Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Quiet (unplugged) World

"In an effort to get people to look 
into each other’s eyes more, 
and also to appease the mutes, 
the government has decided 
to allot each person exactly one hundred   
and sixty-seven words, per day. 

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear   
without saying hello. In the restaurant   
I point at chicken noodle soup. 
I am adjusting well to the new way. 

Late at night, I call my long distance lover,   
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.   
I saved the rest for you. 

When she doesn’t respond, 
I know she’s used up all her words,   
so I slowly whisper I love you 
thirty-two and a third times. 
After that, we just sit on the line   
and listen to each other breathe."
--The Quiet World by Jeffrey McDaniel 

When I was younger, in some fuzzy area of my life that existed before the right now, I read that poem. It stuck with me, just another small, glittering thread in the tapestry of stories that I carry around with me. It is a tapestry woven from childhood, flipping through the threads is like flipping through my life at high speed. There's Where the Red Fern Grows, a book I read eleven times, keeping track by secretly marking my second grade desk. There's the unnamed novel I read in junior high which, in part, started me down this crazy trail of physics. There's In the Time of the Butterflies, a novel that took my breath away in 12th grade.

There's 1984, a novel I read purely because an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was inspired by it. There's Catch-22 a novel I trudged through, though love to reference now that the arduous process of actually reading it is over. 

Growing up, I lived my adventures through the flipping white pages of library novels-- the bigger the better. When life seemed boring-- when reality was merely humdrum, literature promised the impossible, a crisp dive into a universe that was refreshingly different. 

Books have unique powers when we are young; they leave impressions on us like marks on drying clay, which, once hardened to adulthood, is no longer so malleable. Surrounded by the marks of adulthood, jobs to do, apartments to clean, pets to take care of, it would seem that books would still provide a trusty refuge yet I read startlingly few books now. 

But why? What changed? Why do so many unread, promising, I'll-get-to-it-someday books sit quietly in my bookshelves?  

 Books haven't changed. Certainly I've changed in many ways but my love of books remains strong. Last Christmas break I spent two days in WWII Germany and France jumping through years and lives, devouring a six hundred page novel.

But that was Christmas break-- a time with few things pulling at attention-- maybe that's what has changed. When I was younger-- even up to college-- I didn't spend much time on Facebook, I didn't have a Twitter, Snapchat didn't exist, I barely knew what YouTube even was, and would stare blankly at you if you so much said the world Tumblr. Today, though, the story is different. I have five hundred Facebook 'friends', over a hundred YouTube subscriptions, an Instagram feed I'm proud of, and somehow a Tumblr blog/profile/thing (I'm still not 100% sure how Tumblr works). 

I have free time to read-- that's not the problem. The problem is how I'm (unconsciously) prioritizing my time. Time is a precious commodity, one that I throw by the handful at social medias. I watch YouTube videos I love...and then spend an hour lurking around watching videos I'm not even interested in. I learn about exciting events in my friends lives on Facebook...and then I scroll on for thirty minutes for no good reason. 

Obviously social media isn't a Bad Thing-- it's just a thing, a tool that we can use for great purposes (I saw this fascinating video on YouTube about defining the flow of time with respect to changes in entropy) or use it to mindlessly pass the time (I really could get all the useful info from Facebook by just going on once a day...not once an hour). 

But if time is such a precious commodity, then maybe I should be more mindful in how I spend it-- thus my first 'no media' day today (I scheduled it in my bullet journal so you know it's official). For just one day a week, I resolved to stay off of Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/YouTube/Tumblr-- you get the idea. 

There is so much more that I want to do-- during the month of November I engaged in a crazy competition to write a 50,000 word novel and was struck with the disconnect between my love of writing and my complete lack of writing. What books are going unread, what words are going unwritten, as I overspend my time on the internet? 

Even now I itch to switch over and skim Facebook, not for really any reason except it's what I'm used to doing. Habits are unconsciously ingrained and are difficult to consciously overwrite. For now I will stick to my once a week absence from social media and see how I can more consciously spend my time.

Maybe soon I'll be able to say I am adjusting well to the new way. 

Until then, thanks for reading. 

Monday, November 21, 2016


Every year, when the trees start to reluctantly lose their summer coats, one of them in particular is a show stopper. It deigns to go out in style, producing a stellar burst of robust orange which lights up in the entire yard.

As you can see above, this tree is the sugar maple and since this spectacular show typically takes place in late October, I expected to come home for Thanksgiving break and be greeted more a mostly winter-ready backyard.

But, thanks to an unusually warm fall the colors started to shift only days before I journeyed home, leaving me with a beautiful fall tableau to photograph!

My photography has been a victim of graduate school-- I still take family photos at gatherings but besides that, my beloved DSLR has been quietly gathering dust in the corner of my bedroom.  

Even before graduate school I started to lean away from nature photography and into portraits. Which is an unusual move for several reasons, one of them being the lack of subjects. A couple years ago I was able to do an surprise engagement shoot for one of my high school friends and I loved it. Previously I had only shot nature but it was really cool to be able to do something so different.

To be fair, I was really spoiled for my first couple! She had not only brought coordinating change of outfits for them both, she came equipped with props and ideas for what type of pictures she wanted (and she didn't even know he was going to propose! It was a fun night).

Regardless, I really enjoyed wandering around my backyard upon arriving at home after a long car ride with my cat. Luckily Otto doesn't mind road trips too terribly-- as long as it's quiet and I'm not singing.

I can't believe the semester is almost over-- though I'm at an odd part of my graduate career where the lines of semesters ending/beginning start to blur and lose their meaning. Research, after all, is not confined to any time schedule except its own, and there's always more work to do. I'm only taking one course this semester-- and teaching two labs and three discussion sections-- and next semester I may take none, focusing on research until a class I want to take is offered.

But for now I'm on break (sort of, I have labs that need to be graded and a coding project that won't fix itself-- or will it? Wouldn't that be a wonderful world to live in) leaving me time to metaphorically dust off my trusty Photoshop and catch up on my NaNoWriMo word count. A couple weeks before November started I decided that what I really needed to do was a writing competition that I fell in love with during high school. It's called National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November...which is an awfully lot of words by the way.

Which reminds me-- my novel is woefully behind on word count (and woefully behind on quality writing but then again, that's not the point of NaNoWriMo). I'll leave you with these photos of my backyard (doesn't it look like a nature preserve or something? Considering we live in the middle of a city we definitely won the yard lottery).

I hope that you will have a great Thanksgiving-- I for one am looking forward to my third Thanksgiving meal this season. Last year I racked that number up to four or five-- I don't think I'll be able to break that record!

As always, thanks for reading. :)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

6 Podcasts to Check Out Now

Have a big road trip coming up?

Bored with your daily commute?

Even if you answered no to both of the above questions, I have the perfect solution for you! Podcasts are the modern radio show and are great for listening to while working out (or so I've heard. I avoid the gym like I owe it money), commuting to work, or passing time while driving home for the holidays (aka my life in a couple days).

But with hundreds of podcast available (most of them for free!) on iTunes, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Which is why I have six of my favorite podcasts to recommend to you! I've even broken them down into handy categories to help you decide which to start first.

Talk Show

  • Dear Hank and John
    • "A comedy podcast about death." 
    • John and Hank Green are YouTube celebrities. Every time I met someone who doesn't know who they are, I spend like five minutes trying to convince them otherwise. "They make YouTube videos? They run VidCon? DFTBA? Nerd fighters? Brotherhood 2.0? One of them wrote The Fault in Our Stars? They run Crash Course? He's the guy who played Grand Theft Auto with his morals? Really? None of that rings a bell?" And then I'm convinced they live under a rock (no, not really, I just have an exaggerated sense of the Green brothers' stardom). However, I was so excited when I found out that they were doing a talk show podcast. Every week they publish a podcast where they answer submitted questions, give out (freely admitted) dubious advice, and update the listeners on the latest news from Mars and AFC Wimbledon (a second tier English soccer team which is owned 100% by its fans, chief among them John Green). As the quote suggests, the topic of death invariably comes up in almost every single podcast, but mostly to hilarious effects. 
  • Not Too Deep with Grace Helbig
    • Grace Helbig is a YouTube comedian I've been a fan of for a couple years now. Her dry, absurd sense of humor translates well to her podcast, where she interviews various guests with her own questions and listener submitted questions. I'll admit, some of the episodes are a bit too vulgar for my tastes but most of them have me laughing out loud (which, by the way, is not a good thing when you're listening while walking to work and you don't want people driving by to think you're crazy). 

A Story

  • The Message
    • This is a really short, story centered podcast that I discovered last year. It's about a group of scientists who think that they've made extraterrestrial contact, a reporter with a hidden past who wants the scoop, and, of course, the ensuing, slow descending chaos. It features a wide cast of characters and locations, something I found really different but a little confusing at times. If you want a story that you can start and finish in a week or so, check this one out! 

  • Welcome to Nightvale
    • With 97 episodes (and counting!) this podcast took me a year and a half to catch up on. It's a hilarious story based podcast featuring what I like to call 'casual surrealism'. The podcast is a radio show broadcasting from a fictional town where angels are illegal, a hovering glow cloud is likely to shower you in dead animals, said glow cloud also the head of the local school board, and a vague yet menacing government agency is watching your every move. It's amazing and you should go devote a year and half of your life to listening to it. 

Will Teach You Something

  • The History Chicks
    • "Any resemblance to a boring old history lesson is purely coincidental!" Every episode of this podcast details the life of some famous woman in history. From Cleopatra to Madam CJ Walker, the two hosts tell about the story behind the name. They spend hours researching each episode, guaranteeing that it will not only be interesting but historically accurate. If you want to be able to impress your friends with historical knowledge, check them out! 
  • Note to Self
    • "A tech show about being human" or that's how they describe themselves. Each episode tackles a challenge of life in a digital age (is your phone eavesdropping on you? should you post pictures of your kids online?) in an interesting way and with engaging conversation with experts in the field. Not only is the podcast interesting, it'll make you look at the changes of modern life in a critical way (how involved should technology be in schools?). 

And that's it! Six of my favorite, go-to podcasts depending on what mood I'm in. If you're looking for more teach-ya-something type podcasts, I would check out the various NPR podcasts available; every now and then I download one from Planet Money to hopefully teach me something about economics, a subject I woefully know little about. 

What are your favorite podcasts? I'm always looking for new ones!

Thanks for reading :)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Looking back: summer

During the spring semester I used to daydream about the upcoming summer.

It was going to be my Shangri-La where everything was going to magically be perfect. Gone would be the endless lab grading, gone the stress over homework and exams, and my days would be spent "researching". How romantic! 

Blissfully, I ignored the reality of starting a new job, even though I've started enough new jobs to know how tricky that can be. I ignored all the messy complications we shove under the carpet of "research" and I naively assumed my summer would be perfect and stress-free. 


My summer was not perfect but it was pretty great. Sometimes you get so caught up in the day-to-day, so concerned with everything you have yet to learn, yet to understand, that you forget just how far you've come. I wanted to take a second to reflect on how my summer was; how I went from day one, knowing literally nothing about the AFM, to now, being pretty comfortable with the sometimes infuriating machine.

I started my summer off with a brief vacation home after my super stressful spring finals.

Have I mentioned lately how beautiful my garden is? To call it mine is misleading, as I do 0% of the work but still reap the benefits.

I traveled north to visit family, stopping along the way at this small town. There was a thrift store facing this courthouse where I snagged a beautiful blouse that I wear all the time for the low low price of like two bucks.

I dove headfirst into research, learning what it was like to go entire days without seeing the sun. The machine that I work with is super sensitive, which means it needs to be housed in basements where there are no windows. Melodrama aside, I made it part of my lunch break to take a walk around the deserted campus and soak in the vitamin D.

I learned what to do and what not to do with the AFM, I read a ton of papers, I drank a lot of coffee, and somehow, the summer managed to slip away when I wasn't looking.

The first week of July I traveled to Florida to visit my college roommates. I swam in a river, went canoeing, saw an alligator (all three happened on the same day), went to Diagon Alley, drank butterbeer, sweated more than I thought possible, pretended I was in London, saw cute animals, went to the beach, got hit in the head by waves (whoever said the beach was relaxing clearly did not go swimming), got sunburned (we all saw that one coming), ate delicious food, and was sorely sad to say goodbye.

Then, at the end of July I went to the University of Illinois for a week long biophysics workshop where I learned all about DNA while performing experiments and running theoretical simulations to model the flexibility of DNA. I met some awesome people, got spoiled by the utterly amazing food, went to more bars than I've ever been to, nearly fell asleep during the post-lunch lectures (we all saw that one coming), was exhausted but sad to see it end.

And then, in between my two trips I became an aunt. Charlie Pittman was born and he is, of course, the most perfect baby ever (though I just might change my tune whenever I end up having a kid). Even though I'm very far away, being an aunt is the best thing ever.

And then, the last few weeks of summer were spent cramming for qualifying exams which are an archaic, highly inaccurate way to determine if I can continue pursuing a PhD.

Somehow, my laid-back, chill summer turned into a jam-packed experience that flew by without me noticing. We are a couple weeks into the semester and I'm already missing it. It's difficult to juggle research with teaching two labs, three recitation sessions, and a class of my own with associated homeworks. Either way, change is what keeps things interesting, right?


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dear Charlie

I remember when your parents first told us that they were going to have you.

It was Christmas, and we had just finished opening the gifts. We were making some pretty funny jokes about your father owning an alpaca farm (yes, your father went through an alpaca phase. If you are reading this from your room at the alpaca farm...blame your grandmother, she's the one who first gave him the farming magazine). Your parents seemed nervous as they handed a tiny slip of a gift to your grandparents. Your grandfather decided to open the gift out of my view-- leaving me to judge from his reaction what this final gift had been.

It was a children's book. I craned to get a better glimpse of the cover as the realization dawned on me that I would be an aunt.

An aunt! With all the joys of a new child and none of the responsibility. What could be better??

As the months went on, your parents planned a gender reveal party-- which is exactly what it sounds like. Family and friends gathered at your great-grandparents to learn if you would be a Charlie or a Charlotte. I, sadly far away terribly busy getting a PhD, video-called the party and saw, through granulated pixels (a breakdown of technology you'll probably never understand--lucky), the pink balloon fly far away in the perfect cloudless sky, leaving your father proudly holding a blue balloon.

A boy.

And, on July 18th, 2016, I waited with my phone on loud, taking data (ask me about my research project when you read this, I'm sure I'll get a kick of it) and waiting for the text to let me know you had officially arrived. I wasn't able to be at the hospital to meet you when you were born; I had this silly notion that I should spend five years of my life six hours away from home getting as many degrees as possible.

Your mother sent me a photo of you-- a photo of the cutest baby I've ever seen, eyes shut tight against this bright new world. I had to ask what color they were, in every photo you stubbornly refused to open them. As I write this, I have yet to see you in person. As you read this (how old will you be? when do kids learn to read? I know nothing about children; good thing it's my brother becoming a parent and not me) we will have hopefully spent much time together (and also hopefully not on an alpaca farm because I've heard they can be mean).

I'm so excited to watch you grow up, to see what color your eyes settle on (apparently babies are born with one color that can magically change to another, who knew?), and to get to know your budding personality.

And who knows, maybe by the time you're reading this you'll even have a cousin (wait, just did the mental math; this is impossible unless you're a really slow learner, which is fine!)-- or, more likely, you'll have plenty of cats and dogs to play with when you visit me. Either way, I can't wait.

Aunt Anna
((it feels so weird to write that! it feels like I should be selling pretzels or something-- ask your parents to explain that one))

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The How and Why of Bullet Journals

I'm not sure how it started.

Knowing me, it was probably caused by too much time on Tumblr. Bullet journals rank up there with low-calorie-decadent-desert-recipes-but-for-real-it-tastes-the-same (not), mason jar recipes, and putting glitter where it doesn't belong (aka fads that are everywhere on the internet).

And just like breakfast-oatmeal-that-tastes-exactly-like-cookie-dough-but-with-like-no-calories! I didn't expect much from the bullet journal. My handwriting has never been consistent, choosing to oscillate between pretty cursive, and what you would get if you gave a chicken a pen. I'm a huge fan of the idea of organizing and planning, but when it comes to keeping up with planners...well not so much. I designed my own calendar that ran from August to February which I used and loved. I was able to create layouts that I personally thought were gorgeous-- I did a fake Polaroid spread, an autumn leave month...

But eventually I lost that spark of inspiration, didn't want to create more layouts, and thus my calendar was dead. I wanted something that lasted, some method that helped me get everything done, but also something that kept my (admittedly short) attention span. Your run-of-the-mill-bought-it-at-Target planner just wasn't going to cut it for me. I wanted the freedom to individualize it however I saw fit.

So I decided to give bullet journals a go. A bullet journal is very loosely defined method of planning which typically involves you, a pen, and a blank journal. The core idea (one which I don't even follow....thus the 'loosely defined' caveat) is to have a planner where you can, at a glance, see what tasks you've complete, what tasks are left, and what events you have, all coded with different symbols.

Personally, I just use open box icons to list my to-dos, purely for the satisfaction of filling them in afterwords. ((True story, sometimes, if I just did something I forgot to put on my to-do list, I'll write it out just so I can fill in the box...))

I did not want to invest much money in this idea when I first started, so I opted out of buying a more expensive journal that most people use and love. Instead, I went to Walmart and found a little black artist journal/book. My main requirement was I wanted something with blank pages-- so that I could draw whatever layout I wanted without the restriction of pre-existing lines.

My Main Spreads:

Monthly Spread

This spread tends to take the longest. For some months, I measure everything and then do some math to figure exactly how big the boxes can be. For June I just winged it. I love this traditional spread; as you can see, during the school year I would highlight when homework was due/when exams were.
I also love drawing little designs for the titles.

My Weekly Spreads:

This is crucial for all those little tasks you want to get done in each day. Recently, I've been putting any events I have as little dots. The act of writing down the tasks, while it might seem insignificant, has been shown to dramatically increase the likelihood I'll get it done in a timely manner. Sometimes the tasks are important (schedule dentist appointment), sometimes they're small (water plant), but the sense of satisfaction after filling in all my boxes is real.

Meal Planning

Pro tip: do your meal plan in pencil. Something invariably manages to come up and I have to shift my dinner plans around. Previously, I crammed my meal planning onto my weekly spread, but I realized it needed its own space. Now the struggle is to come up with a meal plan that I actually follow. This past week I wrote down a nice little meal plan and ended up not following one word of it.


One of my favorite aspects of my bullet journal is that it holds everything in one spot. Not only my to-do lists/calendars, but also a minimalist journal. I try and write just one line per day-- see aforementioned note regarding short attention span. I've found that the one line a day is easy enough to keep up with.

Books I've Read
There's no frigate like a book, amiright?

I created this spread after seeing someone do something similar on Tumblr (where else?). My idea is to write snippets about books I've finished. This way I'll having a running list if I ever want to put up another blog post with my recent favorite reads.

Quick Tip:
Make writing in your bullet journal-- be it in the journal part or the scheduling part-- a fixed part of your daily schedule. For me, right before I go to bed, I like to glance over my schedule, add in new tasks, mark off the day, etc. If I leave my bullet journal out and about and tell myself 'oh I'll write that down later' it never ends up happening.

The reason why this bullet journal has stuck is two-fold. First, it is extremely flexible. If the week gets too busy and I forget to write a couple of days into my weekly spread, no big deal! I can skip as many days as I want and fit in the days that I am going to plan. If I want to do a spread listing my blog post ideas, or recipe ideas, or exploring Colombia ideas, then I can. This is no guideline I have to follow, no set number of pages devoted to anything-- it's all free form.

The second reason why I personally have kept with it, is that the bullet journal is a great creative outlet for me. Especially during the semester, I don't necessarily have time to draw or illustrate or color or do anything creative. And if I did, sometimes I would feel guilty for taking time away from work. The bullet journal allows me to be creative while doing something that has become essential for me: planning. On weeks when I've fallen behind on my bullet journal, I've noticed a negative impact on my productivity. Writing everything down and planning it all out helps me feel less overwhelmed when juggling school, teaching, homework, research, and life in general.

As with anything I love (books, blogging, etc), my ever present goal is to convert everyone around me. I would love to see what my creative friends come up with it they ever tried their hand at bullet journals (you know who you are!).

If nothing else, I hope this blog shed some light on one interpretation of how bullet journals work!

Thanks for reading :)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Year One in Review

The semester, and thus my first year at grad school, has been done and finished with for about three weeks...which makes this blog post about two weeks late.

In fact, it was going to be infinitely late because I wasn't going to write it. Summer has started to invaded my life, changing my routine and giving me a taste of what the rest of my graduate career will look like. You see, I'm spending this summer working in a biophysics lab-- something I'll hopefully be doing until I earn my doctorate.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. This post was meant to be a reflective one, one that paused for just a second in my busy summer life to look back and relish in the astonishing fact that I have survived my first year in grad school.

Grad school is unusual in the fact that, unlike undergrad, I don't know how many years I have left. Am I one fourth the way to my degree? One fifth? Hopefully it's one of those two; even if it looks like it, I have no plans of becoming a professional student.

Regardless of how long I have left, I wanted to take a second to appreciate the fact that I did what at sometimes during the semester I considered to be the impossible: I not only passed all my classes (I'm looking at you Math Methods and Quantum Mech II), but ended up with a GPA that I am proud of. I highly suspect that some form of dark magic is to be blamed.

Last August I came to Columbia, Missouri, without knowing a single soul in the city. I didn't know what grad school was going to be like; I didn't know if I would get along with my classmates; I didn't know what teaching was going to be like; I didn't know what my new church would be like; I didn't know where Walmart was-- there wasn't even a Chick-Fil-A in my new city((luckily that changed quickly!)).

As a person who has publicly denounced change, I wasn't happy with the fact that everything that could change (new school, new city, new state, new friends, new job, new apartment...you get the point) was changing. So, I threw myself headfirst into the newness, hoping that soon enough it wouldn't feel so horribly new. I went to picnics and choir practice, found study partners and alto friends. A month or so into the semester I was invited to a Mizzou football game ((it's super embarrassing to admit how much this meant to me, as the person who invited me along might be reading this!)). Even if the rocks (yes. we were sitting on rocks. no, we were not alone. yes, Mizzou needs to rethink their lives stadium designs) were uncomfortable, it was great to feel like I was making a new home here.

I found out that teaching labs was actually tons easier than I had feared. My biggest challenge-- besides time management because holy cow 25 students who all have long questions at the same time is difficult-- was not the students asking really hard question as I had feared, but finding different ways to say the same thing. I would try different analogies, looking for something that would click with them. It was frustrating if, after fifteen minutes, I hadn't hit upon the magic words that would make the student light up with understanding, but when I did, well that was pretty cool.

I found out that while not as great as physical proximity, weekly Skype chats were a lovely way to feel like I was still with my college friends. I found out that my new classmates were pretty cool; that having my own desk felt pretty professional, and that having a window in my office was a blessing and a rarity.

Eventually, and mostly without me realizing it, I started to slide into my new life until it felt like the newness had been worn away. I created new routines with new friends. I learned more about physics and how I could use it to probe some fundamental questions about the ways our bodies work.

Now, with almost a full year of living in Columbia behind me, I know where all the Walmarts are at (seriously, there are like five). I know some of the endless trails which thread around and through the city. I adopted a furry roommate. I got used to cooking all my meals (somewhat). And, as I am about to set up a dentist appointment, I'm feeling like I'm doing all the adult-ing y'all.

I went on a spring break trip which allowed me to connect with other graduate students not in my department-- which was great. I went on a volunteer/retreat bonanza with my church group-- I discovered that 80 lbs concrete bags were hitting the limit between what I could and could not physically carry.

This was where our retreat was; it was pretty magically beautiful. 

And I just saw the first firefly of the season out my window! My basement-ish apartment has been pretty awesome-- even if my upstairs neighbor just bought a drum set (yup. yup. and he likes to practice).

I guess I just wanted to stop for a minute before my summer whisked away. Somehow, my summer schedule has been packed full-- not exactly the laid back dream I had, but that's fine; I'm learning a lot. During the school year I had this optimistic goal: that I should read one published paper a week on a topic that interested me. While this goal experienced a stunning failure, as a part of my summer job I read multiple papers a day luckily on topics that I find fascinating. If you're ever curious about how one can use the AFM to investigate the health of a red blood cell-- or how type II diabetes effects your red blood cells-- or how one can reverse the aging of a red blood cell then hit me up! ((spoiler alert: my research job isn't actually about red blood cells, I just got on a medical research paper kick this past week...))

Do people still say 'hit me up'? Am I old? Or just positioned slightly outside the stream of pop culture?

Probably that last one.

As always, thanks for reading :)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Volunteering in Austin | Spring Break 2016

Last semester, while I was just getting my feet under me during the whirlwind of graduate school, my department chair sent out an email. It was a forwarded message about a spring break volunteer opportunity through a campus organization called Mizzou Alternative Breaks. I was still harboring a dream of visiting friends during spring break so I quickly google'd when my friends would have their spring break.

As it turned out, no one had a spring break that lined up with my late spring break. So, on a whim I filled out the application. Part of the application had a blank with the instructions 'tell a story'. I wrote a sarcastic instructional manual on how to leave a social gathering in a way that ensured maximum awkwardness, a story that was in no way shape or form derived from anything that had ever happened to me. Of course not.

Somehow, barring my admitted social awkwardness, I was accepted into one of the two graduate student volunteer trips and found out that I would be traveling to Austin, TX to work at a vague organization with even a vaguer name.

Fast forward to last week, and I found myself in a huge van on a 16 hour car ride to the wonderful city of Austin along with six other graduate students from a variety of programs. We were going to the Center for Maximum Building Potential to volunteer doing...something, to be determined upon arrival, for the week. The Center is a place that specializes in green architecture, so they work as environmental consultants on building projects, they design sustainable buildings, they come up with new green innovations, and so much more. When we arrived, at half past midnight, we saw our living situation for the first time.

Suffice it to say, camping would have been more luxurious. As a kid, I always wanted to go camping but I have since grown out of that phase after realizing how many bugs would be involved. Our sleeping quarters, which I called the chicken coop, didn't exactly have four walls, had cute little raccoon entryways that the raccoons definitely took advantage of, and was inundated with 'nature'. From the constant hazy cloud of mosquitoes to the copious amounts of spiders and bugs, we were never truly alone.

This little guy set himself to catch some sun outside our bunks and stayed that way for hours. I wanted to pet him but refrained myself. 
There's a saying from the mizzou alternative break organization: be gumby. This apparently derives from a local business whose logo has character which is similar to the air-filled creations that wave around at used car lots. You know, the ones which flap back and forth kind of creepily? The saying basically means to be as flexible as those waving figures.

Well. If there was an award for the most gumby trip (and there should be) then my group has it in the bag! All week we were faced with unexpected challenges. From the ice cold showers (which eventually warmed up to manageable cool showers even bordering on room temperature) to the amazing abundance of wasp nests (including, but not limited to, the wasp nest inside the coffee pot, which forced us to be innovative in the way we brewed our coffee each morning), my group rolled with the punches.

Don't worry, we found a way to brew coffee. Priorities man. 
We were split into three groups upon arriving, with each group assigned a project. After mentioning that I had been glancingly associated with laying concrete during my mission trip to Honduras I was assigned to work with two other students building a ramp on a set of stone steps leading into the Center.

Now, the way the Center works is not the way I learn best. We were thrown a basic idea-- hey, go build a ramp-- and then left to our own devices. We pooled our little-to-none construction skills together and got to work. I still see ramps whenever I close my eyes. It was stressful, confusing, but the bottom line is, at the end of the week, there was a stone ramp where previously there had been none.

Mixing up concrete is the worst.
After nine hours of construction work I look like a 90s boy, 
Working 9 hour days doing construction work on little sleep with the beginnings of a cold taught me a couple things. The most important lesson?

Just how privileged I am. You see, this physically challenging job, hauling rocks and beams, mixing concrete, picking up 50 lbs bags, etc, was a one week exception. This was not just a normal Tuesday for me, as it is for many people. I have the luxury of being able to choose to follow my passion of getting a PhD, a passion that has me working a cushy, indoor job.

 I don't have to worry about breathing in concrete dust day in and day out, wondering just how effective my mask is. I don't have back pain from constantly lifting and breaking open bags of concrete.  This week was physically challenging for sure, but it is book-ended by an job that pays me to follow my passion. When I'm going through midterms it's easy to lose sight of how lucky I am; my spring break was a refreshing reminder.

We had to load these stones onto a pallet and then unload them onto the ramp. It is mildly unsurprising how unprepared I am for manual labor. 

We made our lunch at the center and cooked a couple of campfire dinners.

The fire might look impressive but those flames are due to some quick burning kindling. I know little to nothing about making a fire, and was never able to get this one to burn well.

We ate a couple of dinners out, and discovered this amazing taco place that I'm still dreaming about.

Just look at that perfection. Is a Torchy's in Columbia too much to ask for?
We had a day off at the beginning of the week we used to explore Austin.

An outdoor graffiti art gallery which is constantly evolving. 
Look at those fresh, clean faces. They didn't stay that way for long. 
This cute mural was actually the hardest to find; we drove in circles for a while before finally stumbling upon it.

And that's about it! I'm really glad that I ended up on this spring break trip; it was a last minute whim that definitely paid off. Happy as I was to be in Austin, I'm also happy to be home. I'm currently reveling in the luxuries of my apartment-- hot showers, a bed that has cushion on it, the utter lack of bugs, and not having to be on my feet all day. My legs are spotted with various bruises of all shapes and sizes but the one with the best story is definitely the bruise on my hand which I garnered after getting it stuck in a working concrete machine. That was the most terrifying five seconds (though in my reference frame it was an hour long ordeal #physicshumor) of my life but I escaped with ten fingers that work, so all is well!

As always, thanks for reading! 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Jan-Feb Book Roundup

Looking for some books to check out? Looking to procrastinate from that assignment you were supposed to start yesterday? Looking for some pretty pictures of book covers?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions (and even if you didn't) then you are in luck! I'm taking a break from obsessing over the new Hamilton soundtrack (okay, who are we kidding, I'm literally listening to the album as I write) to list off the books I've managed to read since the semester started. I found that writing posts like these help me better remember what books I've read and how I felt about them. 

Today, I have two categories of books-- one autobiography and several historical fiction novels for you to peruse. So, without further ado...


The Only Pirate At The Party 
By Lindsey Stirling and Brooke Passey 

Lindsey Stirling is my favorite violinist-- she is a YouTube celebrity whose videos have millions of views. She mixes the traditional sound of a violin with hip-hop and other fun genres. Anyway, when I found her autobiography as an ebook from my library I downloaded it. It was a quick read and really interesting. I enjoyed reading about her life and struggles to make it as a musician. 

Historical Fiction

With romance!
Dawn on Distant Shore 
by Sara Donati 

This is actually a sequel to a novel I've written about before. It follows the struggle of a frontier family as the father discovers he has very powerful Scottish relatives who want to use him as a pawn in the complex religious and social struggles in Scotland. The cover looks rather cheesy, I know, with all the talk of 'epic romance', etc. However, I found the story captivating, and difficult to put down. I can't wait to go get the sequel-- the story is starting to shift to the next generation and I'm excited. 

With murder! 
India Black 
by Carol Carr
This a fun story of a prostitute who runs a brothel and gets involved in saving the British government from a political scandal. I enjoyed the twist on the normal Victorian murder mystery novel. There was only a minimal love subplot which I liked because nothing felt forced. That being said, these Victorian murder mystery novels are becoming a bit repetitive; I don't know if I'll pick up the sequel. 

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir 
by R. A. Dick
This novel wasn't historical fiction when it was written in the 40's. I saw the 1947 movie a while ago and ever since I learned it was based off a book I wanted to read the book. This was a short novel and a quick read. Recently widow'd Mrs. Muir and her two children move into a house on a bluff overlooking the sea. The house also happens to be haunted by its former owner, a salty sea captain. It was a good story, and I like to sprinkle in diverse books into my bookshelf, as I don't often read books from the 40's. I used the inner-library loan to get this book, which is one of my favorite things to do. For those of you who don't know, you can request just about any book, as long as some library in the US has it, and the book will be shipped to your local library. For me, the entire thing costs 50 cents which is a crazy bargain! 
My next in the series of "novels that inspired great films" will be the novel which inspired Foreign Correspondent (1940) which is one of my favorite films. It was based off the stunningly imaginatively titled Personal History by Vincent Sheean. 

That's it! That's all I've managed to read this semester. If I wait until the semester is over to compile a book list I'll inevitably forgot what I read at the beginning. I just made it through the first exam week-- I had to proctor and grade 300 exams for the class I TA on top of having three assignments of my own due, and halfway through the week was my birthday. 

Which means I'm 23! I toyed with the idea of writing a nostalgic/predictive post but suffice it to say, I've entered the realm of boring birthday numbers-- no one counts down the days till their 24th birthday ;) 

Now, I'm back to learning every word to every song on the Hamilton soundtrack. It's a new (off?) Broadway musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton and it's surprisingly absolutely amazing. For the record I think I would kill it at playing Eliza. But alas, my future is in a lab and not the stage. 

Thanks for reading!  

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! :)