Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just rambling...

You know that website Pinterest - serious suck me in waste my time thing. I try to limit my pins to things I may actually use someday, though I do like strolling through other people's quotes and styles boards. Quotes don't usually speak volumes to me. Some are cute, but in 60 seconds I have generally moved on and forgotten them and I don't need yet another thing to follow. But I have some good online friends who collect quotes and I like strolling through them.

The other day someone posted one that has stuck hard with me.

I seem to keep coming back to this in my head. It seems like in the last five years I have had a lot of this... events that have changed me. I wonder if in some weird alternate universe where you don't know my face, if some unsuspecting person met me five years ago and then again today, if they would see the same thing? I don't think so.

Of course there are the obvious ones that many of us go through - marriage, becoming a parent, etc. But there are others, small things that change you in surprisingly profound ways.

The first one that pops to my mind isn't a small one, but has probably provided the largest source of change in my life over the past 5 years, has been the process of my mom dying at a young age from cancer. How can that not change you? And in the larger scheme of things it is the way it is supposed to work, children are supposed to lose their parents first and not vice versa. (I can't even imagine the reverse.) But watching someone grapple with a diagnosis, then over time see the options deteriorate and then finally losing someone at a relatively young age. It's hard.

How has this changed my life? (How has it not... I am sure you agree.) It has affected the way I view objects. Lifetimes of stuff that have deep meaning to really only one person - yourself. It has affected the way I view life - let's get the stuff done in life we want to do! I want to vacation. I want to quit putting off things and experiences we want. (We bought a trailer last spring to camp around the Northwest and eventually beyond.) It has affected the way I see our healthcare system - even though my mom had excellent insurance she still struggled to get things paid for daily, why when someone is living their last few months, should they have to struggle with this? It has affected the way I see time spent with my kids. It has affected my view of my job - I love my job, but really in the larger scheme of things, how important is being right here? It's not. Obviously we all need money and I am reasonably employable I believe elsewhere. Why not seek other experiences?

I have a very successful coworker who recently told me very matter of factly that his family doesn't have long lifespans and so he plans to retire in 3-4 years. I have rolled this over in my head. There are no guarantees, but if the odds are not "ever in your favor"? What would you do?

Which brings me to my job... nope, I am not looking to jump ship anytime soon. I am lucky, I really like my job. But in the last 5 years as I have waffled between science and management, I have experienced things that have changed my perspective of what I do for a living. One of them is a direct link from above - I don't necessarily want to spend my entire life toiling away in a lab. In order to broaden my employability and keep my options open for life in another place, I have embraced management.

Take that a step further... I have been changed by working in management. I have learned that I can manage someone, but only to a certain degree, I can't control them, I can try to guide them, but in the end, and there will come an end, a person is going to do what he is going to do (be a dumbass) and it is his career, not mine. I first tried to embrace this as a grad student - taking control of my career and not letting things happen, but making things happen. Then again as a post-doc. I have mastered this now - I make things happen and don't wait for things to happen to me. I can't afford to jump on bandwagons. I have to stand up for myself and not be trounced on. I also have to trust that management isn't always blind. I have to trust those who are there to back me up as their job, but I can't rely on them.

This has - to a certain degree - hardened me as a person in my day to day interactions (but not as a mom). I have been forced to remain stoic while being criticized, crying only in the privacy of my home. A coworker recently told me he was surprised at how thick my skin was and had expected the opposite of me. I am not easily swayed, I view it all as "just business". When it comes to delivering bad news, I am not the one that shies away anymore.

Which brings me to my last one. I have, in the past, had a sort of lone wolf mentality at work. This was brought on early in my career when I was hired on permanently from being a post-doc and promptly told to move on by the project I was working on as they felt they could no longer afford me. Over the past few years I have built relationships at work with people I can trust, I can confide in, and who will back me up. After years of doing my own thing, this is a nice change of pace and I am not letting those people go and instead, I am working to expand this network.

So back to the personal side... AB and I have for nearly our entire courtship, lived far away from family. This has changed who I am. I don't rely on a lot of people usually. Having kids has forced me to rely on others, but I am not always comfortable with that. We have an excellent support network among our friends, but we don't have the grandparents or the big family dinners and as much as I dislike saying it, my kids have to be reminded who their families are. As the kids get older they are starting to remember people though. We, for the most part, are very used to it just being us. This has been a challenge over the past couple years as we have had a family member move near us. This has changed me in ways I won't delve into here. It has changed me in that I have someone to help out and I just have to let go and accept help from someone I know loves the kids with all her heart.
Now that you have listened to me ramble - what changes define you?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Being a Northerner

That's me. I admit it. I have never really been to the South. Well I have been to Florida, but whenever I cite that destination as "having been to the South" I am told, "that isn't really the South".

Now I have really been to the South.

The South is somewhat like a different country to me. Yes, I lived in Wyoming for the first 12 years of my life - and I really am not casting stones from my own glass house because I know that Wyoming is often viewed as the "hicksville" of the north - just some observations and some humor that I have observed over the past few days in my travels to Eastern Tennessee

So Southerners - they talk funny. They make lots of words have a feminine gender by ending them in "a". At the program review they give us all a safety briefing prior to starting the conference. It took me a minute to realize that "far" was "fire" and I thought it was pretty cool that they offered the feminine gender to "tornado" by making it "tornada" - afterall the wrath of a tornado should really be associated with the feminine identity as hurricanes are.

Whenever I travel I try to get a flavor of the local culture. When in DC, I head to a new museum. In Florida, to the beach or a park.

So as to not disappoint my husband I looked on Yelp for the "best" reviewed BBQ restaurant. I got into my car and started following the map. And following the map. And suddenly I was in the forest where men were driving makes of cars I haven't seen in decades with no shirts on and no seatbelts. That's not very safe.

I came to the well reviewed restaurant... errr shed, I mean. I was a bit nervous, but saw that they had four smokers, a stack of hickory and the two 5 star Yelp reviews couldn't be wrong, could they?

Then I remembered I am a single woman, very obviously not from this area and when I saw the Closed sign I was suddenly a bit relieved and got back in the car and drove to the obviously chain BBQ restuarant just down the street from my hotel.

Tennessee is known for being friendly. So when I was standing in line and the woman next to me said, "hello there", I politely replied, "hello". She stood there smiling at me and I smiled back.

"Howr yer kiddies?" she asked me.

A little perplexed and wondering if this is Southern hospitality I replied, "they are fine" and went back to reading email on my iPhone and it dawned on me that she maybe wasn't just being friendly, that she probably thought I was someone else.

I got my food, noting to myself NOT to ask for tea after the fiasco of the conference lunch when they served me some weird brown combination of Kool-Aid and Iced Tea, and sat down. A family across from me sat eating and I was humored to note that the toddler? He had a wife beater! I didn't know they made wife beaters in size 3!?

I thought about snapping a picture of him on my phone and then thought better of it, not only as a parent and knowing I wouldn't want a stranger snapping a photo of my kids, but also a bit of fear in my head as his daddy was also wearing a wife beater and I was strangely suspecting that it was his uniform.

I did grin to myself when the boy complained about his "breeches".

My first morning there I was too lazy to find out where the nearest coffee shop was and just headed to the hotel restaurant and ordered oatmeal.

"Ye wan oat meal?" my waitress asked.

"Yes, one bowl of oatmeal," I said.

"We have da buffet with all yall can eat for $10.99?" she reminded me.

"Just the $3.50 oatmeal please," I said.

"Ok, I will see to dat," she said.

Seriously how long does it take to make oatmeal? I was getting little nervous about the time when she finally brought my bowl, well actually a large vat, of oatmeal with a side of maple syrup. I politely requested brown sugar and milk and quickly ate about 1/8 of my vat of cold oatmeal. I was determined to find a coffee shop the next day.

That however, is easier said than done. I got the heads up from other conference attendees that there is one Starbucks in the region and some vague directions on how to get there. Thank goodness for Smart Phones.

I was in the program review with about 15 of my colleagues from work and they all had stories to share too.

One of my expressive colleagues was looking forward to an evening at Walmart. Her plans were to sit there with her phone and snap pictures to post to "People of Walmart". She told me that last year she saw a woman actually take off her flip flop and start smacking her son.

I have a vegetarian colleague. Umm yeah. South and vegetarian do not mix. Poor girl. For every lunch they kindly brought her a big salad - even on the day when they made baked potatoes (and BBQ - but I was thrilled for the baked "tater") for us. When traveling I usually make a bit of effort to eat pescavegetarian because I have a sensitive stomach when traveling and my children and husband demand meat (fish/chicken/beef/pork) at most meals despite my efforts to push the mostly fish and vegetable diet on them. I didn't even try here. Anyways, my colleague told me she went to a restaurant for dinner and under "Vegetables" on the menu it listed "macaroni and cheese".

I have noted the prevalance of a number of chains that I haven't frequented, but have only heard about - Waffle Houses every few miles (or less - somewhat like the prevelance of Starbucks in my current home state), Cracker Barrels, Chik-Fil-A... I kind of wished I had a bit extra time to walk in and see what all the hoot was about. But that's ok.

Oh and golly. I am not sure I have heard the use of the word "golly" outside of old reruns of the Andy Griffith Show. But golly, they use it a lot here!

One of my good friends from work (and one of the smartest women I know) is from Alabama and so I do hear the Southern drawl on occasion, and another set of parents of one of my daughter's best friends is from Chattanooga, and their accent is perceptable. Even the program manager I know well who is from this area (and therefore knew the best pizza place for dinner last night) maintains a bit of a drawl and he is one of the smartest guys I know. But I realize how much they have lost their accents over years as I work to decipher what people were asking me or saying to me. I felt like they were looking at me like I must be the stupidest person around to not know what they were talking about. Nope, my ears just aren't accustomed to the foreign language.

It's been fun, but I am ready to wish a fond farewell to the area and get back up North.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Leif and Skadi's Spring Break of Fun

This afternoon we decided to make a giant list of all our fun plans for Spring Break. The highlight of Leif's week is looking not to be the trip to the movie theater, or the plans to go swimming or to the gymnastics gym.

Nope, it's a lemonade stand.

He plans to offer two varieties of lemonade (from lemons and from powder), take a vote on which tastes better and offer homemade cookies for sale too. Skadi is planning on filling the role of graphic artist and making the sign - she has already made our name tags, "so that everyone knows it is OUR business". He is planning on advertising through Facebook, but has expressed a bit of conern about "inspectors" who may come by.


So the kids' list (as written by Leif):

Lenumade Stand
Go to parik
Make chicken samdwiches
Make cookes with lemunade
Slep down stars (Sleep downstairs)
Learn cursive