Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon
Mr. Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Signal boost for a collaboration

Some of my readers may have a chronic illness, and I have recently been invited to collaborate on a project called the Body Listening Project. It's an online forum for people to talk about their challenges and successes in managing their illnesses and symptoms. It was launched this week, and a new topic will be introduced every week for ten weeks. It's part social media, part data collection for research. The investigators want to be able to find the best ways to help people manage their own health, (especially) when conventional medicine may not have all the answers. Please participate or share! Thanks. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Things I was told not to do today

Sometimes the people in a dental office can come across as accusing.

I went in this morning for my 6-month cleaning and check up. My teeth are in good shape; I brush twice a day and floss every day without fail. Still, I have sensitive teeth and bleedy gums. Both can be genetic predispositions, which I believe I have because the hygienist and the dentist listed the following reasons for my minor problems:

- not brushing enough
- not flossing
- sugary soft drinks
- unsweetened soft drinks
- energy drinks
- smoking
- brushing with a hard bristled toothbrush

I like my dentist, I do, but they do get a bit preachy at times. I very seldom drink sodas and never any with aspartame or energy drinks. (In fact, I eat very little sugar which is not only good for my teeth but my brains and gastrointestinal system) I have never smoked. I have never used a hard bristled toothbrush - I have always used a soft one.

I know that's just their bag of reasons they feed to everyone but good grief. Instead of telling me these are the reasons, they maybe could ask if I do any of those things instead of assume. I found I had to defend myself against their accusations. Maybe all their other patients lie?

Now to be fair, one of the things the dentist did mention was citrus and citric acid. I have been consuming a lit of citrus lately (I found a guy on KSL who goes to Arizona every other week and picks citrus there, brings it back & sells it in Utah out of his house - my citrus dealer). So I will cut down on that. I just get a bit annoyed when someone like me, with a sophisticated understanding of health and especially dental health, gets a lecture on how to brush my teeth properly.

/end rant

No cavities! 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Training for a Half: week 4

No you didn't miss all the other posts about the Half marathon I have signed up for. I've been bad at keeping the commitment to myself of blogging once a week. I think maybe it's the day/time I scheduled always got overtaken by other things. I first had it scheduled for Friday afternoon, when work was winding down and I was not likely to be interrupted, but then someone scheduled a meeting for that time. Then I tried putting it on Saturdays after I got back from Food Not Bombs, but by then I am so motivated to clean the house or do other chores that opening up my computer was the last thing I wanted to do. I'll work on finding the right time.

In our first year here (2014), I signed up for and ran a 5K race alongside the Salt Lake City Marathon. They continue to send reminder emails years later for past participants to sign up for something for the next race. When the reminder came in early January I decided now is the time, I'm finally going to do a half.

I did a 10-day juice fast over Christmas & the New Year and lost 6 pounds. I was lighter than I had been in more than 15 years, I decided I was ready to start training. I have a treadmill too, so I really have no excuse (such as weather) to not run.

I'm a big fan of health and fitness apps. I have a fitbit and check my fitbit app constantly to see where I am in relation to the people I am fitbit friends with. Back in December 2010 I discovered the newly released LoseIt! app and have been charting my ups and downs with that for more than five years now, it's so gratifying! I love my Nike+ Women's training app that combines dumbells and other equipment with cardio segments. When I signed up for this Half, I went to the "coach" section of my Nike+ running app, plugged in the date and length of the race I want to train for, and then 12 weeks of training plan was laid out before me.

The plan includes four days of running - two light (3 miles), two heavy (one longish run, one longer and longer run). It also includes one day of cross-training (so I use the aforementioned Nike+ training app) and two rest days. My main goal is to get through this training and race injury-free, so much the better if I can reach my goal weight while doing it.

A funny thing happens though when you are trying to reach a goal weight and then start an aggressive fitness program. The weight remains the same as you burn fat and start building muscle. I can't get discouraged by the number on the scale (but I sorta do) because the way my clothes hangs is totally different. I have to keep reminding myself that since moving to SLC just over two years ago, I have lost 35 pounds. That's no small feat! And now I am training for a race, a half marathon, something I have always wanted to do. Even if I never do it again, I will be pleased.

I am still juicing every day, sometimes twice a day. After doing that 10-day Reboot, I have a really hard time eating anything that has been fried, processed foods, or bread. It's been really interesting seeing how my body is adapting to this new regime in our house - Dan and I hardly eat meat anymore as we move to a whole-foods plant-based lifestyle. I am now one of those people who buys a 25-pound bag of carrots for juicing.

I digress. The race day is April 16, two weeks before I finish my second Master's degree, and a few weeks after my 42nd birthday. I'm looking forward to my training as it will give me time also to catch up on audio books and podcasts! 

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Story of Samantha Sophia 2002-2015

Okay I think enough time has passed now that I can write about what happened.

We had a holiday party on Saturday, December 19. Sam usually hid in the back room when more than three people came into the house, and when she didn't move for a few hours, we thought that was really strange but wrote it off as her learning to be more social. A couple hours after everyone left, she started behaving very strangely. Constantly walking around the house, walking on parts of us and the bed she doesn't normally go, constant swallowing. At 2am we decided to take her to the emergency vet clinic.

A few very expensive tests later, the vet told Dan that Sam had no platelets - no cause, no cure - and would not live to Christmas. While we were there Sam became very lethargic and went blind. It was so hard to watch. We were given the options of leaving her there for more tests, having her put down, or taking her home. We opted for the latter. We got home at 4am and she was totally unresponsive. She went peacefully an hour later.

It was just so sudden and there was no way we could have prepared ourselves for that, nothing we could have done differently to help. She did not suffer.

It's been a long time since I have had to mourn the loss of a loved one. She was my baby, we were together for 13 years - a long time for her breed as I understand it but I expected her to live at least to 17. That cat has been all over the place though - she was born in Korea, I took her to Canada in 2003, she moved between Alberta & BC for a few years until we settled in BC, Then we immigrated to the United States in 2013, moved to North Carolina and then Utah eleven months later. She lived in Utah just nine days shy of two years.

This all happened at a very interesting time, actually. If it had happened during a semester I would have been completely messed up. Because she died just at the beginning of the Christmas break, I had time to grieve with no work obligations - and we had no social plans for Christmas either (thank the heavens!) If it had happened at the end of this spring semester when we are also planning to move out of the house we are renting, that would have been difficult too. So really, it could not have come at a better time. Kitties know that, I think. Still, it's been hard getting used to our house being really quiet.

In the days that followed her passing, we took out all the kitty supplies. Her two scratching posts were nearly threadbare anyway, and with the mobility ramps that Dan built in 2013, all her paraphernalia took up a lot of space. I gave away her food to neighbours. We had to clean up from the party anyway but we have completely rearranged the house again.

It's also really changed our perspective on things. It was unconscious, but we had planned to stay in Salt Lake after I graduate partly because we didn't want to put her through another move. We don't have to worry about that now. We can also go away for a week or weekend and not need to find someone to look after the kitty. We definitely plan to get cats again in the future but not until we are a bit more stable and we know where I will be working.

During the week around New Year's eve, I looked after my friend Jenn's cats while she was away. She didn't know I had lost my companion. It was so nice to be loved up by her big fluffy kitties - I think they knew I was grieving for my baby.

Because of the full-on winter weather we had for the two weeks over the holidays, we weren't able to find a place to bury Sam. Finally, on New Year's day we found a good place in the western desert and gave her a perfect send off. We did everything we could for her, and now it's time to let her go and move on. I still get sad and cry every day when something reminds me of her, of course. She's the only pet I have ever had in my adult life. But as a gardener, I understand that all things must die that others may live.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

RIP sweet kitty

Samantha Sophia 2002-2015

I'll write about what happened when writing about what happened doesn't make me cry so much. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

free food giveaways: Food Not Bombs Salt Lake City

Sometime last month when I was volunteering with Green Urban Lunch Box, one of the volunteers told me about the food giveaway at a park near downtown SLC by Food Not Bombs.  I went that day (a Saturday) and have been going every weekend since (except for the weekend I was away).

The volunteers for the organization rescue perfectly good food that has gone past its expiry date from going into the dumpster. So much food is wasted in the United States, and this is a way of keeping it out of the landfill. They collect this food, and then three times a week they set up tables to just give away, no questions asked. Below are photos of some of the things I have brought home - all for free. 

The above photo was from this morning. Dan has the weekend off for Thanksgiving, so he came with me for the first time. There was a lot of food from the post-Thanksgiving feast and only half of the usual people showed up, so there was a lot to be given away. Above we have salad mix, bananas, muffins, cookies, milk, gyro meat, apples, grapefruit, yogurt, snacks, onion dips, stuffing mixes, tortilla, garlic bread, eggplant, sauerkraut, peppers, a sandwich and potato salad.

Dan and I both hate to see food going to waste, and if we can not spend money by helping divert perfectly good food from going to the landfill, so much the better. Most of this food is usually organic, though not always. Between the food we grew and preserved, the $50 gift card I won from Bob's Red Mill thanks to the Splendid Table, and going to these weekly giveaways, our food costs have gone way down. Now it's just a matter of dealing with all this food. Dan has been cooking up a storm all day, and I am juicing all the vegetables I can. At this rate though, we won't have to buy groceries for a while, other than for staples like salt and rice.

How it works: everyone arrives at 11:00am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The volunteers have the tables with boxes of food all lined up at Richmond Park 450 E 600 S. A coin is flipped, to decide whether the inside or the outside of the line gets to go first - keep it egalitarian. The line is divided in two and we go in circles around the string of tables, taking only one item per box each time we pass by. People who abuse this and take more than one item (if they know the rules and ignore them) are either told to go the back of the line or come next time. Mostly it's older people (immigrants who don't speak English well) and young people that come. Most people have all they need by the time they make a full circle around the table, but there is always more bread, apples, or potatoes leftover. There is a donation bucket for gas for the volunteers. When the weather turns too cold/bad, the giveaway will happen at the Boing house on 500 east, just around the corner from the park.

It's such an excellent service. You never know what you'll get. One week it was largely gluten-free. Another week there was a lot of dairy. Another time it was mostly produce. There is always a lot of bread though, we never need to buy or bake bread again.

Today, because there was a huge abundance of food and not many people, one of the volunteers thanked me for coming and taking food. Where else does that happen? I love this city. 

my field's biggest academic conference in San Francisco

So: the reason I wasn't able to write a blog post three Fridays ago is because I was in San Francisco for a conference. I had a poster accepted and therefore needed to be there to present it. My supervisor's grant would have paid for my trip, but I applied for and won two travel awards: one was a matching grant between my department and Graduate Studies at the U, the other was a travel award that only applied to international students. As I am not yet a citizen, I qualified and won!

My flight was for 6:30am on Friday the 13th. I arrived at the airport at 5:45am which, it turns out, was too late. I had not accounted for the 300 people in the TSA lineup. They rescheduled me for another flight, four hours later that would take me to Seattle first and then SFO. So I settled in to a day of airports and airplanes and trying to catch wifi and charging stations. It wasn't so bad, really, but travelling is tiring. When I finally did get to my hotel around 6:00, I met up with my friends from the department, my roommate for our five days at the hotel, P, and my office comrade, B. We dropped our luggage and found dinner before retiring for the night.

Saturday was a day of pre-symposia tutorials. The first one was one on getting evaluation education into biomedical informatics programs. I was finally able to meet some characters I have only connected with online or whose papers I have read. Yes there is such a thing as academic fandom. It was great to put names to faces. I had also started tweeting the sessions I attended from my research twitter handle (not @yarnsalad). The afternoon session I went to wasn't very interesting but I did at the coffee break connect with a friend and former student of our department who moved away a couple of months ago, so it was good to catch up with him. I knew this conference would be one big happy reunion. Then I snuck off with some friends from SLC whom I had not seen in a while and went to a pub for a pint. That evening, I went with those same friends and one new friend to a fancy restaurant and discovered how awesome Uber is.

Sunday morning began with getting to the hotel gym at 6:15am, and I should have gone earlier to get a full workout in. I had to rush because I had a breakfast date arranged via Twitter more than a month ago with two Twitter friends - one I hadn't met yet (great sidebar story: Kim and I found each other on Twitter because of knitting, then we discovered we work in the same field and that we were both going to this conference! Also we both have personal as well as professional Twitter accounts.) and one who graduated with a PhD from my program at UVic the year I began my first Master's. Nice breakfast, too.

That morning's tutorial was about how to be a good leader within the organization and how to get into positions of leadership. I made some good connections there and met some more people who are famous in our industry. That day I found David's Deli and had an excellent kosher lunch.

It was after lunch on Sunday that the symposium officially began. Before the opening keynote speaker, the president and CEO of the organization welcomed everyone. He mentioned the Twitter stats for the day and a half of tutorials, and in the top 4 tweeters, he named me second! After that and for the rest of the conference, everyone from my department commented on my Twitter fame.

Sunday evening was busy, socially. There was the welcome reception where all the vendors and schools had booths in the exhibition room; ie, the place where all the free stuff is. I am happy to report that I now have 15 new pens, three water bottles, a couple of bags and some other fun trinkets. Later there was the reception for new members and new attendees. I'm on the membership committee for the organization so I went to interact with the new people. Rob, our organization's membership coordinator, brought some of us up to the front and gave us all a lovely introduction as "people we should talk to". It was Rob who I hold responsible for getting me back into the field at all, so I am happy to give back. I met some nice people, had too many extremely excellent desserts, and waited in anticipation to see if maybe I would win the raffle prizes of the bluetooth wireless headphones or the Apple watch! But alas, no, the headphones went to an alum from our department (so that's nice) and the Apple watch went to my friend and office mate mentioned above, B. After that reception, my hotel roommate P and I went up to the 46th floor for the Women in Informatics Networking Event. It was kind of an awkward space though so we ended up mostly just talking to each other. We haven't spent much time together outside of our one class prior to the conference, so it was really fun getting to know her, actually.

On Monday, P and I met for breakfast the group of people who had agreed to be mentors for the 10 high school scholars for this conference as well as the students themselves. I met the student I had been paired with, but for reasons, we didn't actually get to see each other much that day. I did get to meet his dad later though and got a photo of him with his poster. Nice kid, I was glad to hear he is planning to do a computer science degree (and then I recommended doing our Master's at UUtah). I live tweeted some interesting sessions. I spent some time with Barb in our booth in the exhibition room, talking to people about our program. Went back to David's Deli for lunch, this time a salad to go, which was also excellent. My committee chair gave a presentation about why our department is so awesome and other than the four people from our department who attended (and were also live tweeting), I think there were maybe three other people, so that was a bummer. We need to figure out a way to show people how great it is to live in Utah.

The last session of the day was the presentations of the high school scholars. Five of them had papers, the other five (including my buddy) had posters. It was a very well attended session, standing room only. One of the organizers introduced the program and the names of all the graduate student mentors went up on the big screen - three students from our department, Utah was well-represented!

The thing about these conferences is that you are not done when the sessions finish at 5pm. I still had two other events to attend. The first was the membership committee - we usually meet by Citrix for an hour every month, but this time we finally got to meet in person. It was really cool to put faces to names. I had to leave that meeting early though, because our department chair had arranged a dinner for our department people and alumni at a nearby restaurant. It was a fun evening and I was glad for an early night - after all this busy time I needed some down time.

Tuesday morning I got up at 5:30 to get to the gym earlier (since I had another 7:00 breakfast date). When I got to the gym at 5:45, every one of the 20 exercise machines were full and there were three people waiting. Eventually I got onto a spin bike and put in a 45-minute workout. The 7:00 breakfast was to meet with all the people who had been working on the Year in Review - 18 of us had spent the last six months reviewing 1400 articles to see what was relevant and what kinds of themes have emerged in our field since the last Symposium. That was awesome. It was great to meet those people just before the session where our leader, Patti, presented them to an overstuffed room with at least 1,000 people. Again my name on the big screen. She did an amazing job of condensing all that information into a synopsis.

Tuesday was my big day partly because of that, but also because it was my day for my poster presentation (there were about 400 posters, split into two days). I had bought myself a suit back in August to wear for that day, that moment. I attended my poster from 5:00-6:30pm. At the end of it, one of the organization's staff members came up to me with the photographer and asked to take my photo. I was so touched! They appreciated all the tweeting I had done and my level of commitment to the organization. So lots of arranging of hair and ears, turn this way, lean in, he took a few dozen snaps. A week later, she sent me these:

She said "you never know where this photo will turn up". Of course I sent her an email back, squeeing, which made her day. :-)

Back to the Symposium. After my poster presentation was done, I went to my room and changed into the dress I wore to another fancy restaurant for dinner. I also got in a half-hour phone conversation with Dan - in the few days I was there I hadn't had much time to chat with him other than to say things were going great (me) and the kitty misses me (him). Dinner was great and fun, I really enjoyed my dinner company. When I got back to the hotel I found my office mate B and we ended up chatting with one of the organization's leaders for half an hour about movies, of all things. So great to make that human connection.

Wednesday was the last day. We had no breakfast plans so were happy when they had muffins out for the morning coffee break. (My room mate P and I are both students and experienced free food scavengers). The closing keynote was just after lunch and once again they mentioned the conference's Twitter stats. They showed a slide with the top 10: I was number 5, a post-doc from our department was number 7, and our department (me) was number 10. Go Utah!  The closing keynote was great and I think he gave us all some good ideas for how to move forward.

I was sitting next to B for the closing, and afterward when people were leaving, we stood up and turned around to find one of our department's alumni with two people on his team from South Carolina - I had not met any of them before but we all became fast friends and decided to have lunch together. We found a great little Pakistani restaurant (one of the women we were with is Pakistani) and I swear it was the best meal I had in San Francisco. Sooooo good. (why didn't I take a picture of my chicken tikka masala?) Then we walked over the hill to Ghirardelli Square because of course, it's San Francisco. Burned off all the lunch calories doing that walk! Had a fabulous time with our three new friends and we hope to turn that into a more formal collaboration in the future.

B and I retrieved our luggage from the hotel and went to meet a Twitter friend whom I've been Twitter friends with since I first signed up back in 2009! We've been through a lot together and we finally met in person! It was so awesome to meet Heather and I hope next time I can spend more time with her in her city. B and I took BART to the airport, went to our departure gates, and he went off to another conference on the east coast while I went home, to sleep, to catch up on a week of being away.

I will be finishing my degree, my second Master's degree, in April 2016. While they are still encouraging me to do a PhD, (and made a very persuasive pitch), I think I am going to stay the course. Part of my effort at this conference was to see what kind of work is out there (I was invited to go to Seattle, Nashville, and Portland). I really love Salt Lake though, I have no plans to leave it any time soon. More on the job front as I find out what's happening...