Archive for November, 2011

Unexpected events

Today we had a nice, big group lunch downtown as an end-of-the-year thanks to everyone on behalf of our boss. That was super nice of him, and we enjoyed a laid-back lunch hour (or two). Our recent graduates also ripped themselves away from their “real” jobs to come visit us, and it was really great to talk to them, too. But I still have lots that I’m trying to do in the lab. I get motivated, and then I quickly fizzle, but I try not to let myself settle down completely or I have to ramp all the way back up again. I just wanted to post quickly before wrapping up for the day.

One unfortunate thing of note is that my dad is having unexpected surgery on Friday. The results of his test today dictated a quick turnaround. It’s significant, for sure, but it’s at least a relatively common procedure. It still really sucks, though, especially when you didn’t see it coming. I hate thinking about my parents getting older; in my mind they still seem pretty able-bodied, but just as I get older each year, so do they. It also doesn’t help that I’m a thousand miles away, though there’s never anything you can really do if you were there, right. It’s just the principle of it. Thankfully my brother lives right next door, and he went with them for the test today; he’s been texting me with updates all afternoon. He’ll probably also be there for the surgery, too.

Well, this sort of thing happens, and no matter how you think you’re mentally prepared for a hiccup or a major event, it still takes you aback. While I’d like to be able to go, I guess I need to stay here and work hard getting stuff done so we can go for an extended break over Christmas. Maybe that will be extra motivating for the rest of the week.

Crunch time

Well, today didn’t start off well, but at least it is ending a little better.

Last Wednesday, the day before a four-day weekend, I was supposed to set up my previous, least favorite experiment again and get some help with it. However, just thinking about having to bring it all back together again was overwhelming to me; eventually, I had to tell my friend who is helping me that I just wasn’t ready to go there yet. I needed some time to remember and ready myself for what it entails before diving in. This coupled with frustration at how much I have yet to do that I thought might already be going or done by now, as well as irrational (but not completely unfounded) feelings that I am being unwittingly sabotaged by the the people with whom I’m sharing lasers and equipment. All this left me pretty emotionally wiped on Wednesday before leaving for the holiday, and evidently it still carried over a bit to this morning.

I had a meeting with my advisor and tried hard not to complain too much, though it was impossible to totally constrain any hint of frustration. But I stayed reasonable, and today we worked together through one problem I was having in the lab. I have been doing all these characterization measurements for the past few weeks, and one number I expected to be 0.3 was 0.5 on a different laser, with no obvious difference in the two setups.  We haven’t yet figured out what the discrepancy is, but I do feel a bit vindicated that at least it wasn’t my “fault;” it’s just something strange that was not anticipated. So I probably won’t end the day with an answer, but after proving myself a bit and also getting some one-on-one time, my morale has been boosted at least a little bit.

I still have a lot of measurements to do and only three weeks until I leave for Christmas break. I may not get everything done as I hoped earlier this fall, but my optimism is slightly renewed that I’ll get further than I dreaded, say, Wednesday afternoon. It would seem logical to set a goal for the week in order to stay on task, but I think I’m actually  just going to wing it. I know what I have to get done, and I’m just going to let it unfold this week. Once I see which project I land upon, I’ll make some more specific plans.

So yes, we had a long Thanksgiving weekend last week. Thanksgiving was great; we spent it with two of our closest friends and their family. After dinner, DH and I met two dudes in a dark parking lot in the middle of Denver to purchase something we found on Craig’s List…somewhat sketchy, but it worked out okay. 😉 We spent all of thirty minutes at two stores on Black Friday and were more or less in and out with our desired purchases. We spent more time buying groceries and hanging out at the library than we did crazy shopping. Ah yes, the shopping…almost done, seriously! I’ve got at least five orders in the mail, and I have two–yes, two–small items left to pick up in a store. That’s pretty much it! Now I just need some wrapping paper…wrapping presents is my holiday happy place where everything is right in the world.

While I couldn’t totally relax since I am, indeed, in the middle of a major life event, it was a nice and peaceful weekend anyway. I did dread this morning, but hopefully the day will represent a turn-about in how I’m feeling about and approaching my work to be done. This is crunch time, these three weeks before Christmas. While I know the whole spring semester will be crazy, what I do in the next three weeks is going to dramatically effect the outlook as I sprint to the end.

Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so this is the requisite post on giving thanks. It’s something we ought to do all year, of course, but like many things we set aside a specific time each year to formally do so. Like I say about most holidays, often the true intent of the day is lost in the traditions that have built up around it. However, I find the meaning of Thanksgiving to be mostly intact in our culture despite the distraction of copious amounts of food and an ever earlier-creeping Christmas season.

I shared this summer about blessings I have in my life. I don’t think many of them have changed. When you have your priorities in the right place, you learn to be thankful for the intangible blessings that no person or circumstance can take from you. However, I am certainly never guilty of having perfect priorities, so I do spend quite a bit of time thinking about the material and temporal things as well. I am so thankful that I can live so comfortably as to have a few nice things that I don’t need. However, I have to try really hard to stay grounded and remember that those can always be taken away. Same with my health a well-being, and that of my family and friends. One never, ever knows what life will bring, so enjoy what you have now, but don’t neglect the intangibles–faith, hope, love–that will get you through when times are hard. At the end of the day, I give thanks to God, from Whom all blessings flow, to Jesus his Son for the ultimate gift, and to the Spirit Who gives me strength from day to day. With only those three, I know I can handle anything else, good or bad, that can come this way in life.

It is sometimes a bit puzzling to me that at Thanksgiving, we think almost always about the “thanks” and rarely consider to whom it is “given.” The idea of thanks is that is expressed to another entity that, supposedly, has bestowed the item of thanks upon you. If you don’t believe in God, whom do you thank for things? Other people for giving you stuff, like Christmas presents and paychecks? The universe for randomly favoring you? Karma for evening things out? Or by “thanks” do we really just mean acknowledgement of things that give us some sort of pleasure, as if they just accidentally tumbled out of the chaotic universe like dice and happened to land our way? Maybe it’s possible to have an attitude of gratitude without an object of bestowal, but the more I try to reconcile that, the more I am personally convinced that thanks and gratitude must have an object of recognition. In my mind, that makes total sense, as I believe in God and thanks and gratitude go naturally to Him alone!

Whatever you believe spiritually, I just ask you–what are you thankful for? And to whom, or what, exactly are you giving thanks? And even if everything you have falls away, will anything still remain inside of you for which you can still give thanks?

Short week, long weekend

Thanksgiving week is finally here! I’ve been looking forward to this week for a while, as I really get some time to relax and regroup with DH before we hit the Christmas season. We will also be having Thanksgiving at our good friends’ house, and that’s going to be a lot of fun!

I will work just three days this week, so I need to be efficient and focused to make sure I stay on track. I have three items for this short week: first, I want to finish my Power Point of results from the characterizations I’ve done for the last few weeks. I’ve gotten all the measurements done, finally, and now I’m just making pretty pictures and putting them all together. Many of these plots will show up in my thesis, so that’s also a great plus! Second, I’m already scheduled to work Tuesday morning with my friend who will hopefully show me an easier way to do that big measurement I’m dreading. However, it does mean I have to set up the complicated experiment again at least once to make sure the results of the two methods are equivalent. In the long run, however, I hope it’s positive. Finally, we need to do some remeasurements of the photodiodes we got from our guest researcher a few months ago. I’m in charge of setting up the experiment again, so this week I will begin to reassemble things if I have time.

My goal is to get all measurements done before Christmas and focus exclusively on writing when I come back. I’m not sure if I’ll make it exactly, but I’m staying on track and therefore will just get done whatever gets done. At least there shouldn’t be way too much left to do after the new year.

I’m pleased to announce that I did get some Christmas shopping done this weekend. It never seems like quite as much as I hoped, but it was indeed productive. I seem to always have one nervous breakdown for the season while trying to purchase gifts, and I’m pleased to announce (I guess??) that I already got mine over with on Saturday! :p It’s always about little stupid stuff, too. But it seems like the tension builds up, as I described last week, something stupid happens at the store, the bubble bursts, I complain in an elevated tone of voice to my car radio for one minute while driving away at an elevated rate, and then I return to the speed limit and it’s smooth sailing and calmness for the rest of the season. Maybe my goal for next season is to not have a nervous breakdown at all!

So, a few presents are now purchased and completed, and I made an online order that will complete a few more this week. I have a plan for all but two of the remaining giftees on our list, which is great. Oh, maybe it’s three people, actually….my nephew hasn’t yet told me what he wants. But still, that’s okay! I am even almost done with everything I am making, too. I spent Saturday knitting, and I cast off the last stitch last night. I have a few other things I’d like to make, but they are simple and not necessary if I don’t get them done. DH has some gift projects to work on, and while I can offer tactical support, those are his projects that he will take care of himself.

For the long weekend, I have a few goals at home. First, after receiving my online order and (heaven help me) doing a little shopping on Black Friday and on Saturday, I hope to close the books on a number of presents. I think I can reasonably be completely done with five more. That seems like a great goal. I also will take advantage of the extra time to take care of some housework (maybe I only need to dust one more time between now and 2012??). The final home item I want to address is to give our furnace a check-up and to investigate our heat ducts to see if there are any major gaps or leaky seams (um, most likely yes). DH and I are seriously considering resealing them, if not also insulating them, now that the weather has turned. It seems to get awfully cold in the house, and there might be at least a couple of things we can to to help tighten it up. We’ll see how it goes.

Oh yes. We will also be watching the #3 Arkansas Razorbacks beat the snot out of LSU on Friday. At least we hope that’s the case. 😉 Woo pig sooie!

It’s beginning to look a lot like stress-mas

The week is wrapping up in a few hours, and I’m getting a lot done today. I’m really thankful for that, as a couple of times this week I’ve struggled with almost debilitating bouts of unmotivation. Even if those times, I made sure I at least crawled and clawed ahead at least a few inches even if I wasn’t able to sprint. Even just opening an Excel spreadsheet and staring at it was better than randomly surfing the web the entire time. But, as I said, I am so thankful the week is ending on an up note.

Part of my problem this week is having a whole lot of things hit me mentally all at once (none of which, unfortunately, was physics related ;)). My brain was kicked into high gear thinking about a variety of timely topics, such as buying Christmas presents, grocery shopping, craft projects, shopping sale prices, whether or not stuff that I wanted to buy was stuff that I actually needed and why am I buying stuff for myself before a gift-giving holiday anyway?? Wednesday night I could hardly sleep for the wheels turning, and Thursday suffered big time, though the time I took at work to create a few lists and make some key decisions really settled me some.

When people talk about stress, I say phaw, I’m never stressed out! However, in reality that’s just a load of poo. I often get stressed out over the dumbest things, though I’ve evidently found a way to be generally at peace over the big things. Go figure. But since realizing this I’m trying to find ways of allowing my general peace to extend over the small dumb things, too.

It’s also no joke that, no matter how calm I think I’m going to be at the holidays each year, even I get stressed out, too, and the majority of the stress comes from buying gifts. Once the gifts are done, I’m usually just fine! There are quite a few reasons I let myself get stressed about it. First of all, since we drive back home for Christmas every year, all the shopping and wrapping needs to be done before we leave, which essentially cuts out an entire week’s worth of preparation time. Furthermore, I’m not one to wait in the first place; I’m itching to start in October and get done by Thanksgiving, which is rarely the case. That unreasonable expectation stresses me out when I don’t even come close, though I’ve already made good progress. A lot of stress would be avoided by just adopting more reasonable expectations (oh my gosh, if I could only give one piece of advice to any living, breathing being on how to improve their life in any way, it would be that!). Also, to accommodate a growing number of people as siblings and cousins grow up, get married, and have kids, we draw names on three separate sides of our families instead of buying for everyone. Sometimes we draw early in the fall, but sometimes people want to wait until Thanksgiving to draw; if I don’t know who I’m going to get, I can’t even formulate a plan in advance, much less buy something. Finally, I want very much to get meaningful presents for people, not just gift cards or specialty cheese baskets unless I know that the gift card (or even stinky cheese) is high on the person’s list. I in fact have asked for some specific gift cards this year myself. I also like to make a few items if I can; I’m usually good at pacing myself, but there’s been a time or two I’ve been knitting fervently on Christmas Eve trying to get done. At any rate, sometimes I way overthink things and cause myself consternation in that regard.

Probably the biggest stress for most people is money. If you don’t stress out about not spending too much before Christmas, then you’ll likely be stressing out over your credit card bill afterwards. DH and I are blessed to have the ability to give nice presents to everyone on our list (and nice does not always equal super expensive or fancy), but we are both also frugal-minded. While I’ve learned that the extra effort to squeak out one extra dollar on that one item is rarely worth the time and mental capacity that I use to save it, I do want to be smart and avoid overspending in the first place. I used to be incredibly high-strung about this for any purchase DH and I would make, but I’ve come to realize that time is money, and oh so much more…time I could be finishing my research, hanging out with DH, spending quality time with friends, or even giving the dog some attention for his well-being. It’s really the wise and resourceful use of time that is valuable. Yes, I’m still going to watch sales and clip coupons, but if I’m going to have a brain hemorrhage because I spent a dollar more on cereal this one time or should have waited for this Black Friday to buy this computer thingy, then I’m just going to be spending money on my health care deductible instead!

Certainly there are other things to stress out about between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Often there are way too many activities, and sometimes those activities are parties at your house you have to prepare for. Sometimes it’s conflict within your family whom you’re stuck with at those requisite times. Maybe it’s traveling, either driving or flying, at those busiest times.  It’s unfortunate that a holiday about peace on earth through Jesus has turned into such a fiasco. But if we are willing to just step back a bit, reevaluate our priorities, and ‘chillax,’ then maybe we can skip the stress and get to the heart of the season instead.

101 in 1001–Two more years

As of this week, DH and I have been working on our 101 in 1001 list for nine months. Since 1001 days is approximately 2.75 years, that means we have reached the point where we have exactly two more years to go. That seems like such a long time! However, looking at some of the items on the list, we realize we really have to keep those in mind or we will not be able to do then before they are two late (that mostly includes travel items that require a bit of planning).

As of right now, we’ve completed 30 of our 101 items, right at 30% in just under 30% of the total challenge time. That’s a good pace to be! By year’s end, I should be on track for checking off at least four more, with many other possible projects that could easily get done. As I continue to say over and over, being intentional is the most effective way to accomplish anything. Losing sight of a goal or putting it of often means never getting done at all.

Some things we’ve recently checked off our list:

#9. Go to a Colorado Avalanche hockey game.

#48. Clearing dirt from our back yard (thanks to our new truck!).

#56. Completing blankets for DH’s two cousins who just had babies.

Any progress on travel will have to wait until after I graduate; we’d really like to take a trip then, so maybe we can knock one or two big items off at that time. We’ll just have to wait and see on the timing. There are a number of items that have to wait until after I graduate, such as introducing myself using the honorific “Doctor.” 😉 While I do have to focus on getting done, though, I do have a few smaller, fun items to do on the list while still working hard to get done.

A flood of sugary dissipation

I’m back at it after a nice, long weekend. Friday and Saturday were productive, and I evidently  had to recover on Sunday because I was quite tired! That’s okay, because a Sabbath day of rest is definitely part of the plan. Plus I managed to be productive while sitting on the couch, too. 😉

The plan for this week is to totally complete the characterizations I’ve been doing for the last few weeks–finish taking the data and get all the data plotted up and analyzed. I’m already a bit behind on this, as my lasers won’t cooperate this morning. Once they get going, this should be quick to complete. Once that is finished, I need to set up for a new measurement…and by new I guess I mean an old experiment that we are resurrecting now that we have some new parts. I can’t predict how long these measurements will take, but I’m sure it will be multiple weeks, even with collaboration from my colleagues. I suppose I have until Christmas to get them done, but I also have one more major experiment to run concurrently through the rest of the year. Well, once I get this one restarted, I will see how I can juggle them both.

This has turned out to be a busy week at home as well. I have regular as well as special events every evening this week, which is okay once in a while, but I’m thankful that every week isn’t that busy. And it isn’t just about the evenings being full, but it’s that I have promised to bring food for two of those events (and almost one more, but that worked out otherwise). I love bringing food like desserts for meals, particularly because I love to bake, but there are two main problems: first, I have to find time to make something, and if all my evenings are moderately full, finding time to bake is difficult. Or I have to convince myself that it’s okay to spend money on something that’s premade at the store and just not quite as yummy as homemade.  Secondly, I’m not supposed to be eating a ton of sweets anyway! I feel disingenuous subjecting others to unhealthy yet delectably yummy items…and then I inevitably eat it, too. Now, once in a while is fine, but multiple times in a week is overwhelming (plus the fact that I’ve been trapped in a flood of sugary dissipation for a couple of weeks now since my birthday and Halloween with no hope in sight with Thanksgiving a week away). I will just have to practice moderation at these times and be more strict otherwise. It isn’t a huge deal if I return to my previous eating habits for a little while (which included a riotous amount of sugary goodness), but I do have to deal with minor short-term health consequences. Or, I can get creative and find healthier alternatives that are just as yummy…if I have time. 🙂