Thursday, December 29, 2005
New boots have been ordered!
Friday, December 02, 2005
Has this truncation of the expansion limited our ability to hear the communication of the unmeasured and unmeasurably abundant grace of God? The outward form appears much the same, but the res, the spiritual reality, has been irrevocably changed. Quantum chemists know that small changes in the functional form, to the point where two functions still appear identical, can lead to much larger changes in the expectation values of critical characteristics, such as the energy!
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Thursday, November 10, 2005
I never entertained the idea of going to med school, chemistry has been a passion for as long as I can remember, but the Saturday before Halloween I wished I could trade places with my grad school roommate (now a radiologist). Barnacle Boy wanted to be a Munchy for Halloween. The Munchies are cartoon characters BB and his friend ML cooked up last year. To make the Munchy frame, I ended up threading long wires through casings along the outer edges of the costume. This process would have been much easier if I had gone to med school, become a radiologist and spent years placing stents in arteries. Who knew?
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Driving with Crash Kid to church tonight to cantor, I told him I thought I would have trouble singing the communion hymn with a straight face. "What is it?" I broke into song:
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock,
and gathers the lambs in his arms.
Holding them carefully close to his heart,
leading them home.
Crash is giggling by the first line and guffawing by the end. "They're pretty messy to hold, Mom!" "Yep, all I can think about is my white shirt at the end of the day."
Holy cards of the Good Shepherd favor white robes, fluffy lambs and bucolic scenery. After my sojourn as a shepherdess this summer, I realize we've been sold the sanitized version. Newborn lambs are not fluffy and white, the ewes do not always trot sweetly along at your side and those white robes will never be the same after a day in the pasture! Our urbanized culture pulls a misty nostalgic curtain over Isaiah's point.
God cannot be the God of the holy cards. It would be as if I were only my kids' mother at the end of the day when they are scrubbed, sleepy and tucked into their clean white sheets. Instead I'm their mother when they are sticky, tearful, bloody and worse.
I told Crash my experience as a shepherd reminded me that God was willing to pick us up even when we were at our messiest. Crash? He said, "I think God is most willing to pick you up when you're messy." His theology isn't bad!
Friday, August 26, 2005
Today I took the train down to Washington DC, 40 miles further away. The entire trip, office door to my hotel, local train to Amtrak to Metro, took just over three hours for an average speed of about 45 mph. And we spend $35 billion a year on the highway system (nationally - add in the local contributions and it's yet more)? The system seems near collapse in some locations - the I-95 corridor being one of them. Invest in trains.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Lambs tend to arrive in the middle of the night, and last week at my dad's farm was no exception, new babies were found gamboling around the pasture in the morning. Yesterday, with afternoon temperatures in the 100s did not seem like the ideal time for the ewes to give birth. About 4 in the afternoon I hear my dad yelling for help from the back pasture, he's got a tiny baby lamb in his arms, so small it could slip through the fencing, another one back in the maternity pen, and mama loose in the pasture. I end up with the babe in my arms, while dad and various sibs and offspring herded mama into the pen. At the end, I was covered in mud and worse, but everyone was happily bedded down.
I drove the truck down to get the mail (and the latest Harry Potter), came back and was dreaming of a shower and a quick dip in the pool, when I hear my youngest say "Hey, Grampa! There's two new babies in the pasture." I grabbed the binoculars, thinking he must have mistaken the sheep in the grass for lambs. That would be, not! Two brand new, still wet babies were out in the back pasture. Out we go, I scooped them up, and all I could think about as I scooped up the bloody lambs was a quote from a favorite mystery series, "Another shirt ruined!".
Most of the stains have come out.
Radcliffe Emerson, Egyptologist extraordinaire, is rather rough on his shirts and his wife Amelia Peabody Emerson is wont to remark, "Another shirt ruined!" at the end of many of their adventures. The Emersons are the creation of Elizabeth Peters, who has a doctorate in archeology. Read the first, Crocodile on a Sandbank
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Meanwhile, Geeky Mom is loosing her mind over the laundry and other "Domestic Duties". Maybe I can lend her Crash Kid's brain sucking device?
Monday, June 13, 2005
Aydin tagged me last week, but I haven't had a chance to respond until now.
Number of books I own: The collection is hovering around 5000 volumes and I've committed to a "one in-(at least) one out" philosophy, so that is its size for the foreseeable future. There are no more walls to put bookshelves against - so unless we convert the kids' room to compact shelving (and don't think I haven't dreamed about it!)...this is it.
Last book I bought: Spirit of Fire by Ursula King. A biography of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist and theologian.
Last book I read for the first time: I wished I'd made you angry earlier. This series of essays by Max Perutz, a Nobel prize winning x-ray crystallographer is wonderful to dip into. I didn't read them in order, but opened it up at random to find yet another gem. There is an essay about Haber, Germany and the war effort, and another one about the discovery of the α-helix.
Four books that have influenced me:
Lady with a Spear by Eugenie Clark. Women in science, working your way through school, and adventures in the Pacific, this book has it all. Dr. Clark's sheer joy in the science comes through, and even though I didn't end up as an oceanographer, I think I take as much pleasure in my work as she does in hers.
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. The courage to change your life, or let it be changed in dramatic and sometimes, difficult ways. The book that inspired me to begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours on a regular basis.
The Liturgy of Hours
Marie Curie by Eve Curie. When I was younger, it was such a romantic tale -- fainting in a garret, so entranced by the science that she didn't eat (or couldn't afford to!) ; meeting her husband, another scientist. When I was older, coping with being a young widow...
Five bloggers to tag:
The Examining Room of Dr. Charles
See Jane Compute
The tag was to Culture of Chemistry (the blog for the other part of my life...)
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
How do I see mother? Sometimes it's Mo, Th and Er....
The pressed flower card taped to the wall next to my desk at home is carefully inscribed to "MoThEr" in a scrawl poised somewhere between kindergarten and first grade. I smile as my minds eye produces an image of the often sticky ball of ebullience that is my youngest son. The next time I spy the pink construction paper talisman, Christopher has vanished and in his place is a litany of chemical elements: "Molybdenum, Thorium, Erbium." I have the same sensation as when I look at the women in the classic optical illusion of the young woman and the old. Who do you see in the picture? At any given moment you see only one woman or the other, yet both are always there. The images cannot be separated —no line exists that divides the image of the beautiful woman from the crone. The whole of each is present within the other. You have only to switch your focal point, and the image changes. There is no blurring of the two images, you see one — or the other. This is my life. I am a mother and a professor, my life flicks back and forth between the two personae. Change the focus, and mother becomes Mo, Th, Er.
From an essay I wrote entitled "Elemental MoThEr" collected in Parenting and Professing: Balancing Family Work with an Academic Career (edited by Rachel Hile Bassett, Vanderbilt University Press, 2005) and published this month.
Monday, June 06, 2005
The Hours are not merely obligation, a binding contract with ourselves or our God. Saying the Liturgy of Hours, in English, or in Latin, using the current Rite or not, does not automatically produce a layperson who does not question authority, nor one who desires to worship only within the Tridentine Rite. While the Hours are indeed ties that bind, gathering a Church scattered in time, place and perspective into one single prayer, the Hours can be an oblation as well, an offering, a free gift, of our time and attention to the Creator to whom we are bound by covenant and not contract. The outward forms are not without significance, but unless they connect to our inmost beings, they are not effective.
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
When you don't have 5 kids in the 12' x 12' room with you, prepping a wall to be painted can be reflective. The moment of transformation does not come quickly. Careful attention has to be paid to the walls. Where should I patch? What needs sanding? The dust, dirt and grime need to be cleaned from the surface one last time. To see all this, things have to be moved out of the way, and while the prep work could be done solo, now it's time to have some help to discover what might be in the way of the new creation. In the end, I mask the windows and trim, working my way inward from the edges.
My kids (and my better half) remind me of "The Little Red Hen": "Who will help me scrub the walls?" "Not I!" The fun is in the actual painting, and when the time comes to roll the actual paint onto the walls, I have lots of volunteers! Not until I pull the final bit of masking off, can I be sure that the new space will work.
One retreat in a can, stir well before applying.
The room looks great - except my color blind 8 year old asked me why I'd chosen black (it's dark blue).
Sunday, May 29, 2005
...you clean out a large closet and fantasize not about a walk-in dressing room, but compact shelving for the books you keep amassing.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Motherhood meets my need for speed. Tonight, at 3:15 am, I woke from a very sound sleep to, "Mom, nose bleed!". (Actually, all I remember hearing is "nose bleed," but the caller who is curled up beside me on the sofa assures me he used my name.) I went from dead to the world to fully functional by the time I got downstairs. I'm amazed at the way your mind can register, process and respond to a call when I think I'm unconscious.
Now, of course, that the nosebleed seems to have stopped, it's 4:03 am and I don't know what to do with all the extra adrenaline. It was useful in the moment, but I'm done now. The birds are just waking up....I wondered when that happened.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
I've decided to submit a paper to a conference in the fall on the legacy of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit scientist and theologian who drew strongly links between science (in his case paleontology) and religion. My basic premise is that de Chardin's theology can bring a new perspective to sacramental theology, particularly when viewed through an Augustinian lense.
De Chardin speaks passionately of the tangible encounter with God:
By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us and moulds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers. In eo vivimus. As Jacob said, awakening from his dream, the world, this palpable world, which we were wont to treat with the boredom and disrespect with which we habitually regard places with no sacred association for us, is in truth a holy place, and we did not know it. Venite, adoremus!
That vivid image of being assailed by the divine, in everything we touch and that touches us, drives me back to Augustine who saw sacraments as the visible signs of invisible grace. I want to treat of things "sacramental" rather than of the Sacraments (the seven of which the Baltimore catechism -- and the Council of Trent -- say: an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace). Sacraments, with both a small "s" and a big "s", work. They are, as theologians are wont to say, efficacious. De Chardin's sees the universe as inescapably sacramental. The grace pounds at us. Augustine implies a similar outlook, that God and his grace seeps through the physical visible signs.
Each sacrament has its proper matter and form (res et verba). Baptism's water and invocation, "I baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." are both necessary to bring about the grace of the sacrament. Sacramentals too have may have matter and form, such as the blessed water we use to make the sign of the cross as we enter or exit a church. Would we see matter and form differently from de Chardin's perspective?
At the cemetery, as we stood around my mother's grave, her pastor blessed her one last time, sprinkling water over the casket (as the rite demands). Sprinkle does not do justice to Fr. Ray's blessing. The water poured over her casket, sparkling in the sun like our tears, washing the dust off the top. It was not just grace brought forth, but abundant grace. Full and overflowing.
Sometimes I think we are chintzy with the matter of the sacraments, as if we must somehow horde the grace, or there won't be enough. De Chardin pushes us to consider the abundance of the created world, and to use that created reality to mould ourselves into image and likeness of our creator.
I've got two days to polish this thesis into a 200 word abstract. In search of grace....
Friday, May 20, 2005
But why does Augustine privilege sung over spoken prayer? I can't find the original source of the quote, so I'm not sure what was in Augustine's mind, but I do know what's in mine. Singing, particularly with an audience, is risky. I tell people that I sing solo instead of jumping out of airplanes, it's the same irreverisble mix of panic and thrill. You are exposed when you sing, and lack of confidence (as well as of pitch) are difficult for those singing with you, or listening to you, to overlook. Prayer is risky and exposed as well. We express our inmost needs, hold out our most difficult hurts for comfort, and risk being changed and challenged by the grace we receive.
Our lives begin in the rythyms of our mother's wombs. Her heartbeat and breathing are the first music we hear, and are inextricably wound up in how we grow and are nourished. When we sing, particularly in prayer, and perhaps most of all in community, we reach down into those first experiences of the grateful sharing of food that is the Eucharist. Our singing nourishes us and we grow by it, when we enter into it together.
The space spanned by spoken prayer is smaller than that of sung prayer. The range of the voice, the changes in rythym add a depth to the prayer that speech cannot reach. Sung prayer can be layered on top of sung prayer, a multi-dimensional function that cannot be captured as speech. As St. Paul said to the Romans, "the Spirit herself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
Sometime when I cantor, I am so worried about the notes and the words, that I can't pray the psalm. Last Sunday, I literally shook at the ambo. When I know the music so well that it wells up effortlessly, then, then I understand what Augustine means. It can be joy, as in the Christmas psalm, "All the ends of the earth have seen the power of God..." echoed back by the congregation, filling the world with song. It can be sorrow, singing to shepherd my mother to new life, weaving the words and music over her coffin like the lullabyes that wrapped my cares away for the night as a child. When sung, it is surely well prayer.
Sunday, May 15, 2005
It's mesmerizing. It's not the descriptions of the Jimmy Choo's or an insider's look at the fashion industry that has me sucked into this book -- it's the tyranny of the boss. Part of me reacts to my life the same way Andrea does to Miranda. The laundry dings, and I spring into action like Andrea does at the ring of her cell. The clutter that threatens to encroach on every horizontal surface sends me on a hunt for a mauve piece of paper that may be (or may not be) still in the house. I don't have that much more to go on in my quest than Andrea did when tracking Miranda's siting of some vintage dresser in an antique shop. Except that the clutter doesn't seem to be sociopathic.
Like Andrea's relationship with Alex, I sometimes feel that kids and spouse has to taken second place behind tending the demands of the clutter and the laundry. It's for them, I say, but I'm not sure they care at any given moment that they won't be able to find the band camp registration paper or a clean pair of socks tomorrow morning. How can they live in the moment, while I'm continually living in the next?
This is the Kelvin statement of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Though Kelvin did not aim to describe a weekend in my life, it's not a bad start. I am the single reservoir, I'm pretty heated, the proceses are cyclical (I empty the laudry from the basket, wash it, put it back and it quite regularly appears in the basket again -- except for the underwear hanging on the hooks in the bedroom), and no matter how much heat I give the kids I can't seem to get an equivalent amount of work back.
Frankly, I prefer the statistical approach to the 2nd law. I never appreciated the nuances of entropy until I had kids. Today, between laundry loads I was trying to clean the upstairs study in preparation for painting it next weekend (having pulled the inside out of the closet last weekend, the paint job is very necessary!). I made great progress on getting things in order, only to come downstairs to find the kitchen in utter disarray and an entire division of little green army men deployed on the sunroom floor. Net progress toward order was clearly negative, as the 2nd law requires.
A sudden thought? If my life (or at least my house) should miraculously get ordered, does that mean that somewhere, some other poor soul's house has become even more disordered than mine ever was? I suppose the 2nd law actually requires that the disorder gets spread around, so that my orderliness leaves a little mess in everyone's house.
A colleague and friend suggests that there is, somewhere in my house, waiting to be discovered, my own personal reservoir of disorder. It's probably under the laundry.
Monday, May 09, 2005
And it was 5 and since my other half had to be out of the house by 6 with our youngest for an event, and was not yet home, I needed to turn off academic mom and enable the housekeeper mode. I managed to get kids fetched from school and dinner on the table before the witching hour. Witching described my attitude as well as the hour. The writing had been going well, and I needed about an hour to pull the section together. At times like this I fantasize having a stay at home spouse, allowing me to emerge from my study to scrubbed children and a prepared meal, and return to the cocoon at meal's end.
Instead I'm trying to cultivate a Benedictine attitude. The rule of Benedict recommends work, prayer and study in measured proportions. The work is itself is meant to be prayer, the study to fold into prayer.
"Idleness is the enemy of the soul.
Therefore the sisters should be occupied
at certain times in manual labor,
and again at fixed hours in sacred reading."
Saturday, May 07, 2005
Geeky Mom laments her responsibility for the myriad of details that keeps the family running. My other half pleaded for a halt to my travels this spring, he was overwhelmed by the logistics. Why the moms?
When I was young, I was sure that my mother never slept. When I called, she appeared! Thinking back, with 6 kids -- 4 under 6, she probably didn't ever sleep in those days. I've come to realize that the concept of 24/7 access to mom by kids is not a linear function of the number or age of the kids. All two of mine, well past toddlerhood, track me down in the bathroom (I swear a light goes on when I close the door), in bed ("Mom's sleeping," I hear my husband call, unheeded by the owner of the feet pounding up the stairs), and on the road (thanks to the cell phone, I'm a first responder to domestic disasters thousands of miles away). Despite a parenting partner who can do it all, when the kids need something, I'm the first person they call.
We're trained in the womb. Mom is there 24/7, with warmth, comfort and sustenance - and she doesn't have to be shared with siblings. Dropped into the cold world, I suspect my kids miss these days more than they realize. I think I miss these days more than I'll admit. I still remember my mother holding me after my first husband died. I could hear her heart beating, feel her warmth in the midst of desolation, and be comforted. I held her as she died last month, longing to comfort her, longing for her comfort.
Maybe holding the one string, that stretched ever so long umbilical cord, is what makes us feel responsible for the rest of the strings that hold it all together. These are the ties that bind - and there's no breaking them (or break for the weary!).
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
First Child: We heard about middle school today. The lunch is 2.25 a day, that's twenty-five cents more than at the elementary school, so I'll need 11.25 a week for a lunch ticket. You can have a cell phone...
Second Child (simultaneous with the first): We had closet day today, and made masks in art.....
Mother: [Second Child] please let your brother finish.
First Child: Yeah, [Second Child] let me finish.
(Second Child wails loudly)
Mother: [First Child], if I had wanted a Greek chorus effect, I would have asked for one!
Second Child (still wailing): Yeah, [First Child]!
You can replay the scene several times in a 2 mile car ride, if you or your passengers choose. First Child and Second Child parts may be swapped at will.
Classical studies are a great foundation for an interesting life.
Sunday, May 01, 2005
Is my (potential) delusion harmful in any way? Is there a need to correct it? It's not in conflict with any measurable reality, I care for my family (if you ignore the dust bunnies massing under the beds), pay taxes and hold down a job. Yes, some people who share my delusion behave in ways that are inappropriate, or hold beliefs in clear conflict with material reality. I would note that there are those who do not share in the delusion who also exhibit inappropriate behaviors and hold beliefs that are in conflict with material reality (UFO abductions anyone?). I'm not sure the common issue in all this is the delusion, but perhaps the issue lies more in the lack of respect for others.
It all reminds me of a story I once heard. A gentleman arrives in the ER, in clear need of psychiatric care. He begs the staff to let him call his agent, "I'm a world class violinist!" "Right!," they say. Next morning, sure enough, his agent calls...he is indeed a world class musician. Moral, if you're delusional about one thing (literal creationism), you may not be delusional about everything.
Friday, April 29, 2005
The thesaurus is my word "lost and found" - not a place to shop for an all new vocabulary, but a thrift shop where I can exchange the outgrown skates for a pair as well-used, but better fitting. My mother taught me how to wisely shop a thesaurus when I was in 3rd grade. Mastering technique for looking up a word (first in the index, then to a page of related words) felt like a rite of initiation, rewarded at the start of 4th grade with my own copy of Roget's Thesaurus. That tattered edition still sits on my shelf, its acid-ravaged pages a mirror of my mother's increasingly fragile skin. I'm afraid to open my relic, not wanting whatever vestiges of my mother's touch that remain inside it to crumble away. My electronic thesaurus is sturdy, but can never be quite as rich in text as my first Roget.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
The woman walking past me was having an animated conversation with no one. It wasn't her voice that caught my eye - it was her bright yellow shirt. I thought nothing of it, until we interesected again and I realized that she wasn't on a cell phone. Ten years ago my instinctive reaction to a fellow pedestrian talking loudly to someone I couldn't see would have been to cross the street. It struck me that now I assume s/he is on a cell phone, and hardly count the behavior as odd at all.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
|Thefts of iPods on the subway are up in New York. Those white wires dangling from pockets send a clear signal about the status of the bearer: you have a life that merits a sound track. Well, that, and you know good design when you see it. |
Medieval ladies hung their good taste around their waists. Delicately illuminated girdle books advertised the wearers wealth, status and presumably, their literacy. Often these were Books of Hours, collections of psalms and prayers to accompany the canonical hours of the day. The Hours are still kept today, and like the iPods provide a "soundtrack" for a life. Some monastic communities still sing them (that's what the monks are chanting in those CDs), but most people who pray the Hours don't.
The Hours have been a soundtrack for my life for 20 years. The subtle changes in the texture of the psalms and prayers as the day waxes and wanes bring a sense of order to my chaotic existence. The songs have wrapped their way around and through the loss of a husband, the births of two sons, teaching and the laundry. My book of Hours is not the elaborate status symbol of the medieval courts, but a well used friend, whose ribbons hanging from my briefcase send a clear signal to those who can read it: my life has a soundtrack.
Monday, April 25, 2005
I share my study with an 8 year old, a 10 year old and a hamster. The cat only visits. This works better than you might think. The hamster is liveliest at night, and cognitively demanding work anywhere in the house isn't possible once the guys are home from school, so they may as well use the space. Every once in a while, though, all three spheres coming crashing together - literally. Last Wednesday I spent a delightful afternoon doing quantum mechanics, just as the last pieces were falling into place, my 8 year old comes bounding in from school with our neighbor (age 6). I showed Chris what I was doing and pleaded for "5 Minutes Peace" to see if I could finish it and find out if I could discover something new. "Will this get you the Nobel Prize?" "Unlikely, but I'm still really curious!" He conceded me the five minutes and assured me that he and Andrew could find something to do. They could. They did. They put the hamster in his little transparent ball and let him loose in the study. Finis!
Friday, April 22, 2005
The line between my professional life and my personal life blurs deeply when I'm on the road. Good night kisses in one time zone overlap chairing a conference session in another. E-mail sessions and conference calls are interwoven through a visit to see my mother, who is dying. The spheres begin to leak into one another, as colleagues eavesdrop on bedtime blessings and my mother becomes privy to confidential goings-on at the college. When I'm away, I seeem to carry more baggage than what fits in the overhead bin.
Monday, April 18, 2005
I wonder why the general assumption that doing great science requires 80 hours a week doesn't appear to be up for discussion. I don't spend 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in the lab doing science, yet I have maintained a significant, high-quality research effort for almost two decades. My average number of citations per paper -- in some quarters a measure of their quality -- is competitive (or better) than that of the Harvard chemistry faculty. So while I may not publish as often as the faculty in Harvard's chemistry department, what I do publish is clearly read and used.
If Dr. Summers merely wishes to provoke, by all means rehash arguments that skirt the edge of "can women really do science and math?" or "women don't really want to work that hard". Instead, why not be truly provocative and ask why 80-hour weeks are necessary for academic science, ask if we are confusing quantity of publication with quality, ask if success in Ivy League science departments should depend on the unpaid, invisible work of women at home.