Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

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

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...

Friday, November 6, 2015

my first encounter with the health care system in the United States

Some of you may recall it was February 4th, 2013 that I entered the United States. While it seems like it was only a blink of an eye ago, we are actually coming up on three years. Can you believe it? I am less than four months away from being eligible to apply for US Citizenship.*

One of the things that scared us about moving to the United States is health care. It's a very confusing system from the Canadian perspective, so navigating insurance and then what to do once you have insurance and need care was really daunting. It was only in the last couple of months that I bought health insurance for myself, despite the Affordable Care Act, because it just seemed like too much of an expenditure for something I may not even use.

I'm pretty healthy, see. I exercise, I eat really well, manage my mental health, etc and don't have any outstanding health issues that require care. However, I work in health care and I acknowledge I am aging. It's also been four and a half years since I had a physical so I had no idea what my numbers were. Getting my student health insurance sorted out and making an appointment at a clinic was just on my to do list.

And then I had a health scare a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't a big one, but I know just enough about anatomy and disease to be worried when I had pain in my chest and shortness of breath. Pain in my chest where my heart is. My grandfather died of a heart attack at 67, though he was morbidly obese. Anyway, this freak out was the kick in the pants I needed to see a care provider, that very day.

Wouldn't you know it, there is a student health clinic just half a mile from where I work and they are all hooked up with my student health insurance. I was able to get in that afternoon to see my new primary care provider, who is a Nurse Practitioner rather than a physician. That's something I have no experience with (though I think we do have NPs in Canada, they just aren't as common) but I do have a friend who is a nurse and wants to become an NP. She explained to me that NPs are the ones you want to go to for preventive and maintenance care. Doctors do the diagnosing. Ok, got it.

The visit to the clinic was mostly like any other clinic visit. The New Patient Intake form asked a bunch of questions I had never encountered before ("How many sexual partners have you had?") so that was interesting. Giving urine samples has gotten to be really sophisticated. The blood pressure machine had me at 132/86 which of course worried me.

I spent an hour with the nurse practitioner, gave her my full medical history and all the family medical history I know. The physical itself was just like every other one and thank goodness she said I'm not due for another one for five years (in Canada it would be every two years). She did strongly encourage me to get a mammogram, which I am extremely opposed to (I don't have a family history and I'm not convinced they actually help with early detection).

I wasn't expecting it but we talked about my acne, how I had done the 5-month course of isotretinoin in 2007 but my acne has returned. She can't prescribe that drug (only a dermatologist can) but she did give me a script for a tretinoin cream which I'm hoping will help. (I'm leaving in a week for my industry's biggest academic conference and I intend to launch my job search there, so I really hope it's gone by then!) They checked my blood pressure again at the end of the visit and it was down to 113/73.

The best part about this whole experience (aside from the assurance that I probably just pulled a chest muscle because my heart is just fine, and the potential for clear skin) was that this visit was free. I couldn't find information anywhere on the health insurance website that said how much this visit was going to cost and when you are worried there is something seriously wrong, you care less about cost and more about getting well. And it was free! My first visit is free, any subsequent visit is only a $10-co-pay. I mean, my insurance cost me $190 per semester, but still, that's way better than I was expecting.

For my American readers, I'm sure this is all no big deal but I confess I was really worried about accessing care because I thought it would be so complicated. It was for the same reason I delayed getting dental care but that ended up having a happy ending too - I thought because it had been several years since I'd had a cleaning that I would have a number of cavities but no! All clear, thanks to my nightly dedication to flossing.

*so I have more or less been planning to apply for citizenship, but I think it would mean renouncing my Canadian citizenship. That hasn't been a really big deal to me, since I had no intention of ever moving back. Mostly because we can't afford to live in the places where we want to be that also have work in the fields we want to be in. There is just so much more opportunity for me in the United States in my career (by the factor of 100x or more) so why would I go back north? Well, given the recent political developments in both countries, I am now not ruling out a return to Canada (oh gosh I'm saying this publicly). I say that because of the crazies currently running in the Republican primaries but also because of the amazing thing that happened in Canadian federal politics recently. Someone from my generation with my values is now the Prime Minister of Canada. The other day when Justin Trudeau was sworn in, afterwards he took questions from reporters. I was listening to the live webcast. A reporter asked why it was so important for him to have half of his cabinet be women, and his response "Because it's 2015" - I swear to you I nearly cried in my office. He took a solid and public position not only for women in Canada but around the world, and I've seen the reverberations in the aftermath. I believe he will make Canada great again and do more than repair the damage Harper did. I have never been much of a nationalist but in that moment I have never been more proud of my country of origin.