Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas Everyone!

A Profile of Pufi (by Edward)
A thoughtful Pufi and her best friend Negruzi (by Edward)
At night: Pufi, Negruzi and Petunia (by Edward)
The photographer - first selfie

This is the first Christmas in which we are constantly followed by the closest relative of the T-rex. The moment they see one of us outside, they come running, jumping and flying over all obstacles. Pufi is, generally, the first one to come. Above is a profile picture of Pufi  (photographed by Edward). She always appears innocent, but she and Petunia can get into the kitchen and drag the whole bag of fresh bread outside. Then, on the right,  Pufi and Negruzi can be seen walking on the wooden balustrade. They sleep high up on a contraption built for them by Andy and the children.

Edward took lots of pictures of every one of his pets. We still have to take a family picture under the Christmas tree. We bought a tree that will be planted in the yard later. In the meantime, below is a picture of Coditza and some of Piki, Kiki, Otto, Fifi, and me and the children.

Coditza (by Edward)

The other photographer - David - first selfie

Me, David and James (by Edward)

Me, James and Edward (photo by David)

Edward, Otto and Fifi (by David)

Edward, Piki and Kiki (by David)
James - one month old

Monday, December 19, 2016

Stories from the past

 I was walking my children from school one day when a beautiful, well-dressed lady came from the opposite direction. The children recognized her immediately as our most dear family friend, Tanti Mia; it took me much longer because I had forgotten my glasses at home.  She is in her 70s and tells unforgettable, true stories that make me feel better than any movie I have ever seen. Last week we heard the love story of Eliza, her mother in law.

I know I cannot do it justice. My grandparents were wonderful story tellers, too. I miss them very much and I regret not writing their stories while they were alive. I would then have more tiny pieces of them left behind. This time I decided not to make the same mistake. What I fail to capture, is the funny side she induces in all her stories - I cannot write the many laughs we get or Tanti Mia's expressions and charisma. I somehow have to write in my own voice.

While I do not remember meeting Eliza, I know she was Tusa Tavi (my great aunt)'s friend. My mother remembers a portly, kind lady with a lovely face with well-proportioned features and a keen sense for beauty. She used to make dresses for my mother when she was David's age. 

Years before she met us, a young Eliza had been crowned "Miss Cluj". She had been stunningly beautiful. Her favorite sport was dancing on ice. Her dance partner was a young, Hungarian man, and the love and admiration in his eyes shined through to be seen by all as they skated together. However, Eliza was afraid to marry him. He seemed too intransigent, and she thought their love might not be enough to make them happy. 

She later fell deeply in-love with a young Jewish man. His family did not want them to marry. On a New Year's eve in the late 1930s, he promised to defy them and run away with her. Eliza convinced her family that this time her love was worth fighting for. Her mother even helped her prepare a feast to celebrate their wedding with the beginning of the new year, but he never came.

Many tens of years later, he visited Lugoj from Israel to meet Eliza's family and thank her for saving his life. He had been the only one in his family to survive the Holocaust. He explained that his family drugged him for weeks to stop him from running away with her, and that he was too proud to ask for forgiveness then. He, however, thought of her often and had been carrying her picture in his pocket since. The man in charge of sending him to his death was Hungarian. Upon the demand "empty your pockets", the picture of Eliza fell out together with the rest of his few belongings. The man's expression changed. His features softened, and for a moment he looked young and wistful again as he exclaimed "You loved her, too! ...  and could not have her either.  Come and clean this office every day!  I promise you will be safe as long as I am here. I cannot guarantee you will live beyond that."  Some weeks later an opportunity arose for escaping to Israel.

Back in the 1930s, Eliza was very upset when her fiance did not show up. Her mother encouraged her to visit her grandparents in Topita to lessen her depression. On the way there, she met and married an officer in charge of the railway. They moved to Lugoj and had two children: a boy and girl. Even though her husband married a woman who's beauty and kindness inspired a love that saved lives, he cheated on her quite frequently. One of the women involved with him was known to say that the bed sheets in Eliza's house were not clean enough - this was to insinuate she was not a good wife. In spite of all this, Eliza and her husband found ways to get along and raise their children. She was also able to retain her kindness and good nature in the process. In her spare time, she created dresses that embodied some of her grace and provided a source of independent income. My mother was always proud to wear them.

Her children and their spouses loved her dearly. They all met the Israeli man upon his visit to Romania. As he was leaving he looked at Eliza's daughter, Sandra, and said: "you are very beautiful my dear, but ... like Eliza ... no!" - meaning Sandra was beautiful, but did not come close to Eliza's beauty.

Today ... I keep my children close, and wonder what kind of stories we will leave behind.

I try to retain my good nature as I turn around to listen to the third team who is "fixing" my central heating system. They do not want to install a filter for the water because the lead person has not told them to do that and he does not have one at home. They do not need to read the manual for the furnace or discuss their installation, but aggressively ask for money and there are four of them, and me holding the baby. They represent the kind of people who succeed.  So, I just gave them the money they wanted, which is 3-times more than the previous team asked for + the price for the pump. When I told them the pump was broken, they insisted this was not the problem, and then acted very surprised when they "found out" it could not work - surprised enough to charge even more money. Both pumps function for now, and the heating system does appear to work slightly better than before.

When I read the news, I often cry. The tragedies in Syria, the elections of the pro-Russian parties/entities in the US and Europe who spread hatred under the umbrella of nationalism, the various terrorist attacks and followup retaliation through more rockets/bombs are all heart-breaking and scary.

One of the many whys: we forget to promote capable people and instead argue we have no room for them. The hackers in Russia are speaking English and many of them have been educated by the world's best institutions. We could not employ them for our security because, of course, there was/is no room, and, yet, we act surprised when they go elsewhere.

 I have worked with some of the world's brightest minds, and it is sad to watch them being pushed out of their field because "there is no room" and/or constantly sabotaged by the endless bureaucracy in their own institutions. Institutions and collaborations faithfully obey CIA's rules of sabotage and this causes a lack of time. Talented people spend too little time doing important things.

Do we have room? Most houses on my street are empty and mine is not the only street like this. There are not enough children to form a play-group with, and, yet, Romania has no room for refugees or more exactly we have room for a bit over 1000 in the whole country - all placed in designated centers.

Should we have refugees in the first place? No, we should not. We should only have economic migrants. Ideally, we ought to elect leaders who build sustainable economies and do not need to destroy other countries through wars to increase/keep their power. Are my views utopic? Yes...for now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Life at the (chicken) frontier

David (age 9): "I do not have time for labor. I solve lots of maths problems instead."
Edward (age 6): "But when a wall will fall down in your house, David, you'll have to call me up. I'll come and fix it for you."

I am not sure that I want walls to fall down in David's first house, but Edward has a point. It is good to have some knowledge of practical things.

I totally freaked out when the furnace almost blew up the other day. However, Ioji (the person I pay to build and repair things around the house) took a big stick and went to fix the furnace. We had identified that the pump had failed. So, he hit the pump lightly with the stick, and plugged it and unplugged it a few of times and it got unstuck. What was wrong? Well .. there is no filter on incoming the water. So, some impurities could have gotten the pump stuck. The second pump was not connected in the right place in the installation and it never started. So, then without a pump to push the water through the system, the water kept heating increasing the pressure and temperature in the furnace. While I have somebody who will come to check the installation this week, the furnace has been working since this incident without trouble.  Of course, I should have understood the installation before it was turned on.

w. Pufi, Petunia and Negruzi
Edward and Negruzi
Ioji has become a sort of hero for Edward who spends a lot of time "helping" him. They are turning two sheds into rooms for the summer, have re-plastered one, built a new fence around the garden, put tiles in one bathroom, and are now finishing a second one.

Edward is at times taking things too far for my taste.  When it was suggested that he might be interested in reading some of the old books in the house (he has read/been read to all the books we had in Switzerland), he said "I used to like books, but such things will be for James now. I am busy either with Ioji or with the chickens". Even after such declarations, he likes being read to every night.

Preparing for an uncertain tomorrow
 To prepare our minds and hearts for the decisions taken by our just elected leaders, we are supporting a chicken army manned by 17 chickens.
In September, we got 15 hens from a factory farm. Then we received one from a family friend, and another two came as baby chicks from a different friend.  At first, most of our chickens were sad and lacked feathers. Now there are still 2 or 3 balder hens, but most are very pretty. When Edward talks to them he is very careful with their feelings: "You are my favorite hen, you know. Yes, you are bald, but you are still so beautiful and lay the most eggs."

Naming scheme
Negruzi is a dwarf rooster. He crows many times a day and sometimes  wakes up at night, and crows some more. He reminds us that the sun is or will be up.  Pufi is a white chicken, and Petunia, a red hen. The others are reddish egg-laying chickens. The factory farm hens are so far labeled with numbers.

Since we have raised Negruzi and Pufi, they are more spoiled than the rest.   They sleep on the veranda and prefer to lay down on soft materials like the carpet or clothes. Petunia befriended them to enjoy some of their privileges.

 We fight for our eggs with Codita, the dog. When the dog is in the kitchen or in the garden, we find up to 5 eggs a day, otherwise, at most two. Since the oldest woman in the world says she survived this long by eating two to three eggs a day, my theory is that  Coditia simply desires to become the world's oldest dog. She is 117 and still alive. Codita is just a few months old.

Andy does not find chickens a necessity, but appears very fond of them. In fact, he was the first to call them his army because they like following him around. A recent discussion between us was along the following lines:
Andy: "I was chopping wood, and one of the children came to see me".
Me: "Was it Edward or David?"
Andy: "No, it was Girl Number 5. One of the pretty ones."

Why do we have chickens? When did Edward's fascination for chicken start?
Edward, David and I were walking home from school one day. We saw a man who was throwing chicken out of his car like potatoes. He was bringing them to a person living on a nearby street. The children quickly asked if they are for sale. He said they cost 10 lei/chicken (this is about 2 euros), but that we have to buy at least ten. So, we bought 10 and then 5 more after a minor misunderstanding. He had 80 chicken left, and had received them for free or close to free from a nearby factory farm.

It is to be noted that Edward's love for chickens turned on long before we had any such pets. It just happened one day at around the age of 5. He did not want to eat chicken anymore. He would walk with Andy and see chicken in the store aisle and ask: "how can people eat something as beautiful as a chicken?". Andy, who had eaten chicken most of his life, did not quite follow the argument, but agreed to switch to soy. Since we've had chicken, Andy says eating chicken would feel like eating a friend. [He does eat them sometimes when he eats out]

The future and the past
It turns out we have genes in common with most of the animals and plants we eat.  We even share 50% of our DNA with bananas, and 60% with the chickens. This is because of evolution. Mary Schweitzer dipped T-rex bones into acid found blood cells and soft tissue remains that link it most closely to the chicken. Humans, of course, came much latter.

 My chicken army is manned by the closest living relative of the T-rex, and is mostly female.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stellar Collapse and Time Travel?

This post summarizes work done in collaboration with Prof. Jayashree Balakrishna (Harris Stowe State U.) and Dr. Christine Corbett Moran (Caltech). Our paper just appeared in the cosmology section of the Frontiers Journal.
Supernova explosion (artist: Mehau Kulyk)
Stellar Collapse. In the simplest stellar collapse model of classical General Relativity (Oppenheimer & Snyder 1939), the collapsing star is idealized as a uniform ball of dust that contracts under the pull of gravity. The dust particles that make up the star are assumed to be classical and thus infinitely small, infinitely light, and interact only gravitationally with other matter. Infinitesimally small particles would be then infinitely large in size, and could never be localized within the stellar horizon.  The smaller the mass of the constituent particles, the more significant the quantum mechanical effects become, breaking down the classical approximation.

Quantum Effects
When we include quantum effects,  a particle on the surface of the star is no longer localized, but is instead represented by its wavefunction. Every particle now has a finite probability of escaping the gravitational pull of the star. This allows for the possibility that some configurations will not collapse to black holes, but will instead disperse or even form stable new configurations. 

Why should we care about black holes?
Supermassive black hole. Artist conception.
In order to understand the universe, we have to understand black holes. They are the most permanent objects in our universe. All life revolves around them. Every galaxy has a black hole at its center. In the early universe, black holes acted as the seeds around which material collected, and eventually galaxies as complex as our own formed.  Black holes are also believed to be the only objects that will be left in the very far future as our universe continues to expand growing cold and empty. They do evaporate, but the evaporation of black holes that are stellar mass or higher happens on timescales longer than the age of the universe and thus is not observable. To truly understand black holes we have to understand their quantum nature, which is not only important in understanding the final stages of stellar collapse, but also in understanding whether they will form at all.

Classical paths with all initial velocities
We model stellar collapse using a path integral formulation In the special case of the dust ball collapse the paths can be computed analytically for all initial velocities (towards and away from the center of the star).  We derive analytic solutions to all classical paths (space-like, time-like, and light-like) in Schwarzschild (Table I and II in our paper) and Kruskal coordinates (see Table V and VI).

The evolution of the wavefunction
In Schwarzschild coordinates, we can only study the collapse outside r=2M. The motion of the particle on the surface of the star is analogous to the vertical motion of a ball moving under gravity, which can go (1) from an initial point to a final point directly, (2) reach its highest and fall back down or (3) escape. Thus some particles that initially move away from the star can return and contribute to the collapse. Each of these paths is unique taking a different amount of time to complete.

In Kruskal coordinates,  we can model the behavior of a particle on the surface of the collapsing star up to the physical singularity at r=0.  We find that classical time-like paths are unique. A path between an initial and final point can be either direct or indirect (turns back in space).  Space-like paths can turn back in time, but cannot turn back in space. They are also no longer unique when the final point lies inside r=2M. Classically, no information can exit the black hole. However, by integrating around the classical paths one might be able to extract information from inside the horizon. We only compute the paths in the Kruskal case, and leave the computation of the wavefunction and full exploration of the quantum collapse to future work.

Back in Time?
 In the dust-collapse model, the classical paths that turn back in time are space-like. This means that they are outside the light-cone, i.e., not in the realm of paths considered possible. Further understanding of these low probability paths that are traditionally ignored might lead to new physics. We conjecture the classical space-like paths and paths around them play an important role in the quantum mechanical collapse in the same way passing through the potential barrier is important in tunneling. Classically, it can never happen, and yet the tunneling probability cannot be ignored in quantum mechanics. It may be that time travel could be achieved by some kind of tunneling from time-like paths to the space-like paths that turn back in time.

Why include the space-like paths There is no theory of quantum gravity that works, but the theories that do exist and are accepted in the literature are causal. In our case, the propagator does not vanish outside the light-cone, and so we include all paths in our integration. The propagation on and around the space-like paths is acausal, i.e., backwards in time in some Lorentz frames. Whether or not this proves to be admissible in the ultimate theory of quantum gravity is beyond the purpose of this exploration since no such theory exists today.
 We assume that the radius is the only spatial degree of freedom that is not frozen. Such restrictive approximations make the problem tractable analytically.

The wavefunction of a particle on the surface of the collapsing star

WKB & Schrödinger comparison
t=5 M, multiple masses
The initial wavefunction is taken to be a Gaussian centered far away from r=2M.  In Schwarzschild coordinates, we compute closed form solutions to the propagator in (1) the WKB approximation where an expansion is performed around the classical paths and (2) in the Schrödinger approximation. We compare the resulting wavefunctions and find that the two solutions converge towards each other at intermediate times. They are out of step at early and late times with the Schrödinger solution being more exact at early times, and the WKB approximation being more accurate at late times. For lower particle mass, the star resists collapse longer and the probability that it disperses increases. Further work is needed (including the addition of higher order corrections to the Schrödinger solution) to determine the mass limit at which stellar configurations no longer collapse.
M=0, dotted (WKB), solid (Schrödinger)

In the limit when the mass of the star is zero, the WKB approximation converges to the Schrödinger solution at all times. This checks that the WKB approximation is accurate. The Wheeler-DeWitt equation converges to Schrödinger equation in this limit making the Schrödinger solution the exact solution of the free particle problem (Redmount and Suen 1992). Note that Redmount and Suen did not find a good agreement between their WKB approximation and the exact Schrödinger solution due to numerical issues, while our approximation converged. Space-like classical paths give the dominant contribution in the construction of the WKB approximation outside the light-cone.
Black holes or boson stars?
Even with LIGO's detection, it is still unclear whether black holes exist or not. We have no proof of a singularity. Theories suggest that black holes can be mimicked by boson stars or that the black hole itself could be a collection of Bose-Einstein condensates (e.g., Dvali and Gomez).  However, to obtain black holes as massive as the ones just seen by LIGO, the scalar particles would have to be very light. Quantum effects would be important in this situation, and the gravitational waves might look different due both the size and nature of the star.

Classical boson stars are believed to form from dark matter particles (fundamental spin zero particles) that Bose-condense creating a macroscopic quantum object. The size of this object depends on the wavelength of the constituent particle and can either fit in your pocket or be larger than a galaxy. Since no fundamental spin zero particles have been discovered other than the perhaps the Higgs boson, it is difficult to know if boson stars exist. Supermassive boson stars could lie in the centers of galaxies. Upcoming instruments sensitive to light may detect supermassive boson stars through lensing (e.g., see Boson stars as Gravitational lenses and Method for detecting a boson star at Sgr A* through gravitational lensing). If such stars exist in the mass-range that LIGO sees,  we might soon see a pair of co-orbiting boson stars. Additionally, detectors beyond LISA may see gravitational waves from perturbed supermassive boson stars.

Feeding on dark matter?
Macroscopic dark matter particles?
Dark matter particles come close to the attributes of classical dust. Unlike virialized dust halos or stars, the super-fluid dark matter particles would have negligible momentum and thus accrete easily. If somehow black holes can feed on dark matter particles,  the paucity of super-massive black holes immediately above a certain mass M (e.g., we don't see intermediate mass black holes) could be linked to the presence of ultra-light particle halos that black holes heavier than M can feed on. Black holes lighter than M would be unable to capture such dark matter particles in the same way mini black holes produced at the LHC cannot be grown on atomic matter and pose no danger to the Earth. As soon as a black hole reaches mass M, it starts feeding on dark matter and grows rapidly, perhaps swallowing the entire halo. 

This is the first article I have written where all the authors are women. It is also coincidentally my most technical article to date. Note that my co-authors and I do not discriminate against men and believe in equal rights for everyone. Our collaboration just happens to be 100% female.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Science: the land of unpaid maternity leave

My contract ended on September 30, and my son, James, was born on the 10th of November. My first son is six years old. This is my second child, and my second unpaid maternity leave. It is also the first leave where there is no contract afterwards. I am not complaining. I can afford to take time off and be with my children. This is simply a post that summarizes my experience, while trying not to impose judgement.

Dreams and science
I have been working in science for the past 15 years, and felt on the top of the world since. I started research in 2001, two months before the September 11 disaster. My first research project was in grid computing, and our dream was that "the grid", which was made up of remote computers connected through the internet, would be accessible to everyone. In the years that passed, the grid became the cloud, and the dream was achieved. My second research project from that period involved modeling gravitational wave emission from boson stars (compact objects that can mimic black holes and are made up of dark matter-like particles) numerically. The dream there was that gravitational waves would be found, and that models like the one we made up could be constrained. LIGO found its first waves in 2015, and work on constraining various models with real data is underway. So, from a scientific perspective, I am in the unique position of saying that some of what I dreamed of happened. Of course, there were other projects I started later, which still have to reach this dream-like outcome, e.g., we still don't know what dark matter is, and if it is made-up of luke-warm ultralight particles or not, and we don't know much more about neutron stars than we did when I started my PhD thesis. We also don't wear atomic clocks on our wrists and while we have them in space, they don't yet go around in trucks and planes to monitor density changes underground.

The academic environment
In all this time, the academic environment has been surprisingly static. Proposals are written the same way, and the process is even more complicated and time consuming than in the past with fewer positive outcomes. Grants do not, generally, come with money for maternity or paternity leave even in countries where these kind of leaves are the norm. In Europe, countries provide for their own citizens, but most scientists work in countries that are not their own and cannot take advantage of these programs.

There are some very few specific awards on which there is support, but, on average, postdoc and PhD advisors are still in the position where they have no money to provide their staff with if they get pregnant. They also do not know how to handle these situations because there are so few women and no rules and no help. If they are stuck in the position of having a pregnant employee under a contract that cannot be broken, a good advisor mostly allows the person to show up and do what they can when they are able to once they have their baby.  This attitude is a choice and not something supported by the university or grant office. At the faculty level, some provisions have been made for women professors, where they teach less or not at all for some time after having a baby. It helps to be in a university with money and staff to spare.

The reaction at work
I did not mention my pregnancy until it was obvious. So, everyone at the University of Zurich noticed I was pregnant only after I came back from the US in the beginning of September. This was during the LISA meeting. My colleagues congratulated me, and asked how far along I was.

I had an informal discussion during coffee with Karsten Danzmann from the AEI Hannover over a potential position. He also asked me when the due date was and congratulated me over the pregnancy. He jokingly asked if I am one of those crazy people who are back at work a day or two after having the baby. I smiled and stared blankly. He then patted my back and said I should, of course, take as much time off as I needed. My AEI visit was already scheduled for late September. He proceeded to explain why it makes sense that I come visit AEI in person even though neither him nor the other group leader would be there at that time - I would be meeting the rest of the group and their opinion was decisive as well. By then I was more than 34 weeks along, and insurance does not cover travel beyond the 34th week.  I booked my ticket and tried to come.  I am tall and my pregnancy did not show very much, and so I thought the airline might not notice how far along I was. However, Wizz Air refused boarding. I wonder if, in their opinion, it is better to drive or take the train. I did contemplate these options between the moment I was denied boarding, and the moment I canceled the trip. Even though I lost the money for the tickets, it was easier this way. Edward had started school and refused to do homework with anyone but me. It would have been unreasonable to leave him alone and angry yet again. While Karsten wrote me a week after our coffee-break chat that I did not fit in his group, the AEI is still keen in having me visit, and believe I am more suited for an independent grant (i.e., they would give me a desk and a support letter if I brought my own money) than for a regular postdoctoral position.

Fancy, lovely dinner
My postdoc advisor, Philippe Jetzer, honestly said he would not have been able to provide leave if I had been under contract because neither my fellowship nor his grant come with such money. Luckily, my contract was over before I gave birth. The sad part is that he is correct. There is no money for maternity leave on most science grants even in Switzerland. Like in the US, there are one or two very specific awards that come with maternity leave, but the majority of grants do not come with such provisions. I would like to stress that Philippe and our group at the UZH are outstandingly nice people as is Karsten and his group at the AEI. This is simply a statement of the general situation. Furthermore, the day care facility on the UZH campus is so small, it is not available unless one registers on their waiting list soon after getting pregnant or even before that. It is, however, quite prominent on campus and with a beautiful see-through glass window through which one can see the handful of children they care for.

Before I left, my group took me to dinner, and we had a wonderful time. I am still affiliated with the UZH for any research I do for the next 2 or 3 years. This means I can access computers, journals, the library, publish. I can also use the software, etc. While it involves working for free, all this is tremendously helpful. I also have computer accounts at NCSA, which come with a similar kind of affiliation. The AEI in Hannover still say they would be happy to have me visit, which I cannot do easily with a 7 day old baby, but there is always next year with its spring and summer.

Why I will NOT be applying for grants aimed at parents returning to science
I looked at these type of applications with my brother when he was considering re-entering the academic world. We were looking at the Marie Curie action with its CAR program, and we were told that the probability of getting funded in STEM in such a program is less than through a regular program. Basically, like with the UZH day care, they make such programs visible, but the money is so little and the chances of getting funded are so low that it is not worth the time to write the 15+ pages of application. To restrict the applicant pool, they add conditions that enforce no work is published for the period of the leave, which is not something that would fit me. Mihai did apply that year and did not get funded, but I am not up to another such involved application with a baby and two other children to raise. My time is too valuable to write grant applications of tens of pages that have a probability of success of a few percent.

So what next?
Science-wise, I would like to finish the projects I started, and perhaps work one or two more things. It would be nice to be paid for some of this, but I do not wish to be at work from morning till night again while James is small, and Edward and David still need me so much. Even if day care was available, I do not want James to be away from me for most of the hours of the day.

Edward is in second grade even though he is only 6, and David is in 5th grade at 9. They have lots of homework, and catching up to do, which I have to help with.  With Edward, I add multiple digits numbers, solve equations, and next semester we'll learn to multiply. With David, we do powers, systems of equations, and series of thousands of terms. This is the math, but there are also the other subjects that are mostly in a poorly translated German that have to be made sense of + Romanian with its grammar, poets, and writers. 

I have a chicken army: we adopted 15 chickens from the factory farm in October under the assumption that half of them will die. So far they are all thriving. They now have feathers and spend most of their time outside. They come and eat from Edward's hand and we get about 2 eggs a day (total). We also have tortoises, 3 more chickens, terrapins, and a dog. The dog eats eggs, and so we have to make sure we get them before he does. 

There is also other property to manage and lots of people to help and other things to do.

Why do I try to do so many things? Most pressure is self-imposed. I have always felt I have to prove that I am worthwhile and that I am leaving something behind. That something takes the form of an article, a book, a house, a happier child, a happier chicken, a new child, etc. It partly also comes from never receiving unconditional support from anyone other than my mother (and my grandmother when she was alive). For the rest of the world, I keep having to prove that I have non-zero value and I am so tired of these endless proofs.

I try to invest some fraction of what I earn in what I think would grow and/or last. I have done this since I started working. It helped to be living in the privileged side of the world while keeping a relatively simple life-style. I have used cars (16+ years old) with small engines, and never had a taste for eating out, alcohol, cigars or fancy clothes. I do travel. I started taking vacations after having children because they need to see the world to understand it, and because we enjoy it. We will continue to travel some of the time.