Wednesday, 25 February 2015

trying to let it flow...

Sad week, as Auntie Barb has died. Makes me miss Grandma as well. Really need to sort out a card to send to Yellowknife, since I obviously can't attend the funeral...

In other news, my non-resolution is going pretty well. I have made some changes based on minimising annoyingness and things I have to force myself to do. First among these is the gym. Del got me a membership last year, but it's downtown, so an annoying bus ride both ways. It also involves collecting a large number of important things into a bag (lock, towel, shoes etc), all of which I will be annoyed if I forget. This wreaks havoc on my poor ADHD brain. Then when I get there, it's full of horrible grunty men who throw their weights on the floor. Takes a while to shower and change, so what with everything, if I leave at 7.30 I barely get back by bedtime.

So I thought about how to make this better, and the upshot is I stopped by SweatShop (yup, that's the name) a couple of weeks ago and got some nice spongy New Balance shoes. It was hilarious because they got me to run on a treadmill, in my dress and borrowed sneakers, to check my gait and running style (they film it). Anyway, ever since then I've been running every other night or so. I've got a 2.5 mile route (out to Hollow Way and back) that mostly goes on a bike path so I don't have to puff my way past too many other people. It goes right past a fox den, so I usually see Mr Fox and sometimes Mrs Fox as well. AND I saw a badger**! (pretty sure anyway). I haven't actually managed to run the whole thing, but I figure a run/walk combo is better than nothing, and then I stretch at the end. This is only possible due to Oxford's ridiculously warm/snow-free winters*. The only thing I am worried about is my knee, but had the MRI a couple of weeks ago and no word yet, and running doesn't seem to be hurting it, so am going with it.

The sewing project is going very slowly. I've got a muslin cut out of an old sheet, but am having an impossible time working out how to do the pleats. Thinking about giving in and taking a class - 100 quid, just down the road, 10 sessions April-July. However, will see if I can at least do the skirt by myself before then and maybe do a dress in the class.

 The annoyingness of mornings has been cut down somewhat - I finally got a chest of drawers! After the epic furniture hunt last year, I thought I should leave it for a while, and then every likely contender on Gumtree was snatched up before I got there for more than a month. I am pretty certain there is someone out there buying the cheap-but-made-of-actual-wood stuff, painting it Annie Sloan Gray or whatever the hell, and then selling it again on Gumtree for three times the price. Anyway. Finally got one, which unfortunately was 45 min away in Kingston Lisle, but Del kindly drove me last night. It belonged to an awesome old couple and the wife was so sweet and conversational - one gets the impression there aren't many people for her to talk to in Kingston Lisle. So yeah - no more underwear in boxes! Hoorah!

Everything else continues more or less as usual, but the longer days are making me much happier. Pretty sure the extra time outside isn't hurting either.

* and on the cold days, I luckily have a set of fingerless gloves Christine made me!

** apparently badgers and foxes sometimes share different ends of the same tunnels - although the badgers are much cleaner and even have their own latrine outside the den!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Ha, just read an awesome article that encapsulates what I'm trying to do here. Work WITH my off-kilter brain, instead of against it. And try to minimise stress/beating myself up. I love coming up with ideas and get a huge dopamine hit from idea generation, but then get annoyed at myself when I haven't finished most of my thousand new projects by the time I think I should. But really, better to wait until I'm feeling it (for anything that doesn't actually have a deadline attached) because everything flows so much better at that point. Otherwise, it's all anxiety, all the time.

Luckily for me, work is pretty conducive to that - in fact it's perfect for me. Big list of projects, just have to get them done as I can. I set my own milestones and my supervisor always seems pleasantly surprised when I turn up with something finished. Just submitted a commentary to the Lancet Psychiatry which it seems they will be happy to publish (!) which was entirely written by me with minor input from a million other authors...

But yeah, have to remember it's okay if some things sit on the back burner for a while - especially home/side projects - as long as the general momentum is in a forward direction.

Luckily Del is very helpful for anxiety-quelling purposes, so I think I'm doing better this year than usual.

Not much going on, really. Bit of a January/February hibernation. Super tiring week - went on a very useful course on Qualitative Research on Thurs and Fri, since I'm supposed to be writing a qualitative paper. Or rather, my supervisor thinks one, I am thinking at least five! He sort of panicked for the two days I was out of the office, though, so am thinking most of this week will be dedicated to catch-up and annoying admin.

Other than that, everyone has suddenly turned up pregnant (seemingly at least half my friends from my Masters), so have brought in a large supply of washable yarn, rolled up my sleeves and started on the baby gifts. Have some great ideas for fun things to make and thinking about the Etsy shop idea again, but maybe best to just wait and see how it goes. Also have a backlog of presents in progress (sorry Grandma!) but everything is moving along, although perhaps more slowly than I would like.

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of fleeing Yale and arriving in Oxford. In retrospect I really should have given myself more time. However, all worked out WAY better than I ever could have dreamed, so all's well and all that. Think Del and I are going to do a pilgrimage to Dover next weekend, as a joint anniversary trip/in memory of Auntie Barb sort of thing. She wanted "The White Cliffs of Dover" on the wedding playlist since she couldn't be there.

Monday, 26 January 2015


Okay, so January is almost over and I totally meant to write this down earlier. However, better late than never. 

It seems that there is a bit of a trend of picking a sort of theme word for the year in January. Kind of like a lazy person's New Years resolution, I suppose. So I thought I would try it - pick one word to aim for in 2015. 

I went with Fluency. In the cognitive literature, perceptual fluency refers to things that are easy for the brain to process, usually because they are familiar or something you've seen before. Items that have a high level of perceptual fluency are rated as more pleasant, probably because your brain has to work less hard to process them. (This is why seeing something over and over makes you like it more - it also works for pop songs, sadly - in something called the mere exposure effect. Merely being exposed to something multiple times increases how much you say you like it). 

Anyway, I would like to have more fluency in my life. To me, this means quitting things that are a huge struggle, even if I think I should do them. There's a line here, obviously - what I'm aiming for is flow (defined [on Wikipedia, I'm afraid] as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a  feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity ). Basically, activities should be just hard enough to be a challenge but not so hard they are frustrating. I think I spent my entire postdoc on the "frustrating" side of that line. This year, I want to learn new things but things that work with my natural leanings and skillset. Happily, so far qualitative research (unexpectedly!) seems to fit this template. (Writing a qualitative paper is like putting together a really interesting jigsaw puzzle). 

I also want to learn some new skills, but I want to figure out how to work with my natural inclinations to make it enjoyable. Crochet is like this for me, especially either challenging patterns or making up my own. Sort of hard at first, but eventually you become fluent and then it's fun. I also want to learn to make my own dresses (gonna start with a skirt, though!) This is going to be a HUGE challenge for me to do right. For one thing, the entire idea of doing the whole thing in muslin form first is anathema. SERIOUSLY?! The full amount of work for a fake version of what you're trying to make?! (This is also why I almost never do a gauge in crochet). I might try doing one muslin though - because although it is deeply annoying, it will make the actual skirt-making much more fluent. Presumably. 

So yeah. Stick with things (as much as possible) that work with my brain instead of against it. Learn some challenging things but try to set myself up for later fluency. Develop my skills so that I can more easily get into a flow state AND create cool things. And sort out my environment so that it is not always throwing up barriers to fluency (e.g., unable to find anything or tripping over stuff). We will see how it goes, but if all goes well it could be a fun year!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Bye, 2014. It's been interesting!

So, 2014, eh? Epic year… it seems to have lasted at least three years. This year I did a lot of things:

- quit my postdoc at Yale
- got a visa (with accompanying huge pile of paperwork)
- moved from America to Oxford
- got married
- hung around in a shared house, unemployed and writing random papers to keep myself busy
- went to a bunch of very unpleasant job interviews
- started a container garden
- volunteered to garden/clean up the churchyard at St Mary's & St John's
- attended Oxford May Day for the first time
- went to Tim and Courtney's wedding and visited Edmonton and Regina
- dealt with unexpected double unemployment while still being supported by Del when his job fell through
- got a job! in a totally different field - but hey, Oxford uni
- up close to Stonehenge for the solstice!
- watched Del totally rock HIS interview and get an awesome job, for which they started sending him on business trips about two seconds after hiring him
- went to Greece (first ever all-inclusive)
- took up Kendo
- moved out of shared house to awesome apartment - sight unseen, because Del picked it
- bought furniture!
- crocheted a garment that actually looks good
- learned how to make databases - super fun! - and started learning Stata
- wrote a bunch of guides for the general public about self-harm in young people, and started to learn qualitative research
- flying visit home for Christmas to see all my awesome Albertans

So yeah, busy year. BUSY. But all positive things - in pretty much every single area of my life, things are a million miles better than this time last year. Some of it is perhaps not exactly what I would have ideally picked, but everything's an opportunity, I guess. That said, I am totally exhausted. The whole thing has been a huge rollercoaster.

Last night was NYE, obviously - had a quiet one this year. Aonghus and Olga threw a dinner party for which we made both cheesecake and a cherry chocolate pud - just in case one didn't work. Luckily, they both did! Watched Jools Holland for the first time, so now I know what everyone is talking about. However, it really didn't help my jet lag - for some reason we both had horrific jet lag this time around, and we both stayed up till all hours (4am for me, no idea when Del went to bed - he slept on the couch so as not to disturb me) which probably won't help me get back on track.

Had a lovely time in Alberta for Christmas, though. We went to a trampolining party organized by Steph at a new trampoline park in Edmonton - great fun - attended Carol Feast, had dinner at the restaurant at the Art Gallery, went to hang out with Steve at Bohemia, saw Candy Cane Lane (first time!) and went to the last Von Hollen Light display. Unfortunately the trips both over and back were difficult - HATE Air Transat. I know I always say never again, but - NEVER AGAIN! We were super late on the way over, meaning we missed our Red Arrow up to Edm, AND they somehow managed to slice a set of holes in Del's luggage. So what with hanging out in the Calgary airport for an extra four hours, we were on the road for more than 24 hours. On the plus side, we got to watch a singing group learn a line dance to Jingle Bells! Only in Calgary.

I caught up with millions of people while in the province and finally saw Paul and Lana' s house (lovely!) Had a great time in Rock City as well - amazing Christmas with the fam as always. Sad to leave and deeply wishing we had booked a longer visit. Ah well... hopefully will see more of people in 2015!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Presenting: The Flat!

Man, I don't know how I lucked into this suddenly, but have managed to get a decent job at an excellent department (that pays money! not just postdoc pennies), in a gorgeous city that I love as well as a nice flat that is free of housemates and shared only with a lovely spouse. (Who does the dishes when asked). Gonna enjoy it while I got it, is all I have to say.

Snuck home during lunch to take a few pics of the flat - gets dark before I even get to poke my nose out otherwise. The buildings are kind of horrible and '70s on the outside, but the windows are huge so it's full of light. Also, we look out on forest on one side (the edge of a golf course, I believe) and a playing field belonging to one of the colleges on the other, so nothing but green as far as the eye can see. (The only downside is people playing football or cricket at stupid o'clock on Saturday mornings and shouting). It is SO NICE to have trees to look out at, and a bit of a view.

Main room - kitchen is off to left
View from kitchen

Door leads to hallway/bedrooms/loo

Bookshelf with steampunk art by Melissa!

The couch is in a sort of window alcove (with horrible curtains that came with the place)


Small bedroom, currently full of boxes still

Main bedroom

Every single bit of furniture had to be hauled up the tiny narrow staircase - we're on the 3rd (2nd UK) floor. Most of it we bought off Gumtree or Preloved (Craigslist equivalents), include our awesome purple couch/chairs. So excited to have some things made of wood, and not just endless IKEA MDF.

Anyway, there's a hidden futon in the small room, which will someday be a guest room - so guests welcome!

There is still lots (LOTS) to be done, but I feel like it finally feels like actual rooms people live in. Just have to decide how far to risk the deposit to get some things up on the walls!

Thursday, 18 September 2014


Just got back from our trip to Greece. Since what I did right after the wedding was go badgering around Cornwall with Mom, Dad and Jude, while Del went back to work - we decided it would be good to try and get away together at some point. Did not expect it to take this long. However, better eight months late than never.

Basically, we wanted to wait till I was working to cough up the money for a holiday, but then Del ended up unemployed, so we didn't feel like we should be spending extravagantly. Then he got his awesome new job (early reports suggest everyone thinks he is doing GREAT, no surprise) but they wanted him to start work within three days, and then immediately sent him to Rhode Island to a conference/giant meeting on Day 2 of the new job. In return for all that, they agreed to let him take off for a honeymoon within the first month or so of the new gig. 

But my job also involves a bunch of kind-of-important networking-type things that fall at annoying intervals. So as it happens, we managed to squeeze in a week between a work conference and the launch of our health-related website for holiday purposes. I was at the conference all day, got home around 6, went to bed around 10pm and got up at 2.30am to head to the airport.

We ended up just picking any old all-inclusive holiday package that flew on dates that worked for us, given the constraints. I didn't feel like I cared too much, as long as it was somewhere I hadn't been, with a beach and NO HOUSEMATES. So we ended up in Greece, near Olympia. Oh man, was it nice. Being September the weather was perfect for us (not too hot) and the beach was nice and the SEA! So warm and lovely and the most indescribable shades of turquoise shading to dark blue. We basically spent the week eating (all-inclusive!) and lying around reading on the beach while going for the occasional swim. Just what was needed.

Of course, being me I couldn't just have a relaxing holiday and started getting a sore throat towards the end of the conference the day before we left. Yep, giant illness, right in time for vacation. On the plus side there wasn't much to do but relax. On the minus side, the hotel room did NOT have a kettle and said they couldn't give us one, because they only had a few and all the other English people had taken them! So no Lemsip for me - had to suffer through un-drugged. It turned into some sort of wheezy chest-infection type thing (or maybe that was allergies) but has now downgraded itself to a sniffle/sneezing/blocked nose sort of thing.

We did one excursion, to Olympia of course. SO COOL. We debated paying the inflated tour company prices, but worth it in the end as the tour guide was amazing. Curvy Greek lady with long curly dark hair called Helen (or Eleni, it said on her badge) - throw a toga on her and she could have been watching the original Olympics and fit right in. Really glad we got to see one bit of culture, anyway - and re-learn the difference between Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pillars - and also see a bit of the non-resort countryside. We had a fair amount of time to poke around the site, which was great - but sadly barely any time in the museum to see the artifacts and statues. Slightly disappointing.

We also went parasailing!!! Had I thought of it earlier, this would have been a life goal of mine. Basically it was a big rainbow parachute attached to a rope which was attached to a speedboat - they hook you up to a harness, then you just sort of gently float up into the sky as the boat roars away. I LOVED it. It was incredibly quiet up there, and you could see for miles. Didn't feel scary at all. So two thumbs up to Del for thinking of that one.

Tomorrow we go to Cardiff to hang with Del's friend Naomi, who is also putting us up and has promised a small cocktail party tomorrow night. Del and Naomi (who is an amazing artist) are going to a graffiti workshop on Saturday (I will explore Cardiff, I guess) and we will come back Sunday. I am delighted with all this activity. It's been a bit stagnant lately - have not been that motivated with work since it seems I may struggle to get my own projects to work on, and we have both felt tired all the time and not been doing much outside of work. Also, we move to our flat (!!!!) October 15 so there has been lots of packing and moving things to storage ahead of the move. I am hoping things will move faster now, and maybe the inertia that generates will give me enough forward momentum to do something about the work situation*.

Anyway, we are both exhausted so off to bed soon, I think. Vacation is great but tiny crowded budget flights with no entertainment or food are not... happy enough to be home!

*(It's not SO bad, but I really need more to do)

Friday, 18 July 2014


Oh man, summer in the city. It is SO hot out. Well, it feels it anyway - it's only +30 but super hot, humid and sticky. Blah. Turns out the side of the "Suicide Wing" that my office is in doesn't have any air conditioning. A tiny fan stuck in the window is really not cutting it.

That said, it is a job I am very happy to have and it seems to be going well so far. I am still getting used to being in charge (!) - well, obviously my supervisor is in charge overall, but I have my little pile of things to do and no one else is poking their noses in so far. The new person has started - she is from Israel - and seems pretty good although keeps asking me what she should be doing, and I have no idea. But it is so nice to do something that people will actually use (mostly doing translational stuff at the moment) and to be able to do something and not have someone come along and change everything on me. Although I suppose there is still time.

In other very, very, very exciting news - we might have a flat! I have to say, Del being home is hugely helpful in terms of getting stuff done. He has taken charge of the house-hunt and despite the near-impossibility of finding something at a reasonable price in Oxford, he managed to get appointments to see two places. I could only come along to one (it was after work) and quite liked it - very near work, lovely big yard and cute little house. However, it was kind of cramped and dark.

Del took a video of the other one, which was a flat and didn't (obviously) have any outdoor space. He LOVED it and said it had huge windows and a great view. I'm a little nervous to move somewhere I haven't seen myself, but Del has good taste so should be all good. The huge pluses about the flat include a second bedroom (!) and a cheaper price. It's also super close to work but also closer to Cowley Road, giving good access to town on the bus. And hey - spare bedroom! I've always wanted one. Come visit us!!

So yeah, just doing the paperwork on the flat (I have no history of renting here and Del has no job, so possibly awkward) and then I guess we tell the housemates. Sadly, we can't move till October, but at least it means I have my garden for the summer. After that, I guess it's window boxes. Fingers deeply crossed it all works out.

Anyway, off to an impromptu BBQ... man my life has gotten so much better. Good riddance Guelph, don't miss ya New Haven!