After the eve of departure

Leading up to the Global Perspectives Program 2018 trip was filled with millions of rows of data, thousands of words on a page, and hundreds of rows of code. The worst part about it is that it’s not over yet. I don’t think I’ll have much more data or code, but I’m still thousands of words away. As I plow through the final phase of my PhD, I’m mostly tired.

Planning for this trip was relatively nonexistent and I’ve already realized that in my rush to pack at the last minute, I forgot pajamas. GPP was the light halfway through the tunnel for me and my reward for sticking with it as hard as I could for as long as I could. That mentality wore me out though. I found myself suddenly having to switch from work mode into travel mode, and it was a switch that was surprisingly difficult to make.

There’s a bigger world out there, though, and the first view that can’t be found in Blacksburg reminded me why it’s worth it to step back and look around. I probably won’t get many words written in Switzerland, but maybe I won’t be so tired when I get back.

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Déjà vu

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how much I appreciate things that are familiar. It’s the feeling that you get when you go home after being away for a long time, or seeing an old friend. While I love traveling, it can be stressful or overwhelming, and finding the space and making the time to relax is difficult. This morning, I went for a run (or maybe a walk? Which is it when you evenly split between the two?) to see a little more of the city with less baggage and while not incredibly tired.

It was so peaceful, with just the right pace of life to feel alive, but not rushed. I heard from some of the other Global Perspectives Program (GPP) participants about a wall that overlooks the city and when I saw it on my run, I decided to check out the view. It was gorgeous!

You walked up a slight incline into a spacious but shaded park, and if you walk to the end, you’re overlooking the city. I should have taken a picture of the park too, but I was suddenly struck with that familiar feeling. I could have sworn I had been there before.

I have been to Switzerland before. In 2006, one very brave teacher at my high school, the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS), named Mr. Wester fearlessly led a group of 16-18 year old students on a trip here. I can honestly say that I think he was crazy for doing it, but I also appreciate that he was willing to do it. It was my first trip outside of the US, and it sparked a love for travel that will probably be with me for the rest of my life. I have no idea what the itinerary was on that trip or how many days we spent in any one location, but we did go to Zürich so it is possible that this park was somewhere I had been. We saw so many things in that trip that it all starts to run together and maybe Zürich has many parks with a similar feel.

However, there was something special about the park that I remembered. We sat with a group of old men who were playing chess on a massive outdoor chess board. I loved watching them, and there was something so peaceful about their casual manner as they took their time for each turn.

Me watching chess in March of 2006

Today’s park had no old men playing chess. It was also about 6:20 in the morning, so maybe they’re not early risers. I looked around I couldn’t see the chess pieces either, or the chess boards. I was a little sad that my memory failed me, until I saw a circle of chairs off in the distance…

Sure enough, there was my chess board! But what about the prices?

They were in the storage bins, of course, neatly packed away!

With that happy discovery, I finished out my run and headed back to the hotel for breakfast.

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I’m moving…blogs, that is

I’ve decided it’s time to make the transition away from the vt blogger site. While I hate to lose so many fun posts with pictures and comments, I am hesitant to post more on this site because I want to transition at some point. I think now is the time!

Hope to see you at my new site:

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Irony and Corrugated Boxes

Many of you know that I spent about a year after finishing my Masters degree working at a paper company, specifically in the part of the group that focused on making corrugated board and boxes. For just over a year, the majority of my time was spent thinking and stressing about getting the right paper to my box plants so they could keep on making those boxes.

It sounds dull, and I was so excited when I was out of the world of boxes…but somehow, once it’s in you, you can never seem to escape it. Anytime I see corrugated anything, I take quick notice of it, and I love to check the stamps on the bottom of boxes so I can check to see if they come from one of “my” plants. I haven’t hit the jackpot yet, but it’s bound to happen someday.

I thought I was done working with boxes, but I quickly realized that this summer I would spend quite a bit of time working with boxes. One of our studies is looking into the effects of AR on depth perception, and we quickly chose boxes as our “object” to be tested. It’s gone through many iterations, but it started with just plain boxes…

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Then we added wheels, to make them easier to move, of course.

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We painted it black next…

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Upon arrival to the UK, we upgraded our corrugated style. Hugh Jackman keeps us company during the workdays.

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Of course, we need him to move (he’s our trusty “pedestrian”) so we had to attach him to a cart. In the process, we might have hurt him a little bit.

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Nadia is the one in the pictures. She’s working hard to give Hugh the support he needs to walk straight and tall.

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Of course, we make some time to have a little fun while we’re working.


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Running around






We’ve officially been in Nottingham for a couple of days now, so we’ve finally started to settle in. Monday started with a quick tour of campus and a delightful breakfast overlooking the lake (pictures to come in a later post). We got to meet with our UNott contact, Gary Burnett, and we began the Nottingham portion of research. We’re only just beginning, but we did get to play around with the Pioneer AR display some. After work, we went to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. There’s a lot of folklore to go along with the place, but the most notable thing about this restaurant is that supposedly it’s the oldest pub in England…if you ask someone from Nottingham anyways. It’s also built into the rock at the bottom of Nottingham Castle. Pretty cool!

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After dinner, we went and found the famous Robin Hood statue that’s just around the corner. It’s also at the base of the castle. I’m saving the castle visit for the future. I’ll report back once I tour it! We had way too much fun and definitely acted like loud Americans!

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Today’s research got a little more hands on. We even got some more of our tools for the research. This is a life-size cardboard cutout of a car that we might use. Gary picked the color, and yes – it’s pink.

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After work, I decided to go for a run. I originally planned to run into Nottingham City center, but mid-run I decided to change my plans. Our campus is right next to the massive Wollaton Park. I heard that there were these practically tame deer in the park and I thought I remembered that Wayne Manor was in there too. I wasn’t certain, and I actually lost hope about the mansion. Luckily, I was wrong. There were just so many trees blocking my view that I couldn’t see the house until I was right next to it. Stunning…

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The house was set high on a hill, with a beautiful view and the grounds were near perfect. I feel like the thing that makes England feel most different from the US is the attention to detail when it comes to parks. There just don’t seem to be parks like this in the US…maybe central park. But that’s just one park in a huge city, while these parks are plentiful around Nottingham and the UK (and really Europe in general).

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There was also this beautiful lake to run around. I accidentally ran through some restricted area…whoops! On the other side it only said that no dogs were allowed, I promise! Either way, it was a successful exploration of the city. I decided to skip the Elton John concert and so far, I’m glad I did. I had a relaxing evening that’s left me feeling rejuvenated and excited about working tomorrow. Here’s to hoping we can get my PowerPoint VBA code working so I can contribute to the research projects as well!

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The Beginning of Summer and Nottingham

I bet you thought I was never going to return. I did. The last few weeks have been really crazy for me. I started doing my summer research full-time. This included leading a couple of undergrads and I volunteered myself to write a couple of programs. I also moved out of my apartment and into storage. Since my lease ends while I’m in Nottingham for the summer, I had to come up with a backup plan for storage. It is nice to have it all done so I won’t have to worry about it once I get back. Add a last minute trip to Chattanooga to top it all off and let’s just say I was more stressed than I’ve been in a while. Somehow my to-do list never seemed to decrease in size no matter how much work I did. I still did manage to squeeze in a little fun though.

I’ve enjoyed the hikes around Blacksburg, and after many trips to the Cascades, I got to explore Barney’s Wall as well. After taking a wrong turn and then realizing the hike was 2 miles longer than anticipated, we were pretty tired! The view was well worth it though.

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Many more cookouts were had, including a breakfast-themed one at the St. Jeans’ house.

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I’ve never been one to crash weddings, but I must say it’s a lot of fun! Tom, Ari, Jon (left to right) and I were invited by the bride to crash the wedding. It was pretty exciting! We had a lot of fun dancing and hanging out and eating loads of candy.

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A couple of pictures from our weekend in Chattanooga. I finally got to take everyone to Food Works, one of my favorite restaurants. The food is delicious!

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After 13 hours of traveling and a lot of crying children, the group made it to Nottingham. After another couple hours of wandering, we found our dorm. It didn’t disappoint! it looks straight out of Harry Potter. We have rooms to ourselves that are pretty nice and spacious. So far, we’ve just been adjusting to the time change and getting our grocery situation set up. i’m not sure how far away the grocery store is, but it takes about 2 hours to go there and back for a quick trip.  Below, you can see our dorm, and a fun sign that I saw on my run this morning. I’ve been twice in two days, and I think I finally have the basics. You can’t buy too much in one trip since we’re walking for so long!

Tomorrow is our first day of work…a little excited, a little nervous about it all!

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Cookout Cookin’

One thing that seems to go hand in hand with the summer is cookouts. It just seems like a fun thing to do – make a dish and then go hang out with friends, family, or coworkers. The high volume of cookouts is conducive to my desire to cook, and today’s dish is Feta Basil Pasta. Basically, in the spirit of using up food in my kitchen (we have to be practical and prepare for the move!), I needed to make pasta. In addition, I have these massive basil plants – they’re growing so fast that I can’t eat it fast enough.

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Left: My basil, thyme, and cilantro plants back in October. Right: My plants today AFTER I picked 1/2 cup of basil. So much green!

With that in mind, I did a quick Google search of basil pasta to see what I could find. This website was the winner, but I didn’t feel like doing the exact recipe, so I left out the mushrooms and olives – of course I didn’t actually measure anything either.

Here’s the result!

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Break time!

What does a PhD student do to celebrate the end of a long (and tiring semester)?

This PhD student loves to cook. For some reason, cooking = celebrating. I like to try new recipes and to cook old favorites, so I want to share a few with you.

The first, an oldie but goodie (to be sure) is my glazed lemon sugar cookies. I LOVE lemon cookies. They are amazing. I discovered them while working in Memphis. I’ve made a few variations because I always make them and then lose the recipe, but now I am going to cite my source so that I never have to find the recipe again! I got the recipe from this blog and it is the perfect recipe. Of course my pictures don’t look quite as good as theirs, but who cares! These are actually an orange version, because I’m pro-citrus of all types. I think next time I’ll try some lemon-lime cookies to see how they work!

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Glazed Lemon (or whatever citrus you have on hand) Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (or whatever you have, I don’t discriminate)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Lemon Glaze

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat until combined. With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture. Drop dough by heaping tablespoons, 1 inch apart, onto two baking sheets. Bake until edges are golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool 2 minutes on sheets, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Spread cookies with Lemon Glaze and let set, about 1 hour.

Lemon Glaze

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

Of course, not every recipe turns out well, like my attempt at a carrot-apple smoothie. NOT good. I can’t help it that I got a new Ninja blender (this thing is amazing) and I have a lot of carrots that I need to use up…somehow.

I also made some pretzel bites and mustard sauce, and let me say they turned out quite well, but I forgot to take a picture of them. I think I might have been too busy eating them. More pretzels are definitely in my future. Also in my future is some bread and pasta. I’m trying to get rid of stuff (pasta & flour) as I get ready to move this summer, so I have to use up the food in my cabinets! Sometimes I like the challenge of using what I have on hand with as few extra ingredients as possible. But really, I’m dreading this move. I’ve moved a lot on my own (in and out of dorms, to Memphis and now to Virginia), and I will be so glad when this move is over. Let’s hope I can stick with my new apartment for longer than a year!


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Easter Festivities

I think this is one of the first times I’ve spent Easter away from my family. To some, that’s not a big deal, but we tend to do holidays together in my family. However, I have a family in Blacksburg that ensured that I had a great holiday. It started the day before Easter with brunch and an “egg hunt” at my friend Amy’s apartment. Our “eggs” were  little non-traditional, but we managed to have a great time and it was so efficient in the small space! There was even a special golden egg with a prize associated.

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This rousing adventure was followed with an egg dyeing/painting contest. We were very pro-postit notes, and used those to help with voting.

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While I didn’t win that competition, my egg DID get a vote. (Second from the left, woohoo!)

On Sunday, I got to spend some more quality time with a family from my church. They have two daughters of their own and just decided to add in some “extras” since some of us couldn’t go home. The day was filled with lots of food and an epic Easter egg hunt. They had a list of rules, and there were four, let me say that again, FOUR different ways to “win”. Did I mention that winning involved a monetary prize? EPIC Easter egg hunt.

Easter 2014

Chris and Sarah St. Jean made sure that I had a great Easter Sunday, and I so appreciate their effort to take care of all of their “children”.

Easter 2014 (2)

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“The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes”

I just read this NY Times article which is a longitudinal study of college freshmen. I thought it was incredibly interesting as it showed the generational differences. I think the last sentence of the article summed up the story best:

“The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.”

After our intense (and extensive) discussions about grades, it was really interesting to see the statistics about how the average grades have changed. Grades have gone up, but the workload has decreased. With all of this…students still feel more anxiety. Long term, we’re more unhappy. To me, this makes the point extremely clear – something has got to change in education. There are some major disconnects in our educational system. But where do we start with the solution? What do you think falls under our responsibility as professors? Is it our job to try to change this in higher education or is that a problem for elementary, middle, and high school teachers?

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