Girlfriends Are Good For The Soul

March 6, 2013: A version of this post appeared on the CSWA’s Women in Astronomy blog page.

March 7, 2013: A few weeks ago, for almost 48 hours, I didn’t grade, read, or think (much) about department issues.  Crazy, huh?  The semester had just started and I should have been preparing new class lecture notes, finishing up projects from the past semester, or otherwise trying to “pre-organize” so that I don’t feel like I’m putting out proverbial fires every day over the next few months.  But that weekend? Forget it. That weekend was for me – and a few of my friends.

I felt guilty about it (for a little while) and then I got over it. Paperwork (especially grading!) can wait. I needed some “me time”, some fattening food, a glass (or two) of wine, and most importantly, I needed to re-establish ties with some of my oldest and dearest college friends.  So we met in Lake Geneva for a good old-fashioned girls weekend.  We talked, we shopped, we pedicured.

The girls (2013)

I knew this weekend would be good for me, but I didn’t really know why… until I talked to my sister (a health nut) and did a bit of reading.  As it turns out, social activity is one of the keys to staying healthy, leading to emotional and mental vitality; people who feel connected to others are more likely to thrive than those who are socially isolated.  AND, because you’re not focused on your work, these kinds of distractions can actually lead to more creative thinking and thus, greater productivity.  Who knew?  Maybe my next great idea is waiting for me in a ski lodge! Or, better yet, on a beach!  🙂

Since I was so close to Williams Bay, I also took some time to tour the Yerkes Observatory, something that’s been on my bucket list for a long long time.

The 40" refractor at Yerkes Observatory. That's me in front!

It was great to see this old telescope and remind myself why I love astronomy.  To think that this 60′ tube holding a 40″ piece of glass was the premier telescope at the end of the 19th century!  I was the last of the large group to leave, but as I looked at this giant telescope, I reflected on the people who have visited and used it and the things it probably saw.  Oh, if those walls could talk.  One day, I will have to return to look through the eyepiece myself.

My mind was pretty empty of campus politics and classroom lessons by Sunday, but I realized thoughts were quietly churning in the background. By the end of the weekend, I had revised a paper, written a pop quiz for my advanced astronomy students, and started the next set of lecture notes… all without sitting in front of a computer or picking up a pen.

What a great feeling to get out of my office and to leave my research and grading behind, at least for a little while. Thank you, Amy, Jennifer, Kristen, Rebecca, and Shiela, for a super weekend. I’m already looking forward to the next one!