Saturday, June 27, 2009


We have lived in our house for less than a year. The previous residents lived here nearly 40 years. The man we purchased the house from was a botanist. That means he studied crazy plants for a living. We have a crazy overgrown garden. Those two last sentences are not necessarily related. But the crazy old man planted the crazy garden. I love it. And hence I love the crazy old man. He was a genius.

It has been lots of fun seeing what comes up out of the ground here. For example, we have a huge male ginkgo tree. Did you know that ginkgos come in male and female? I bet you did not, because ginkgo trees are not so common in these parts. But we have one. I'm prodigiously proud of our ginkgo tree. It's better than a pet because it pretty much takes care of itself.

And speaking of plants taking care of themselves, in early spring, we got daffodils. The whole back yard was lined with color in March and April. After the daffodils came the tulips. And bleeding heart. Then they all died off and started turning brown, but just as they were decaying into ugliness, the earth opened up and snap dragons sprang out to take their place. So now we have a back yard lined with pink and white and yellow and red.

And raspberries. About 40% of the yard is thorny raspberry bushes. Another 20% is overgrown rosebushes. Makes for a lot of thorns. But I respect that in a garden. Just another example of the plants taking care of themselves.

And finally, one of the very best things about buying a house from a botanist is that I never ever have to weed. Ever. Seriously. If I see a new plant start growing up unexpectedly, then I can be certain it is some sort of botanist surprise planted there on purpose to please the eye or provide for the body. We'd better let it grow and see what kind of crazy plant it turns out to be.

Sometimes we get flowers. Poppies and daisies and hyacinths and hollyhocks.

Sometimes we get fruit. Currants and figs and blackberries and strawberries.

But why, oh Reader, do you think the botanist was such a fan of thistles and morning glories?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Easy Cheese Pyramid

Does your brain ever think about two things at the same time?

Not too long ago, when no one was looking, Tim and I hit our tenth wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary to us! I was lying in bed recently thinking about Tim as I waited to drift away to sleep. I sure do love Tim, thought I. Maybe I should write a blog post about that. I started thinking about all the sorts of things I would say.

Simultaneously, in another part of my brain, I began sculpting a pyramid of Easy Cheese (TM). Easy Cheese, a product of Kraft foods (pictured below -- courtesy of Wikipedia), is processed cheese that you spray out of a can. Part of my brain felt it was suddenly important to construct a cheese pyramid. I began forming a base for the pyramid by squirting the cheese in a smooth spiral out from the center. Then I moved the cheese up a layer and began spiraling in.

I should say first that Tim and I have had a great ten years. Really. In those ten years, we have moved seven times, held six different jobs, owned two cars, defended two dissertations, and, to the disappointment of my mother, given birth to just one child.

In the other part of my brain, I spiraled up another layer with the easy cheese. It became a little lumpy in the middle, so I compensated by squirting a little extra cheese on the edges.

Tim and I were married long before any of my grad school friends considered marriage. Once such a friend asked me how I could get married at age 22. How did I know Tim was The One? How could I be sure? I told her that it didn't matter. I chose to marry Tim. And then stopped looking. Why would I keep looking after finding someone like him? What more was there to look for?

The easy cheese pyramid began to get unstable as the pyramid spiraled up. So I squirted some lines of cheese up the sides, from the bottom to the top. I repeated this four times, widening the pyramid.

When we were first married, Tim and I walked to and from school together daily, and met for lunch. We can't do that anymore for logistical reasons, but we still like to talk. We have talked about all sorts of crazy things. We don't agree on everything, but I'm still working on those few opinions that he really ought to change. He has a great smile and a sense of humor. He is funny and smart and very kind and thoughtful.

By the time I had widened and stabilized the cheese pyramid, the top was so thick that it no longer looked like pyramid. Pyramids had thin, pointed tops. My pyramid had a flat top where four thick stripes of easy cheese converged. How, my brain asked, was I going to fix that?

I would have to put my mouth over the top and take a bite, that's how.

Both parts of my brain suddenly cried out in disgust. Ugh! Not that!

Why in the world was my brain constructing cheese pyramids anyway? The more rational part of my brain was disgusted. Here I was trying to think up ideas for a nice little blog post on my ten year anniversary, and I was interrupted by cheese....

Ah. I finally got it. Maybe this topic is a little too cheesy for a blog post.


So, I stated in my last post that I would be giving my last talk last Monday. That's a lot of lasts. And you probably thought I would write after I was finished and tell you all about it. But I switched rooms and had limited internet in the new room. And then the family came to visit and I had to go to bed at night. So I took a vacation from the blog. I'm back, though, and in a year or so I will have caught up on all my work and email and I'll write another post. Ha ha. I'll probably write sooner than that.... Probably....

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Impostor syndrome

Since before graduate school, I have been aware of the impostor syndrome. This is where a person, often an academic, believes that in spite of successes, he or she is actually an impostor in his/her chosen field and career, and eventually he or she will be found out to be a fraud, and people will realize that he/she is less intelligent than everyone thought. It is very common amongst graduate students.

As soon as I heard of this, I recognized it in myself. Of all people, why was I studying at this particular fancy university with this particular fancy fellowship? They were bound to find out how stupid I really was, and then they'd kick me out. Or shun me forever. Or something truly terrible.

Recognizing the syndrome has allowed me to suppress these thoughts. They aren't really helpful. I won't accomplish anything if I sit around waiting for bigshots in my field to uncover my stupidity. And since it's a named syndrome, these voices telling me I'm not really good enough might actually be all in my head. Maybe. Perhaps I am good enough. Whatever that means.

On the other hand, just because I know about this "impostor syndrome" and see its signs in myself doesn't necessarily mean that I'm NOT an impostor and that others WON'T find that out. Or that they don't already know it. How do you change the opinion of someone fancy who has already decided that you aren't intelligent enough? (Intelligent enough for what?) And how much does it matter?

(And I wish I had just given my last talk rather than my third of four. Another one to prepare for Monday and I'm tired tired tired.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cervical cancer prevention

Today I am blogging about cervical cancer.

I typically do not blog about things that will kill you, unless you count my angry husband, but he won't actually kill you, just me for being away for too long and leaving him too many chores at home.

I am blogging about cervical cancer because ... um ... Lena guilted me into it. Er, it is important. And I would like to tell you how to prevent it.

We will start by reviewing the pap smear. The pap smear detects irregularities in the cervix that can lead to cancer. If they are detected early, they can be treated. That is why in the US, it is recommended that you get a pap smear once every year. In the UK, it is recommended that you get a pap smear once every three years. In theory, those extra two extra years would be a good reason to move to the UK, except it doesn't really work that way in practice.

As my most loyal readers know, the annual pap smear is not at the top of my list of my favorite things. The nine of you who were reading my blog last year when I was living in England know that I received a letter in the mail from my local surgery (that's the fancy name of the regular doctor's office) informing me that I needed to get a pap smear. And informing me that because such mail was sent regularly to all the women living in the UK, the rate of cervical cancer in the UK had dropped by 50%. And sure, in theory I could choose whether or not to actually go in to have the pap smear. But if I chose not to go in, and if I died of cervical cancer, then I would mess up all their lovely statistics. So if I were such a huge spoil sport, and I decided not to go in, then would I please sign the enclosed card stating that I was well aware of the horrible risk I was taking by not having a pap smear, and that I might die, and if so and I ruined their statistics it was my own fault for being so stubborn. Thank you very much.

So I went and got my pap smear. Blah.

And it wasn't abnormal.

But if it HAD been abnormal, then the cells of my cervix might possibly have been in a pre-cancerous state. At which point early detection would have led to early treatment which would have saved my life and saved the statistics of the British Commonwealth. Thank you very much.

Well, what Lena wants you to know is that there is now this handy dandy vaccine for women. And while it doesn't replace the need for a pap smear as regularly as you can stand (which won't be more than once a year), the vaccine does in fact block the two strains of the HPV virus which are known to cause the most cervical cancer.

If you still live in the UK, chances are you are getting mail from your local surgery telling you that you need to go get yourself an HPV jab (which means they want to stick a needle in your arm) so that their statistics can become even better. And if you don't want to get that shot, then will you please sign this form stating that you realize that you are a stubborn jack a$s and you are very likely to die and if you ruin their lovely statistics and spoil it for everyone else then you realize it's your own fault for not getting the HPV jab. Thank you very much.

If you don't live in the UK but live here in the US with me, and you would like to improve your own personal statistics for cervical cancer survival, and you are between the ages of 9 and 26 and are female (to increase your chances of owning a cervix), then you, too, can get an HPV jab. Only they will call it an HPV shot in this country. But you can call it whatever you like.

So anyway, in this most informative post here, I believe I have thoroughly educated you about cervical cancer. And if you don't think I did a good enough job, then you can go read this website on your own and write your own post. Thank you very much.

And while you're reading that website and writing your own post, you may notice that the above website mentions a contest. Lena would like you to enter the contest. But I would not. Because it will dilute my chances of winning. In fact, it would ruin all the lovely statistics in favor of my win. So if you are going to ignore this paragraph and enter the contest anyway, will you please sign this letter stating that you realize you are a jerk and if you win the contest and I don't then it's your own fault for entering over my objections. Thank you very much.

Friday, June 5, 2009

In the doghouse, in NYC

My husband and child are putting up ads for a new mother. Husband requests someone who is not only gorgeous and brilliant (like me), but also will pick up son from school three times per week, occasionally do the dishes, and scrub toilets regularly. A light sleeper would be nice, so that he could occasionally sleep through child's late night crying while the other spouse deals with it. (It's tough being the lighter sleeper in a relationship. So I'm told.)

Son requests a mother who will read to him at bedtime, cuddle him after a nightmare, and make sure he brushes his teeth thoroughly every night.

Oh, husband would like someone to make sure son brushes teeth thoroughly, too.

The reason they are advertising for a new mother is that I am a neglectful mother. I am in NYC at a conference and they are home alone. Husband reports that son has been waking up crying every night. Husband is feeling abused. Is filing divorce proceedings. Wife (that's me) hopes he doesn't go through with divorce, because she doesn't expect to find anyone sexier than husband in this lifetime, but realizes that husband has good reasons and the judge would probably side with him.

Meanwhile, NYC is cool and rainy -- at least it was for those couple of minutes I was outside, between leaving the building in which the conference is being held and walking to the nearby Asian restaurant for lunch/dinner and then walking back to the conference and/or my room.

In two days, I have eaten at Korean, Chinese, Thai, and Korean (a different place). Surely there is more than Asian food within walking distance in a city like this? Tomorrow, if I must, I will branch out on my own in search of... Greek? Italian? Anything eaten without chopsticks. Except bagels. Because bagels are on the breakfast menu every day this week and next.

I am staying right here in Manhattan, and my room costs only $80 per night. How, you ask, did I find such a deal? It is a dorm room -- conference housing. At least I have my own bathroom. That's worth $20 of the $80.

The ADA bathroom has two drains. One in the shower, and a larger one outside the shower. Don't underestimate that large drain. Most of the water from the shower is apparently meant to run out into the middle of the bathroom first before making its way into the sewer pipes. My pajamas didn't realize this when they were left in a lump outside the shower, as usual, yesterday morning. After the shower they were soaked. Which meant I was cold last night.

Oh woe is me. Wet pajamas, too much Asian food, and family filing for divorce for neglect.

And I haven't yet finished writing my talks for the conference.

This post ends here.

Footnote 1: You will see in my blog many examples in which I show myself to be an inferior (fill in your favorite blank here). (Some possibilities from this post are: mother, wife, conference participant, fairy princess, etc.) Please learn from my example.

Footnote 2: Timmy, if you will not divorce me, I promise never to agree to attend another three-week conference until Jonathan is grown up and my colleagues are ready to eat Mexican food. And I will scrub all the toilets when I return and do the dishes for three weeks straight and all you have to do is poke me and I'll even take over the late night bad dream cuddling. I promise. And just because it's a run on sentence doesn't mean I'm not sincere.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The incredible shrinking size

A certain woman I know has owned a certain skirt for over 10 years. She bought this skirt at Old Navy over a decade ago, and it still fits quite well and still looks good. It was a pretty standard style skirt, so she still wears it occasionally. It's a size 10, Old Navy brand.

The other day this woman and I went shopping at Old Navy, and she was trying on pants. She found that size 8 drowned her. Size 6 drowned her. She now wears size 4 in the Old Navy brand.

So the size 10 skirt from ten years ago fits her perfectly. The size 4 jeans from today fit her perfectly. In the last 10 years, she has shrunk six sizes without changing body shape at all.

And what does this mean for those of us who don't fit into any of the sizes in stock in the store? Lots of unnecessary shipping fees as we order and then return. One more reason I hate women's clothing.