Movin on Up

After a year of neglect, I had decided to return to sporadic blogging. The past 10 months have been pretty crazy for me. Last fall my PhD advisor and I decided I could probably finish this summer (I had been planning on taking another year). The result of this decision was 4 months of an intense job application process, which including flying all over the country for interviews. I also was teaching a course and had to actually finish my dissertation. So I didn’t do much housework this year. But, I got all my work done and can officially say that I have a PhD in Biostatistics AND a new job!

After all the dust settled, Neil and I decided to move to Raleigh, NC so I could become an assistant professor at North Carolina State University. I just can’t get myself to live outside of states that border Tennessee (I have lived in KY, GA, & now NC) – I need to be within driving distance of Pal’s, of course. Raleigh seemed like a good location for many non-Pal’s related reasons and I am excited about the department I am joining. It is one of the oldest and most well-known statistics departments in the country and I am delighted to become a part of it.

We are very excited about our new adventure and very devastated to leave Atlanta. Atlanta has been Neil’s home since he was 9 and my home for 9 years so we’ve got some serious roots there. The things I am missing from the most Atlanta are: friends & family, the airport (I recently had a domestic flight with a layover. A LAYOVER. I may as well have taken a handcart.), Publix, and our ward in Atlanta. Our ward in Raleigh seems nice (post on all things NC coming soon!), but our ward in Atlanta was so unique. It was a high-need ward with a lot of temporal challenges, but also was the most culturally diverse and universally accepting of any ward I’ve attended. I feel blessed we could be a part of it for a short time.

While in Atlanta, we attended the synagogue Neil grew up in for the Jewish holidays and occasional Shabbat services. It was really nice to have a Jewish spiritual home where we had some friends (okay, Neil’s parents’ friends, but they were always so kind to us). We are still trying to figure out how to find that Jewish home in Raleigh. There are only 2 Reform synagogues in the area so we will have to check them out and see which one we like the most. Any tips on synagogue shopping from my Jewish friends?

Movin on Up

Summer: Part 2 (Boston and Beyond)


The week after I finished my proposal presentation I flew up to Boston to visit my little brother and his wife. Boston is near New Hampshire and Maine so I drove up to see them. One of my life goals is to visit all 50 states – NH and ME were numbers 41 & 42 (States I have left: Vermont, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Alaska, and Hawaii).

In Maine I visited a historic coastal fort (Fort McClary). It was originally built during the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War granite blocks were brought in to reinforce the coastal line, but the war ended before they were all placed so they are just strew around the grounds. It was a rather strange looking fort, but was in a very picturesque location. After leaving the fort, I explored Portsmouth, NH for a few hours. It has a cute historic downtown with houses dating back to the 1600s. The woman at the visitors bureau gave me a map and told me about a short street that had just been turned into a pedestrian lane to commemorate the slaves who lived in NH.  Apparently slaves were buried there in the 1700s and their remains were discovered in 2003 during road work. The city created a nice park designed by an artist from Georgia with statues representing the graves. My favorite part was the headstone at the beginning of the park that had a husband on one side and a wife on the other. They are almost touching hands on the side, but cannot quite reach each other. It is a powerful reminder of the way families were torn apart by slavery.

The view from the fort in Maine and the African Burying Ground in New Hampshire

The next day I explored Boston on my own. I started with a stroll through the Boston Common. My favorite part of the Common was the Make Way for Ducklings statue. I loved that book as a child (and still do) and enjoyed seeing the locations I had pictured in my head as a child. My second favorite part was the sunscreen dispensers they had around the Frog Pond, a shallow wading pool containing tons of splashing kids. Free sunscreen = public health in action!

The lagoon with a swan boat, the duck statue, George Washington, sunscreen, and the Frog Pond

I left the Common and walked the main stretch of the Freedom Trail, a pathway that takes you through the historic sites of Boston. It was a great way to see the highlights of Boston and appreciate just how much early American history happened there. One of the things I really liked about Boston was how successfully the city has preserved their historic buildings. I also enjoyed how easily walkable the downtown area was.

Freedom Trail
The building where the Boston tea party was planned, the old British government house where the Declaration of Independence was first read to the Bostonians, and the Old North Church (where Paul Revere looked to see the lantern signals about the British army)

As I wandered the trail, I noticed a linear Holocaust memorial in a small park. I have to confess, at first I internally rolled my eyes because it seems like every city has a Holocaust memorial. The Holocaust was undoubtedly horrific, but sometimes I feel like people memorialize the Holocaust as if it was the only genocide to ever occur. However, this memorial was really well designed and I ended up truly appreciating it. There were a series of glass towers, each symbolizing a different concentration camp. The walls were covered in the numbers used to identify the prisoners and the floor of each tower was an air grate that blew up warm air (reminiscent of the gas chambers). The walkway between the towers had various facts and quotes about Jews’ experiences during WWII. My favorite part was that the wall reading “Holocaust” had a container attached to it holding small stones to place on top of the wall. It is Jewish tradition to place stones on the graves rather than flowers as stones indicate a permanent remembrance of the deceased. I thought it was really powerful to provide stones at the memorial and, of course, left one on the wall. The attention to detail at the memorial was magnificent and I found its simplicity quite moving.

The excellent Holocaust memorial

While I was in Boston I also managed to see the US Women’s National soccer team defeat Germany in a big public square, visited the JFK presidential library (fabulous), hiked along a river, and trekked out to Kimball Farm for ice cream (it was worth the trip). Once the rest of my family arrived we headed out to Cape Cod for a beach week.

We stayed near Woods Hole, which is home to a large marine science research community. In fact, my uncle is a marine ecologist at Woods Hole. We were at the Cape for a big family reunion with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins and we had a great time exploring the area. There are lots of cool ocean-y things to see and do around Woods Hole. One day we visited the free NOAA Woods Hole Aquarium. My favorite part was the harbor seals swimming around outside. They were so fat and cute!

Siblings and a niece looking at fish

Another day we went to the NOAA Ocean Science Exhibit Center, where the highlight was a real submersible used to study marine life in the deep ocean (or “the midnight zone” of the ocean, as my nieces called it). This submersible was used to study life around hydrothermal vents and the girls (aka “The Captain” and “Mission Control”) played in it for about 30 minutes. We literally had to pick them up and carry them away. While we were still “diving” to the midnight zone, The Captain also lost her first tooth. The excitement of loosing a tooth in a submersible was so great that at one point she asked, “Am I dreaming? Is this real life?!” It was that exciting.

Mission Control makes sure all the lights are on while The Captain adjusts a dial. Mommy and Uncle Neil are just passengers.

We also had two beach days. Cape Cod was lovely, but I’ll take a Southern beach over a New England beach any day. We sadly did not see any sharks.

The beach was 75% sand and 25% rocks/shells. Ouch.

New England lighthouses, however, are superior to those in the South.

This lighthouse was closed, but still pretty

We also visited an old estate called Highfield Hall that had beautiful gardens. They have an exhibit this summer where local artists made a series of 30-something fairy houses that are scattered throughout the gardens. The fairy houses were seriously amazing – lot of small houses with tiny little details. There were many styles and sizes, but they were all impressive. One of my favorite’s was the tooth fairy’s house that has paper mache teeth hanging in the tree above it. There was also a library, a post office, and a beach house that I liked.

Neil’s favorite house was the fairy lighthouse.

This girl had my phone in the fairy garden. She mostly took detail shots of the houses (a tiny pair of shoes, a lot of small ladder photos for some reason). We stumbled across an art installation of thin mirrors in the woods and I found this selfie the next day.

A six year old selfie

One evening we went on a short walk to The Knob. The nieces promptly ran down the steep stone embankment because some adults did it so why can’t they also climb the boulders out in the ocean? They lived and it was very pretty. 

Our family reunion took place at a restaurant on the pier. It was so fun to see all of my cousins again! It had been many years since I had seen some of them. And some of their kids are so grown up! We had a great time that night.

Pretty good picture considering a 6 year old took it

On our last day at the Cape, we took the ferry over to Martha’s Vineyard. It was gorgeous and we all loved it. I hope we get to go back someday. We walked around two towns, ate lunch, enjoyed the views, and even did a little shopping.

Caitlin pretends to be demure for a picture

Neil and I had one last day in Boston together before heading home. We met up with a college friend for lunch and then rested in the afternoon. For dinner we headed to the North End for Italian with Nathan, Kathryn, and Kirsten. It was delicious. We walked off dinner by wandering around for a while trying to find an art installation Kirsten wanted to see. I felt like it was worth the walk. The artist, Janet Echelman, is a textile artist who creates these large installations in various cities. The color of the threads changed every few minutes and were lit up so I’m glad we went at night. I like how the piece contains so much symbolism of Boston.


Two weeks in Massachusetts was not enough! Next time I go to Boston I want to see the art museums, catch a Red Sox game, and take a harbour cruise. Let us know if you have any Boston suggestions!

Summer: Part 2 (Boston and Beyond)

Summer, part 1

Neil and I are having a much more relaxed summer this year than last year. Last year I had my final round of qualifying exams, moved into our house, spent almost a month in the West on various work trips, and was in the last throes of wedding planning. This summer we have mostly just enjoyed various family vacations.

Our summer kicked off over Memorial Day weekend with a trip up to the Washington DC area to see my older sister’s family. They recently moved to the Virginia side so we had fun seeing their new house and town. They live in Leesburg, which is a cute historic town west of DC. We spent most of the weekend just hanging out and swimming at the neighborhood pool. On Memorial Day we went to downtown Leesburg and saw a bunch of people dressed up as soldiers from all the wars Leesburg citizens participated in (starting with the Revolutionary War). One of our nieces was like, “How are they still alive?! How old are they?!!” until we told her they were just actors.

We also went into DC for one day because Neil had only been there once before! We parked by the tidal basin and started with the Jefferson memorial. Our niece had my camera there so I only have selfies of her to show for it. From there, we walked to the FDR memorial, which is one of my favorites. It is spread out with lots of water features (which Caitlin promptly got her shoes wet in) and shade so it is a little cooler. And it is the only memorial that has any recognition of the wife (bc Eleanor was the 1st US ambassador to the UN). It is also designed to be accessible for people with many different disabilities – it is flat for wheelchairs, there are relief carvings for blind people, etc. Just around the corner from FDR is the MLK memorial, which is also really lovely. My favorite part are his quotes on the wall around the side of it. We finished off our downtown DC tour with a quick trip to the Lincoln memorial, which was ridiculously crowded thanks to a massive motorcycle rally that was in town.


We had so much fun with my sister’s family that DC moved up significantly on our “places we might live someday” list. Our brother-in-law is actively campaigning for Neil to live closer to him so they can nerd-out together more often.

I spent the next two months preparing for my dissertation proposal. The proposal is the last big step before the dissertation defense in my program. It was essentially an hour-long presentation on my where I am in my research and how I plan to finish it followed by an open question time where the faculty can ask you anything they want. So it is a bit like an oral exam and was pretty stressful at the time. I am very glad it is over! I really like my dissertation project – I am creating a statistical method to improve climate model predictions and then using those methods to predict the health effects of future climate change. Although my PhD will be in biostatistics, my dissertation pulls in epidemiology and environmental health methods so hopefully I’ll come out a little more well rounded in the end.

We followed up my stressful work months with two trips to the beach: one to Cape Cod and one to Hilton Head. Those will be in the next post!

Summer, part 1


Happy Passover and Easter, everyone! Passover and Easter are usually around the same time in early spring, but this year they fell on the same weekend. Every year Neil and I attend a Passover Seder with his parents. It is hosted by friends of his parents from synagogue and is a large family affair. They set up long tables on their sun porch and we all crowd in together for an evening of reflection and tons of food.

The hosts always make their Seder really nice. They are so kind.

Our Seder began at sundown on the first night of Passover. The first thing you do at a Seder is review the Seder plate. The Seder plate contains all the symbolic foods that go along with the Seder. For me, the most important thing on the Seder plate is the zeroa – this is a lamb shank bone that is symbolic of the Paschal lamb offered as sacrifice at the first Passover. Torah scholars will remember that the blood of the Paschal lamb was spread over the doorways of the Jews so the curse that killed the firstborn sons of the Egyptians passed over those homes. Mormons believe the idea of the innocent lamb’s blood protecting the Jews is a symbol of how Christ’s sacrifice allows all of mankind to be saved. Obviously, this interpretation did not come up at our Seder, but I enjoyed comparing and contrasting the Jewish Passover and the Christian extensions in my head throughout the evening.


labled Seder plate
The Seder plate

The other parts of the Seder plate include an egg, which represents spring and the festival sacrifices made anciently. Maror (horseradish) is the “bitter herb” and symbolizes the bitterness of slavery. Karpas is a green vegetable (traditionally parsley, although we use celery too) that represents the initially flourishing of the Israelites in Egypt. During the Seder, the karpas is dipped in salt water and eaten to remind us of the tears the Jewish slaves shed because of their oppression. Haroset is the only thing on the Seder plate that tastes good. It is a mixture of apples, walnuts, wine, and spices that symbolizes the mortar Jews used to construct buildings for the Egyptians. Finally, the harezet is another bitter herb. In my opinion it is only added to the plate for symmetry and so that the Star of David can be incorporated the Seder plate.

After reviewing the plate, we read aloud from the Haggadah, the Jewish text that tells the Passover story. It begins with the Kaddish, a special Hebrew prayer marking the holiness of the day. Then we get to eat the karpas (the salty parsley). Honestly, I find this part of the Seder hilariously over-dramatic (Neil would like to point out that Mormons cry every Sunday so we are in no position to accuse others of being overly dramatic.) After breaking a piece of matzah (large Passover crackers that symbolize how the Jews left so quickly their bread did not have time to rise), we tell the story of the first Passover (see Exodus 12). This is done by each person reading a paragraph as we go around the table. This portion also includes a child asking the Four Questions about why Passover is special night (there is also a song about this in Hebrew). We then eat a small amount of the maror, but most people prefer to mix it with the haroset on a piece of matzah. The Haggadah portion (at our Seder) ends with the singing of Dayenu, a song about all the blessings God gave the Israelites.

Throughout the Seder there a few times when you drink wine. This was my Mormon friendly substitute.

Following the Haggadah, we eat the traditional Passover foods. We start off with boiled eggs and gefilte fish. I learned after my first Seder not to eat these because there are way more delicious things to eat. Also, gefilte fish is a ball of cold fish and I just can’t eat that. But then, the matzo ball soup arrives and I am all about that. It is delicious.

Gefilte fish

The Seder ends with a huge potluck meal. Yes, after all that traditional food courses there is an entire meal. The one we attend features brisket, salmon, potatoes, and a variety of salads and vegetable dishes. The highlight for me (of course) is the dessert spread. Neil’s mother always make really tasty desserts including almond horns, apricot tarts, & mandel bread. Other guests bring swiss rolls, matzah brei (my favorite), flourless chocolate tortes, etc. It is like an even-better Thanksgiving meal.

So that is Passover. It is probably my favorite Jewish holiday because I can relate to the religious parts and it features the largest amount of delicious food. If you can score an invitation to a Seder, I highly recommend it!


Valentine’s Day


I have always loved Valentine’s Day. When I was a child it was all about candy and getting cards from my classmates. As an adult it is still mostly about candy for me, but I also enjoy having a day set aside to make me think about all the people I love. Sometimes I have it together enough to give people cards, but not this year.

Since Valentine’s Day was on a Saturday this year, Neil and I planned to spending the entire day together. Our game plan was going out to brunch, going on a hike or to the movies (or both!), and making a fancy dinner together.

He thought he was so hilarious in this shirt. Unfortunately, so did a lot of other people.

We were off to a good start on Friday evening. I came home from work early and made Neil a heart-shaped olive oil cake and he arrived home with a beautiful bouquet of pink tulips. The next morning I slept as late as I could and then decided to work on my Young Women’s lesson. Neil continued snoring away in our bedroom and by 11am I knew brunch was not going to happen so I made us some tea.

Now, Neil’s tea is the most ridiculously complicated process in the world. He uses two kettles – one for water and one that sits on on top of it with loose tea leaves in it to “toast the tea.” Once tea is steeped he adds fresh squeezed lemon juice, a TON of honey, and cinnamon. It takes him longer to make tea than it takes me to make and eat my breakfast. I tried to replicate his process while he slept up with mild success. So we ended up having tea and cake in bed rather than going out, but it was still a nice, relaxed morning.

Breakfast in bed with my grandparent’s breakfast tray

After romantic runs to Target (for candy!) and Costco we headed out to Arabia Mountain to go hiking. Rather than doing the traditional hike up the rock we went on the side trails around the base of the mountain in the forest. It was really pretty and no one else was around. We want to go back when it is warmer!

Neil searches for salamanders
The little river we hiked along for a while

We finished up our date by attempting to make homemade gnocchi. Neil’s brother and his wife gave us The Newlywed Cookbook as a wedding present and we had picked the gnocchi recipe from the “Date Night” section. It was fun to make, even though it took a while. The recipe made a ton and it honestly didn’t seem that different from little mashed potato bites. Next time I want to halve the recipe, make smaller pieces, and try frying them. The tarragon sauce that went with the gnocchi was delicious though!

Little gnocchi bites
Valentine’s Day

The Calling of Cthulhu

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons

So, this post has nothing to do with Cthulhu. I just wanted to make a Lovecraft reference with the post’s title.


Shortly after we were married back in October, Brooke and I officially transferred into our area’s Ward. Following our transfer, I heard that I would receive a calling in the church. For those who don’t know, a “calling” is effectively a volunteer position where you can help out the church and its members. Some examples of callings include nigh everything from ward clerks and librarians up to the Bishop (spiritual leader and head of that ward, for my non-LDS friends). You can choose to turn down a calling, but it’s not very common.

I was told that my calling would be Assistant Cub Scout Leader.

Initially I was hesitant about the idea of being a Scout Leader, assistant or otherwise. My experience in the Scouts wasn’t that great. Did I really want to give up some of my time when Brooke and I were just beginning our lives together? Was I really the most qualified candidate for this position? And on and on.

About a week from the time I first got word of it, Brooke and I were at church and I was called into Jason, one of the Bishop’s Assistants’ office so he could talk to me “about something”. Jason is a nice guy, but he’s only talked with me briefly once or twice. He invites me into his office. I sit down in the chair in-front of his desk. Because I’m a non-member, he starts going through the motions of explaining to me what a calling is and how it applies to the Ward.

After about a minute of it, I say, “Do you want me to be the Assistant Scout Leader?”
“Ah! You’re just gonna cut right to it.”
“Yeah, I don’t like to “beat-around-the-bush” much. Can you give me the specifics of what being an Assistant Scout Leader” entails?”
“Honestly, not right now. I’m kinda waiting on the details myself.”
“Fair enough. When you get them, forward the info to me and I’ll talk it over with my wife. Then I’ll make a decision.”

Next Sunday, after church, he introduces me to Scott, the head Scout Master, who gives me the breakdown of what bring an Assistant Scout Master means. Namely, working with one Wolf Scout (to start) once a week on Wednesday nights for a little more than an hour. This meant that when there are group activities (Webelo, Bear, Wolf, etc.), I would help supervise and run the activities, and other times I would have to generate and run my activities relevant (ideally) to the Wolf Scouts’ achievements from the Scout Handbook. For bigger activities (Pinewood Derby, camp-outs, etc.), I would have to put in some time on the weekends.

Seemed pretty easy, and fortunately for me, my brother-in-law Robert is a Scout Leader at his ward. He emailed me a year’s worth of resources in the way of Scout activates, assuring that I would always have something to do with my Wolf Scouts.

Brooke and I talked it over, and I decided to “go for it”.

The next Sunday, I told Jason and Scott that I would be the Ward’s new Assistant Scout Leader, and the next Wednesday I participated in my first Scout achievement activity, which was based around music and involved everyone sharing a portion of their favorite song with the group (I selected “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles, less because it’s my favorite song, and more because it’s a great song to share with a group of 8, 9, and 10-year old strangers).

Three months have passed since I first accepted my calling as an Assistant Scout Leader, and what started as a single Wolf Scout under my care has grown to a dynamic group of 5 and growing.
My experience has been almost entirely positive. I’ve successfully planned and implemented lessons for my Wolf Scouts, but also been creative enough to come up with activities on the fly when my ideas fail to keep their attention. And I’ve helped design and sand, weigh and paint cars for the Pinewood Derby.

Further, the boys really seem to like me, even when I’m yelling at them to stop running around the Church’s halls (Brooke noted that she could hear me from her classroom with the Young Women’s group).

Perhaps the most dually touching and strange experience happened when Chris, one of my Scouts, asked if I could take part in his Confirmation. Happy to oblige, I said “yes”, but as a non-member I couldn’t be a part of the Priesthood group that would form a circle around him and bless him. I talked to the Bishop in an effort to find a possible middle ground and he concluded that although I could not stand in the circle (I do not hold the Priesthood), I could hold the microphone while Chris’s grandfather said his Confirmation blessing.

At the start of Church that Sunday, as announcements were being made, Chris, several members of the Priesthood, and I were called up to the front of the Church. A circle was formed around him with Priesthood members putting their arms around each others’ shoulders and on Chris’s head. Gripping the microphone, I positioned my arm through the circle and just in-front of Chris’s grandfather’s head. As the blessing was about to begin, everyone lowered their heads and closed their eyes, and Chris’s grandfather began the blessing.

And kept going.

And going.

And still going.

My arm kept getting tired from holding the mic, and I found myself periodically opening one eye to make sure that my arm wasn’t shifting the mic too far away from Chris’s grandfather or inversely, about to stick it inside his mouth.

After what felt like 10 minutes, Chris’s grandfather concluded with an “Amen” that everyone recanted with unanimous agreement. Everyone went to back to their seats, announcements concluded, and the Church went on with the Sunday service. I conveyed my experience to Brooke, who assured me that it was an unusually long prayer.

The Calling of Cthulhu



We had a wonderful holiday season this year! We kicked off December with a small party with some close friends. I used to host a Christmas dinner every year but our house is too small and we have too many friends now. My first annual Christmas party had just four attendees! We ate cookies and latkes (and an amazing Italian jam tart), listened to Christmukkah music, and played dreidel. We dropped by Neil’s parents house on the first night of Hanukkah to light the candles. Since I don’t know the Hanukkah prayers I kinda just stood there, but I got seven nights of practice after that so maybe I’ll know them next year. We got a nice menorah on Black Friday so we were ready to go with Hanukkah at our own home as well. However, once we had our holiday decorations up there was clearly a large disparity in Christmas versus Hanukkah decorations so I made this dreidel banner to compensate. I am pretty proud of it – I did the Hebrew letters and everything!


We spent the last night of Hanukkah in Tennessee at my parents house. My little nieces were all about Hanukkah – mostly because the dreidel gelt was chocolate coins. All of my family came home for Christmas (minus my brother and his wife) so it was a full house. We had a fun and loud week with lots of family time.

Husbands and Kirsten’s boyfriend polluting the Hixson home with the worst game ever

Neil got his first true Christmas morning, which was a huge success. Before this year he thought that Christmas was “like a birthday” and did not realize that it is a million times better than one person’s birthday. When we took a present-opening intermission, he said, “Baby, I get it now!” and I think he actually did. The only weird part was when my mother gave us a giant nativity – I had forgotten to tell Neil I had asked for a nativity a while ago so he thought it was part of my mother’s ongoing campaign to get him to convert. But they hugged that out later.

Mikaela does Kirsten’s boyfriend’s hair with her new toy curling iron.

Per usual, my favorite part of the holiday was seeing my sisters and my cute nieces. They are getting so big! Luckily five year olds are still silly enough to say hilarious stuff – like an in depth conversation about marrying buildings and if such a marriage would lead to baby buildings or baby humans You can’t make this stuff up, y’all.

These crazy girls thought we wouldn’t be able to tell them apart if they wore matching outfits. They are fraternal.

Neil’s gift to Aelish was fun time with him. They are best friends and Aelish is pretty devoted to him. She let me tag along on part of their date, but I don’t think she was thrilled about it. They painted pottery, baked cookies, and watched a movie together. Neil knows how to treat a lady right.

Uncle Neil and Aelish paint pottery together

Being home for Christmas was so relaxing and fun it was hard to tear ourselves away. We ended up not getting home until 11pm the night before we had to be back at work. It was totally worth it and I am already looking forward to next year (one of the many benefits of having a Jewish husband is that I never have to share Christmas with his family. Yay!)

I love Kingsport!