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Travelin’ Whovian June 21, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, science fiction.
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The older son travels rather frequently to see family, but he’s had rather lousy luck with TSA.  Almost every time he’s gone through security, he’s had something happen.  When he was younger, it was often his own fault.  For instance, there was the time that he decided to bring some spending money…and had about three dollars in pennies in the bottom of a carry-on.  The folks manning the x-ray machine were not happy with him, and he had to fish all the coins out of an exceptionally full backpack.

As he’s gotten older, the incidents have been more innocuous.  There was one time where he had too large a container of toothpaste (they threw it away) and another time where he had a nail clipper.  (I think I wasn’t flying with him that time, but I had a gate pass as he was flying as an unaccompanied minor.  They gave it to the security guard who held it and gave it to me when I returned the gate pass.)

Today, he flew out again (from Fargo, which is a rather small airport) and had yet another fiasco with security.  Apparently TSA noticed something in his carry-on as it passed through x-ray.  I was actually waiting near the entrance to security (no gate pass this time) and he was about 100 ft. away.  I could see something had happened with his bag and there was TSA agent riffling through it…and older son didn’t look happy.  Finally, the agent reached in and pulled out…the older son’s sonic screwdriver.

From the look on the agent’s face, it was very apparent he had never seen an episode of Dr. Who in his life.  He was holding it in front of himself, quite gingerly.  I could easily see the furrowed brows and potential fear in this guy’s face, even 100 ft. away.  He was obviously thinking, “What this hell is this thing?!”  And I burst out laughing, definitely out loud.  I’m sure the security guard next to the exit gate, along with everyone else standing near me, must’ve thought I was disturbed.

Fortunately, however, the screwdriver was returned and the older son made his flight…just barely.  Maybe next time he’ll bring a banana instead.  They’re a good source of potassium, you know…and, well, TSA probably won’t freak out over that.

I still haven’t figured out why the older son had a sonic screwdriver in his carry-on to begin with.

Malevolent butterflies in the stomach June 7, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research.
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I’m sitting at my computer this morning with somewhat bated breath.  I was supposed to be presenting a paper at a conference about now.  Instead, I am at home, and my major accomplishment was getting out of bed and getting dressed.  Oh yeah…and I ate a bagel and a banana without getting sick.

I was on my way to the conference and decided to leave a day early.  I was going to spend the night in Minneapolis with some friends and then continue on the next morning from there.  I was doing great until about a half hour before I got there, and then I started having stomach issues.  The problem with having celiac disease that was undiagnosed for so long is that I’m *always* having stomach issues, and I more or less ignore them now.  “Oh gee.  I must’ve eaten something that didn’t agree with me,” is one of the most common phrases I’ve used over the past five years.

I met my friends for dinner and then went back to their place.  I found that the stomach pain kept getting worse, though it was coming and going intermittently.  After about two hours, I needed to go to the ER because I was in very serious pain along the bottom of my ribcage.  I spent the next couple hours getting checked for gall stones and pancreatitis and losing my dinner and getting lots of drugs.  The doctor’s conclusion is that I either had a bug…or I did eat something that disagreed with me.  The only problem is that I have no idea what it could have been.

Fortunately, a colleague was also attending the conference, and he agreed to give my presentation for me with the consent of the session chair.  I got to come home (which is a long story in and of itself), and rather than worrying about how I was going to do on the presentation, I get to worry about how my colleague will do.

The whole situation is ironic, however.  I’ve always told people that I get sick to my stomach before I have to give a presentation, but I guess this time it was literal.

Traveling off the wheaten path April 20, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking.
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One thing I discovered pretty quickly is that I am incredibly sensitive to even small amounts of wheat/gluten.  I am finding that this makes traveling with celiac disease a lot more challenging than I ever anticipated.  It is also frustrating as one of my favorite parts of traveling used to be finding all the cool places to eat.

Unfortunately, travel seems to have become a fairly regular thing for me now, so I’m having to get used to it.

I’m learning some things that help.  First, I have to either be sure there are places I can eat that are reliably gluten-free, or I have to get a hotel room with a kitchen.  (I’ve become a fan of places that end in “Suites.”)  I’ve also discovered that Whole Foods and Trader Joes are my favorite pairs of words when I travel (although probably Whole Foods, moreso).  Planning ahead is pretty vital.

The gist of it is that a trip that involves me driving usually involves me packing a bunch of food to bring along, maybe even a cooler.  If I’m flying, which was the case earlier this month, I have to have a hotel room with a kitchen and a rental car to go pick up food.  I also then have to find this balance between having the right food and not overdoing it so that I don’t leave food to feed an army in the fridge when I leave.

So what do I eat?

I usually do sausage (assuming I can find a safe brand) and scrambled eggs with peppers for breakfast.  Lunch involves salad with chicken (I can usually find precooked breasts or sandwich meat, although I will cook it myself in a pinch) or hardboiled eggs.  For sides, I like baby carrots, and I can even make a very simplistic potato salad fairly easily.  I’m finding there are a lot of packet sizes of things like coconut oil or other stuff that comes in handy as condiments.  If I need something that I can’t get in packets, I just try to buy the smallest available size.

I usually find a place for dinner, but if not, there are options in the frozen foods like fish sticks or corn dogs (with more salad and carrots, of course).  I’m always relieved when there’s a PF Changs nearby.  We don’t have one in Fargo, so not only do I get my Chinese fix, I can do it without any gluten.  And cookies…there are gluten free cookies out there.

Though it’s not the best, I also have a stash of M&Ms or something similar with me…because it’s a good idea in case schedules or something get off.  (While I don’t usually get sick any more, I can’t say I feel the best if I overdo it on snack foods.)

Believe it or not, I pack a few ziploc bags, a lunch box, and a blue ice pack into my suitcase.  I stuff the lunch box full of food before I leave the hotel room.  I imagine I look pretty sporting hauling it around with me (it’s a soft-sided, purple and pink box), but it at least removes the temptation to eat anything that could be dangerous.  And it’s better than spending half the trip sick in the hotel room…or coming back very sick.

The biggest inconvenience is the time it takes.  Going to conferences can be rather tiring, and some days are very long.  If I can get there a day ahead of time, I can do a bunch of shopping and prepare food, which makes it easier.  I also go through and rewash all the dishes by hand before I use them, just in case someone didn’t do a thorough job and there are crumbs or other things on there.  (I imagine this is a good idea, either way.)

I’m getting more practiced at this and finding that it’s not as difficult now that I’m getting better at it.  I don’t even get too many comments about my lunch box any more.

Wordless Wednesday: Good idea! April 16, 2014

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Wordless Wednesday: Sabino Canyon March 14, 2012

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Getting re-oriented March 12, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, pets, photography, younger son.
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I’m back home and getting adjusted to normal life again.  Due to illness, I have been sleeping more than normal (which I probably should be doing when not ill, as well).  My sinuses are also not happy with the additional 1500 ft of air pressure…but I’m getting used to it.  Daylight savings also came at an inopportune time as I am now two hours out of sync rather than just one.

The dog was happy to see me and even happier that I took her for a walk today (just couldn’t make myself run). The younger son was very adamant about getting his present, so I handed him a bag of pistachios.  He looked horribly disappointed but managed to squeak out a ‘thank you’.  Then I gave him his real presents: a junior ranger vest (with many pockets for rocks), a book on the wildlife of the deserts of the US, and some Saguaro cactus seeds.  He wore the vest all day and wants to plant a garden of cacti.  (Mike and the older boy were more patient – they got shirts and some cactus candies.)

I did manage to get out to Sabino Canyon on Saturday morning before flying out.  It a beautiful spot.  I’ll probably post more pics on Wednesday.  In the meantime, I have to tell you how tickled I was with the Saguaro cacti.  They are so easy to anthropomorphize, and the one above looked like he was having a conversation with the rest of them.  Or maybe it was yelling at the tourists like myself.  With that little arm sticking out, it looks like it’s pretty adamant about something.


Someone always gets sick when we travel… March 9, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in personal.
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One of the funniest vacations I remember is a ski trip to Duluth where the older boy got sick.  I spent close to two hours cleaning his regurgitated breakfast off the bathroom floor of the fancy condo we rented.  I remember other trips where one of the other kids got sick, and one of us was trying to google the nearest pharmacy or 24 hour grocery in whatever strange town we were in.  (Of course, these things never happen in the middle of the day.)

Since I was the only one traveling this time, I guess that means it had to be me.

Apparently the desert air isn’t very friendly as I have the mother of all sinus infections.  On top of that, it appears I caught some viral thing on the trip here because my whole body is achy.  It feels like I have the flu.  I thought the two were the same thing, but apparently I had to be twice as sick.  Probably to make up for the lack of other people who could also be sick.  Or to make up for the fact that I managed to get sick after taking care of all the important reasons why I came.

The nice doctor gave me some antibiotics and told me to get some rest.  The way my ears are plugged, I can tell my flight home tomorrow is going to be a bit less fun than I hoped.  But thank goodness for modern medicine and airplanes.  Hopefully I will be home and well very soon.

When I finally get organized… March 5, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, writing.
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I spent the day at the conference with a nasty headache.  I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel so that I could take some (OTC) drugs, get a hot shower, and pass out.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

I got back to find out that the toilet, which I had told them about this morning before I left, was still inoperable.  Also, the dishwasher apparently had a leak.  Their maintenance people were gone for the day, however, so my only choice was to move rooms.

Efficiency always bites me in the butt.  The one time I actually decided to unpack all my clothes and belongings in the drawers and closet, I end up having to pack everything up and haul it into another room.  Also, I have a kitchenette so I can do my own cooking, and this meant I also had to haul a couple bags of groceries and a couple bowls of refrigerated food up and down the hallway.  So that sucked up another hour of my already short evening.

The conference itself was very enjoyable.  I’ve been to conferences where people jump on you for the slightest error.  I was very impressed at how positive the dialogue was.  I also like the fact that it’s a smaller group of people.  There were about 100 people or so, and about six women.  I was thinking that was pretty awful until I remembered my signals class – 3 women out of 60, so I guess it’s about on par or even better than some of my engineering classes.

The down side is that everyone assumed that I was a grad student.  And no, I wasn’t dressed like a typical grad student.  When I corrected them and said I am a research engineer, half of them said I looked young enough to be a grad student and the other half wanted to know what a research engineer is.  (Best answer I could come up with is that it’s like a post-doc…but with a choice between benefits or flexibility.  I chose flexibility – working half-time so that I can work on a dissertation and haul my kids around after school is a pretty sweet deal in my book.)

I also had a lot of people, particularly industry folks, come and talk to me about my poster.  However, I was chagrined to discover that I put a lot more text on my poster than pretty much everyone else.  Most of the posters had a paragraph or two and were otherwise covered in pictures, plots, and equations.  I was surprised at this because my experience at other conferences is that mine was on par or even low on text.  Mike said that it was less wordy than a lot of them he’s seen.  I can’t figure if this is a shift that’s happened since I last went to a conference (it’s been about 4 years) or if it’s unique to this conference.  Admittedly, most other conferences only require you to spend a half hour or so at your poster, so they are unattended most of the time and that extra explanation is helpful.  This poster session was about 2 1/2 hours long and it was strongly recommended to be there the entire time as there are no talks going on during that time.  Anyone have any thoughts on this one?

FCIWYPSC: Now much warmer March 4, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, geology.
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Posting is going to be (and has been sporadic) because I’m traveling right now.  As you may have guessed, I’m a much more southerly part of the US.  Tucson, to be specific.  It’s been about a decade since I’ve been in this neck of the woods, and I have to admit that being here again has made me realize how much I don’t miss it.

For starters, it was about 70 degrees warmer here than in Fargo.  Blech.  We finally got a decent amount of snow up in Fargo, and I have to spend the week wallowing in the heat while the most opportune time for some skiing this winter melts away.  (I know it’s amazing, but some people really do like snow.)  I have also realized that I simply can’t handle heat due to my acclimation to northern climates…especially leaving in the cold to someplace unseasonably warm.

I can also tell I belong on the plains because I really notice when there isn’t any grass.  I’m in a desert, so there’s lots of plant life, but there’s no grass.  Six foot tall grass is fine.  Six foot tall bushes and cacti…not so much.  It just feels wrong.  I find this odd, though, as one of my favorite activities when living in California was to go camping and stargazing at Joshua Tree.  I guess it’s been so long that it’s hard to think about now.

The up side to being here is that I really do enjoy the view of mountains, and I’m hoping to get a chance to go out at least once and check out the view.  As we were flying in, the geologist in me was doing flips at seeing layers in the mountainsides.

So…any suggestions of things I should do or see while I’m here (other than sit at the conference)?  Short duration activities are preferred.

A tale of two cities December 22, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, younger son.
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The previous two academic years, I was in Minneapolis while Mike was in Fargo. While in this arrangement, we had a tough decision to make: how do we deal with the kids. It worked well for me to take the older boy with to Minneapolis, where he got to go to his really awesome school. The younger one, however, stayed in Fargo with Dad.

This arrangement seemed to work fairly well (at least, once Mike finished his PhD) with an intermittent problem. On occasion, Mike is expected to travel for work. We were fortunate that my parents live near Fargo and were able to take their grandson during those times that Mike had to leave.

When I moved back home this summer, this was one of the things we were glad about. As much as my parents are wonderful grandparents, neither of us likes leaning on them too much for child-care assistance. They’re busy people and have other things to do, too. (Even though I really think they should drop everything to be at our beck and call.) All of us being under one roof has been wonderful, especially when Mike has to travel. (Although I find it odd that when he is sent on travel, we get over a foot of snow. Coincidence? I think not…)

However, one thing has come up that we never anticipated: our boss set a date for a meeting with a customer, and he said, “You know, it would be good if both of you could be there.”

This is one of the drawbacks of working with one’s spouse. Good thing I didn’t take my Mom off speed dial.


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