28 June 2011

F me

Just a random observation for today. I've been at my current place of employ for 11 months now, and it has it's share of curiosities, as most places do. It's government, so there is this secondary layer of BS that many who haven't worked for the Feds can't truly appreciate. Whatever...that isn't the point.

Lately I've been taking notice of the duds that the folks who work for facilities/maintenance wear...grey tshirts with block letters that go like this : FME

Facilities, Maintenance and Engineering...so the acronym fits, sure, but what toadstool eating no-nothing decided to write F Me all over janitorial gear? The world needs fixers and maintainers...they are truly valuable people...but to put a dude in Dickies, workboots and a F Me tshirt just adds insult to injury.

Why not make them walk around the campus wearing a sandwich board that says: "Uncle Sam wants ME! (to plunge the stopped up toilet)"


25 June 2011

Worms don't eat sidewalks

Strange title today, no? It arose from a conversation I was having with Paige this afternoon. talking about teeth and how many of them different kinds of animals have. Sharks, it turns out, have 22. And worms? Well, they apparently don't have teeth because they don't need teeth because they don't eat sidewalks - they're too hard. Brilliance and insanity all in the space of a single sentence.

We, as a family, actually had a rather enjoyable day together today. The first without a major incident clouding our happiness, or a mad scramble to get somewhere important, or feverishly flit about the house getting it ready for sale (a log entry I'm trying patiently to avoid writing because it is a rather disappointing and maddening experience). The kids had gym class this morning and were fairly well behaved all day. They ate well, slept (Taryn) and rested (Paige) decently and didn't do much fighting. They were rewarded with a trip to the playground (a mother playground with all the trappings across town).

The wife was rewarded with two helpings of Mike's fabulous Sangria. Mike is hoping for his reward in a little bit, after the Sangria kicks in...

21 June 2011

More to come

It's been a few days since I've said much here.  It was a difficult and sobering past weekend.  I'll get into it tonight, perhaps.  It's going to be a tough summer 2011 methinks.

15 June 2011

A picture speaks 1000 words

If that is true.  Then what does this 55 second video do?  I have watched it (it is a clip from something about 3 minutes long, too long to post here) more times than I can count the last few days and EVERY time it makes me smile.  Paige, in her flower girl dress, 13 seconds after the party moved from the cocktail lounge to the reception/dance hall.  She got the party started, and dragged Taryn out there too.  Kid Rock providing the beats...Sorry about the graininess, but please enjoy.

10 June 2011

Damnable Church Pews

Add them to the litany of reasons I don't go to church (never mind my stance on organized religion): a pew almost took out my daughter tonight.

We're out of town on a family matter - the wedding of one of my cousins - and Paige is going to be the flower girl.  It's cute.  She's got herself a really fancy white dress and great silver strappy shoes.  She went with Mommy the other day to the spa and got herself a manicure/pedicure (she came home with pink nails covered in white polka-dots), and she's got a really cool new headband with blue and white flowers on it to wear in her hair.  She's even been "practicing" at home with some of Mommy's silk flower petals.  She's excited and so by extension, Mommy and I are too.

My family (my Mom's side) is huge, sprawling really.  I'm the oldest of 19 cousins and every summer growing up the family would descend on my family's place (a string of 3 houses occupied by my folks, one of my aunt/uncle set and my Mom's parents).  At times there would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 people all milling about, looking for fun.  Not to sound too West Virginian, but many of my cousins are like pseudo-siblings to me.  Tomorrow's bride, Katie, is perhaps second only to one other (Jenny...) who I'd consider a fraction shy of my actual sister.

There is symmetry here too.  Being the oldest of the 19, I was around, and can remember, when three of my aunts were married.  In fact, I was the ring-bearer in Katie's Mom's wedding when I was about Paige's age.  Story goes that I walked about halfway down the aisle and then ran for it in my little brown tuxedo.  The only thing I really remember from that day was getting to ride in antique cars to the reception hall...cool.  Anyway, on my Mom's side of the family, I'm the only cousin with kids of my own (so far...) and Katie thought it would be neat to have Paige in her wedding.  Certainly for the cute factor, but also as an homage to her Mom and Dad's wedding.  Symmetry.

Well, this afternoon (after a full day of driving - we're in NY now) was the rehearsal.  We got to the tiny church on time and got to know the names of those we didn't recognize.  Paige was playing around with another of my cousins, Trish (also in the wedding...I told you we're like a pack of 19 siblings...well, 18 siblings, but that's a sad story for another day) having a good time.  She was being a really good kid, just having fun but really staying under control.


I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  She was running up the left side of the church looking over her shoulder for Trish and as she turned to face front her face met the upright section of a solid oak pew.  I was out of my seat and FLYING before she even hit the ground.  I've heard this sickening thud before.  Just before I defended my thesis, her forehead met the reinforced corner of a wall and, well, the wall won.  11 stitches and permanent scar right in the middle of her beautiful face.

I prepared for the worst.  She was screaming.  I scooped her up and ran outside with her to have a look.  I sat her on the steps of the church and pulled her away from my shoulder.  RED.  On her chest.  Oh crap, here we go again.  Oh, phew, it's a big fat sticker she'd swiped from a choir book.  Ok, no blood apparent.

Still screaming.  Can't see a cut or a bruise.  She's holding her mouth.  Oh Christ, she's broken teeth - right?  Paigey, let me see.  Nothing.  Every tooth accounted for, and intact at that.  I check to see if they are loose.  They're really not, though this procedure is deceiving because her whole head moves when I check.  She seems fine, physically.  She's scared and in shock, but otherwise seems to be OK.

We'll check her out again in the morning, but she ate a big fat slice of pizza for dinner (ohhhh, gooooood NY pizza) and played her rear-end off until 9PM....2 hours past her bedtime.  I think she's fine.

There is something about your child being in trouble that causes a unique physiologic change.  I was sitting in the church, talking to my grandmother (81+ and still grinding it out baby!) and a few others, then, after registering Paige's distress, I sprang.  I'm not joking, I had tunnel vision.  I don't know if I knocked people over.  My wife said I was running over the pews...not through them, but OVER them.  Thinking two things: I have to get to my daughter first, it HAS to be me that gets her and helps - and - I need her to be OK because if she isn't then I'm not and I have to keep it together.

Kids are stress.  Almost all of the time.  But, Daddy reacts well to stress, and will ALWAYS get there first...

06 June 2011

What is success?

I have a philosophical doctorate so let's do some philosophizing.

In my currently chosen profession - academic medical research - there is a generally accepted progression from peon-know-nothing to fat-cat-tenured-professor.  It basically works like this: enter a PhD program and work your ass off for 5-7 years for less pay than you'd make working a cash register at Best Buy (I know first hand...).  Write a ~200 page document detailing your efforts and spend a day justifying said document to a panel of people (some supportive and truly nice, some not so much...) who hold the degree you're trying to earn.  Pass and you're a doctor.  Great!  On to that professorship, right?


Now you have to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship, somewhere else, and work your ass off for a subsequent 4-5 years for a little more coin - but far less than all of your collegiate friends with Bachelor's degrees are making at *insert tech giant company name here*.  And forget 401Ks and other perks of real employment.  There, NOW we're ready for that professor position at U of Wherever, right?

Well, maybe.  Let's see here.  I see that you worked for 6 years at Whassamatta U under Dr. X.  Hmmm, one first author paper...tsk tsk tsk.  Then you went on to do a 5 year traineeship with Dr. Z studying the mating apparatus of the banana slug...one first author paper and a few contributing manuscripts.  How many hours a week did you work during these appointments?  Please don't tell me you actually took off on Christmas Day?

There is the rub.  I would like to know when it became acceptable for the establishment (and I know it isn't just my profession where this occurs...) to expect the ridiculous as the standard.  40 hours a week is essentially part-time for scientists in academia.  At least for scientists trying to attain tenure.  60-70 hours a week is probably closer to "average" for students/postdocs and new faculty appointees.  Do the math.  If you're not working weekends, 60 hours is 12 hours per work day.  Tack on an hour a day for an average commute (13), one to get ready in the morning (14) and 7 for sleep (21) and that leaves 3 hours during the day to do EVERYTHING else.  Make dinner, clean up dinner, feed cats, play with kids, get kids in bath/bed, do laundry, vacuum, run errands, and maybe have a fleeting few minutes for leisure (all this, of course, if you can function the next day on 7 hours of sleep with anything close to 95% effectiveness).  And, try as we might, sometimes science DOES run into the weekends despite our desire to have these free.

I don't get it.  I know there is an entrenched dogma of "I did it this way and you have to also" but I think it's stupid.  The root of all of it is the availability of funding (really low) becoming more difficult to procure and therefore requiring larger volumes of impactful data.  Professors write the grants - postdocs do most of the "impactful" bench work and students do a measure of the impactful work but are essentially learning how to be overworked postdocs.

I understand in science, like in all professions, that there are a select group for whom their work defines them and IS their life.  That's fine.  But it's not me.  I do science because I like it, it is endlessly interesting, and I am moderately "good" at it.  But I do not want my headstone to read "Cancer Curer and Driver of Knowledge".  I'd much rather it not even make mention of me being "Doctor Hall" (a moniker, 2 years later, that I still have a hard time identifying with).  Rather, I'd hope whoever is having it cut decides on something more like "Devoted Husband, Doting Father and Drinker of Life".

My personal success, I believe, should be measured by how I provide for my wife and my daughters; not financially (again, if it were about $$ I'd never have gone back to school in '03), but temporally.  If I'm at work 60+ hours/week and sleeping minimally 49 hours/week, that leaves me less than 60 hours/week potentially in their presence.  Actually, subtract 5 hours for commute and we're down to <54 hours.  Oh, and since the girls are so young and go to bed at 7, it's actually more like 34 hours/week.  34 out of 168. That's 20% of my week devoted to potential parenting and spousal duties.  I am supposed to be OK with sleeping more often that playing with my kids.  And this is all at a "reasonable" working pace.  If I want to be scientifically successful (in the eyes of academic types) I need to ratchet it up to 70-80 hours/week...leaving my family with a paltry ~15 hours of my time out of every 7 days.  2.2 hours a day for my family.  What kind of model are we building here?

Now, if I don't work at that frenetic pace, I'm much less likely to produce a large enough volume of data to generate either a single remarkable journal article (Cell, Science, Nature etc...) or two-three solid if not spectacular articles (PLoS One, JBC, Developmental Dynamics etc....).  This means I will not be competitive as a faculty recruit (regardless of my actual intelligence or ability to do science), and will either have to settle for a tenure-track position at a VERY small liberal arts college somewhere in the foothills of the Ozarks or accept a non-tenrue track research faculty (read: super postdoc...yes, 4 more years of ass-busting for no title) at a major medical school and hope I can convert to tenure track with progress and making a few friends at the institution.  Neither of these choices are optimal.

And, if I opt to bail on purely academic science and jump back into biotech/biopharmaceutical research? Then I become a bit of a pariah in the academic world.  A "he couldn't hack it" type, or a "he's too interested in his paycheck...we do it for the love of science" type.  It is NOT about the $.  It IS about the more structured career environment and ability to have defined steps and logical advancements.  It IS about having the ability to work 45-50 hours a week more regularly and to get back 15 hours with my family.

I think there needs to be a major overhauling of the academic career path.  Tenure, while great for your job security if you earn it, is actually a demotivating carrot once earned (I've seen this in abundance).  It should be done away with.  There should be free-flow of scientists between academia and industry.  Why create an artificial barrier and block the advancement of knowledge?  Biopharma does science with a goal of making money, sure, but academic scientists are not devoid of non-scientific motivation either.  How many have I seen give a talk where they believe they are walking on water?  How many are striving to be named "Director" or "Chief" or patent their "findings" as well?  The cache of name recognition and counting the number of times your recent paper has been cited in new ones...it's all ego.  And, by the way, tenured professors at decent schools make a pretty pile of wallet-stuffing too...so let's not mince words.

I just don't get it and can't figure out what my best course is.  The thought process has been consuming me more and more lately.  I'm almost 1 year into my potential 5 year fellowship.  I'm a husband and father.  I'm an adult in physical form if not mentally.  There is a fork in the road ahead, just out of sight, but I know it's there...left or right?

What do I want to be when I grow up?  And what am I willing to sacrifice to fill out that uniform?


PS. Tomorrow I'll fill you in on our camping trip from this past weekend.  This other topic was on my mind tonight, so I went with it.

02 June 2011

Costanza's Wallet

I used to think that I was not a terribly picky person.  Turns out that is dead wrong.  I'm picky about my beer, my brand of mayonnaise, the music I listen to and a whole host of other things.  Now, I prefer to consider myself picky, but not a snob (though if we're talking beer here, then, well, I AM a snob and have been for ~16 years (once the novelty of the fake ID wore off and I had more than 3$ to spend on 6 beers)).  My pickiness was driven home recently over something I never really considered a terribly important item: my wallet.  Oh sure, it is important in it's function as my link to dolla-dolla bills y'all, but beyond that and a few trinkets from over the years (two worn Pearl Jam tickets - 2008 w/my sister and 2010 FRONT ROW DEAD CENTER with my wife - a "lucky" two-dollar bill creased perfectly in fourths, my Tapps "wall-of-foam" discount card for when I'm back in Melbourne and a Tinkerbell valentine's day card from Paige from before she could write her name, 2009?) the wallet is just a thing that sucks to sit on in the car.

Mine, however, has been in steady decline for a while now.  I pulled a version of a long-standing family tradition (usually done with duct tape by my Mom's side) and stapled the thing into a semblance of a functional catch-all.  It lasted about two weeks and today finally waved the white flag.  Now, normally I'm not much of a penny pincher.  When I want something, I usually do some research and purchase the best one I can possibly afford (note: AFFORD...be smart and realize what your limits are...if you can't you can't and SHOULD NOT...I learned that the hard way in college).  I do not, however, enjoy spending money on things that I "need".  Like the cool $850 we just dropped to fix the A/C for someone else to enjoy when we finally sell this shoebox of a house.  Sucko.

Wallets, generally speaking and if your last name isn't "Hilton" or "Kennedy", are not terribly expensive things.  I am not really a label hound either.  My last wallet was a "Nautica" leather thing, purchased at Macy's because my father-in-law had gifted me with an over-sized shirt at X-mas which I couldn't replace and had to use the store $ on something.  I think it was ~$20.  So, I go to Kohl's (last week, prior to the stapling) to have a peek at their selection and after 25 minutes (seriously, I picked out my CAR faster than this...)  I find one I sort-of like: $26 (it's a "Relic", whatever that is) and they're running a buy one, get one 50% off sale.  Great if I wanted TWO wallets, but I only wanted one.  And, I felt that $26 was too much for a wallet that I wasn't so sure about- even though I know damn well my wife owns wallets more expensive than that, and that we bought my youngest sister a "Coach" wallet (CHA-CHING) for her collegiate graduation last summer.  So I stapled the Nautica and started looking around on-line at wallets.  I didn't realize there were so many options.  Again, though, all too expensive for my liking.  But, like I said, Nautica died today.  So, I went back to Kohl's, thinking they might be running a different sale, as they are prone to do.  Money, 30% off wallets!  Got one for ~$20 out the door.

So, I paid the right price, but now I've got this completely new chunk of leather and acetate.  Unworn.  Totally different layout.  I start putting cards and stuff in to it (and I can't believe how many store cards I have, not credit cards, you know, the "customer membership" type cards so they can track your purchases and what not and offer you "deals" in return) and even though it looks bigger, it's board stiff and nothing fits.  My license and insurance cards are in a weird location.  The bank card is covering up the credit card.  Can't find room for my Sams Club card...never mind my Dave & Busters Power Card (with like $1.75 on it).  And the kicker?  Well, no cash besides my lucky two-dollar bill so I don't know if the bill-fold "works".  I'm sure it does.  But the problem is that the thing won't close all the way now.  I actually removed several cards for places I do not frequent.  How do dudes get away with using those two-slotted money clips?  Straight cash homey?

I just re-read this post and it makes very little sense.  I'm sure there was a point to be made in there somewhere.

Didn't get to see much of my kids today.  I spent my usual morning interaction time prepping the pot-roast for the crock pot (beef at 6AM) and after dinner I had to go out shopping (to get a damn wallet and food) for the upcoming camping trip and they were sound asleep when I got home.  The wife said they were extra good for her tonight...well done Peanut and Tare-bear.  I did give you both a kiss while you were sleeping around 9:30PM.  I love you and I miss you.

01 June 2011

Taryn does Ocean City

We took a trip out to Ocean City, MD last weekend to visit with Grammie (wife's mom) and Grandpapa (wife's step-father).  They live out there on a canal off of the bay-side...but just a 3 minute walk to the Atlantic.  It's pretty far north of the touristy boardwalk area...really relaxing.  This is a little bit about our trip.

Where to begin?  Oh yes: POOP.  We woke up on Saturday, had some breakfast and kicked around what we should do for the day.  Of course, the beach.  Got the kids changed, lathered in SPF 9x10^6 (that's 9 million for those who are lacking in their scientific enumeration skills) and hoofed it to the beach.  Light load, two buckets, two towels, a couple bottles of water and a few snacks.  Not planning on being there too long (cold water).  We walked around a bit, played in the sand, dipped toes in the surf (Paige...not Taryn, as it turns out she's a bit of a wuss at this point) and had a snack while watching a good-sized pod of dolphin lollygag up the coast.  Really great way to start a weekend.  We walk back to the house after 1.5 hours and head around back.  Grammie and Grandpapa have a strict "no sand" policy in the house, and have installed an outdoor shower to facilitate the cleansing.

*Side note: I love this shower*

We proceed to bathe Taryn and wrap her in a towel to dry off.  Hand her off to Grammie to get Paige cleaned up, and Taryn falls asleep.  Long morning, lots of sun and fun...she's tired, and it's nap time anyway.  We put her in a diaper and drop her in the pack'n'play and let her sleep.  About 90 minutes later, we are alerted to her Taryn-ness having completed her nap, and we go to get her.  Hmmm, she had a diaper on when we put her down.  Hmmm, it smells funky in here.  Oh, there's her diaper - it's clean.  Did she have chocolate before going down for a nap?  What IS that smell?  OHYOULITTLESONOFABITCH you pooped in the crib!  And...you played in it too!  Awesome!  Poop face, poop chest, poop pillow, poop blanket and sheet.  Back to the shower you imp...what a mess.

So, you'd think the bathroom-related story would end there for the weekend...but noooo...

The next day, after pestering Paige to go use the potty as she was clearly in the last movement of her interpretive pee-pee dance, we had a follow-up.  Taryn follows her into the bathroom.  It gets really quiet.  I get up from the table (and an aromatic cup of coffee) to see what's what.  As I approach the bathroom, I hear jostling, laughing, and a hasty attempt to close the door and flush.  TP everywhere.  Enough in the bowl to wipe a rhino's arse - twice.  And Taryn, completely mummified around the head and neck.  I hadn't laughed that hard since, well actually I laughed that hard just the day before - at Taryn.  But I made her walk out into the living room to show Mommy and Grammie/Grandpapa.  My youngest IS the "Miss" in mischief.  Not evil, not even close, but completely devilishly mischievous.

Something tells me we're in for it this coming weekend as we head up to the Catoctin Mountains for a little camping.  At least there's a lake to dip her into if she gets a creative impulse...

*PSA* Go buy Eddie Vedder's "Ukelele Songs" album.  Good originals and some interesting covers.