March, part 1

March was busy, ya’ll. I came back to Utah, celebrated my birthday, had my sister and my dad over to visit, went on two road trips, and then hosted L.’s family. And I worked on my dissertation, presented at a conference, and tried to ignore the fact that the end of graduate school is looming and I’m not quite sure what the next step will be.

(The latter is giving me a lot of anxiety, when I let it. At the conference, a senior scholar asked what my plans were, post-PhD, and I said that I would love an academic position, but given L. and mine’s two-body problem/dual career problem, and the scarcity of tenure-track jobs anyway, I was exploring my options. He then wished me good luck and told me that I would no doubt be exceptional at whatever I chose to do. That was very nice of him and I think of those words whenever I start feeling like a failure, which is often.)

But! You can always count on your family to distract you, so here are some pictures from the trip my sister E. and I took to Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah/Colorado border.

Why yes, we are wearing dinosaur-themed t-shirts. Thank you, Threadless.

Why yes, we are wearing dinosaur-themed t-shirts. Thank you, Threadless.

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First stop, educational opportunity.

But not too educational, apparently, as there were plenty of imposing yet plastic dinosaurs in the garden behind the museum.

But not too educational, apparently, as there were plenty of fun, imposing yet plastic dinosaurs in the garden behind the museum.

Oh no! Dino has been captured!

Oh no! Dino has been captured!

Best part of Dinosaur, CO. The town itself is small enough to be almost non-existent. The information board made a joke about it almost going extinct after the oil bust, which was both funny and sad.

Best part of Dinosaur, CO. The town itself is small enough to be almost non-existent. The information board made a joke about it almost going extinct after the oil bust, which was both funny and sad.

IMG_1658First stop: the quarry. I don’t have any good pictures, but if you want to see what I’m talking about, go here. Basically, what you get is a wall of dinosaur fossils still in their stone environment. When they were uncovering them, eventually, they ran out of funding and storage space, and since they weren’t really finding new specimens, they decided to build an enclosure around part of the quarry so visitors could get an idea what it looked like. They had handy little visual tech aids, which were cool, to help you identify specific fossils, and an enthusiastic ranger who told us the above story. It was really cool and might have been my favorite part.

Hiking in the desert.

Hiking in the desert.

Our selfie taking skills steadily improved. Not pictured: the wicked sunburn I gave myself. (Who needs sunscreen in the desert? Not us, that’s who!)

Not pictured but also included in E.’s trip here: breakfast at the Park Café, a study session at the library (turns out all play and no work makes these two grad student sisters very anxious), lots of coffee, lots of walks with Josie the Dog, and much talking. It was heavenly.

what I read in March

What better way to get back into the swing of blogging than a monthly recap of the books I’ve read?

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It’ll be a short recap, actually, because the majority of books read in March belong to the Amelia Peabody series of cozy mysteries. Written by Elizabeth Peters, these books deal with an archeologist family, headed by matriarch Amelia Peabody, and surrounded by a cast of characters that make for highly enjoyable reading. If you like cozy mysteries at all, go read this series–it’s better than most. (Cozy mysteries can be both delightful and terrible, and these are definitely the former.) They go very well with dissertation writing–after a day of teasing out complex problems, it was very nice to spend a couple hours in twentieth century Egypt with Amelia and co.

1. Lord of the Silent (Elizabeth Peters)
2. Children of the Storm (Elizabeth Peters)
3. Guardian of the Horizon (Elizabeth Peters)
4. The Serpent on the Crown (Elizabeth Peters)
5. Tomb of the Golden Bird (Elizabeth Peters)

And then, for the more literary part of my month), I also read

6. Shakespeare Saved My Life (Laura Bates). Bates is a Shakespeare scholar that found herself teaching Shakespeare to inmates in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison. I really wanted to like this book, and there were parts that were really interesting, but overall, I felt like Bates was trying too hard and I wanted to throw the book across the room after the third time she very earnestly told us how incredibly insightful these prisoners were. If you’re interested in Shakespeare in prison, I recommend a podcast from This American Life (Act V): I feel like it did a better job of showcasing the complexity that surrounds the rehabilitation of serious offenders.

7. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (Maria Semple). Architect turned neurotic stay-at-home-mom wreaks havoc on her life, and everyone else’s.
It took me a very long time to get around to reading this book. I really liked 3/4 of this book, and I’m recommending it based on that. The characters are eccentric but believable, and the use of correspondence to tell most of the story is clever and well-executed. The ending is a bit blah, but that could just be me.

8. Death at Wentwater Court (Carola Dunn). I listened to this one through Overdrive, mostly while walking the dog. Short, enjoyable cozy mystery set in 1920s England.

9. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck). I was hooked on half of the book, cheering for the family, until Lotus was brought on the scene and I wanted to shake some sense into Wang Lung. Want to read something that will make your blood boil? The way women are treated in this book should qualify. (Also, this was a book club read. During the meeting, the lone guy present told us that this was the book that made him realize the importance of family planning and birth control. All the women in attendance just looked at him, because yes, thanks for catching on.)

There were two books I didn’t finish this month (rare for me!): Allure of Deceit (Susan Froetschel) and The Rosie Effect (Graehem Simsion). Allure tried too hard for my liking: part murder mystery, part psychological thriller, part exposé, I felt like it didn’t deliver on any of the fronts and stopped reading it halfway through. And although I really, really liked The Rosie Project, the second installment felt too formulaic and frankly too unbelievable for me to want to continue. I felt like the author sat down, brainstormed a list of challenges that could happen to someone on the spectrum, and then proceeded to throw them at his character all at once. If you’ve read and liked The Rosie Effect, let me know if I should reconsider and see it through.

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one year later

This is the photo on my lock screen right on, and it makes me so incredibly happy to see L. smiling at me when I wake up in the morning.

This is the photo on my lock screen right on, and it makes me so incredibly happy to see L. smiling at me when I wake up in the morning.

One year ago today, L. and I went on our first date. I remember getting ready, wanting to wear my blue flats with my dress and tights instead of sensible boots, and regretting my choice within two minutes of leaving the house because it was so bitterly cold. I was running late, hurry-walking, and I remember turning the corner and seeing you standing there. You pretended you didn’t see me and turned the other way, and that made me smile because I do the exact same thing to avoid the awkwardness that is the last hundred yards. I shyly said hello, we walked in and were seated, and thank God there was the menu I could pretend to study for a minute so I could get over my nerves. I remember talking about Harry Potter at dinner (an expected topic of conversation since we were going to see the Utah symphony play the soundtrack after dinner), and laughing at the very bad puns Vlad the conductor made, and me suggesting we go have dessert at the Cheesecake Factory because I really, really didn’t want the date to end. I remember splitting a slice and talking until 11PM, ensconced in a booth and our own little world. Who knew two introverts could talk that much? I fell deeply, madly, head over heels in love and luckily you felt the same way.

And now it’s a year later, as unbelievable as that is. I’ve met your family, you’ve met mine, we went on trips together to Denver and Disneyland, and not to forget the epic LDS immersion tour (otherwise known as my research trip) this summer. We bought extra bookcases so I could fill the house with words, although it took you a while to realize just how many books I have and the prospect of them being shipped to Utah is slightly terrifying to you. I make you breakfast (but never oatmeal) and you make me grilled cheese and we both try to stop Mara the Cat from licking the plates. You listen to me talk about Mormonism and rant about patriarchy, spend nights at the library with me, and tell me of course I will find a job that makes me happy. You share your house with me, made me into a dog person, and let me drive your car even when that means you have to take the bus to work. I love the utter seriousness with which you and your friends play board games, and that you play Mario Kart with me any time I ask. I love how we watch Shield together, and Brooklyn 9-9, and Castle and Modern Family and Bones and a million other shows, and so many YouTube videos it’s hard to keep track. I love you, L., and the life we’ve built together, and how you make my life better, every single day. Eight more days until I fly home to Utah: I can’t wait.

Seriously, have I told you how much I love this dog?

Seriously, do you realize how much I love this dog?

gold stars

Janssen  at Everyday Reading had a post up about recognizing your strengths as well as your flaws (in the context of making New Year’s resolutions). And since I spend a lot of time worrying about becoming better, and not enough time at seeing what I’m actually good at, I thought I’d emulate that. So here is my list of things I am good at:

–keeping a curious mind. I will read anything, from scholary tomes and heavy non-fiction books to cozy mysteries and fluffy YA. I have a bunch of documentaries bookmarked on Netflix, and about ten podcasts I listen to regularly. I am always looking for a new story to follow and ponder.

–asking questions. There is a lot I don’t know, especially when it comes to science. I have no problem asking questions when I’m interested in a subject, whether it’s about traffic patterns, finance, or human anatomy.

–having empathy.

–making meal plans. One quick look at Pinterest, a glance in the pantry, and the meal plan for next week is done.

–making lists. I like to plan out every eventuality, just in case. You should see the lists I’m currently writing, on how to find gainful employment after I finish my PhD. I’m not supposed to be writing them, since I have to actually finish the dissertation first, but whatever. I am then also good at ignoring these lists because life never turns out how you imagine it will, anyway.

–teaching. I’m sure there are ways in which I could improve my teaching, but on a basic level, I am good at meeting students where they are and providing a comfortable academic environment.

At the St. Louis Botanical Gardens

2014 in review

Click on the links for 2011, 2012, and 2013‘s answers to these questions.

1. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 27, and spent it with L., who I had just started dating. It was low-key and filled with coffee and books, just the way I like it. (This also answers the “did you fall in love this year” question, because: yes. So much yes.)

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At my local Beans and Brews, the day after my birthday.

2. What are your strongest memories from this year, and why?
The moment I realized I wasn’t lonely anymore, that I had finally built up enough of an existence in Utah.

3. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?
Visit the Idaho State Fair–or Idaho itself for that matter. It sounds like a flippant answer, but L. and I come from vastly different families, and going to (and enjoying) the Idaho State Fair is part of that.

4. What did you want and get?
Access to a car. As much as I am a pedestrian at heart, having a car makes everything so much easier.

5. What surprised you the most about yourself this year?
I have become a dog person. (Or at least a Josie person. I’m not convinced my love for Josie has spread to all dogs yet.)

Josie the Dog

Josie the Dog

6. What would you like to have next year that you didn’t have this year?
A Ph.D (or, if I’m being really bold, a job offer). I am ready to start a new phase in my life.

7. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did! I discovered the joys of yoga, bought a road bike, and managed to lose twenty pounds through a combination of more exercise and less food.

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?
Probably finally losing a significant amount of weight, and doing it in a fairly relaxed manner.

IMG_08079. What was your biggest failure?
I’m lactose intolerant, and yet I can’t seem to just stop eating cheese.

L. is also lactose intolerant, so you'd think between the two of us, there would be no dairy in the house. But you'd be wrong. (Picture taken in Muiden, the Netherlands.)

L. is also lactose intolerant, so you’d think between the two of us, there would be no dairy in the house. But you’d be wrong. (Picture taken in Muiden, the Netherlands.)

10. What did you rely on when you were overwhelmed?
A combination of dog walking, venting to others, and mindless Facebook browsing.

11. What are your strongest recommendations for entertainment from this year? (books, television, movies, music, etc)
This was the year of Pentatonix, Jonathon Coulton, and a couple new-to-me tv shows like SHIELD, Brooklyn 9-9, and Eureka (loved that show so much!). Book-wise, this was the year of cozy mysteries, with Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans and Her Royal Spyness series a clear winner. (I also read a lot of baaad cozy mysteries. I need to learn discernment when it comes to this genre, clearly.) This was also the year of Mario, as I played countless hours of Mario Kart and developed a strong love for Yoshi.

Yoshi riding Yoshi here!

Yoshi riding Yoshi here!

12. What song will remind you of this year?
Ikea, from Jonathon Coulton. L. and I have a thing for Ikea and like to belt out this song in the car.

14.  What was your most enjoyable purchase?
I think my road bike. It was a big purchase, but I love how I feel when I use it.

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Salt Lake City

15. Did you travel? If so, where?
A conference in Texas, a conference in Denver, a couple trips to see my dad in California, a weekend in Disneyland with L.’s family, and an epic LDS immersion tour from New York to Nauvoo, in which I honed both my ideas for my dissertation and my passing-as-a-Mormon skills.

Right after the Giants became the national league champions. Certainly a night to remember.

Right after the Giants became the national league champions. Certainly a night to remember.

At a Cardinal's game in St. Louis.

At a Cardinal’s game in St. Louis–the first non-Mormonism related thing we’d done in a week.

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In Nauvoo, Illinois.

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The Kirtland temple, the highlight of my research trip. Mostly because I was a little done with the missionary narratives being presented at the other historic sites (you know, since I’m not actually a Mormon) and I loved this tour, given by an actual historian, so much.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Blogging, honestly. It’s one of my goals for 2015.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about finding a job when I defend, even though that’s still a while off. (L. has banned me from searching job sites lest my anxiety levels surge to immangeable heights. I am trying not to mind that if I go the non-academic route, my advanced degrees are … not of much use.)

18. Compared to this time last year, how are you different?
Biggest difference? I’m a European living in the US, not an American living in Europe. Either way, I’m still foreign, so there’s that.

19. Compared to this time last year, how are you the same?
I’m still an overachieving, overthinking nerd that regards my library card as my most prized possession. I suspect that won’t ever change.

20. What’s a life lesson you learned this year?
Clearly not how to pose for pictures. I can do one face, and one pose, and anything else turns out like this.

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Muiden, again.

two lists

In random order, I present: things I will miss when I leave Utah

  1. L.
  2. the library
  3. the amazing friends I’ve made here
  4. Mara the cat napping under my desk while I work and Josie the dog begging for a walk
  5. the current weather (I don’t know what’s going on, but a December that’s not actually cold? I’d like some more of that)
  6. the social acceptability of wearing yoga pants almost everywhere
  7. the mountains
  8. Hulu
  9. L. (so much)

but also in random order, things I am looking forward to at home:

  1. seeing my family
  2. not having student emails to answer
  3. basic bike safety (proper bike paths! and lighted streets!)
  4. seeing my amazing friends back home who stuck with me through almost 1,5 years of skyping, emailing, and texting
  5. the boxes and boxes of books I had to leave behind
  6. speaking Dutch and eating Dutch food
  7. not being the crazy radical liberal in the room
  8. Christmas with A., F., and my mom.

curmudgeons unite!

To mark my last weekend in Utah until the end of February (I leave for Europe this Saturday), L. and I planned out a whole day of romance. We started with breakfast at Finn’s, checked out the Festival of Trees in Sandy, before braving terrible, terrible traffic to go look at the lights at Temple Square (so pretty!), and then dinner at Texas de Brazil.

10858440_899906400043928_5706535193963367200_nBig conclusion of the day? Though we like each other very much, we don’t like other people enough to want to shuffle past decorated trees in a crowd. Curmudgeons and wholesome, family-friendly fun apparently do not mix. Which is probably why the only picture we have of all the trees is one featuring the Grinch..