Saturday, January 9, 2016

My Etsy Shop: An Update

You may remember, around a year ago, I opened an Etsy shop. I discovered how surprisingly easy it was to create watercolor marbled mugs and figured I would try and sell them online.

Spoiler alert: this isn't a rags-to-riches story. I did actually sell one mug-- and I realized that I wasn't going to be able to make any profit with shipping costs as high as they are. So, I took the mugs down, and figured my Etsy days were over.

Skip to present.

I don't really do New Year's resolutions, but I do make new semester resolutions. Every time I start a semester I start out with such lofty goals. I'm actually going to read my textbook before class. I'm going to go over my notes and not just when I have to when doing homework. I'm going to spend spare time reading academic papers related to my tentative research area.

And, every time I get a couple weeks into the semester, these goals mysteriously disappear. The textbook is only opened when I'm stuck on homework, and my class notes are put away after class and not pulled out till the next class. And don't even get me started on the papers/textbooks I need to be reading for research!

So, I decided to set myself up for sucess and make (and use) a weekly planner. Before the week starts, I'll plan out exactly what I want to get done during the week. I'll be specific on the paper I need to read, the chapter in the textbook I need to study. It'll also help me become more organized with meal planning, something I never fully got the hang of last semester.

I wanted something simple, with plenty of room to write out homework deadlines, meeting times, and all my goals. I also have an obsession with water color; mix it all together and you get the following weekly planners!

I can't believe I have a watermark on something I made. What has my life become? I contemplated making it say "haha suckers" but figured that would be too antagonistic.

I made the weekly planner in three new and exciting colors! (how's my pitch going?) Blue, green, and black&white for those trying to save their poor ink supply. Check them out!

I'm excited to use them. I know I'll hole-punch them, but I haven't figured out how exactly I'm going to store them. A binder is too bulky for what I want, I might find a folder, or make a cardboard cover like I did with my journal. And maybe this post will hold me somewhat accountable, and I won't let my goals fall by the wayside this semester!

One can always hope.

Friday, January 8, 2016

6 Books to Check Out in 2016

I've spent my break exploring some really good books-- my latest obsession is a site called Goodreads aka the best thing ever. It literally comes up on my computer before Google. That's how much I use it. It's a site that helps you keep track of the books you'e read/want to read. It also helps me find books I love. I rounded some up books to recommend that I've read and loved recently!

by Anthony Doerr
I'm not the first to rant and rave over this book. It's a mammoth, 530ish page novel that I read in two days (or so). It tells two stories, one of a blind French girl, the other a young German orphan boy and weaves their stories into the tapestry of WWII. What makes this book unique (to me) is that it refused to turn a blind eye to the complexities of being a German in WWII. It doesn't hide behind the label of evil which is often cast (rightfully so) upon Nazism. It forces you to hear the story of the German solider just as much as you hear the story of the blind girl living in a captured French town. You don't have to sympathize at all with the German boy's story but you have to hear it.

Beyond that, the writing is beautifully lyric with metaphorical phrasing that really sticks with you. The author skips past cliches and deals with the harsh realities of the war. The story skips from the girl to boy but also skips in time-- a feature I loved but can be offsetting to some.

By Jasper Fforde
Part wish fulfillment by the author, part detective drama, this novel takes place in an alternate universe where literature takes on a religious like importance. Rather than going to the movies, one would go to a live showing of Richard III, put on my audience members because of course everyone and their mother knows, and loves, every line to the Shakespearean play. The ideas presented are wonderfully fresh, even if the writing can be a little lacking. The characters weren't fully fleshed out, but I just loved the universe they lived in so it was a fun read. 

By Cassandra Rose Clarke
A Tale of Love, Loss and Robots really sums the whole thing up-- even if I am partial to the Oxford comma ((which would make it A Tale of Love, Loss, and Robots)) but maybe the author's going for something really meta with the omission of the comma, thereby grouping 'loss' and 'robots' together more intimately. This beautiful, expansive novel follows Cat, the daughter of a 'mad scientist' starting when she's a little girl meeting her new live-in tutor, a robot who acts and looks quite human. You watch as she grows up and makes decisions, some good, some heartbreaking.

The novel reminded me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro in the fact that there is a lot of stuff going on in the background. There's the creation of sentient(?) robots, activist groups fighting for rights for the robots, an apocalyptic history which turned part of the US into a wasteland and created deadly hot summers but none of those things are the main focus on the book. Rather, the book is about people, about relationships-- about, like I said, love and loss. The writing was beautiful in a melodic sort of way. I hate to say more because one of things I love about reading is discovering what is going on while I read it. But yeah. Go and read this amazing, albeit somewhat depressing, novel. 

Like I mentioned, I hate reading summaries. On the back of the book, on websites-- I do my best to avoid them. What I do instead is read the first sentence or so of the summary, just enough to try and get a feel for what the book will be like. If those couple of sentences sound promising, I get the book from my library and try it out. 

A Darker Shade of Magic was good, but quite different from what I expected. The first couple lines of summary on Goodreads talked about a universe where multiple, parallel Londons existed, and certain people could travel between them. This idea, I found quite fascinating and picked the book up. The novel did indeed have that, but that idea of multiple Londons was mainly used as a means to an end for the plot. It was well written and captivating but I would call it traditional high fantasy(think typical, medieval fantasy), rather than the innovative sci-fi/fantasy hybrid I had imagined it would be. 

By Sara Donati

I read this epic historical fiction/romance novel last semester. I downloaded it from my library and thought I would give it a try. It's size was daunting (800ish pages?) especially during the busy semester. I was hooked from page one. This novel is about a 'spinster' (she was in her 20s but this is set in the late 1700s) who travels over the America where she is thrown into among other things, the strained relationships between the settlers and the natives. The romance was well written-- if a bit rushed, they married where I would have started dating, but perhaps that can be chalked up to historical accuracy. The writing really transports you to the New York wilderness and you quickly become attached to the characters, which are pretty well fleshed out. It is a long novel, but the plot is fast paced so it doesn't feel like you sloughing through 800 pages. I was quite sad when I reached the last page, but I recently found it is the beginning of a series! So I'll be checking out the sequel soon.

 by Scott Westerfield 
Stars: 8 / 10

I've always had this weird prejudice against Westerfield, author of the Pretties/etc series. I'm not sure why; I never really liked the Pretties series. However, I was looking for an ebook to read on my library's ebook website and this was the first title I saw. I thought the plot was intriguing so I downloaded it. 

I read the entire novel in a day or so-- it was like candy; easy to read and hard to put down. The novel is really meta; it's about a young girl who wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo, something I appreciated since I did NaNo a couple of times during high school. Half of the book is her going to New York City and trying to make it as an author, editing her novel, etc. The other half of the book is her novel-- titled Afterworlds. I thought that premise was really intriguing. How does knowing, in a very concrete sense, that Afterworlds is a work of fiction change the way we approach it? In one chapter the girl talks about her difficultly in writing a certain scene of her novel; the next chapter you read that scene. It definitely causes you to interact with the work in a different way. 

The novel had some issues but I really enjoyed reading it.


And that's it! Six books you need to check out. If you're looking for a light, quicker read, see Afterworlds. If you're into historical fiction then All the light we cannot see is a must-read. If you're into romance then you have two options: Into the Wildnerness and The Mad Scientist's Daughter though the latter can be rather heart breaking. And if you're looking for something really different and inventive please read The Eyre Affair, bonus points if you're a Jane Eyre fan!

Thanks for reading! ((I feel like there's a pun to be made here....))

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Looking Back: 2015


How do I sum up my last semester of college? Freak snowstorms, free coffee, new haunts. There was the horrid, long wait to hear back from my grad school applications. There was the surprise snowfall on my birthday, the spontaneous Taylor Swift dance party in the field. 

It was pretty awesome turning 22 with this surprise--and PERFECT--cake
Then, there was that epic road trip to Florida for spring break-- an amazing vacation we partially chronicled through vlogs (get ready for me to rock my one dollar aviators!). Needlessly to say, my vlogging career did not take off. 

I discovered some great books-- such as American Gods by Neil Gaiman, such a game changer. Blair and I nearly stranded ourselves in a doomed icy journey to pick up Anna at the airport. We were barely a block from the apartment when we realized that sliding over the dark icy roads was not a good idea and headed back in defeat. 

I discovered Brooklyn-99, after ironically writing up a report on its failings to represent the spectrum of femininity in the same approving manner it afford the spectrum of masculinity for my brief stint in a feminism class, and my life is not the same because that show is EVERYTHING. 

And then, in May, I graduated with a BA in Physics with a minor in French. Which is crazy. I have a degree! I often forget that as I'm so focused on the next step, my final degree. 

I spent the summer with my lovely Bryan-- our reunion was primarily anti-climatic as the affection lay mostly on my side. ((I retook a horse riding class that I had taken a coupe of summers ago and was paired with the same stubborn lovely brown horse)) I turned my back on the new kid for one second and the next thing I knew all the horses escaped their fields and were frolicking in their new found freedom. I relearned how to lope and how awful it was to change leads (Bryan never did listen to me). 

And then, in August, I moved to Columbia to pursue my PhD in physics (biophysics most likely). It was my first time living alone-- meal planning and grocery shopping is a far cry from the cafeteria I had grown accustomed to. I taught my first labs-- and I think the kids kind of liked me! I took three classes, and somehow managed to finish with a surprisingly respectable GPA. 

I explored the parks around Columbia, finding some cool trails. And I spent countless hours on the phone and skype calls with friends living too far away. 

I've spent a large part of my Christmas break reading books-- I might rummaged together a post listing some of the recent gems I've stumbled upon. 

I'm not one for resolutions, just reflection. 2016 should hold more physics courses and summer research! Who knows what stories I'll have to tell one year from now. 

Thanks for reading! :) 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Sudden Silence

Alternative title: I guess it's break? 

This morning I woke up to snow. Not much, mind you. Barely a dusting collecting on car hoods and rooftops. The snowflakes cruised on by my window, borne on a strong northern wind. I dream of the day I'll look out my window and see an expanse of nature. But for now, I'll settle for bushes, a parking lot, and the occasional squirrel. I'm still a student after all, though this whole getting a paycheck thing has been amazing. 

So today marks the beginning of my Thanksgiving break! I'm not the type of person to skimp on my eight hours of sleep-- ever! The closest I've come to pulling an all-nighter was one absolutely miserable computer science assignment which had me stumbling to bed around 2 am. However, there is something to be said about the bliss of sleeping in, even if, when the alarm blares, I technically have had my eight hours of sleep. 

I'm excited about my first (massive) solo road trip coming up on Monday. I'll be traveling down south to spend Thanksgiving with some relatives – – as my parents were inconsiderate enough to be (safely) in France till Christmas. Six hours with just me, the road, and an audiobook of my choosing. Oh, and a AAA card in my back pocket. 

By some weird fluctuation of the universe, I don't exactly have homework over the break. However, I am excited to finally have time to devote to my biophysics reading. I've been swamped with either work, or a need to take a break from physics, and haven't read as much as I would have liked. 

The sun is threatening to come out and soon the snow will be whisked away. That's alright-- I have loads of laundry to do and a library run to make. After all, I can't let the beauty of the past interfere with my appreciation of the present. 

It'll snow again, mostly likely before I leave for Christmas break, and it'll be a rich, deep snow that'll have me griping about wet shoes and messy roads. Until then I'll enjoy the delicate balance of fall and winter, a patchwork quilt spread over my city. 

After Thanksgiving break, I have two weeks of classes and then finals. Though to be fair, I only have one final during finals week – – my other classes have take-home finals before the week of finals. And then, poof, my first semester of grad school will be completed! Only nine more (hopefully) after that. 

A couple years ago, I wrote Thanksgiving post in which I don't believe I said that I was thankful for it all. So in parting, I am thankful for a challenging, but not overwhelming first semester, the friends I've made here, my beautiful apartment with a cheerful little fireplace, and the friends I have scattered around the world. 

As always, thanks for reading :)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Life Thus Far and other random tidbits

I believe in random capitalization. Just call me Margo from Paper Towns.

I was going to write a blog post this morning. After all, I just entered the crazy post-midterm part of the semester where strangely enough I'm suddenly more busy than before. Who wants to work on an impossibly, devilishly hard take home math exam when you could just write a blog post instead?

Then, I read my friend Sami's blog post. I would prefer you to read it after you've read mine-- or else your standards will be impossibly high. She literally quotes Dickinson and writes such beautiful metaphors I feel like I have a unique, small window into her life.

And I could totally quote some poetry here-- I've been rereading my favorite poem anthology called She Walks in Beauty curated by Caroline Kennedy.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
Lord Byron

But I'll admit, I don't have the skill to weave beautiful feelings and expressions into this poem, to describe my life in such a way as Sami does. 

So I wasn't going to write a blog post this morning. After all, I knew it wouldn't be like hers-- and I loved hers!

But then I looked at my math exam and figured almost anything would be more fun than that, so here I am. 

Side note, I don't necessarily consider myself a "math person", a random fact which throws many people off. After all, I study physics! How can I not be a "math person"? But doing math for physics is very different then just a strict math course; one is a means to an end, the other is just plain difficult. 

The other day at Praise Team practice ((I sing in the band at my church)) the pianist asked me if grad school was like what I thought it would be. I just stared blankly at her, trying to remember what my expectations were. Yes? No? It's...different than I expected. I have more free time than I had anticipated, and labs are so much easier than I had thought. 

I was so worried my lab students would ask super difficult questions about the set ups-- derivations of the equations, etc. Ha, no. My lab students are algebra based which means they don't want to be physics majors. Most of them are there to quickly fulfill a requirement and then get out. 

I don't mind teaching the labs-- after a quick pre-lab lecture, I mostly just meander through the room, helping each group out. Grading the lab reports-- now that's a different situation. I have around 70 students total, which means I have 70 lab reports to grade each week, on top of my own homework and responsibilities. 

Taking three courses is manageable, but definitely not easy. I never feel that I have enough time to fully think about what I'm learning-- it can be a scramble to just get everything done. 

One thing I really enjoy about my program is that it is highly research oriented. What that means is that they are not too crazy about grades-- you do the work, take the exams, and you'll end up with a B. That's it. Classes are important, but research is more so. I'm already dreaming of the day when I'll be done with classes and can just do research. 

Speaking of research... When it comes to academics, I'm the type of person who throws themselves head first into a subject without looking back. If I could have signed up as a physics major before starting classes at Hendrix, I would have. I wasn't entirely sure what physics as a whole would entail, but I knew I wanted to major in it. I've no experience in the realm of biophysics, but I know that's the area I want to get my doctorate in.  I've meet with one the professors here already about research-- and now I have a textbook and tons of papers to read, which is exciting! 

It's almost November and it's crazy just how quickly the semester has flown by. It reminds me of my freshmen year in undergrad-- I feel like I blinked and it was Christmas. Not that I'm complaining-- I can't wait to go home for Christmas, see my family and my cats! 

I'm going to wrap this odd, slightly rambling?, post up by promising to post again soon. I felt like a brief update was warranted. Next time, I'll talk about the struggles and excitement of moving to a new city and starting over. 

See you then! 

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!