Thursday, March 22, 2012

365: March 2012: New Life

Tomorrow is my Birthday. As well as making me 29 and this blog four years old, this birthday is my first as a married woman (wives get better presents right?) and my first living in America. It also means the start of my 365 project and I've decided my first task.

*drum roll*

For the remains of March my task will be to photograph (and appreciate without being miserable and homesick) my new life. My new HUSBAND, my new country, my new city, my new apartment, my new CAT, my new job, my new bike. I like the ones in capitals best of all, so they might get more photos than the others.

Here's a special bonus picture of Taco Belle being cute:

Taco belle

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring clean

In the midst of what was largely a pretty lazy weekend spent hanging out with a very very very good friend, I managed to give the blog a bit of a spring clean with the virtual paint brushes - hopefully the ether with appreciate the new look as much as me. It was time for a change and some fresher colours. The space was feeling a little dark.

Oh, and - this little lady turned up in our lives. We've adopted Taco Belle after she was found homeless and pregnant on the streets of Philly. She's raised her kittens and they've all moved on to new homes, so hopefully she's ready to start a new life of luxury in our house. She's managing to combine quiet contentment with slight anxiety at the moment, quite a skill. She seems very confident despite her nerves at being in a strange new place - consequently I fear she'll be a force to be reckoned with once she's really settled in.... watch this space!

Taco sleeps...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Knitting pattern: Siri

So... I mentioned I have a new iPhone, right? I'm a little obsessed with it...

Photo's courtesy of Dan
When we moved to America, part of piecing together our new American identities was getting hold of new phone numbers and new phones. Dan stated that the previous improvised phone cover I made him several years ago was peerless in it’s ability to cushion the device through life’s tumbles.

The original phone cover - that's not it's first phone, it's so old it's not even on Ravelry. Knit in one of those chunky Rowan yarns from a few years back - Chunky Print? something like that anyway...
Being a belligerent sort of person and hoping I’d learnt a few knitting-ninja skills in the intervening years, I set out to prove him wrong. I was stash-less in a new country, so after indulging in a yarn binge at my new local (Loop - which is FABULOUS) I set about designing a dense, cushy envelope of wool. The first element I wanted to use was stranded colour-work, as it offers extra insulating powers thanks to the layering of the yarns. The second element was some sort of rib to add another dimension of cushioning depth. Taken together, these two requirements naturally invoked the brioche stitch to me. I knit the cover up on smaller than recommended needles for a tight gauge. Now our new phones have super dense, cozy homes.



I decided to write this up and release it as my second free pattern on Ravelry - just because I put so much effort into getting the design right and I was chuffed with the results. The pattern is available to download here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Project 365

I mentioned briefly that I have a new phone - an iPhone to be precise - and as I've had to be self controlled for several years before having the means to get on the smart phone bandwagon, I'm now fully immersed. I am *trying* to be restrained and not download every app I can think of all at once, but it's truly amazing what this little gizmo can do. 

One creative project I've thought I'd like to do previously, but didn't really seem practical at the time, was some sort of photo 365 project. Now I'm obsessed with Instagram [a small selection of my recent photos litter this post] and taking pictures on my phone, it seems a bit more do-able. Having to cart around our lovely Canon SLR everyday was never really an option, just because it's kind of heavy and not practical for every situation. Also, there's no way I can find time to knit/craft everyday - but I'm sure I can take a photo of something. The act of doing something a little bit creative everyday will hopefully be a rewarding.

My 29th birthday is just over the horizon, and that seems like a good day to start a 365 project. To give myself some sort of focus and make the job a little easier I thought I might create some themes to pursue, in advance, on a weekly or monthly basis. To go into a whole year of images could be disastrous if I don't have something to focus on - equally I know I'll get bored if I have the same theme for a year. So now I have ten days to think of my first theme. I'm going to post the themes and the results here to try and keep me true to my word. If any one wants to join in, drop me a message!

Thursday, March 8, 2012


For a long time there wasn't any time to think about science. From about halfway through my PhD until I left that lab very recently, I felt like I was on a relentless treadmill. I'm not accusing my old lab of anything here. I was for the most part very happy there and I made a lot of very dear friends - it was more to do with my state of mind as anything else. Doing a PhD is hard, basically.

At the outset we were a new lab and we were collectively under a lot of pressure to perform quickly, my supervisor most of all. It could at times be a very stressful environment and  during a PhD you reach that point where you have to carry on no matter what because otherwise you've just wasted three years of your life. Then, somehow, we became a big lab. It no longer felt like my job was to do experiments. It felt like my job was clearing up after everybody, trying to get people to order things, getting frustrated by the trails of destruction in every room I tried to work in. Being the oldest 'in lab years' as my fellow lab mates liked to say, seemed to mean I had to be responsible for day to day things running in a vaguely smooth fashion. It also meant I was relentlessly bombarded with questions along the lines of "where's this?", "how does this work?", "can you fix this?". It could be a very enjoyable working environment, but it was not a peaceful one.

Then of course there were moments, particularly during the "thesis writing stage" (as seems to be pretty common) when I just didn't want to do science any more. It felt unrewarding, grueling and pointless. During the dark months of introspection, when you look back on all your years of data - unless your blessed with the most resilient of minds - you tend to think it's all crap. Thus, by extrapolation, you are crap. It's a simple equation based on the fact that science can be very personal - your project, your ideas, your data, your failure.

This blog for the most part operated as a sanctuary from all of that. A protected sanctuary at that. Until very recently Dan was the only person IRL that knew about it at all. Within these carefully constructed walls I could pretend that the only thing that mattered was whether my peas were going to survive the slug attacks this year, or whether that Rowan Cocoon really was the right choice for that knitting project.

BUT, Dan and I made the decision to carry on in science. More than that we decided to make the big move and do Post-Docs in America. So there's been a big shift in my head in terms of how I perceive myself - I'm not a student any more, I'm a professional. I even have a Fellowship (money from a funding agency). In terms of my actual abilities the difference is purely psychological - but that's not to undermine the significance of that shift. 

What I'm trying to say in a very long winded fashion, is that I might start to blog a bit about the day job too. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I like blogging and I like the act of committing ideas to the virtual paper - I always wanted to be able to keep a diary, but never felt I was up to it and yet the other day I realised that I've had a blog, in some form or another, for over ten years. Secondly, science is very creative and I enjoy making the most of those opportunities, which is why I like the job. I've treated this blog as a sketchbook of ideas, there's no reason why it shouldn't reflect some of the science ideas too. Finally, the big move is a new start. It is equal parts scary and exciting and I think it would be good for me (and keep me on the level) to write about some of that.

It was quite hard to illustrate this post with photos...
[Footnote - I wrote this post a little while ago now, by the time I'd finished it I wasn't sure how I felt about it any more - more specifically, how I felt about loosing a dedicated 'not-science' space. I may write about science life, I may not. Weirdly, I felt I had to write this to at least give myself the option. If any one has an opinion on this topic, please share it with me!]

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I've been home sick. I knew this would happen and I know I'll come out the other side eventually, but I'm a little disappointed with myself for being quite so struck down by it. I don't want to miss out on the exhilaration of living in a completely new continent. However much I want that I'm getting really frustrated by countless little things not being 'right' or easy - everything seems like a hard slog and every moment of normality hard won. More than anything I don't want to be the sort of person that complains about the country they've moved to not being as good as the one they left behind. You encounter the displaced academic a lot in this line of work, and I always found the constant whining annoying. I don't want to be that person! I don't think it's leaked out too much in front of my new American acquaintances, but poor Dan is baring the brunt of it instead.

I thought I could be sensible and just switch the things I couldn't have/do for new things. That great British staple - Indian food - is terrible so far in Philly. No problem, we can eat Mexican instead. I don't have our garden any more (I think about it constantly at the moment - I can picture every corner of it and every spring bulb with complete clarity). I figured now my hands aren't subject to such regular manual labour I could make the most of it by painting my nails. Sadly it doesn't matter how far I go down this root, I don't think having orange nails is going to compensate for not having earth under my nails. And that's the problem, some things are just too well loved not to miss.


Which leaves us with the next solution - recreating a slice of home in our American city loft apartment. We now have a monthly repeat prescription of 160 Yorkshire gold tea-bags from Amazon, if only because the cost of the 40 tea-bag boxes we could find in town was astronomical. We've also laid in a stock pile of Marmite for similar cost efficiency reasons. I think if we weren't lucky enough to live next to Reading Terminal Market we'd be in serious trouble food-wise. For the most part we really did eat seasonal, local food back home. The thing about America is that because it's so big, local takes on a different meaning. The bewildering choice of vegetables available left us initially quite confused about what to cook with. On top of that, things we thought of as seasonal staples - leeks and rhubarb - are bizarrely expensive and get confused looks from the check out people.


I think we're figuring it out slowly, but the level of perseverance required to get something simple - like yoghurt - in a format that you like - runny, instead of weird, set and jelly like - is exhausting. Thank god for Amish farmers, that's all I can say!