2019-11-21

So Proud of Katie!

Tuesday I had the enormous privilege of attending Katie's public PhD dissertation defense. What an incredible moment it was as my wife stood before her colleagues and presented her research findings, the culmination of her last six years of work and the reason for our cross-country move to North Carolina!
To be clear, Katie's dissertation research was fraught with challenges. Her initial target group became reluctant to participate after the 2016 election. She had to change her research subjects on the fly but ultimately managed to recruit dozens of participants and maintained 90% of them over the full year of her longitudinal study. Some of the data she collected posed great difficulty in analysis such that Katie unexpectedly had to develop new methods to process them.

In addition to these direct challenges, we also had significant indirect challenges in our personal life. We experienced four pregnancy losses during this time period and, as much as these heartbreaking events affected us both emotionally, Katie bore the brunt of their effects physically. She lost months of time recovering from these losses - not to mention dealing with the challenges (nausea, etc.) of being pregnant in the first place!

Then, when we finally had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, those were certainly joyous times - but just as certainly not times that lent themselves very well to deep time and focus on research! Not long after our baby was born, Katie interviewed, was hired, and began a job at Duke University, where she has been thriving for the last year while writing her dissertation in parallel. Oh and, by the way, Katie has been an amazing partner to me / mother to our child the entire time!

It has not been a straightforward or easy road for Katie but, despite that, she persevered and accomplished her goal. There are still some revisions to be completed but the major hurdle of defending her thesis against leaders in her field has been passed with flying colors. Her strength, resilience, and competence is inspiring - not only to me but it certainly will be to our toddler as well.

I have been in awe of / inspired by / in love with smart women since literally the day I was born. Some, like my mom, had no choice but to be stuck with me. Katie, however, actually chose to spend the rest of her life with me and to build a family together. I'm not sure I deserve it but I'm grateful for it every day. And, on days like this, I'm just so damn proud of who she is and what she has accomplished.

Congratulations to the soon-to-be Dr. Katie!

2019-11-19

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Chapter 4

Can we talk about how OP Hermione is? She's the smartest (IQ) of the Power Trio by far and then this scene (when Harry arrives at 12 Grimmauld Place and Hermione anticipates how he must be feeling / how to talk him down from his lashing out) demonstrates how she has the highest EQ as well.

They always say that she's the cleverest witch of her age - but, if you are a genius at #allthethoughts and #allthefeels, I say you are the most powerful witch or wizard period. Not that I'm complaining; this Ravenclaw adores Hermione!


2019-11-11

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Chapter 2

As we are winding down for bed each night, we read a little bit with our toddler. Currently we are making our way through the Harry Potter series and just finished book 4 / started book 5. Book 5 / Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is where my my online Harry Potter book club began which means I have had the chance to engage in thoughtful discussion with other Potterheads about it.

As my family progresses through this and subsequent Harry Potter books, I will post some thoughts from my book club discussions here, starting with the chapter we just finished at home: Chapter 2. Caution: there be SPOILERS below:


  • It has always fascinated me how/why Mafalda Hopkirk sends Harry a letter so promptly after he casts his patronus. Is she the only person who would send such letters? In which case, is she on duty 24/7/365 to do so? Or was she just the person on call / on shift at the time? As well as magic works, this should actually be a very automated task, but the fact that Harry receives another letter from her shortly thereafter in response to Dumbledore's arguments seems to contradict that possibility. 
  • Or, if the dementor attack was a concerted attempt by the Ministry to silence Harry, was there an entire team of ministry officials coordinating it, including Hopkirk standing by to send the letter as a Plan B in case Harry successfully warded off the dementors instead of having his soul sucked out by them? 
  • We actually DO get an answer to this question in Chapter 32 of OotP: 

“He never knew I ordered dementors after Potter last summer, but he was delighted to be given the chance to expel him, all the same...” - Dolores J. Umbridge

  • It sounds like Umbridge was operating on her own, not coordinating a Ministry-wide conspiracy to murder Harry, in which case I am still left with my original questions about the inner workings of the Improper Use of Magic Office. 


2019-10-16

Guest Post: Memo to Expecting Parents

This is a guest blog post from Katie, an amazing mother, partner, friend, and scientist:

To my expecting friends,

Congratulations on this exciting, terrifying and amazing path you are traversing! Here are a few musings that may be worth exactly what you are paying for them, but they are things I was thankful others prepared me for or things I did not know and wish someone had told me. In no particular order:

STOCK UP ON:

  • Foods you can eat with one hand (burritos, protein bars, hard boiled eggs, you get the picture…)
  • Fridababy Fridet Momwasher (perineal bottle) – the angling and spout design are amazing, for real
  • Alcohol-free witch hazel – add a healthy squirt to the aforementioned Momwasher
  • Epsom salts – add a couple of large handfuls to your regular bath or a small handful to your sitz bath
  • Breast pads and comfortable nighttime nursing bras and/or pajamas – there is a fair amount of leakage early on, and the pads will also save your shirts if you need to use nipple cream/oil
  • Aquaphor – great for covering baby bottoms and lubricating breasts while pumping (I used it daily—months into pumping)
  • Bed pads – disposable or reusable – to put between each layer of bassinet/crib/bed sheets. Blow-outs at 2 am are a thing.
  • ALL the free diapers (mom & baby) from the hospital

GENERAL TIPS:

  • You know how hungry you get now? It gets even crazier. I was not prepared for how voraciously hungry I would be after delivery. Order ALL the food. At UNC, you can order once per hour. It takes about an hour for them to deliver your food, so plan ahead. I definitely ate six to eight full meals per day, including multiple times overnight, and had multiple snacks too. That hunger continues if/as long as you nurse. Carry snacks everywhere.
  • It’s normal for new moms to cry. A lot. Especially postpartum days 3-4. I’m not a crier, and I found myself surrounded by puddles. Hormones are a thing, and life can feel entirely overwhelming. Call me. I’m always up for a good cry.
  • Walking is very, very good for you after delivery. It may not be easy to get out of bed, but if you can, take a lap around the ward when you go to refill your water. If you have a good place near your home, go for short walks outside with the new baby.
  • If you are planning to nurse, schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant within a week of returning home. Our LC saved my nipples and my sanity. If you are in North Carolina, I cannot overstate how wonderful the Women’s Birth and Wellness Center is, and anyone can see the LCs there. Partners – this is a great thing to encourage. Even better, schedule the appointment yourself!
  • Nursing can be hard at first, and it gets easier—I promise. I was skeptical when my friend told me that, but it did get easier. I didn’t think I would, but I even came to enjoy it. It’s 100% normal to nurse all the time in the first two months. Fifteen times a day is normal, and I promise it isn’t like that every day. These kiddos are growing nonstop, and your supply is trying to work itself out. They also are learning how to eat and will eventually become more efficient. Use that time to read books to your little one (whatever interests you—I read Stephen King out loud) and watch Netflix (I recommend The Letdown and GLOW).
  • Formula is great. We are lucky to have access to high-quality formula and safe water. It’s a great way to maintain sanity while you are nursing so that you can continue to nurse if that’s what you want (it’s best to supplement with formula after nursing), and it’s great if nursing just isn’t working out for you. You don’t need to apologize for providing your baby with any type of age-appropriate food.
  • Enjoy your gorgeous hair while it lasts. You will lose approximately half of it sometime between 2-4 months.
  • No time is too early for bedtime. For the first three months, I went to bed between 6:30 and 8:30 pm. It’s what I needed to feel human, and I did not apologize for it.
  • Your parent-friends will tell you to text them anytime. Do it. You will be surprised by the number of people who are also awake at 3 am.
  • It’s normal to feel like you’re going crazy. Call me when it happens. I still feel like that sometimes. It comes and goes.
  • Do what feels right in your heart of hearts. There is no “right” way to parent. At the end of the day the things that matter are: love, shelter, food, and snuggles with your baby and partner.
  • Your baby will grow and develop at their own pace, and it’s all okay.
  • Parenting can be so hard, especially now that most of us don’t live on the same street as our entire extended families. We need to spend a little more time and effort creating our villages. Bryan and I are here for you! I sent many of my more experienced parenting friends and new peer friends late-night texts and random questions. Their reassurance helped preserve my sanity. Let us reassure you!
Last, but certainly not least, YOU ARE ENOUGH. You’ve got this!

2019-10-01

Congratulations On Retirement, Mom!

I had the great honor yesterday to deliver some brief remarks at my mother's retirement from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. As a curator of post-Apollo human spaceflight, Mom has had one of the coolest jobs in the world and I am incredibly proud of her.

The party was a lot of fun and gave me a chance to mingle with her colleagues, both those I have known most of my life and newer hires whom I was meeting for the first time. The room was packed to overflowing and many people - including current and former directors of the museum - took the mic to praise Mom for her career.

Some themes that emerged were how much she loved her work, how much she focused on people and relationships rather than just artifacts, and how she knew when to play up her Southern friendliness and when to be tough. I was pleased that most of the remarks - and private conversations I had with her colleagues - were about her character rather than about her specific accomplishments. It is clear that she has left her mark on the institution she has served so dutifully and that she will be missed.



Following are the remarks that I made when it was my turn at the mic:

Dr. Valerie Neal. Curator. Historian. Author. Editor. Department Chair. You may call her that but,  before she was any of those things, she was what I still call her today: Mom. So I'd like to share a few thoughts on her career from a slightly different perspective.

When I first set foot in the National Air and Space Museum, I was 10 years old. It was the summer of 1989 and we had just moved here from Huntsville, Alabama. We were living out of suitcases because we didn't have a house yet and we certainly didn't have childcare yet! So, until the school year began, Mom brought me in to work with her every day.

When I was that age, I had some friends who would complain about having to go into work with their parents - but I could not relate - I thought my mom had the coolest job in the world! That summer the Museum was my babysitter, my teacher, and my playground. I would spend all day every day working through the galleries, attending the shows, and browsing the shops. Can you imagine a more magical place to spend an unstructured summer during your formative years? It was like my own, private, self-directed Space Camp!

And it didn't end there; I practically grew up in the Museum. I wore my first tux at Mom's first exhibit opening. As I was getting into computers, the Museum's head of IT kept me supplied with adequate computing power. When I became interested in science, I used a school career day to shadow members of the Museum's Lab for AstroPHysics ("LAPH"). The Museum was the first place I found where a kid who was interested in science and technology could be nurtured rather than LAPH'ed at.

30 years later, as I have strived to leave my own mark on the world through a career in energy technology innovation, many people have pointed to my childhood immersed in Space as a source of inspiration for taking big shots at transforming the way we power society. While that's true, I think it's a little simplistic. If you dig a little deeper, I was - and continue to be - more fundamentally inspired by a young, single mother from a small town in rural America leaving everything behind - her friends, her support networks, her comfort zone - to make a greater impact on a bigger stage, in the nation's capitol at the most popular museum in the world.

So, Mom, I congratulate you on a career of inspiration.

A career of inspiration doesn't just happen, though. Mom is one of the hardest workers I have ever known. Growing up, many of my memories of us at home feature Mom at her desk - late at night, over the weekend - working away on an exhibit, talk, or manuscript. Once when I was young we were camping and she was telling me a ghost story as I fell asleep. Well, clearly she was getting sleepy because she started getting her facts mixed up. I will never forget how the protagonist of her story turned the corner in the haunted house and encountered . . . the Space Shuttle!

Indeed, Mom's work at the Museum was never far from her mind, but she always made the time and space for me. She came to every one of my football games. She copy edited every paper I asked her to. Despite her tremendous workload, she was always there as a strong, supportive, loving mother - and, for that, I am eternally grateful.

I have never been Mom's colleague so I don't know what it is like to work with her. Her younger sisters - my aunts - have been known to call her bossy. A younger version of myself might have even accused her of micromanaging as she stayed on me about my homework and chores! Your mileage at the Musuem may have varied. I'm also not a scholar in her field so I can't gauge the quality of her work product.

But I can state categorically that you will never find someone more committed or dedicated to her craft, to the point that, in our household, we use the expression "good enough for government work" ironically because the hardest working perfectionist we know happens to be a federal employee! She is the consummate public servant which, as a tax payer, I find gratifying!

So, Mom, I congratulate you on a career of dedication.

Hard work only gets you so far, though; at the end of the day, results are what really matter. As such, every exhibit opened, every artifact collected, every book published, every article written, every interview given - every opportunity to see my mom as an intelligent, confident, articulate, passionate leader in her field - has been a source of enormous pride for me.

The moments that make me especially proud are the times when my own friends and colleagues contact me to tell me how much they enjoy something she worked on - usually after a museum visit or having seen her on some program. During the 2012 media blitz surrounding Discovery's arrival at the Udvar-Hazy Center, my wife's boss said she had been really impressed by Mom's interview on a major talkshow. At first I was proud but then . . . I was perplexed. My wife asked her boss how she knew it was my mom; they had never met and Mom and I don't share the same last name. Her boss responded, "Well, I was watching TV and, all of a sudden, there was Bryan . . . in a blonde wig . . .  with lipstick . . . dropping all kinds of really interesting knowledge about the Space Shuttle!" I will take a comparison like that as a compliment any day!

In this Internet-enabled age, it isn't uncommon for someone I don't even know to tell me how much they enjoy Mom's work. A woman reached out to me on twitter a year or two ago to let me know that she had been moved to tears by seeing Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center for the first time - not just due to the sentimental value the artifact had for her and her family but especially because of the way it was presented. She likened it to the profound, nearly spiritual experience of turning the corner of the Accademia in Florence and seeing Michelangelo's David for the first time. That conversation was a poignant reminder that the work Mom does - that you all do - at the Smithsonian touches people's lives in significant and meaningful ways.

So, Mom, I congratulate you on a career of impact.

As you have written the book of your life, you have steered your career toward these three themes: inspiration, dedication, and impact. For that I congratulate you three times over. And now your grandchild, your daughter-in-law, and your son are looking forward to joining you in asking, "Where next?" as we explore your next chapter together.

2019-09-27

Enchanted By Ireland 6: Dublin

We spent the last few days of our Ireland trip in Dublin. Upon our arrival we had afternoon tea at House Dublin (where we would be staying the night) and then went for a run along the nearby Grand Canal. Even though we were in the most urban Irish environment yet, everything was still so green. The canal especially was canopied by dense trees with lush grasses growing up the banks.

Our 8th day in Ireland and first full day in Dublin began as many of you probably guessed it would: with a pilgrimage to the Guinness Storehouse! Is it a tourist trap? Sure. But it's my kind of tourist trap! We ascended floor after floor of exhibits about Guinness's ingredients, brewing process, history, marketing, and culture. Ultimately we reached the top, the Gravity Bar, and there we shared a few pints with a 360-degree view over Dublin as our backdrop - truly a bucket list item for yours truly!


We spent much of the afternoon walking around Dublin. With a huge, old, Gothic church on practically every corner, there was a lot to see along the way. We found our way to Trinity College, where we made a pilgrimage to their amazing library. Some of their artifacts, like the Book of Kells, were interesting but the endless rows of multi-story shelves full of books was the real attraction for me.

Our hotel was near St. Stephen's Green, which was a lovely little park for passing time between meals and attractions. We wrapped up the day at Sheehan's Pub, where we had a local non-Guinness stout and a tasting of several Powers whiskeys.

For our 9th and final day in Ireland, we checked into Clontarf Castle. It is an historic castle that has been updated as a hotel and event space but, despite its modernizations, it still felt very "castley." There were suits of armor everywhere - including hidden away in nooks and crannies and hallway dead ends. I loved it - it was like playing a Harry Potter video game in real life!


Clontarf had a lovely harbor-front promenade so we walked around a bit before settling on lunch at Moloughney's, which was lovely. I don't have any pictures between lunch and dinner so I suspect that we took a nap. During the entire trip I was taking a pint of Guinness with lunch - which was bad for my waistline but good for my soul - so a nap might have been just what was called for.

We stayed at the hotel for dinner and managed to reserve the table in the tower dungeon! The food was fine but the experience of dining in a dungeon really took the cake - the Guinness cake, even, which is what we had for breakfast at the Dublin airport the next day!

What can I say about this trip to Ireland? It was a magical, amazing experience. The castles, the lush green hills, the very nice people, the excellent food - what a place! We spent a week and a half there but only scratched the surface. I have so many more places to explore but Ireland is definitely on the top of my list for a return soon!

2019-09-22

Enchanted By Ireland 5

We spent the morning of our sixth day in Ireland driving west to Dingle. This took us over the Conor Pass, a local high point from which you can see for myriad kilometers inland in one direction and to the sea in the other. We parked at the top of the Pass and traipsed around the hills, enjoying the vistas more than the biting winds! There was sheep scat everywhere but it was a small price to pay for the breathtaking views.



In the afternoon we arrived in Dingle, a charming harbor village that seemed straight out of The Hobbit. Its rolling green hills, cute boats, and waterfront pubs and restaurants were quite idyllic. We spent the afternoon walking around and ducking in here and there - add Dingle to the list of places in Ireland to which we would like to return and spend a little more time.

Dingle also was the only place we saw a pub advertising an Irish stout other than Guinness - and it was Murphy's, another well known Irish stout. I thought that we would show up to Ireland and discover lots of hidden gem Irish stouts that they keep to themselves rather than exporting to the US but, nope, it's pretty much Guinness Island (with a little bit of Murphy's). We also did a spirits tasting at Dingle Distillery before departing.

As we drove through County Kerry to our final destination of the day, we encountered a herd of cattle in the road. We could only assume that these Kerry cattle were the source of Kerrygold butter so I am pleased to report that they seemed very happy as they ambled past our car to another pasture!



We would be spending the night outside of Killarney and the only place open for dinner was Kate Kearney's Cottage. It was a bit of a tourist trap (busloads of tourists in the parking lot) but the food was decent and there was live music and folk dancing during dinner. They sent us off with a very tender rendition of Danny Boy, which was the perfect way to wind down the evening.

After dinner we settled into our home for the night, Carrauntoohil Eco Farm. The farm practiced ecologically sound agriculture and hospitality. This had several implications, one of which was that the toilets were outhouses that used sawdust instead of plumbing - very hippy! Several of our party stayed in yurts for the night. Katie and I, being high maintenance glampers, opted for the "lodge" instead of a yurt. Well, the joke was on us because the "lodge" was a converted shipping container and decidedly less glamorous than the yurts! Ah well, we all had a blast, despite the torrential all-night downpour.


We awoke the next morning to mountains shrouded in fog. We made friends with the farm animals, packed up, and set off for our next adventure!