Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wall Painting

David explaining biology to James 
It was a long process

In a dark, cold winter day, my children decided to paint the walls in my room.  Before I was only surrounded by boxes of tortoises and terrapins and visited by chickens and rabbits. Now there are also inanimate versions of them on the walls. I admit they make the room more cheerful. Elements of astrophysics sneak in: my six year old drew a black hole and a galaxy, and David (age 9) drew the LISA mission. The laser was unfortunately leaking as were other colors.

Edward's painting were mostly inspired by our animals, while David was inspired by his biology book. He says he hates biology, but has to study it for school. He does understand it. His biology textbook - like most textbooks - is very dense with too many names for plant parts and processes and too little logic. 

Wall 2

And it's done!
Wall 1
The ideas were first discussed with two-months old James (see above). He babbled in his own language and appeared to pay serious attention to each suggestion. James can already sustain long conversations with sounds that sound almost like words, and likes being held all day long.  

Edward drew tortoises, a dog, several chicken, some flowers and insects, and what he says is a blue submarine. David drew a yellow submarine, a snail, a boat, sections of flowers and pores in leaves that open at night and close when the sun is too hot. James was surprisingly quiet during the whole process.

The results are briefly described below. Wall 1a (by David unless otherwise noted):  section of a flower with pollen and seeds, giant tortoise (by Edward), pores of leaves that close when the sun is up and open when it's cool, another flower section, the LISA mission. Wall 1b (by David): a snail, a boat, an yellow submarine. Wall 1b (by Edward): galaxy (the green spiral with blue dots for stars), a yellow version of Urechila (our white bunny), a darker version of El Dogo (also known as Codita) and a flower with its seeds. Wall 2 (by Edward): flowers with insects (bee and butterflies), a nearsighted tortoise and a nearsighted Petunia, who looks more like a duck than a chicken. Wall 3 (by Edward): floating turtle, a black version of Pufi - the white chicken, Negruzi - our rooster, a black hole with stuff spiraling into it, and a tortoise eating a flower. The blue submarine is hiding under the window sill.

Wall 3: the black spiral is a black hole
A few years ago we were standing in an elevator with some visitors, and Andy wondered at how things happened in our family in a disappointed voice. He concluded that first the one year old is asked where we should go and what we should do next, then the four year old is consulted and lastly a decision is taken by the adults that focuses on pleasing both children. The trend continues to today. Now,  they are six and nine, and still very stubborn. When my mother goes to the store to buy building supplies and asks the six year old for his opinion, the clerk stares.

Edward and his model
I often wonder if I am right with most of what I do. We'll have to wait until they are grown and perhaps beyond that to be certain. So far my mother, Andy and I are very proud of them, and will always love them very much. I am less patient and more nervous that I should be, and make plenty of mistakes, but for now they are perfect.

Wall 1 (closer): green spiral = galaxy
I often wish I could have some order in my life. But then perhaps that's the wrong thing to wish for. Order brings a certain kind of death. Perfectly aligned, weedless flower beds may be beautiful, but they are almost dead if you count the number of insects and animals they house.

The authors
My house and walls are full of animals and the doors at the entrance of the attic and basement are bright red. The colors for the other doors has been chosen to be bright blue. They will be painted as soon as the weather warms up a bit.

My house is a mess. However, there is always some light at the end of the tunnel - even if it sometimes takes the shape of a rooster that crows several times a night (and in the daytime). I admire Negruzi for his patience. He stayed still for over half an hour while Edward painted him. When I asked Edward if he wanted a childhood like that of Gerry Durrell, he answered "no, 'cause mine is better. " He then started drawing and planning on what he will do, build, get next. He stopped half an hour later. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Goodbye 2016, welcome 2017!

My family has grown in many ways this year. I am sharing the room with two tortoises, two Terrapins and my second baby.

My father agreed to move back in with us for the winter, and in addition to him, we have two rabbits (Tzup-Tzup and Urechila), Coditza - the dog, and 15 chickens.
Coditza and the hens
Edward + chickens
The chickens are Negruzi, Pufi, Petunia and the 12 apostles - altogether named the chicken army or Andy's chicken army or the army of animals most similar to the T-rex. In addition to the leadership of LIGO's detector characterization group (joint with David Shoemaker), Andy jokes he is general of the chicken army and that he often enjoys the latter role more.

Scientifically,  the year was awesome! We celebrated LIGO's first detection: first proof that black holes of tens of solar masses exist and that we can see see them through their gravitational wave emission! We can see waves in the fabric of spacetime AND the waves looked exactly as predicted by numerical relativity! Then there was the successful launch of the LISA pathfinder where the data defeated all expectations by about two orders of magnitude.

some of us this winter
our tree: to be replanted soon
I will always remember this year for the birth of James in November. Otherwise, on the human scale, it has been sad and strange: (1) the war in Syria was even more lethal than before, (2) many beloved celebrities passed away, (3) there was a new terrorist attack/mass shooting almost every week, and (4) America elected Donald Trump for president. This year brought uncertainty.  We watched the greatest country in the world elect a president known for contradicting himself many times a day, for being hateful and seemingly insane. This means there is something very wrong in the way our world is structured, in who we promote, and in what we deem important. We worry more about the future now and we are justified to worry. We should have the courage to rethink most of what we do and what we rely on.
Bending rules in school with Edward and David
after the first oral exam
logs in the forest
Edward started this year in kindergarten. He is now in second grade. David was in third grade in the beginning of 2016, and is now in 5th grade. Almost all children who come from abroad lose a year.  Few are luckier and stay in the same grade. Instead, we've been through many commissions and exams - both in Switzerland and Romania - and gained two years for Edward and one for David.

We still have a number of evaluations to go through. Many say I am wrong to push them forward. One common argument is that they are losing their childhood. I do not equate school with being a kid. I equate it with sitting down and doing what you are told for half a day in most parts of the year. If they can learn to bend rules early, perhaps they'll have more courage to try to change the system and shape the world when they are older.

part of Europe's first underwater museum
riding camels
I try to make up for encouraging them to take on challenges by allowing them to have pets, by taking vacations, and by not sending them to after school or other similar programs. They are mostly outside when they are home. They also do not own tablets or computers. We have never owned a TV. Edward (at 6) is interested in animals and in renovating the house. David will be 10 next month. He likes chopping wood, making fire and playing with electronics. They both still play with remote controlled toys: boats, cars,  drones, cameras and helicopters. 

First year unemployed
Before Romania: dreaming of chickens
This is the first year since 2001 in which I am officially unemployed. I was 18 when I started working full time. It was the summer of 2001.  I am 34 now. It would have been nice to have maternity leave, but the grant I was on did not come with such provisions and my contract was due to end the month before I had my son. While I was told I could have gotten an extension for a professor job elsewhere for continuity's sake, nobody offered me such an extension for maternity leave.

first day of kindergarten
in a castle in Lazarote
 I could have placed my baby in day care or with my mother (again) and gotten a job in industry. I decided against that. It was partly because I love James and I did not want to go through prolonged separations again. Also, after meeting with a number of evaluators through the Swiss school system, they decided that if I stay, they will keep Edward for another year in kindergarten. He was getting awfully bored there, and besides learning the language there was little benefit. He was not interested in the type of books they read or in their songs or discussions. Surprisingly, in Romania, they were open minded and agreed to place him in second grade for a trial period.  I could have also gone back to the US, but it would have meant leaving my parents behind yet again, and they need me now. So, we came back to Romania.

another castle
tree climbing
Does being unemployed make me feel free? do I have more time? No, I seem to have less time than before.  When I don't breast feed, do homework, change diapers, hold the baby, fix or pay people for fixing things around the house or try to keep track of what the children are doing, I sleep or eat and try to remember to drink water to have milk for the baby.  I feel as if I spend most of my time running in circles. I forget so much more than before and I don't notice everything I should. I also try to do some science from time to time. Overall, it's easier to be at work than to be a full-time mom, but at times the latter is much more rewarding.

Do I want to be unemployed?
Carrying a hen around
at the beach
I want to spend time with my children, and I am fortunate to be able to do so without worrying over money for food.  However, it would have been nice to have had some kind of maternity leave. I have bent rules before, but I've mostly managed to bend them to allow me to work more or for free. I understand it's meant to be this way in science and, in general, for immigrants. I did not have to be an immigrant. So, I came back "home".
 The first snow
pe malul Timisului
It snowed for Christmas, and Edward and David were so happy and excited. I could not find a particle of excitement in my soul. All I could think was that it will be dangerous to drive or even walk outside - especially for my parents. I remember a time when I was sitting at the same window many years ago. I loudly mentioned then how I could not understand people (e.g., my mother) who could not find joy in the first snow of the year. I was perhaps a year or two older than David is now. I finally understand her.

 in the Alps
with grandma in Lanzarote
My mother is still the person who makes everyone happy:  the animals, the children, the fire and my father. She is 70 this year. I wonder if I'll ever be able to do for my children as much as she's done for all of us. 

What next?
Edward's first chickens
I promise to try to be more sensitive to beauty and in particular to the beauty of my children's minds and souls. I remember when they don't do their homework or when they have not worked through extra problems. They never do it on their own. They also never clean their room unless I stay there watching. Even then it does not work well; our house is a mess. But, in spite of this, I will try to see more of the bigger picture as we do things together.
Edward - the pirate

David pointed out the other day that in 4 or 5 years he'll be gone. It might 7 instead of 4, but it will still be soon. Edward was telling me that he won't care what I do when he'll be 20 if I'll live till then. While they are talking of a future they can not yet imagine, I imagine there is some truth in what they say. Ideally, the plan is to make the best of our time together, and be kind to each other as much a possible while getting stuff done.

Edward w. missiles

Military museum: David in a tank
Last year we visited all museums we could find in Switzerland. Some we've seen multiple times. We've been to most of the Ort museums in the various parts of Zurich + neighboring areas. We've seen castles, caves, the military museum, the tram museum, the plane museum, the traffic museum and many others.

Edward, Pufi, Negruzi, Pestriti
This year we'll aim to focus more inward and towards our increased family with the many pets and properties we have accumulated.

T-rexes were just like chickens
Travel-wise, in February we are going to Tenerife - the biggest of the Canary Islands. It holds Spain's highest mountain, Mount Tiede. It will be James' first volcano, the 3rd volcano for Edward and David, and also our first active volcano. I have to make sure the animals will be happy while we are away and that the pipes won't freeze.

In 2016 we published "Made in Fire: You, Me and the Universe" and "A Child's First Book on Gravitational Waves". In 2017, we aim to finish two more books. One is already written and needs to be illustrated, and one still needs to be written. 

between armored vehicles
Then there are properties to manage: houses to fix, land to rent, land to sell. The big question I have is "will the EU will fail?", and if it does, how bad will things be for Romania, how deep will the depression be?, and will we still be safe.

bubble making w. Andy?
What else lies in the future?
a bike on tank?
Simulations of boson stars, of course, and some clock related research. Boson stars are made up of fundamental bosons, i.e., dark matter particles thatonly interact with themselves.  Dark matter particles could Bose condense into compact objects called boson stars. We could be living in a giant boson star, and we know that galaxies have haloes.  Stars might have haloes, too. The question is how to detect them. LIGO might see two colliding boson stars. They could also go through each other or repel each other depending on their angular momentum. Clocks might put some upper limits, but, at first sight, they don't seem accurate enough to get into interesting regimes.