Cross-stitching Disney

Cross stitch

Cross stitch

I went home to Southern California a few months ago and was looking at the art on the walls in my house. My mother used to cross stitch and do needlepoint; both my brother have our birth records in cross stitch and our first Communion dates among other fun things my mom made over the years. Yet, she has not done a cross stitch in a few years and I was a bit jealous because I wanted to learn.

We went to Michael’s Craft Store and she bought me one of those “Learn a Craft” cross stitch cupcakes. It was all of 3 inches, 7-count aida, and took me an hour to do. I got hooked from there and have done a few so far. Quite frankly, I got pretty good at it in a few months, so I thought I’d try my hand at making one for a gift.

Seeing how my brother is an avid Disney fan I saw a kit on Amazon which makes 4 ornament-sized cross stitch figures of Beauty and the Beast (I believe Peter Pan is also an option) from the Thomas Kinkade selection. The picture at the top is one of 3 of the 4 I have completed thus far. Each one takes about 15-20 hours, and I will have to say they are challenging! The pattern requires mixing of colors and counting exactly where the stitch needs to be and outlining (which I will be honest, is not my favorite task, especially at the end of completing something like this). I think I did a fair job though, and I hope (cross my fingers) that my brother will enjoy them.

I want to though take a moment to say something about learning a new hobby. This is my first post regarding something I have learned to do and truly enjoy it. I have  taken these on planes (yes, the needle goes through TSA checkpoints), sunbathed with them and watched TV as I completed many. I liken this to keeping busy with your hands as your mind wanders. I often listen to a podcast while sitting outside and sewing or just let my mind wander. This is really a lovely thing to do to let go and just think and keep your hands busy. Yes, you are stagnant and I have gotten some odd looks at people my own age (probably thinking: “people sew nowadays?”), but it really is relaxing. Not as relaxing as picking up a book, but one doesn’t have to concentrate on following the plot as with a novel, but just counting and making sure your colors match.

Anyway, I just want to give a shout out to those who take a chance, take up a new hobby, and go with it. Perhaps when I am old and gray and looking back at all of my sewing pieces I will fondly remember my mother and her skills, as well as the stress of grad school in forcing me to find an outlet to relieve my stress and relax.



Baltimore, MD

I was recently in Baltimore, MD for a conference and wanted to write a brief synopsis of my trip and what I’ve seen, experienced, and overall impression of the city. The conference was for my specialty area of chemistry, and so I spent most of my time at the convention center in the Inner Harbor area, which is beautiful, but the weather was in the 90s for three days of that week so I didn’t get to site-see too much, but I think I got a good handle on what the city had to offer.

Usually, when I attend a conference I like to go out into the surrounding area and get a good feel for the city culture, what there is historical in the vicinity and what the people are like. So far, I have been to a few places around the country while at conferences so it really is a special treat to work and play if you will. When the conference-organizers announced the city in which the conference was to be held a few years back I remember being an undergrad and hearing the complaints about Baltimore and how it was unsafe and had a general negative stigma.

Fast forward a few years and here I am giving a talk as a graduate student at this same conference. Now, I will be honest and one of the best things about this conference was its location relative to my university; a train ride away. This way, us travel goers didn’t have to spend that much on transportation to/from the conference (I feel so sorry for those in Australia, England, or Asian countries that have to commute with their grants disappear with one flight expenditure). Also, as I said, the Inner Harbor area is beautiful. If it wasn’t so extremely hot the days that I were there, I’d like it much more than I already did, but there wasn’t much shade and so I got a ridiculous sunburn just from sitting outside for a couple of minutes. Ugh! As a single girl in my 20s, I felt relatively safe around the convention center and on walks with my colleagues to go eat meals in the surrounding area.

But, that feeling dissipated in walking distance away from the convention center. Now, let me preface. I live in DC, I see homeless people, I know where the rough areas are, and I try to avoid them, but the same cannot be said when one is visiting a city. I went to a cute, family-owned vietnamese restaurant (Mekong Cafe) a few blocks from my hotel and it had delicious food. All cash, which wasn’t a problem, and had quite a selection of pho and noodle dishes. Came out piping hot (temperature) and had a bit of spice to it as well. Now, on my way back to my hotel I thought I’d take a little walk to the grocery store. WRONG IDEA! Two blocks from my hotel I ended up in a very rough part of town. Slightly feared for my life seeing that I was one of a very, very few females in the area, and pretty much speed walked my way back to my room. Oh and I saw a drug deal in front of three cops, with no repercussions I kid you not!

I would have to say that my favorite place was Little Italy. The aroma of Italian food was amazing! And the ambiance was just lovely. I went with my colleague and we definitely had our best meal and service there. Overall great, and by the looks of the restaurant menus in that area, any restaurant would really have been a lovely place to eat and enjoy friend’s company.

In the end, Baltimore was just another city I can say I’ve been to. It really had no main attraction that would draw me back. Some good food, and some not so good food that I did not elaborate on. The safety has definitely improved compared to my discussions that I’ve had with people who’ve visited in the past. I would suggest going so you can say you’ve been, but take your mace and hide your kids, hide your wife.

World War Z Comparison

When I first heard that World War Z was coming out in theaters, I was a bit shocked at the thought of Brad Pitt starring in a zombie movie. Then I saw Mireille Enos as his wife, a major change from the real life partner: Angelina Jolie. Regardless, I was intrigued and wanted to see the film. However, there’s a part of me that hates to see films prior to reading the novels the films were based on (a minor quirk of mine). So, I thought I’d wait until it came out on DVD or netflix, in the meantime scout out the novel.

Ironically, I was at my favorite used book shop in Georgetown (the part of town, not the campus) [Shout out to The Lantern (for those who know of it, it’s amazing; for those who don’t, go NOW!)] when I stumbled across a used copy of the novel by Max Brooks. I kept it on my shelves for a while (I have a constant supply of a range of books I want to read) until the weekend following my comprehensive exams. I need death, dying, and destruction after that trial that I experienced (and if anyone knows how comps are, they understand my disposition at that point in time).

Anyway, the book is excellent. Now, unlike my other reviews, I won’t go into the explicit positives and negatives. However, one major positive of this novel must be its style. It is a compilation of mini-stories in which discuss how the zombie plague came about, how people protected themselves, and where some hid during the course of the war. In this alone, the book is worth the read. At the same token, after reading it, I was extremely curious how this novel was adapted to film. Seeing how there were so many various characters and really only one constant character whose story really wasn’t a main topic, I was really curious as to how the filmmakers stayed true to the work.

Now, the film is well-done. The zombies are so much more real than the ones in “The Walking Dead” (even though those are quite realistic). But the basic animalistic characteristics that are seen in the film is awesome and really gives a lot to the film. Yet given this, the film still does not compare to the novel, on any level. Brad Pitt’s portrayal of the main character was well-done, and Mireille Enos’ role was much more minor and she seemed much softer than her usual “hard ass” Detective self on “The Killing.” My one complaint (other than not mirroring the novel) was the ending. SPOILER for those who have not read or seen the movie!

The zombies only attack those humans they deem as “healthy,” so a potential way to save the human species is to make those that are healthy then unhealthy. Ok, I understand that, but I really disliked how the film organized the climax and ending. Pitt gained access to biohazardous contagions and then injected himself and he was the guinea pig to see if the method worked. And then the movie ended. Done. The novel told so much more of a story and how the zombie illness affected the human population (death toll, relationships, and people around the globe) that this film really left much of that out which was just…sad.

It would be good for everyone to see both film and read the novel. Or even, and I just thought of this, listen to the book on tape. I’m sure it’s amazing (especially with the right voice). But if you had to choose, read the novel, thought-provoking isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.

Mentoring Part I

I was recently in a meeting in which a few undergrads were presenting a research update to fellow students, grad students, and professors. The UGs started working in labs about three weeks prior and the aim of this meeting was (as I see it) to share what each was doing in their respective groups and to force them to get some data to present. Now, it should not be any news that faculty are a bit tough and that they enjoy questioning EVERYTHING, so they of course, will ask questions of the presenter. However, it was disheartening for me to see that the faculty were asking questions of the UGs that a grad student or someone who has been on a project for a long period of time would know. Moreover, none of the grad student mentors were coming to the aid of their mentees.

The question I pose from this situation is: when is it all right to step in? In other words, when should one be on the defensive or offensive with respect to mentoring?

I will have to say grad school is all about defending one’s work, and using others’ work to formulate theories and conclusions about one’s own findings, so needless to say one is constantly on the defensive throughout the journey. However, another responsibility of a grad student is to oversee UGs and high school students and mentor them. Something that goes hand in hand with this process is the guidance one shows how to be to a mentee. In other words, how one should approach difficult questions, how to solve a scientific problem, and most importantly, how one should act in a professional environment.

From my point of view, it is my duty as a mentor to stand up for the people who work in my lab and on my projects and guide them. Not make them constantly feel defeated. This is not an interrogation, brawl, or contest of whit. The students are here to gain experiences to reward them later in the future, not be defeated or discouraged. They are here to learn and it is the job of their mentor to be supportive and help them through difficult events.

So, in my opinion, the answer to my question is to never be on the offensive. Do the best you can, be supportive, be realistic, and get to know your mentee and what kind of mentor they respond to. Some like black and white. Some like more laid back. But all like supportive and encouraging. Just always remember this for the future.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

So, I had to follow the trend of the rest of the US (especially the female population between ages 12-35) in reading the novel by John Green: The Fault in Our Stars.

It was pretty good, a little sappy, but overall well-written, had some witty dialogue components, and the climax was a bit surprising. I’m just curious that if they [the film industry] did not release the film, if the novel would have gotten the hype that it did? It has been compared to The Notebook and the other major Romance films of our age, but in my opinion the book was dull.

I read a piece in the Washington Post by the sister that the character “Hazel” was based on, and from her perspective the work is an homage to her sister. Perfectly valid, and was well-suited for that. However, I think the novel’s sort of “pizzazz,” stopped there.

As with my previous book review, I will go through what I thought were positive aspects of the novel. So, clearly, I have already compared this novel with the one written by Nicholas Sparks. But, the novelty behind this work was how it wasn’t as sappy as The Notebook or even more so, A Walk to Remember. The personalities of the characters gave them a tangibility that I have never read before in a novel. Moreover, the likability and real qualities that a teenager would possess in our society today was evident and further exacerbated the realness (for lack of a better term) of these characters. Another aspect that I really enjoyed in this novel was that the overall story was not engulfed by the two main characters, Augustus and Hazel. It was very much supported by the supporting characters, really delving into how an illness takes its toll on family relationships and friendships. Between Hazel’s parents, Augustus’ parents, and Augustus’ friend, Isaac, who becomes blind in the plot, the story is surrounded by people trying to combat the ultimate end of their loved ones all the while fighting off the reality that one day they will not be in their lives. Again, these characters gave the story a tangibility and real-life quality that I have yet to read in any book thus far (and I’ve read a few).

On the other side of the coin, the realness to this story is a bit disheartening, and here we come to the negatives. I don’t know about the general population of book-readers, but when I delve into a book, I use it as a sort of escapism. I want to escape my crazy work schedule, and the monotony of going into the lab for a bit of R&R in another time, world, or just the life of someone else. For how much I enjoyed the tangibility of the characters, I disliked the real life instances they made me aware of. Moreover, you can’t help but feel sympathy for these teenagers who will never experience life, college, love, or anything that comes with a long lifespan. Not exactly my way of enjoying a lovely book after a long day of work. Also, DO NOT READ PASSED this point if you do not want me to spoil the story:

I think the author really went overboard with his plot-line of the Dutch author, Van Houten. I get the general theme and the reasoning why Green chose that route for the plot, but really, how much more depressing does a plot need to get? Two terminally ill teenagers fly all the way across the world to see him and Green writes him to be a complete A$$. Then follows that with killing off the main character Augustus. Was Green’s thematic statement here: Life isn’t Fair? I think any person who lives knows it isn’t. Moreover, I think the depression of the end of the novel really superseded any of the good times that Hazel and Augustus had together. I’m interested in the comments from others that have read this book with respect to the last 1/3 of the novel. Did you find it necessary to be so negative? I felt like Green tried to redeem himself with Van Houten’s attempt at reconciliation, but really it was a measly attempt and frankly way too late for me as the reader.

Overall, I believe this novel has good qualities, yet I think the author definitely over-killed it on the negatives. I guess I have a heart of stone and didn’t cry during any of the scenes. Perhaps I will cry during the movie. But, I came to a place where I just thought: wow, is there not already enough negativity in this book, we need more? I also think no parent with a terminally ill child should read it. The reality with death does not need to be reminded. Instead spend your time with loved ones, if anything, that is the real lesson of this novel.

Winter of the World by Ken Follett

I just finished the WW II thriller by Ken Follett Winter of the World. Let’s just say it was amazing!

The way he entertwines all of his characters is breathtaking, especially in considering that all of his historical premises are not fiction. They really happened! I may be a historical novice, moreso when it is applied to 20th century world history, but the level of detail, complexity, and art that Follett uses in authoring such a masterpiece is exquisite.

Seeing that this is my first novel post, I want to stay away from synopses of the book and stick with the pros, cons, and a few facts from what I’ve learned from reading the piece. And me being a chemist, I love lists and black and white statements so let’s start that way!

The pros, quite honestly, outweigh the cons. His use of adjectives in describing emotional to war scenes are utter perfection. The last novel that I read that was amazing in this regard was Tolstoy’s War and Peace. But Follett is not Tolstoy, nor should you be sad that he isn’t. He has his own style, and just the uniqueness of that style and the theory behind the work is awesome.

I will be honest, it is over 900 pages (A TOME!) and is coming out in paperback in August, I believe. BUT it’s amazing and worth the exorbitant amount of time that is required to finish it. Another con is the large amount of characters that the reader has to keep straight. Moreover, the author incorporates espionage into the work, which is a fantastic edition, but can at times be confusing. I believe the one character Werner was a German who was a German officer, but participated in espionage against the Nazis. Yet, he told his family that he stopped being a spy for the German opposition, but in actuality was. That piece as well as some of the other character constant changing sides was a bit confusing.

On an emotional note, the most touching and depressing story came by the discovery of how the Nazis were treating mentally retarded, physically impaired, and incapacitated individuals. SPOILER ALERT! Two main characters discover that the one’s brother who was 8 years old but not mentally older than a 2 year old was required by his doctor to leave the facility that he was in for the past few years and be relocated to another where the family could not visit him. A week after his move, the family received a letter that stated the boy died of an appendix infection. The boy, however, had an appendectomy years prior so they knew this was not correct and something terrible happened. To make a long story short, the Nazis were killing these people so that they did not have to take care of them and so they didn’t “taint” the population.

This story line really hit home for me. If anything like this happened to my brother, I would kill someone. But, it also quickly makes clear how evil the Nazis were and how completely unemotionally connected to the populace they were.

Regardless of this very depressing part of the story line the novel is awesome and worth the read. Just make sure you have a chunk of time to read it!

Chemistry is hard!

So is math, so is english, actually any subject one can get a higher education degree in is in fact challenging.

Fancy that!

The fact of the matter comes to: how do you respond to people when they give you that “eek!” face and say: oh goodness, that’s hard!

I have found there are a few ways you can handle this situation:

1.) You can say something to the extent as: “Gee, thanks. It is challenging at times, but I do love the area and I love what I do!” This not only gives you a pat on the back all the while indirectly saying that it’s your career so no offenses.

2.) You can reply by giving your fellow grad students a nod. “Chemistry may be challenging, but have you ever done high-level economics?! Those kids got it rough!” People automatically think that if it was a class in high school that they hated, that it is a challenging subject. But what about the classes that weren’t as tough? Just because remedial economics is simple in high school (or at least it was at my school) does not explain what PhD candidates have to endure and find throughout their higher education progression. Moreover, I think science has this negative stigma related to it, that most students despise it in high school.

Either scenario allows for one to support not only your area of study, but also your fellow graduate students. Something to always keep in mind: you are not in this fight alone! There are hundreds and thousands of fellow grad students who need aid in grad school; whether it be physically, emotionally, or just a shoulder to cry on. You’re one of many so take credit where credit is deserved!