What does a science nerd do when sick?

tea

Well, you should sleep more, drink lots of fluids, and rest up…I did these and more! After dragging myself to work on Monday, in an effort to stick to my working at work pledge, I took a break from re-doing the same work over and over to go to afternoon coffee break. I made my self a cup of tea and sat down with the very few people there. The minute I opened my mouth to speak one of them asked if I was sick (I sounded like a frog). I said that yes actually I was sick again. I had the flew 2 weeks ago,spent the weekend with my cousin, and when I got home I was feeling somewhat better. Two days after returning to work I was starting to feel tired and by the end of that week I was experiencing the beginning symptoms of the flu again! WHAT? I almost never get sick. I lived in Chicago for 5 years and got only one real winter cold. Mostly I get sniffly and tired but not stay home from work sick.

After being told I looked “like death”, “really sick”, sounded “horrible”, “please stay away from me”, and that I should “probably go home” I decided to work from home for a few days till I was better. This way I could take naps, drink lots of tea, and work when I was able but not when my brain was fuzzy. It is amazing how slow you think when you are sick. I was trying to write a review article and do corrections on a paper plus write a review of another manuscript for a journal. None of this was going well. I couldn’t even focus enough to write blog posts. So I decided to turn to every science nerd’s if I only had time pile. This is the stack of papers you would like to read, the blogs you would like to catch up on old posts, and the podcast back episodes you have been avoiding because those 100+ episodes of Science Friday now feel like a job not just for fun.

I spent the last week, making figures while listening to podcasts about space, the flu (more to come later), honey bees, solar energy, nuclear waste, and the meteor that crashed into Russia. I read 20+ articles I had flagged to read later, taking extra notes to look back at when I no longer had tired brain. I went through over 40 packs of tissues and 3 boxes of tea bags. All in all, I obviously needed this break from work to get better and I was able to clear out my science nerd inbox. I wonder how long it will be till it is full again.

flu survival kit

science nerd sicky survival kit

Bowling Take 2

This week for our Thursday social  we went bowling to use our 1 hr free coupons.

While I still think bowling is really boring I did have quite a lot of fun. We had 3 lanes and were all able to bowl 2 complete games. We even ended up using extra coupons and continuing to bowl for a 2nd hour. After bowling we ended up going out to dinner at a Spanish/Mexican food place around the corner. Now I ate Mexican food a total of 5 times when I lived in Chicago (5 years…not counting food I made myself). Once was for a work lunch, and the other two times were to try a few places. However the Mexican food there was neither TexMex nor the type of spicy meat sauces I like from Mexico…it was mostly lightly spiced dry meat in tacos etc. Now none of the food I tried was truly terrible but neither was it really what I wanted and since Mexican is cheap to make at home I stopped eating it at restaurants. This restaurant wasn’t traditional Mexican food or Spanish food but it was well spiced and the meat was cooked well.

We had a fun, really nerdy discussion about the type of video games we all like to play and grew up playing. As the friend of one of the guys’ girl friends said at the bowling alley (they didn’t come to dinner) it was like we were in the episode of The Big Bang Theory. I don’t think she thought this was a compliment.

As we ordered in the resturant the waitress kept responding in Swedish when anyone spoke in english (some of the guys from other european contries dont speak Swedish). So I decided to order in Swedish…I am supposed to be practicing right? The guys were all ordering beers and I asked the waitress “vilken typ av tequila ha du?” to which the waitress looked at me like I was crazy. When I repeated in English “what type of tequila do you have?” she still looked at me like I was crazy. Well apparently most people order liquor off the menu without knowing the brand, all the places we have gone have said: vodka, tequila, ….. The waitress didn’t know what types they had and had to pull out all the bottles and show me. Obviously,since I don’t drink a lot of beer, I will have to get used to the crazy looks as I continue to ask “vilken typ av tequila ha du?” “vilken typ av vodka ha du?” “vilken typ av whiskey ha du?” …

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…

Work Life Balance: Working Out

One of the main workshop and development conversations in science academia both in graduate school and beyond is how to achieve work life balance. I have attended so many workshops on this topic it is crazy. I am not sure there is really such a thing as work life balance but this year I made my New Years Resolutions in the hope of being healthier, happier, and more balanced. To me this means being healthy: both the food I eat and working out, being happy: doing fun things, staying in touch with friends, and balancing that with hard work and some good publications (otherwise how would you know you were productive :).

This is the first post in what I hope will be a year long series on how I am finding work life balance and working on my goals for the year.

One of my goals for this year is to work out more regularly. To this end, I decided to try to ease into it this time instead of trying to start too quickly which I did often during graduate school. My goal is to work out 3 times a week in January and then slowly increase this amount to 4-5 times a week in February and March. I decided to start with some workout DVDs I have (I own about 30ish).

Today I did my first workout of the new year; I tried a Jillian Michaels tape. What I notice each time I start again is that I am sore, out of breath, and that I don’t do the workout “full out”. I made it through the hr long workout but just barely.

This time what is particularly interesting is that I lost about 3 kg on my recent trip to London by just walking around. I was being cheap when I had time to kill instead of paying to take the tube back to my hotel I just “went shopping”, i.e. wandering through the stores and buying nothing. I hoped that this would be a good kick off to my fitness this year. I have been eating quite healthily since I moved into my apartment as during graduate school the way I learned to eat cheaply was by cooking healthy food in bulk.

Even though my back is sore from arm circles and some planks (crazy I know), I think this is a good start for the year.

the fab food find

Every trip I take I am on the lookout for the fabulous food find. I have listened to some podcasts and done some research online about the food and food culture in London. I was looking forward to the spicy middle eastern food and was hoping to try something I haven’t had before but most often the fabulous food find comes where you least expect it and when you are not looking. Today I had a very long day and was not feeling up to exploring much tonight. I decided to head back to the hotel and after dropping off all of my stuff I seriously considered buying a boring sandwich and crashing early. However I decided to brave a few block walk to a place that had really good reviews in my restaurant app.

***BANG***

The Fab Food Find: Casa Malevo, Cocina Argentina

Ordered: 1 glass Malbec, 2 empanadas: 1 beef, 1 corn, Lamb chops with “anchovies” salsa verde and flan

The anchovies salsa verde was really amazing. As someone who is not fond of overly fishy things and who doesn’t really like anchovies in particular it was really a great mix of spicy chilies, sweet/smooth olive oil and meaty/slightly smoky anchovies. Plus flan…

The next time you take a trip try to be on the lookout of the fabulous food find. If you are on the lookout you just find more than one.

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.

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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.

Pepparkakshusen

This year my cousin and her husband gave me a coupon for a day of making pepparkakshusen with them. Below is a bunch of pictures from our day of fun, plus the finished products.

A quick rant to get started is that people say gingerbread and pepparkakor are the same. While Google translate might say these are the same to me they are completely different. If you have ever bought the boxes of pepparkakor at IKEA or ANNAS ginger snaps and thought they are way better than other gingerbread cookies, I agree. While these Americanized versions taste more like American ginger bread than any of the family recipes I have used for pepparkakor they still have a special spiciness to them that I love. The key is the ground cloves. If you look at most American gingerbread recipes they don’t have ground clove and if they do it tends to be less than 1 tsp for a batch of a dozen or so cookies. However, my family swedish recipies and the book we used for making pepparkakshusen (http://www.adlibris.com/se/product.aspx?isbn=9179881629) have as much ground cloves as cinnimon and ginger. So have a few pepparkakor this holiday season and appreciate the special spiciness.

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cutting the dough

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baking and cooling the pieces

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PEPPARKAKSHUSEN!!!!

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what do you do with all the rest of the dough?

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pepparkakor och pepparkaksgris

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and even a pepparkakscheese cake

Work Christmas Parties ? Why?

One of the biggest questions I am seeing answered on other blogs this season is about what to wear or what to take or how to act at a work holiday party. While these are all good questions to get answers to (see end of post for some of my favorite links) here I will just touch on my history with work holiday parties. In an academia sense there are a few types of work holiday parties. First there is a research group party, a department party, a school wide party and then even some smaller groups with in the university also have parties (like our juniors bowling party last week: http://wp.me/p2QzcO-3c).

In undergrad I attended the department holiday party and the 2 years I was in a research group I went to the group holiday party, then some of the clubs I was part of had parties. All of these were pretty fun. The department party was sponsored by the department so the food was pretty good. The club parties tended to be pizza but sometimes had a fun activity. The research group I was in at the end of undergrad was really small the first year and it was just a potluck, hang out type party. The second year when we were larger we went to a fancy bowling place for food and bowling (which our boss completely paid for) but as I am not a huge fan of bowling and this happened right before I needed to take all my finals I didn’t stay long.

When I got to graduate school we were officially accepted into our research groups right around thanksgiving so the holiday party was the first big event to get to know your research group in a social setting. I of course attended both groups’ holiday events, the department holiday party, and the graduate school holiday party each year. Now the department party was food, alcohol, and some kind of drawing or raffle with some music and games some of the years. I always dreaded going but it was a good time to catch up with friends in other groups who I didn’t see often and I always ended up having a pretty good time. The graduate school party was often at a nice location (the alumni club right on the lake downtown for 2 of the years) and the food and drinks were good. Since it was free as long as you signed up on time I often combined this with a shopping trip at some downtown stores, plus good free dinner. Finally the two research groups I was in were large (>25 people at all times, up to about 45 in one of them). This makes planning holiday parties more difficult. One of the groups (the larger one) had the tradition of going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. The first few years we had a prefix menu where everyone paid ahead of time and you got 3 courses. This cost about $30-40 per person but I would just budget this into my holiday expenses. Then the group started picking other restaurants and the method for paying became more and more messy. I don’t mind splitting a bill with people but graduate students are cheap and no one would pay their share with out being forced to. Plus splitting a bill with 40 people is just a pain…even when we split between 6-8 at a table it was a pain depending on who you got sat by. The biggest problem I had with this type of party is that you actually didn’t get to meet anyone in your group. You sat by people you commuted to the restaurant with (i.e., the ones you knew) and then you couldn’t move around to talk to other people so you were stuck with the same people for hours. My other research group had a holiday celebration that I enjoyed much more. This event was a whole weekday in Jan or Feb at our boss’s house. We would show up around 9am, have some bagels and coffee and then have a day full of fun science talks. Sometimes they were project ideas that someone had just tried thinking they would never work, sometimes they were talks on how to use a useful tool (I did an in depth end note talk a few years in a row) and sometimes they were talks from group alumni about what they were up to now. Then after  lunch (Chicago pizza) we would go outside and have  snowball fight, build a snowman, or just fool around for a while. After the rest of the talks we returned to campus around 5pm. This structure was nice because it offered multiple hang out times to talk to people. Of course some people sat in one place or talked to only their friends but I was able to use the food and coffee breaks to talk to people about what they were working on and I started 2 different collaborations at these events. As an added bonus this event being in Jan removed it from the stress of the rest of the holiday season.

As I have explained before I have a go to the holiday party even if you don’t feel like it policy so when the sign up sheet for the holiday party went up in the coffee room, I signed up. Then when I learned from a discussion by others at lunch that we had to bring food…I said I would bring cookies. No one corrected me so when I saw the sign up sheet for the food and the only options were traditional food for the Julbord I was a little miffed. After deciding I could cook meat balls (I make Swedish meatballs often to eat myself) I realized the problem that the party was a Monday after work. How was I going to bring warm meatballs to the office then? Were they going to be able to heat them up? what was the plan? I kept asking these questions of the guys I eat lunch with and never really got any answers so I decided to cook my meat balls at my apartment on Monday afternoon and take them straight to the party. Of course they wouldn’t be hot but at least they should be warm. Turns out they had decided on a way to reheat the food onsite (sorta) and the schedule was much more complicated that I knew.

First there was a talk which I had never seen on the schedule, then everyone went upstairs for dinner. Dinner was a Julbord buffet that was a mix of all the food people had brought. There was a lot of food but also a lot of people so the organization of where the food was, what was hot and when people should get in line wasn’t great. After the dinner started there were signing groups, drinking songs, and a trivia game during and after eating. After all of this they announced a treasure hunt. Since the party had already lasted for 3 hrs and I had planned to do some work before I went to bed, I snuck out to head home.

What I learned is that scheduling a holiday party is always difficult and there is probably no good way but just like with any social event making it cheaper for the planning group just puts the costs off onto the guests, either in actually money, time, or inconvenience. A good party balances these costs and work parties are always a mess.

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Holiday Party Attire Links

Festive Attire (That Won’t Make You Cringe) – Sociology of Style

Things That Make You Sparkle – Sociology of Style

5 Outfits of Christmas – Sociology of Style

Casual Party Attire – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Party Looks – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Red Pants – Capital Hill Style

Some Good Coworker or Friend Gift Links

Holiday Hot Coco – Capital Hill Style

Gifts for Co-Workers – Capital Hill Style

May your work holiday parties be classy and at least not boring 🙂

Bowling and Christmas Table (Julbord)

Bowling…why is bowling a group activity? I don’t understand why people want to go bowling or skating in groups. I don’t find either of these activities particularly fun but I will suck it up and go when the group is going. The “juniors” in the department announced that it was a holiday tradition to go to a bowling place in the city and then eat at their attached restaurant with a traditional julbord.

So what is Julbord? It is the traditional Swedish Christmas dinner. From listening to the guys at work discussing it and seeing all the adverts for different locations posted all over the city (at bus stops) it seems like it is pretty popular for groups to go out to have a Julbord for holiday parties. Julbord consists of a large buffet with many types of sil (pickled herring), smoked salmon, eggs and then a large selection of cold cuts of ham, and salami, cooked potatoes, and meatballs. Obviously it is easier to go out for this kind of meal to get a larger variety in each type of food than if you are buying them for just your family at home. The place we were headed to for work was supposed to have 40+ types of sil (not that I was excited as I don’t like it but hey).

I am all for doing some traditional Swedish activities but the price for bowling and the Julbord is my weekly budget for food (most often it is what I spend for a week and a half for longer). OK well I have the policy that you do whatever the group culture is for the holiday parties so I sucked it up and went. On the bus ride to the city others in the group were complaining that more girls in the department didn’t come for bowling. I wanted to explain to them how much this cost vs. the benefit was not worth it so that was probably why.

When we got to the bowling we had to pay to check our coats (really?) and after changing our shoes, which is the first thing I hate about bowling…the ugly, uncomfortably flat, smelly shoes, we split up and went to the bowling lanes. I have always thought that group activities like bowling and skating our really divisive since you end up dividing into groups and especially with bowling it is not easy to change groups and mix with different groups of people. Our group was spread out over 3 different lanes and it was hard to talk to anyone at the other lanes as you felt like you weren’t paying attention to your lane or they were always calling you for your turn. We had paid for 1 hr of bowling. I did OK the first game (I am not horrible at bowling…this isn’t why I hate it), then I got bored and stopped paying attention to my turn 🙂

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After we finished bowling we headed up to the Julbord. While the food was fine it definitely wasn’t worth the amount we spent on it. I am not sure why most gradschool guys have decided that buffets are a good value. I wish they would actually figure out how much they pay for the meal vs. how much they eat and that for 90% of people it is a really bad deal. I almost always pay 2x as much for food that is not as good as a plated meal when I go to a buffet. I guess if you eat a lot a lot it could possibly be worth it but seriously you shouldn’t be eating that much of the kind of food that is available in buffet form. We did get free hour of bowling coupons so hey we get to this again in January, score.

Honestly the best part of this whole night was my 25 min walk home to my apartment through the snow covered city. I decided not to wait for the bus and instead wondered home with fun music blasting in my headphones :). I had so much fun wondering home and looking at all the fun old buildings plus I love the sound of a city at night in winter.

Making Glögg…an American-Swede Tradition?

In my parents house the holidays smells like glögg. Every year my dad, messes with and putters with making his glögg making the whole house smell fabulous. As my little brother and I have gotten old enough to drink legally, we have also partaken in the glögg. However, I have some very distinct memories of our childhood home and the smell of Christmas tree and glögg on Christmas Eve as we made Scottish Shortbread.

Now what is glögg? It is a Scandinavian spiced & hot wine. Perfect for those long winter days (that look like nights). Go for a long walk? you need glögg. Have a long bus ride? you need glögg. Get rained on the whole time you are at Tivoli? you need glögg.

When I moved away from my parents to Chicago I needed to learn to make glögg for myself…I got my dad to write down what he does and practiced a few times for myself and close friends before making it for things like the work holiday party. Now I have been making glögg often during the holiday season for 5 years. I have a homemade is better and “Fredin’s are good at this” mentality about making glögg (I also feel this way about meat gravies which I also learned to make from my dad). Now that I live in Sweden I assumed that the glögg would be amazing.

It turns out most people (I mean everyone really) buys glögg. Either low alcohol % from the grocery store or svart vin/stronger from the liquor store. While some of the kinds I tried, both at work and with my family were good they weren’t as potent or as spicy as the homemade kind we made in the US. Maybe this is a Amerian-Swede trying to create culture or a connection to history…or maybe it is just my dad but either way I think I am a homemade glögg person for life.

Of course after telling my family in Sweden about our traditional Fredin homemade glögg, my aunt picked a day during the holiday weekend for me to make this homemade glögg for everyone. The problem is that in the US both my dad and I make our glögg “starters” at the end of each holiday season for the next year. I only had about 3 weeks until I needed to use a starter.

So, I went to the liquor store to get vodka and a sweet strong winish liquor (brandy, sherry, or svart vin) and to the grocery store to get all the spices. First, I really don’t understand small bottles of actual liquor. Liquor doesn’t go bad, and it is so much cheaper to buy a handle than a 750ml bottle, plus you don’t have to go back to the store so often. But at Systembolaget (the liquor store, Systemet) the largest bottle of vodka they had was 750ml. In Chicago I used the bottle of a handle of Jose Cuervo because it was large and square, with a good handle giving good mixing when shaking the spices into the liquor. Here I had to buy the only bottle of 750ml vodka which looked pretty cheap and was  a brand I had never heard of.

Back in my apartment I poured out a glass of vodka (an American water sized glass) from the bottle and added all the spices (cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, orange peal) and some svart vin. Then I heated the whole mixture for a few min on the stove keeping it well below boiling but still hot to get some of the spice flavor to extract into the alcohol. Then I re-bottled the starter mix and I was ready to make real glögg.

glögg starter

glögg starter

just add wine and sugar….

The glass of left over vodka I made into cucumber vodka by soaking sliced of cucumber in the glass for a few days before using it up. The extra svart vin I used to make a great wine glaze on a nice piece of chicken.