Saturday, August 24, 2019

Unplans and Lessons of the Summer

I'm a planner. And while I've relaxed a bit over the years, I like to have at least an idea of things to accomplish and to stay busy. The middle part of my summer was a new experience for me and definitely not part of my summer plans. The Monday after I returned from back-to-back conferences, I woke up at 4 AM with abdominal pain. By about 2 PM or so, convinced by friends and family, I headed to the ER as the pain got worse. They took care of me pretty quickly at the ER as well as gave me something for the pain. Turns out I had diverticulitis, an infection in my colon. I barely ate the next ten days dropping a lot of weight quickly. The pain, nausea, and exhaustion stayed around most of the time. I'm thankful it was summer and my kids were older. I was in bed much of the time. I was back in the ER two weeks after my initial visit, for more severe abdominal pain. After having a dismissive ER doctor who I think thought I was after drugs, my Mom got me into her GI doctor. Two scopes later and a lot of blood work, I finally got some answers. Thankfully, nothing super serious, but I've developed some major food sensitivities. I'm on a strict diet now, and I've felt much better the last month or so.

As I reflect on this experience, and didn't get to do everything I had planned on, I learned a few things...

1. Being sick from eating is awful. I had no energy and felt nauseated almost all the time. I thought of my friends who have had to figure out food allergies over a longer period of time. Or the friends who have health issues that aren't as easily managed as my condition. This experience gave me more empathy for others and more awareness about food allergies when I'm cooking or providing food.

2. Doctors can be dismissive and make you feel like you're crazy. I was familiar with the stories and research that show that females in pain are more likely to be ignored or downplayed. But I was still surprised at my first ER visit. I was getting discharged from the ER, but I had so much pain, both my mom and nurse were having to get me dressed and into the wheelchair because all I could do was cry. Turns out I was having a reaction to the morphine they had given me, but all the doctor said was, "The pain will lesson as you heal." During the second ER visit, the doctor dismissed me even though they didn't know why I was in pain and couldn't eat. I couldn't get into the referring specialist for another two months. In the doctor's words, "Unless you're bleeding, I can't order a scope or anything. You'll just have to wait for the specialist." I am so glad my mom was with me and called her GI specialist as soon as we left the ER. Her specialist's nurse listened to my symptoms and said, "Yeah. She needs to be seen soon. We'll work her in." Less than a week later, I had a colonoscopy and the start of a bunch of tests. So everybody, but especially women, stand up for yourself and find a new doctor if your symptoms are being ignored.

3. I enjoy food. Like, I really like food. I especially love chocolate and pastries, but I've had to give both of those up (at least for now). I discovered I can live without those things. I also accepted that it's okay to be sad about food. I think it was day 4 of only being able to eat chicken broth when I had my first emotional breakdown. Being hungry doesn't lend itself well to being rational. I did learn though that overall, even though I was around a healthy weight and a runner before, I was still overeating. Or rather, overeating on unhealthy food. With the healthier diet, my sugar levels stay more level and I feel better. I'm slowly figuring out what to eat, too, so I can run (I'm back up to a slow five miles).

4. I knew this, but it was a great reminder: I have a great team around me. Friends and family taking care of me, Josh, and the kids. Encouragement and prayers. Listening to my complaints and cries. I'm very thankful.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Summer Projects in Academia

The spring I was finishing up my dissertation and nursing a newborn, Josh, Casen, and I flew to a university so I could interview for a chemistry professor job (it wasn't OC). During the whirlwind days of interview, the subject of summer teaching came up. I was surprised and dismayed when I was told I would be expected to teach summer classes; it wasn't really an option to just teach during my 10-month contract. I had been counting on having my summers free, especially while my kids were little. Fast-forward eleven years, and I'm enjoying working in the summer. Last summer was the first time all three kids were in school full day, and I had the whole month of May with my semester being over, but the kids were still in school. Just like last summer, I was able to acquire research funding for the first six weeks after the spring semester. The timing works out nicely with the kids being in school 3-4 weeks of that time.
Salicylic acid complexed with Fe(III),
picture courtesy of my RA
I ended up collaborating with a mechanical engineer on a materials project, which is related to both of our PhD work. As I was writing the proposal for a research grant, I got to geek out over scientific journal articles about materials chemistry, and I remembered why I love that area. I had a young, but independent research assistant who worked hard and smart. One of the hopeful outputs for this research is a joint laboratory experiment between my chemistry students and my collaborator's engineering students.

Downtown Vancouver

University of British Columbia hosted the conference
Conference time
The summer research time also gives me time to write. My philosophy collaborator, Myron, and I are working on revisions on a paper and a book chapter. Fingers crossed, there's some publications this year. I just got home from two conferences. I got to go to Vancouver to present a new philosophy of science paper about scientific realism and molecular structure.

Graduation in the Rose Garden at UBC
I did manage to get a couple of runs in when I wasn't working.

I always have most, if not all, of a presentation done before a conference, but that didn't happen this time. As a result, Myron and I had a lot of work to do at the conference, but the presentation got done, laying a nice foundation for a longer, more thorough one later related to quantum field theory in the summer. It also gave us some time to talk through ideas that are hard to do without being in person.

Making the case for being a realist about molecular structure

Explaining some chemistry history

Then I took a red eye flight back to OKC so I could hug the family and do laundry before leaving later in the day for the second conference in Lubbock. This conference was an interdisciplinary conference for academics at Church of Christ schools.

LCU campus was immaculate

Morning session

I presented in a session about Writing in the Sciences with my emphasis on having science majors write both technically and non-technically. There's nothing like getting to know colleagues while riding in a van for six hours. I ended up in a van with profs from other disciplines and as luck would have it, I was the navigator (I know. If you know me well, 'navigator' might not make sense, but with a map, I'm not as directionally-challenged.). The driver was an English professor who after asking me about my presentation, provided me with a framework for my scattered thoughts (I didn't have that presentation ready yet, either. Folks, it's been a LONG semester!).

Riding to dinner

Ran into my cousins unexpectedly made me happy

Conferences allow for such good opportunities to visit about research and learn how to make your work better. I also got to see some friends - science and bible profs - from other schools. As always, it was fun to catch up, heart-soothing to process rough times during this past academic year, and encouraging to talk about the future. I'm thankful for the friends I've made in my profession.

I got to see college friend, Melanie.
We survived undergrad as chem majors. 

Telling Amanda and Ben, "Until next time!"

I arrived home to Casen's favorite YouTube videos of the week, L Child and H's dance contest, and family movie night. My summer seems to be marching along, and I'm about to enter the part where I work more from home, but work less overall, and play in the sun with the kids. Life in academia isn't so bad.

Monday, May 27, 2019


We get these moments
Sad times, but deep and rich too.

Hand-holding, hugs, words of love.

Telling her goodbye is hard.

Tears, faith, and hope in what's next.

We get heart-soothing times, too.
With family, those people
Who have loved you your whole life.

We get those meaningful times.
Opportunities to talk
About what is important
And how death isn't the way -
Not how it's supposed to be

Leads to words good for the heart
What love is, relationships

Working towards the day when
Life's how it's supposed to be.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

It's Been Awhile...

11 months!
...which isn't totally surprising. Taking on a more administrative role as associate dean sucked up a lot of my time this past academic year. The past eleven months had other transitions, too, that included tangible upheaval like moving houses, but also some changes in the way I see and think about faith and the world. As a result, I took a hiatus from blogging.

My wave getting closer to the start line.
I got to run a full marathon a week ago, and this third time around, my body is requiring more rest. The first half was at a good pace, and I felt good, but my body started breaking down around mile 15. My knee and hip on one side really began hurting so it was a struggle to finish. The emotions were running high and that wall hit. I ran by my friend Susan and her church at mile 22, and their cheers were encouraging. Then Susan gave me a fig newton and asked if I needed anything else. I started crying saying, "I hurt so bad." Susan gave me a hug and replied, "It's almost over - only a 5K left."
Getting to tell a friend the truth of the pain helped me despite me thinking, That's a lie - it's more than a 5K! (It was about 4 miles instead of 3.1 miles. When you're tired and hurting, that 0.9 mile makes a difference!)

Pam and I waiting in the OC spot before the race.

Susan and I on my last "long" run before the race.

I finished the race and quickly discovered my body was and is still tired. So I'm forcing my body to rest. I'm doing some activity, stretching, and massaging my body to let it heal before I tackle the next goal.
Yesterday I realized that the full marathon and the rest I'm requiring now is how my year has been. The first semester wasn't too bad. I was busy, but there were times I worried that I wasn't doing enough to justify the position. Then January hit and not only did I have larger projects to work towards (faculty evaluations, assessment reports, etc.), but there was almost-daily demand managing incidents as they came up.

A whole lotta coffee and a dirty desk means it's the end of the semester!

This is how I felt at the end of the semester: asleep in a turned over trailer tent.
So needless to say, I am glad this semester is over. I'm still wrapping up some of those larger projects, but with classes being over, it's a little easier to manage.

Graduation is always bearable with friends next to you.
H spent a day with me at the office right before finals week, and she cleaned while I sorted. Oh, I love that girl!
I also decided to reclaim my journal and blogging time. From the advice of a colleague, I started journaling about work specifically; for example, the lessons I've learned. The exercise has given me some control over situations and helped me be able to not constantly be thinking about work.  I can reflect, write it down, and then not be thinking of the million tasks for work I "should" be working on.

I'm looking forward to the summer. I'll blog next about that, but first, I probably have a baseball game to attend. All three are playing now keeping us very busy! Despite the fact that I still bring a book to games because it's hard for me to pay attention to baseball for too long, seeing the kids happy makes my heart happy.

C has gotten to play on this team for six years now.

L Child is pitching now.

H surviving the slow outfield position.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Summer Times: Packing, Moving, and Conferencing

It's been a summer of transition so far. At home, the family and I have been getting ready to move. Boxes are scattered throughout the house as we are trying to pack and clean in order to get the house on the market. I've found loads of memories.
H with her judgy look. She asked me if that was for Christmas.
"No, Honey. That's a Texas Homecoming Mum."
I've been slowly moving to my new office since I started as Associate Dean at the beginning of the month. As a borderline-hoarder, I'm quite proud that I've been purging at home and in my office. Of course it's difficult at times.

A best friend keeps it real.
My summer research project ended with some success, and while I am treating the summer as a wrap-up of my sabbatical, I can feel the sabbatical life slipping away. Work is getting busy as I am wrapping up some scholarly projects before the semester begins.

Soaking up extra kid time despite the extra work. 
Last week I was able to attend a philosophy conference in Montreal.

Ran up to Mont-Royal one morning for a view of Montreal.

Mixture of old and new buildings downtown Montreal.
My favorite street had houses like this lined on both sides.
This neighborhood was between Mile End and Downtown.

Graffiti art was throughout the city

But not all of the graffiti was pretty.

Street names
 It was an important conference to me for many reasons. This was my third attempt, but first time, to be accepted into the Canadian Philosophical Association annual conference.

Most important sign at a conference: Coffee!
The paper I co-presented was based upon the original proposal idea that got me to Oxford three years ago: Molecular Symmetry, Beauty, and Truth. That idea and paper has gone through several changes, but it hasn't been ready for journal submission yet. The feedback from the conference commenter and attendees, as well as the ideas swirling around this conference and others, helped tremendously. I'm hoping that means that this paper can be rewritten and get submitted in the next year. I also felt that this conference marks the end of my sabbatical and the start of a new academic year. I don't have another conference any time soon. Currently, I'm waiting to hear about some other journal submissions, working on revisions for a resubmission, and working on two new papers.

This conference was also important to me outside of my immediate research area. Instead of only attending my area of interest, philosophy of science, I attended one session in feminist philosophy. I am glad I saw another way that philosophy is contributing to society, and learned about some important work being done by Kate Manne in her book, Down Girl: The Logic of Mysogyny. It's next on my reading list. This conference being held in Quebec gave me an unique opportunity to be in a place where English is not the primary language. To be honest, I was a bit disoriented most of the week. Navigating was difficult for me (more than usual) since all the French street names looked similar to me. While everyone in restaurants, etc. switched to English once they realized I didn't speak French, it's been a long time since I was in the minority. It was good for me. Being in a new city, I did my usual Pinterest research so I could soak up the area on my off-time.

I ate a lot of bread. My favorite was chocolate croissants. Funny, I have no pictures of those. Probably because I inhaled each one.

Fairmount Bagel is famous. 
My favored bagel - Fairmount.
St. Viateur's bagel were good, but not fresh out of the oven.
I went to Old Montreal and Basilique Notre-Dame.

I think England ruined me. While this area and basilica is pretty, you can't beat hundreds of years old streets and cathedrals.
The Grand Prix took place the day after I left so the city was abuzz with construction and street markets.

I managed to get to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for a couple of hours.
This huge wolf statue was freaky.
My favorite painting was this Mark Rothko. 
The museum is a huge facility (six buildings), but I made it through one building including the visiting Picasso exhibit. This exhibit was a great learning experience for me, too.

This was the Picasso art I was familiar with...

But he also did other styles as well. This sketch is from early in his career. 
The exhibit tackled the topic of appropriation and Picasso's work. I didn't know Picasso imitated African artists, but the exhibit would show the arts side-by-side, and you could clearly see the resemblance.

The exhibit did a good job I thought educating about appropriation, and also featured modern African artists. The exhibit was thought-provoking, and I'm thankful I got to see it.

It only rained one day in Montreal, and the other days were beautiful 70-degree weather. I'm glad I got to walk around so much. I feel like that's the best way to get the feel of a city. So on my six-hour layover in Detroit on my way home, I Ubered downtown to get the feel of a revitalized city. I was impressed with the architecture.

 After the long travel day, I was relieved to be home. Even with the busy past week of packing, moving, working, I'm thankful it's summer. I've gotten times with friends and family, and I'm looking forward to more in the next couple of months.