Irish Coffee

Today I had Irish coffee with my Farmor (father’s mother). We talked about all sorts of random things and I felt like I made a lot of progress speaking in Swedish but the best part was what happened on facebook afterwards:

irish coffee


Coffee for Science, Cake for Fun

I have said before one of my favorite things about my new job is the coffee hours. Not only does this mean I never have to make coffee for myself and that I am regulating how much coffee I drink by being lazy but it is also a great built in way for new members of the department to get to know people and it fosters collaboration. It is easy for a student to ask a senior professor something simple as you can ask it casually at coffee hour. As I am not very good at remembering to go to coffee hour I have been setting alarms to remind me to stop working.

However, on Friday afternoon I need no alarm, partially because duh it is Friday but also because I eat a smaller lunch so I can have CAKE!

Today’s coffee hour was perfect, the cakes were wonderful and there were even a few that people had brought back from home to share (i.e., one from St. Petersburg) and there was lots of chocolate. But the best part was that because everyone comes to Friday coffee hour and everyone sits down for a while to eat their cake I got to witness 3 collaborations forming and 2 problems solved by helping each other. There was much catching up…”what have you been up to lately”, “oh I am annoyed ___ isn’t working” etc.

I really like this structured yet informal way to provide both socialization and collaboration. Is there a way this could be implemented in American research groups effectively? I am still pondering the ways…

London Day 1/Show 1

Arrived in London. After searching out the many options for taking a bus/train/cab to the city I just randomly chose one which took quite a while to get to my hotel. I ended up with a bus to a major underground station to buy a underground pass, then taking the underground to my hotel. After finally arriving I started to head out to the half price ticket counter to get a ticket for a show that night. It happened that my hotel also offered half price tickets through the TKTS. I was able to buy a ticket without even leaving my hotel. This allowed me to slowly unpack and get settled before heading out for a quick meal and the always crazy search for the theater. I decided to take the underground but there was a problem at one of the train platforms and I ended up walking down Regent Street. I didn’t have much time to make it 4 underground stops so I had to walk quite quickly, however it was great for getting a good outline of where things were.

I ended up getting a ticket to Dreamboats and Petticoats mostly because I wanted to go to the Playhouse Theater. When I was looking at the current shows in London, online I realized I had never heard of this show. I love musicals and love love love to go see them live. One of my favorite trips in recent years was to NYC with my best friend where we went to see multiple shows. In Chicago, I was a constant visitor to the traveling Broadway shows, the ballet, and the symphony. By looking at the information about Dreamboats and Petticoats it was obviously not a new show and was a British classic so I thought it would be a great introduction to London Theater.

london2012 006

The theater was gorgeous. The show was so much fun. It was cute and campy. It was the British equivalent to Grease. The staging was good and the singers were really talented.  A good first night!

Side Note: only buy discount tickets from TKTS…all others are just like the guy selling tickets on the street…no matter how fancy they look.

CAKE! see you should go to coffee hour…

This afternoon when 15:00 came around my office mate asked if I was going to coffee. “It is cake day.” Cake??? Now I love deserts in Sweden because they are often not as sweet as those in the US and also they tend to be more favor full and have differing textures. Äppelkaka tastes like apples, gunillakaka tastes of vanilla, and pepparkaka tastes like ginger and each has a different texture and non of them are like American cake. Each week a different group of people are in charge of making the coffee for all the coffee hours and then on Friday they bring cake for afternoon coffee.

This is brilliant. You want your students and employees to keep working hard on Friday afternoon…bribe them with cake 🙂  See you should go to coffee hour!

Today we had German apple tart with vanilla sauce and layered kind of cheese cake and a sugar cake ….YAY CAKE!

I wonder if this can be used to capitalize on my memory to go to coffee hour…this week my score is 7/10 .

Coffee Time is Serious Business…

which apparently I am not good at…

So my coffee score is 3 and 4, not even 50% success rate. Every day, twice a day is department coffee time. This is important because it is chance to meet people and get to know my co-workers…since we don’t share an office, and the department is small, and we all work on our own computers each day, and don’t have weekly meetings…this is important. The problem is I have slight (undiagnosed) ADD (attention deficit disorder) and my method of coping is hyper focusing! i.e., I block out everything around me by looking at a very small part of my computer screen and using tools that don’t show things like my email while I am working. I am not a person with  10 windows open at once. I try to keep my desk totally clear except a water bottle which I keep far enough away from my keyboard that I can’t see it with out turning my head. I blast music (often classical) in my head phones because it helps me to have something specific to block out when I start working, it helps me work to block out everything else around me. So basically I am a really good hermit. I have never been good at going to department seminars, meetings, or apparently coffee breaks. I have to set alarms to remind myself and then half the time, I say “yah ok, as soon as I finish this one thing”…20 min later I look at the clock and see I missed it or would be so late it would be ruder to show up.

This issue has transferred to coffee time which at first I felt was a little silly to set an alarm for but after two days this week of only making it to coffee when reminded by my need for coffee when it just happened to be time and having a meeting with my boss directly after coffee time I thought it might be best to try the alarm system. Today I heard the alarm this morning and went up for coffee. I even took my personal coffee cup (YAY Northwestern purple and argyle!). Then this afternoon apparently I was so focused that I didn’t even hear the alarm, which according to my officemate I turned off pretty quickly but don’t remember. I wonder if there is something in my brain that is resistant to alarms (I also struggle getting up to alarms and have to use ones that are obnoxious to everyone else but I still turn off with out noticing) or if there are better strategies for reminders.

NU coffee cup 🙂

New Job: 1st ”coffee hour”

When I lived in Sweden for a summer in college and worked at Lund University in the biochemistry department they had a coffee machine that could make all kinds of fancy coffee. Whenever I took a break from work I would go get a coffee…this lead to me drinking about 5-10 cups of coffee a day, giving me time to practice my Swedish with people from other research groups but when I returned to the US my blood pressure “increased a lot in a really short period of time” which the nurse thought must be some kind of mistake so I had to go back a week later to get re-measured. After cold turkey on coffee for a week my blood pressure was back in the normal range and it was no longer an issue. However, I had learned that good coffee, which in Sweden is often a meal like tea is in England, was a huge weakness of mine…

On my first day of work in the theoretical department I learned that they have coffee hour twice a day at 10am and 3pm. After finishing up talking to my boss and doing a few bureaucratic things with the department secretary, who as a side note is so sweetly Swedish and extremely efficient and organized (secretarial staff is the backbone of universities if you didn’t know), I attended my first coffee hour. 10am and everyone on the floor from both theoretical chemistry and physical chemistry came out for coffee. Every week 3 different people are in charge of making coffee, making sure there is milk, cleaning up afterwards, and running the dishwashers of dirty coffee cups (you know cause Swedes drink so much coffee that then need professional cleaning, not just the rinse out and take them home with you to clean them every few weeks like most offices in the US).

So first mistake at coffee hour is I accidentally sat with the physical chemists…”the theoretical chemists normally sit over here on the couch”…Note: while chemists/scientist in general think they are very funny, they are usually not…so this was definitely meant as a joke; I can just see someone reading this post and thinking…wow that’s not very nice; they are very nice, just not very funny J. So strike one I sat at the table not on the couch…now that I was sitting at the table I thought I should maybe say there for a while so it didn’t look like I was jumping up to switch teams. So after meeting some nice guys who work in physical chemistry, scientist question number 1: “What is your project?”, now as I had just talked to my professor (PI) about how he had gotten a grant based on a pretty specific project and I would need to do something toward that project before moving on to “something fun” I decided to answer this question in a general way…saying I was new and was going to work on molecules and molecular dynamics of light harvesting complexes for solar cell applications. 2: “No, what specifically are you going to do?” ahh scientists :). After a conversation about what I was planning to do as well as what my PhD work was, I cleaned up my cup and was going to walk over to talk to the theoretical chemists for a minute when one of the guys I had been talking to stopped me to tell me all about the experiments they were doing and “your worked on electron transfer so maybe you can help us out if we have questions.” Yes, as a purely theoretical chemist my job is now to help experimentalist explain their results they don’t understand…so of course (i) if I have time, (ii) if it is a simple calculation or related to something I am interested in, and (iii) will get my name on a paper I would love to help :). Note: for my PhD I did the same thing just for myself because I was doing both theory and experiments.

After talking with the theoretical chemists and hearing all about how even though my dad got his PhD at this university over 30 years ago they were sure they could drag out someone who knew him (I failed to mention the 3 people who I have met who work at the university who are good friends of my dad’s “from the old days”), I was headed back to finish up all my bureaucratic things and was stopped by a group of girls from the physical group who wanted to discuss my “lipstick”: the chemistry of the color and how it really wasn’t lipstick but one of those lip crayons. As we were discussing the toxicity of makeup and what kinds of metal complexes are often used to make the vibrant colors (like the red I was trying out) and how some of them are not allowed in Sweden/Europe because they are more cautious about these things, I began to feel like this would be an easy transition…I hadn’t been that worried but sometimes it is hard to make friends with the people you work with because everyone always talks about work, or the only way to get to know them is by hanging out outside of work…enter the daily (or twice daily coffee hour).

So day one of work summary: go to coffee hour, and scientist are the same everywhere…oh chemists 🙂

4 hrs in Dublin! oh crazy flight schedules…

Like most I bought my plane tickets based on timing and cost. After discussing arrival times with my family in Sweden and deciding that I would stay in Chicago for the first weekend in Nov to say goodbye to some friends I picked the flight that was cheapest and most convenient (also the shortest trip that was not a direct flight). After excitedly forwarding my itinerary to the parents, my aunt in Sweden, and my best friends I got a cute email back from a friend asking what I was going to do in Dublin during my layover.

Now you never want too little time between flights so that you miss your connection but 7.5 hrs is a long time. I began researching what I could do if I left the airport. Note: Dublin airport is a 30min drive from downtown Dublin City. So I found a bus that took you to Dublin or one that took you to a smaller near by town. I hadn’t really decided what to do or if I would even leave the airport but after some encouraging from my neighbor on the plane who told me some no fuss, easy, relaxing places to go I decided to just go for it…4 hours in a new country I had never been to! it is an adventure!

After leaving the airport and easily finding the bus to downtown (aircoach-12€ for round trip), I arrived at Grafton Street (Trinity College stop on the bus). Grafton Street is a famous shopping street and as it was just 10am the stores were beginning to open but there were very few people other than the locals cutting through on their way to downtown. I meandered slowly enjoying the wonderful Christmas window displays (barring the fact it is the first week in November and that the Christmas season is already in full swing is ridiculous, they were very pretty and fun to see) and drooling over all of the amazing shoes in the windows (shoes are my biggest weakness which is difficult because you feel guilty packing more shoes and less underwear when moving around the world ;). I was slowly making my way to St. Stevens Green at the end of Grafton Street which I had been told was really beautiful and very peaceful in the mornings.

Using my powerful deduction skills (i.e., following the local girls with good shoes) I found a cute little local quick coffee shop off the main street with no seating but a long line of locals getting morning commute coffee. With my cappuccino (no foam) I approached St. Stevens Green:

ImageAfter wandering for while I found a bench overlooking a small pond to sit and relax on:

Image and a minute later….Image

INVASION!!! However with no food to share I decided to walk on. I had a wonderful ramble through the park, randomly picking many benches to sit on for a few minutes at time. The best was one I found in the SUN! Warming up from the sun and my coffee, I did some people watching and enjoyed the many shades of green:

ImageAfter thoroughly chilling my self by staying outside and not moving, in my probably inappropriate sweatshirt (all my winter coats are already in Sweden because I was supposed to move 2 months ago), I decided it was time for more coffee and maybe some internet. I tried to find a local cafe with internet but found a Starbucks first and decided that a Gingerbread latte sounded good. Sitting in the warm cafe with a cranberry orange muffin, I logged on to post the two blog posts: one I had finished just before the cab came in Chicago (and not had time to post) and the one I had written at the O’hare airport.

ImageAfter this fortification I headed back out into Dublin…I had decided I wasn’t going to try to go to any museums but just get a feel for the city. I started in the direction of the other major downtown bus pick up and just started wandering, letting myself be pulled in what ever direction I felt like. In the back of my mind I knew I wanted to get a Christmas ornament (I collect things I can make into Christmas ornaments from the places I travel) and maybe even birthday gifts for two of my best friends with birthdays in November. As I wondered of course I got lost but it didn’t feel that way because I had decided to not pre-decide and therefore there were no “wrong” directions…when it got to after noon I decided to look at the little map I had gotten from the bus company (which was missing lots of streets) and begin moving toward the bus stop more directly while looking for a pub for lunch.

Because where else can you eat in Dublin but a pub?

ImageSitting in the upstairs window, looking out onto the corner of O’Connel Street, this Victorian Pub was a great find for lunch. The menu was full of traditional cuisine but the fish and chips caught my eye. I have eaten my french fries with lots of salt and mayo since having them this way on the streets of London in 2002.


It was an amazing choice! So yummy even the greens salad with homemade spicy mustard vinaigrette was great. With a glass of cider (I couldn’t bring myself to be up for Guinness which I normally love but didn’t sound exciting in my by this time extremely tired state), I ate slowly, savoring the wonderful food and atmosphere. After I caught myself falling asleep at the table I new it was time to head back to the airport.

A quick stop in few shops on O’Connell Street and I found presents for the birthday girls, my Christmas ornament, and a necklace for myself. As I waited to take the bus back to the airport I watched the line of cabbies across the street try to talk airport bus riders into skipping out on the wait for the bus. After I had waited 13 min for the bus I felt compelled to tell the others that the bus was supposed to come every 15 min and it had already been 13. The nice eastern European couple who’s language I had been trying to place as they talked to each other piped in that they just lied to the cabbies and said they had a return ticket already so as not to get bothered 😉 Less than a minute later the bus arrived and the group who had been debating on taking a cab were grateful for our noisiness 😉

A wonderfully relaxing day in Dublin City and one quick bus ride back to airport and no line at security I was on my way to Sweden!