Sunday, October 30, 2011

gneiss laughing days.

You know one of those days when everything seems funny? In class last week, the professor repeated the phrase "genetically linked" talking about rocks that come from the same magma but have different textures. Rocks can't be genetically linked, and I understand it is a figurative phrase, but for some reason I couldn't stop giggling. At another point, he said "in this example, for example" at which I had to look down and laugh into my notes.
beautiful lake at Discovery Green

I spent my Halloween weekend at Discovery Green watching the costume contest & also checked out the graduate students' party. My friend T & I noted how funny it was that many of the costumes overlapped for both the family-friendly crowd & the academic students (Mario, Transformers, Snooki!).

Sunday morning, grabbed brunch legitimate breakfast with Apiepoo at Tiny Boxwood (it is a nursery and a restaurant in River Oaks) where we discovered that this is where all the beautiful people gather on Sunday mornings. He, of course, ran into a professor he knew. This place felt wonderfully Gatsby-esque, with wicker chairs, outdoor futons, and white sculptures on the central green lawn.
pick up a potted plant with your cappuccino?
potato/egg pizza & mushroom quiche- fabulous.
Going to spend the rest of this Sunday getting all the laughter out of my system so the people who sit next to me in class can focus. Also prepping for my trip to Miami at the end of the week. *Gneiss is pronounced just like that synonym of good.

Friday, October 28, 2011

out of control mosquitoes.

Micro-bots  got nothing on these 'quitos.
Let me tell you about the insane mosquito invasion of Houston last week. After a particularly warm few days, it suddenly became impossible to walk through grassy areas without suffering (mosquito) battle wounds. In class, it became a common sight to see students scratch themselves, even professors giving into the itch. Performing meticulous tasks became a teed bit harder as we fought the overwhelming need growing on the inside of our arm while sorting through wires, lifting heavy ramps, pipetting exact volumes of solvent.

I did some mini-research to figure out the 5 W's + How. After the much-needed rainstorm on the 9th plus the 10-14 days eggs take to hatch, the mosquito invasion of Houston began on October 20th, 2011. Stores ran out of mosquito repellants, my neighborhood brought back the spraying trucks, people reported swarm sightings on facebook and twitter.

This morning I woke up to surprisingly cold weather. The water from my faucet felt cold and when I pushed the already-cold knob, the outside air was surprisingly crisp and cool: hello, 40's weather!
I was so occupied by the freezing weather (and a dog attacking me in the intramural fields) that I failed to notice the lack of new bites on my usual walk across the grass. It was only while parting with a friend after lunch we noticed that we had been outside for an hour and had no bites to show for it.

How did I fail to notice that the mosquitoes were gone precisely because of the cold I'd been whining about? It's like the "I Hope You Dance" song: "Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens"(sorta? work with me here). So au revoir, mosquitoes.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jeffrey Eugenides in Houston!!!

Coupe of weeks ago, I squealed upon discovering two facts:
1. Jeffrey Eugenides is publishing another book titled "The Marriage Plot" available October 11th.
2. He is coming to Houston to speak about it on October 26th.

I absolutely adored his last two novels The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex(for which he won the Pulitzer Prize) and deeply regretted the fact that he's not a very prolific writer. In case of The Virgin Suicides, the narrator observes the enigmatic Lisbon girls in a first person plural point of view. There is not one observer, but rather the collective neighborhood boys who witness the deterioration of the sisters from curtained windows and hallway glances. The movie (directed by Sofia Coppola!) is fantastic (with soundtrack by the French band Air) but reading the book draws in another important sense: smell.

Press play. This is what the movie feels like:

I went with another Eugenides fan S introduced by a mutual friend. We met up at Wortham and took our seats among the mostly middle-aged female crowd. Reading is a pretty solitude act (unless you are reading for a class discussion) and I thought it was interesting to see what kind of people also enjoyed reading Eugenides (sorta like meeting a chat room buddy in real life?).

Jeffrey Eugenides is not as intimidating in person as he looks in pictures. He wore the similar floral patterned shirt as in the book slip, and read an excerpt from the novel (the beginning of Madeleine's relationship with Leonard) in an unexpectedly high and optimistic voice. It was here I realized that I might have taken a wrong approach to this novel- I read it so seriously (well, this guy previously wrote about suicides of five sisters and a confused hermaphrodite who runs away), but you are supposed to laugh at Madeleine's naivety, the typical boy-meets-girl happenings, their private thoughts!

The Marriage Plot has a much more approachable subject and plot- three recent college graduates in a love triangle navigating life- than his previous novels. The novel does not span generations like Middlesex, nor does it keep the main subjects' thoughts hidden as in The Virgin Suicides. Also, contrary to The Virgin Suicides which declares on the first page that all five Lisbon sisters will die, The Marriage Plot kept me guessing until the end: how is it going to end?
With Jeffrey Eugenides, starstruck.

After the Q&A session, we headed up to the second floor to meet Eugenides. The line moved surprisingly fast, and before I was ready, Eugenides was signing my book (spelling my name!). S and I posed for a picture then left, giddy and happy, jumping down the velvet steps and pushing the heavy glass doors to head out of downtown.

Having the author read from the book he wrote felt surprisingly intimate. Since Eugenides wrote from Maddy's point of view a.k.a. as as 22-year-old girl, maybe even more so. During the Q&A he said that he writes from a person's point of view, not a male or a female (especially in Middlesex) and that those very-feminine thoughts, he gathered from observing others. But... many of those thoughts Maddy has, I've never voiced out loud. Power of observation, people.

One embarrassing fact: I learned how to pronounce "Eugenides" correctly from Serena (of all people) on Gossip Girl. I might go back and tackle Middlesex after I re-read The Marriage Plot. Here's a thought I had upon finishing this book & thinking about my own life ahead (this might be a semi-spoiler): You may not "end up" with someone you date, but that person might be what you needed at that stage in life. He may give you the support and confidence you needed to fully realize your potential and grow into the person you are supposed to be.

Not gonna lie, last episode of Nikita inspired me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Good Eats, my kind of cooking show.

I watched a cooking show en route to California on the plane last week but didn't catch the title. I wandered the food show websites looking for an older male host and Dutch shots, with a heavy science emphasis.

Good Eats with Alton Brown.
Half scientist, half chef (picture)
This show fills the perfect niche for me. Alton Brown is the goofy host behind this cooking show which goes beyond the usual techniques and entertaining ideas. He explains the science between his recipes and methods, going into why a certain method is the best and why others would not be quite as effective (ex: don't wash pasta with cold water after draining it, so the hot noodle absorbs the sauce more readily). He also throws in helpful tips such as how to keep store cookie dough until ready to cook (carve out little balls with an ice cream scoop, put in the fridge for few minutes then throw into freezer for longer storage), all with every day ingredients and simple recipes anyone can follow.

So next time you want to spend some quality time osmosizing information but are not feeling the PBS or TED, watch Good Eats. You'll learn something while laughing at Alton's silliness (he's a goofy chef) & walk away with new dinner ideas.

Also, last but not least, Alton Brown's "Live and Let Diet":
Eat every day: fruits, whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, carrots, green tea
Eat at at least 3/week: oily fish, yogurt, broccoli, sweet potato, avocado
Limit to 1/week: red meat, pasta, dessert, alcohol
(Try to) never: fast food, soda, processed meals, canned soups, anything "diet"
And remember a simple rule: EAT BREAKFAST!

Not sure if this is doable on my end (dessert to once a week?), but I like this method of thinking about nutrition balance in terms of weekly consumption.

Okay, running off for skype chat with my summer family.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

sally rides festival.

After a business meeting this morning & quick grocery shopping with Suite-y N, I ran back to campus for the Sally Ride Science Festival. Sally Ride Science, founded by the eponymous first American female astronaut, hosts festivals around the country for 5th-8th grade girls interested in science. The Earth Science department hosted many different Discovery Workshops today, and I signed up for paleontology. After a short powerpoint presentation, we had the girls dig up fossils then make plaster molds of whatever they wanted: twig, leaves, shells, or squirrel droppings anyone?

set up in the academic quad
these sandboxes may look innocent...
I was pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic and knowledgeable these girls were. One raised her hand five times to share random facts about different dinosaurs that I couldn't even pronounce the names of. To be honest, I was a little nervous I wouldn't be able to answer some of the questions since paleontology isn't really my field of expertise, but I knew more than I thought I did! (What was the oldest fossil of? Bacteria. How do they know how old a fossil is? Carbon-dating, strata)
Everyone was so peppy and interested in the subject. When I asked them what their favorite subjects were, most of them yelled out: "science!" and proceeded to share the latest interesting fact they'd learned from class ("C is carbon! Cl is chlorine!"). One even told me she knew how to balance chemical equations- whoa, we had exams on that in college honors chem!

I am pretty sure I consumed more plaster powder than I'm supposed to. Plaster powder has the weirdest consistency- it feels liquidy even when it is dry, and it is hard to grab any handful. Also, the girls were fascinated by the fact that their paper cups began to warm up as the plaster hardened. They came up to me holding up the cups yelling: "My cup is really hot!" "Why is this getting warm?" Oh, the wonders of thermodynamics.

I hope their fossil molds turned out great & that the girls maintain and cultivate their love for science. Standing on the other side of the podium for once, I realize that really, no question is a stupid question. I'm sitting on my bed with notes and lab reports sprawled out around me- sleeping early on a Saturday night for rowing tomorrow morning.

Friday, October 21, 2011

nobel prize.

My physicist friend S(who actually worked on an optical imaging project this summer- like me!) sent me this snapshot of Saul Perlmutter, this year's Nobel Prize in Physics winner, at University of Bonn.
within life-affecting distance
Dr. Perlmutter received one half of the prize, the other half of which is shared between Brian Schmidt and Riess- the Nobel Prize cannot be shared by more than three people- for discovering that the universe is expanding at an increasing speed. There are six categories Nobel laureates can be awarded in: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economics, and peace.

sad but true
Here's another picture dearest S sent me soon after. Oh, seriously. But really, how many specific people do you know from each category?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

so worth it.

Sporty Bro & I had a much-needed chat today. He is going through "prelims" & we discussed the concept of doing your best. Our question: is it better to do fail knowing that wasn't your best shot? Or like the Coldplay song: "when you try your best but you don't succeed..." give it your best effort, fail, but know that at least you gave it all you got? The first protects your ego, at least. ("I didn't even try!")

Sometimes, little things you push in life can be so worth it.

no, it wasn't me taking the bath...
An evening of chasing kiddos around and outside, watching Yo Gabba Gabba (yelling at the screen and dancing around), playing Blues Clues and giving kiddos a bath... is so worth it when you tuck them in & they whisper: "you're the best babysitter ever."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

mexican brunches: best of both worlds.

One of the things I miss most about college are Sunday brunches. The servery opened at noon, so all of us girls would stroll down in sweaters and flip-flops through the already-bright glass staircase and sit, leisurely chatting over croissants and orange juice. We often spent hours recapping last night's events, playing therapist to each others' problems, and whining about the work we had to do that day. Sunday brunches were extra special- the servery even had grilled omelets to order, scones, and warm kolaches.

This morning, I met up with grown-up friends E and L for brunch at La Guadalupana bakery. I'd come here once before to pick up Mexican pastries with the ex-boyfriend, and had wanted to grab breakfast here ever since. I suggested the place to E & L and being the food adventurers they are, they agreed to check it out. The place is on Dunlavy past Westheimer, and it is easy to drive past its hidden strip mall-esque spot especially since this bakery faces north- look for the Laundromat instead.
desayuno. cafe. agua. on a mesa. Limits of my Spanish.
We chatted about grown-up issues and life ponderings over migas (so filling!) and coffee (cinnamon-y delicious).
spicy and savory- delicious
The place is small on the inside, but there are outdoor tables sprawled on the narrow sidewalk, perfect on 80's degree weather-days like today. I loved everything about the place- the wobbly tables, the bikers strolling past, interesting building with a gargoyle across the sidewalk- and so did many others, since this place was crowded with other Saturday brunch-ers.
Beware: more pastries inside, proceed with caution... or not.
It is the kind of leisurely weekend brunches I'd loved and missed. Umma once mentioned that she loves grabbing brunches with friends because conversations tend to be happier and upbeat- I agree. I left brunch feeling excited and ready to face the day ahead.

(I love my family- I cannot fudge anything under their scrutinizing eye...)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Geology trip through Sierra Nevada, part 2

Okay, continuing with the account of our fantastic trip!
typical scene, climbing up steep slopes, whew
Walking along rivers created by hydraulic mining (these things will change the scenery completely), we ran into this little guy on the road. Our professor picked him up and we got to pet him (and snap fotos)- look at his orange eyes.
hello, humans.
Driving across, at one point, we paused at a stoplight with a homeless man with the sign "hungrier than Donner, will take anything". A little graphic, since he was referring to the cannibalistic Donner Party.
Beautiful Lake Tahoe
We stopped at Lake Tahoe (which formed from melted glaciers), where we saw remnants of glacier rocks dragging down, forming streaks on the rock surfaces. There were interesting eggey-cross section ring shapes as well, which we identified as hornblende rings which reacted with the hot magma flowing past these rocks.

We spent our night in Mammoth Lakes (delicious dinner at Base Camp Cafe) & continued onward West to Mono Lake and Yerington Mines.
Mono lake with tufa columns (and baby shrimps in the salty water)
Mono Lake (whose name comes from the fly larvae Native Americans used as a major food source) had tufa columns around the edges, which are solid limestones formed from emerging spring water full of carbonates. Star Wars, anyone?
We stopped at Yerington to look at Jurassic granodierites and quartz monzonites.

The ride getting here was ridiculous. This stop was almost left out of the itinerary because we needed to drive through hilly, bumpy unpaved roads. R and I sat in the back of this bumpy ride, laughing and giggling at how tumultuous this was. We left behind a huge dusty trail- Kasey would have never survived this dangerous (a.k.a. exciting) ride.
deep blue copper azurite crystals- looks like a watercolor paintng
And then, final destination, Reno, Nevada. We hit up the buffet (empty on a Monday night) and walked past the slot machines & flashy lights. Back at the hotel, we watched Death Race & chatted about the trip, school, life. Next day, we flew back to Houston via Denver.
Bruce: "who pays for these electricity bills?"

I had a wonderful time on this trip- it was definitely an eye-opener for me. I was amazed at the amount of amazement geologists felt at looking at "rocks", which are not just rocks for them anymore- they tell a story, a snapshot of the time and place they were created. I can't count how many times someone exclaimed "look at these rocks!" or "these are some beautiful outcrops!" while I tried to figure out why they were so significant.

I think I'll pay more attention to rocks in my landscape when I'm traveling around and also try to identify how & why interesting structures could have been created. To be a great geologist, you need to not only know your stuffz, but also must pay attention to details and be patient. Oh, and being in great shape & an awesome rock climber, in addition to driving over dirt hills and navigating unmarked roads with ease, wouldn't hurt either.

Oh, and passing through airport security took a bit longer than usual because we all had rock samples we were flying back to Houston. The TSA officer had to ask on repeated occasions staring at the X-ray: "are those... rocks?"

Geology trip through Sierra Nevada.

Our field trip began Friday evening when we met up by the loading dock and flew into San Francisco. We landed around 11PM Houston time, so we checked in and slept until the next morning. We stayed at a place which was divided by railroad tracks cutting through the motel. We dutifully woke up early to meet at 7AM for a little bite & first day on the road.

railroad tracks cut through the hotel- California sunrise
In our two sorta-matching SUV's we drove through San Francisco downtown. Hilly, sightings of people walking around on a Saturday morning, lots of Chinese restaurants, trams going to and from, and fog covering the buildings in the distance making reality seem surreal.
driving by the San Francisco city hall
And of course, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. There were people jogging along the sidewalk, and I was immensely jealous, like "I jog on the GGB every morning, yep".
crossing the Golden Gate Bridge
Our first stop on the hill along the side of the road at the Marine Headlands Chert. The professors unfolded a geological map of California to point out where we were, and what we should expect to observe here. Then we crossed the roads whose curves were obscured by the giant hill we were supposed to look at. First of many dangerous j-walking on this field trip.
unfolding of the geo-map by the road
It became foggier and foggier as the sun came up, until the GGB was almost completely hidden and the rest soaring above the foamy fog.
alternating silicate and softer carbonates

Golden Gate Bridge in rising above the fog
We went up the Ring Mountain to look at Eclogites with had garnet and omphacite, where we also made an unexpected discovery (science is everywhere!).

Next stop, we went to the Point Reyes Lighthouse where we saw sandstone cliffs and pillow basalts.
lighthouse on the beach- windy!

Point Reyes lighthouse- vertebrae of white shark (temp 50-60!)
We spent our second night in Sacramento, continuing across California on our way to Reno:
We looked at serpentinites, amphiboles, then climbed up this dangerous slope- three of us that took a different path almost fell off- at one point I was standing on a slipping rock, three feet down from the road yelling out "help!" at a stranger walking his dog until M came and pulled us back up.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"chemistry as a religion" (before SN...)

One of my absolute favorite passages from Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:
Francie came away from her first chemistry lecture in a glow. In one hour she found out that everything was made up of atoms which were in continual motion. She grasped the idea that nothing was ever lost or destroyed. Even if something was burned up or rot away, it did not disappear from the face of the earth; it changed into something else - gases, liquids, and powders. Everything, decided Francie after that first lecture, was vibrant with life and there was no death in chemistry. She was puzzled as to why learned people didn't adopt chemistry as a religion.
I had the most delicious lunch of spinach, corn, and squash I picked up from the farmer's market. Thrown in the oven for a few minutes and sprinkled with salt, so simple and just perfect. Speaking of perfect days, I made it to yoga this morning & Zumba straight after work. &&& (those up in NE will be jealous) wore a T-shirt and shorts the entire day today (high 70's in Houston- I can't make up my mind about Houston weathers...).
trekking across California
Flying out to San Francisco tomorrow afternoon. It seems like most schools have breaks this week, so enjoy your breaks, lovelies! I'll bring back muchas fotos and stories (spending our last night in Reno!).
Packed and ready to go!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

repetitive motions.

Snow cones- when's the last time you had one?
This weekend was the busiest I'd been in a while. I spent my entire Saturday babysitting (8AM: woke up to literally run out the door) and helping out at a local event. The weather this weekend was absolutely beautiful (high 60's!), but spending hours trying to catch up to young ones really wore me out.

because everyone wants to be velcro-ed to a wall
Sunday morning, I woke up at six to make my way over to Sugar Land for my first novice row at 7:30AM (rowers are early risers). I was put in a quad with one other beginner where I caught three crabs and was almost knocked off the boat (I have the bruises to show for it!). But I had such a great time. At the end, we "full power"-ed it 1500m back to the boathouse.
The beautiful boathouse
I must note that the repetitive rowing motions- leg, back, arm, release and repeat- almost made me... nervous. The rhythmic motion of sliding back and forth, and the coordinated sounds of oars splashing into the water, the click of the oar squaring against the edge... I had to distract myself from the robot-like motions and not think too much about them, because the moment I began noticing everything I had to do, I became overwhelmed by the movements and fumbled. 

A conversation I had with my cactus-loving friend Lobo made me think about the repetitive daily events I go through. I had been feeling a little uneasy about my everyday life, because it is so regular and predictable; it is so okay. Not ohhhh-I-got-an-A-on-that-essay or holy-shmoles-I-have-five-exams-next-week extremes, but a stable ongoing rhythm of work and everyday happenings, a simple contentment. I must admit it sometimes makes me uncomfortable to feel this way, after a whole lifetime of squeezing in extra commitments and strong emotions associated with little successes or failures. Another question Lobo talked about has me thinking: what is happiness? And the biggest question that follows: what am I doing to achieve that happiness right now?

A regular life may be something I am simply not used to, but the more important question must be: am I happy? (or becoming happy?)  I have lots to think about as I drift off to sleep clutching my aching back from carrying 50-pound-kiddos.