Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tears of Joy

It was a fairly normal shopping trip, as far as shopping trips go.  Perhaps, my friend and I picked up a few more items than we would normally, on account of being hungry.  But overall, nothing too spectacular happened, not even an unusual purchase or great price find.  

That is, until we reached the checkout.  Having a baby in our midst has its perks.  People always feel the need to reach out and catch his attention, angling for a smile.  

Today was no different.  The bagger was immediately drawn to Pretty Boy and started asking me questions.  "How old is he?"  

"Eight months," I replied, with a smile.  

"He's as big as my niece was at 3 years of age."  I looked at him in shock as he proceeded to tell me about his niece who had been born weighing in a little over a pound, several months premature.  "The doctors didn't expect her to live."   "Yeah, she was a miracle baby.  They put a sign over her crib."  "The doctors said if she lived, she wouldn't live a normal life.  But you know something, that little girl started school this year."  

I started blinking rapidly, shocked to find myself fighting back tears.  I was so happy for this family, happy to have met this man, happy that I was with a baby who prompted this man to share something of himself.  

I made a point to look at this man's nametag: T.J.  Then, as the checking out finished, I looked him in the eye.  "Thank you.  Please take care of yourself."  

There is joy to be had.  Thank you, T.J., for reminding me of the miracle of babies and of life and of living.  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

How Dry Ice Saved my Saturday

The past month, on Saturdays, I have been teaching elementary kids about fluid mechanics.  I had grand plans for this course, plans that included building a wind tunnel so that we could do some experiments.  How hard can it be to build a wind tunnel, I thought.  I practically got a PhD in lab repair.  

But then life happened due to a series of events.  Less than a week before the last class, no tunnel had been built.  I was determined, though.  This was going to happen. 

I worked on this tunnel all week long, putting in several hours each day to build the requisite parts of the tunnel.  By Friday, all I had left was to figure out the visualization of the flow.  

The result was kind of a mess.  Incense smoke?  Yeah, it made an ashy mess in my kitchen and left my roommate with a headache from the fumes.  It had looked so simple on the NASA website and so straightforward on the wind tunnel in Japan.  Why wasn't it working for me?  

"Time's running out," I thought last night around 9 pm.  "Can I appease the kids with a non-working wind tunnel that was made, literally, from cardboard and duct tape?"  It was almost laughable, except that piece of cardboard held together with duct tape had taken my entire week!   

I convinced my roommate to let me try one more time, with the tunnel exhausting out the window so that the incense didn't overwhelm the apartment.  As we lit several incense sticks and held them up, a few friends happened by our open window.

"Whoa!  What are you doing?"
"Come see!"  We invited them in.  "We're trying to figure out how to make this wind tunnel work."  

With four heads put together, we figured out that reducing the mass flow rate helped make the smoke more visible.  However, looking at the ashy fragrant mess, I wondered how this would work on a practical level in the classroom.  

"Why not try dry ice?"  One friend suggested.  Together, we trekked over to the local supermarket and bought a block of dry ice to try it out.  (Apparently, it's that easy - if you're over 18, that is.)  

It worked, like a charm.  The wind tunnel ran.  The class was a success.  I went away, rejoicing.
Artistic shot with Annie's foot.  
(The multi-colored part is the honeycomb made of over 1000, 1 inch pieces of straw taped together)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What Day is It?

Thump.  Something soft landed on me.  I tried to open my eyes and failed.

"Here," my friend whispered.  

"What is it?" I asked, still fighting the battle of waking up properly.  

"It's a blanket."  

I pried open my eyes to look at my friend in the dark.  I already had a blanket.  Why was she giving me another one?  Isn't she sick?  Did she just give me one of her blankets?  What time is it?

I lasted about fifteen seconds before my head dropped to my pillow and consciousness slipped away.  

"Hey," my friend whispered.  "How do you feel?"

I pulled my head up in an attempt to wake up.  I did a quick mental check of my body conditions.  Tired - that was the only feeling I could gather from my disjointed thoughts.  

Can you watch my baby while I wash my hands?"  I sat up groggily and put my hands out to receive a baby.

"Did you just change his diaper?" My mind was grasping at straws.  I looked at the clock: 6:00 am.  

"Yeah," my friend said.  "My mom is sick.  I'm sick.  I can't take care of the baby too so I'm taking him to daycare.  Are you sure you're not sick?"  

"Not sick.  Do you want me to change his clothes?" I asked, still woodenly holding the seven month old in my arms. 

"I already did," my friend responded.  

I looked down at the baby.  Sure enough, the bundle of warmth included a cute fleece vest set.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blizzard Day

I love snow.  It makes me giddy.  Last night, we got 8 inches of it.  (As reported to me by my sister according to the National Weather Service)

Today, it's been hard to concentrate.  Who needs to look for jobs when there's SNOW?  Who needs to eat when there's SNOW? What is this about lesson plans for Saturday?  Hello!  SNOW!

By about 3 pm, despite the fact that I still hadn't ventured out into the lovely white world of wonderful, I was restless.  Part of me has been conditioned to think snow day = free day.  The other part of me was getting increasingly stressed by my lack of productivity.

Then it started snowing again in earnest.  Pretty snow was quickly turning into blizzard snow.  My roommate looked at me, "Are you sure all will be normal by tomorrow?"

In any case, we decided to give into our inner child and go take some pictures before returning to our computers and our work.

I tried to convince my roommate that taking a picture with a person in it would better show the snow.  Don't mind the piles of white stuff behind me.  
Snow angels in the street 
Us in the snow.  
Happy Snow Day!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Le French et Mr. Jefferson

Today, President Obama visited Charlottesville.  The President of France is visiting and Obama chose to take a little jaunt to TJ's stomping grounds because of Mr. Jefferson's love of all things French.  I would like to add that he could have visited Francophile James Monroe's estate as well.  Monroe was once given a bust of Napoleon of Napoleon from the Emperor himself and I'm not sure you can get more French-loving than that.  (Then again, Monroe also established the Monroe Doctrine, which advocated an American foreign policy of "we'll leave you alone if you leave us alone" so perhaps that is sending the wrong kind of message in an attempt to have a good working relationship with foreign heads of state?)

All day, Charlottesville has quietly buzzed with the pride of the idea that at some unknown time, Obama and the President of France (Hollande) would descend on our community.  We weren't told many details but that all or any roads could be closed between the hours of 2:30 pm and 6:30 pm.  My friend and I tried our best to figure out day care scheduling.  You can imagine our thrill when we traveled down 29 to find very little traffic...that is, until we saw the roadblocks.  Of course, my friend's son's daycare was smack dab in the middle of section of road blocked off.  There wasn't much we could do but park and walk into to retrieve the baby on foot.

It was a surreal feeling to walk down a normally busy street, while cars beyond the barriers adjusted their routes in desperate attempts to return home during a suddenly not-so-normal commute.  The baby was about as thrilled as the weary commuters so we sang his favorite song in an attempt to distract him.

"The wheels on the bus go round and round..."

In honor of the occasion, we even invented a few new verses:
"Obama on the bus goes 'Shut down all the roads' all through Charlottesville."
"Le President de France goes 'Take me too' all through Charlottesville."
Then we joined the masses of cars, taking the path of least resistance in an effort to make it back home.  There was no complaining between us- I mean, can you really complain when the heads of state of two countries think it worth their busy schedule to visit?  All in all, it was kind of exciting, even if the entire proceedings had been overly secretive and vague resulting in massive traffic jams.  

But did I glimpse of any presidential convoy?  Nope.  Not one bit.  I could almost believe I made it up.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What it Takes to Make a Person Happy

I have a very unsettled life right now.  I spend my week days living with one friend who has a seven month old and is a fourth year (is that right?) in graduate school.  On Friday nights, when her husband comes home, I transfer to another friend's house who is a fourth year undergrad.  My weekend consists of teaching fluid mechanics to kids (only some of them are happy about it) and then being exhausted the rest of Saturday.  Sunday morning finds me carrying all of my stuff back to attend church with my married friend and her baby and husband to begin the cycle again.

It has its hard moments, definitely.  There are very few answers that I have about my life right now.

But it has its great moments too.  For instance, because our weeks fly by in a dizzy blur, my married friend and I have started a tradition in which Friday evening dinner is breakfast food.  It's our way of celebrating the end of a successful week.  It feels celebratory.  Sure, she has to go back to work the moment her husband walks in the door.  Sure, I have to go finish lesson plans.  But in that moment, it's Friday.

The weird thing is, my friends have started to use means to make me happy when they see me stress about my very uncertain and unsettled life.  I didn't really notice it until the past few days.  Comments like this: "I love listening to you so happily munching on that doughnut."  "I love how easy it is to make you happy;  I suggest we go to the Asian market and you perk right up."  Last night, when I was stressing about my lack of job prospects, one friend sat down beside me and played "Love is an Open Door" from Frozen on her iPhone.  "Are you doing this on purpose to make me cheer up?"  I asked, somewhat skeptically.  My friend smiled.  "Yep."  I smiled, "I love this song."  

These are the smallest things in the world.  They are so minor that it's almost laughable how simple it is to make me happy that I marvel at my transparency.

But you know what?  It also shows me that I have good friends who know how to cheer and buoy me up during the hard moments.  And just knowing that I am not in this alone, knowing that I have friends who are true friends, makes me happier than all the doughnuts or Asian markets or happy songs in the world.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


<at the job fair>
Rep: Are you a fourth year?
Me:, I just finished my PhD.
Rep: Oh!  You look so young!

Rep: Wow, it took you seven and a half years to finish your PhD.  People who take that long are either determined people who never give up or people who know nothing and they end up keeping them around until they have to just graduate them.  Which one are you?
Me: Uhhhhh....the first one?

<in English class>
Friend: People are getting married later these days.  I got married when I was 30.  Your time will come too.
Me: I'm 32.
Friend: What?! I thought you were 26!

<helping with the MTC via Skype>
Sister: Are you married?
Me: No.
Sister: Do you have a boyfriend?
Me: No.
Sister: Why not?
Me: <gives version of an explanation>
Sister: Wait, is that a baby I hear?
Me: Umm...I live with my friend.  She has a seven-month old.