit in the car on the way back home while still leaving room for me. So, it's hanging out in my apartment until I make my final move up in a few weeks when my parents will drop off my love seat and pick up theirs.

That's it! I still have the love seat to put in the apartment and a lot of decorating to do. But, for now I'm just going to enjoy the last two weeks of my (possibly very last!) summer before grad school started. I bought two of my textbooks today-- I can't wait to start classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and math methods (okay maybe I can wait on the math class).  

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for a couple apartment crafts and flea market adventures!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Change Is Exciting and other lies we tell ourselves

In four short weeks I'll be in Columbia, Missouri starting a PhD program in physics.

I'll be trading the comfortable -- the green, leafy, haven of Hendrix, where all of my friends lived within walking distance -- for the unknown. My friends will be scattered around the US which makes for great road trip opportunities, but not great Friday night Catan/movie/over ambitious baking projects parties I had grown to expect. 

I'll be trading two(four) roommates and spontaneous Batman singing for a lovely one bedroom (with a fireplace! #winning #sorryforthehashing). And hopefully I'll be trading wild party animal neighbors for quiet, friendly neighbors. The will-there-be-vomit-on-the-stairs-today? game got old fast. 

I said goodbye to the physics professors who introduced me to the wonders of the universe -- my graduate application essay referenced that one lab sophomore year where we measured the charge of an electron, a fundamental property of the universe. I'll go from tutoring maybe one student a month in physics to teaching an entire general physics lab (by myself!). 

We tell ourselves change is exciting -- but it's not. 

I'm a creature of habit; I like my routines, as dreadfully boring as that sounds. Change is scary and annoying and wouldn't life just be better if it didn't exist?

But of course if there was no change, then I would have never gone to Hendrix and had the amazing time that I did. And I have a feeling that the University of Missouri will be much the same -- a nerve-wracking start that leads to a great time. 

Change sucks, but it can lead to some awesome things, awesome things that become clear once the chaos of moving settles down and new routines are established ((okay okay I think we can all agree that I'm basically 80)). 

I just wanted a brief moment to rant and rave before the adventure starts and I forget why I was ever stressed. ((Sounds ridiculous but that is what happened when I went off to college)) 

This summer has been spent scouring flea markets and antique malls and everything in between to furnish my new apartment. I found some great deals that I can't wait to share with you once everything's moved in and organized. 

Another thing you can look forward to are cooking blogs, as I'll be entirely in charge of my food. No cafeteria cooking and cleaning for me, no fresh fruit already cut for me in the morning. Man the real world is hard; I already miss the sandwich line at Hendrix...

As always, thanks for reading :)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

6 Things You Realize Senior Year

Warning: Entirely Sappy, Cheesy, and Nostalgic words ahead.

1. Holy Cow It's Almost Over
If you're like me, you have a blog that records all the foolish things you said freshman year, including but not limited to: "oh no! It's Christmas break! I won't get to see my friends for an entire month!".
Yeah. Past me? One month is no big deal. Four weeks compared with the foreseeable future? You had nothing to complain about.

Denial runs pretty thick senior year; it still hasn't fully hit me that in a couple very short days, I will be saying goodbye to all the amazing friends that I have made here. Luckily with Skype, Google+ hanging-outs, and road trips, I know that we will all keep in contact. Still, I know that I will never live within a 5-min walk of almost all my friends again; that is a peculiarity known only to college.

2. Wait, there's no cafeteria in the real world?
Next year, one of the hardest adjustments (and believe me there is a long list) will be going from only cooking a meal or so a week to cooking every single meal I eat. I've been tremendously spoiled here at Hendrix; our caf has literally won awards for the quality of food. And while, after four years, some of the dishes have grown old, I will sorely miss both having meals already cooked for me and having all the dishes done for me.

3. Dreams don't necessary come true
"You can do everything right and still lose. That's not fair, that's life."
A friend recently posted that on Facebook, and I've been repeating it every since. As everyone knows, hard work doesn't always pay off. I had a rough graduate admissions season-- I worked very hard, crafted what I thought was the perfect resume and cover letter-- and then proceeded to get rejected from almost every school I applied to. Luckily I struck gold on one of my applications-- they contacted me to accept me even before my application was officially complete.

Which, coincidentally, is why I'm proud to say I'm attending the University of Missouri this fall to start the long, arduous process of getting a PhD in Biophysics.

For those playing along at home, you might be wondering whatever happened to my dreams of astrophysics? Around my junior year, I began to realize that what I wanted most out of my career was the ability to help people, to somehow actively strive to make their lives better. I had briefly toyed with the idea of going into medicine, but with my lack of med school pre-requestite classes that was never a serious option. However, I realized that there was a way to marry my love of physics and desire to help others: biophysics.

4. Liberal arts education is not the norm
These past four years have been a wonderful amalgamation of courses in physics, french, English, history, mythology, and more. I didn't come to Hendrix because it was a liberal arts college-- quite honestly I didn't know what that even meant.

What that meant was that while my friends at other universities had schedules weighed down with only math/science courses, I took courses in Classical Mythology, History of Medieval Europe, Minimalist French Literature, Intro to Film Studies, and many others. Heck, I took an entire semester away from math and science and only studied the French language.

That breadth of academia will be gone next year as I enter a very focused physics program. And while I adore physics, I will miss the opportunities I've enjoyed here.

5. When Panera does Bagel Tuesday, hop on that
But for real though. That's an awesome deal. ((Baker's dozen for like seven dollars))
While perhaps the least deep revelation here, I felt the need to mention that recently my breakfasts have been brought to you by the wonderful world of Panera.

6. How easy it is to forgot about your blog
I might have forgotten to post this entire semester.....I wish I could say life got in the way, which it did, but still I always had something that I could've written about. My new resolution is to try and blog this summer (perhaps once a week? I have an overload of opinions, so writing opinion pieces would be easy to do). 

And that's it!

As graduation draws closer and closer it's hard not to label everything we do as "the last time". The last Sundae Thursday, the last game of Catan, the last hike, the last coffee shop visit. In a couple days I'll be saying goodbye to this beautiful campus which has become a home and my friends who have become like family.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Women in Physics

This past weekend a couple other Hendrix students and I headed to Ole Miss for the Southern Undergraduate Women in Physics conference. ((Think that's a mouthful? Try the acronym! SUWiP. Yeah. Catchy.))

Having a conference solely for women in physics might sound a bit odd, until you look at the numbers. Recently a university emailed me to check out their physics graduate program. They boasted a relatively large number of female students-- almost 20%!

20%. That means the student body is 80% male. And that's supposed a number that they want to brag about? That describes, in a nutshell, why there is an entire conference whose purpose is to encourage women to study physics.

There are cautionary tales of sexism women face in pursuit of the sciences. Personally, while I have been told I'm unable to do plenty of things because I'm a woman, physics has never been on the list.

However, physics is still lagging far behind the other sciences, which are getting closer to the 50%-50% gender ratio.

I've never cared or really noticed that I was in the minority in my physics classes, being a woman. Though that tells you sometime-- I've come to fully expect to be in male-dominated classes, so it is no surprise when that is true. The only instance where I've ever been really frustrated with the lack of other female students was when I was trying to make assertations about the way society views female physics students.

You see, whenever I tell a stranger that I'm a physics major they typically respond with two emotions: shock and awe. Awe is too strong of a word, but you get the idea, right? Here's a typical interaction.

Them : "So what do you study?"
Me: "Oh I'm a physics major."
Them: "Wow! Physics! Man, I could never do that. It's so hard. You must be so smart!"

Which is not true, but that's a topic for another post. Anyway, it was only after a couple years that I began to really analyze the typical response. While there is the whole "you must be super smart" which, once again, needs to be delegated to its own personal post about societal perceptions of science, there is always an element of surprise.

As a scientist-- or rather, as a rational human being-- I can't just jump to any conclusions. I can't declare 'oh they must be so surprised because I'm a woman! They must not expect me to be into the sciences'. While this might be true, there are too many other plausible answers. Perhaps they don't meet many physics majors-- and would respond with the same level of shock if a guy told them he was a physics major.

To try and ascertain if my gender actually did play a role in peoples' responses, I turned to other female physics majors.

Oh wait.

 There's only one in my grade besides me-- and she's a physics/English double major, which skews the results. Peoples' response could be due to the duel major or just the English part-- I have no way of knowing how people perceive just her role in physics.

Out of the eight senior physics majors, two are female. Could be worse, but it could be better. There are three female physics majors in the class below me, but there are also a lot more male physics majors.

The purpose of the conference was to encourage those still on the fence about physics, hoping to trickle the numbers so that eventually schools will be graduating a physics class that is half male, half female. Of course, we really need to talk about science education starting even younger than college freshman-- somewhere in elementary school girls start dropping out of the sciences.

But that's a topic for another time! I've already put off application work long enough. I only have two more graduate schools to apply to but I need to go and actually apply.

Thanks for reading! :)