Friday, January 31, 2014

On Parenting

My friend's baby is put down to sleep between 7 and 8 pm every night.  And every night, around 9 pm, my friend goes back to her lab to do research.  I stay behind.  I catch up on dishes or drama watching, read my scriptures and then sit drowsily on the couch, waiting up for my friend to return safely.

And then, sometime around midnight, right when I'm about to succumb to sleep, the baby starts crying.  My friend has been following the self-soothe method and, after watching her get frustrated with her husband for not following the rules, I'm determined at least to follow her wishes.

So, there I sit, outside a seven month old's room, listening to his crying and counting down the minutes until I go into the room to pat him for a minute, hoping that the patting will pause the raucous noise before the patting time is over and I exit the room to listen to him cry it out again.  I sink to the ground again to listen, wondering, worrying that the crying is keeping up all the neighbors too and that my friend is accruing a large list of non-friends.  Usually, after about forty-five minutes of listening to that baby's frustration at the world, his mother comes home to feed him and I retreat, emotionally and physically exhausted, to my bed.

Last night was slightly different; my friend wasn't near her phone.  So my messages went unheeded.  I sat there, listening to the baby, wondering what to do.  He was absolutely miserable and hungry - but if I were to follow my friend's rules, I was supposed to just leave him.  And yet, I wasn't convinced "cry it out" was working.  I sat torn, guilty for leaving him, guilty for thinking I should not leave him.

I looked up information online and found, at least, that this is the sort of emotional struggle every parent feels.  So, after waiting a prescribed amount of time, and realizing that my friend might not reach her phone for a long time, I went into the room and picked that baby up.  He was happy in my arms and stopped crying, and within a few minutes, had settled his head into my shoulder.  Within ten minutes, he was asleep.  When I tried to put him back in his crib, he woke up and screamed again.  And then that happened again; this baby was not going down without being fed.  He would accept the alternative of being held though so we reached a sort of mutual understanding: I would hold him if he slept and I wouldn't put him down until his mom returned.

I almost wondered if he knew this was my weakness - to holding a sleeping baby.  All of my frustration and anger with him, and my friend, and the process dissipated.  When my friend returned to feed her very hungry baby, I stumbled to bed.

I know nothing about what it's like to be a parent.  I feel I know a little of what it's like to deal with a baby who wakes in the middle of the night.  I'm not convinced I'm ever going to be full of the same amount of love towards my babies as my friends express they have towards theirs.  But somehow, even then, I still want the opportunity to try.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lab Notes

I was scanning parts of my lab book for a colleague today and found this tucked in the pages.
(emphasis added)

I know I wrote that down to send on a postcard over two years ago.  

But frankly, the timing couldn't be better.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


My facebook feed is covered with links to buzzfeed quizzes and I watch them all become popular among my friends.

One on Friday intrigued me: "What kind of Mormon are you, really?"  It was supposed to be a quiz that could predict where you lived (or should live).  Always up for a fun quiz, I decided to take it.  I enjoyed the family friendly questions and eagerly awaited my results.  Jack Mormon.  

Say WHAT?!

I was confused.  I stopped my friend from what she doing (not nearly as important as this quiz, of course).  She took the quiz, put in very different answers from me and got her answer.  Jack Mormon.  We stared at each other in shock.  

We've been friends for over seven years now, since a week after she became Mormon.  We were in the singles' ward together.  We watched the movies, sang the songs, we camped on church property near the Smith farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania.  And we're not real Mormons?  We were both stumped.  But you see, we're both scientists.   So we got to work.  "What are the most Mormon answers we can think of?"  We input our overly "Mormon" answers and got: Pacific Islander Mormon with some description about breaking rules but being loved anyway.  We laughed at our attempts to stump the quiz but decided to do a little investigating.  Do other people get ridiculous answers?  

"I'm from California and it says California Mormon."  
"I got Idaho Mormon and I'm not even Mormon but I am from Idaho."  
"I got Utah Mormon and I'm not even Mormon.  I'm baptist.  I'm not even sure why I took this quiz.  But I really liked the idea of quizzes."  

We laughed.  How did this non-Mormon get something more legitimate than us? 

The weekend went past.  I asked my roommate to take it and my friend asked her husband to take it and we all got Jack Mormon.  Which made us feel better, at least.  Phew!

Today, I couldn't resist when a friend put up a quiz entitled, "What's the Name of your Soulmate."  This should be fun, I thought.  I'm not married - I can't be disappointed by the results.  I carefully put in my answers.  Result: Drop everything and find an Erin.  

I feel like the quiz universe is just laughing at me.  Either that or all of facebook is conspiring against me with their fake real answers.  

Hi, My Name is...

Conversation today with my friend while driving home from the grocery store:

Me: ... so the moral of the story is: do look at wedding dresses while on public computers.
Friend:  When I was in France at a computer place checking email, my companion turned to me and said, "Soeur Taylor, the guy next to me is googling me."  And I looked over and sure enough, he was googling "Soeur Jensen.
Me: Hahaha, he's not going to find anything!
Friend: But honestly, googling the person you're sitting next to them at a computer place?
Me: You know, if I were that guy, and a beautiful woman with a nametag sat down next to me, I just might do the same thing.
Friend: Do you think sexy Ann would?
Me: Sexy Ann?
<Friend nods with her head and I look in front to see our car behind a car at a light with the license place that reads "sexy ann">
Me: Ohhhhh.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Margaret Hale

I finished reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I tried to explain the premise to a friend.  It ended up sounding like Pride and Prejudice.  "Wait, so the girl and the boy meet and don't like each other?  And then the man falls in love with her in spite of himself and proposes and gets rejected?"

But it's not Pride and Prejudice.  It's something much more nuanced.  The woman, Margaret Hale, is someone from a culture where class and distinction are based on birth and education.  It doesn't matter that she is poor and her father a clergyman; she is a gentleman's daughter by right.  However, when her father has religious doubts that lead to a conscientious decision to leave his position in the Church, they move to northern Milton.  There, she meets a man, Mr. Thornton, who is self-made, working his way up from shopboy to mill owner.  His place in society was not determined by his birth but by his own hard-won efforts.  Margaret doesn't fit into the mill owner/mill worker class distinctions in Milton and Mr. Thornton's lack of knowledge of Greek literature and tradesman skills render him unworthy of the title 'gentleman'.  When they meet, it's a clash of cultures.  

Learning to respect/like each other, then, is not simply a situation where one person learns to get over hastily formed opinions; it's a paradigm shift.  Each person learns to see outside of their own deep-rooted upbringing and background to find common ground.  It's a fascinating social commentary on industry, social class, progress and gender roles.  But it's also a great observation about relationships and people.  

Definitely a good read.  Good job, Elizabeth Gaskell.  Good job.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014


This is what happened on my way to the library today: I slipped on ice and slammed to the ground.

This was my thought process:

After this thought process, a number of other questions flooded my mind:
"I wonder how Hasebe is handling physical therapy?"  "How did his slip cause knee damage while mine appears to be ankle damage?"
"Oh, wait, is my ankle going to be ok?  Wouldn't it be bad if I actually sprained it?"
"Looks like I can stand on it.  That's good."
"Oh, it hurts.  I hope that it's not serious."

Hours later, my ankle is not swollen or anything but it definitely hurts every time I move it.

On a different note, yesterday, I found this on my friend's car.  It's a happy snowman!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

More Identity Crisis

On Friday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Air and Space Museum with some of the people from the labs I worked with in Japan.  It was a dream come true.  I can't imagine the last time I was able to spend so much time at the museum, with people who taught me so much.  Asai Sensei not only knew every airplane and rocket and spacecraft, he knew the names of the designers and who built the engines.  He knew what technological advancements were made between the airplanes and when there were paradigm shifts in the industry.  It was fascinating and I followed him around, eagerly trying to remember and soak in as much as I could.

For the rockets, there are a few models of the crude rockets designed and used by Goddard, who essentially pioneered space travel by showing people the validity of using rockets to reach space.  Staring at the bottom of the crude rocket, Asai Sensei pointed out the design of the moveable "fins" that were used to control thrust.  "You see this?  Goddard was the first to come up with such a design.  He patented it too.  But of course the Americans didn't care.  They didn't even notice.  You know who did notice?  The Germans.  They snatched up those patents and learned the technology necessary for their own rockets."

Next, Asai Sensei directed me over to the V2.  When I had first glanced at it, I had shuddered - this rocket that was so powerful and built by people in concentration camps.  But my professor hardly noticed my trepidation and keenly pointed out the same "fin" design found on the Goddard rocket.  "You see, here?  The Germans learned that from Goddard."

I noted the similarity and Asai Sensei kept going.  "Now, you know Von Braun was in charge of designing the V2.  And when the war was over, he came over to the American side and helped with NASA and the success of the design of Saturn V."  I followed him over to the Saturn V rocket model display.  He smiled at me, "It's like one large historical circle."  I nodded, "Yes, it all came full circle."  

As I looked at the Saturn V model in its glass case, it was with new eyes.  This is the rocket that got us to the moon.  Although the Saturn V itself was used for a largely peaceful effort in getting to the moon, it held a bloody genealogy.  The phrase "swords beaten into plowshares" means something differently to me now.  Space exploration which is a peaceful venture to worlds beyond did not come without its costs.  It does not remain untouched from the defense technology that fuels most of aerospace advancement.  It is all intricately intertwined.  

On a similar note, it can be an interesting parallel to think about the hard things in our lives, even the destructive things in our lives.  We can turn them full circle.  Defining positive upward turns in our trajectories might very well come from our darkest and most discouraging lows.  I'm not sure that I have confidence that I could become what I am without the hard things.  I don't think life really gives us the luxury to know the "what ifs".  However, life does give me the chance to demand, "Pain is not the end. I refuse to let this be so.  I will make something of this experience.  I will turn this into something for my good, for others' good.  There will be joy in my life.  There must be joy in this life."  

Never, never give up.  

Identity Crisis

A dad is talking to his son at church and trying to help him get the courage to introduce himself

Dad: Son, don't be afraid.  Say, "Hi, I'm Aaron.  What is your name?"
Son: <looks at me> What is your name?
Me: Erin.
Son: No, it's not!  
Me: Yes, it is.  What is your name?
Son: Aaron.  What is your name?
Me: Erin.  
Son: No, it's not!
<He stares at me incredulously> 
Me: Well, what do you think my name is?
Son: Melissa.  

Friday, January 17, 2014

I Don't Think That Means What You Think It Means

Me: I'm going to DC tomorrow to hang out with my Japanese professors and Fujita-san and Makino-san at the Air and Space Museum.
J-Money: Hahahaha!  That is so quaint!
Me and Annie: Quaint?!
J-Money: Yes!  It's just so perfect.
Annie:  I don't think that means what you think it means.
J-Money: Really?  Quaint?
Me: That's like a farmhouse in the country. <looking it up on my phone> Quaint: Attractively unusual or old-fashioned.
J-Money: Scroll down, to the other definitions.
Me: Picturesque, charming, sweet, attractive, old-fashioned, old-world or cunning.  J-Money, you think I'm sweet and attractive?
J-Money: I was thinking more along the lines of 'charming'. If someone were to ask me where you were and I had no idea and I were to make it up, I would say, "Oh, she's at the Air and Space Museum with some Japanese person."
Me: Charming?  Sure, I'll take it.
Annie: I think you meant 'idyllic.'  Erin is living out her ideals.

In any case -

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Baby Love

So, I spent the past week and a half in Utah and just got back last night.  I confess, I spent most of the time with my friend and her son, E.  In fact, that about sums up the trip.  I know that E won't remember me.  But I still hope, that in some future time, a lifetime away for him, he will not be afraid of me and he will understand that he knew me once and that I love him still.

I also saw a few other friends but visits were limited, which just serves to remind me of all the people in Utah that I love and still hope to and need to visit.

It was an interesting trip, one in which I felt ungrounded and the longer I spent away, the less sure of myself I felt.  Part of that was the job searching I was conducting.  Part of that was having difficult conversations with friends.  Part of that was realizing that out of the past 28 days, I have been away from Cville for 21 of them.
Hanging out with my new pal, E.   

I would love to live on this street.  It's a gorgeous view of the temple.

My jiejie and I were trying to take a picture to prove we had done something "pioneer-ish"  but I'm not good at getting us and the snow-covered statue in the shot. 

Climbing up to Ensign Peak.  It was gorgeous but not quite this blue.

The Salt Lake Valley - it was a fun, short hike.  It was nice to talk about life up here and watch all the city lights down below and feel far away from the worries of it all.  

E and I hanging out while E's mom was working.  The camera distorts our heads so we look like we're the same size.  But he's so adorable, isn't he?  

Questions for Siri

Siri, where does the Vice President live?
- She answered with what the office of the Vice President is.

No, Siri, where does the Vice President of the United States live?
- Her answer was a bunch of websites.  Did you know that no official residence existed until 1974?  Most VPs would just live in their own housing (or housing they separately arranged) but I'm sure with DC housing prices, that became inordinately expensive.

Siri, which has higher alcoholic content - champagne or wine?
- She answered, "I'll call you a cab.  Just don't breathe on me."  We started laughing.  But it wasn't a helpful answer.  For a bunch of Mormons playing Trivial Pursuit, we were trying to figure out if "wine" was a good enough answer when "champagne" was called for.  Is there a difference?  Siri apparently thought we were just trying to get drunk.

Siri, who first gave Brigham Young his nickname the Lion of the Lord?
- Apparently, his followers.  I wanted more specifics.  Give me names!  The sister missionaries at the Beehive House had told us the Native Americans had given him the name, which had struck me as historically inaccurate since lions are from Africa.  My friend and I then wondered if they meant he was a "Mountain Lion of the Lord" but then why add the word "Lord" when their God was not our God?

Siri, where did the phrase King of the Jungle originate from?
- We found no good answers at all.  However, the word Jungle derives from the Sanskrit meaning, "wilderness."  Which makes sense, that the lion could be king of a wilderness known as the Savanna but not of an actual jungle forest that we think of today.  The word "jungle" has just changed meaning.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In Waking Hours

I should be sleeping, I know.

But there I was, lying in bed, panicking about the things I should be doing and the courage I need to do those things that I'm panicking about.

I let my mind wander a bit to other happier subjects and that led me down a road of thinking about Japanese and some of the vocabulary I learned/reviewed today.

Then suddenly, it clicked.  So, here I am, giddy with the realization that I now know a little more than I did about present continuous action in Japanese.

If ganbarimasu is "I will do my best" and ganbatte is "Do your best," I have now figured out that ganbatteimasu is "I am doing my best."

Tomorrow, ganbarimasu.  But in the meantime, I will stop panicking about my life because, honestly, ganbatteimasu.

And that's all that I can ask from myself.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Food Distinctions

A friend and I were trying to figure out what to eat for dinner yesterday and all I could think was that I wanted vegetables.  She said she needed protein.  So, we thought we'd try Siri.  

This is how that conversation turned out:

Friend: Siri, find us a healthy restaurant.
Siri: I'm sorry, can you please define that?  
Me: Ok, that's not going to work.  We need to think of food genres.  
Friend: Genres?
Me: What's the word?  Ethnicities?
Friend: Types? Categories?  This feels like a bad game.  I can't seem to think of it.  What is the word?
.... <We both think about this for a while>
Friend: Maybe we should stop trying to think of the word and actually think of a characterization.  
Me: Characterization?  That's not it either.  Ok, um...something Asian?
Friend: Siri, find a Japanese restaurant.  
Siri: I found a few a little ways away.
Friend: That is so vague.  What does that mean?  
Me: I have no idea.  Wait, how many Japanese people are there here anyway?  Siri, how many Japanese people are there in Salt Lake City?
Siri: Let me think for a moment.  The answer is 480.  
<My friend and I laugh>  <We ask about various populations for a few minutes>
Friend: We have to think about food!  
Me: Middle Eastern!  That's healthy and it includes vegetables and protein.
Friend: Good call.  

Where did we end up going?  An Ethiopian restaurant we came across on our way to the Middle Eastern restaurant.  It was great.  

But I still have no idea what food classification is called.  Any takers?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Writing My Story

I've made my resolution.  I'm going to write my story.  And by write it, I mean live it.  I'm still working out the details...

Yesterday, my friend and I invented our own dinner.  We didn't want to go to the store so we started pulling random ingredients together and baked them together in the oven.  We kept her husband away from the oven and giggled to ourselves over our experiment, wondering if we would have to go to the grocery store and buy one of those already cooked rotisserie chickens and pretend it was something we'd conjured up (on a rotating spit no less).  Turns out dinner tasted delicious and between the three of us, we almost ate the entire pan.  Success!

Today, I've been working on going through my stuff.  I have a new policy - throw away half of my stuff.  I don't quite have the heart to throw away all of my stuff.  I keep hoping that my letters from high school and my journals and photographs will mean something to someone one day.  But in the meantime, I have to figure out how to live with owning "stuff".  One friend suggested I turn it all over to the Library of Congress so that in a few hundred years, I'll be famous!

In a car ride today, traveling 70 mph down the highway, a rock flew out of a dump truck ahead of us and hit the passenger side of the car where I was sitting and left an indent and small cracks radiating from the indent.  While my friend bemoaned her now cracked windshield, I marveled at the science of windshields.  I'm grateful for engineers.