Monday, September 7, 2015

Simplify - Summer Capsule Wardrobe

After considerable debate, I decided to give a capsule wardrobe a try. There were two immediate options - Project 333 or Unfancy. Project 333 sounded a bit too restrictive for me, as it includes belts, jewelry, etc, whereas Unfancy allows for 37 items and does not include accessories or jewelry. Of course, as each website details, capsule wardrobes are a "Choose Your Own Adventure" and rule breaking is perfectly fine.

The capsule schedule from Unfancy runs July to September. I wish I had started a month earlier, in June, as my summer wardrobe tends to be much more relaxed than my school year wardrobe. I don't wear shorts on campus (except for weekends if I have to run in to prep or check on something), and I'm ideally only on campus a few days a week during the summer. For June and July, I've been in 4 days a week; for August the goal is once a week. I tend to get less writing done when I am on campus working on projects with students. For example, I got 2 papers and 2 grants out in May. But I have only submitted 2 papers since (6 weeks).

Assembling the capsule wardrobe therefore, required splitting clothes between casual summer wear and clothes appropriate for teaching come late August. The next capsule will also be off - October,  December, January. I'll be in the field for November and will be in field gear.

What did I end up with?
Five pairs of shoes. The recommended number was 9. I picked black flats, copper flats, and brown flats, chacos, and black heels. Not counted: running shoes, hiking boots, beach flip flops.

Five dresses. Two casual, two work, one that can go both ways.

Two skirts. One orange, one black.

Four pairs of pants. Two work, two casual. No jeans.

Three pairs of shorts: grey, beige, purple. The grey and beige are replacement shorts for shorts I had had since 2006. They are the only new items I purchased for the capsule.

Thirteen tops. Three sleeveless, 4 t-shirts, the rest nice tops for work.

Five cardigans. In blue, black, grey, white, and brown.

Not counted: running clothing, yoga pants, two pajama pants, and the torn clothes for painting.

I'm blogging the Kitchen Cure (sort of)

I've decided to live blog the Kitchen Cure (Fall 2015) from Well, mostly. The Kitchn Cure runs from 9/7 until late in September, and I do have some travel this month. So I will do the assignments when possible, and give myself some flexibility to the end of the month.

Part 1: Just be present/immediate reactions
I need to do dishes. I need to get up and do dishes. Why are there always dishes? I need to sweep and mop, the floor is filthy.  I need to scrub all the cabinets. Why are they two colors? Who thought that was a good idea? I need to put the pasta maker away. We really need some art and some color in here. The only color is my red owl timer. Why is the phone still up? Didn't we get that disconnected? Why are there dry walls pieces on the stove?

Part 2: Go deep. Open drawers.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Assignment #1 Make a list of likes and dislikes

Likes: It has a dishwasher. It has a fridge. The floor is pretty. I love my owl cookie jar, and the kitchen cart is pretty nice as well. I like that one of the bouquets from our wedding is in here.

Dislikes: The cabinets are yellow. The fridge is yellow while the stove is white. Everything looks worn and dingy. There is no rug. It is dirty. The layout is terrible. You can't really see the bouquet with the yellowy walls. The drawers are falling apart and are a chaotic mess. The brown and yellow cabinets look gross and dingy. There is no color. The room is soulless.

I need to give the room some soul.

Running update: Shoulder injury, so last week only 10 miles.
Total for August 76 miles!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Getting Things Done - New strategies for a better year

I'm still in recovery mode from last year. As part of that, I am looking for new ways to streamline and reduce stress. I've started with the typical places - work out, do yoga, eat healthy. But such practices need a framework if they are to survive the less than ideal conditions of the school year.

One practice that I have become particularly interested in is David Allen's "Getting Things Done" method. The target goal with this method is to reduce stress and increase productivity. I read the book last February with the intention of using it for the meetings. However, I think the meetings pretty much overwhelmed my feeble attempts at the GTD system. Perhaps if I had started sooner. Perhaps if I had done a thousand things differently, it would not have been so bad. But it was.

I'm re-reading GTD now, and actually taking the time to implement the practices, instead of try and sort things as they come. Earlier this summer I tried KonMari (some success) and a capsule wardrobe (great success) as methods for reducing the stress I felt at home. We still could declutter more. The 38 item wardrobe (I forgot a piece was at the dry cleaners and decided to leave it in the rotation) is working pretty well. More on this in the next post.

I'm pairing the GTD method with two systems - Trello (referral link) and You Need a Budget (YNAB).  Both are online and app based, and work across multiple platforms. I have each on my home computer, my travel laptop, and my android phone. Each handle a different part of my life - Trello captures, processes, and organizes everything except money, and YNAB handles money.

First YNAB. I had no idea how much I needed this until I had it. I'm a convert! I'm also enjoying the amount of plan aheadness it gives me and the perspective. I was so busy I let a lot of things go, and now, seeing what busyness cost me is shocking. I am still in the "this is stressful" early period of getting set up and in the habit, but we're seeing small positive changes already. Totally worth the $60 to sign up.

Trello. Trello is a cross platform software that functions like a series of boards, using the kanban technique. Lifehacker has a great review here. Basically, it shows the flow of production within each board. I've set it up so that each major facet has its own board (Home, Teaching, Major Research Project, Writing, Lab). Inside each board, cards are color coded to individual projects (for example each individual grant or manuscript on the "Writing" board. Things with deadlines (such as revisions) are assigned deadlines. Deadlines sync to my calendar. Within each board, I start with a "to do today" column - these are the pressing things that must get done today. I then have the subheadings as needed as groupings within: next, in progress, waiting for, done. It is set so that cards "age" that is, if I let things go for too long, the card starts to fade, the edges crumble etc, so I am visually reminded that I let something slide. Instead of my current system, which is to remember months later that I forgot to do something like write a chapter or review a book.

Hopefully, this system will withstand the chaos of a new semester and keep me GTD!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A week . . .went where?

Wow, what a week. It was crazy here. In laws here last weekend, including B's sister and her 2 kids. As I am fond of saving, everything is okay, even the stuff that isn't. And that was that weekend.

The week started off with some promise in the lab - the assay finally started working! Sort of. There is almost no sensitivity at the low end of the range, but at least we are no longer getting uniformly blue plates. I have to order more reagent.

Then the construction started - or maybe the construction started first. I actually think it started first. Anyway, on Wednesday, we lost access to the lab. And half the lab equipment in now in my office. But that's okay. I wish I could say I spent the week productively writing but:

WE GOT THE CALL - everything for the award letter had to be submitted. IRB renewed - in 2 different countries, new translations, new documents, changes to the budget. So, yeah. Awesome news - everything was in on Saturday and we're waiting on final approval. It took a lot of effort on a lot of parts to get everything in. But it is all in!!!!

Friday was an adventure. We had a two year old. In the "we're all in this together" and "it takes a village and a department is a village", we had another TT's kiddo this weekend while they had malaria. Or I had the kiddo and B took him to the ER. It was crazy, and hard, and wonderful, and we feel slightly more confident that we could actually do this - albeit, given the new above, after tenure. I don't know, and the week was crazy, ending in a six mile run today (I did 2 yesterday I think), and my yoga pass running out, our menus being set aside 3 times (kids apparently don't dig grilled salmon with mango and avocado salsa), nor do vomiting husbands.

We did squeeze in a trip to a wolf howl (no howls), and some bad tapas. Overall, in terms of balance, it was a great weekend - we did healthy things, we had a temporary kid and kept him alive, I got in 8 miles (yeah, I cheated yesterday and called my Grandma on mile 2 and talked to her instead of running - best idea ever!), we had a date, and tonight I actually cooked (post tomorrow on what we're eating).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

You should be writing

One of the things that surprises me most about myself as an academic is my seeming inability to relax, and to not feel guilty. As I sit here writing this, waiting for a PDF to build for an article submission, I'm feeling guilty. I'm not in the lab for one - we have taken the entire week off waiting for a purity report for some antigens. I'm happy to report that the antigens are pure and we can move ahead - or maybe backwards, not sure. But three days out of lab, even though I finished and submitted a paper and my student spent the days working on her manuscript seems like me failing her. I should have been in the lab with her every day, even though I don't care that she spent the day reading while I spent the day reformatting and submitting. We'll be back at it tomorrow.
I feel guilty that I decided this morning not to pursue the grant due next week, but to instead focus on revising and getting another paper out. It often feels that writing, that one thing we largely do alone, is the thing that brings us the most guilt. We feel bad for not writing, hence the popular meme "you should be writing".

I've selected Bender as my stand in, but there were great Sci-fi and similar choices. However, when presented with a choice, I will most often choose Futurama. Source:

However, one thing that we talk about much less, is the guilt we feel for writing. Robert Boice has written on this (and Robert Boice might be the greatest thing for the academic since the decision to not make us wear the robes all the time). He observes that academics often sacrifice writing time, even though it is the most relevant thing we do towards tenure, for other things and other people. Writing can seem like the ultimate selfish act, because it is something we generally do alone, often away from other people, and this can feel selfish.

That is certainly how I feel today. I feel selfish for spending the morning reformatting that paper and getting the reformatted material submitted. I feel like I should have been in lab with my student. I now feel guilty for immediately jumping into the next revision instead of trying to pull together revisions for the grant due next week, even though I think the grant needs serious reframing to include a entirely new area of research. And, I do need to be in the lab the rest of this week. And we do have family in town this weekend. About the only time I don't feel guilty about writing is not when I am writing (because then I feel guilty about what I am writing) is during hot yoga, when every fiber of my being is concentrating on not vomiting. This may explain why every time I submit a manuscript or a grant, I go to hot yoga.

By any measure, it has been a pretty productive summer. I've got 3 articles in review, 2 grants in review (since May) and a book chapter going into press this Friday. Two other manuscripts are fully drafted and just need considerable revision. And yet still, making the decision not to grant write this month, but to focus on manuscripts, fills me with guilt. And it shouldn't. But shouldn't does not mean doesn't.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Last year

I started this blog a half dozen times. It never seems to stick. But now, as I move into my last year on the TT (letters go out in the Spring), I find myself thinking more and more about it. About the toll and the joy, and all the other emotions.

This is my push year, as I need to get everything that will be in dossier out by this time next year. As my contract runs July 1 to June 30, starting this, on July 2, seemed ideal.

Last year ended in burnout. There is literally no other term for it. It wasn't the "gosh, I'll be glad when the semester is over" usual, beign burnout. It was the on the floor, unable to get up, ready to walk away from it all, kind of burnout. It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced. I have never not been able to will myself to do anything. But I couldn't. I remember being on the couch, in the darkness and silence, thinking about how much I wanted to turn over. I couldn't find the energy to roll over, and Netflix had long decided I was not actually watching, even though I was there. I had five migraines in two weeks, after two years without one. One day I managed to work up the energy to go to the store for ice cream. The choices overwhelmed me, and I broke down in tears in the store. I went home sans ice cream, and on the return trip that night, forced by my husband, I lashed out over ice cream and energy and everything. Ice cream was too big a choice. The calories contained within it were too much to consider - the time for runs, the dietary rearranging that would be necessary. It was too much.

That was, in some ways, how I was starting to feel about my job. The AAPA meetings took so much out of me it was unreal. They continue to demand time, but the level of demand and exhaustion from them cannot be described. And I never gave myself time to recover. I spent my birthday hauling bags and boxes, and the following week taught all my classes. By the time the earthquake hit Nepal and my field season was canceled, I was running on sheer willpower. And it cracked. My mind would tell my body to do something, and my body would more or less give it the finger.

I gave in. I lost a week. I painted our bathroom and screamed at my husband for not appreciating the paint job. I sat at my desk and cried, realizing how little impact I had on my home space, and how it all radiated from one single point - my desk. I watched the Planet Earth series four times in four days. I surrendered.

During this dark period, I read "The Joy of Burnout". It finally cemented what was going on for me, and how I felt about it. Gorkin observed "Burnout is less a sign of failure and more that you gave yourself away". I'd been feeling like a failure when I had done anything but fail - I had given myself away. And I had to come back to myself in order to be okay.

We are one month out now from the darkest days. I've submitted three papers and a grant since since then, putting me with a comfortable four papers and two grants in review right now. I'm in the lab four days a week for a few hours with a bright, talented student, and then I go for a run or to yoga. I'd never done yoga before, but was tempted (and hooked) by a Groupon for a month of unlimited classes. It becomes a reflective space to think about my actions, intentions, and how I am treating my mind and body. Afterwards, I spend the afternoons writing, revising, and reading. I'm on track to get several more manuscripts submitted this summer, and I take most evenings (post 7pm) off these days. 

I've set myself some personal goals for balance this year as well. I don't have kids, which helps with having more free time to pursue these goals. I'm planning on running a half in October and a second one in April. I want to learn how to make sushi and my great mother's burnt sugar cake. I'm going to try a temporary remodel of our kitchen, and a capsule wardrobe.
My reach goal: I want to the run the Disney Star Wars Half Marathon in 2017 with my brother, and then us go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Our husbands may or may not be invited.

I have 3 field seasons next year in Nepal, and will be away from home for four total months with all the travel I need to do, plus more for the family travel we want to do. It's going to be a big, crazy year.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

This week . . .on the tenure track

It is Thursday, and I'm actually using my writing time to write this instead of the research blog post I need to be writing, the stats I need to be reading, or the endless calls I need to make.

Nothing interesting has happened food wise this week. We've eaten simple, repeat recipes from the fridge, ranging from frozen ravioli to pork tenderloin. Nothing exciting. I've barely ran - yesterday was the only day it happened, but the next three days look pretty good for 3-4 miles. I did 3.2 yesterday.

My schedule has been jammed packed. We're in the last week before busy season, and everyone is slammed. I spent 9 hours at work with lab related projects on Tuesday, but that big project is now 100% done - and worked out perfectly. We're starting a new project today with the Thursday group - they will do a nice, easy half run to get comfortable working as a team and get used to the new assay. I've blocked four hours in the lab today - hopefully I can spend the rest nearby working on service.

Ah service, that 10% of my job (50% teaching, 40% research). Technically, 22% of my job, since I have a service related course release. I have 12 hours blocked next week just for service related meetings, and this is a theme that will continue for the next three weeks. This does not include my national service - this likely includes another 10-20 hours, although my work study student is rocking the sign making and scheduling.

So this week, how did my time break down?
Monday: 7 hours writing, 2 service (9)
Tuesday: 6 hours lab, 3 reading, 2 service (11)
Wednesday: 4 hours teaching + prep, 2 reading, 3.5 service, 30 min lab (10)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rebooting - and trying again

It is January. And as I do every January, I revisit this blog and try to think what will make me stick with it this year. My research blog is now two years old, with regular updates. This blog? Well, I update annually.

So this year, I'm giving it another shot. If I fail, I'll delete at the end of the year.

How is going to roll? The goals for this year: run 842 miles. Make 84 new recipes. Be kind to myself 42 times. Easy?

Well, the year has started off with a lot of stuff going on. I left for a 10 day training course in North Carolina on Jan 2, and got back Jan 11; the day before classes started. B had a severe illness on Jan 11, and has been unable to get out of bed or do much since. We are now one week out, with very modest improvement. It will be a long, slow road ahead.

I've turned to my challenges and cures as a coping mechanism. I'm doing the Apartment Therapy January Cure, and am only a few days behind now, thanks to an aggressive catch-up schedule this weekend. The week plus in NC was also great - I ran 16 miles, and have done another 4 this week, putting me at 20.1 for the year.

Food wise, it has also been a busy week. Tuesday night I made Tomato and chicken pea sauce for sweet potatoes, following this recipe on The Kitchen: .
Sweet potato with chickpeas and tomato sauce.

This dish was also the first time in months I had used our can opener, after realizing that I had failed to soak the dried chickpeas the night before. I did not use canned, diced tomatoes as recommended in the recipe - I find canned tomatoes taste tinny, plus a student did an awesome presentation on BPA + tomatoes last year and now I can only eat tomatoes in glass or fresh.

Thursday was recipe #2 for the year. I'm making up for the lost week of microwave cooking while in NC. It was canned soup followed by canned soup followed by easy mac. Our wonderful admin is moving on to a cool new job in another city, and since she is a huge sweets fan, I made chocolate chip cookies. As a scientist however, I had to make the best cookies, and turned to the awesome for their 4 part series on the science of chocolate chip cookies. I ignored all crisco or lard based recipes, as I think cookies should taste like butter. This recipe was "Soft Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies". It adds 2 oz cream cheese to the mix, 2 hours of setting in the fridge, and a lot of deliciousness. I omitted the corn starch - I don't keep it, and I did not have tme to run out and buy more. Sick B ate 3 - the first solid food he ate all week, and I got 2. They were delicious, and I'd certainly make this again - in fact, I nearly did on Saturday night. 
The two parts of the dough. And my wonderful kitchen aid. Our kitchen is so small we do not have 30 complete inches of counter space, so I often have to use the stove as extra space.

The finished product as I was loading them up for the party. 

I made these while also writing a grant, and they proved a nice way to think about the grant while writing - and kept me from staying at my desk all day. 

 Recipe #3 was Friday evening. I told B I would make him anything he wanted, and he wanted chicken and dumplings. So I called my 90 year old grandmother, as we back worked out my great-grandmother's recipe - with a few modifications my grandmother had made over the years. She now buys her dumplings and has for the last three decades, so we did have to cross check the recipe with the internet. She did this on her tablet (my grandma rocks BTW) while I sanded down some furniture. I rolled the dough out with my great grandmother's rolling pin (I have her pin and her cast iron skillet, and they are the best cared for kitchen implements I own). I cut them, and while they dried I made the soup from some stock I had made in November and frozen (the stock came in handy this week). They were delicious. B still can't really taste anything, but I had two giant bowls.

Chicken and dumplings get in my belly. 
And, we had enough dumplings left over that I could freeze them for a hearty dinner later in the month when things get crazy and I don't pre-plan dinner.

Recipe #4, like recipe #2, was a recipe from my childhood that others had made me, but I had never made myself (it counts!). These were homemade donuts. The mother of my best friend in elementary school would make these for spend the night parties (the morning after). So good. I found the post on The Kitchen, but back tracked it to Serious Eats: donuts here! These are the Pillsbury dough donuts.
I know, you are thinking "cheater! That is not real cooking."
I beg to differ. These were probably the most complicated thing I made all week, because the oil was so hard to control. It got very hot, and then too cold.
The first failed attempt. The oil was well past 400 - the needle was going back around the candy thermometer when I dropped these in. 
The first attempt was a miserable failure. It is my fault - I got distracted reading about symphysiotomy and let the oil get too hot. There was then a long period of cooling (and further reading) before the oil was the perfect 350F.
I ate one before remembering to take a picture. It was warm and gooey and delicious. 
I could not bring myself to dip them in one of the butter-based sauces listed on Serious Eats, so instead I dusted them with powdered sugar and cocco powder I had on hand. 

Tomorrow, I'll post about the Apartment Therapy Cure - my big project is almost done and then (and then), I can get back to working on grants and papers.