Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New year – old year

I thought about writing a “what happened under 2008 recap” and looking at my blog posts etc… then I spoke to my family to wish Happy New Year (since the time difference makes it funny) and then we started talking about Gaza/Israel.

Did I mention I came from a political family? Did I mention we discuss things a lot. Did I mention we all have a temper? Anyway, in this we don’t feel too different but it kind of did upset me. And especially in light of the news that we can see on the telly and in the newspapers. And with “we” I mean both the people back home and me behind the borders of US. Sometimes it is more obvious than others that The Power to Control Media is the Power who Controls the world. (Yeah, not exactly rocket science nor am I the first one who says it. Still though, worth repeating.)

Then one can read the silly things in the Swedish media about “the most powerful people [in Sweden]” and then think about all these news that never see day light. (The guy who got arrested for drugs in the middle of the night club…. The movie/new papers/TV industry which is controlled by ONE major company …. The mindless right winged high school girl who is considered to be “the power factor” among people under 30 [let’s just say I am terrified that it might be true. People are sheep, indeed] … and other things that have left me quite speechless the last couple of days.

Anyhow, this was supposed to be a post about my “2008 memories”. I’ll make a brief list, in bullet points, about my 2008, or rather the things that have made a mark….

* Post doc – do be or not to be? For at least another year, I will be one.

* Life – in the end of the tunnel there is a shiny warm light with comfort and love! Do not doubt! It’s true. Have faith!

* Family – whenever you need them, they will be there (again)

* Friends – without them you are nothing, they will be there when you need them (again)

* The Pub – where everybody knows your name….. ;)

* The punching bag/the other people in the class – you will need those gloves and that jump rope
* When all else fails; a book, a bottle of wine and some leaf raking will do the trick. Promise. At least if you add on a few hugs.

* One of the top 5; the going away party that was the best thing ever! (ok, so I didn't leave.... no-one is sad so... be happy instead.)

* Another top 5; Love. (It's funny, when you least expect it... it pushes itself into your eyes and heart...)

For my 2009…. What do I wish for?
* Less doubt (about me, my work and all the other things)
* Less worry (by jolly yes, no more sleepness nights about the “uncertain future”. I am starting to realize that future = uncertain = life . Now I just have to remember and believe it.)
* Less food ( I had to, but at least less bad food….)
* More happy (yes…. Remember to laugh and be happy, to live life and see the happy in things and not worry to death)

I think I have made my point. And let’s hope that I can make these things work. Not because they are my resolution… but rather since I actually think I’d be better off if they happened. [maybe even people around me too… who knows?]

With that, I wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

..trying to forget work harder than I remember it. I have now not been to work for (ehh... never mind, it's like 30 hours which isn't really anything) let's go with a while and I know Monday is coming up.

So, what to do? Watch movies, TV series (eat a silly amound of Christmas food and chocolate) and go for a run (for at least 25 mins... wow...) . Excellent! (imagine Burns doing that in Simpsons, or who ever it is that rubs his hands together and hizzes out "excellent" - maybe one of my friends back home?). 

I can recommend nothing else, but I can state - if anyone thought it was a good plan - that watching The Shining when you are alone in a house and the rain and thunderstorm warnings are in effect, well that is just EXTREMELY STUPID. Lucky me I only kind of glanced at maybe 3 minutes.... or so.... car crash anyone? "Don't look" ... or those real ER shows with surgerys when you have finally made that nice dinner plate... haha, failure.
It's a much better plan to watch Family guy and round up with Aslan getting killed by the White Witch... not to mention a few back episodes of Eleventh hour (oh Rufus) and Leverage (new series, not sure that I am that crazed but it sure beats The Shining) to get into a Holiday mood, wouldn't you say?!

Best thing of the night? Realising exactly how scared I am of those HORRIBLE roaches one can find down here in the South. I'll give you the image. You are comfy in the comfy chair, bare feet and listening to the storm outside. Trees are knocking on your windows, rain is sloshing down hard and you have a nice cup of mulled wine in your hand. And this is the time when you see something LARGE crawl on the floor just on the left/front side (think 11 o'clock) or the comfy chair. Did I mention you are bare foot? And that you are waring a skirt? And that it is a huge orange glowing roach.... and you are in the middle of a storm.

Yeah, this bug* girl is not really a bug girl. I really wish I could stop being the saddest example of the scared screaming girl when there are bugs around but seriously.... I can't stand roaches. Nor earwigs for that matter. But roaches here are kind of ENORMOUS and just supersuperfast... (One reason I would never mind trying out for Fear Factor. "hey guys, here is the roach tank. You just have to get in there with a bikini on" or "you just have to eat these live earwigs" yeah. right. not. even. thinking about it. True examples though. crazy people.)

Well, lucky for me I could rush up, get my shiny shoes (with a solid sole) and the Raid (commercial warning). Yeah.... and that roach was toast. I refrained from stomping on it. (I still haven't decided if the thing I was taught earlier is correct or not - that squished roaches give away pheromones to their families and friends and bring more roaches to the 'corpse'. Any takers?! Urban legend?) Probable more cruel though, I stood and watched it fight and finally turn belly up and die after taken quite a swig of the Raid coqtail (yes, I squirted a lot of it on it. Sorry. No love lost for 2 inches long orange roaches inside of the house, rain hiding or not.) Then it was the hard thing of disposing of the body... I really need to work on that yuack factor but I truly almost shook when trying to grab that thing... 

And now I will try and refrain from thinking about all those things (work, roaches, The Shining) and go to bed so I can get my beauty sleep. Maybe an episode of Family guy will help?

nighty night all. Hope you have a great Xmas holiday. (and soon a Happy New Year... sooon)

*In my old lab my prof always talked about "the bugs" when we discussed the bacteria.... it also makes it easier to laugh about "bugger the bugs" when the bacteria failed to grow on time. Easily amused, that would be me and him - yes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas stress

So, my brain has (un)officially taken a break. I am suppose to work this week, apart from Thursday and coming in a short short while on Friday but my brain has already checked out (for the Christmas holiday!). I am staring at my notes “to do this week” and I feel like I just want to go home, like the rest of the people I know who have been off at least since Friday….

I’m not really whining, I chose this, I know. I am merely stating that it is a problem when you are supposed to work; actually trouble shoot two things and then clone a third thing, that your brain wanders off and isn’t focused on the task at hand.

What’s on my brain? Oh let’s see…..
* How to make Southern dressing…. (corn bread, chicken and celery. How hard can it really be?!)
* Cook a turkey (what temperature, which size, what kind of thing to you need… How hard can it really be?!)
* Do I really need a ham [for my own tradition] and in that case, where can I find one that is smaller than 12 pounds….
* Christmas presents, need wrapping, Do I really need to wrap Santa’s gifts to me? Maybe I should just never mind the whole present idea and leave it to be “a new Christmas with no presents and not too many expectations at all” (good luck with that.)
* Should I try and plan a trip to Church on Christams eve or Christmas morning? (I’d prefer morning, the trip at evening time messes up everything else, but all people I know are there on the Eve…. And really, is it that important?!)
* Calling people from home and wishing them Merry Christmas. (When? How? Why?)
* Should I send thos christmas presents I have bought but not really sent yet, and now there is now chance ever they will make it on time? (or just leave it til I go home and maybe even not give them then?)

But the main thing today is to stop the brain from going into repeat mode of “this was not really what I thought it was going to be and why isn’t it like I thought it would be and how can I make it what I [thought I] wanted it to be”. Complete waste of my time since there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do about this. It is what it is and more than half of it is the pressure from “people around who are asking a lot of inconsiderate questions or telling statements*”. I know, it is in them rather than in me but I am such a good internalizer that I start fretting and thinking I should do the same thing they do. The same thing they want. Funny that my Myer-Briggs doesn’t show that though… not really anyway. My work persona is slightly different from the Piglet-inspired-like Eeyore who dwells in the middle of me.

And by the way, who cares what other people think anyway?!?** Or if you get any Christmas cards or phone calls? And before you tell me, I know this is pity party and that of all the times in the world, Christmas week is not the time to ask things of other people (friends and family) but seriously, it is hard not to when it is so obvious being so far away from the lot of them and all by choice …. Let’s talk about that another day. The beating my body takes from my brain for “choosing to move and make things complicated”.

For now, I’ll focus on the cloning issues that I really need to resolve (Wake up Brain and smell the coffee) and of course, how much food do I really need to buy and can I make the dressing the same day (most likely yes) and the cookies I can bake tonight or tomorrow…. And the meat balls will be done on the 24th, since I need to find bread crumbs somewhere in some store around where I live. Seriously, it shouldn’t be as hard as it’s been so far.

With this lovely and seasonal stressful blog post I wish you all a Merry Christmas :). And don’t forget; it’s not about who has the most clean/decorated/fancy house or the most expensive presents, it’s about love and family and friends …. And all the other people in the world.

* One small example "Oh, it must be so hard for you not to be with your family for Christmas. You must miss them very much". well.... let's just go with "duh". Key thing for me the last couple of weeks have been to think, when these things are said to me, "this is in their heart, their deepest fear". I don't know if that is the "correct" way of dealing with it, but it has helped with some of the worst comments...

**if you can’t see Irony, I’ll let you know it is there. Dripping of this sentence like a pig on top of a fire pit. Huge amount of grease…

a little update on the pity party. This entered my mind; "It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything." I guess that would make it a bit easier?! But I don't really agree since it is very exclusive and you would have to have no relationships at all. And wasn't my whoel, whining about the "people around me" and "the ones I love"? Ah well, it's cloning time. Extra points if you can identify the movie.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

confusion and insecurity

If you want to be confused in Christmas times, why not try and solve some questions you have regarding your student loan…. Or try to understand why in its infinite wisdom when all other interest rates in the world are dropping, the Swedish interest rate for the student loans is increased….

Then again, let's not. I am very tempted to once more adhere to one [of many] advice that I received prior to leaving my loving country to go on this post doc. What kind of advice? Very simple, when I called and asked about some rules and “what am I supposed to do when I am now moving across the world on this very temporary visa etc?”.

The answer, from the Social security equivalent (Försäkringskassan) as well as the Unemployments department (Arbetsförmedlingen) and the Union for PhDstudents in natural sciences (Naturvetarförbundet) was, from all three places, “Don’t make any changes now since we don’t know what will happen when you come back. Just continue to pay what you pay and we will see what happens*”.

And, more importantly for me who always have been a very good girl and made the descisions like you are supposed to, “Do not tell the governemt more than what they need to know”. In other words, when I asked what to do the anser was; “don’t tell them you are moving out of the country until they ask you”.

Huh? So, now when I approach the magical “2 years out of the country” and my student loans are going to be recounted for pay back it is with a bit of a dread I am waiting for the letter this January. (The pay back is recounted every year based on my income two years ago…. Since I am old and only have “middle old loans”) Why? You see, if you live abroad you have two choices, either pay 5% of the loan or ask to pay 4% of your income in the foreign country. In my case these amounts are almost identical so the easiest way is by far to pay 5% of my loan. My problem? That I never “moved out of my country” official (since people told me three times not to make any difficult changes since it is harder to move back afterwards**) so I am assuming right now that it will be a bit of an problem?!

Of course, this was one of the questions that I asked at the time and got the reply “Don’t do anything prior to the fact. Wait for the governmental part to react and then solve it. It is hard to change it before the issue has been brought to our attention”. Personally, I find this approach very silly and strange. Not to mention very stressful (did I mention that I hate to do “wrong things” or mistakes?)

Anyway, I guess one of my stops on my way home this spring will be to visit (or maybe call but that will take ages on the phone) the agency and ask what on earth I shall do. I will of course then already have gotten the magical letter telling me how much I owe. And yes, no matter what that letter will be I am very tempted to pay in the full amount to start with and be done with it. Why? Because I am still paying off it and I will be rid of the whole thing by the time I am 65 years old…. See, one of the good things that happened with the “middle loan” is that it was a set time limit on when to stop making payments, never mind if it is paid off or not. Then again, maybe they will change that too…. In the state of “interest for the country” or something completely random?!

So, the person who hates insecurity more than I can explain, i.e. me, is going to have to wait until end of January to be able to solve all this…. And then probably wait some more. And trust me, someone will find a way to make this my fault I am sure. (Did I mention that I have been dealing with my own Governmental departments before and that it is a hassle… and you need to have a lot of patience…. And not try to be efficient since that never ever works.

Right, I guess the only thing that I can be happy about is that how ever I calculate I always end up with owing less money than I have in my special bank account back home for “paying off student loans in 2009 and 2010” which should mean I am in the good zone. Or, maybe I am just not good at math?!?!?!

Then when I get back I will try not to think too much about the things that happened with the tax return last year when someone deducted too little for the foreign post docs from Northern Europe which led to a back tax of more than 1000 dollars for certain people.... this year I have been kind of promised that it won't happen again. Let's just hope, shall we? (I have recounted but I am not that familiar with the US tax system so I can trust that it is really right.... but the other person responsible has also checked so I should be good. Should being the operative word here. I'm hoping.)

* I am, due to personal reasons, thinking about giving this up though. The only thing that keeps me paying is the fact that I know exactly how hard it is to get access once you are out. It is more than working full time for 6 months in order to go back into the system but if you are already in there you can still access things like…. “a special looking for employment place” and other “networking sites”. I don’t know though… there is a price… but at this moment I have already given them so much money that it would be a complete waste of not continuing I guess?! It’s hard in any event. I’m trying not to burn bridges, that’s all.

**the very fun part in all of this is that at the moment I have a right to stay in the States for exactly 30 days after my contract is up. I have a right to move back to my country, although I have no right to social security or really any planned medical/surgical treatments for a year [due to all the people who move away and not pay taxes but then when diagnosed with cancer/other expensive illness move back and want treatment] and no right to maternity leave. All this will be ok after a year of work…. Or maybe a year of residency if I am looking for a base line… I guess the funniest thing was when one of the people I talked to explained to me that since I didn’t own any property in my old country I could be denied to come back! I told them that that sounded very, very, very strange since I am still a citizen of my old country and we always have right of residency. That’s when they told me the whole “no right of anything else though”….

It is best to never leave, even if it means social security/unemployment than trying to survive on your own. Let’s just say that I am still a bit iffy about the last part…..

Monday, December 15, 2008

All work and no play…

I woke up and couldn’t sleep last night between 3.30 am and 6 am…. Ironically, since I really need to sleep these days. I have been working a bit too much lately, and strange hours, which makes me a dull girl/woman/scientist. (pick the word that fits the best.)

My mind was reeling into what I used to call “over drive”. And at the fun hour like that?! Isn’t that just great?! Now, what I refer to as “over drive” means “the hope and dream that I could plan my whole life and feel safe and have it all planned out and how would I plan the rest and what will happen in four years and where will I go and what do I see and how can I make that…. [ad infinitum]”. Well, somehow I wonder why I haven’t learned the idea that planning isn’t really the key to it all… and the future can’t really be planned and safe and all those other things I was contemplating last night.

Trust me, I should’ve gotten the memo real well. (Or is it ‘good’? I always seem to have a problem with when to use well and when to use good.)

Anyhow, I digress – I lay in bed trying to tell my brain to SHUT UP and let me enjoy the sleep and the dreams and when I finally fell back asleep, yes an hour before the alarm woke me again, I ended up with a nightmare. (Partly about getting my wallet stolen with my credit cards and pass port and phone and could I remember someone’s phone number with out the phone…and did I really exist since I couldn’t prove my identity without any of the cards… or a quarter for the phone… etc. The whole thing was an evil dreamabout stranding me in the middle of a department store packed with [selfish] Christmas gift shoppers and nowhere else to go…. See something I might not have done yet? Christmas shopping.)

Absolutely lovely. And don’t you just love when your subconscious is repeating things to you when you sleep, and when you know that you have ‘forgotten’ about it?!!? Due to this nightly endeavour, I am now trying – for the third time today - to make sense of the sets of data assembled during these 13 days of constant working. Let’s just say that I have tried and tried again to divide them into the correct groups so I can make survival and weight loss curves and draw some conclusions…. And let’s say again that I can’t seem to get them right.

And what I need to do is to make sense of that as well as running a bunch of gels and go back into cloning mode… you know, things that take kind of long time since you need to understand where you left off and did that sequencing come back?

I also realize that I am whining and not really making a good blog post either. All work and no play makes me…..cranky. (at least I am not crazy like Jack yet. More tired and sad and did I mention cranky?)

I’ll just try and make something the next 90 mins before I will leave and come back tomorrow and make the nice graphs and show my PI.

Plus, I hope I can sleep tonight. If nothing else I am sorely tempted to try and have a drink and see if that helps….. which probably is a really stupid plan but if my mind could stop shifting into ”Future, what will happen in the future? What do you want to do when you’re done with your post doc?” and stay in the NOW….. I would be a happy person. And a less tired one as well. Today I think I have found a good correlation… tired = cranky.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

4 hours = loosing 5 lbs

So last weekend, the weekend prior to a very intense experimental period that rendered my PI to tell me “that’s an awful lot of experiments in a short time you are cramming in there”*, I spent the night between Friday and Saturday in my bathroom looming over the sink and the ‘white friend’. When I was finally crawling back into bed I noticed two things; first - my stomach muscles were achy from being intensly used for the long time and second I was really going through my head what kind of microbe that could be causing my distress.

After spending a few hours trying to ignore the Thirst, (if I was a vampire I would now understand the idea of Thirst…) since my stomach did not agree with the rest of my body that I actually could benefit from drinking even just a little tiny bit of fluids, I came up with my three potential culprits. The only thing that did not make sense was the incubation time. Oh, and since I had spent the whole of Friday cooking lunches and dinners for “the intense experimental period” I wanted to know if that was contaminated and I had threw away 5 hours of cooking…

My potential culprits were; Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter and Salmonella (as we will see I think the perpetrator was something completely different and not food related). All three of these are nasty when in food… and all three include the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea to a certain extent.

Staph was the one I liked the most since the toxin renders a rapid illness with fast loss of water/fluids and ‘attack vomiting’. It is also over once the intestines and stomach are ‘cleansed’ of the toxin since that is the source of illness. Campylobacter is a bit nastier (imho) since the bacteria adheres to the intestine wall and grows there, making it a prolonged infection. And Salmonella is also alive within you when it causes disease and can, in bad cases, be transported into the blood stream… Both the latter are commonly found within bird intestine and most poultry meat has campylobacter on it according to CDC. Since this was last weekend, the Turkey Eating Festivity, I thought about the birds and shuddered.

My fears got bigger when I realized that I had fever (another symptom not that common with Staph toxin) so I was starting to envision the worst scenario; the bloody stool samples that would make it a more definite campo/salmonella infection. Both things I dread and hate, not the least because I have too good knowledge about potential side effects of both the infections, not to mention that they would render me in bed for at least 6 days which would interfere with my experiment!

After receiving word that not all the people at Thanksgiving dinner were sick I started to feel a bit more nervous about my own cooking, I have yet to be sick from my own cooking. Maybe because I am franticly washing the cut board with HOT water and dish soap after having fresh chicken on there? Lucky for me I’d had a ‘taster’ of all the food (exception of the veggie soup) and since that person was healthy and happy I ruled out that too.

I was left with what? A baby. Yes, the sad truth was that the common denominator between the people who had gotten sick at the party was that we were all “outsiders” who did not live with the cute 18 month old baby who had crawled around and been smiling and drooling everywhere. (I guess it didn’t help that I had had her in my lap for a while singing silly things?!) Looking through the “common diseases from babies” I realized that it would must likely be a virus, duh. Maybe it was a rotavirus, maybe a calicivirus/Norwalk virus that some of the other family members would be less susceptible to (or already been sick earlier on). The good thing with those kind of viruses are that they tend to clear the body quite rapidly. The bad thing, apart from being unable to actually do anything but wait for them to clear, is that they are extremely contagious.*

I still was a bit hesitant about the whole thing (did I mention that I was going to have an intense experimental period and wanted this weekend to rest and be happy…..) and kept feeling my back pain as a sign of Campylobacter (I must have said a thousand times “what if I get Guillain-Barré syndrome?” or maybe “this will lead to early on arthritis”) and dreaded the trips to the toilet in case the bloody diarrhea would make an appearance. I don’t think of myself as a hypochondriac but I do acknowledge that the “potential effects” is what makes me nervous so not knowing what it was made me thinking of all potential horrible things that could happen later on.

After fighting going to bed for too long I finally caved in, taking a few ibuprofen for the fever (“Staph don’t normally give fever, what if I am sick until next Wednesday? Who’s going to look after my experiment?!”). I slept like a dead person. I woke up 13 hours later completely fine. No fever, no back ache, no nausea, no nothing. I didn’t really eat much food during the next couple of days but focused on bringing back fluids to my body, but overall I was fine after the hibernation in bed.

I feel so ashamed to be reduced to a whimpering youngster but stomach issues are one of the few things that really make me helpless…. and since I was now well I could start my 15 days long experimental period on time. And maybe more importantly, all the food that I cooked that Friday was good to eat, I’ve enjoyed it during the week! And I am truly Thankful that it wasn’t anything worse than this.

*the only thing that might hamper the diagnosis is that calicivirus is usually as contagious that all people sharing a place will get sick if one person gets sick. Then again, not sharing a bath room helps tremendously. Or use bleach/cleaning products extensively. And repeated washing of hands, refraining of touching or breathing directly at people (read; lay isolated in your bed and don’t expect visitors) helps too. Most importantly though, no fingers in mouth or nose and always, always wash your hands after being to the bathroom. ;)