October 31, 2011

Climate Change - Halloween Edition

Four years ago, this is what I wore on Halloween:

I was able to walk around outside in this admittedly skimpy outfit because it was nice and warm. Not like 70 degrees warm, but nice enough that I didn't freeze my ass off at night.

This year, it snowed in Massachusetts the weekend before Halloween. And the snow stuck. The area where we live got off easy, most of the snow melted in the next couple of days. But a lot of people in the neighboring towns lost power. A town in Western MA got 32 inches of snow fall. That's almost three feet of snow in October! In the first snow fall of the year!

If anyone is still doubting that climate change is real and is happening fast, then this is just one piece of empirical data that should really help sway those doubting minds. I suspect that what is throwing some people off is the unfortunate phrase "global warming". Although it is not a misnomer, as global temperatures are indeed rising, it's hard to see a snowstorm in October as a "warming" event. Perhaps my next Labcoat Fridays post should be on some aspect of climate change.

October 26, 2011

Flower Inspiration

Now that the wedding dress has been purchased, I am moving on to other pretty (and less stressful) things - flowers! A florist wasn't in our budget, so I decided to DIY the flowers, hopefully with some help from my family (are you reading this, Mom?). The first step, of course, is to look for some inspiration. And what better place to do that than Pinterest?

I've started pinning photos of centerpieces and bouquets that appealed to me, in the hopes of finding some pattern and figuring out what I like. Here are some examples of centerpieces:

Found here. This one would work well with the colors we've picked out so far.
Found here. I like the cluster, various height bottles, simple flowers.
Found here. Another cluster, summery and loose.
Found here. Camelias in low glasses. Simple yet beautiful.
Found here. Very simple, but these orchids make quite a color statement.
Found here. Simple centerpiece in a blue mason jar. Small candles balance the arrangement.

I also found some lovely bouquets:

Found here. White anemones with navy blue centers.
Found here. Lovely shades of blue bouquet with delphiniums.
Found here. Daisy bouquet with pine fillers (could be exchanged for more summery greens).
Found here. Hyacinths are pretty, but could be quite... aromatic.

Here is one more photo, this one is for aisle decor:

Found here. Wild flowers in a mason jar.

Let's analyze the photos, shall we? What do they all have in common? Well, for one, all the centerpieces are simple. There are no elaborate arrangements. They are either low-height (like mason jars or low-ball glasses) or multi-height, with clusters of containers set at various levels. Apparently my color preference is all over the place - whites, pinks, reds, blues, greens, purples are all represented. I guess flowers are beautiful in all colors, so it's hard to go wrong! Makes my DIY idea easier already. The bouquets are simple as well, with a tight color palette in each one (white and navy blue; white and yellow; blue, white and green). In terms of colors, I particularly like the first centerpiece because it goes well with the colors we have picked out so far for the wedding. (Remember though, our "wedding colors" are rainbow, which just means that I refuse to pick a color scheme. So I can change my mind at any point!)

So, overall, when it comes to flowers, I like simple arrangements and all kinds of colors and flowers. I like low or mixed heights for centerpieces (so people could see each other when they talk across the table!) and tight color palettes for the bouquets. I'll try to keep all this in mind when it comes time to DIY the flowers. I'm pretty excited about that part!

October 24, 2011

Wedding Dress Saga Concludes

In my search for the wedding dress, I tried on many dresses and looked at many, many more online. In the beginning, I considered some actual (though hardly traditional) wedding dresses. But once I realized that even short wedding dresses cost a small fortune, my search shifted to more affordable options. I knew that bridesmaid dresses come in almost any color, and they are generally within a more affordable price range. The problem (and I was aware of this from the beginning but pressed on anyway) is that in my opinion, bridesmaid dresses are designed to be unflattering. It seems that the wedding industry has designated the bride to be the star of the show wedding, at the expense of her closest friends, who are often forced to wear matching dresses in unflattering fit and color. I'm not saying that this is universally true, but that's what I have noticed often happens at weddings.

Still, I had to wear something to my wedding (although I did threaten to show up in a white bikini if I didn't find myself a dress), and so I decided to try on some bridesmaid dresses. After much research, I had my eyes set on this Audrey Hepburn number:

Found here
Unfortunately, when I tried it on, it didn't look so good on me. It doesn't help, of course, that bridal salons only carry certain sizes that are on the larger side because it is easier to pin someone into a too large dress than to squeeze them into a too small one. I get it, but it doesn't help when you are trying to visualize a dress on you while you are drowning in it. Anyway, I also tried on this dress, and liked it:

Found here
This dress looked good on me, and I hadn't even considered a one-shoulder option before. But there were a couple of issues. First of all, it appeared to not be available in white or ivory. And secondly, I didn't love it. I know, I know, the best is the enemy of the good. But I really, really wanted to be excited about my wedding dress. And this option just wasn't doing it for me. Though I'd gladly wear it to someone else's wedding. :)

I tried on many other dresses, none of which worked out at all. So back to the internet I went. I found some decent options, like these:

I was very excited to try this on, but couldn't find any salons that carried it. Found here.
Available in ivory. Found here.
Found here.
Found here.
By this time, I was beginning to feel like I was drowning in a sea of white. All of these dresses looked decent. None of them excited me. And the color white bored me to tears. I decided to take a break from the wedding dress search to regain my sanity. Of course, that was when I stumbled upon the dress that caused much controversy.

And guess what! I loved this dress! I was excited about it! And yesterday, I went ahead and bought it, thus concluding the wedding dress saga. The dress should be arriving to my house sometime this week, and then the search will really, finally, be officially over.

Pictures to come after the wedding!

October 21, 2011

Labcoat Fridays: Sustainable Plastics

I am starting a new feature on the blog called Labcoat Fridays, where I will talk about some exciting developments happening in various areas of science. It probably won't be a weekly feature, as these posts would require a lot of prep work, but we'll see what happens. Here is the first Labcoat Fridays post!

As a materials scientist, I have a membership with the Materials Research Society, also known as MRS. As part of that membership, I receive a monthly publication called MRS Bulletin. The September issue was of particular interest to me, as it focused on sustainability and biopolymers, two topics that I am very excited about. Biopolymers are simply plastics that are derived from nature rather than fossil fuels (aka oil). On a very basic level, the concept of sustainability means living in a responsible manner.

And as we are all aware, some of the current practices involving plastics can hardly be called sustainable. For example, those plastic bags that we get in the store every time we shop (and forget our tote bags) likely end up in the landfill, where they indefinitely remain as trash. In the worst case, the plastic bags wind up in the ocean, where they trap and suffocate many small animals. Sure, you can bring your plastic bags to a local store to be recycled (unfortunately, they are not accepted as part of household recycling), but how many people actually remember to do that? And that's just the plastic bags! I am lucky enough to live in a community where almost everything can be recycled or composted, but there are still many cities that have no household recycling programs at all, and those that do are very limited in the items they accept.

Nevertheless, it's difficult to deny the advantages of using plastics. Plastic containers reduce food spoiling, plastic parts are vital to the health care industry (think of all those disposable syringes that prevent contamination and infection), and plastics are responsible for our cars being much lighter than those older metal models. Lighter cars use less fuel (something we can all be happy about with these gas prices). Of course, plastic cars also dent easier.

Yes, plastics aren't perfect, but they are definitely useful. So, wouldn't it be great if scientists could come up with plastics that are naturally sourced (no dependence on oil) AND decompose when they are no longer useful? Well, that is exactly what has been happening in science, as I learned in an article by P.J. Halley and J.R. Dorgan. Several areas of science have come together to bring sustainable plastics into existence. Ecology, biotechnology, nanotechnology - these sound like a bunch of buzz words that could be rearranged indefinitely to come up with a name of some biotech startup company in California. But it's exactly these buzz words that may be responsible for helping us use plastics in a sustainable manner in the future.

These sustainable plastics, or biopolymers, have at least one thing in common - they are all derived from nature. Which just means that these plastics come from plants! That's where ecology comes in - growing plants as a naturally renewable resource for making plastics. Of course, you can't just take a bunch of grass and make a Coke bottle out of it - there are some intermediate steps involved. Sometimes, these steps involve biological organisms, like bacteria or algae, which digest the plants to make the plastics. These steps are part of biotechnology. Some plastics that are commonly used in food packaging, like starch or cellulose (you know, the thin, crinkly plastic that crackers are often wrapped in), are made from plants in one step. All you do is feed some plants to algae, make sure those algae are happy little campers, and voila! - you have yourself a sustainable plastic.

Well, that's all fine and good, but the reality is that sometimes those bio-plastics just don't perform as well as oil-based plastics. Maybe they are not strong enough, or maybe they decompose prematurely (imagine that: waking up on a Monday morning, getting ready for your commute, only to discover that the front bumper of your car is... gone). Whatever the issue, we have a ways to go before we can really replace all the current plastics with their bio versions. But nanotechnology has developed some ways to make these sustainable plastics be useful now. For example, if the biopolymer is not strong enough, its strength could be increased by adding strong natural fibers, such as hemp or jute, to the plastic. The final product is still all natural, but now also much more useful for things like interiors of automobiles (that way, your glovebox compartment won't spontaneously deteriorate overnight).

Of course, all this research only matters if we can see some positive changes in the plastics industry as a result. Yes, we still have a long way to go before all our plastics are naturally derived, but here is a sign that change is already here:

All pictures from the MRS article linked to in the post.

October 20, 2011

Ok, I admit it

This is why my showers take so long...

Found on Pinterest
Hey, those hard life decisions have to be contemplated at some point during the day!

October 19, 2011

Save-the-Dates, the DIY way

Early on in the wedding planning process, I decided to DIY our Save-the-Dates. Generally, I think that STDs (as I lovingly call them) are not necessary. But we do have some out-of-town guests that have trouble remembering dates that far in advance, and I also thought it would be a nice opportunity for me to get a bit creative without putting too much pressure on myself, so I decided to make the STDs for the guests.

While browsing on Pinterest for inspiration, I came across an idea that I really liked - a personalized bookmark as a Save-the-Date. D and I are book lovers, and lots of our friends and family are, too, so I thought that a bookmark would not only serve as a reminder of our wedding date, but it would also be potentially useful to our guests long after the wedding is over. And, it is subtly representative of our mutual bookworminess. Here is the design that served as my inspiration:

Before diving into this DIY project, I wanted to make sure that I was prepared and knew what I was getting myself into. First, I thought about how I would actually make these STDs by myself. I figured that if I kept the dimensions of each bookmark at 2" by 6", then I could fit at least four on a regular sized, 8.5" by 11" page, with plenty of room for margins and space between the bookmarks. I needed about 30 STDs, so eight pages would suffice (assuming nothing would go wrong, har har).

I then researched the paper selection available at a store like Paper Source. Of course, this research was all done online at this point. I found out that there are different weight papers, with different types of surfaces (smooth, textured, glossy, shimmery, etc.), and that there are some papers that are suitable for use with regular ink jet printers, while others are more likely to give you heart attacks jam. I decided right away that I would definitely avoid the problematic papers, and it worked out well at the end. I also did some preliminary research on envelopes, but not too much. All this time, I was paying attention to prices. This helped me confirm that, barring a terrible disaster, the DIY route would save me money. (This is definitely not always the case. For example, see my bentwood chair makeover project.) You know, because while the bookmark save-the-date found on Pinterest served as the inspiration for the design, our wedding budget served as the inspiration for the DIY route.

Armed with this information, I was ready to begin. To design the STD, I used Photoshop. The first hurdle in the design process was choosing a photo of us to use in the STD. We had planned to have our engagement photoshoot done by this time, but it had not happened yet. I was too lazy to try to take a self-timed photo of us, and so I decided to go hunting in my photo archives to see what I could find. I narrowed my selection down to three photos. The design of the STD actually dictated which one of the three I ended up using. I wanted to have a smooth transition between the photo and the white space on which I would write all the relevant information about the wedding, and this was easiest to do using a photo that had a pale sky at the top of it. Only one of my photos qualified, so that's what I went with.

With the photo selected, I moved on to the wording. The text had to cover the basics only: it had to state that this was a Save-the-Date (not to be confused with an invitation), it had to mention that D and I were getting married, the date of the wedding (duh), the general location of the wedding (city and state), and that an invitation will follow (I suspect this is crucial if you want to avoid questions from your guests about all the details that are missing from the STD). Once I laid out the text, I had to choose a font. Photoshop comes with many fonts, and I turned to those first. I selected two fonts and used those for the text. Luckily, D vetoed the fonts that I chose as too "old-fashioned". Just to clarify, there was nothing wrong with the fonts, but they were not meshing with our concept of a modern, non-traditional wedding. Once D pointed that out to me, I saw his point and went searching for a more modern font. I found what I was looking for on a website called dafont. (The font I linked to is the actual font we used on our STD design.) With the photo and font selected, and the layout finalized, the STD design was complete. Here is what we ended up with (for privacy reasons, some portions of the STD are hidden):

The next step was the purchase all the printing and mailing supplies. The shopping list included paper, envelopes, mailing labels, and postage stamps. The purpose of the mailing labels was to save my sanity - there was no way in hell I was going to write out thirty mailing addresses, AND our return address thirty times. Instead, I bought sheets of mailing labels (I chose the 30 labels per sheet variety) from Staples and created a file with all the mailing addresses laid out in a way that corresponded to the labels on the label sheet. This was easy to print, peel and apply to the envelopes. Done and done.

For paper and envelopes, I went to an actual Paper Source store. I must have spent at least an hour ogling pretty paper and notebooks and planners and calendars... you get the idea. Before I had entered that store, I had no idea that paper could be so interesting, but it was. Focusing on the paper, I narrowed down my choices to about eight shades of cream, and selected one with the texture and weight I liked the most. The employees at the store were extremely helpful in advising what kind of paper would work with my ink jet printer, and what printing settings to use. I also discovered that there were many, many different size envelopes that came in all colors of the rainbow, and everything in between. I chose the envelopes that were just big enough to fit our STDs, and I selected two colors because I couldn't choose just one.

Armed with all the supplies, it was time for the next step: printing. Honestly, I prepared myself for the worst. I was 100% positive that the printer was going to crap out on me. I was ready for the paper to jam, for the ink to run out, for the printer to suddenly stop working, and I warned D that it was very likely that I would go into a screaming fit of rage while attempting to print our STDs. The household had been given a fair warning. I had bought a pack of ten sheets, leaving me a couple of extra sheets if things went wrong.

But I was in for a surprise. The printing went surprisingly well. I did a lot of preliminary printing on regular paper to figure out the best setting (I went with "Best" quality and the highest dpi setting that my printer could support). I was also anal enough to save my picture in three different file formats to see which one printed best (in my case, out of JPEG, PNG, and TIFF, the best printed quality turned out to be JPEG, to my surprise). With the file format and the printer settings optimized, it was time for the real deal. I nervously fed the first sheet of thick Paper Source paper into the printer and hoped for the best. I literally paced around the apartment, praying to the imaginary printer gods, while the STDs were being printed. (I should note that I simply put four copies of the STD design into a Word file and printed that out eight times.) Miraculously, and completely unexpectedly, the first page printed with no issues. If I am being honest, I would say the print quality looked decent, but in no way did it look professional. I was ok with that, as this was a DIY project after all, and so I did not let that bother me.

The rest of the eight pages printed uneventfully (I didn't even run out of ink!), and I was ready to move on to the next step: cutting the STD bookmarks out of the sheets. Luckily, I had access to a paper cutter at work, and that is what I used. This is when I learned another lesson. It might be nearly impossible to perfectly align the paper when feeding it into the printer. As a result, the edges of the bookmarks were not perfectly aligned in parallel with the edges of the paper that I was cutting. That meant that if I aligned one end of a bookmark edge with the paper cutter, the other end might have some extra "white space" where it shouldn't be. So if I were to do this all over, I would choose a photo that not only had a light sky on the top, but also had a light background on the sides. That way, if the bookmarks were not perfectly cut, no one would notice it. In my case, some bookmarks ended with with a noticeable white edge around the photo part of the design. Again, I chose to let this go and not agonize over the situation. Lesson learned for when I DIY the invitations (oh yes, that will be happening).

And just like that, I was done! The STD bookmarks had been designed, printed, and cut. They were ready to be mailed in the pretty, colorful envelopes for our guests to enjoy. And most importantly, my sanity was still intact.

October 17, 2011

Wedding Stress is "Normal"

This weekend, I had my first breakdown over the wedding. After I finished crying, I thought to myself that it's ok, it is perfectly normal to cry over wedding planning related stuff. Everyone does it. Or, I should say, every bride does it. I have yet to see a man go into a hissy fit over the color of the napkins, for example. Even my favorite sane wedding blog tells me how ubiquitous wedding stress is.

But it was exactly this line of thought that made me stop and question the validity of this assumption. Why IS it expected that a bride will stress and cry at some point in the wedding planning process? Why is it NOT expected that the groom will do the same? It's a wedding for two, after all. (Yes, I am aware that my statements apply to heterosexual weddings only. But that's only because I don't really know what the society expects in terms of wedding breakdowns when it comes to same-sex couples.)

My own tears were spilled over nothing particularly important. In retrospect, it was obvious that I interpreted some people's words and intentions incorrectly, filtering them through the lens of the wedding industrial complex. I realized that I broke down because: 1) my brain was exhausted from making wedding-related choices and decisions, and 2) I was afraid that people would judge me based on my choices. But the funny thing is that I have gone through life never worrying about what other people might think of my choices. I always thought that if someone has a problem with what I do, then it's actually their problem and not mine. (See "Somebody Else's Problem" in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.) So why did I suddenly start worrying about what other people might think about my wedding related choices?

The agonizing decision in question was related to the wedding dress. I was considering a dress that in no way fits the description of a typical wedding dress. It did not bother ME in the slightest. In fact, I was more excited about this dress than any other that I have seen online or tried on so far. But for some reason, I worried what our wedding guests might think about it, and how they might judge ME based on this one particular choice. Once I realized that this is what was causing me stress, I found it quite ridiculous. I recognized that the wedding industrial complex had affected me after all, despite my best efforts to avoid and ignore it. And I was done with that crap. I came up with a criteria that would help me finalize my wedding dress decision. Whenever I consider a dress, I will ask myself: "Would I wear this dress if we were getting married in City Hall, just the two of us?" And if the answer is a resounding YES, then I know I have found the right dress. Because, ultimately, the only person who has to be happy with my dress is me.

October 12, 2011

Explosive Save-the-Dates?

I had another topic in mind for tonight's post, but after a day like today, I have to write about what happened.

On Monday, I finally finished making the Save-the-Dates (also known as STDs). Last night, D and I addressed, stamped, and stuffed the envelopes, and our STDs were ready to be mailed off to our guests. I was so excited that I did a happy dance around the apartment. They were finally done! Our friends and family will finally get to see the fruit of our labor! Yay!

After spending half an hour standing in line at the post office yesterday to buy the stamps, I decided that it's not worth dropping our STDs off at the post office. USPS conveniently picks up mail from work every weekday, so I figured I would just drop them off today. And so around ten a.m., I did just that, with happy thoughts about finally getting these STDs out the door still floating around in my head.

At around 11:30 a.m., something exploded in one of the labs. And the entire building was evacuated. I was in lab at that time, so I just ran out in my lab coat, with no possessions on me. We saw smoke coming out of one side of the building while we waited around in the parking lot for the fire trucks to arrive. An hour later, we were told to go home, since no one would be allowed back into the building until the HazMat team (!) figured out what was going on. Luckily, D and I were able to carpool with a coworker who happened to have her car keys on her, but we went home without our keys, cars, wallets, or cell phones. We got lucky once again when our landlord turned out to be around to let us into our apartment.

And the entire time this was happening, I kept thinking about our STDs not getting mailed today. And worrying about their fate - what if they didn't survive the incident? There was no way I would redo all of them from scratch! (Clearly, my priorities have been affected by the wedding planning insanity.)

For the rest of this involuntary half-day off, I took the opportunity to catch up on the latest NCIS episodes. What can I say, this was my coping mechanism!

We will find out what happened with the STDs (and the building) tomorrow morning.

P.S. A post on how to DIY the STDs is coming soon (after our guests receive the Save-the-Dates).

October 10, 2011

Blog updates

Just a short post to let you know about some minor updates that have been happening over here on the blog.

First of all, I finally got around to updating the header. Yay for pretty pictures! When I started this blog, I was hesitant to share it with people because it was so "un-designed". But at the time, it was more important for me to start writing than to spend time on prettifying the blog, so that's what I did. I also noticed that other people's blogs evolve and change over time, both in appearances and functionalities. So, I figured it was ok. But the blog finally feels more personalized, now that it has a brand new header.

In the side bar, I've now included an option to follow the blog by email, for those of you who prefer that option. I also added a search bar that allows you to search the contents of this blog.

Finally, I've updated the Link Love page to include some more awesome people whose blogs I've recently started following. So go check them out!

October 7, 2011

Figuring out my taste

Three years ago, I moved in to my first solo apartment. It was a studio apartment, and I was in a rush to furnish it. The rush was mostly due to the fact that I was starting a new full-time job four days after I moved in, and I didn't think I'd have much time to furnish and decorate my place after I started working. That's because I was not familiar with the concept of decorating things slowly. This impatience gene I have is expressed quite dominantly...

Unfortunately, as it sometimes (often) happens when you try to decorate your place quickly, you end up buying the first thing that seems to work, without giving much thought about whether it will go with the rest of the furniture/decor, or whether you ACTUALLY like it. Sure, it will be functional, but will you want to look at it every day?

Most of the major pieces of furniture that I had bought during those four days have been sold or donated since then. I learned my lesson about figuring out what I like first, and thinking about the apartment as a whole, before making a purchase. Of course, this means that our living room is still not completely "finished", one year later (but it's mostly furnished, at least). So, the good thing is, I stopped wasting money on things I don't really like. The hard part now is figuring out what it is that I actually like!

Enter Pinterest. This useful website essentially lets you create inspiration boards, or collections, by putting together pictures you find on the internet. I have a board on Pinterest that is called "For the Home". So far, I've amassed 115 home decor photos that have inspired me. So, I decided to go analyze my board to help me figure out what I like. For instance, here are some examples of bedrooms that I have pinned.

Found here
Found here
Found here
Found here
What do all these bedrooms have in common? Well, for one, the color palette in all of them is very light. And I love it. There are some bursts of color here and there, which keeps things interesting. They all have curtains. There are many different fabrics present, which add layers of texture to the rooms and give them that cozy feeling. And the one single thing that all these rooms have in common that translates well to practical shopping is... they all have white bedding! So, the next time I consider buying a dark blue comforter, I will remember that actually, what I consistently like is white bedding. And then I will make a choice I can live with for a long time.

October 5, 2011

Brimfield Antique Show

About a month ago, D and I attended the Brimfield Antique Show for the first time. The Brimfield Antique Show is the largest antiques show in this country, and conveniently enough, it happens to be in Massachusetts. It happens three times a year (May, July, and September), and goes on for about a week at a time. This is about all we knew when D decided to book a nice weekend trip to the show, complete with a stay at a bed and breakfast. This trip was his birthday present to me, and I was very excited to go, given my recently developed interest in antiques and flea markets (and long-time love of bargain hunting).

The B&B that we stayed in was charming, exactly how I would picture one of these cozy places should be. We stayed in Tolland Inn in CT, which was the closest B&B to the show we could find that was still vacant by the time we started looking. The owner, Steve, was super nice and helpful, and he made the most kick-ass breakfasts. One morning, we had a fruit bowl, followed by a quiche, and finished off with an apple cake pie (yes it was a cake pie, and I cannot explain it other than it was delicious). A three-course breakfast! I highly recommend this place, and I would go there again. As for our room, I couldn't ask for more. Let's just say, our bathroom had a clawfoot soaking bathtub. Yup.

Nothing that we read could have prepared us for the enormity and insanity of the antique show. We went on Friday and on Sunday, and we definitely did not cover more than half of it, at the most. I'm not sure that is even possible, unless you go every day of the week. Anyway, we saw some interesting items, as well as some really off-the-wall pieces.

For example, we saw this bench, which I thought looked interesting, but I had no idea where one would use it. Maybe a backyard, if we had one? But then it's upholstered, and we don't have a backyard, so... we moved on.

We also saw this intriguing identity kit, which I think was used in the past to identify people by witness descriptions, before computers or sketch artists.

I liked this luggage rack, which could have been repurposed as a side table if I put a tray on top of it, but the seller was not willing to bargain (even though it was the last hours of the show), and so it did not come home with us.

During the show, I looked for chemistry lab glassware because I love chemistry and because I was getting some ideas about using the glassware as part of the decor in our wedding. I only found one seller that had the chem glassware (remember, we only covered a small part of the show, so there might have been others), but the price was too high. Still, I was excited about finding it at all, and so I took a picture.

Some items did come home with us at the end of the show. Our biggest purchase (literally) was a coat rack, which we are already using in our entry way.

We also bought a child-size chair, even though we don't have any children.

But I had other ideas for it anyway. Like this one, for example.

D bought an old book with instructions on how to use hand tools. It's pretty hilarious.

I also bought a print of red currants, which are so rare in this country, but were quite abundant back in the motherland. I am planning to frame the print and hang it in my office at work.

On Saturday, we took a day off from the antiques and went hiking in the Bigelow Hollow State Park in CT. It had recently rained, and so the forest was full of funky looking mushrooms, like these:

And the hike was beautiful. We took a break here:

Overall, it was a great weekend trip, and we are definitely planning to go the the Brimfield Antique Show again next year. Next time, we will be better prepared!

October 3, 2011

A Day in a Life of a Scientist (welcome to real life)

As I mentioned in my previous post, my naive vision of what a day in a life of a scientist might look like didn't quite correspond with reality. Here is a more realistic description of my average day.

You get in to work late because you stayed up way too late last night, contemplating your life, the universe, and everything, and then you got stuck in traffic on your normally forty minute drive to work. You open your email and discover that your boss had sent you a VERY IMPORTANT EMAIL last night at seven pm. Something about a report that was due yesterday that you had never heard about until now, but it's all of a sudden your responsibility to write it and get it sent out, and of course this takes priority over everything else in your life. You sigh, realizing that your plans of going to lab early and getting something productive done on your own program have now officially been shot to hell.

You stop by your boss's office, still have asleep because that morning cup of tea has not kicked in and you haven't yet had your second cup. While your boss explains to you what this urgent report is all about, your mind starts to wander, as you begin to question, for the umpteenth time, why you spent all that time and effort and took on all those student loans to get that advanced degree. As far as you are concerned, some aspects of your job could easily be done by a high school graduate, and other parts could have benefited much more from an arts-and-crafts class than from a third year of thermodynamics.

On the way back to your office, you pour yourself a second cup of tea before sitting down on the less-than-ergonomic chair and starting on the report. Sometimes, this report happens to be on an exciting topic, and you immerse yourself in googling, searching for all the relevant and interesting information. Inevitably, you wind up on Wikipedia, which sends you on a never-ending spiral of clicking on "related" pages, and we all know how that goes. Before you know it, it's lunch time and you have written an entire paragraph of the report.

Lunch time is an exciting opportunity to learn where you stand on the social ladder of the company. Most of the time, you don't concern yourself with this imaginary ladder, and quietly eat your lunch at your desk while reading your favorite blogs. Sometimes, a coworker invites you to join them for lunch in the cafeteria, and you join them because you know this crowd will always have fun stories to tell. Occasionally, another group of  (older) coworkers goes out to a restaurant for lunch, and every time you join them, you end up regretting it. That crowd spends the entire hour engaged in a bitter bitchfest about their work, lives, politics, and everything.

After lunch, you head back to your office and face the dreadful report again. In a small act of rebellion, you decide to spend a couple of hours on your own program after all, report be damned (anyway, you work better under pressure, and five o'clock is far away). You head over to the lab, only to discover that your experimental setup has been dismantled, and your samples have mysteriously disappeared. The lab looks as usual, like the eye of the hurricane just passed through. You spend the next hour looking for equipment and materials to set up your experiment again. It's finally all assembled, but then you realize that your experiment takes five hours to run, and it's already two pm, and that report still needs to be written.

Before leaving the lab, you write a menacing note to anyone who might be eyeballing your equipment for their own purposes and tape it securely to your setup. You shuffle back to your office and glance at your email (which is open all day, in case anything "urgent" pops up in your inbox). You find that your boss has CC'ed you on the end of some email thread on some topic you hadn't been "read into". Familiar with this tactic, you anticipate yet another quickly approaching deadline heading your way soon.

Anyway, that report has to go through several rounds of approvals before being sent out, so you finally resort to a cup of coffee in an effort to keep yourself alert, and hunker down with the report. At four pm, you are done with a draft, and send it off for review. Finally, you have some time to properly plan your experiment for tomorrow, assuming no one "borrows" your equipment again. But at this point, you are so frustrated at the realization that you had spent most of your work day on a report that someone else will put their name on, that it is difficult to concentrate on your experimental plan. Still, you focus on it and write it all down, step by step. You even print out the procedure, so that it's ready for you to start in the morning tomorrow. You hope that tomorrow will be more productive.

The work day is over, and you are getting ready to leave when your boss stops by to discuss some brilliant new idea that needs to be addressed this week. Half an hour later, you finally start your car and drive home, stopping on the way for groceries. That dinner isn't going to cook itself, so you get home and get cracking in the kitchen. By the time you are done with dinner, it's eight pm, and all you want to do is curl up on the couch and read a good book. You force the fleeting memories of dance classes and hobbies out of your mind. You close your book and head to bed, thinking:

Tomorrow is another day.