Monday, 26 January 2015

Fluency

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
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)

loo



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

Honeymoon!

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

Summertime

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!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

JOB!!!!!

Yeah, so the big news of the month is – I HAVE A JOB!!! In a nice bit of Oxford University, which is a height I never thought I’d scale. Mind you, it’s not a super academic one – strictly research support – but I’d rather be an a good place getting to know people than in a less good place where research output is just as uncertain but opportunities are probably decreased. My CV is quite hilarious, veering as it does between wildly different research areas and going from Guelph (which no one has heard of) straight to the Ivy League and then Oxbridge. Bizarre. 

Anyway, yes, first week is over and it has been horrifically exhausting, but great to have somewhere to be, a very exciting staff ID that gets me in places (free Bodleian access!!) and a potentially interesting set of projects to work on. It’s partly data analysis (they mostly do large-scale stuff scraped from GP offices and national statistics registries – no experiments) and partly translational work, developing resources around self-harm for parents, carers and clinicians. I really like the idea of writing something so useful. 

New lab group seems really great, although the PI is the most old-school person I have ever seen. I literally watched him stop a meeting, pull out a Dictaphone, and dictate an email to be transcribed later by his PA. “Dear John comma please find attached the following colon space one full stop a list of our recent publications full stop next line two”… it was amazing. Especially as later in the meeting we all crowded round my predecessor, who had come in to show me the ropes, and she typed an email there and then AND sent it – so we all know the technology exists! Ah well. It seems that a lot of my job will consist of things like printing off the Powerpoint slides for each talk he gives – in duplicate – so he can have a hard copy (?) and there is a separate copy filed at the lab with a paper index which must be added to and updated each time a new talk is given. 

Yeah. 

However, things looking up etc. Del’s case is more complicated. Now that all the papers are signed and the lawyers dismissed, I suppose I can say that he finds himself unemployed, not due to any issues with his work performance, and with a nice settlement to show for the latter fact. He’s having more trouble than usual (usual = about a week) getting a job now that we’re stuck in Oxford due to me (AND MY JOB!!!!) People in Germany and the Isle of Wight are champing at the bit to hire him, but we had a deal: first person to get a job wins the right to decide where we live. So that is that. 

We do, however, need to move soon. Shared living is doing my head in. Housemate who has been driving me mad is moving out this week (most recently: declaring we should have a celebratory garden party, then creating a huge mess in the kitchen, blocking the sink and disappearing for the four days prior to said party. Meanwhile, other housemates clean kitchen, unblock sink, clean house, tidy yard, scrub two BBQ grills, prepare food and drink etc for party. MIA housemate reappears five minutes before guests arrive to make one salad and scamper out to be the life of the party. Yeah.) So things will probably get better, and in fact it drives me less crazy now that I’m gone the majority of the day. I hated spending half a day cleaning since I felt compelled to, as Dr. Housewife, while housemate was ALSO home and spent time mostly coming along behind me and muddying freshly-washed floors. However, now Del is Mr. Househusband and it is his problem. He’s been very good – scrubbing showers and wiping counters and having my cup of tea and dinner ready upon return home. A girl could get used to this kind of thing. I actually think he could make a go of doing his own thing, but that will take time, networking and developing a couple of extra skills... guess we'll see!

Anyway, with one person working and both of us living cheap, all will be well. (Although I do have a one-year probationary period! bizarre).

Friday, 9 May 2014

Up and Down and Round and Round We Go

well. I was just sort of getting used to all the new things (new country, new unemployment, new spouse) when everything looks to be changing again, big-time. No idea how this will all pan out or where we'll end up - although I suppose that is nothing new really. On the plus side, this time I have a companion in uncertainty and a little bit of a nest egg set aside (!)

So yeah, it's been a rough week. I had a tough interview on Tuesday at Oxford. Two mini-talks and LOTS of tough questions. It went relatively well, but I found out after that I had a touch of a flu-like substance (stomach problems and fever). I had it on Sunday and Monday as well, but had chalked it up to nerves/anxiety about the interview. Anyway, it made answering the tough questions - even tougher. Still, they had me critique their grant and (by the looks on their faces) I DEFINITELY came up with a few points they hadn't thought of, even though I didn't have any substantial critiques - it was more adding/checking measures and more practical questions about actually running it.

Anyway. It's all about resilience, I guess. I think doing so much travelling and trying new things in the last fifteen years, although it is not a recipe for a settled life and money in the bank, has definitely given me the ability to take largish life changes more or less in stride.

I did, however, get my biometics and working papers back - and more importantly MY PASSPORT. Trip to Alberta has been booked May 17-June 4, with the end of that in Regina, because my friends are Westjetting me there so wasn't going to turn it down! Never been to Regina, so should be interesting. Looking forward to seeing everyone at Tim's wedding.

In other news, I have been busily planting an extensive container garden in the back of the house. There's quite a bit of yard available, including a patch that used to be a flower bed anyway (which now inconveniently has a cat buried in it so I would feel weird planting my veg there). Besides which, if we have to up and move I don't want to leave my garden! So the plan at the moment is to keep it more or less portable, except for one sunburst squash plant because those tend to go mad, and even if it grew well in a pot I don't think it would be very easy to move. I also planted a bunch of carrot troughs, and a herb Rubbermaid (working with what I've got available here!) plus a bunch of lettuce and rocket (arugula) and spinach for salads. I've improvised a mini-greenhouse with plastic sheeting I found in the shed and it all looks great so far.

Been continuing to help out at the churchyard and got some great photos at the beginning of April that I keep meaning to post. I really need to go back and take some more now that everything's starting to bloom. The butterfly garden (wildflowers etc) is starting to look really great. When I showed up a couple of weeks ago, one of the Ruths (for some reason most people involved with this project are called Ruth) cleared her throat in a very businesslike manner and barked, "Right! Everyone grab a spade: today we are digging up graves."

There was a long pause until I realised that we were only excavating the top layer, not the full six feet, as it were.

It appears as though there was a bit of a fad for putting a stone mini-fence around one's final resting place, circa 1898-1926 or so. There will usually be the gravestone proper on one end, with a small stone wall about three inches wide and maybe six inches tall around the remaining perimeter of the grave. Most of this time this wall is inscribed with the name of the dearly beloved and maybe a nice scripture verse (most faded by this point). Anyway, the point is that they look exactly like raised garden beds and function very well as such. As it's the centenary of the start of the First World War, the church committee decided to scrape the weeds out of a bunch of these that no longer have families around and plant poppies (both red and white). They got some cheap topsoil from somewhere and we have been busily scraping out, filling and planting these most macabre of raised beds.

Here are some photos of the blackbird in the toolshed (since gently convinced to move her nest up away from the rakes) and the churchyard from WAY back when:



 I love her cute little beady eyes and nest carefully constructed on tops of the rakes and brooms.


Didn't even have to use the zoom - she's cool with humans (the gardening type anyway) and let us get as close as we wanted. 


 Had more photos of my fave gravestones but must have deleted them before downloading. Whoops. But you get the idea...