Thursday, 21 May 2015

Got another paper through - revise and resubmit! Life, eh? This is the paper I was working on so earnestly this time last year - just to have something to do with my brain/somewhere to go (and it's the reason I got a Bodeleian membership). All those afternoons sitting in the Radcliffe Camera or Duke Humphrey's -because if you have to do work somewhere it may as well be gorgeous - revising this paper. At the time it was hugely important to salvage something from that postdoc. Then I moved on and didn't care as much, and NOW it's been accepted (the reviews were unusually positive, and although there is a metric crap-ton of revisions, upon reflection 99% of them are one person re-wording things. Silly but totally doable!)

This is the paper on attention/motivation and parenting. It's about the neurological and hormonal changes that happen to your brain when you have a kid. Of particular relevance to me at the moment since basically my entire Bangor crew is sprogging this year. Busy frantically crocheting tiny adorable cardigans for Jo's little guy/girl at the moment. After that it's Roxy and then Aonghus and Olga (sent Thandiwe's little girl a blanket a few months ago). Whew. (Jo isn't finding out the sex in advance. I said that to Olga and she said, "But you can always tell from the scan!" No, Olga, only those of you with a Ph.D. in embroyology can tell from the scan! We mere mortals are able to be in total ignorance.)

Anyway, hanging out with Jo as much as possible at the moment, since as much as I know she wants to keep going out after the baby is born, there are those neurobiological brain changes to contend with... so we'll see.

Bank holiday this week - we have a wedding, a trip to London and with any luck a visit to an allotment (Jo has inherited a plot, but she is in a delicate condition and I have squash seeds to plant, so am going to hopefully borrow it for  the next year or so). Still incredibly happy with the flat (even though the hot water has gone again) and working on a million projects. All good...

Friday, 1 May 2015

May Morning

Happy May Morning! Dragged myself out of bed at the crack of dawn and met Delphine down on Cowley for 5.45 to see the singing on Magdalen Bridge at 6am. It was lovely, we got a not-too-shove-y spot, and the light on the tower was just gorgeous. Then we pushed our way across the bridge into town (what is WITH people who try to get bikes across in that kind of crowd?!) and watched some bands and some Morris dancers and some people dressed as trees. Good fun. I made a nerdy May-morning green-and-flowery crocheted scarf and fit right in!  

By 7am we were freezing, so back up Cowley for a nice breakfast and in to work by 8am. Am feeling very virtuous somehow. 

I really like May morning, even though it’s not really that exciting necessarily. I like that it’s been going on for hundreds of years, I like the ancient songs, and the people-watching is beyond compare (combination of hippies and people wearing bits of tree, ordinary Oxfordians who brought their kids and students who stayed out all night drinking). 

The downside is, I think I might be stuck in work late today working on a guide we are doing for Public Health England (due yesterday) so could be a loooooong day…

On the plus side, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend and I get to see Mom & Dad on Sunday! They are stopping by briefly to collect some luggage on their way back through. Wish we had longer, but I imagine they are about ready to go home.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

So Del was saying to me the other day, "I am so happy with my life right now. Everything is great... This can't be right. Something terrible must be about to happen." And I have to admit I had the same feeling. What the heck, things NEVER work out this well. Also I have been working on my brain a lot (mostly perceptions, goals, strategies for managing The Anxiety, that sort of thing) and am not used to feeling quite so enlightened.

But don't worry, the universe has righted itself.

I was terrified about the surgery (because I always secretly think I'm going to die on the operating table) but actually it went really well. Super interesting to compare the New Haven/private Yale insurance experience with the NHS, because it was almost exactly the same surgery. For the Yale one, they had me come in for a full health checkup beforehand, and sent me a bunch of post including a giant '80s-illustrated book about What To Do Before Your Surgery. The NHS called me up about five seconds before and asked if I could fill in for someone who had dropped out. They did call me the day before and actually tell me which hospital and which ward, and also what time, so that was helpful... but yeah, not a lot of info.

On the day - the New Haven clinic was pretty posh, nice waiting room for Dad, glassed-in receptionist... I think they even had one of those pod coffee machines (not that I could eat or drink). They took me back to a private area and made me take a pregnancy test, then the incompetent nurse screwed it up and dumped my urine sample, and then I had to be stuck with an IV to give me 45 min of fluids before I could give another one. (NOT FUN).

The NHS - there were four beds, with all the patients just hanging out with whoever brought them in. Nurse was super, though. No preg test - they just asked if you were and left it at that. They let you write down what you wanted to eat after and brought the anesthesiologist, surgeon and about five med students around to say hi (and draw on my leg).

Then I had to wait around for quite a while. If I recall correctly, they put me under in New Haven in the same private area - but at the Nuffield I got to go for a ride all the way upstairs in my bed, pushed by an Australian porter*! So that was pretty cool. The surgeon asked if I was "Mrs or Miss" for my sick note, so I said "Doctor", and he sniffed and wrote Miss**. But the anesthesiologist was great, no messing around and she gave me some anti-emetics so I didn't feel sick after.

In New Haven, I woke up to a nurse shouting and me and sternly telling me I took a really long time to come around. Not so in Oxford, where it was much calmer, and the nurse was super helpful and went and brought me toast and tea and blackcurrant jam. The physio came by eventually and showed me how to crutch, and had me practice walking up and down stairs. Then she gave me a photocopied book of exercises and had me practice them. (New Haven: Six weeks free physio at a super posh gym, with dedicated physiotherapist and handouts and physio bands to take home). 

After a while Del came back, and eventually the surgeon came down to tell me what was up. Bad news though - there was a small additional tear as well as the fragments, AND he saw evidence of degenerative damage. This is what I feared, given the state of Mom's knees. He said he wouldn't advise running or anything involving pounding :( BUT! He did say it might be okay for short periods if I wear super padded shoes. We shall see. Clearly not going anywhere for a while at least.

Anyway, since then have basically been sitting on the couch. I've weaned off the worst of the meds and have been doing my little exercises, so now am able to mostly bend my leg. Crutches are much more awesome than the US ones, but still haven't braved the stairs. Considering working from home tomorrow since I feel kinda guilty (although the surgeon gave me a note for THREE WEEKS off so really, it should be fine).

Can't wait to be up and running again, though. So to speak.

* Heard about his potential weekend BBQ.

** Surgeons here go by "Mr" for some reason, so maybe he was jealous.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

more surgery

It's been a difficult week, medically speaking. Del could barely get out of bed on Monday (he works with a large number of those disease vectors known as parents) and was off Tuesday as well. They let him work from home on Wed so as not to re-spread the germs. I thought I had avoided it - felt a bit off on Monday but was fine the other days - but woke up exhausted and headachy and very ill today. Bah. I stayed home and hopefully will be fine tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my supervisor's wife has been very ill and he has barely been in the lab, and one of our collaborators has had to go home to Finland (?) as she's caught pneumonia.

Then today, while swooning on the couch feeling sorry for myself, the Nuffield Orthopaedic hospital called to say there'd been a cancellation, and could I come in for surgery on Saturday! Yikes! This is very similar to how they booked my MRI - the consultant said he put me on the list, then I suddenly got a call on a Saturday morning at 8am asking if I could come in for a 10am slot. Efficient but not big on notice, has been my NHS experience. I can only compare this to the American experience, which involved being sent a lot of letters about exactly what needed to be done, where to be, what to have on hand etc, and then given a full medical examination before they'd touch my knee. However, this is just an arthroscopic surgery to fish out a fragment (of cartilage, I assume) that either didn't get picked up in the first surgery or broke off later. So maybe it's less major. The doc thinks the fragment is causing my symptoms (knee locking up, soreness, knee feeling like it's twisting the wrong direction) so hopefully this will sort it all out once again.

Anyway, no idea what to expect but the receptionist says someone will call tomorrow and hopefully tell me what to expect. Luckily I now have a permanent Del, so no need to get anyone to fly out and take care of me!

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!