Roses and thorns

Holy cow, it actually snowed in Cambridge.
Holy cow, it actually snowed in Cambridge. I took this before a morning run.

When I lived with a bunch of Nordic skiers in D House (just down the hill from the Green), we would occasionally cook house dinners. This was always pretty fun, and one thing that sticks out in my mind is that one ’14, Natalie, would ask people to talk about their “roses and thorns” (you may be familiar with this as “highs and lows,” or some other variant) for the day or week. Some of the guys usually made fun of her for it, but I thought it was a nice idea…so I’m shamelessly stealing it. It also happens to be a convenient way to give a very brief and somewhat asynchronous life update.

Roses for the last two weeks:

  • More time on the electromagnet than I was expecting, so I got a bit more done on my experiments than originally planned.
  • MCR/SCR Common Table (AKA free fancy dinner with some of the Fellows and some of the graduate students, and you get to hang out in the SCR afterwards), in which I finally had a lengthy conversation with Electra, one of my “college parents” and a really interesting person.
  • W2 made significant progress in terms of fitness and general rowing ability (at least, I think so). I thought our interval sessions in particular were pretty fun. People seem to have a good attitude about rowing (i.e. relatively cheerful through adversity), so that’s also a plus. We had the opportunity to compete in two races, Newnham Short Course on January 31st and Pembroke Regatta today.
  • We finally got our boatie kit! Which means I am the proud owner of a pink and black Lycra one-piece.
Trying on the onesie last night, getting psyched up for today’s race.


  • SNOW! At least in the early part of the period I’m writing about.
  • On the other side of things, it’s not so bloody cold out anymore when we’re rowing.
  • Fun house dinner with nearly everyone in attendance! We made burrito bowls and I contributed a vegan chocolate cake. (I also made granola and cooked some pretty good chili the next day.)
  • I gave a journal club presentation last Tuesday, so that’s out of the way, and my supervisor hadn’t seen the paper before I sent it around (which made me feel rather accomplished).
  • I discovered some new podcasts, which are very handy for long erg sessions.
  • I got to see the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra (CUJO) play with British singer Ian Shaw, and they were really excellent.
Ian Shaw at the mic, CUJO playing along. They're really good!
Ian Shaw at the mic, CUJO playing along (Churchill grad student and future Harvard physics student David Kolchmeyer is playing a saxophone solo in this photo!). They were really good.
To lighten the mood briefly, more snow! On the foot/bike path to the Cavendish.
To lighten the mood briefly, more snow! On the foot/bike path to the Cavendish.


  • Cold weather = cold me, and without the consolation of enough snow to ski on, I look forward to cold days less. (This is particularly true on cold, windy days on the river…)
  • Experiments are quite stressful, particularly when you feel like you have to keep prioritizing them over literally everything else in your life and end up with a massive backlog of work and emotional distress that you haven’t dealt with.
  • Scheduling things for W2 is really difficult sometimes…I had to cancel our outing on last Sunday because half the boat couldn’t make it.
  • We had a lot of problems in both our races (seats breaking, unreliable cox boxes, lots and lots of crabs) and didn’t do very well.
  • Long erg sessions are a bit grim. I can’t believe some people prefer stationary bikes and treadmills to actual bikes and running.

This next thing deserved to be first, but everything afterward would have seemed completely insignificant in comparison, and I didn’t want to go another week without giving any information about things happening in Cambridge. So, a big thorn:

My paternal grandmother (or “Grandma A.,” as we always used to say as kids…it helps that my mom’s last name is Burrows, so the other set of grandparents could be conveniently designated “Grandma and Grandpa B.”), passed away on February 3rd, after a fairly short and intense battle with cancer. I’ve mentioned her before mostly in connection with excellent sweets, but, of course, there was a lot more to her than that.

I’ve linked her obituary here, because I think she led a pretty interesting life. Some things it doesn’t say:

  • She was a voracious reader, avid solver of crosswords and word puzzles (which always seemed to me to go well with her background as a code clerk in World War II), and fan of mystery and detective stories and shows.
  • She pretty much never complained about anything, though she might share a commiserating look with you if you were both suffering from the same problem.
  • She was a remarkably intelligent, clear-headed, and savvy person, keeping charge of the family finances for many years and making
  • She distinguished herself in her education, earning Phi Beta Kappa status.
  • She had excellent taste in chocolate (that is, she thought dark chocolate was best) and usually got a twinkle in her eye when we suggested taking out the post-dinner chocolate bar.
  • She was immensely determined, keeping up her walking and weight-lifting routine after she started having to use a walker and even after becoming ill.
  • She was very easy to get along with and kept in good spirits through good times and bad.
Grandma awaiting the usual present-delivery-via-triplets ritual this last Christmas.

Until her cancer diagnosis, I pretty much thought she would keep ticking along forever. I’m immensely grateful for the periods I spent at home in Salt Lake City (she moved in with my parents in May 2013) the last two summers and around Christmas, since I got to spend a little more time with her than most people do with their grandparents. I don’t know that I’ve really processed all of this yet, so there will probably be a certain amount of apparently random crying at the electromagnet in the weeks and possibly months to come. The worst part so far, both during her illness and after her death, has been knowing that my family is suffering through stress and grief and not being able to do very much to help them. So for any of them reading this (hi Mom!), I’m sending you love. And postcards from Cambridge, when I find some new ones.

For readers of the blog who are a bit less closely connected to me, sorry for two rather depressing posts in a row and for skipping last week. I couldn’t face writing anything just then. Next week’s entry will hopefully include a thrilling account of Churchill W2 crushing our opponents in Friday’s Getting-On Race, the lowdown on tonight’s Spring Ball at Churchill (it’s what we have instead of the slightly more famous May Balls of say, Trinity and St. John’s), and a little more hope.


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