Saturday, December 25, 2010

An Upbeat Christmas

Today was Christmas, and the family grouped together last night for our annual Christmas Eve party, here are the highlights:

We spent most of yesterday at my grandmother's house cooking, getting her ready, and visting with my mother's aunt and cousin. There were no big problems this year, and we all got out the door on time.

My uncles Dave and Johnny went in one car, and were supposed to follow us in my mom's car. Somewhere on route 2 we started questioning whether or not they were behind us. We got off the highway to get some coffee, and they were nowhere to be found. Neither of my uncles had their cell phone, which was highly unusual.

Dave and John, running out of gas, got to a McDonalds and finally called us. The two trouble makers were having a grand old time. Once everone was back on track, my mom went out to meet them and retrieve them. So dinner started late, but here were plenty of snacks to hold everyone over.
Dinner was great, as usual.

Present opening happened promptly this year. My poor grandmother's bad memory meant she couldn't remember that she had gifts for all the grandchildren. This meant that every 5 minutes or so we were weepily informed that she had nothing to give anyone. It's heartbreaking that 1) she can't recall anything 2) she can't figure out that we'll make sure she's got everything she needs and 3) she doesn't realize that all we really care about is her being there.

Lauren and I exchanged gifts with each other this year. I got cookie cutters and a new rolling pin. I gave her the card game "Fluxx", the version that has a zombie theme. Very holiday appropriate, I must say.

For the first time ever, Lauren and I interacted with our other cousins Sydney and Hannah. Buying that game was the best thing ever, the four of us played for the rest of the evening. Lauren's parents were in a rush to get home, so I told them I'd get her back so they didn't make her leave. I didn't want to cut down on the already short time we had together. This was the best part of the evening, for me anyway. It really meant a lot to have all the girls doing something together.

Matt wasn't there, which I think really dissappointed Aunt Kim. Neither of my aunts have met him yet. I don't know when we'll finally have the family meet him, officially; but, first we need to sort out the technical details of the holidays a little better. Matt has already said that next year, we're traveling together. I concur. An impending snowstorm for Monday is going to spoil my travel plans, and it looks like I won't get to PA or see Matt and his family until Tuesday.

This morning mom and I exchanged gifts: I got a really cool sweater and a jewlery organizer that was shaped like a tree. The sweater is really great, it's warm and looks awesome. I need to cull my sweater collection when I get back to school, I have too many old and out of date sweaters. I'll probably donate them, there isn't anything structurally wrong with them, and I'm sure there are people that could use them. I keep seeing nice sweaters that I would like but that I refuse to buy. I have nowhere to put them because the old ones are taking up too much space.

Mom and I were so busy yesterday that we didn't quite get everything we intended for dinner this evening, and absolutely no grocery stores were open today. No big deal, we improvised with what we had around the house and what we could locate at convenience stores. We ended up having roast pork tenderloin with squash and scalloped potatoes. For dessert, an apple tart. Everything ended up coming together well, despite the initial setback.

Dave, my cousin JP, and my grandmother all came over for dinner. The five of us had a really nice evening. I don't spend that kind of time with JP, ever. He's usually working or out doing something, and I only ever catch him briefly at my grandmother's house.

This year I not only got to spend time with the family I'm already close with, but I got a little extra with those I haven't interacted with in a while. I hope that we can repeat this next year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why I Keep This Up (Christmas)

The truth of the matter is, I don't know my family all that well. I mean I really don't know a good majority of them. Sure, I know their names, their rough ages, where they live, and a few other broad details. However, I know the same things about other people I casually interact with. In total, I probably spend more time with one random person at the bus stop every year than half of the people I am blood related to in some form or another.

I'm going to venture a guess that my situation is the same for many people, especially those who have moved further than 100 miles away from the place they grew up. I can only assume that part of this is because for seven years I lived over 300 miles away from home. Now, I'm a three day drive - 1700 miles. However, I felt this rift start long before I was even out of high school.

Blood relation doesn't guarantee a relationship. There is a degree of effort that is essential to building bonds. It's the reason that some friendship that lasted throughout 12 years of grade school can dissolve quickly after only a year away at college. Some family members have invested this effort, and I've reciprocated, and those relationships are strong.

I'm a picky person with friends, the people with whom I choose to associate with more than necessary. I can get along with almost anyone, but there are a select few that make the cut. Some happen to be family members, others I've collected from various places along the way. I like to think that I like people as a whole, this is exemplified by my annoyance with people who loath humanity.

I find it rather disturbing how little I know about some of the people I have a family relationship to. Shouldn't I know more than name, age, occupation? Shit, I'm not even sure I know occupation for all of them. I don't really know. I just know how things are.

So why do I, year after year, get together for Holidays with people I hardly know, that I hardly have anything in common with? I'm not even entirely sure that all of my relations give me a second thought, so why do I persist in this ritual? I've thought about this at length (especially after daydreaming about not coming home for Christmas and going on a cruise because Christmas in Connecticut it cold, and cold sucks). The conclusion I have reached is that, unlike the friends I have, many of my family members have been around for all or most of my existence. They can remember things from when I was too small to recall anything. They know about people that I never met, who in some way influenced my existence (deceased grandparents, for example). They hold all this information; and, if I lose them, I innevitably lose a part of myself. Maybe that's why every time I go away it's painful for me with the special ones, the ones that know me best, the ones I actually know something about.

I will say this: I spent my first Thanksgiving without a blood relative this year. I didn't have much of a shared history with anyone there; so, as much as I love them, and as nice as it was, it wasn't the same.

So, despite the fact that I don't know much about some family members, I'm going to keep up the ritual of getting together a couple times a year for as long as I can. I like rituals, they are predictable and they make me feel safe. Besides - despite the fact that I can't logically explain the warmth I feel towards these people, it is nice so who really cares? And it could be worse. Much. Much. Worse. I've heard about worse, and I'll take my chances with my own family, thanks.

So, bring on the perogies, and I'm sorry if the eggnog sucks this year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Northeast For The Holidays

I've been slacking, as in slacking off on seeing people since I've been home. It's not that I don't want to see people, I do; this time of year, being home alone while mom is at work, and the chaos puts me in a droopy mood.

I am glad to be home though. It's so important to me that I'm getting to see my mom, Grandma, and Uncle Dave. I'll see the Georgiades clan on Friday evening, as per usual holiday plans. We pack the car up, and head on out to my Uncle Rob's house for a tall tree, fireplace, and more food than any human being should eat in one evening. I'm making egg nog again, as usual. I wonder if Mom has reminded Dave that he is invited? This year I think I'll make some cookies while I'm home: some to bring to Christmas Eve, some to give away to friends.

I have been successful in seeing Jenn. We had breakfast together my first morning back. We went to the Glastonbury Coffee Shop, one of the best places to get breakfast. It's kind of small, which means it can be kind of drafty in the winter, but it has a charm that is quinticential to this area. And it's been around forever, I've been going since I was an infant. My family used to go every weekend.

Jenn and I met up again this evening to puts around the mall area. We hit Target and Red Robin, and then went to the dreaded mall. I promised myself I wouldn't go to the mall until Christmas was done, but we met up with Katie and she needed to return something. I didn't have any shopping to do, so I figured wandering around and looking at sparkly objects wouldn't be too bad. It was a nice evening; homefully I can see Jenn again next week before I head out to Virginia.

I haven't seen Lura yet, but we've made Facebook contact. It's just a matter of time, and not having work or something else in the way, until we hang out. Maybe this weekend? If not, it'll have to wait until I return from PA with Matt on Tuesday.

Being back home where there is TV is SO dangerous. I've been wasting my life watching stupid things, and it's really rather pathetic. My mom and all my friends aren't available till the evening, so I've just been kind of vegging out. I did go out yesterday to try to complete my Christmas shopping. I'm about 98% done. I found a really cool shop, but I can't talk about it yet, or people will know what I got them for gifts. But it was so neat!

There was coffee and cookies with Uncle Dave on Sunday, and lunch with Mom today. So, I guess after the final analysis, my break so far has been fairly productive, after all.

I should be getting my publication together. Hmm, yes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


So despite the bah humbug feelings I was having earlier this month, this past week I've been attempting to get into a better mood. How, you may ask?


And I made a WHOLE bunch of them, too. This past Tuesday I had some of my favorite UNM girlies over (with their boys, whatever, ha!) and we had a cookie swap. A cookie swap is where you bring cookies, and you must leave with some that others brought. I figured out a way to make vegan gingerbread cookies, which was good because Meghan was back! She and Jason are looking for a place to live next semester. Actually, seeing her and seeing that she was okay really picked up my spirits. I was so excited when she showed up.

I also made some pretty delicious butter cookies. I put an orange glaze on them, and then sprinkled them with dried cranberry bits.

Matt and I also checked out Old Town while shops were still open. We stayed until it was starting to get dark. A lot of shops had lights on, and it was really pretty. Unfortunately, there were no luminarias out, which I still need to get pictures of for myself and for the blog, of course. As we were getting ready to leave I spotted this very huge, but oddly shaped Christmas tree.

Upon closer inspection, we realized this was actually a bunch of trees lashed together to make one monster super tree. Sort of like one of those Japanese super fighting robots, except a tree. So, yes, the top of this "tree" is a tree, and all the "branches" are trees too. Very bizarre, but still cool.

Tomorrow is my last day in ABQ before I head home for a long and much needed break. I have much of my shopping done, but there are a few things I still need to pick up. The only thing keeping me from going home at this point is A) proctoring a test, B) laundry, and C) packing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Angry People

During my time on campus yesterday I saw some kind of demonstration going on, and it turns out that a bunch of angry "Christians" with signs and lists of people who were going to burn in hell were drawing an equally agitated crowd. I didn't get close enough to see if I made the list, though as a scientist I think I'm included by default. I had no interest in these people, I didn't want to give the impression that I was involved in any way. There was a girl holding a "Free Hugs" sign several meters away. I made a bee-line for her, gave her a hug, and we both agreed that this whole things just makes us angry. And then I started heading for home.

Much to my dismay, they were asked to leave while I was walking to the bus and I found myself in the midst of about 6 wackos carrying signs and dressed in stupid anti-gay clothing, asking guys around them angrily if they were homosexuals. Thankfully they went in the opposite direction I was going when I crossed the street for the bus.

Never mind that the Bible doesn't technically advocate this kind of behavior. The last time I checked, Shmucky McShmuck with a sign doesn't decide anything for any deity.

Without giving these people too much of the attention they are so desperate to acquire, I just want to say a few things. I often hear people say that these people "make Christians look bad". It's true, they repel people from religion and give the absolute wrong impression. The point for these people isn't to draw anyone to Christianity, all they want is to be "persecuted" while making their testament to Jesus. That is the ONLY goal: it isn't about getting people to change their ways, it isn't about bringing people around to their way of thinking. They will say anything, no matter how backward, to get people angry at them, so the fact that they were removed from my campus just strengthens their cause. I know it doesn't make much sense to normal people; but that's because we're - well - normal.

If you want these kinds of people to go away, all you need to do is ignore them. Which of course goes against all normal human nature, and it sort of sounds like the lame advice parents give children who are dealing with a bully on the playground. Christians are told they will be persecuted and ridiculed in the name of God, which is very true and I've experienced it myself as a scientist of faith. However, THESE kinds of people have perverted and distorted this aspect of the religion. The absolute worst thing you can do is give them the time of day when they are behaving like this.

3rd to Last TA Duty: Done

Yesterday the lab coordinator and I got all of the grades for my classes settled. I have nothing left to grade until January, and it feels great. All I have to do now is attend the wrap-up meeting on Monday to talk about successes and problems with the course, and proctor an exam on Friday of next week. That leaves the whole week more-or-less open for me to do things for myself.

Yesterday started off kind of lame, however. Matt was up at 6am to go birding, and by the time I got up to get ready for the day he was already long gone. I got up as usual and took my usual shower. As I was drying off my foot, however, I felt myself tipping in slow motion. One minute I was standing up, the next I was splayed out in my bath tub, all alone, naked, and worried I had seriously hurt myself. I felt like such an old woman, falling in the bathtub like that. Thankfully nothing was broken, but I twisted my elbow enough for it to smart all day. This morning when I woke up my who body hurt from being tossed around like that. Falling is nothing that an adult human body was designed to deal with.

Aside from my trip down old person lane, yesterday was a decent day. I took not one but two lunch breaks. I spent some time with Clare, who I haven't seen much of lately because we've been busy. The poor girl is wearing herself out, it's a good thing we have a break coming up. I also went to Annapurna's Ayurvedic Cafe and Chai Shoppe. I had some chai while other friends had their lunches. It was some of the best chai I've had, and I'm eager to go back and have some food. It's all vegetarian or vegan.

I also worked toward getting my class schedule for next semester finalized. This involved physically going over to the registrar, for stupid reasons I won't get into here. But, with signed forms in hand, I will now be taking the following in the spring: a GIS course through the Civil Engineering Department, paleoecology, Bio BLOG, Seminar in Interdisciplinary Biological and Biomedical Science, and Graduate Evolution Core. It's a pretty full schedule, and I wasn't able to fit everything I wanted in. I wanted to take a research computing course over in Anthropology, but it conflicts with something I need to take. I'm going to ask the instructor if I can sit in on the part of class that I can make it to.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Coming, Ever So Slowly, to a Close

It's been a while since I posted last, and there's a lot that's happened.

Let me start out by saying, I hate this time of the year. I love going home, and I love that I am going to be done soon with the first semester of my PhD. However, this is the worst time of the year for me emotionally, and the past week has been awful.

I'm no Scrooge, but I don't like Christmas. It arrives in October, I'm sick of it by November, it reminds me of my father's death, and I find that I become more and more bitter about how selfish and materialistic people are. It all comes to a head on Dec. 25th, and no one seems to recall why we even have this holiday in the first place. Here's a hint: the reason isn't to give snotty entitled brats (young and old alike!) gifts that they don't appreciate. Christmas is very much like Valentine's day, and I find it absurd that people need an official reason to be nice to each other. You can do that any old time of the year, and it would probably be a more sincere gesture.

I'm going to make an effort to get my mood in a better place before I go home. I'm just happy to be going home. That's all I really care about this year: seeing people.

The whole death thing reared it's ugly head again last week. I was shocked and saddened to find out that the father of my friend / lab mate / cohort member passed away suddenly last week. The whole thing sent me into an emotional trip down memory lane complete with sadness and guilt that plagues me during this time of the year. And what's worse is I want desperately to do something to help her, but I can't. Not yet anyway. She isn't coming back until the spring.

In other news...

Mom is in the hospital, again. She ate nuts, so now she's undergoing treatment and procedures for ileitus. She's been in there for several days now. I feel awful. I wish I could be there. Although, she doesn't like company when she isn't feeling well, and this is the worst bout yet. She'd just send me home. We've been talking on the phone pretty regularly, though. At least there is that. I hope that she'll lay off the nuts and take it easy for the rest of the year. This is a bad time for both of us, and I wish I was going home sooner.

All this hospital time is taking away from the time she planned on spending with me before Christmas. We were going to see the King Tut exhibit. It's going back to Egypt for the foreseeable future. Maybe she and I could go during a weekend, instead of during a week day like we originally planned. Hopefully she'll be getting released from the hospital soon. I just hate being so far away and having her be there. It makes me nervous. She's in no mortal danger, but I can't help it. We'll just have to make up for it during the evenings and weekends I'm home.

In other, other news...

My teaching duties are coming to a close, thank God. I spent the weekend trying to grade papers that didn't live up to my expectations. I finally concluded that I would grade them tough, and then the lab coordinator and I would figure out a curve. It is VERY difficult for me to ease off on my standards for grading and still grade consistently, so this was the best way to go.

I made a student cry. I hate this.

Monday was the final exam. I was very pleased with it. It took me an entire afternoon to craft, and I think it was a challenging but fair test. It was mostly multiple choice, and I have the talent of being able to write multiple choice tests that are actually difficult. Most students think that they will be a breeze: not mine. I got what looks like a pretty good distribution of grades. Not too many A's, not too many F's. The average is a tad lower than I would like, but I'm trying to get these students to work at the university level. They fought me on that all semester; I don't hand hold. It's mind boggling that some people expect to do almost no work but get a good grade. That's not how I operate.

The beauty of designing a good exam is that it is a cinch to grade. I think in all it took less than 3 hours to grade all three sections and get everything into my spreadsheet. Matt helped, too, which was awesome. I'm hopefully meeting with the lab coordinator tomorrow to discuss appropriate adjustments to the overall grades or for specific assignments. Tomorrow is also my last class of the semester. After that, I have a take home final that is due on Tuesday and I'm proctoring a test on Friday. In my down time I'm going to: register my car dammit!, get the oil changed in my car, and do the little bit of shopping and errands I have in preparation for the break.

And a whole lot of nothing. Much needed nothing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend 2010.2

This is the second post of my two post entry on my first Thanksgiving in NM.

The day after Thanksgiving Lev, Matt, and I went out and about to burn off some of the extra calories from the previous evening. We went to the west mesa volcanoes, which are part of the Petroglyph National Monument. It was refreshing to see that a lot of other people had the same idea; rather than go shopping like too many people do the day after Thanksgiving, they were outside enjoying the good weather. It was, indeed, a beautiful day, and the scenery was equally lovely.

Matt, Melissa, and Lev. Two paleontologists and an astrobiologist. In the background, a volcano.

We hiked around for a good 2 hours. From up on the volcanoes themselves we got a great view of the city of Albuquerque.

Far background: the Sandias. Foreground: west mesa. Middle and below: Albuquerque, NM

The mesa is made of a volcanic rock called basalt. Rifting in the area caused the valley and volcanoes to form. The rift is still somewhat active, so the volcanoes themselves aren't totally dormant. I seriously doubt, however, that they will be doing anything interesting in the near future.
The tall rectangle that is roughly in the middle of the picture is the Bank of the West building. I live about 2 blocks to the west of that building. In the far background are the Sandia Mountains to the east.

It's amazing how pretty the high-desert is, desolation has its beauty.
One of a number of volcanoes. We wandered around this big one for a while, it was too tall for me to want to climb, as I was running out of water.

Sitting, watching the daylight run out.
Saturday was an entirely different adventure. For those of you who remember "Contact", the array of what looked like a bunch satellite dishes in the middle of nowhere was filmed for the movie at a real place 44 miles west of Socorro, NM on the Plains of San Augustine. The Very Large Array (that's its real name, also referred to as the VLA) consists of 27 209-ton antennas ("dishes") that can be moved around into different configurations to look at objects in space. This is similar to using a typical telescope, only light waves aren't observed. Objects such as planets, black holes, stars, etc. give off radio waves; these are collected by each "dish" and interpreted by a computer so that scientists can look at the images.

We were at the VLA right before dusk with Dave and Mouse, and I got some rather neat pictures before the sun went down.
Tracks which are used to move the antennas around.

National Radio Astronomy Observatory VLA.

Radio telescope sentinels, standing in a row

Sunset on the Plains of San Augustine
These a really rather large

Looking up