Our Balcony Garden

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We decided to try our hand at growing green things this year. Ideally we’d love to have a whole garden and grow things in the ground, but our apartment living has relegated our experiment to our balcony and pots. This is our second round of growth. The first round of basil, mint, and cilantro was wiped out my some kind of aphid infestation.

All of our plants have come from seeds. We have used a miniature plastic greenhouse to start growing the seeds which has worked great, although it might have led to the demise of our cilantro by making them grow too quickly and getting top-heavy. When the seedlings reached the miniature greenhouse lid, we planted them in real pots and left them outside.

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This second round of plants consists of basil (in the two small rectangular planters), purple tomatillos (in the large rectangular planters), and tomatoes (in the large pots). Hopefully the basil will grow big and strong and we can make some yummy pesto and the purple tomatillos sounded like they would make an excellent and visually stimulating salsa. The tomatos were given to us as seeds of two different types already planted in small pots. Of course we now have no idea which type is which because the cat knocked the pots, soil and seeds off the table before they could make it to the balcony. We were still hopeful and pushed the soil back into the pots and put them outside. Despite their rough beginnings they have grown big and strong!

Oh yeah… and our little aloe plant is as happy as can be, even if we do forget to water it!

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The World of Nations Celebration

Last weekend Asa and I and Asa’s mom, Merrill, went to the World of Nations Celebration here in Jacksonville. The festival has been in existence for a good 20 years and is a great place to go and experience some 30 different international cultures. Each country was set up in their own tent where they displayed crafts and doo-dads for sale, sold authentic (for the most part) food, and stamped passport documents given to each visitor. A main stage central to all the countries exhibited entertainment and ceremonies from each country and local stages had live bands or dancing.

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Each year the World of Nations Celebration is open on thursday and friday for elementary and middle school students to come learn about different cultures. Asa fondly remembers going to the celebration when he was a little tyke.

We had a great time wandering around, sampling local cuisine, and people watching. We even got to sample some empanadas from Colombia which were very different from the ones we had in Uruguay.

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Some fun facts we learned:

– The Ethiopian calendar follows the Julian calendar which has 12 months of thirty days each and a 13th month of 5 days. The calendar is 7 years and 8 months behind the Western calendar.

– The Taj Mahal only took 17 years to build with workmen working every single day.

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– Nollywood is what Nigeria’s booming film industry is called.

– The South Korean flag has a representation of yin and yang surrounded by depictions of the four elements: heaven, earth, fire and water.

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– Angel Falls in Venezuela is 19 times the height of Niagara Falls.

The Top 5 Woes of Academic Job Searching

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Although I have a job now, the path to getting a job wasn’t paved with rubies or any other precious stone. I imagine many other job seekers went through trials and tribulations similar to what I experienced over the last year. So here are a couple of my top observations while applying for and finding a job.

1. There are actually a lot of jobs available. The biggest advice I got while job hunting was “it’s a numbers game. Just keep applying”, so you might think that having a lot of options would be great. It’s only great until you get rejected from all of them… then it’s not so great.

2. The job market is saturated with overqualified job seekers. It seems like in my field (i.e., recent PhD graduate in the sciences) there are an awful lot of people that are super qualified for the jobs that are available. I’m not referring to the good student that got out of graduate school with a paper or two and some really awesome connections (that’s me). I am referring to the people that had NSF pre-doctoral fellowships during grad school, finished grad school having 4 or 5 papers in the journals Science or Nature, have now completed a post-doc in a high performing lab with the top brain in their discipline, and have a half million grant to do cutting edge research in their future job. Now its great that super qualified candidates are getting jobs at universities, but how overqualified does one really have to be just to get a job teaching at a small liberal arts college? Pretty damn over-qualified apparently.

3. Communication from potential employers is almost nonexistent. Now that most job applications are submitted online or via email, it is a rarity that job seekers ever hear back from potential employers. Some applications I filled out didn’t even have a contact email or phone number for a representative that knew about the job. I guess the motto is “apply blindly and ask questions later”. Don’t get me wrong… It’s tough to hear back from a potential employer that your application was great but they found someone else. But when you start to tally up rejections and take bets on when someone will finally email you with news, it would be nice to hear something, anything.

4. Employers have not changed their application process to accomodate such large numbers of applicants. Although the job applying process has moved to the realm of the internet, a few aspects make it tough for both job seekers and potential employers. For job seekers, I found any application that requested actual recommendation letters instead of contact information for references particularly annoying. I think I asked my references to send upwards of 40 recommendation letters on my behalf. All that work of sending and then reviewing recommendation letters just isn’t necessary, especially when potential employers have so many applicants to sort through. I would suggest sorting through based on resumes and other additional documentation (teaching and research statements) and then request letters if the applicant makes it past that stage. The additional documentation also bogs down the system. I understand that if the job is a teaching job, that a teaching statement or a sample course syllabus would be helpful in judging the applicants’ merits, but when there are more than 100 applicants, it takes forever. I am still hearing rejections from jobs I applied to in the fall (yep, 5 months later). Having rounds of sorting applications or having the job advertisement open for only a short period of time might curb these issues.

5. In the end, it still really does matter who you know. I have a friend who knows someone whose aunt works at …. sounds like some kind of scam, right? Not so! It’s the way to get a job. Employers would much rather hire someone that is known to a current employee or comes with a recommendation from a friend. This is in fact how I got my job at Westminster. Big thanks need to go out to the frisbee community and all it’s wonderful teachers for passing the word along that I am awesome!

Hopefully I won’t have to deal with these issues again any time soon, but for those of you that are dealing with them, hang in there!

Big News: We Are Headed Back to Atlanta!

For those of you that haven’t been privy to my weekly rantings about how horrible the job market is, how saturated the applicant pools are, and how tough it has been to keep my head on straight… I finally found a job. Not to worry, it only took a full year of looking.

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I will be employed by the Westminster Schools in Atlanta as a biology and environmental science teacher for the coming school year. I will be teaching four classes of 11th or 12 graders. The Westminster Schools are one of the top independent schools in the Atlanta area and boasts class sizes of ~15 students, state of the art athletic facilities, copious professional development opportunities for teachers, and unique learning environments (e.g., a greenhouse, organic garden, and a creek running through the property). One of the things I will be focusing on is trying to contribute a projects- and inquiry-based environment to my and other science classrooms based on my experience with those learning techniques at the college level. It will probably take a while to adjust to the high school setting, but I am very excited to become a part of the Westminster community.

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Asa and I are both very excited to be headed back to Atlanta come July. Asa will likely be playing with Chain Lightening again for the club ultimate season and I will hopefully be training for a half marathon with old running buddies. In the coming months we’ll be looking for a place to live in the Atlanta area; hopefully where we can stay a 1 car family. Although it still feels like we are in some kind of limbo, it’s nice to know that we have a place we need to be and a purpose for being there!

Stay tuned for a future post about some observations I made while job hunting.

Chamblin Bookmine

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When my friend came to visit a couple weeks ago, we also took a field trip to the Chamblin Bookmine. The Chamblin Bookmine is a new and used book store. It’s not necessarily the best place to find cheap books (all of their used books are half off the cover price), but if you are looking for an old or unique title, or 30 copies of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, you’ll be sure to find it at Chamblin. It is also a great place to “get lost” in books. There are nooks and crannies filled with titles including a closet without a door containing every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novel ever written. I found about 40 copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gastby in the classics section. They also have new books and books for every school list in the area displayed prominently near the registers.

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Chamblin also functions as a book exchange. They will accept used books in exchange for a small amount of store credit. They also have numerous rare books that can be viewed on their website.

Wandering through Chamblin reminded me of my first week on campus at UC Santa Barbara so long ago. I went to the campus library several times during my first week. I never went to do actual work (that came later in my college career). I went to “get lost” in the stacks. I found copies of the journal Science dating back to the early 1900’s just sitting there on the shelves, I found a reading room on the top floor with a view of the ocean, I found maps of strange places. It was an eye-opening experience that I could have so many books at my fingertips, and near limitless knowledge within my grasp. I got that same feeling at Chamblin, like I could pick up any title and it would make me smarter in some way.

I would definitely recommend a trip to the Chamblin Bookmine if you are in the Jacksonville area and like books. They definitely have something for everyone!

Jacksonville Zoo

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I had a friend come and visit a couple weeks ago and we took a trip to the Jacksonville Zoo. When I first got to Jacksonville, my mom and I went to the Zoo and were both pleasantly surprised about it’s size, the activity of the animals, the set up, and the quality of the enclosures. They also have a great collection and diversity of animals. The next time I went with Asa and the rest of my family when they were here for the holidays. I picked up a yearly pass with a +1 visitor who can be anyone. It is a pretty fantastic deal.

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Anyway, my friend and I wandered over to the zoo during the only non-rainy part of the weekend. The animals, as always, were happy and active (except for those warthogs, they are always asleep). We high-tailed it out of there when it started to rain, but not before I got some good pictures of the animals.

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Worlds Tryout Wrap-Up

I wrote a bit about Asa’s tryout for Team USA over on our fitness page. Check it out if you’re interested in how he felt about the tryout and want to read a couple great articles from USA Ultimate about the tryout process on the East Coast and meet the final Team. You can find the post over at fitness.halupi.us or just click on the Fitness link at the top of the page.